King Conan: The Phoenix on the Sword #1


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King Conan: The Phoenix on the Sword #1


  • Words: Timothy Truman
  • Art: Tomas Giorello
  • Colors: Jose Villarrubia
  • Story Title: "Daggers At My Back"
  • Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
  • Price: $3.50
  • Release Date: Jan 24, 2012

The crown weighs heavy on the head of Conan, but with all eyes toward his successor, a lackluster story is told.

Conan is about to get a major upheaval. People who have never read a tale of the Cimmerian will now be buying the series, and it's all thanks to a powerhouse duo that has made a name for themselves, largely outside of the big two. Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan. From Demo and Channel Zero: Jennie One, the two have proven they're amazing together, and on their own projects, such as DMZ and American Virigin, they're great solo.

This is not that book. Conan the Barbarian starts next month; at the end of January, fans still have the old guard and concepts in place, and it's focusing on Conan's rule as king.

Much like the old guard, gods, and concepts, much of The Phoenix on the Sword is antiquated. Told primarily as a flashback, Conan covers a time he had to deal with a traitor. This isn't the issue; the plot is competent enough. The writing is from another era.

Remember books when characters would say their name aloud for the new reader? Remember when characters would tell their plot, aloud, to another character, even if both of them knew it? Much like Brian Michael Bendis effectively killed the thought bubble in recent years, these concepts are just antiquated. Speaking the dialogue aloud almost comes off as a Victorian-era play or stage show.

Maybe this style works for Conan. Conan is a very traditional concept (barbarian warrior, check). that shouldn't be modernized too much; sure, he's been transplanted to the then-modern Marvel Universe as part of What If? Yet, even if such a boisterous and dated manner of dialogue works for Conan, hope remains that Wood can make it enjoyable. As it is, readers are treated to a story that, dialogue-wise, could have come out of the Marvel Bullpen in the 1960s; we're one or two exclamations from a "True Believers!" line.

Visually, the book works. It's gruff and gritty, darkly inked, with blood sparingly, but strongly, used. Faces might be a little overwrought at times, but beyond the muscular physique, nothing in the world of Conan is truly supposed to be that beautiful.

This issue might work for the older fans of Conan. For those who have been reading the current age of mainstream comic books, the writing is just dated. The plot is fine, but dialogue is a large hurdle, and it doesn't read as real. Modern fans are best advised to wait for Wood and Cloonan to come in and make a book like this work for a larger audience.

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  • Eric Lindberg

    Eric Lindberg Feb 2, 2012 at 10:20pm

    Just got a chance to read this. I enjoyed it more than you did, Chad, but I've been a fan of Conan for a while. Bear in mind that this miniseries is based on the first Conan story ever published so it will have a distinct sound to it. I personally enjoy the grandiose, pulp-y style of Conan's world but I suppose it's not for everyone.

  • bobhir

    bobhir Feb 5, 2012 at 6:49pm

    Instead of reviewing this on its own merits, a lot of your review compares it to the upcoming "second coming of Conan" (my term not yours) compliments of Wood and Cloonan which surely "most people who have never read Conan will be buying". I get that you are excited for what you think is coming from Wood and Cloonan, but it hasn't happened yet, beyond a few preview pages, and you didn't give this particular book coverage based on its own merits in the review. You spent one paragraph of eight actually talking about what someone would actually find in the book, and artwork got a two sentence description. I can?t imagine you?d be too happy with someone going on Amazon and writing a review of your chicken book, and proclaiming in the first paragraph that it?s not good with no justification as of yet, and then spend most of the rest of the review talking about an yet to be released chicken book, which will surely be much better.
    If the story and it's telling seems a bit dated to you, it's because it is based on a story written in 1932. It was the first Conan story, and I don't know that it really needs to be punched up for a newer audience who likely isn't going to buy it anyways. I'd say that if anything, the King Conan series is Dark Horse hedging their bets and offering a Conan comic which will keep the long term Conan audience happy, because if message boards are any indication, the old timers don't seem very happy with the previews of the new book so far.
    It's also a little elitist to proclaim that this book is likely fine for us old "cavemen" (my term not yours), but for the new hip crowd who have been reading the "current age of mainstream comic books" it doesn't work. You might have wanted to let us in on what exactly this new current age of mainstream comics is. Are you referring to the complete about face that DC is doing with a lot of their titles which comes off as a desperate cash grab, or perhaps something revolutionary marvel is doing currently that I?m now aware of. Maybe something happening with some indy publisher I'm missing out on. I'm in any number of comic stores every Wednesday to shop, and not seeing this renaissance occurring. There are surely some gems out there, but there are a lot of stinkers put out every Wednesday. I looked through your other reviews on the site, and didn't see anything you were truly excited about, so I?m not sure if you?ve reviewed any of the premier titles yet. Your website link in the bio points to an anime related site, so I didn't think it'd be covered there.
    I'm not even trying to say that the impression you would get if you parsed your review down to the one paragraph on its contents and two sentences on the artwork is way off, it's an okay book which would appeal more to long term fans of Conan. It?s not going to revolutionize the Conan character and bring it into the 21st century and make it appealing to a whole new audience, but I don?t think it was intended to be that from the start, and it?s kind of the whole point of this particular run of this book. A recent multi-million dollar movie tried to revolutionize Conan and attract a whole new audience, and in the end it got too far from what Conan essentially is in trying to capture an audience who really wasn?t interested and didn?t care, and was a flop.

  • bobhir

    bobhir Feb 5, 2012 at 6:50pm

    my reply had paragraphs which were removed when I pasted it in ;(

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