Thursday, May 26, 2011

Conan of the Mid-Life Crisis:

We mentioned this issue about a bazillion posts ago, but I found a slightly water-damaged copy of Conan the King #28 for fifty cents at the Comic Book Shop a bit ago...which makes me a little sad that I didn't pick it up earlier, since it appears to have been there for some time. I had this issue back in 1985, but my Conan comics were lent out a ton and often lost, so I hadn't read it in some time. Does it hold up to my recollections? Let's see!

The story opens with two riders looking for Conan the King...y'know, I always liked "King Conan" better. And he isn't at the palace or the throne room, he's pounding down a couple at the Black Boar Inn; incognito, with a fake beard. (In the original stories from Robert E. Howard, I believe Conan had a beard when he was king, but that would make him look like Grandpa Conan.) And I'm not sure how 'incognito' he was, drinking with his advisor Prospero and Black Dragon/bodyguard Tarquin. Tarquin, who may not have owned other clothes, was in full armor...

The riders storm into the bar, shouting for Conan, who isn't recognized but is pissed his undisclosed location was...disclosed. After a brawl, Conan clears the bar, notably having to bawl out a cloaked figure who is the last to leave. The riders bring news that the Queen of Shem has been abducted, and Conan damn near charges into action, before Prospero rains on his day: responsibilities, duties, his family. Conan orders Tarquin to take a squad of the elite Dragons and find the queen, then grumblingly heads back to the castle. Good to be the king? Meh.

Conan ditches Prospero, who was about to remind him of his daughter Radegund's birthday that evening. Instead, Conan pouts about his kingdom Aquilonia being a prison, until the cloaked figure from the bar sneaks up on him. "A careless man leads a short life,"the figure says; and Conan says the only one who's ever snuck up on him like that was "a flame-tressed devil from Hyrkania's steppes..."

Red Sonya, herself. She's not wearing the more recognizable chainmail bikini, but what looks pretty close to her outfit in Marvel's 80's book. She's still a mercenary, and actually on the clock; but confesses she couldn't resist following Conan to "greet him for old time's sake." Now, piss off: "Get back to your court or your harem or wherever you kings park your royal rumps all day long." I'm not going to scan the next panel, because it almost looks like Conan is about to cry there. Sonya relents, and says Conan can come with her, but not "outfitted like a royal peacock." She takes Conan's crown off with her sword--not sure how, yeah--and Conan himself ditches his other kingly accouterments to ride after her.

After a couple subplot pages, wherein Queen Zenobia perhaps flirts a little with her guard captain Lysander, Conan and "Son-ya" are rowing out to a "death barge." Conan clucks his tongue at her robbing the dead, but Sonja doesn't debate it, instead ordering Conan around. As they swim to the barge, Conan tries to get a little grabby, which doesn't go well:

That's a pretty good expression, there. Sonja says Conan should know better than that by now, but Conan merely acknowledges she can still kick like a mule.

As is typical for Sonja and Conan's capers, Sonja uses Conan as dumb muscle, leaving him to take care of the guards; while she tries to steal a jewel from a necromancer's corpse. Also typical: things go awry.

After defeating the smoke monster, Sonja takes the jewel, and Conan helps himself to a jeweled chain "for old time's sake." After they row back to shore, Conan wants to hit a bar and drink it dry while Sonja dances. Sonja asks Conan to get the grappling hook she left in the boat, then cuts the line and kicks the boat off the shore. Saying he has "no business with a sell-sword and a wanderer," Red Sonja rides out of Conan's life, possibly for the last time. Conan swims ashore and is about to ride after her, when he hears the bells of the temple of Mitra.

At said temple, Radegund is in tears at her father's absence; and his advisers are trying to cover with a story about fasting and meditating that even they know is weak. But Conan shows up just in time, with the chain as a present to boot.

This issue reads a lot differently, now that I'm old and while not king, have a lot of stupid, stupid responsibilities that I would just as soon throw away and ride off with an old girlfriend. (Pfft! There's no old girlfriend of mine dumb enough to take me back!) Conan and Zenobia's marriage seems to be in pretty bad shape here (not unlike the last time) and Conan doesn't seem especially close to his kids. (His oldest, Conn, was believed dead at the time.) The Queen of Shem plot wasn't touched on again this issue, either. But it's open to interpretation, how much this issue is about Conan's mid-life crisis, or about Sonja continuing to play him for a chump. Or if Sonja leads Conan on, or if he's really just always going to be a sap for her.

From Conan the King #28, "Call of the Wild" Per the GCD, since it doesn't seem to be credited in this issue, written by Alan Zelenetz, pencils by Marc Silvestri, inks by Geoff Isherwood. (Silvestri and Isherwood's signature is on the splash page, at any rate.)

EDIT: I had missed the ever-popular U.S. Postal Service Statement of Ownership. Line C Total Paid Circulation: average number of copies each issue during preceding 12 months: 141,537. Single issue nearest to filing date: 140,643. And an almost equal number of returns!

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