Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Bloody Crown Of Conan!


The Bloody Crown of Conan contains two of my favorite Conan stories. These are longer stories, and at this point the character is well established having found real success at Weird Tales where the editors clamored for more (though as always are reluctant to pay).



"People of the Black Circle" is highly regarded by many, but I found its narrative a bit hard to penetrate. There is a mishmash of names early on and frankly I got the characters confused. Conan is in fine form though, kidnapping a Vendhyan queen for ransom. But the whole thing feels a bit episodic. A couple, a magician and his girlfriend, get lots of attention, but don't really depart from being cliches. The ultimate enemies, some very nasty magicians are handled well and the climax itself is pretty potent, but it takes a long time to get to it.

The Hour of the Dragon remains my favorite Conan story. The only novel written by Howard about Conan, it seems some regard it as a reprise of various elements found in earlier stories. I agree with that, but those elements, especially a king who is challenged by a resurrected magician and his traitorous colleagues is nowhere handled more deftly than here. Xaltotun, the magician, is the best and most fully developed Conan nemesis in the canon and Howard rather successfully used the story to travel across the Hyborian geography, only occasionally making it seemed forced. There's plenty of dumb luck, but in the end Conan prevails because he's smarter than his enemies. It's his brain that won the day, not necessarily his brawn. I like that.



The third and final story is "A Witch Shall Be Born", a story which is clever in that it keeps Conan at a distance in much of the story, but never forgets his influence. This tale is told adeptly with some very large but proper time jumps. The villain admittedly is a tad cliche, but this is pulp after all. Some think Conan comes across as too powerful in this yarn that has him survive a  crucifixion of all things. But I think this story does a fantastic job of making him imposing.

Gary Gianni supplies the artwork for this volume and his style is absolutely ideal for this kind of work. His Conan is rock solid.


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6 comments:

  1. I recently found REH’s A Witch Shall Be Born online and downloaded it to the company printer….Then I took it outside and read it in the sweltering sun over a handful of lunch breaks…Terrific yarn! Thanks for the artwork here Rip…I can recall too, a Savage Tales ad in one of the Marvel books several years back now – of Conan nailed to the X shaped cross with the buzzards circling (presumably from the Roy Thomas adaptation – I missed the exact issue it was in.)

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    1. The crucified Conan is one of the best covers ever from Marvel. Savage Sword of Conan #5 had the adaptation I believe.

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  2. What's really curious about REH's Conan stories is the way they were never in any kind of chronological order and jump back and forth between different periods of his life. My favourite Conan story is "Iron Shadows In The Moon", for me it has everything that makes a perfect Conan tale - pirates, a giant man-eating ape, evil statues that come alive by moonlight and a damsel in distress who's a bit feisty too. I first read it in the 1978 Conan Marvel Treasury Edition when it was reprinted in colour rather than the earlier black and white version. Amazingly, I never read any REH Conan stories until late 2009 and when I was reading them I was struck by how faithful the Marvel adaptations had been to the REH originals. When I was reading "Iron Shadows" (or "Shadows In The Moonlight" as it was in my REH collection) I could see the John Buscema/ Alfredo Alcala version in my mind.

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    1. That hit and skip method was what Howard wanted apparently, as if Conan were relating his experiences as one does from memory without any specific chronological order. DeCamp and Carter gave Conan his continuity later when the stories were presented as he "lived" them. I prefer the hit and skip, but the DeCamp approach probably explains some of the success of the series at the time.

      As for the adpatations, same here. I often see the Big John or Barry Smith images as I read.

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  3. In line with what Colin is saying – I would elect “Red Nails” as my favorite Conan story. Conan chasing after Valeria the she-pirate…a decaying, ancient city… somewhat insane, warring citizens running out of DNA for their respective gene pools..a general undercurrent of pulp eroticism…and creepy crawly things in the dark: it’s all here. The story is very well paced. Really has a disturbing, claustrophobic feel to it, as well – and is still a timely warning for today’s society… Both the original Howard prose story – and the Thomas/ Barry Smith (color) treasury edition (1970s) make this a tough story to surpass in either format in my opinion.

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    1. It is a wildly successful story on many levels. Smith was at the top of his game when he adapted that one to comics. It's baroque atmosphere was ideal for where he was as an artist at the time. And I loved the Gila Monster dragon, very memorable.

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