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.