SCRIPT: Roy Thomas
PENCILS: John Buscema
INKS: Danny Bulanadi (Ernie Chan?)
As a weary King Conan and his Aquilonian troops make the long journey back home after almost a year away in pursuit of Thoth-Amon, Prince Conn asks Count Trocero for a tale of his father's early days as King to pass the time.
The rest of this tale is told as a flashback to before Conn was born. . .
It was the night of a great feast in the Aquilonian capital of Tarantia. But the festivities are interrupted by the kidnapping of Queen Zenobia by a mysterious flying creature! King Conan declares that he will no longer be King of Aquilonia until he has retrieved his queen and had his vengeance.
And so, leaving the kingdom and its armies in the hands of his most loyal advisers, Trocero and Prospero, Conan sets forth alone to the desert city of Khanyria, seeking a wizard of old acquantance, Pelias of Koth, intending to search for clues using his magic powers.
Unknown to Conan, a court spy has learned of Conan's destination and that he's travelling alone. The information is given to a rebellious noble supporter of Aquilonia's former King and a trap is set!
Several days ride later, Conan arrives in Khanyria. Almost immediately upon entering the city, he is lured to an ambush in a tavern. Conan manages to defeat seven men after a brutal battle, but is astonished to find that he recognizes several of them from previous adventures. He is determined to find out who brought together such a motley crew and why. . .but AFTER he finds Zenobia.
In the yellow stone tower of the wizard Pelias of Koth, Conan is greeted as an old friend and Pelias agrees to help him find who kidnapped Zenobia. Using a magical mirror, Pelias summons a vision of another wizard. . .one who is aware he is being watched! Conan saves them both by breaking the magic mirror, then demands answers.
A shaken Pelias tells Conan that the plot goes far beyond a mere kidnapping. Since he has become King of Aquilonia, Conan has disrupted or delayed many plots and plans for conquest of the Hyborian lands without even knowing it. The powerful wizard in the mirror is Yah Chieng, who dwells in the far away land of Khitai. He is behind the kidnapping of Zenobia as a means to lure Conan away from Aquilonia and destroy him.
Conan refuses to abandon his vengeance despite knowing he's walking into a trap. To aid him against the powerful magic of Yah Chieng, Pelias gives Conan a legendary magical ring in his possession. . .the Ring of Rakhamon! But before he can use the power of the ring, Conan must pass the ring's test.
And so, Conan is pulled into a strange world of spirits and finds himself in mortal combat against a powerful creature. A desperate battle follows, but Conan finally prevails through sheer strength of will, and the Ring of Rakhamon submits to him.
Now armed with knowledge of who was behind Zenobia's kidnapping, magical aid, and a destination, Conan sets forth with the rising sun for the mysterious and distant land of Khitai!
To be continued. . .
Usually when it comes to reviews of full comic series, I run into diminishing returns the further I get into it. Normally by issue five or six (if even THAT long) I start seeing a decline or a plateau. But not here!
Not only does this series continue to maintain a high level of quality, but the fifth issue is the best so far! It's a pretty rare thing to see a series actually IMPROVE in later issues, but King Conan's fantastic creative team pulls it off with style.
Roy Thomas continues to grab and pull me into Conan's savage world with page after page of superbly-written adventure and intrigue. John Buscema brings Thomas' words to life with fantastic imagery that's simply a feast for the eyes from the first page to the last. THIS is what a great Conan comic is all about! THIS, right here. This issue has everything a Conan fan could want. I can't wait to see what happens next!
A note about the art in this issue before I finish here. Danny Bulanadi is credited on the masthead as inker here, and I was pretty amazed at the way he continued to successfully step up and try to match the unmatchable Ernie Chan. Bulandi is also credited on the Grand Comics Database (GCD)
and elsewhere the stats for this comic are listed as the inker as well. BUT. . .in the letter column for issue #7 there's an indication that the inks are actually done by Ernie Chan.
With the lack of information about this series beyond raw creative team credits out there, I have a suspicion after comparing this issue to earlier ones that Chan actually did most of the inks (if not all), and that the information online isn't accurate and is based on an error Marvel made in the credits for the original issue back in 1981 and has just been copied from place to place online without actually checking.
Does anyone care? Probably not. But I like to think that Longbox Junk reviews add to the general body of comic knowledge as regards comics not many (if ANY) reviews have been done of, so there's that.
ANYWAY. . .
Let's wrap up this first part now.
I think you can probably tell from the individual reviews above that I had a lot of fun reading these first five issues of King Conan. Roy Thomas and John Buscema are a hard creative team to beat when it comes to Conan. I'm not even sure if they CAN be beaten!
I've already spent quite a bit of time above singing the praises of Thomas and Buscema's work on this series so far, but I was trying to keep the reviews sort of short so this didn't turn into a total scroll bomb (not sure how well I suceeded, but it's the thought that counts, I guess). So in this wrap up, I'll touch on a few things I really liked about this series so far that I didn't mention above.
First, I love the HEFT of these issues! They're double-sized and that extra page space gives these stories room to breath and be epic. These are comics that are simply packed with awesome Conan adventure. The reviews above are REALLY condensed sketches of what is actually in the pages. There's so much story in each issue that it would probably take a YEAR in modern comics to cover each one of them.
The second thing I loved about these issues that I didn't touch on above is that each one of these (except the last one) comics can be read on their own as an individual awesome Conan story without reading the others. They're all tied together, but they can also be enjoyed separately. This is probably because this series was published quarterly, with just four issues coming out per year. So if you do spot one of these in the bargain bin, don't worry too much about not knowing what happened before or after. The whole story is great, but the individual parts are great on their own. I like that a lot!
Oddly enough, considering what I JUST said above, the third thing I loved about these issues was that they have a continuity with OTHER Conan comics. . .particularly Savage Sword of Conan. All through these issues there are characters and references to Conan's previous adventures. For example, in the fourth issue, the leader of Conan's Amazon allies is Nzinga, the daughter of an Amazon Queen Conan met in Savage Sword of Conan #4.
There's a lot of effort in these issues to tie the series into continuity with what came before. There's even a few references to Marvel's short-lived Kull the Conqueror series! So while these issues can be enjoyed as stand-alone stories, they can ALSO be enjoyed by those who love following those editorial continuity notes to discover the whole story.
Overall, I really enjoyed these first few issues of King Conan. If you are a Conan fan then I heartily recommend you check them out if you haven't already. Each oversized issue is packed from cover to cover with awesome Conan adventure and wonderfully savage arwork. These first five issues are truly some premium Bronze Age sword and sorcery comics.
Up Next. . .
Let's see if Marvel can keep up the quality as King Conan continues! Looking ahead, I see some creative team changes coming, so we'll see what happens.
Be there or be square!