Sunday, December 21, 2008

Single Issue Review: Conan the Barbarian #2

This comic appears at the very tail end of the Silver Age with a cover date of December 1970. It marked clearly the move to the more "adult" fare that was to come in the Bronze Age, and is nothing like most of the Silver Age comics I have been discussing.

Conan was the creation of writer Robert E. Howard in the early 1930s, a barbarian from the distant past. Howard wrote many Conan short stories and several novels before committing suicide at a relatively young age, and in the 1960s L. Sprague DeCamp, a science fiction writer, had picked up the character and written a few more novels.

A character whose adventures were currently being published in book form clearly presented an opportunity for Marvel. On top of this Marvel added the talented young writer, Roy Thomas, and a gifted comic artist, Barry Smith. The result was a very successful launch, with Conan becoming a monthly magazine effective with its fourth issue.

This story establishes one of the themes that will be repeated throughout the Conan series, that of the treacherous femme fatale, who leads Conan into a trap:

A similar situation occurred to Conan in Savage Tales #1, although there his innocence of ill intent was much more ambiguous.

Conan is enslaved by a race of ape-men, who have previously captured quite a few slaves. But the barbarian is not cut out for a life of servitude:

Kiord, the leader of the slaves, is not exactly plotting the overthrow of the ape-men. He confides to Conan that he has a dream that one day the slaves will rule, but there will be no bloodshed. Conan doesn't agree and continues to make problems, to the point where he is placed in the arena to fight an snow-lion. But when he slays the beast, the king of the ape-men orders him to be killed.

Finally Kiord has had enough:

He and Conan team up to defeat the beasts, but Kiord is slain in battle, leading to this ending:

Comments: Superb story by Thomas, excellent art by Smith. The story was reportedly nominated for an Academy of Comic Book Arts Award, although the winner that year was the Green Lantern/Green Arrow story No Evil Shall Escape My Sight.