Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Give your henchmen too cool of costumes, sign their death warrants.

I still haven't been to see Conan the Barbarian...not unlike the rest of you, judging by the box office numbers. (I probably will spring to see it in the theatres, because when else can you see Conan on the big screen?) But, I did pick up a good pile of old Conan the King comics, most of #29-#37. I had most of those back in 1985-86, but lost several of them. (We will have the last issue, #55, for this year's "The End" week.)

Today's scans are from Conan the King #30, "Revenge on the Black River" Written by Don Kraar, pencils by Mike Docherty, inks by Geof Isherwood. Whereas the first nineteen or so issues of King Conan were mostly one-and-done adventures, the book had been full-on serial mode since Prince Conn's alleged death in #20. #30 was Kraar's second issue writing, and the intrigue was also ramping up: the savage Picts are rising on Aquilonia's frontier, supplied weapons and siege engines from the rulers of Ophir, Nemedia, and Argos. The three nations have allied and move against Conan's capital while he takes forces to the Picts.

In an opening that suggests the new writer raising the stakes, or getting rid of some characters from the old writer; Conan's elite Black Knights are wiped out inside the first five pages. Conan, wearing his Thor helmet, swears vengeance.

I thought the Black Knights' chain mail uniforms were cool, but I can't recall if Conan ever instated new ones. And to be fair, this is a bit of reverse refrigerator stuffing: one of the Dragons was seeing Conan's daughter Radegund, who gets pissed at her dad over this and becomes a handmaiden of Mitra. (Basically a nun, although she doesn't realize the head priest may not be what he seems...or rather he might, since he looks pretty damn evil.)
This issue would probably seem tame today, but I think if you tried to sell kids a comic today where Conan rather implicitly endorses prostitution; there would doubtless be problems somewhere. There's also some race issues, since while there are noble Kushite tribesmen serving as one of Conan's mercenary legions, the Picts are dark-skinned murderous savages. Led by Shooz Dinj, who is painted white not unlike Baron Samedi in Live and Let Die. Uh...huh.

Conan mentions he hasn't seen Shooz's ugly mug in twenty-five years, but he'd recognize him. Well, with that makeup, I'd hope so. I think Kraar might've been used Shooz a couple times in Savage Sword of Conan, having run-ins with the younger Conan, possibly with the idea of making him a recurring villain. Who is killed this issue, but still. Not unlike the Punisher, I don't think Conan needs recurring villains; or at least they shouldn't be around for more than a year; because I don't think it takes Conan longer than a year to kill anybody, and that's if they start running last year. (The Conan movies seem to have this problem: Conan is orphaned, grows up, get revenge. I'd really rather Conan get orphaned, gets revenge that afternoon, and then we move on.) There are a few exceptions, like Thoth-Amon and maybe the Devourer of Souls; but then, like the Punisher, Conan shouldn't really be in the same room as them until the big finish.

When the Picts are defeated, the survivors offer to go back beyond the Black River and never return. Conan counters with his best offer: "Go back to your warriors and tell them to sing their death song." (I would not want to be the guy that had to go back with that news. "So, what'd he say? Did he go for it?" "Well...") Conan's forces kill the lot of them, then Dinj after he's captured later. Faced with the headman's ax, Dinj hesitates, but Conan points out he himself would not get off so easily, if the shoe was on the other foot. Still, it's not like Conan was singling Dinj and the Picts out, either: this would be a start to Conan's road to empire, whether he wanted it or not, and there would be tougher choices to come.

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