Posted - January 17, 2012 | Updated : January 23, 2012 | February 5, 2012 | February 12, 2012 | February 23-24, 2012 | March 3, 2012 | June 3, 2013 | August 19, 2015
Conan: Shadow of the Beast
As the story begins, Conan is here . . .
. .. in Northern Kush. It's pouring rain and Conan, with his companion Diana, bump into two Kushite sentries. This is sort of like us bumping into the cops. As a rule, we listen to the officers and obey instructions. But this isn't our boring, civilized world. This is the Hyborian Realms, a wild place, and Conan knows it, so when these two sentries try to order him around swords are unsheathed!
Soon enough, Conan and Diana find a rock outcrop to shelter from the rain and Diana recounts her story. Rather heartbreaking too. She's the only daughter of a nobleman who perished when their ship was attacked by pirates. Here's what follows next . ..
Just one panel but if you read between the lines it tells a tale of woe. Just look at the lines : ". . . when they were done with me . . ." and ". . . sold me to . . .". You just know that this pampered noble lady has been brutally abused. After that kind of experience the rough company of Conan would appear a godsend. Diana thinks so too.
From Kush the pair wonder on to . . .
Darfar. They find themselves in a place of tall graces. Dangerously tall it turns out.
Here are the Moon-Eaters of Darfar out to get unwilling victims for their lunar sacrifice.
Conan, as usual, gives a good accounting of himself and, luckily, finds a passing caravan to help defend against the wild Darfaris. Its a strong defence but the Darfaris are numerous enough, and deadly enough, to force a grisly deal.
But there is another option.
One girl is worth two guys. I say that's about fair. So here are the unwilling sacrifices : Conan and an apprentice wizard/slave named Erfu.
Soon enough, night falls, and its time for the moon-eating ritual.
Of course, Conan will escape.
Look at this wonderful landscape panel by John Buscema.
Remember Diana and her 'I'll stay with you forever' speech? That was just desert fever. After a nice bath and some jewelry . . .
And that's it for this first adventure. Just wonderful stuff from Roy Thomas here.
The next story isn't a Roy Thomas original. It's an adaptation.
I don't know what happened, maybe Roy Thomas picked up the novel, read it, liked it so much that he shoe-horned Conan and company into the storyline. I can tell it's not a Conan original because, well, follow me, it's better to show you.
By this time Conan and Erfu are in . . .
Shem. The pair have already had an unfortunate encounter with the horse-riding sons of Shem. Here's Conan with what appears to be a terrible wound.
Of course, Conan being Conan, he would later describe this wound as being so minor that Cimmerian girls would think nothing of it.
I love Buscema's art. He is truly the master. But from time to time its fun to take note of some misses like this one.
See the riders in the grass? In his introductory caption Thomas describes things thus : "The blue-bearded riders of Shem call it the Sea of Buryat : A deep ocean of plumed and waving grass, so high and rank that a man on horseback amid it seems but half a man, adrift in an unseen boat". It's a minor thing but the grasses are rendered a tad too short.
Escaping the Shemites and wandering deep into the grass Conan and Erfu encounter a ragtag band of fierce dwarves.
Soon enough Conan is in a fight.
This is my first beef about the "Sons of the Bear God" storyline. Dwarves? Conan is a giant even among men and he's having to fight three-footers? I would surmise that Roy Thomas is aware of this disparity since the story arc - which has a lot of scenes of Conan hacking into the dwarves - has Conan repeatedly saying how sorry he is that he has to fight such undersized foes. He's right, not very sporting.
Here's the next blemish in this adaptation: The dwarfish men of Buryat are escorting their slaves - the Aesir. What??!! The Aesir live near the borders of Cimmeria. These blond Viking analogs are every bit as big and tough as their dark-haired Cimmerian neighbors. How did they become slaves? Worse than that, this is Niord and his band. Niord who figures so largely and strongly in some early Conan adventures. This is taxing my suspension of disbelief.
Before long, we encounter the king of the men of Buryat.
And, as the story progresses we get to see bits and pieces of the resources of this strange dwarf men.
In there borders they have a strangling mist.
In their capital, on top of a pyramid, they have an ingenious telescope device.
An honored personage among them has golder ears that hear across vast distances.
They also have electricity.
I'm not saying they don't look like total idiots.
Not very Hyborean Realms is it?
And it turns out they're drugging the Aesir. It seems that these Buryatese have a tremendous level of organization and some very advanced tools. It makes their enslavement of the Aesir a bit more plausible but I'm still shaking my head over it.
As the story progesses Conan gets into a wrestling match with a bear.
The creature is huge but Conan manages to break its spine.
Sword. Check. Sorcery. Check. Fetching female. Check
Just to prove that Conan is a barbarian. Check out the table manners.
This is probably the worst panel in the entire story arc.
How about instead of sound amplifying ears we had a sound amplifying helmet? Oh well.
Darkness in a sack is unleashed. Wonderful rendition by Buscema.
Here is were this adaptation really gets entertaining. First, Conan sees some familiar plants.
These turn out to be herbs from which Conan coaxes fumes to free the Aesir from their drugged state. Then we have the masks.
Then the ears.
Then at night, Conan stays up thinking.
It's unbelievable. Conan thinking, having herb lore, planning all sorts of things. This adaptation is really stretching it.
After this we have the rather lopsided battle of the Aesir against the dwarves and Conan's first attempt (maybe?) at kingship. Unfortunately, Conan's so-called friends have decided to resort to assassinating our hero by ambush. It would have succeeded were it not for the loyalty of Erfu.
And with that, our adventurers say goodbye to this strange grassy plain and we say goodbye to this curious adaptation. It's time for some original Roy Thomas tales! - and - gasp! - a Robert E. Howard!
We are not told were the location of this next adventure is but it is an old, old forest. Just look at the size of that tree behind Conan and Erfu.
Forests like these brings to mind outlaws. Soon enough, our pair is attacked, but its always a mistake to do that to Conan.
Erfu is wounded and he says something very strange.
Wood witch? He says it as if its common lore in the Hyborian Realms. And there's a way of summoning a wood witch too : Burning the heart of a stag. So Conan goes hunting, cooks the heart, and lo and behold.
Not exactly the dried up old crone I expected (not a complaint). This wood witch or forest mystic has a strange tale, this is as close as Buscema comes to drawing it.
Point of fact : She was impregnated by a demon. Oh yeah. The first appearance of this demon is captured perfectly by Buscema with a very close shot of the demon's eyes.
This is just great layout, somehow just showing the eyes makes this creature more terrifying.
The beast is huge, watch it retreat as Conan throws some burning brands.
Here is a one panel illustration of just what is going on :
The demon wants his son. Do you see the way the child is clinging to his mother? His back is to us but you could almost feel his emotion. John Buscema is a master.
Now its Conan vs. a monster. How iconic!
How tough is this demon?
Tough enough to break Conan's sword. The Cimmerian is in trouble.
And the hero of the day is . . .surprise .. surprise . . . Erfu!
In the end Erfu, Conan's companion for the last two adventures, decides to stay in the woods with the wood witch and her son.
I'm glad for this happy ending for Erfu.
Ok here is "The Shadow of the Beast". Adapted from the story by no less than Robert E. Howard himself! Prepare yourself for a treat.
We find Conan in the bad end of an altercation - knocked out on the floor after an assailant hit him with a wooden stool from behind.
This assailant grabs Conan's girl and goes. Naturally, the Cimmerian launches into hot pursuit and winds up in front of a famously accursed fort.
The fort was the long ago haunt of a sorcerer and his mastiff.
No one wants to go in there so Conan ventures forth alone through the dark recesses of the fort.
Looking at the panels above I'd like to say kudos to colorist Glynis Wein. That is the perfect pallete to evoke nearly pitch dark surroundings - we can see the linework clearly but there is no doubt that Conan is wandering around in the dark. Just perfect. In the darkness, Conan finds his would be nemesis dead
And the skeleton of the long dead sorcerer.
Soon Conan finds the girl and a talking mastiff.
It turns out that the sorcerer's spell has gone awry causing him to fall into some kind of suspended animation. During this time the dog got hungry, and, thinking his master dead, the mastiff ate the sorcerer. The result is that the sorcerer's consciousness became trapped inside the body of the mastiff - who is now able to talk and walk on its hind legs. And, judging by its (his?) demand for Conan to leave the girl, is able to do a lot of other things too (shudder).
The fight is on, and for a while there, Conan's speed is his salvation.
Fortunately the mastiff/sorcerer can't survive outside the fort and there is exactly were Conan takes him. The last panel is unsurprising.
I'll never get tired of Conan getting the girl.
Roy Thomas crafts fantastic Conan tales but there is a magic quality to the handful of tales from Robert E. Howard. Really great read.
The last tale is the 10th anniversary of Conan's stay at Marvel Comics. It is also the last Conan tale to be written by Roy Thomas during his first run as Conan writer. Roy Thomas has been writing 'Conan the Barbarian' since issue 1. Thomas would be going to DC to write many other comics including All-Star Squadron. This would be around 1980, Thomas would go back to Marvel and Conan during the 90s. This is an extra long tale and its fantastic. Let's go ...
As the tale begins, Conan is still in Shem. It is night as he arrives in the city as you can see.
The Shemites don't allow entry to their cities at night but Conan bribes the sentries.
He obtains a nights lodgings in a barn loft beside one other traveller.
A traveller who turns out to be no less than Red Sonja!
Red Sonja and Conan. What a curious pair. Conan gets to wander around in the Hyborian world and bed any girl who's willing. He's prowess is by virtue of his courage, experience and gigantic size. Red Sonja on the other hand derives her prowess from a vow to some god. Her abilities persist on condition that she doesn't engage in amorous activities. It's just effing unfair! Oh yes, there is a loophole to the vow which Conan has memorized word for word.
More than that, in this story, Conan actually gets the better of Sonja.
And just like that we are about to see something that I thought we would never see - Sonja getting it on.
But the jokes on us. It seems that our barbarian friend isn't over the death of Belit just yet.
Sonja's lack of warmth doesn't help this situation one bit. Wow. That was an 'almost' moment.
Our intrepid adventurer finds himself compelled to kidnap a sorcerer on the orders of another. The prize? Belit back from the dead. The would be victim is Karanthes, Priest of Ibis. Red Sonja for the defense. Here's a panel that shows all our players
So here is Conan doing some truly dark work.
Sonja has been knocked unconscious. Conan has bound Karanthes, a relatively good man, and is taking him to Zukala, who plans to kill Karanthes. Very dark work indeed. And all for the insane promise that Zukala will bring Belit back from the dead.
This is a beautiful one page pinup of Zukala's lair from John Buscema and Ernie Chan.
The big struggle here is inside Conan. Is he going through with this dark deed or not? That doesn't mean he doesn't have a physical assailant - just check out this monster - Jaggta Noga!
It should be no surprise that our hero does the right thing in the end. But there is a surprise as Conan pretty much proposes to Red Sonja! Heres the answer
That vow is a bummer, somebody retconn that and let poor Sonja get some action. Oh well. That's it. And many thanks to the great Roy Thomas! It's a crime that Mr. Thomas doesn't own a piece of the Conan property - he has added to the Conan legend as much as de Camp, Carter and Nyberg - all of them except Howard himself.