Isle of Pirates’ Doom

As you may have noticed by now, during the summer, I re-acquaint myself with Marvel’s sword-swinging Cimmerian, Conan the Barbarian. It’s a tradition established long ago in the late 70s, when. on holiday in Galloway, I read both the 1977 Conan Treasury Edition and some of Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories  in volume 3 of Skull-Face Omnibus.

Skull -Face

For the next three years, I hunted down all the Sphere Conan paperbacks and branched out into Lin Carter’s Thongor- a Marvel stablemate- and the vivid psychedelia of Michael Moorcock.

Marvel UK, at that time, was reprinting the US b/w Savage Sword of Conan and I followed that title, in an increasingly desultory way ( never quite succeeding in getting reprints of the US issues I’d missed and longed to read) until December 1980. Around the time I was leaving school, I fell out of love with Conan- although I would still be interested in the first of Carter’s Green Star series of paperbacks in the summer of ’81.

The American SSOC title has been collected and reprinted in weighty, telephone-directory style volumes by Dark Horse over the last eight years. There are posts coming up on my Some Fantastic Place blog about Roy Thomas returning to Conan in the 90s; this post, reviewing vol. 4,  functions as a trailer for them.  Here are the contents:

Sons of The White Wolf from Feb 1979 is a story about a prophet launching a holy war. There’s some minor nudity in an oasis occupied by a giant crustacean but otherwise it’s as dull as it was when I first read the UK reprint at the end of July ’79.

The Road of the Eagles concerns the rescue mission of an exiled prince and a tribe of vampires. More eventful and more violent than the previous story, I read the original in Sphere’s Conan the Freebooter in ’78.

Legions of the Dead is a grisly zombie story, explaining Conan’s capture by the Hyperboreans as a youth. I first read this in Conan The Swordsman, which I got in Glasgow in the summer of 1979.

Swordsman

A Dream of Blood is the first part of a four-part adaptation of Conan the Buccaneer. This was the second DeCamp/Carter pastiche novel I borrowed from Strathaven Library and it was a favourite of mine. This chapter introduces the plot to steal the throne of Zingara (Spain); is a sequel of sorts to CTB#73 with its toad-demon; and introduces the younger version of Sigurd, an ersatz Viking who also stars in Conan of the Isles. He has a “humorous” verbal tic of swearing on various gods which is actually quite tiresome.

The Quest for the Cobra Crown, like part one, features a lot of nudity for its princess heroine; Juma from Conan# 37 is a guest star.

The Devil-Trees of Gamburu sees the heroes imprisoned by Amazons and fed to  man-eating trees very like the Mungoda of Thongor’s Lemuria. Conan is reminded of a similar monster from#41. We will meet his (probable) daughter by the Amazon Queen in King Conan in 1980. There’s a depressingly salacious four-page S&M scene too.

King Thoth-Amon (Aug ’79) is the climax of the novel. The Cobra Crown will be revealed in August 1980 to be the Serpent Crown from Sub-Mariner, Captain America and Avengers. Thoth-Amon will die at the end of the same year. Conan turns down the offer to be consort to the princess of Zingara.

The Star of Khorala is a boring origin story for Countess Albiona who turns up early in Conan the Conqueror. Like the next two stories, it comes from Conan the Swordsman.

The Gem in the Tower is very like CTB#9,  with a winged demon in, er, a tower and some pirates. It was the only story I liked in the paperback and it’s also a lot like Carter’s 1976 Thongor story, Black Moonlight.

Moon of Blood is an inferior sequel to the Last of the Mohicans pastiche,  Beyond the Black River, one of REH’s best. It sets Conan up as a revolutionary figurehead.

Tranicos

The Treasure of Tranicos is an adaptation of another of Howard’s better Conan stories. What’s particularly exciting is the vibrant artwork of Gil Kane for 3/4 of this episode. Kane was the first Conan artist I encountered as a kid and he brings vitality and energy to the story. It’s a three-way pirate standoff in the fortress of a nobleman in exile.

A Wind Blows from Stygia. The exiled aristo’s betrayal of Thoth-amon reaps a bloody climax and a gruesome Pictish assault on the fortress sees the two pirate chiefs die. There’s a very lengthy epilogue that sets up Conan the Liberator, a dull and constrained military epic.

On balance, I enjoyed about half of this book. I wasn’t keen at all on the art- DeZuniga embellishing Buscema doesn’t appeal to me and the Kane pages were a welcome relief. The stories tended be rehashes of other Conan adventures, either by Howard or Roy Thomas. Conan the Buccaneer is much slower and less exciting than I remember and its excesses now seem tacky. However, I like the Marvel-style continuity references throughout. There’s a genuine sense of a saga.

The stories are probably no more violent than the average modern Batman but they are more explicitly so. Tranicos suffers from the mixture of art styles but is more dramatic and engaging than many of the other episodes.

See upcoming posts on Some Fantastic Place for more adventures with Conan on the seven seas.

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners

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