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The Chronicles of Conan, Vol. 9: Riders of the River-Dragons and Other Stories (v. 9)

1 rating: 3.0
A book by Roy Thomas

"One of the most impressive pieces of art I have seen in ages. Breathtaking." - sci-fi-online"--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Tags: Books
Author: Roy Thomas
Publisher: Dark Horse
1 review about The Chronicles of Conan, Vol. 9: Riders...

Settling In Aboard The Tigress

  • Apr 15, 2010
The Marvel "Conan The Barbarian" comic books had a markedly different take on the title character than did creator Robert E. Howard. Howard's Conan was savage, contemptuous of society and its niceties, and fairly belligerent in general. In the comics, Conan was more upright, not compromised by conventional morality but willing to make allowances.

This is especially so in the series of issues presented here, which ran from 1976 through early 1977 and centers around the start of his romance with Bêlit the pirate queen. Bêlit was more like Howard's Conan than Conan himself, impulsive, cold-blooded, and often in a rage. Seeing how they behave together and apart is a chief pleasure of Volume 9 of the Dark Horse Conan reprints.

Conan starts out this run having just been accepted by Bêlit and the crew of her ship, the Tigress. After a quick glance at the River Zarkheba (which features prominently in the climax of the one Howard story featuring Bêlit), it's off to collect tribute from a tribe living on the jungle coast who are being terrorized by a band of crocodile-riding warriors. They in turn are in the thrall of a red-haired jungle warrior, Amra, who captures Bêlit for his bed.

"You are Amra's now - and your mate will die if he tries to claim you," he tells a furiously struggling Bêlit, whose one redeeming virtue beyond her skimpy loincloth is her total devotion for Conan.

The four-issue Amra story is a high point of this collection, with ample twists and turns while Conan leads a jungle search to rescue his lover. Amra's resemblance to Tarzan is cleverly played up without distracting jabs at humor, and the lushness of the visuals is testament to a brief but fruitful collaboration between penciller John Buscema and embellisher Steve Gan.

Gan apparently had a meltdown after this. According to writer Roy Thomas in his Afterword, Gan vanished with Buscema's pencils while preparing the next story here, the one-issue "Fiends of the Feathered Serpent". Later returned, and embellished by other hands, "Serpent" covers a lot of ground and builds on the tropical visual flavor established by the Amra story. Making landfall on an island far off the Black Coast, Conan confronts an evil wizard, his primitive followers, and even some dissention among the Tigress crew that reappears later.

Some issues would have appeared in this volume except they feature Red Sonja, which Dark Horse didn't have license to reprint here. It's a tasty five-issue arc (including two issues of a "Red Sonja" companion mag) worth looking up.

The one clunker here, "The Demon Out of the Deep", is a flashback story casting Conan in the role of detective solving a series of murders. The art here by one-timer Val Mayerik recalls Barry Windsor-Smith's early Conan...without his eye for detail or depth. Even without that, Thomas's recasting of a way-out Howard seaside horror story for a Conan adventure proves misguided and rather weak.

A second isolated island, featuring the strangely friendly city of Kelka, figures in the last two-issue story arc. It's something of a rewrite of the more solidly constructed "Fiends", even if based on a different Howard story. You see the twists coming this time, though Thomas & Co. keep the action quick and the serving maidens beautiful.

The comic Conan often operates here as a relative conscience and check on Bêlit's wilder impulses. In the Kelka story, he even forebears to exact vengeance on a traitorous underling. That was a little too soft for me, but Conan's overall development is intriguing and his relationship with Bêlit makes this worth reading for more than savage thrills.

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