A new era begins for Conan the Barbarian, as he sets out, once more alone, into the savage heart of Hyboria - his wit, his strength, and his blade, his only allies against a flood of foes both human and super-human! Presenting more of the celebrated … see full wiki
With its lush jungle vistas and busy cityscapes, Chronicles Of Conan Vol. 13 is a feast for the eyes, especially for fans of lead illustrator John Buscema. Story-wise, it's a nice return to Conan's lone-wolf form after an epic stretch of stories with the she-pirate Bêlit, who in the interests of sticking with Vol. 13 will not be mentioned again in this review.
The collection, with one exception, feature issues that ran from 1979 to 1980 with Conan making his way through the Black Kingdoms of Hyboria. He briefly takes charge of a fierce warrior tribe, the Bamulas, before venturing on to become the captain of a queen's guard in Kush.
The one exception is the first issue, a stand-alone. Though it ran in 1978, "The Thing In The Crypt" pulls us back to Conan in his earliest days as a young barbarian. Here he finds his way into a cave where a desiccated corpse grips a mighty sword. The Buscema doing the penciling here is Sal, not John, but the result is great all the same, overcoming a predictable storyline.
After that, it's on to the Bamulas, who capture Conan and plan to make a sacrifice of him before he turns the tables. First, Conan must triumph over a particularly hostile member of the Bamula tribe and escape a giant man-eating spider. Then he has his work cut out for him as chief when a band of blood-sucking drellick types come a-calling.
This second story, a two-parter, is a high point in Vol. 13, with a curiously perverse moment where Conan finds himself the prisoner of a vampire who wants Conan to become his life partner. It's a bit of a shock when you realize the title, "The Bride Of The Vampire", refers to Conan. Conan, needless to say, is not amused: "I'll die a warrior, when die I must - but I'll not become an undead consort to a monster!" Scripter Roy Thomas keeps the action moving fast, and John Buscema's illustrations are wonderfully grim and eerie.
Vol. 13 also features two of the last Marvel comic adaptions of Conan stories by Conan creator Robert E. Howard. "Vale Of Lost Women" is not considered a Howard highlight, but Thomas crams it all into a single issue in such a way it comes off rather well. The viewpoint throughout the story is not Conan's for a change, but a woman, Livia, in need of rescue. She is being held by the cruel and obese Bajujh, whose depiction by John Buscema is one of his most jaw-dropping. The finale is a bit weak and sudden (rather like Conan's later departure from the Bamulas, a story point which deserved but doesn't get an issue of its own), but "Vale" overall proves how well Thomas could do even with a lesser Howard story in his hands.
The other Howard story, "The Snout In The Dark", was a fragment built up by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter. It actually may be the best of the Conan stories here, a meaty two-parter where Conan finds himself in Kush threading his way between a beautiful but haughty queen, a court of plotters, and an oppressed citizenry on the verge of revolt. Throw in the title character, a strange beast which appears and disappears into the mist dealing death, and you have a nice-moving if slightly formulaic story.
That's the biggest knock to Vol. 13, that the formulaic approach of Conan returns with his becoming a solo entity again. Oddly, the most non-formulaic story, "Whispering Shadows" itself, proves the least worthwhile. It's basically a retelling of "The Thing In The Crypt," even to the point of Conan being chased into the mysterious lair by a pack of wild animals. Conan may never have been more passive a character as he was here, at least not in the stories Thomas scripted, basically watching the big battle from the sidelines.
Thomas's run was coming to an end right about now, which makes the pleasures of Vol. 13 bittersweet. While not the best of the Marvel Conan collections, Vol. 13 is well worth having if you are a fan.
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