Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Conquering Sword Of Conan!

The Conquering of Conan offers up the last five Conan stories that Robert E. Howard ever wrote, and evidence is strong that these were the last Conan stories he was ever planning to write.

"The Servants of Bit-Yakin" is one of the weakest Conan stories. Set in a vast ancient stone complex (apparently inspired by Carlsbad Caverns) this has Conan seeking to steal some jewels away from a cult. There's precious little clarity as the story maunders along with lots of explanation required to make it seem sensible. The girl in this one feels more like a movie flapper than a dame proper to the Hyborian Age.

"Beyond the Black River" is a good solid Conan story, considered the best by some but not me. It's really a Western in  Hyborian dress with the savage Celts filling in for wild red Indians. This is a story set in a sprawling wilderness where Conan is a scout trying to save the lives of Aquilonian settlers who have penetrated a bit too far into Celt country. Conan's companion in this one is not the obligatory chick, but a young warrior who comports himself with significant honor.

"The Black Stranger" is a pirate yarn with hidden treasure, maps, dueling rogues and the lot. Conan is a pretty murderous chap in this complicated story and his wits seem to fail him more than once so that the story can continue. I wanted to like this story more than I did. Conan seemed a bit out of character to me, but there's no shortage of action.

"The Man-Eaters of Zamboula" is a story which hearkens back to earlier Conan style pitting him against mysterious ancient threats with a plotting girl by his side. It's a complicated plot with a proper ending, but it all seemed a tad formulaic.

"Red Nails" is the unabashed classic in this collection. Valeria is without doubt the strongest woman introduced in the Conan canon, save perhaps for the undaunted Zenobia, and much of the story centers on her. I love the battle with the dragon and the threat of the city of Xuchotil, a properly weird and nightmarish setting. The plotting might seem a wee bit overripe at times, but the atmosphere in this one wins the day, giving Conan a proper send off.

Gregory Manchess is the artist for this third and final volume from Ballantine featuring Conan, and he gives us a Conan who is at once realistic and vivid.

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  1. Surely Red Sonja was Valeria in all but name so I assume Marvel didn't use Valeria as a regular character due to licensing/rights issues.....?

    1. I don't think licensing was the issue at the time. Roy was very much into the biography of Conan and he just hadn't met Valeria yet when Red Sonja was developed. After RS was such a hit, Valeria was probably deemed redundant, especially when Belit showed up and stayed for fifty issues of the classic run.

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