Monday, March 08, 2010

Black Vulmea's Vengeance


I was flipping through some old comics last night and happened upon Marvel Super Special #2 The Savage Sword of Conan, which featured an all new Conan tale by Roy Thomas and John Buscema in full color. (The regular Savage Sword of Conan magazine was black and white.) I remember buying this one at Blair's Food Town back in 1975. Blair's was a locally owned supermarket and probably had the best news stand in the small town where I grew up. They got a wider variety of comics and magazine than anybody else, and even better, they never seemed to send anything back to the distributors. Comics just stayed on the spinner rack until they sold, so if you discovered a new character, like oh say...Conan, you could probably find three or four issues of the comic by digging through the spinner rack. But I digress.
The long story in SSoC was a tale of pirates and savage islanders called Revenge of the Barbarian, and Rascally Roy noted at the bottom of the splash page that it was an adaptation of the Robert E. Howard story, Black Vulmea's Vengeance. I'm sure I didn't pay much attention to that in 75. Roy was constantly adapting REH's non-Conan stories into Conan tales for the comics. I'm not sure when I eventually got around to reading the original Black Vulmea story, but seeing the Conan version last night made me decide to dig out the old Berkley paperback and give it a re-read.
I'd forgotten what a straight ahead rollicking good adventure story it is. Terrence Vulmea is an Irishman and a pirate operating in the 17th century. Vulmea awakes from a night of drunken revelry to find a British ship bearing down on his own vessel. Most of Vulmea's crew are passed out drunk and Vulmea only manages to fire one shot from his deck gun before a broadside slams into his ship, knocking him out cold.
Vulmea awakes in chains, just in time to see his ship sink beneath the waves. The captain of the British ship, a man named Wentyard, turns out to be the same man who had Vulmea hanged when he was just a kid. Obviously Vulmea survived and chains or no chains, he's just about to hurl himself onto the man and crush his skull when he gets an idea for a more subtle form of vengeance and a shot at escape. Spinning a tale of fabulous treasure, Vulmea convinces Wentyard to sail to a remote island that Vulmea knows from experience is inhabited by savage tribesman.
Now if this was a tale by the sort of pulp hack that uninformed people think Howard was, that would be the whole plot. Vulmea would wreak his vengeance and be on his bloody way. Not REH, though. As the tale unfolds, events cause Vulmea to rethink his plan and in the end the title Black Vulmea's Vengeance can be interpreted in several ways.
Also those who have said that Howard could only write one character and they're all basically Conan would do well to read this story. While Vulmea is physically similar to the Cimmerian, Vulmea has a distinct personality, one more befitting a roguish pirate. He seems to be having a lot better time in his adventures than Conan usually does. He's also probably a bit more merciful than Conan.
Another thing of interest is that at several points, Vulmea mentions that he learned wood craft from the natives of North America. Howard's own Western heritage was seldom far from his mind and references to native Americans pop up in odd places now and again.
Anyway, Black Vulmea's Vengeance is a terrific story, well worth reading more than once. Some enterprising Hollywood type ought to adapt it into a film and show the Captain Jack Sparrow crowd a pirate movie with some teeth. But then again Hollywood would probably just screw it up as they appear to be doing with the new Conan film.

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