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Longbox Junk Retro Review King Conan Part 3: Issues 11 15

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Welcome to Longbox Junk, the blog absolutely STUFFED with comic book reviews nobody asked me to write!
 
Continuing on with my series review of all 19 issues of Marvel's 1980 King Conan series, we've come to part three. . .issues 11-15.  These reviews have been taking a quite a bit longer than I thought they would because each issue so far has been a thick and HEFTY hunk of Bronze Age Conan goodness! 
 
I've been having a lot of fun with this series so far, and I'm STILL trying to figure out why there's barely a mention of it online when there's PLENTY of stuff about Conan the Barbarian and Savage Sword of Conan, which were also on the stands from Marvel at the same time.  Was a third title TOO much Conan?
 
Maybe THIS batch will hold some answers.  Up until now, things have been pretty steady with the creative team, with a barely-noticable change in writers from Roy Thomas to Doug Moench and with John Buscema and Ernie Chan being the basic art team combo.  But with this batch, the art team begins to swing to and fro a little bit.
 
With these changes, will the series be able to maintain the high standard of excellence I've seen so far? 
 
Let's find out!  Ready? Let's do this!

KING CONAN

Marvel (1980)

PART 3: ISSUES 11-15

 
ISSUE ELEVEN
 (July 1982)
 
 
COVER: Bill Sienkiewicz
 
THE HAUNTER OF THE CENOTAPH
 
SCRIPT: Doug Moench
PENCILS: Alan Kupperberg
INKS: Ernie Chan
 
After learning last issue that there is a conspiracy against King Conan's throne that goes beyond disgruntled and scheming nobles, Conan gains a clue from a failed assassin's medallion that there may be answers waiting in the Nemedian town of Thalia.  
 
Deciding to end the conspiracy once and for all, Conan sets forth alone to the western lands. . .but not before receiving a vision from the Pictish Druid, Diviatix.  A vision of fire and blood at the hands of a horrific being called Pentagar Zex. . .The Death-Shaper. A prophecy that seems to tell of Conan's death!
 
 
 
Over the long journey to Nemedia, Conan grows a beard to disguise himself.  Upon his arrival in Thalia, Conan learns of a mysterious haunted forest and a mercenary camp outside it where the men wear medallions like the one Conan took from the assassin in Aquilonia.
 
Making his way to the camp, Conan easily passes an initiation test of battle and joins the mercenaries as a common soldier.  He is introduced to their leader, a strange woman called Cynnera.  She makes a speech to the men, revealing her plan. . .to kill King Conan and take over Aquilonia!  
 
She plans to accomplish this by using sorcery to raise a great warrior of a past age called Pentagar Zex. . .the same name from the druid's vision before Conan left on his quest!
 
 
That night, Cynnera reveals that she knew her new soldier was actually Conan the King.  She offers him a place at her side after raising Pentagar Zex.  The three of them together can easily take over the entire world! Conan plays along, but after she is asleep, he enters the tomb of Pentagar Zex to try and find a way to stop her evil plot.
 
His deception is quickly discovered by Cynnera and during their fight, Conan accidentally ends up raising the mighty warrior Pentagar Zex!  He fights a desperate battle against the gigantic undead warrior, but Conan finds himself on the losing side. . .until he destroys one of the medallions and realizes that's what will weaken Zex.  
 
As Conan destroys the monstrous Zex, the mercenaries turn on Cynerra and kill her while Conan leaves the tomb and begins the journey back to Aquilonia, convinced that the conspiracy against his throne has come to an end.
 
The End.
 
THE REVIEW:
 
*Sigh*
 
I KNEW it was eventually coming.  It's rare that a series can go on this long without breaking down.  It finally happened.  This issue was simply disappointing. There's little of the outstanding quality that came before to be found.  
 
The art is the strongest disappointment.  I'm not here to try and knock a comic legend like Alan Kupperberg off his pedestal, but I've also gotta be truthful and say that THIS is some pretty lousy art.  Kupperberg has done SO much better work than this (I point to his often outstanding work on Marvel's original Invaders series).  But THIS? No.  Kupperberg may be a good superhero artist, but he's definitely not a good fit for Conan.
 
And then there's the story itself.  Doug Moench has done a fine job on King Conan so far, but THIS story just seems lazy and by the numbers.  Moench has brought a slightly more introspective style of writing to King Conan, but here it just seems like he was writing from a "Monster of the Month" template and barely paying attention.
 
Bad story. . .bad art. . .even Sienkiewicz's cover is underwhelming. A disappointing issue all around.  NOT a good start to this batch. I'm hoping this was just an off issue.  Let's check out the next one and find out!
 
ISSUE TWELVE
(September 1982)
 
COVER: Ron Frenz
 
THE TOMBS UNDER TARANTIA
 
SCRIPT: Doug Moench
PENCILS: Ron Frenz
INKS: Ricardo Villamonte
 
Strange things are afoot in Tarantina, the capital of Aquilonia.  King Conan is summoned in the middle of the night to hear a dire warning from the wizard Alcimedes about evil portents seen in the stars above.  That same night, Darweena (the sorcerer's daughter from issues #10 & 11) is possessed by her father's evil spirit and forced to obey his bidding from beyond the grave!
 
 
The next day Conan's son, Prince Conn, returns home from training with the royal Iron Legion (from issue #10) but is distracted by a game with some local youths.  In his rush to return home, Conn takes a shortcut through the graveyard and mysteriously disappears to the horror of his new friends!
 
As King Conan sets forth to the graveyard with Alcimedes and a handful of fighting men in search of his missing son, Conn wakes in the darkness and is witness to a horrific ritual as two men are sacrificed before a mysterious door.
 
Above, Conan and his men fight their way through the graveyard as they are attacked by lizard/human hybrid creatures.  Discovering a tunnel leading beneath the graveyard, Conan and his men rush forth in search of Prince Conn.  At the end of the main tunnel, they discover a glowing doorway.  
 
Alcimedes tells Conan that such doorways are openings to a strange place between the stars inhabited by demonic beings, but THIS doorway leads to the realm of a dark elder called Murgor-Tsoggua, a being trapped by powerful sorcery long centuries before.
 
To Alcimedes' horror, he sees the elder approaching through the mist on the other side of the door.  Conan and Alcimedes frantically work together to close the door and barely manage to do so before Murgor-Tsoggua is able to enter their world.  Alcimedes seals the door shut with magic and silver. . .but with the closing of the door, Conan fears that his son is lost forever.
 
 
The next day, seeing Queen Zenobia's overwhelming grief for their lost son, Conan decides to re-enter the tunnels beneath the graveyard and go through the sealed doorway and search for Conn, even if he dies in the process.  
 
Conan prepares for the battle by having a silver sword forged, and then enters the tunnels. . .only to find the sealed door missing from the chamber where it had been!  A distraught Conan finds a fresh tunnel and follows it. 
 
As he explores in the darkness, Conan is overjoyed to find Conn, alive and in hiding from the creatures he escaped from!  Father and son continue to follow the tunnel until its end in the royal palace!  
 
 
Following the signs and sounds of battle, Conan and Conn find the palace under attack from the human/lizard hybrid servants of Murgor-Tsoggua!  They fight their way to the royal chambers, where Conan is stunned to see the doorway to Murgor-Tsoggua's realm manifested and opening at the command of Darweena!
 
Rushing to the defense of Queen Zenobia, Conan confronts Murgor-Tsoggua himself as he comes through the fully-opened door into the human realm.  Darweena manages to shake off her father's spell, horrified at what she has been forced to do, she sacrifices herself to distract Murgor-Tsoggua long enough for Conan to wound the elder with his silver sword and force the otherworldly creature back through the doorway.
 
Thanks to Daweena's self-sacrifice, the door between worlds collapses and disappears.  The danger is over with. . .for now.  Conan and his family are reunited and all is well.
 
 
 
The End.
 
THE REVIEW:
 
Okay. . .not bad!  I was hoping the disappointing issue #11 was just an "off" filler and it seems this issue has the series back on track with a strong story dripping with  H.P. Lovecraft influence.  Because of that touch of classic otherworldly horror, I think this might actually be one of my favorite issues so far!
 
I've always been a fan of Lovecraft's dark, melancholy stories of the things that live beyond the sight of man, and this story is a great combination of sword-swingin' action and terror from beyond trying to get into the human world.  Yeah. . .it's been done before.  H.P. Lovecraft and Robert Howard were friends and included nods to each others work in their own.  But even so, this was a very enjoyable comic take on the combination of sword & sorcery and eldritch horror.
 
On the art side of things, after last issue's disapppointing art, I was glad to see Ron Frenz providing some pencils more along the lines of what I would call Conan's usual "look".  The art is close enough to John Buscema's style, but with just enough difference to not be an attempted copycat.  
 
Overall, this issue was a really good read.  Let's get into the next one!
 
ISSUE THIRTEEN
(November 1982)
 
 
COVER: Marc Silvestri
 
CIRCLE OF SORCERY
 
SCRIPT: Doug Moench
PENCILS: Marc Silvestri
INKS: Ricardo Villamonte
 
Three powerful sorcerers gather to discuss the many failed plots and plans against King Conan and Aquilonia that they have supported or been part of since the beginning of this series.  They are the savage Kushite, Jumbassa. . .the seductive Ophirean sorceress, Scyllana. . .and the crafty Urazai of Khitai.  They believe that the best way to conquer Conan is to just tell him where they are and work together, so they won't be taken by surprise like others have.
 
In Aquilonia, King Conan is disturbed by the events of last issue.  He THOUGHT the conspiracy against his throne was done with, but had been proven wrong.  When he receives a magical message from the wizard Urazai challenging Conan to come to a hidden island of sorcery and end things once and for all, Conan immediately sets forth. . .once again leaving the Kingdom without a King.
 
 
Once Conan has gone, other plans are set into motion and rebels within Aquilonia wait for the word to strike.  Conan himself follows the directions given to him and is taken by a mysterious boatman to an island with three giant towers. 
 
 Fighting through many dangers, Conan chooses to climb the tower of Jumbassa first.  After dodging the Kushite's deadly traps, Conan and the jungle wizard finally come face to face.  Conan prevails after a brutal battle where he turned the wizard's magic against him using a silver mirror.  With the first wizard of the three challengers down, Conan turns his attention to the tower of Scyllana.
 

 
 
Not wanting to fight his way through the creatures below, Conan fashions a crude hang glider and is able to make it to Scyllana's tower without incident.  Once inside, Scyllana summons beautiful demonic women to seduce Conan. 
 
 As he falls under their spell and the demons leech the life from Conan, Scyllana comes to deliver the final blow, but Conan manages to resist and fight back, setting the tower on fire and burning Scyllana and her demons as he makes his escape. . .leaving only one wizard of the three standing.  
 
 
Arriving at the final tower, Conan quickly falls prey to the cunning trickster Urazai's trap.  He makes Conan believe that he is a thief who has killed Urazai, and then lures Conan into a magical web, where Conan must fight for his life against a horde of creatures summoned by the wizard. 
 
As Conan fights, Urazai gives the signal to the Aquilonian rebels and they attack the capital city!  Conan finally manages to free himself from the magic web and confronts Urazai, who tries to escape on the back of a waiting dragon!  Conan attacks and forces Urazai to fly the dragon to Aquilonia in exchange for the defeated wizard's life.
 
 
The incredible speed of the magical dragon whisks Conan to his capital city in time to find his forces engaged in a desperate, losing battle to keep the attacking rebels from the royal palace.  Urazai tries one final trick and Conan finally kills the wizard for his trouble. 
 
 King Conan then leaps into the fray, inspiring his battered men to push forth and drive the rebels from the palace.  The enraged dragon lays waste to everything around it, helping Conan at first, but soon the King is forced to kill the creature.
 
In the end, Conan and his troops manage to win the day, routing the rebels from the city. King Conan finally allows himself to relax, now convinced that he has rooted out the conspiracy against his throne once and for all.
 
 
The End.
 
THE REVIEW:
 
Not bad.  Not quite as good as the last issue, but still some mighty fine comic book sword and sorcery!
This one is pure action from start to finish. . .Conan vs. not one, not two, but THREE evil wizards who have challenged him, and THEN a massive battle including a giant dragon!
 
With all the action, there's not much room for Moench's little touches of story depth he's been adding since he came on board as writer.  There's a few of them there, but this issue reads a lot more like something Roy Thomas would have written, which isn't a bad thing!  
 
The most interesting thing about this issue to me is the art.  The new artist coming on board (and staying for 4 of the remaining 7 issues) is Marc Silvestri. . .before he was a superstar and one of the founding fathers of Image Comics, of course.  This is some of his earliest professional work and doesn't really reflect much of the signature style that would come later for Silvestri on titles such as Cyberforce and The Darkness.  
 
Here, Silvestri gives us a much more traditional style of comic art, but with a light touch of high fantasy that we haven't seen in the series yet.  Much like Doug Moench adding a little more depth to the writing on King Conan that I didn't even know I wanted, Marc Silvestri's high fantasy touches are also a nice little change from the usual style of Conan art.  It's not the Silvestri art that I'm familiar with, but I like it!
 
The Moench/Silvestri creative team is off to a good start.
Let's see what they give us in the next issue. . .
 
ISSUE FOURTEEN
(January 1983)
 
 
COVER: John Buscema
 
SCRIPT: Doug Moench
PENCILS: Marc Silvestri
INKS: Ricardo Villamonte
 
In the aftermath of the battle last issue, King Conan takes time to heal his wounds.  The court wizard, Alcimedes, tells the sorrowful tale of the first King of  Aquilonia, Andromedus, and how he disappeared without a trace into the Southern Mountains while on a quest to destroy a devilish creature called Xondor Kan.
 
Alcimedes tells King Conan about his own strange experience in those very Southern Mountains, when he encountered a strange magical force.  Queen Zenobia declares that THEY should be the ones to discover the final fate of Andromedus, and that the strange force must be connected.  
 
Conan agrees that he should be the one to bring glory by discovering the fate of Andromedus, but doesn't agree with Zenobia coming along on the quest.  She proves her worth by holding her own against Conan in a staff fight.  And so, the next day Conan, Zenobia, Alcimedes, and a few soldiers set forth to the south!
 
 
Days later, as King Conan and company camp in the sight of an oddly-shaped mountain Alcimedes declares is the source of the strange magical energy, they are attacked in the night by ghostly beings! After Conan fights them off, they are immediately attacked again by a gigantic lizard-beast!
 
As the soldiers are slaughtered by the creature, Conan, Zenobia, and Alcimedes flee for their lives and become trapped in a crevice at the base of the mountain, with the only way to escape the raging beast being to follow the crevice into the mountain itself!
 
 
After working their way deep into the mountain, the tunnel opens into a vast cave.  The mountain is hollow!  A spiral path leads to the top to the mountain, lined with enclosures holding pale human-like creatures.  As Conan and company take in the strange sight, they are surrounded by the pale creatures.
 
A demonic beast appears and speaks!  It proclaims that it is Xandor Kan, and that they are his prisoners.  Conan disagrees and prepares to fight, but Xandor Kan gloats that his minions will surely kill Zenobia and Alcimedes no matter HOW hard Conan fights.  Conan reluctantly surrenders.
 
 
As the prisoners are led to a cell near the top of the cavern, they witness three of the pale denizens being sacrificed to a disgusting, bloated creature that Xandor Kan calls "The Undead One".  He gleefully informs them that this will be THEIR fate soon, and that Conan will be the last King of Aqulonia. . .his sacrifice will strengthen Xandor Kan enough for him to finally conquer the world of man!
 
As Xando Kan prepares the sacrifice ritual, Conan manages to escape.  He is shocked to discover that "The Undead One" is actually what is left of ancient King Andromedus!  Andromedus begs Conan to destroy him by hurling him from the ledge into the bottom of the pit below.  
 
Conan heeds the ancient King's wishes and throws him down to his death.  By doing so, a chain of magical events is set into motion and the hollow mountain begins to fill with lava. . .it's a volcano and it's getting ready to erupt!
 
 
Conan quickly frees Zenobia and Alcimedes.  The three of them flee through the chaos of the erupting volcano and manage to make it outside, but Xandor Kan attacks in a rage, furious at Conan for thwarting his plans of conquest by destroying Andromedus!
 
A battle ensues amidst streams of flowing lava!  Conan finally manages to destroy Xandor Kan by using the silver battle axe of Andromedus.  In the end, the three manage to escape the lava flows and begin their return to the capital city. . .the final fate of Andromedus now known and a demonic threat destroyed.
 
 
The End.
 
THE REVIEW:
 
Not bad! For the sake of length, the sketch of the story above doesn't really reflect the pretty large amount of character building Moench does in this issue with Queen Zenobia.  I like that he's trying to make her into an actual supporting character with a personality of her own instead of just being window dressing.  Alcimedes also gets a good dose of characterization in this one as well.  
 
It looks like Doug Moench is trying to expand King Conan's supporting cast a bit more here, and I like it!  There being a regular supporting cast at all is part of what sets King Conan stories apart from Conan the Barbarian stories in the first place.  I like that Moench is starting to lean a little harder into that aspect.
 
On the art side, Marc Silvestri's pencils are even better in this issue than in his King Conan debut last issue!  There are some really great art moments to be found throughout the story.  Like I said before, it's not the Silvestri style I knew from his Image days, but this early style is certainly impressive, bringing life and motion to the story in a big way!  
 
So far, I'm REALLY liking the Moench/Silvestri creative team! 
Let's get into the last issue of this bunch of King Conan comics and see what else they've got in store. . .
 
ISSUE FIFTEEN
(March 1983)
 
 
COVER: Val Mayerik
 
THE LOOTERS OF R'SHANN
 
SCRIPT: Doug Moench
PENCILS: Marc Silvestri
INKS: Ricardo Villamonte & Jon D'Agostino
 
When King Conan decides to spend a night on the town in disguise, he makes the acquaintance of a brash  young rogue named Thandar.  Later, Conan accidentally stumbles onto a scheme involving Thandar, his lover Brissa, and a nobleman named Pontrero. 
 
Conan witnesses Brissa setting up Pontrero for a theft of his home by Thandar while distracted by his beautiful lover.  Conan decides that he'll have a bit of fun and follows Thandar to the nobleman's home.
 
 
After interrupting Thandar's heist, Conan and the young rogue battle in Pontrero's home.  During the fight, Conan's disguise slips and Thandar is shocked to see that his rival thief is the King of Aquilonia!
 
The fighting stopped, Thandar informs Conan that he is a great hero among the Rogues of the world. . .that Conan's name is whispered in legend and tales told in the night, and that Thandar himself holds Conan as the greatest example of the roguish arts that he can follow!
 
Conan is greatly amused at his legendary status and takes a liking to Thandar.  He helps the young rogue fight off Pontrero's guards and they escape pursuit together through the streets of the capital city.
 
After escaping the city, Thandar shows Conan the treasure. . .incense meant to open the sealed door of the nearby hidden temple of R'Shann belonging to a shadowy cult known as the "Hidden Ones", an ancient organization that likes to infiltrate other religions to achieve their evil ends.  It's a cult Conan knows well.
 
Conan is ready to head back to the palace and end the night's adventure, but Thandar taunts the King for being old and soft and not knowing a good bit of dangerous thievery when he was offered one.  Conan decides to prove the young whelp wrong and agrees to come along, if just for a bit of fun.
 
 
After arriving at the temple of R'Shann the next day, Thandar burns the incense to open its sealed door, but the two rogues quickly learn that Thandar was informed wrong about something when, instead of opening the temple, the incense summons ghostly spirits that possess a giant tree that comes to life and attacks the would-be thieves!
 
After a desperate battle, Conan and Thandar manage to defeat the spirit-possessed tree, only to be taken by surprise by a large group of armed men led by none other than the nobleman Pontrero and Thandar's lover, Brissa!
 
 
As Conan and Thandar are taken prisoner, Prontrero and Brissa taunt Thandar about how easily he was misled and used to clear the path to the temple so that the treasure could be taken by them instead.  
 
The nobleman's party enters the now-unlocked temple, leaving Conan and Thandar tied as captives outside.  But it isn't long before screams begin to echo out of the temple's door.  Conan bullies their terrified guard into freeing them, and the pair of rogues rush into the temple to see what's afoot.
 
 
Inside, they find Brissa. . .broken and beaten to death.  Conan and Thandar follow the sounds of fighting and come to the main chamber of the temple, where Pontrero and his few remaining men are desperately fighting a battle against gigantic ape-like creatures!
 
Conan and Thandar leap into the fray and manage to defeat the temple's guardians, but are unable to save Pontrero.  Thandar takes the treasure chest and discovers that it is just more incense meant to summon the temple guardians. . .priceless magic for the Hidden Ones, but worthless to anyone else!
 
Conan has a good laugh at Thandar's expense as he tells him that the quest for treasure is usually better than the treasure itself and that he had a good time recapturing a bit of his youth, but it's time for him to go back to being a King.  Thandar tells Conan that he's headed for Stygia to see what adventures await, and the two part.
 
 
The End.
 
THE REVIEW:
 
The first may have been the worst, but the best was the last issue of this bunch!  The Moench/ Silvestri team knocked this one right out of the park with a tale absolutely PACKED with action, adventure, and humor.
 
Moench outdoes himself as he tells a tale of Conan trying to recapture a bit of his youth and realizing that new legends are going to have to be written without him.  The dialogue between Conan and Thandar is simply fantastic as the two taunt each other during their adventure about being too old and being too young.  It's a great back and forth through the whole issue that is really enjoyable to read!
 
It's taken 15 issues for Conan's age in this series to REALLY be in the spotlight.  It's been a definite oversight up to this point. Judging from the letters column, I'm not the only one that noticed.  Moench dives right into it with humor and a bit of introspection. . .such a great way to bring a practically ignored aspect of King Conan into the spotlight!
 
Marc Silvestri's art seems to get better with each issue as he becomes comfortable with King Conan.  He perfectly handles this offbeat story, breathing life and motion into the characters and their surroundings that just makes me want MORE! 
 
Overall, a fantastic job all around!  This issue was a really enjoyable read, with art that seems to move across the page.  The Moench/ Silvestri team is getting better with each issue they do together and I can't wait to see what they have in store next!
 

CONCLUSION

 
I never thought I would see the day when I would say that I enjoyed another Conan comic team as much as Roy Thomas & John Buscema. . .but that day has come!  Doug Moench & Marc Silvestri have managed to give me a Conan that I didn't even know I wanted.  
 
Thomas and Buscema will ALWAYS be the definitive Conan team in my book (apologies to Barry Windsor-Smith fans), but Moench and Silvestri have done a fantastic job of it. . .every bit as good as anything Thomas and Buscema did with the character.  And to think that I never even knew that Doug Moench wrote any Conan comics!  I always knew him as more of a Batman and Moon Knight writer.
 
I guess it just goes to show that you never know what you'll find down in the bargain bins. . .which is where I got every issue of this series except #1.  Who knew I'd find a new favorite Conan team in comics barely "worth" cover price?
 
Yeah. . .issue #11 was a bit of a clunker, but in MY humble opinion King Conan so far is a series that absolutely DRIPS with quality storytelling and art.  These issues are giant hunks of sword and sorcery comic book fun and I'm still having a bit of trouble understanding why this series is practically ignored. 
 
If you are a Conan fan and haven't read these, you're missing out.  Simple as that.
 
Up Next. . .
 
MORE King Conan! 
 
It's the final batch of four issues in this series review, #16-19.
 
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