Back in May, I wrote about the Thomas/ Buscema/Alcala Conan story Black Colossus and its impact on me in 1977. Today’s post concerns the third Conan Treasury Edition from Marvel: one I bought online when I moved up here to Moray.
Marvel Treasury Edition 19 from 1978 is described as a ” cornucopia of Conan Classic”. The cover featured story is Iron Shadows of the Moon, originally printed in Savage Sword of Conan (American magazine version) in February 1975.
This story is a REH original, printed in Weird Tales in 1934 with the more lush and romantic title Shadows in the Moonlight. Ironically, the story opens with a bloody and brutal act of revenge. Having rescued a runaway white slave, the aristocratic Olivia, from a thinly-disguised Arab sadist, Conan is depicted as death’s oarsman in a phantasmagorical scene by the team of Buscema and Filipino inker, Alcala.
This juxtaposition of hallucination and butchery is the story’s strongest point. Conan and Olivia take refuge on an island in the inland Sea of Vilayet. There they shelter for the night in a structure of green stone, in a chapter entitled “What Dreams May Come”. REH occasionally used retro-cognitive dreams to reveal plot points: here, a curse is laid on a tribe of black giants by a god whose offspring they tortured to death. The giants have been transformed into iron statues by the incantation: “Yagkoolan Yok Tha, Xuthalla!” Howard and Thomas hint here at a system of magick for their fantasy world. “Yag” is the green planet mentioned in Tower of the Elephant; “Yagkoolan” is an oath spoken by the wizard Pelias in The Scarlet Citadel and “Xuthal” the lost city of lotus eaters in The Slithering Shadow.
The chapter ends with the appearance of the corpulent pirate leader Sergius, introduced retroactively in the Thomas original At the Mountain of the Moon God, which we discussed in June.
The third chapter, “The Haunting and the Horror” concerns Conan’s rescue by Olivia and an attack by a giant ape. This lengthy sequence seems a rehash of the encounter with Thak in Rogues in the House ( the previous original Conan story) and also recalls the White Apes of Barsoom.
The pirates meanwhile are atatcked by the living statues. it seems to me that these two attacks not only mirror each other but they speak of racial anxieties that will manifest themselves in other REH stories. The story ends, however, with one of my most favourite proclamations by a sword-and-sorcery character: “We’ll scorch King Yildiz’ pantaloons yet, by Crom!”
Conan sets off for a new life of piracy with the Red Brotherhood, just as he did two stories previously with the Barachans in Pool of the Black One. Howard would reuse several elements from Iron Shadows ( the high-born slave- Octavia, rather than Olivia; the metal monster; the wicked Eastern villain) in The Devil in Iron, in a story which I like better although it’s less imagistic. Nevertheless, this is a very faithful adaptation and beautifully coloured. I first read it in the Sphere paperback Conan the Freebooter, circa 1978.
The Hyborian Age of Conan: another reprint of the two- page map of Conan’s world amended this time to reflect stories published in SSOC.
A Portfolio of Howard’s Heroes: three pin-up pages featuring King Kull and Cormac Mac Art by David Wenzel (with a faint flavour of Smith-Conan)and a triptych of Sonjas, including her original tomboyish Barry Smith design.
The People of the Dark: this is a colour reprint of a story from SSOC (US) #6, June 1975. It’s pencilled by another Filipino artist, Alex Nino, the co-creator of piratical Captain Fear and one who worked on Korak, Kull, Kamandi and Kong! (DC’s 1975 cave boy, not the ape from Skull Island).
Nino’s artwork is highly stylised and his design is striking. The story is a gloomy one, using the device of reincarnation to tie a modern tale of lust and revenge to a tragedy from Conan’s teenage years. It begins with the murderous monologue by Scotsman(!) Jim O’ Brien who pursues his English love rival into a lost chasm of the hills. There are echoes of Welsh author Arthur Machen as the pair and their sweetheart encounter The Little People: possibly the same creatures from the Bran Mak Morn story “Worms of the Earth”
O’Brien falls in the cavern triggering his repressed memories of his life as Conan, who is stalking a Gunderman for a girl of Venarium. The struggle against the soldier and the “Children of the Night” ends in tragedy but in the modern day, O’Brien’s sacrifice repays Conan’s perceived debt.
It’s an atmospheric and dynamic weird tale (ahem), unusally employing first person narration. It really is an achievement in terms of Bronze Age comic art. Unfortunately, the pessimistic tone and murderous motivation of its dualled protagonist leaves Marvel’s Conan a far more morally compromised character than before.
Here’s a b/w version of the back cover. While a beautiful comic, it’s not quite so rewarding a read compared to the previous Conan Treasury.
Coming soon: The Legion and the Doctor
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