The Marvel Art of Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian


By John Rhett Thomas, Roy Thomas, P. Craig Russell, Barry Windsor-Smith, John Buscema, Gil Kane, Neal Adams, Alex Toth, Walter Simonson, M.W. Kaluta, Tony DeZuñiga, Richard Corben, Boris Vallejo, Earl Norem, Joe Jusko, Michael Golden & many & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2382-2 (HB)

During the 1970’s the American comic book industry opened up after more than 15 years of cautious and calcified publishing practises that had come about as a reaction to the censorious oversight of the self- inflicted Comics Code Authority. This body was created to keep the publishers’ product wholesome after the industry suffered their very own McCarthy-style Witch-hunt during the 1950s.

One of the first genres revisited was Horror/Mystery comics and from that sprang pulp icon Conan the Barbarian, via a little tale in anthology Chamber of Darkness #4, whose hero bore no little thematic resemblance to the Cimmerian. It was written by Roy Thomas and drawn by Barry (now Windsor-) Smith: a recent Marvel find, and one who was gradually breaking out of the company’s all-encompassing Jack Kirby house-style.

Despite some early teething problems – including being cancelled and reinstated in the same month – the comic book adventures of Robert E. Howard’s brawny warrior soon became as big a success as the revived prose paperbacks which had heralded a world boom in tales of fantasy and the supernatural.

After decades away, and despite being fully owned by CPI (Conan Properties International), the brawny brute returned to the aegis of Marvel in 2019 and made himself fully at home. As well as his own title and in-world spin-offs, many collections celebrating “the Original Marvel Years” – due to the character’s sojourn with other publishers – have been released. This one is indubitably the most pretty to look upon.

The first time around, Conan broke many moulds, including being able to sustain not just his general audience boutique of titles and a newspaper strip, but also easily fitting Marvel’s black & white magazine division, offering more explicitly violent and risqué fare for supposedly more mature readers. For this market he debuted in Savage Tales #1 (1971) before winning his own monochrome title. Savage Sword of Conan launched in August 1974, running 235 issues until its cancellation in July 1995.

Throughout its life SSoC offered powerful stories, features on all things Robert E Howard and some of the most incredible artwork ever to grace comics pages.

All of that is covered by legendary Hyborian Scribe Roy Thomas in his Introduction and the page-by-page annotations of compiler John Rhett Thomas, but what’s really of interest is the painted covers, pin-ups, portfolios and extracts of story sequences by a stunning pantheon of internationally acclaimed artists which include John Buscema, Barry Windsor-Smith, Alex Toth, Neal Adams, Tony DeZuñiga, Jim Starlin, Frank Brunner, Alfredo Alcala, Alex Niño, Mike Zeck, Walter Simonson, Tim Conrad, Val Mayerik, Richard Corben, Steve Leialoha, Vicente Alcazar, Dick Giordano, Gene Colan, Pablo Marcos, E.R. Cruz, Rudy Nebres, Kerry Gammil, Nestor Redondo, Ernie Chan, Gene Day, Pat Broderick, Bill Sienkiewicz, Armando Gil, Gary Kwapisz, Adam Kubert, Dale Eaglesham, Dave Simons, Mike Docherty, Rafael Kayanan, Andrew Currie and P. Craig Russell, who also provides a picture-packed Afterword and appreciation of the mighty magazine and it’s star. I’m sure there are plenty more artists I’ve missed here, but you get the picture. Everyone and his granny wanted a shot at Conan…

Cover artists providing pulse-pounding paintings include Buscema, Adams, Starlin, Conrad, Sienkiewicz, Mayerik, Boris Vallejo, Earl Norem, Bob Larkin, Joe Jusko, Joe Chiodo, Michael Golden, Steve Hickman, Doug Beekman, David Mattingly, Dorian Vallejo, Nick Jainschigg, Ovi Hondru, Michael William Kaluta, George Pratt, Julie Bell and more, making this bombastic compilation a must-have bestiary of how to have cathartic fun and get paid too…

Groundbreaking, gripping, graphic wonderment, this astounding hardback and digital delight is every fantasy fan’s dream come true – and you know gift-giving season is just around the corner, right?
Conan the Barbarian published monthly by MARVEL WORLDWIDE INC., a subsidiary of MARVEL ENTERTAINMENT LLC. Conan © 2020 Conan Properties International LLC.

Conan the Barbarian Epic Collection volume 1: The Coming of Conan 1970-1972


By Roy Thomas & Barry Windsor-Smith, with John Jakes, Gil Kane & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2555-0 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Because We Believe in Blockbusters… 9/10

During the 1970’s the American comic book industry opened up after more than 15 years of cautious and calcified publishing practises that had come about as a reaction to the censorious oversight of the self- inflicted Comics Code Authority. This body was created to keep the publishers’ product wholesome after the industry suffered their very own McCarthy-style Witch-hunt during the 1950s.

One of the first genres revisited was Horror/Mystery comics and from that sprang pulp masterpiece Conan the Cimmerian, via a little tale in anthology Chamber of Darkness #4, whose hero bore no little thematic resemblance to the Barbarian. It was written by Roy Thomas and drawn by Barry (now Windsor-) Smith, a recent Marvel find, and one who was gradually breaking out of the company’s all-encompassing Jack Kirby house-style.

Despite some early teething problems – including being cancelled and reinstated in the same month – the comic book adventures of Robert E. Howard’s brawny warrior soon became as big a success as the revived prose paperbacks which had heralded a world flowering in tales of fantasy and the supernatural.

After decades away, the brawny brute recently returned to the Aegis of Marvel. Subtitled “the Original Marvel Years” (due to the character’s sojourn with other publishers and intellectual properties rights holders), this bombastic tome of groundbreaking action fantasy yarns re-presents the contents of Conan the Barbarian #1-13 plus that trailblazing short story, cumulatively spanning April 1970 to January 1972.

Digitally remastered and available as a trade paperback or digital formats, these absorbing arcane adventures sparked a revolution in comics and a franchising empire in my youth, and are certainly good enough to do so once again.

The drama begins most fittingly with a classic map of ‘The Hyborean Age of Conan’ plus an accompanying quote I’m sure every devoted acolyte already knows by heart…

Set in modern America, ‘The Sword and the Sorcerers’ primes the pump with the tale of a successful writer who foolishly decides to kill off his most beloved character Starr the Slayer: a barbarian so beloved that he has taken on a life of his own and is determined to do whatever is necessary to keep it…

After that we are catapulted back in time approximately 12,000 years into a forgotten age of wonders as writer Thomas broadly follows Howard’s life path for young Conan, beginning with the still teenaged hero’s meeting with a clairvoyant wizard who predicts his regal destiny (‘The Coming of Conan’ inked by Dan Adkins), through brief but brutal enslavement in ‘The Lair of the Beastmen’ (inked by Sal Buscema), before experiencing a minor Ragnarok in ‘The Twilight of the Grim Grey God!’

An aura of lyrical cynicism grows to balance the wealth of mystical menaces and brooding horror as the wandering youth becomes a professional thief and judge of human foibles in ‘The Tower of the Elephant’. Conan’s softer side is revealed in issue #5 after meeting the bewitching ‘Zukala’s Daughter’ (inked by Frank Giacoia) and liberating a wizard-plagued town. Buscema returned for ‘Devil Wings over Shadizar’, wherein the warrior tackles a welter of antediluvian terrors and both Adkins & Sal B applied their pens and brushes to expose ‘The Lurker Within’ – based on Howard’s magnificent The God in the Bowl – after which tomb-raider Conan crushes zombies and dinosaurs in ‘The Keepers of the Crypt’ (inked by Tom Palmer and Tom Sutton)

Thomas’s avowed plan was to closely follow Conan’s literarily-established career from all-but boyhood to his eventual crowning as King of Aquilonia, adding to and adapting the prose works of Howard and his posthumous collaborators on the way. This agenda led to some of the best, freshest comics of the decade. The results of Barry (not-yet-Windsor-) Smith’s search for his own graphic style led to unanimous acclaim and many awards for the creative duo.

By issue #9 the character had taken the comics world by storm and any threat of cancelation was long gone. ‘The Garden of Fear’ – adapted by Thomas & Smith, with inks by Sal B from Howard’s short story – features a spectacular battle with a primordial survivor in a lost valley before the wanderer returns to big city life, and learns too late to ‘Beware the Wrath of Anu!’

This god-slaying bout is mere prelude to another classic Howard adaptation, ‘Rogues in the House’: an early masterpiece of action and intrigue benefitting from a temporary doubling in page count.

‘Dweller in the Dark’ is an all-original yarn of monsters and maidens, notable because artist Smith inked his own pencils, and indications of his detailed fine-line illustrative style can be seen for the first time. An added bonus in that issue was a short back-up yarn by Thomas & Gil Kane with “Diverse Hands” called in to ink ‘The Blood of the Dragon!’ which tells of a very different Hyborian hero getting what he deserves…

Fantasy author John Jakes plotted the final tale in this initial outing as ‘Web of the Spider-God’ offers a sardonic tale of the desert with the surly Cimmerian battling thirst, tyranny pompous priests and a big, big bug in a riotous romp finished off by Thomas, Smith & Buscema.

Adding value to the treasury is a vast bonus section which includes pencilled cover art (used and unused), Thomas’ original script breakdowns annotated by the artist, extracts from Marvelmania (the company’s in-house fanzine), unused illustrations, house ads and Marvel bulletin items, cover roughs, concepts and finished art by Marie Severin & Gil Kane, John Jakes’ plot synopsis and many pages of original art from the tales collected herein.

Also on show are cover galleries of the Marvel Books reprint paperback line and the Conan Classic comics series – all by Windsor-Smith – plus even before-&-after alterations demanded by the Comics Code Authority on the still contentious and controversial title.

These re-mastered epics are a superb way to enjoy some of American comics’ most influential and enjoyable blockbuster moments. They should have a place on your bookshelf.
© 2020 Conan Properties International, LLC (“CPI”).

The Adventures of Red Sonja volume 1


By Roy Thomas, Bruce Jones, Frank Thorne, Dick Giordano, Esteban Maroto, Neal Adams, Ernie Chan & various (Dynamite Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-93330-507-3

Once upon a time, girls expertly wielding swords and kicking butt were rarer than politicians who respected personal boundaries. These days, though, it seems no lady’s ensemble is complete without a favourite pig-sticker and accompanying armour accessories. You can probably trace that trend back to one breakthrough comics character…

Although Diana Prince, Valkyrie and Asgardian goddess Sif all used bladed weapons none of them ever wracked up a bodycount you’d expect or believe until ‘The Song of Red Sonja’ (Conan the Barbarian #23, February 1973, drawn, inked and coloured by Barry Windsor-Smith) introduced a dark-eyed hellion to the world.

The tale became one of the most popular and reprinted stories of the decade, winning that year’s Academy of Comic Book Arts Awards in the Best Individual Story (Dramatic) category.

Although based on Robert E. Howard’s Russian warrior-woman Red Sonya of Rogatine (as seen in the 16th century-set thriller The Shadow of the Vulture, with a smidgen of Dark Agnes de Chastillon thrown into the mix) the comicbook Red Sonja is very much the brainchild of Roy Thomas.

In his Introduction ‘A Fond Look Back at Big Red’ he shares many secrets of her convoluted genesis, development and achievements as part of this first archival collection (available in trade paperback and digital editions) of her Marvel Comics appearances.

Released at a time when the accepted wisdom was that comics starring women didn’t sell, Marvel Feature (volume 2) was launched to capitalise on a groundswell of popular interest stemming from Sonja’s continuing guest shots in Conan stories. This initial compilation collects issues #1-7 (November 1975-November 1975) and opens with a then scarce-seen reprint…

Sonja graduated from cameo queen to her first solo role in a short eponymous tale scripted by Thomas and illustrated by Esteban Maroto, Neal Adams, Ernie Chan in the first issue of the black-&-white, mature-reader Savage Sword of Conan magazine cover-dated August 1974. Colourised (by Jose Villarrubia) and edited, it filled out the premier generally-distributed Marvel Feature, revealing in sumptuous style how the wandering mercenary undertook a mission for King Ghannif of Pah-Dishah: a task which led to her first meeting with Conan and one for which she was promised the potentate’s most treasured gift. When that turned out to be a position as his next wife, Sonja’s response was swift and sharp…

That captivating catch-up yarn leads to ‘The Temple of Abomination’ (Thomas & Dick Giordano) as the restless warrior stumbles upon a lost church dedicated to ancient, debauched gods and saves a dying priest of Mitra from further torture at the hands of monstrous beast-men…

MF #2 saw the last piece of Red Sonja’s ascendancy fall into place when Frank Thorne signed on as illustrator.

Thorne is one of the most individualistic talents in American comics. Born in 1930, he began his comics career drawing romances for Standard Comics beside the legendary Alex Toth before graduating to better paid newspaper strips. He illustrated Perry Mason for King Features Syndicate and at Dell/Gold Key he drew Flash Gordon, Jungle Jim and The Green Hornet, as well as the first few years of seminal sci-fi classic Mighty Samson.

At DC he produced compelling work on Tomahawk and Son of Tomahawk before being hired by Roy Thomas at Marvel to illustrate his (belated) breakthrough strip… Red Sonja. Forever-after connected with feisty, earthy, highly sexualised women, in 1978 Thorne created outrageously bawdy (some say vulgar) swordswoman Ghita of Alizarr for Warren’s adult science fantasy anthology 1984/1994 as well as such adult satirical strips as Moonshine McJugs for Playboy and Danger Rangerette for National Lampoon.

He has won the National Cartoonists Award for comic books, an Inkpot Award and a Playboy Editorial Award.

Applying his loose, vigorous style and frenetic design sense to a meticulously plotted script from Bruce Jones, Thorne hit the ground running with ‘Blood of the Hunter’ wherein Sonja tricks formidable rival Rejak the Tracker out of a mysterious golden key. She has tragically unleashed a whirlwind or torment, however, as the hunter remorselessly stalks her, butchering everyone she befriends and driving her to the brink of death before she finally confronts him one last time…

Issue #3 reveals the secret of the golden key after Sonja takes some very bad advice from an old wise-woman and reawakens a colossal death-engine from an earlier age in ‘Balek Lives!’, after which the mercenary’s endless meanderings bring her to a village terrorised by a mythological predator. However, when she looks into the ‘Eyes of the Gorgon’ she discovers that the most merciless monsters are merely human…

That same lesson is repeated when ‘The Bear God Walks’, but after joining a profitable bounty hunt for a marauding beast, Sonja and her temporary comrades soon find that fake horrors can inadvertently summon up real ones…

With Marvel Feature #6, Roy Thomas returned as scripter and immediately set up a crossover with Conan and his then-paramour pirate queen Bêlit.

Although the concomitant issues of Conan the Barbarian (#66-68) aren’t reproduced here the story is constructed in such a way that most readers won’t notice a thing amiss…

Thus, ‘Beware the Sacred Sons of Set’ finds Sonja – after routing a pack of jackal-headed humanoid assailants – commissioned by Karanthes, High Priest of the Ibis God, to secure a magical page torn from mystic grimoire the Iron-Bound Book of Skelos in demon-haunted Stygia. She is barely aware of an unending war between ancient deities, or that old colleague and rival Conan is similarly seeking the arcane artefact…

After clashing repeatedly with her rivals and defeating numerous beasts and terrors, Sonja believes she has gained the upper hand in ‘The Battle of the Barbarians’, but there is more at stake than any doughty warrior can imagine…

To Be Continued…

Topped off with a full colour-remastered cover gallery by Gil Kane and Frank Thorne, this is a bold and bombastic treat for fantasy action fans of all ages, genders or persuasions.
RED SONJA® and related logos, characters, names and distinctive likenesses thereof are trademarks of Red Sonja Corporation unless otherwise noted. All Rights Reserved.

Savage Sword of Conan volume 1


By Robert E. Howard, Roy Thomas, Barry Windsor-Smith, John Buscema, Pablo Marcos, Gil Kane, Neal Adams, Alfredo Alcala, Alex Niño & various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-59307-838-6

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Rare Bird Well Worth Carving Up… 9/10

During the 1970’s the American comic book industry opened up after more than fifteen years of cautious and calcified publishing practises that had come about as a reaction to the censorious oversight of the self inflicted Comics Code Authority: a publishers’ oversight body created to keep the product wholesome after the industry suffered their very own McCarthy-style Witch-hunt during the 1950s.

One of the first literary hardy perennials to be revisited was Horror/Mystery comics and from them came the creation of a new comics genre. Sword & Sorcery stories had been undergoing a prose revival in the paperback marketplace since the release of softcover editions of Lord of the Rings in 1954 and, by the 1960s, revivals of the two-fisted fantasies of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Otis Adelbert Kline, Fritz Lieber and others were making huge inroads into buying patterns across the world.

The old masters had also been augmented by many modern writers. Michael Moorcock, Lin Carter and others kick-started their prose careers with contemporary versions of man against mage against monsters. The undisputed overlord of the genre was Robert E. Howard with his 1930s pulp masterpiece Conan of Cimmeria.

Gold Key had notionally opened the field in 1964 – and created a cult hit – with Mighty Samson. Then came Clawfang the Barbarian’ in Thrill-O-Rama #2 in 1966. Both steely warriors battled in post-apocalyptic technological wildernesses but in 1969 DC dabbled with previously code-proscribed mysticism in Nightmaster (Showcase #82 -84), following on from the example of CCA-exempt Warren horror anthologies Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella.

Marvel tested the waters with barbarian villain – and Conan prototype – Arkon in Avengers #76 (April 1970) and the same month went all-out with short supernatural thriller ‘The Sword and the Sorcerers’ in their own watered-down horror anthology Chamber of Darkness #4.

Written by Roy Thomas and drawn by fresh-faced Barry Smith (a recent Marvel find who was just breaking out of the company’s still-prevalent Kirby house-style) the tale introduced Starr the Slayer – who also bore no small resemblance to the Barbarian-in-waiting…

Conan the Barbarian debuted with an October 1970 cover-date and – despite some early teething problems, including being cancelled and reinstated in the same month – the comic-strip adventures of Howard’s primal hero were as big a success as the prose yarns they adapted. Conan became a huge hit: a pervasive brand that prompted new prose tales, movies, TV series, cartoon shows, a newspaper strip and all the other paraphernalia of global superstardom.

And American comics changed forever.

In May 1971, Marvel moved into Warren’s territory for a second time, after an abortive attempt in 1968 to create an older-readers, non-Comics Code Spectacular Spider-Man monochrome magazine.

Savage Tales offered stories with stronger tone, mature sexual themes, less bowdlerised violence and partial nudity. It was the perfect place to introduce Futuristic Femizon Thundra and the macabre Man-Thing whilst offering more visceral vignettes starring the company’s resident jungle-man Ka-Zar and red-handed slayer Conan…

The anthology had an eventful reception and the second issue didn’t materialise until October 1973 as part of Marvel’s parent company Curtis Distribution. Conan starred in the first five issues before spinning off into his own adult-oriented monochrome magazine which debuted in August 1974. Free of all Code-mandated restrictions, The Savage Sword of Conan became a haven for mature storytelling with top flight artists queuing up to flex their creative muscles.

In 2007, after winning the license to publish Conan comics, Dark Horse began gathering Marvel’s Savage Sword canon in a series of Essentials-style, 500+ page volumes.

This first titanic tome – also available as an eBook – collects pertinent material from Savage Tales #1-5 and Savage Sword of Conan #1-10: collectively covering May 1971 through February 1976; a period when the character was swiftly becoming the darling of the comics world and his chief scribe Roy Thomas was redefining what American comics could say, show and do…

It all starts here with a much-reprinted classic.

‘The Frost Giant’s Daughter’ is a haunting, racy tale written by Howard and originally adapted in line and tone by Barry Smith for Savage Tales #1. It was later coloured and adulterated for the all-ages comicbook (#16) as it detailed how a lusty young Cimmerian chased a naked nymph into the icy winter and found himself prey in a trap set by gods or monsters…

By the time Savage Tales returned after a two-year hiatus, Barry Windsor-Smith had pretty much left comics but agreed to illustrate ‘Red Nails’ if he could do it his way and at his own pace.

The result was an utter revelation, moody, gory, soaked in dark passion and entrancing in its savage beauty. With some all-but invisible art assistance from Pablo Marcos this journey into the brutal depths of obsession and the decline of empires is the perfect example of how to bow out at the top of one’s creative game.

The adaptation began in ST #2 as Conan and pirate queen Valeria survive a trek through scorching deserts to fetch up in a vast walled city. Stealing inside they find immense riches casually ignored as the last members of the tribes of Tecuhlti and Xotalanc pick each off or wait for the monsters infesting the place to take them…

Soon they are embroiled in a simmering, oppressive war of extinction…

The third issue completed the ghastly epic as the slow war between rival branches of a decadent race explodes into a paroxysm of gore and aroused monsters…

Savage Tales #4 (May 1974) held a brace of tales. ‘Night of the Dark God’ was limned by Gil Kane, Neal Adams, Marcos & Vince Colletta from Howard’s tale The Dark Man. It revealed how Conan came hunting the abductors of his childhood first love and found them just as a terrify mystery idol began exerting its own malefic influence on a hall full of already-enraged warriors…

‘Dweller in the Dark’ was Smith’s swan-song and saw the wandering warrior become a plaything for lascivious Queen Fatima of Corinthia. Her lusts were matched only by her jealousy, however, and it wasn’t long before she had turned against Conan and tried to feed him to the monster lurking below the city…

The fifth and final Conan appearance in Savage Tales was ‘Secret of Skull River’: a wry and laconic yarn Thomas adapted from a John Jakes plot, illustrated by Jim Starlin & Al Milgrom. The barbarian sell-sword is hired to remove a wizard whose experiments are polluting a town. The reward Conan claims for his murderous services surprises everybody…

From there it was only a short jump to his own mature-themed starring vehicle, but although Savage Sword starred Conan it was initially a vehicle for numerous barbarian themed yarns – such as a serialised reprinting of Gil Kane’s epic Blackmark – and other Howard properties such as Bran Mac Morn or Red Sonja. Those aren’t included here, but are well worth searching out too…

The SSOC experience opens with the first issue and ‘Curse of the Undead-Man’ by Thomas, John Buscema & Pablo Marcos, adapted from Howard’s short story Mistress of Death. Here Conan encounters old comrade Red Sonja amongst the fleshpots of The Maul in Zamora’s City of Thieves before falling foul of sorcerer Costranno: a mage for whom being chopped to mincemeat is only a minor inconvenience…

Thomas wrote all the SSOC Conan material included here: blending adaptations of Howard’s stories – Conan’s and his other two-fisted fighting men as well – and such successor authors as Lin Carter or L. Sprague de Camp with original tales.

A stunning visual tour de force, ‘Black Colossus’ in #2 was illustrated by Buscema & Alfredo Alcala; detailing how antediluvian priest Natohk returns from death to imperil the kingdom of Princess Yasmela until stalwart general Conan leads her armies to a victory against armed invaders, uncanny occultism and a legion of devils…

SSOC #3 held two tales, beginning with Buscema & Marcos’ ‘At the Mountain of the Moon-God’ with Conan high in Yasmela’s court and attempting to head off the kingdom’s annexation from encroaching neighbours and encountering mountain-dwelling bandits and a demon pterosaur…

The issue concluded with ‘Demons of the Summit’ – an adaptation of People of the Summit by Björn Nyberg & de Camp – turned into comics by Thomas & Tony DeZuniga as an encounter with more high-living brigands brings the Cimmerian into conflict with a dying race of wizards who want his latest curvy companion to mother their next generation…

Issue #4 features Howard’s ‘Iron Shadows on the Moon’ realised by Buscema & Alcala. Having lost a war whilst leading a Kozak horde, Conan flees into the Vilayet Sea with escaped slave Olivia after killing enemy general Shah Amurath.

On an uncharted island they then encounter ancient statues which come to life at the moon’s touch. The bloodthirsty horrors fall upon a band of pirates watering on the island and after leading them to victory against the supernatural fiends Conan manoeuvres himself into the captain’s role and begins a life of freebooting piracy…

Howard’s ‘A Witch Shall Be Born’ took up most of Savage Sword of Conan #5. Illustrated by Buscema and The Tribe (DeZuniga; Steve Gan; Rudy Mesina; Freddie Fernandez and others) it saw virtuous Queen Taramis replaced by her demonic twin sister Salome, who debauched and ravaged the kingdom of Kauran whilst her accomplice Constantius has her guard captain Conan crucified. After (almost) saving himself, the Cimmerian recuperates with the desert-raiding Zuagirs, and after ousting their brutal chieftain Olgerd Vladislav returns to save Taramis and revenge himself upon the witch…

The epic is balanced by two shorter tales in the next issue. ‘The Sleeper Beneath the Sands’ is a Thomas original with art by Sonny Trinidad and reveals how Olgerd encounters a caravan of clerics en route to pacify an elder god buried since time immemorial beneath the desert. The rejected bandit-lord senses a chance for revenge but soon regrets allowing the beast to wake and luring Conan into its path…

Howard’s Celtic thriller ‘People of the Dark’ is radically adapted by Thomas and stunningly illustrated by master stylist Alex Niño next as, in modern times, Jim O’Brien plots to kill rival Richard Brent to win the hand of Eleanor.

However, a fall into an ancient cavern transports the would-be killer into antediluvian prehistory where – as Conan – he battles the debased descendents of things which were once men. In that forgotten hell a burden is placed upon him and, once returned to the present, O’Brien faces another monster and pays a millennial debt…

‘The Citadel at the Center of Time’ by Thomas, Buscema & Alcala in #7 finds the Cimmerian leading his desert-raiding Zuagirs and attacking a caravan only to be confronted by a sabretooth tiger.

After despatching the wanton killer, Conan learns from the surviving merchants of a great ziggurat with vast riches and only attendant priests to guard them.

Ever-needful of loot to placate his greedy followers, Conan leads an expedition against the eerie edifice but soon finds himself captured and offered up as a sacrificial tool to time wizard Shamash-Shum-Ukin and battling dinosaurs, beasts and brutes from many ages before finally settling his score with the time-meddler…

SSOC #8 offered a wealth of short sharp shockers beginning with ‘The Forever Phial’, illustrated by Tim Conrad doing his best Windsor-Smith riff. Here immortal wizard Ranephi desires to end his interminable existence and manipulates a certain barbarian into helping him out…

The main part of the issue continues Thomas & Kane’s adaptation of Howard’s King Conan novel The Hour of the Dragon, which had begun in Giant-Size Conan but faltered when Marvel ended their oversized specials line.

‘Corsairs Against Stygia’ – inked by Yong Montano – resumes the tale with shanghaied King Conan leading a slave revolt on the ship he’s been abducted upon. Back in Aquilonia a cabal of nobles backed by Stygian wizard Thutothmes have usurped his throne… Having taking control of the ship Conan opts to infiltrates the evil empire to rescue the stolen talisman known as the Heart of Ahriman and end the conflict…

Wrapping up this segment is Lin Carter’s evocative poem ‘Death Song of Conan the Cimmerian’ adapted by Thomas and Jess Jodloman…

Issue #9 offered another new tale by Thomas & Marcos as Conan’s Zuagirs raid another priest-packed caravan and come under the diabolical influence of a small statue with great power. ‘The Curse of the Cat-Goddess’ corrupts, divides and promises many great things: causing the doom of many brothers in arm before the iron-willed Cimmerian ends its seductive threat…

The adaptation of The Hour of the Dragon finally concludes in this hefty tome’s final chapter as SSOC #10 reveals how ‘Conan the Conqueror’ (rendered by Buscema & The Tribe – a loose agglomeration of Marvel’s Filipino art contingent (Tony DeZuniga; Steve Gan; Rudy Mesina; Freddie Fernandez and others)) sneaks into Stygian capitol Khemi to defeat snake-worshipping priests, immortal vampire queen Akivasha and Thutothmes’ inner circle before stealing back the Heart of Ahriman and heading home to occupied Aquilonia to destroy wizard king Xaltotun and his human lackeys and reclaim his stolen throne…

With a painted covers gallery – reproduced only in black-&-white here – by Buscema, Marcos, John Romita, Adams, Boris Vallejo, Mike Kaluta, Niño, Frank Magsino, Frank Brunner and Bob Larkin, plus pin-up/frontispiece art by Marcos, Adams and Esteban Maroto, this weighty collection provides a truly epic experience for all fans of thundering mystic combat and esoteric adventure.

If the clash of arms, roar of monsters, gloating of connivers and destruction of empires sets your pulses racing and blood rushing, this titanic tome is certainly your cup of mead. There are plenty of Thrones in peril, but this all-action extravaganza of sex, slaughter, snow, sand and steel is no Game. Get it and see what real intrigue and barbarism are like…
Savage Sword of Conan® and© 2007 Conan Properties International, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

King Conan volume 4: The Conqueror


By Timothy Truman, Tomás Giorello, José Villarrubia & various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-514-6

During the 1970’s the American comic book industry opened up after more than fifteen years of cautious and calcified publishing practises that had come about as a reaction to the censorious oversight of the self-inflicted Comics Code Authority. This body was created to keep the publisher’s product wholesome after the industry suffered their very own McCarthy-style Witch-hunt during the 1950s.

One of the first genres revisited was Horror/Mystery comics and from that came the pulp icon Conan the Cimmerian, via a little tale called ‘The Sword and the Sorcerers’ in anthology Chamber of Darkness #4 (April 1970), whose hero Starr the Slayer bore no little thematic resemblance to the Barbarian. It was written by Roy Thomas and drawn by Barry Smith, a recent Marvel find, and one who was just breaking out of the company’s still-prevalent Kirby house-style.

Pulp-style Sword & Sorcery stories had been enjoying a prose revival in the paperback marketplace since the release of soft-cover editions of Lord of the Rings (first published in 1954) and by the 1960s a popular revival of the two-fisted fantasies of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Otis Adelbert Kline, Fritz Lieber and others were being supplemented by modern writers such as Michael Moorcock and Lin Carter who kick-started their careers with contemporary versions of man against mage. However, the undisputed grand master of the genre was Robert E. Howard.

Despite some early teething problems, including being cancelled and reinstated in the same month, the comicbook adventures of REH were as big a success as the prose yarns that led the global boom in fantasy and, latterly, the supernatural.

Conan became a huge hit; a monumental brand which saw new prose tales, movies, a TV series and cartoon show, a newspaper strip, games, toys and all the other paraphernalia of success… and it all stemmed from the vast range of quality comics initiated by Thomas and Smith.

In Conan’s all-conquering wake Marvel developed comicbook interpretations of other Howard creations such as Bran Mak Morn, Solomon Kane and others. Undoubtedly the Silver and Bronze medals went to the fairly straight adaptation of King Kull of Atlantis and a rather more broadly reinterpreted Red Sonya of Rogatine.

Roy Thomas was a huge fan of the prose source material and took great pains to adapt the novels and short stories into the graphic canon, but he was also one of the top writers in his field and much of the franchise’s success devolves from his visceral grasp of the characters, which makes this particular graphic novel of particular interest.

Eventually, however, fashions changed and Marvel – having tried increasingly deviant and unsuccessful reboots of the sword-slinger – surrendered or lost the rights to the barbarian blockbuster.

The franchise was picked up by “Intellectual Properties” specialists Dark Horse who eagerly took up the Howard mantle, reinvigorating the hero and his satellites with fresh adaptations of the source material crafted by a host of talented creators who could cut loose, utterly unhampered by the censorship of the Comics Code Authority which had afflicted the Marvel incarnation…

This fourth Dark Horse volume collects issues #1-6 of King Conan The Conqueror (originally published as a comicbook miniseries from February to July 2014), expanding and reinterpreting Howard’s epic Conan novel The Hour of the Dragon and opening with the warrior-emperor in his dotage relating to dutiful scribe and historian Pramis the events of the greatest crisis of his troubled reign…

What Had Gone Before: After decades of adventure-filled wandering, the Cimmerian’s travels eventually led him to the throne of the vast and prosperous kingdom of Aquilonia, but the outsider’s dream of founding a dynasty had soon stumbled as an alliance of disgruntled hereditary nobles and satellite kings plotted his downfall. To secure their ends the plotters resurrected an ancient wizard from demon-haunted Acheron through the arcane agency of a mystic gem known as The Heart of Ahriman.

With the sorcerous interventions of eldritch revenant Xaltotun, Conan was toppled and given over to his treacherous enemies. He subsequently escaped thanks to the actions of harem slave Zenobia and, on the advice of enigmatic witch Zelata that only the Heart can defeat Xaltotun, the fugitive pursued its current owner across the seas to the port of Messantia.

The saga resumes as Conan relentlessly tracks Beloso – who thinks himself the greatest thief in the world. The deposed king is constantly distracted by thoughts of Zenobia whom he had to abandon, and tragically unaware that a band of Khitan warrior-priests (like super-ninjas) hired by Aquilonian puppet-ruler Valerius are tracking him in turn…

Amongst his many careers prior to kingship, Conan had once led the most savage pirates of the age as the merciless Amra and now he inflicts himself upon former fence-turned-upstanding merchant Publio to help him find Beloso and the Heart.

Far from willing but with too much to lose, the businessman reluctantly assists his “guest” but the effort is too little too late. By the time Conan finds his prey the thief is dead at the hands of Stygian priests (another faction with a long grudge against the barbarian) and the gem gone.

Whilst still reeling in shock and disappointment Publio’s thugs jump the Cimmerian and leave him for dead, but the betrayer fares no better after the Khitans show up looking for Conan…

The King was always exceedingly hard to kill and has merely escaped out to sea only to be captured by trading ship Venturer: a vessel which can always find room for one more galley-slave. It’s the last mistake the captain ever makes, however, as the barbarian goes berserk, sowing slaughter all about him and freeing the captives at the oars, many of whom recognise the white maniac as their former pirate lord Amra…

Before long Venturer has new masters and the liberated Black Corsairs have ferried Amra to the Stygian capital Khemi. Refusing further aid Conan infiltrates the temple city of vile snake worshippers in search of the Heart, making his way with a minimum of mayhem and penetrating the inner sanctum of arch-priest Thutothmes.

Unfortunately his furtive progress attracts the attention of seductive vampire princess Akivasha who hasn’t had a real man – in any sense – for centuries…

Conan’s narrow escape from her clutches precipitates him into a clash with Thutothmes – who has by now secured the Heart of Ahriman – but everything is suddenly thrown into chaos when the infallible Khitans burst into the tombs determined to claim the deposed king no matter who stands in their way…

After watching the mystic factions eviscerate each other Conan ends the last priest standing and, thanks to the efforts of a most tractable zombie who leads him out of the labyrinthine temple, makes off with the Heart. Before long the Corsairs have brought him back to his stolen kingdom and the exile is recruiting an army from his oppressed Aquilonian subjects, who have been chafing under the brutal depredations of Valerius…

Soon the entire nation is ablaze and the plotters are sore-pressed in their own unquiet kingdoms too. Desperate, they plan to betray and sacrifice their mystic secret weapon Xaltotun, only to realise far too late that the servant has been their master for some time…

The crisis comes to a head when the mage attempts to destroy Conan’s liberating army during a pivotal clash of implacable foes. Seeking to fuel his magics with Zenobia’s blood, Xaltotun is totally unprepared for the determination of enraged and enslaved mortals acting in concert, the eldritch opposition of the Heart and the carefully calculated vengeance of the wily Cimmerian…

Apocalyptic, bombastic and cataclysmically compelling, this is a splendid retelling of a pulp fantasy classic augmented by an insightful Afterword by adaptor Timothy Truman and a Bonus Gallery of pencil art by illustrator Tomás Giorello

This collection is a superb slice of savage escapism that any red-blooded, action-starved armchair adventurer would kill for, a superb way to enjoy some of American popular fiction’ most influential – and enjoyable – moments. They certainly deserve a prized place on your bookshelf.
©2014, 2015 Conan Properties International, LLC. All rights reserved.

Chronicles of Conan volume 3: The Monster of the Monoliths and Other Stories


By Robert E. Howard, Roy Thomas, Barry Windsor-Smith, Gil Kane & various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-59307-024-3

During the 1970’s the American comic book industry opened up after more than fifteen years of cautious and calcified publishing practises that had come about as a reaction to the censorious oversight of the self inflicted Comics Code Authority. This body was created to keep the publisher’s product wholesome after the industry suffered their very own McCarthy-style Witch-hunt during the 1950s.

One of the first genres revisited was Horror/Mystery comics and from that came the pulp masterpiece Conan the Cimmerian, via a little tale called ‘The Sword and the Sorcerers’ in anthology Chamber of Darkness #4 (April 1970), whose hero Starr the Slayer bore no little thematic resemblance to the Barbarian. It was written by Roy Thomas and drawn by Barry Smith, a recent Marvel find, and one who was just breaking out of the company’s still-prevalent Kirby house-style.

Despite some early teething problems – including being cancelled and reinstated in the same month – the comic-strip adventures of Robert E. Howard’s brawny warrior were as big a success as the revived prose paperbacks which had heralded a world flowering in tales of fantasy and the supernatural.

This third Dark Horse volume collects #14-15 and #17 through 21 of the monthly Marvel Conan the Barbarian comic-book, covering March to December 1972 (a period when the character was swiftly becoming the darling of the Comics world), and features two creators riding the crest of that creative wave.

Moreover the masterful storytelling is enhanced by a rich new colouring make-over that does much to enhance Smith’s ever-evolving intricate and meticulous art style, meaning work which was crafted for a much more primitive reproduction process is now full-bodied, substantial and beguilingly lush.

The fabulous fantasy opens with a tempestuous transatlantic team-up as Conan meets Michael Moorcock’s groundbreaking Elric of Melniboné in a two part tale freely adapted by Thomas, Smith & Sal Buscema from a treatment by the exceedingly English cult author and his frequent collaborator James Cawthorn.

Elric is a landmark of the Sword and Sorcery genre: last ruler of a pre-human civilization. The denizens of Melniboné are a race of cruel, arrogant sorcerers: dissolute creatures in a slow, decadent decline after millennia of dominance over the Earth.

An albino, Elric VIII, 428th Emperor of his line, is physically weak and of a brooding, philosophical temperament, caring for nothing save his beautiful cousin Cymoril, even though her brother Prince Yrrkoon openly lusts for her and his throne.

Elric doesn’t even really want to rule, but it is his duty, and he is the only one of his race to see the newly evolved race of Man as a threat to the Empire. He owns – or is possessed by – a black sword called Stormbringer: a magical blade which sucks out the souls of its victims and feeds their force and vitality to the albino.

His life is all blood and tragedy, exacerbated by his despised dependence on the black sword and his sworn allegiance to the chimerical Lord of Chaos Arioch

Heady stuff for those simpler comicbook times: the White Wolf was the complete antithesis of roistering lusty, impetuous Conan, who was drawn into a trans-dimensional conflict when he rescued old associate Zephra from a pack of marauding Chaos Warriors in ‘A Sword Called Stormbringer!’

The comely wench was the daughter of Zukala: a wizard who strangely bore no animosity towards the barbarian youth who shattered his power and maimed his face the last time they clashed. In fact the mage wanted to hire Conan to stop rival wizard Kulan Gath from rousing a sleeping demon queen from another realm…

The promise of much gold convinces the normally magic-avoiding warrior to accept the commission and soon he and Zephra are riding hard for the lake beneath which Terhali of Melniboné lies, but they are unaware that Xiombarg, Queen of Swords (and rival Lord of Chaos) has despatched her own warriors to intercept them…

As they near the haunted mere the humans meet a gaunt, eerie albino with his own reasons for seeking out Terhali.

After a violent misunderstanding Conan and Elric call a suspicious truce, intent on stopping Kulan Gath, his patron Xiombarg and a small army of Chaos killers, but once the unlikely trio of world savers reach the submerged city of Yagala, they find that ‘The Green Empress of Melniboné!’ is wide awake and intent on making her own apocalyptic mark on the Hyborian Age…

It takes the callous intervention of Arkyn, Lord of Order and the willing sacrifice of Zephra to end the emerald menace and the heartsick heroes part; each riding towards his own foredoomed destiny…

As revealed in detail in Thomas’ informative ‘Behind the Swords’ Afterword, ‘The Gods of Bal-Sagoth’ was created after Barry Smith resigned – citing the punishing deadlines and poor reproduction values of the now monthly title – whereafter a frantic scrabble for a replacement happily brought forth avid RE Howard fan Gil Kane, who lent his galvanic dynamism to a stunning 2-part adaptation of a prose short story originally starring Celtic adventurer Black Turlogh O’Brien

Inked by Ralph Reese the tale began as Conan clashed again with former foe and current pirate chief Fafnir, before the ship they rode in foundered in a storm.

The only survivors, Cimmerian and Vanirman washed ashore on a mist-enshrouded island and fell into a savage power struggle between ambitious castaway Kyrie – who claimed to be the incarnation of goddess Aala – and High Priest Gothan who ruled the oldest kingdom in the world through sorcery and his puppet king Ska

Now the faux deity utilised an ancient prophecy concerning two warriors from the sea to make her play, but only slaughter and cataclysm awaited after the insurgency released ‘The Thing in the Temple’ (inked by Dan Adkins)…

Clearly refreshed and re-inspired, Smith returned with #19 to begin the magnum opus of the early Conan canon as the Cimmerian and Fafnir, only survivors of drowned Bal-Sagoth, were picked up and pressed into service with the invasion fleet of a power-hungry prince…

Developed and adapted from Howard’s lost historical classic The Shadow of the Vulture, the War of the Tarim was a bold epic that embroiled our young wanderer in a Holy War between the city-state of Makkalet and expansionist Empire of Turan, led by the ambitious Prince Yezdigerd, who would become a bitter, life-long enemy of our sword-wielding swashbuckler.

‘Hawks of the Sea’ opens slowly as the outlanders learn the ostensible reason for the conflict – the stealing of the current fleshly receptacle of the Living God Tarim – but soon kicks into high gear when Yezdigerd’s initial beachhead in Makkalet is repulsed by sorcery. Only Conan’s inimitable prowess and ingenuity allows the survivors to escape back to the relative safety of their ships…

In the next instalment the Cimmerian is part of a commando raid to steal back the man-god and meets a “temple-wench” who turns out to be the city-state’s embattled queen. However the mission goes bloodily awry when Machiavellian high priest Kharam-Akkad unleashes the citadel’s ‘Black Hound of Vengeance!’

Barely surviving the beast’s fury, Conan returns to Yezdigerd’s flagship where, upon discovering what the invaders have done with their own burdensome wounded, he maims the Turanian prince and jumps ship…

The story element of this epic volume ends with ‘The Monster of the Monoliths!’ (heroically inked by Adkins, P. Craig Russell, Val Mayerik & Sal Buscema) as Conan, at risk of his life, defects to the side of besieged Makkalet and is promptly commissioned by ineffectual King Eannatum to ride through the lines with a small company of men to seek allies and assistance amongst the Queen’s noble but distant family.

Little does he realise that’s he’s been designated a worthwhile and expendable sacrifice for an arcane antediluvian horror from beyond the mortal realms… but then again little does the loathsome travesty of nature understand the nature of the man it’s being offered…

Augmented by Thomas’s insightful observations and intriguing reminiscences, this rousing, evocative, beautiful and deeply satisfying collection is a superb slice of savage escapism that any red-blooded, action-starved armchair adventurer would kill for, and these re-mastered issues are a superb way to enjoy some of American comics’ most influential – and enjoyable – moments. They certainly deserve a prized place on your bookshelf.
©1972, 2003 Conan Properties International, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Conan: The Ravagers Out of Time

– a Marvel Graphic Novel


By Roy Thomas, Mike Docherty & Alfredo Alcala (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-87135-911-7

During the 1970′s the American comic book industry opened up after more than fifteen years of cautious and calcified publishing practices which had come about as a reaction to the scrupulously-censorious oversight of the self-inflicted Comics Code Authority. The body was created by the publishers themselves to self-police their product and keep it palatable and wholesome after the industry had narrowly survived a McCarthy-style Witch-hunt during the mid-1950s.

One of the first genres to be revisited was Horror/Mystery comics and from that opening up came the pulp masterpiece Conan the Cimmerian.

Pulp-style Sword & Sorcery stories had been undergoing a prose revival in the paperback marketplace since the release of soft-cover editions of Lord of the Rings (first published in 1954) and by the 1960s the revival of the two-fisted fantasies of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Otis Adelbert Kline, Fritz Lieber and others were being supplemented by modern writers such as Michael Moorcock and Lin Carter who kick-started their careers with contemporary versions of man against mage. Undoubtedly the grand master of the genre was Robert E. Howard.

Marvel Comics tested the waters in early 1970 with ‘The Sword and the Sorcerers’ (from horror anthology Chamber of Darkness #4) whose hero Starr the Slayer bore no small resemblance to the Barbarian. It was written by Roy Thomas and drawn by Barry Smith, who was just breaking out of the company’s Kirby house-style.

Despite some early teething problems, including being cancelled and reinstated in the same month, the comic-strip adventures of Robert E. Howard were as big a success as the prose yarns that led the global boom in fantasy and, latterly, the supernatural.

Conan became a huge hit; a giant brand that saw new prose tales, movies, a TV series and cartoon show, a newspaper strip and all the other paraphernalia of success… and it all stemmed from the vast range of quality comics initiated by Thomas and Smith.

In Conan’s all-conquering wake Marvel developed comicbook interpretations of other Howard creations such as Bran Mak Morn, Solomon Kane and others. Undoubtedly the Silver and Bronze medals went to the fairly straight adaptation of King Kull of Atlantis and a rather more broadly reinterpreted Red Sonya of Rogatine.

Roy Thomas was a huge fan of the prose source material and took great pains to adapt the novels and short stories into the graphic canon, but he was also one of the top writers in his field and much of the franchise’s success devolves from his visceral grasp of the characters, which makes this particular graphic novel of particular interest.

All comics fans adore a team-up – especially if the antagonists fight each other as well as whatever menace brought them together – and this dream-ticket event, superbly illustrated by Mike Docherty & Alfredo Alcala, with painted colour from Tom Vincent, combines the big three in a stupendous battle to save the entire Hyborian Age from supernatural Armageddon.

When Conan leads a raid against a Turanian treasure caravan he once more meets friendly foe Red Sonja and an uncomfortably familiar ancient Pict shaman named Gonar who warns them of an old eldritch enemy recently risen from the dead for a third time and destined to become a threat to all who ever lived. After some heated debate the heroes determine to seek out the horror and Conan’s rag-tag bandit army accompany them – less concerned with saving the world than liberating the vast gold mine where Rotath the All-Conquering currently resides…

The sorcerer’s latest form is a hideous confused monster but it still recalls its most recent slayer Conan (see Chronicles of Conan volume 6). The re-resurrected, bewildered and utterly deranged mage wants a human body and when he fails to secure the Cimmerian’s, the gilded nightmare rips open the veil of time and drags Conan and Sonja back eight centuries, where they meet the only other hero ever to have killed Rotath – King Kull.

Determined to wreak final revenge upon all who have ever thwarted him, Rotath employs a legion of intelligent primates dubbed the Ape Lords to attack Kull’s empire of Valusia and blackmails Conan into abducting the King so that the monster can possess his form.

Of course after every mandatory battle of heroes they always unite in common cause and the greatest warriors of two ages are soon making the undying golden wizard rue the day he was reborn…

With brawny battles, warring wizards and enough suspense to choke a mastodon, this action-packed yarn is rip-roaring fantasy fare, brimming with supernatural horrors, wild women, wickedly worldly cynicism and spectacular titanic clashes, cannily recounted by immensely talented creators at the top of their form.

Still readily available, The Ravagers Out of Time is a another magnificently oversized tale produced in the European Album format with large, glossy white pages (285 x 220mm rather than the standard US proportions of 258 x 168mm) which provides another heady swig of untrammelled joy for lovers of the genre and fans of the greatest hero(es) ever to swing a sword or plunder a tomb…
© 1992 Conan Properties, Inc. Conan the Barbarian is a Registered Trademark of Conan Properties Inc. All rights reserved. Kull © 1992 Kull Productions, Inc. Kull and the distinctive likeness thereof is a Trademark of Kull Productions, Inc. All rights reserved. Red Sonja © 1992 Red Sonja Corporation. Red Sonja and the distinctive likeness thereof is a Trademark of Red Sonja Corporation. All rights reserved.

Conan the Barbarian: The Horn of Azoth – A Marvel Graphic Novel


By Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Mike Docherty, Tony DeZuniga & Tom Vincent (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-87135-639-0

During the 1970′s, in response to a global downturn in superhero sales, and rise in interest in all things supernatural, the American comic book industry opened up after more than fifteen years of cautious and calcified publishing practices. These had come about as a reaction to the scrupulously-censorious oversight of the self-inflicted Comics Code Authority: A body created by publishers to police their product and keep it palatable and wholesome after the industry suffered their very own McCarthy-inspired Witch-hunt during the 1950s. Thus instead of crime comics – the other big casualty of the CCA – the first genre to be revisited was Horror/Mystery comics and from that came the pulp masterpiece Conan the Cimmerian.

Sword & Sorcery prose stories had undergone a global renaissance in the paperback marketplace since the release of soft-cover editions of Lord of the Rings (first published in 1954), and the 1960s saw the resurgence of the two-fisted fantasies of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Otis Adelbert Kline and Fritz Lieber, whilst many modern writers such as Michael Moorcock and Lin Carter kick-started their careers with contemporary versions of man, monster and mage. Indisputably the grand master of the genre was Robert E. Howard.

Marvel Comics tested the waters in early 1970 with a little tale called ‘The Sword and the Sorcerers’ (from the horror anthology Chamber of Darkness #4) whose hero Starr the Slayer bore no small resemblance to the Barbarian. It was written by Roy Thomas and drawn by young Englishman Barry Smith, a recent Marvel find, and one who was just breaking out of the company’s Kirby house-style.

Despite some early teething problems, including being cancelled and reinstated in the same month, the comic-strip adventures of Robert E. Howard’s characters were as big a success as the prose yarns. Conan became a huge success: a mega-brand that saw new prose tales, a TV series and cartoon show, a newspaper strip and most importantly a Major Motion Picture in 1982.

…And it all largely stemmed from the vast range of comics initiated by Thomas, Windsor-Smith (as he became) and the excellent succession of comics creators that followed.

Thomas was a huge fan of the prose material and took great pains to adapt the novels and short stories into the graphic canon, but he was also one of the top writers in his field and much of the franchise’s success devolves from his visceral grasp on the character, which makes this particular graphic novel of particular interest.

After the success of the first film Thomas and fellow Marvel stalwart Gerry Conway were invited to write the second movie script.  How they did and why their script was accepted and never made is textbook Hollywood (I know whereof I speak: buy us a drink one day and I’ll tell you my own tales of Tinsel Town Tactics) and makes a fascinating introduction to this tome; but the upshot was at the end of the protracted process the scripters had a brilliant Conan yarn that everybody loved but that wasn’t going to be Conan the Destroyer. This meant of course, that with a little wheeler-dealing and a few secured permissions it could be returned to the artform that spawned it…

Thus “King of Thieves” became the superb savage thriller ‘The Horn of Azoth’ and opens with the itinerant Barbarian earning a crust pit-fighting in Shadizar the Wicked until he runs afoul of a local Magistrate – to the legislator’s lasting regret. The burly brigand is captured by the city guard but escapes the dungeons with the aid of a beautiful young witch. Together they flee the city with her giant bodyguard and it transpires that she needs Conan to help her fulfil a dark and ancient prophecy. Of course she tells him it’s to help unearth a fabulous treasure…

Locating the lost fortress and broaching its defences are child’s play for a bandit like the Cimmerian, but the mages within prove an unexpected obstacle and the little band is soon augmented by a boy-wizard with his own hidden agenda and an Amazonian Nubian warrior princess as they all converge on a distant rendezvous with fate.

It’s soon clear that everybody is lying to Conan as warring factions struggle to awaken or re-inter antediluvian god Azoth. Whoever wins the world is equally imperilled and unless he works a miracle Conan is collateral damage in a cosmic war that has been brewing for eons…

With brawny battles, warring wizards and enough suspense to choke a mastodon, this action-packed yarn is rip-roaring fantasy fare, brimming with supernatural horrors, wild women and spectacular titanic clashes, cannily recounted by immensely talented creators at the top of their form. Especially effective is Mike Docherty’s supremely illustrative art, ably enhanced by Tony DeZuniga’s smooth inking and Tom Vincent’s lush colours.

Still available, this is a another magnificently oversized tale (produced in the European Album format with glossy white pages 285mm x 220mm rather than the standard US proportions of 258 x 168mm) that provides another heady swig of untrammelled joy for lovers of the genre and fans of the greatest hero ever to swing a sword or plunder a tomb…
© 1990 Conan Properties Inc All Rights Reserved.

Conan: The Witch Queen of Acheron – Marvel Graphic Novel #19


By Don Kraar, Gary Kwapisz, Art Nichols & others (Marvel)
ISBN: 0- 87135-085-8

During the 1970′s the American comicbook industry opened up after more than fifteen years of calcified publishing practices maintained by the scrupulously-censorious oversight of the self-inflicted Comics Code Authority: A body created by publishers to police their product and keep it palatable and wholesome after the industry suffered their very own McCarthy-style witch-hunt during the early 1950s.

One of the first genres to be revisited was Horror/Mystery comics and from that came the creation of a new comics genre. Sword & Sorcery stories had been undergoing a prose revival in the paperback marketplace since the release of soft-cover editions of Lord of the Rings in 1954 and, by the 1960s, revivals of the two-fisted fantasies of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Otis Adelbert Kline, Fritz Lieber and others had been augmented by many modern writers such as Michael Moorcock and Lin Carter who kick-started their prose careers with contemporary versions of man against mage. The undisputed overlord of the genre was Robert E. Howard with his 1930s pulp masterpiece Conan of Cimmeria.

Gold Key had opened the field in 1964 with Mighty Samson, DC dabbled with Nightmaster in Showcase #82 -84 in 1969 whilst Marvel tested the waters with barbarian villain Arkon in Avengers #76 (April 1970) before going all-out with short tale ‘The Sword and the Sorcerers’ in horror anthology Chamber of Darkness #4.

Written by Roy Thomas and drawn by fresh-faced Marvel find Barry Smith, the tale introduced Starr the Slayer – who bore no small resemblance to the Barbarian in waiting…

Conan the Barbarian debuted with an October 1970 cover-date and despite some early teething problems, including being cancelled and reinstated in the same month, the comic-strip adventures of Howard’s primal hero were as big a success as the prose yarns that led the global boom in fantasy and the supernatural. Conan became a huge success: a pervasive brand that saw new prose tales, movies, a TV series and cartoon show, a newspaper strip and all the other paraphernalia of success.

Here the peripatetic Soldier-of-Fortune is enjoying some boisterous down-time in the flesh-pots of Belverus when the gold he’s spending like water comes to the attention of wicked Prince Tarascus. The coins are over three thousand years old and the ambitious ruler wants to know how a common sell-sword got hold of artefacts from a dead civilisation famed as the wealthiest in the world.

After spectacularly beating up most of the Prince’s Guard Conan passes out dead drunk and awakens in the infamous Tower of Pain. The Prince absolutely refuses to believe Conan’s tale of finding the gold on a dying man, who left them to him in return for a decent burial, so to avoid further torture Conan drags Tarascus, his hot-blooded wife Demetzia and a cohort of soldiers to the site of the long-dead city state in search of the fabled Treasure Mines of Acheron’s legendary Queen Xaltana…

Simply looking for a chance to escape, the Cimmerian inadvertently leads the rapacious army of gold-grubbers to a remote mountain range where they encounter a very unfriendly lost tribe of savages who claim to be the last Acheronians, who ambush and decimate Tarascus’ force.

Conan and the survivors’ headlong flight leads them to the lost mine which miraculously also houses the mythic Tomb of Xaltana, but Tarascus’ jubilation at the potential wealth of the discovery is marred by his advisors and engineers’ suspicions. Who ever heard of tomb that was locked and barred from the outside, as if to hold something in rather than keep robbers out…?

Nobody can safely tell a Prince of Nemedia what do however, so with the still-captive Conan in tow the tomb is broached… and all Hell hungrily breaks loose…

The Witch Queen of Acheron is classic rip-roaring pulp fare, chockfull of all the visceral elements that first propelled the barbarian to popular acclaim, written by veteran fantasy scripter Don Kraar (best known as the writer of the Tarzan newspaper strip for thirteen years as well as TRS properties for DC and a number of Hyborian epics for Marvel) and realised by artists Gary Kwapisz & Art Nichols, coloured by Julianna Ferriter and lettered by Janice Chiang.

Stuffed with two-fisted action, dripping with tension and loaded with the now-mandatory scantily-clad damsels, this worldly-wise, delightfully cynical horror-thriller produced in the European Album format (crisp and glossy white pages 285mm x 220mm rather than the customary US comicbook proportions of 258 x 168mm), perfectly revives the raw energy of the original tales and will provide untrammelled pleasures for lovers of the genre and fans of the greatest hero of the Hyborian Age.
© 1985 Conan Properties, Inc. Conan the Barbarian and all prominent characters are TM Conan Properties Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Kull: The Vale of Shadow (A Marvel Graphic Novel)


By Alan Zelenetz & Tony DeZuniga, with Tom Vincent & Michael Heisler (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-87135-558-4

Following on from the creation of the comicbook Sword and Sorcery genre in the early 1970s with their magnificent adaptation of pulp superstar Conan the Barbarian, Marvel naturally looked for more of the same, and found it in Robert Ervin Howard’s prototypical wild warrior hero King Kull whose first adventure The Shadow Kingdom was published in the fantasy pulp Weird Tales in August 1929. Two more tales followed before Howard abandoned the character, but nine others and a poem ‘The King and the Oak’ were published posthumously, long after the troubled author had committed suicide.

The S&S genre had undergone a global prose revival through the paperback marketplace since the release of soft-cover editions of Lord of the Rings (first published in 1954), and by the 1960s the resurgence of two-fisted fantasies by such pioneer writers as Edgar Rice Burroughs, Otis Adelbert Kline and Fritz Lieber, whilst many modern writers such as Michael Moorcock and Lin Carter kick-started their careers with contemporary interpretations of man, monster and mage. Without doubt though, nobody did it better than the tragic Texan whose other red-handed stalwart included, Bran Mac Morn, Solomon Kane and El Borak as well tough guys in a variety of other genres such as Steve Costigan, Dark Agnes and Red Sonya of Rogatino.

Marvel Comics tested the waters in early 1970 with a little tale called ‘The Sword and the Sorcerers’ (in horror anthology Chamber of Darkness #4) whose hero Starr the Slayer bore no small resemblance to Conan. It was written by Roy Thomas and drawn by young Englishman Barry Smith, a recent Marvel find, and one who was just breaking out of the company’s Kirby house-style.

Thomas was a huge fan of the prose genre and took great pains to adapt novels and short stories to the graphic medium, even transferring other Howard tales into the canon by replacing his admittedly formulaic leading men with the surly Cimmerian (as Howard himself had done rewriting his unused Kull tale ‘By This Axe, I Rule’ into Conan novella ‘The Phoenix on the Sword’).

Marvel found solid ancillary supporting features with Solomon Kane, Bran Mac Morn and, most successfully King Kull: a wandering Atlantean mercenary who took the throne of a mighty kingdom by force of arms only to spend the rest of his life battling supernatural threats to it and guarding his own back from greedy, ambitious courtiers.

His comics publishing history was as chequered as his prose one; debuting in spectacular manner in Kull the Conqueror (29 issues from 1971-1978 with artistic contributions from Ross Andru, Wally Wood, John and Marie Severin and Mike Ploog among others), a black and white mature magazine Kull and the Barbarians (3 issues, 1975) and a revived, revised, comicbook version from 1982-1985. He even stared with Spider-Man in Marvel Team-Up #112

This sleek and glossy, lavishly oversized gem (285mm x 220mm rather than today’s standard 258 x 168mm) comes from 1989: an eerie, lyrical and poetic tale as the aging King battles his greatest foe and defeats her in characteristically barbaric and unflinching manner…

Kull is dying, sweating and straining on his deathbed as infected wounds seem set to carry him into the great beyond. Gathered for the deathwatch are his most trusted advisors and as they individually reminisce about the gore-spattered gladiator who became Valusia’s greatest monarch, we share their recollections to discover the kind of man he was.

Oblivious, unaware, Kull’s body thrashes and writhes. He struggles on, his soul trapped in an ethereal realm, dancing an erotic duet with the darkly seductive angel of death who has come to take him to the gods…

This eldritch crossing of the final Rubicon is beautifully illustrated in the grand, ostentatiously humanesque manner of the Filipino artists who became such a mainstay of DC and Marvel during the 1970s and early 1980s. Tony DeZuniga was one of the first to break into American comics and his work is always of the highest quality, especially here, enhanced by the glowing, lush hues of colorist Tom Vincent.

Once upon a time Marvel led the publishing pack in high quality original graphic novels: mixing creator-owned properties, licensed assets like Kull and movie adaptations with Marvel Universe tales and even new series launches in extravagant squarebound packages based on the European album model. To me it seems these slim tomes always shine with some intangible extra oomph – perhaps it’s simply the bigger pages with more art on them?

Still readily available, this is a magnificent moody yarn that will delight any fan of the genre and should easily convert a few die-hards too.
© 1989 Conan Properties Inc All Rights Reserved.