Friday, 17 September 2010

Review - Conan The Barbarian issues 80 and 81

Conan the Barbarian #80 is the second part of a three-part story, loosely based on a (non-Conan) story by Robert E. Howard. Like every issue of Marvel’s Conan before it, and most of the issues that followed it, it is written by Roy Thomas. Here, Conan takes a break from his adventures with Bëlit, the current love of his life, who he has been hanging around with for quite a few issues now, to do some courier work. You see, Conan has agreed to deliver a jewel called ‘The Eye of Set’, which actually looks like an eye, to the king of Attalan, an isolated city apparently founded by Alexander the Great when he travelled back in time 10,000 years (???). On his way to this city, in the previous issue, Conan was ambushed by (and promptly defeated) some mercenaries, working for someone else who wants ‘The Eye...’, and met a girl, Bardylis, who wears metal cups on her breasts and not much else. In this issue, having been led to Attalan by the comely Bardylis, Conan meets the king but decides not to give ‘The Eye...’ to him right away, or even mention it, but to wait until the following morning. During the night, he is attacked and tied up by some more people looking for ‘The Eye...’ (luckily, Conan has hidden the jewel). Conan breaks free and kills all but one of them, who gets away and runs to the king to tell him that Conan is a wizard who has bewitched Bardylis and needs to be killed. Conan FINALLY reveals to the king why he is really there, but they have a row and end up wrestling. Just as Conan knocks the (very large) king unconscious, someone bursts in to announce that the city has been invaded, and then drops dead. Bardylis tells Conan that, by the laws of her city, he is now king (at least until the real king wakes up) and has to deal with the situation.

If all that sounds like nonsense, well, that’s because it is. Personally, I can’t help thinking that this whole mess could have been avoided if Conan had just given the jewel to the king as soon as he arrived, but what do I know about being a barbarian? The art is okay but unrecognisable as the work of Howard Chaykin, who also drew the previous issue and is drawing the next issue, too. Instead, it looks like the work of John Buscema on an off day. Then again, Chaykin is just filling in for John Buscema, who is either on holiday or (more likely) busy drawing several other comics, so I suspect he was asked to draw like this.

The nonsense continues in #81. The most notable thing about this issue, to me at least, is the fact that it is one of the few Conan comics that I remember buying as a child (I was 8 years old when this came out in 1977). I did briefly get into Conan comics in my teens, around the time the first Arnold Schwarzenegger film came out, and even read one or two Robert E. Howard Conan novels, but mostly I was never a massive fan. My friend ’s dad, however, owned every issue of Conan, Savage Sword and all, and when he asked me to sell them for him about 10 years ago, I kind of regretted not reading them first (same goes for his Jonah Hex collection), which is what prompted me to buy the first 16 Chronicles of Conan books, published by Dark Horse, when I saw them as a reasonably priced set (£75 including postage) on eBay last year (note: I do not actually own any Conan comics and am reviewing both of these issues from Chronicles of Conan Vol.10). To be honest, I remembered very little from the interior of this comic, but the cover (not reprinted in this volume) is one that has always stuck with me. I don’t know why, as, like the story it contained, it is not particularly great. Continuing from where we left off last time, Conan has been made de facto king of the hidden city of Attalan, after knocking the actual king unconscious, and is faced with the task of repelling an invasion. It’s mainly action this issue, and lots of big panels, still drawn by Howard Chaykin doing a fairly good impression of John Buscema on an off day. The leader of the invasion of Attalan is a one-eyed nutter called Hun-Ya-Di, who is after the ‘The Eye of Set’, currently in the possession of Conan, which he plans to place in his empty eye-socket, thereby gaining great power (or something like that). Eventually, Conan and Hun-Ya-Di meet in one-on-one combat, and after a few pages of fighting, Conan runs his opponent through with his sword. It’s a fairly dull battle, but Roy Thomas does an admirable job of talking it up, of making it sound as if Conan is in danger of losing, before the tide turns in his favour. The invasion thwarted and Hun-Ya-Di dead, ‘The Eye of Set’ bleeds (ooh, spooky)and Conan finally hands the bloody thing over to the real king of Attalan, who is now fully conscious, much more humble than he was last issue, and offers Conan the severed head of a bloke who betrayed him last issue. ‘Blonde beauty’ Bardylis, she who wears metal cups on her breasts and little else, then offers herself to Conan. To his credit, Conan at least makes some effort to tell her that he already has a girlfriend (Bëlit, Queen of the Black Coast, who is waiting elsewhere for our hero to finish this fill-in adventure) but he soon cracks when she hurls herself at him and the issue ends with the couple kissing. Get a room!

And that also brings me to the end of Chronicles of Conan Vol.10. Christ, buying sixteen consecutive volumes of this series seemed like such a good idea at the time, and I fully intended to read them all, even though I only really wanted the read the Barry Smith issues contained in the first four volumes, but I am really struggling now. The rules of this blog say that I have to read and review everything that I buy, no matter how much I regret it, so I guess I will read the final six volumes at some point (although this will be difficult, as I sold vol.14 a few weeks ago) but I think I will put them aside for a few months (at least) and read something else for now.


  1. The rules are that you have to read and review everything before passing on/selling on eBay etc, so you don't have to read the rest of the books just as long as you understand you can't sell them either :-)

  2. In which case, I will put them to one side and never speak of them again.