Sunday, June 02, 2013

Four Color Conan: When Roy Returned

   A few posts back I talked about how I'd been collecting the issues of Marvel Comics' Conan the Barbarian written by Roy Thomas when he returned to the title after a 10 year absence. I finally got all 30 something issues and I'm finally sitting down to read them. In a text piece in the back of issue #241 (Roy's first official issue, though he scripted #240 under a pen name) Roy mentions that in Conan's timeline, only a couple of years have passed during the ten years that Roy had been away from the series. Thomas wrote Conan the Barbarian issues #1-#115. While he doesn't come right out and say that he'll be treating the issues since then as if they didn't happen (he denies it in fact) on page 16 of issue #241 Conan says, in reference to Thomas's last story in issue #115:

   "Since the night I walked out of Zukala's cave, I have often felt I were still  wandering amid the visions he showed me there til it sometime seems to me as if all my life since then has been but a waking dream."

   So basically Roy is leaving it up to the reader. If you want to disregard every issue of Conan the Barbarian between #115 and #241, feel free. Me, I'm inclined to do so, as I considered most of the stories done in that period pretty poor.
   Anyway, issue #241 finds Conan back in Arenjun, the City of Thieves and at least in Marvel Continuity, the location of the Tower of the Elephant. Robert E. Howard never named the city in the original story. I think Arenjun was coined by L. Sprague de camp and adopted by Roy.
   A decade has passed since Conan has been to the city and he finds that the citizens are still afraid to touch the ruins of the Elephant tower. Conan travels into the Maul and ends up in the very same tavern where The Tower of the Elephant begins. Not surprisingly a brawl breaks out. Conan is finishing up the brawl when Karenthes, a Priest of Ibis, whom Conan has met several times before, shows up and offers Conan a job escorting him to the rebuilt castle of the sorcerer Zukala where the priest is to officiate at a wedding. That's the stated reason anyway, but the priest isn't being upfront with Conan of course and action, chaos, and a meeting with yet another old acquaintance ensue.
   All and all, it looks like Roy Thomas was having a good time, pulling in elements from his earlier work on Conan and pretty much picking up where he left off. Penciler Gary Hartle, while no John Buscema, does a nice job of rendering Conan and company, though he seems to have trouble drawing horses. (So do I. Horses are hard to draw.) Overall, the art is solid and the visual storytelling satisfactory. Big John Buscema was doing the penciling over at the black and white Savage Sword of Conan, which Roy was writing as well, so it was possible to see the old team together again. I'll try and get around to talking about that in a future Savage Spotlight.
   So yeah, Roy was back and in fine form. As I mentioned before, I didn't read these comics in their original run, so for all intents and purposes this is 'New' Roy Thomas Conan for me. Not a bad thing at all.


Anonymous said...

I remember Roy’s return to Conan very well. Having followed the Marvel Cimmerian since issue #7, I continued to buy each issue through the long bleak years after Thomas left the mag. Long after all the guys who used to collect the magazine with me when we were kids gave up on it. I felt I had to see what they were doing with Conan.

I was about as happy that Roy was returning to Conan as a guy can be happy about a comic and its author. I bought two copies of every issue, bagging one untouched and keeping a reading copy out to be poured over.
Much of this had to do with the comic itself, but at least a part of it had to do with the fact that a year or so into Roy’s second run I was getting married and buying a house. Those comics were a great stress-relief to me and I read them over and over again.

After Roy left I put those issues away and have not read them since. While I remember finding a number of things about Roy’s second tenure on Conan to be disappointing, I had the kind of relationship with those books that you do when you’re, like, nine years old and just discovering comics,
Someday I’ll dig them out and read them again.

John Hocking

Charles R. Rutledge said...

John, your experience sounds much like my own. I lived and breathed those Conan comics when I was a kid and they still are favorites. By the way, in one of the issues after Roy returned there's a letter from a fellow named Hocking. Figure that was you.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, that would be me. I had several letters printed in Conan down the years.

Marvel had a habit of tinkering with your letter before printing it, usually just abridging it or emphasising something you wrote at the expense of something else.

But the only time I had a letter printed in Savage Sword was the last time I wrote to that mag.
It was the post-Roy Thomas era, and the editors removed everything negative I wrote (which sucked), then salted the positive comments that remained with half-witted adjectives and expressions of boundless admiration (which REALLY sucked).
A profoundly cynical thing to do to a fan willing to write you a letter. So I never wrote them another one.
Kept buying the mag though.
That's dedication, I guess.


Charles R. Rutledge said...

I never wrote to Marvel's Conan, though I've had two letters printed in the Darkhorse version. Interesting that your SSoC letter was tampered with so badly, and I can see why you never wrote to them again. Roy returned during my 'great hiatus' from sword & sorcery (1980-1999) so these comics were totally off my radar. It's interesting to see what he did upon his return. Some of it I don't agree with, but at least the book was well plotted and densely written again.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I thought Roy’s approach to the magazine was a little different the second time around. I remember, chiefly, that Conan felt more like a comic book than the fantasy epic it did during his first run. Characters from Conan’s past cropped up so often that the Hyborian Age began to feel like Gotham City.

But the thing that felt the best was that Roy brought back with him all of his deep knowledge of Conan’s world. Man, I cannot convey how frustrated I got with the Marvel Conan’s complete disregard for the Hyborian Age after Roy left. It seemed an insult to REH, to ten years of Roy’s writing, and to any loyal readers still buying the mag.
I remember thinking that there was no way Marvel would have allowed an author writing Sub-Mariner to call Namor the Prince of Sunken Lemuria, or refer to Spiderman’s Aunt May as his Uncle Abner, yet this was the kind of thing that happened in Conan the Barbarian month after month for years.

Hey Charles, thanks for waking up the memories. Hope Roy’s return to the Marvel Conan inspires another post or two.


Kal said...

Roy Thomas and Sal B are the ones that I think are the only two who do Conan right. Seeing that McFarlane cover reminded me that all the flash in the world doesn't make a comic great.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Kal, yeah Todd was the hot artist at that point. I've never understood the appeal of his style. The next few issues would have covers by Jim Lee, Art Adams, and other fan favorites. Maybe Marvel was hoping it would perk up sales.