Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Savage Memories #9

It was a very sharp cover by British artist Colin Macneil that brought Savage Sword of Conan back to my attention in 1994. The cover was for issue #219, and I recall seeing it on the racks at the comic book store. I really liked the cover painting with the massive, ax-wielding Conan. Looking closer I saw that this issue contained an honest to gosh crossover between Robert E. Howard's arguably two most famous characters, Conan the Cimmerian and Solomon Kane the Puritan. Sucker for a crossover that I am, I was dubious. I didn't figure anyone but Roy Thomas could have pulled off that particular team-up and Roy was long gone. Still, I picked up the issue and flipped through it.
I liked Colin Macneil's black and white art even more than his cover painting. He drew a big, mean Conan and he actually made use of the magazine's black & white format, laying on the heavy shadows and using cross hatching to suggest forms and textures. And lo and behold, the story was written by none other than the man himself, Roy Thomas. Unbeknownst to me, Thomas had returned to writing for Marvel and had taken over the writing on Savage Sword of Conan with issue #190 in 1991. Shows how far off my radar the series was.
So I bought the magazine and read it. Thomas had taken REH's very short Solomon Kane fragment Death's Black Riders and used it as a springboard for an adventure that spanned centuries. (Riders is left intact in the adaptation and Macneil's moody art on those few pages is worth the price of admission itself.) Conan and Kane each have an adventure in the same Opar like Atlantean city, each man in his own time, but then sorcery brings the two of them together for the second part of the story. Yes, it was a continued story, so I ended up buying issue #220 as well.
Along with using Death's Black Riders, Thomas does a fine job of weaving elements from the REH Solomon Kane tale The Moon of Skulls and what little we know of Conan's adventures in ancient Africa into an action packed sword & sorcery yarn. It's interesting that Thomas decided to portray Kane in his later years, gray haired, but still a dangerous swordsman. There's also some fun stuff juxtaposing Kane's devout Christian beliefs with what he sees as Conan's pagan religion. All and all, a lot of fun.
And those were my last two new issues of Savage Sword of Conan. The series would limp along for 15 more issues before being cancelled. The color comic, Conan the Barbarian had already succumbed to poor sales. Marvel's 25 year run with the character of Conan was almost done

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