Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Chronicles of Conan-Volume 2

By the time of the tales told in this volume came into being, Conan the Barbarian was a bonafide hit. It had even been joined by a companion comic featuring Kull the Conqueror. The earliest days had been shaky with sales rising and falling but with the eighth issue the sales solidified and began to steadily grow. The stories wold become (perhaps because of this confidence) more complex with aspects which moved from epidsode to episode.

The ninth issue of Conan the Barbarian is one of the most somber and lyrical. Based on an REH story "The Garden of Fear" by Roy Thomas, Barry Smith and now regular inker Sal Buscema, has Conan and his new companion Jenna find a valley filled with dangers. They also find a primitive tribe who help them then warn them of danger beyond a great wall. That danger appears in the form of a winged demon who carries Jenna off. Conan follows, making his way gingerly through a herd of mammoths. He finds the demon's tower, battles the silent foe and rescues the damsel as you knew he would. But there are some frightening details along the way. This time reading it, I was put in mind of the recent movie franchise Jeepers Creepers.

In the tenth issue, Marvel increased the size of all their comics and raised the price to twenty-five cents. This proved to be a bold move, because when they later shifted back down to twenty cents and their Distinguished Competition did not, Marvel at long last took hold of the sales lead in the industry. For Conan the increase at first meant little, save that he shared his comic with a Black Knight reprint and an adaptation of a King Kull poem. Neither of these is in this collection, so enough said about that.

What we do have is a great story with a rare friendship for Conan. Burgun, a Gunderman who he had partnered with in an earlier adventure is working as a thief with his young partner Igon. They help Conan and Jenna escape the city guard and while Conan and Burgun plot to steal from the the hoard of the dangerous Red Priest, Igon and Jenna seem very friendly. Burgun is captured in their attempt and Conan plans to free come to nought when the hanging is done almost immediately. To revenge himself Conan confronts the Red Priest's acolyte and his ancient Bull-God Anu.

The next issue, a giant-size one adapts a great REH story, "Rogues in the House". Conan is taken prisoner by the Red Priest's men.  He was betrayed by Jenna who has become Igon's lover. In the dungeons of the city Conan is met by Murilo, a nobleman of the city who is in fear of the Red Priest and hires Conan to kill him. Conan agrees and his captivity is discussed with a plan to end it arrived at. That plan falls through, but Conan still escapes and feeling obligated and for his own reasons goes to the lair of the Red Priest. But first he finds Igon and Jenna, killing the former and hurling the latter into the muck of the streets. He finds Murilo and the Red Priest himself, both of them threatened by a enormous figure in the clothing of the Red Priest. It turns out the Priest's pet ape Thak has taken his role and will certainly kill them if they do nothing. So they work together to battle the threat (Conan does most of the work) and finally escape. But there is treachery. 

With issue twelve the comic reverts in size, though it costs a nickel more for the same stuff. We get a pure Barry Smith story this time, with inker Sal Buscema absent for an issue. Conan falls victim to a small city of people who guard a particular oasis and becomes the plaything of the queen Fatima. There's another beauty named Yaila who Conan cottons to, but when he becomes captain of the guard and Fatima's plaything, she is off limits. Later Fatima has them both chained in the sewers beneath the palace when they encounter a octopus-like creature who it is suggested was once human. The battle is ferocious and Conan saves the day, but not for everyone.

Though not contained in this volume, this issue was backed up by a tale by Thomas and Gil Kane set in Hyboria. Kane also did the cover with inks by Vinnie Colletta. It's precursor of things to come. 

In a story from Conan the Barbarian fourteen, the "Web of the Spider-God", Conan again falls victim to a city of zealots who waylay him at an oasis and steal his supplies. He battles across a desert and finds the city they hail from, a place led by a cult which worships an enormous monster spider named "Omm the Unspeakable". Conan battles the monster, saves a girl along the way, but this time the entire city falls victim to a threat underneath its very streets. One of the most notable things about this issue is that the plot was provided by John Jakes, a writer on the verge  (at at the time) of immense fame and who had created one of the more durable Conan clones in Brak the Barbarian.

To close out the second volume in this series, we jump ahead and find a story from Conan the Barbarian sixteen. This one is a reprint of a story by Thomas and Smith produced some time before for the debut issue of Savage Tales. It adapts the famous REH story "The Frost Giant's Daughter". It's an elegant and beautifully rendered version of the mythical tale of Conan's early days as a mercenary in the frozen north lands.

There's a reason ssues fourteen and fifteen were skipped and we'll find out why next time when Conan has a guest-star and his name is Elric. More to come.

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