To my delight, I’m getting the chance to relive some of the Conan graphic tales of the 80’s – a time when the Cimmerian was less concerned with where his next meal was coming from and more interested in taking his shtick on the road in search of treasure. I’ll try to post something on each of these tales once I’ve read them if for no better reason than to share with you my utmost glee in seeing the barbarian’s unique form of justice delivered upon whatever land he visits.
Today’s story: “Code of the Wolf” from August, 1989.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Our tale opens on a quiet farm in the lands bordering Aquilonia, but inside all is everything but quiet. The farmer and his son have grown weary with being overrun by wolves. After they fend off one attack with the domesticated dogs, our singular Cimmerian arrives with orders to take the family (and any others he may find) to the Ford at the River Ford. There, all free people are being housed for an impending conflict with a war chief named Rejvald who has united several clans under one banner.
At the fort, several individuals have grown restless, much of which has been done by the outbursts of a brute named Crollus. Crollus has grown weary waiting for the coming battle, so he’s taken to antagonizing anyone will listen all with the hope of getting them to abandon the place with him and make for calmer pastures. One night, Crollus and his men manage to slay the fort’s captain, but before they can vanish into the night Conan orders them back into service under penalty of death. They do what’s best for them and obey.
Eventually, the fort attacked, and Conan steps up to command the free people in the absence of the local militia. Fearful of his every move, they follow his orders and manage to save themselves over the next few days. Eventually, Rejvald realizes he’s facing a leader as strong and cunning as he is; left with little recourse, the commander challenges Conan to a battle-to-the-death in order to save both his forces and those at Conan’s command in the process.
Do I really need to tell you how it all works out?
“Code of the Wolf” is, at best, an average tale. It’s far too civilized for my tastes with Conan kinda/sorta being a bit too much of a ‘man of the people’ even though there are passing observations by the free folk how the barbarian much more resembles the area’s wolves. (FYI: wolves are a running metaphor throughout the piece.) Dixon’s prose isn’t enough to make more of this parable of the civilized requiring the services of a wild man in order to survive, and the closing pages once Conan’s finally relieved of his duties by the arriving military pretty much return the free folks to their business while ending up looking like the less civilized after all. It’s all far too obligatory, and it kinda/sorta feels like a bloated morality tale where the point was made up front more effectively than it was in the finish.
THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN THE BARBARIAN (#163) was originally published in August, 1989 by Marvel Comics; for those looking for a more recent version, one can be found as part of Dark Horse Comics stellar reprints, THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN – VOLUME 16. The story is written by Charles Dixon with Gary Kwapisz; the pencils are by Gary Kwapisz; the inks are by Pat Redding; the lettering is by Diana Albers; with a cover done by Mark Caparosa.
RECOMMENDED. It’s a good tale but nothing all that special. Part of the problem is I thought the barbarian was too far removed from his element for too much of the tale, being tasked with defending the civilized folks in a fort plucked out of the days of America’s old west. Plus, knowing that Rejvald’s days are numbered put this tale in the precarious position of trying to make more out of his chances than there ever was considering the force of nature (Conan) he was up against. Not so much a misfire as it is a missed opportunity.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital reading copy of THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN THE BARBARIAN (#163) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.
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