Monday, September 19, 2011

With a name like "Devourer of Souls," you know what you're getting.

Dark Horse Comics, the current holder of the Conan the Barbarian license for comics, has been reprinting trade collections of the classic Marvel stories. Per Amazon's listing for the Chronicles of Conan, volume 22 is due December 2011, and that would bring the reprint total to 175 out of 275 issues. I don't know if the Chronicles have reprinted any annuals, but I don't think they would be up to this one yet. Which is just as well, since it's a very Marvel story: Conan the Barbarian Annual #12, "Legion of the Dead" Written by Janes Owsley (a.k.a Priest) with a plot assist by Val Semeiks, pencils by Vince Giarrano, inks by Ernie Chan.

How Marvel is it? Well, this storyline had been running for over a year, since around #187. Conan also had a bigger supporting cast in these issues than his entire run to date; and guest-stars Red Sonja and Kull! (Kull in a flashback, since he was from an earlier age.) And the stakes are definitely raised: instead of his usual foes, Conan was up against the Devourer of Souls, an extradimensional demon who was gearing up for the end of the world.

By this point, the Devourer has captured a little girl and her cat; which is a bigger deal than it sounds: the girl is an immensely powerful "child of the Elder Gods," and the cat is her battery, and may be over 10,000 years old. Needing some backstory, the Devourer makes a visit to Arallu, or Hell, to see Kull's long time villain, Thulsa Doom: the Devourer correctly surmises if the cat had been around back then, Thulsa would've known about it. Having little else to do, since he'd been chained to a wall since his death, Thulsa tells him about it.

Back in Kull's day, a young shepherd named Sedrick saved a knight from savages. Grateful, the knight made Sedrick his squire; and while they were close, the other squires were resentful of the peasant in their midst. Thulsa Doom used Sedrick's resentment, in a plot against Kull. The plot failed, at the cost of the knight's life; and in revenge Thulsa turned Sedrick into a cat. An immortal cat. Thulsa does that rather off-the-cuff: maybe he should've tried that on Kull. He also didn't know the Elder Gods would use the cat to store their power.

In gratitude, the Devourer blasts Thulsa's chains, giving him "freedom to roam the underworld." Then, it's time to get back to work destroying the universe...

Meanwhile, Conan and his band are discussing the recent appearance of a sword, received from the Elder Gods. They come under attack by scavengers, but Conan's group is on top of their one.

Red Sonja's skill with a sword was a gift from a goddess, and she believed it was conditional on her remaining "untouched." Attacked and violated in a previous issue, she was now acting like the scared peasant girl she used to be. A surly Conan is not very sympathetic here (although I'm positive Conan killed the hell out of Sonja's attacker) and is similiarly dismissive of the Elder Gods' sword as having the wrong weight and no balance. Taking his old sword instead, Conan heads out to get answers from the Footslave of the Elder Gods...where the Devourer already is.

Instead of the Footslave, Conan finds a gateway to Arallu, which he has little choice but to take. There, Thulsa Doom is waiting for him, since he knows the Devourer would even destroy Arallu. Meanwhile, Conan's band set out to follow him, leaving Mad Simeon to watch the helpless Sonja. Attacked by the dead, Conan's regretting not bringing the Elder God's sword, while Simeon's playing with it when the scavengers attack again. Simeon is killed with arrows, enraging Sonja, who regains her fighting spirit...but she knows it was too late.

Joined by his team, Conan fights through the legion of the dead, but the Devourer gains the Elder Gods' power. This would be concluded in Conan #200, which we may dig up some other time, as there was a twist or two there. This was Conan's last annual at Marvel; and while I liked it, I can see how this might not be to the taste of all of Conan's fans.

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