Friday, June 14, 2013

Four Color Conan: Parallel Events

One of the more interesting things about Roy Thomas's return to the pages of Marvel Comics' Conan the Barbarian comic book was his attempt at reestablishing the continuity abandoned by the writers who followed him on the book. As John Hocking pointed out to me, the other writers had pretty much jettisoned the rich background of Robert E. Howard's Hyborian Age. Not Roy. When he returned he once again began relating Conan's life as it connected to the original stories. During his first run on the comic, Roy had adapted many of REH's stories and attempted to fit his own tales in between those adaptations. When he came back he tried to resume this habit, but there was a slight problem. He had already adapted pretty much all of the original Conan stories ten years earlier.
   This made for some interesting challenges. For instance, Roy was picking up Conan's life around the time when the big Cimmerian was serving in the army of mercenary General Amalric, whose army was working for the city state of Khojara. This would be just prior to the REH story, Black Colossus. I knew where things were heading when Conan, along with his allies Red Sonja and Zula the wizard/warrior, joined up with Amalric. I also knew that Roy had already adapted Black Colossus in Savage Sword of Conan issue #2, so I sort of wondered what Roy was up to. I mean, he wasn't likely to adapt Black Colossus again.
   What he did instead was show you the events leading right up to the beginning of the REH tale, and then he switched the focus from Conan to Sonja and Zula. So what we got to see were the parallel events. Conan was off stage, doing the things that we know he did in Colossus, while Sonja and Zula fought Natohk the Veiled One's army with the mercs. When they meet up with Conan again, it's right after the end of Black Colossus. Roy gives a summary of what Conan was up to of course, so the reader knows what's going on. It works pretty well, though I do wonder if folks unfamiliar with Black Colossus might have been a little confused.
   Sonja and Zula leave the book at the conclusion of this story line and in the next issue Conan leaves the service of Queen Yasmela to strike off on his own again, after a summary of one of the L. Sprague de Camp/Lin Carter tales that Roy had adapted for SSoC way back when. More parallel events. By issue 252, we're back to new stories by Roy. The art chores at this point were being handled by penciler Mike Docherty and inker Ernie Chan. Docherty was trying hard to emulate star Conan artist John Buscema, and I think swiping some of Buscema's layouts, and Ernie Chan had, of course, inked hundreds of Buscema pages, so the art was very traditional marvel Conan.
   Anyway, I'm still haing a lot of fun reading the stories from the second coming of Roy Thomas. I see from scanning the covers that my next issue #253 will see the return of Kulan Gath, the wizard originally created by Michael Moorcock and James Cawthorn.


Dougie said...

I came back to Conan (briefly) with these issues and the SSOC Thulsa Doom serial. It's nice to see them again.

Anonymous said...

This certainly takes me back.
I remember having seriously mixed emotions about this authorial manuvering around Black Colossus.

On one hand, who but Roy would have had the knowledge, imagination, and respect for Conan's continuity to write a story that ran parallel to REH's original?

On the other hand, the tale seemed pretty awkward to me, and it couldn't help but be anti-climatic compared to the fiery events of the REH original. I think I even show up on the letters page saying something about this.

Seems like a long time ago.
And it seems kind of ungrateful to grouse about the continued and dedicated efforts Roy Thomas made on behalf of Marvel's Conan.


Charles R. Rutledge said...

Glad I was able to bring back some memories, Dougie.

John, your letter appeared in issue 254, which I read just this evening. Yeah, no one but Roy "Mr. Continuity" Thomas would even have attempted such a thing, and in the letters pages he goes into detail about where the stories take place and how they connected to earlier issues and REH stories. Pretty cool. I'm certainly having fun with this group of comics. #254 was a good stand alone issue in fact. When Roy was on he could write an excellent sword & sorcery tale.

Anonymous said...

Your posts have tempted me to dig out my copies of this run of comics, but I'm doing some home renovation and they are literally inaccessible.

So I'm going on memory. I don't recall what happens in 254, but I believe Conan goes North next. The continuity builds into an epic showdown with a Lovecraftian entity threatening Cimmeria and the world. What's not to like?

And I remember a ripping battle with some Hyperborean Witchmen, in a stable or somesuch. I never much cared for the Witchmen as an addition to the Hyborian world (too magical) but this little donnybrook was satisfying.

Am I making any sense here? Or has this old guy's gray matter gone South early?


Charles R. Rutledge said...

Nope, you've pretty much got it right. #254 is a flashback to Conan's first run in with the Witchmen and their Queen. Has zombies, a lot of fights, and some good dialog that sounds like stuff REH's Conan would say.
Next he's heading for Cimmeria, gets the purple plague, and runs into some more old enemies. Roy seemed to be working his way down memory lane.