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  • atom | Male | Utah

"I have a lot of issues. . ."

I write comic book reviews that NOBODY has ever asked for!

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Welcome to Longbox Junk, the place where I write comic book reviews even though nobody asked me to!  To be fair, nobody has asked me to STOP writing them yet, so there's that.

 
ANYWAY. . .
 
It's been a while since I tackled a whole series.  At one time, writing reviews of an entire comic series from issue one to issue done was the bread and butter of Longbox Junk.  Unfortunately, my free time at work (where I write these) tends to fluctuate in a big way. . .especially in summer. . .and Longbox Junk sort of gravitated toward single issue reviews with some mini-series thrown in here and there.
 
BUT. . .
 
Here we are. . .getting ready to jump into the 19 issues of Marvel's 1980 - 1983 run of King Conan.  By my former standards, it's not a long series.  I mean, I reviewed all SEVENTY issues of DC's Pre-New52 Jonah Hex run, right?  But for getting back into series reviews a little bit, 19 issues feels okay to start with.
 
The series at hand came out when Conan hit what was probably his comic book high with Marvel holding the license.  They had this title, Savage Sword of Conan, and the tentpole Conan the Barbarian series all on the stands at the same time (not to mention a Conan newspaper strip).  
 
There's a lot written on the other series, but not much about King Conan.  I'm not sure WHY, but there's almost nothing about this comic series on the internet beyond the most basic information about publishing dates and creative team credits.  Maybe because it came out in the 80s? I don't know.
 
Which is why I'm reviewing it.
King Conan.  Let's do this!

KING CONAN

Marvel (1980)

PART ONE: Issues 1-5
 
ISSUE ONE
(March 1980)
COVER: John Buscema
 
THE WITCH OF THE MISTS
 
SCRIPT: Roy Thomas
PENCILS: John Buscema
INKS: Ernie Chan
 
While on a hunting trip, King Conan of Aquilonia's first-born son and heir, Prince Conn, is taken captive by a mysterious old woman.  While searching for his son, Conan discovers a message telling him to follow the sign of the white hand to the northern land of Hyperborea if he wants Prince Conn returned alive.  And so Conan sets forth alone.
 
 
After fighting his way through dangerous marshes on the road to Hyperborea, Conan is led to a dark fortress, where he is reunited with his son.  The captive King and Prince soon discover the hand behind the plot to be none other than a foe from Conan's past, the sorcerer Thoth-Amon!  
 
Now at the head of a powerful group of wizards called The Black Circle, the capture of King Conan is part of a plan to ruin the Western Kingdoms.  Conan and Conn are led before Thoth-Amon and other leaders of the Black Circle, where Conan is forced to fight their fanatic followers for their amusement.
 

 
 
During the fight, Conan manages to escape and wreak havoc on the gathered sorcerers, killing them all except Thoth-Amon, who manages to escape just before Conan's right hand man, Prospero, and a band of the King's Guard arrive.
 
Conan has rescued his son and eliminated a threat on his northern border, but he has been made aware of the bigger threat of Thoth-Amon and his Black Circle.  What will they do next?
 
The End.
 
THE REVIEW:
 
THIS is how you start a comic series!  This first issue kicks in the door with action, adventure, and intrigue.  It's everything a Conan fan could possibly want in a comic!
 
The definitive Marvel Conan team of Roy Thomas and John Buscema start this series off in grand style with a story that is engaging to read and wonderful to look at from the first page to the last!  
 
There is absolutely NOTHING I don't like about this issue.  It's pure Conan fun, and it makes me want to get right into the next issue.  What a great start!
 
 
ISSUE TWO
(June 1980)
COVER: John Buscema
 
THE BLACK SPHINX OF NEBTHU
 
SCRIPT: Roy Thomas
PENCILS: John Buscema
INKS: Ernie Chan
 
After a failed attack on an Aquilonian border kingdom, King Conan suspects sorcery at hand.  He enlists the aid of a druid and sets forth with an army to the ruins of Nebthu, in Stygia.  He has learned from the druid that his enemy, Thoth-Amon was behind the failed attack and has his lair with the magicians of his Black Ring at Nebthu.
 
 
Arriving at the ruins of Nebthu and joined by his son, Conn, Conan discovers a secret door in a gigantic statue of a black jackal.  Conan and his company enter a twisted maze of tunnels beneath the ruins, eventually coming to a large arena, where Thoth-Amon and his black magicians finally spring their trap!
 
But Conan has brought his own magician. . .the druid.  And so, a battle between white magic and black ensues in the darkness while Stygian troops attack Conan's encamped men by surprise above!  Conan sways the sorcerous battle to his side when he reveals that he has brought the Heart of Ahriman. . .a powerful talisman that Thoth-Amon covets.
 
 
 
With his black wizards destroyed by the combined power of the druid's magic and the talisman, Thoth-Amon makes a hasty escape, but not before summoning a gigantic jackal monster!  
 
As Conan and company flee the huge beast and make their way to the surface, the monster attacks indiscriminately, mowing through the Stygian troops before returning to its hidden underground lair.
 
Despite taking heavy losses, Conan is determined to pursue Thoth-Amon and bring an end to his plots once and for all.  And so, Conan sets for with his son and the remains of his army for the mysterious southeastern land of Zembabwei, following the directions of the druid, who takes his leave of Conan.
 
To be Continued. . .
 
THE REVIEW:
 
Thomas, Buscema, and Chan keep up the momentum of the first issue with a second that actually gives the reader even MORE action, adventure, and intrigue, backed up with incredible Bronze Age artwork!  This issue had me hooked even harder than the first, right from the opening page! 
 
So far, the two opening issues of this series have delivered everything I could ever want in a great Conan adventure, and it makes me want to get right into the next issue. . .so let's do it!
 
ISSUE THREE
(September 1980)
COVER: John Buscema 
 
RED MOON OF ZEMBABWEI!
 
SCRIPT: Roy Thomas
PENCILS: John Buscema
INKS: Danny Bulanadi
 
As they continue their pursuit of Thoth-Amon into the mysterious southlands, King Conan and his Aquilonian troops are taken by surprise during a night attack by flying lizard like creatures and their human riders!
 
During the attack, Conan and his son, Conn are taken prisoner and flown to the mysterious city of Zembabwei.  There they are taken before Thoth-Amon and his ally, the savage wizard-king,  Nenaunir.  Conan and Conn are sentenced to die. . .sacrificed to the snake , Damballah (the same serpent worshipped by Thoth-Amon as Set) during the Red Moon twelve nights hence!
 
 
While imprisoned in the dungeons beneath Zimbabwei, Conan makes friends with a prisoner in another cell named Mbega.  Mbega is the twin brother of Nenaunir, and has been imprisoned for attempting to revolt against his brother's iron-fisted rule.  
 
In the meantime, Conan's troop arrives at Zimbabwei after ten days.  Conan's friends Trocero and Pallantides despair at the heavily fortified city but hatch a plan to secretly infiltrate the fortress by way of the sewers using the rogue's skills of Murzio of Zingara. . .another of Conan's companions travelling with them.
 
On the eve of Conan and Conn's sacrifice, Murzio manages to find their cell in the dungeon, but is unable to unlock it.  Conan has the thief free Mbega instead, hoping that the King's brother can raise the population of the city against its hated ruler.
 
 
Conan and Conn are brought before Thoth-Amon, King Nenaunir, and the gathered priests of Zembabwei at the altar of the serpent Damballah.  As the moon turns blood red and the priests chant, Conan struggles to free himself and his son as the spirit of Damballah forms and begins to squeeze the life out of Conan!
 
While Conan struggles for his life against the serpent 's avatar, Conn manages to strike down King Nenaunir, ending the summoning spell and saving his father!  At the same time, Mbega and his partisans rush the altar and a fight ensues, with Conan's Aquilonian forces arriving to turn the tide of battle in favor of Mbega as Thoth-Amon once again flees.
 
In the end, Mbega takes control of Zembabwei.  Conan and his company of Aquilonians leave the city and head further south in dogged pursuit of Thoth-Amon, determined to end him once and for all!
 
To be continued. . .
 
THE REVIEW:
 
Although this was another very enjoyable issue, it repeats a lot of elements from the first issue. . .Conan and his son taken prisoner by Thoth-Amon, with a desperate battle to escape breaking out and Conan's Aquilonian companions rushing in at the last moment to save the day, only for Thoth-Amon to escape in the confusion.   
 
Roy Thomas writes the story in an engaging way, with his usual fantastic turns of phrase, but hopefully he isn't already starting to fall into a story rut on only the THIRD issue!
 
The series also changes inker on this issue.  He has a different style than Ernie Chan that knocks the art down half a notch.  It's still really good. I mean, it's John Buscema's pencils.  Of course it's going to be good.  How could it not be?  But Ernie Chan's inks are just SO complimentary to Buscema's work that any change just sort of hits the eye wrong.  The art isn't bad by any means, I just prefer Chan's inks.
 
All in all, this was another good issue.  I'm just a bit concerned by what looks like a story rut starting to form.  Let's see what the next issue holds!
 
ISSUE FOUR
(December 1980)
COVER: John Buscema 
 
SHADOWS IN THE SKULL!
 
SCRIPT: Roy Thomas
PENCILS: John Buscema
INKS: Danny Bulanadi
 
Still in pursuit of Thoth-Amon, King Conan is directed by a wizard to travel further into the southern jungles, and then east, to the Land of No Return at the very edge of the known world, where the serpent folk of old ruled long before the coming of men.
 
And so, Conan sets forth with a host of King Mbega's (from last issue) best men, as well as a group of Amazon warrior-women led by Nzinga. . .the daughter of an old acquaintance of Conan from his younger days.  
 
Conan leads the expedition from the air alongside his son and Mbega's best scouts, riding the serpent-like wyverns used to capture them in the previous issue.
 
After many days of travel, Conan's expedition finally comes in sight of landmarks given to them by the wizard in Zembabwei. . .a huge waterfall and a cliff face in the shape of a skull.  But as the King and his wyvern-riders investigate, a mysterious weakness befalls them and their flying mounts tumble to the ground!
 
In a hidden valley below, Conan and company discover an ornate palace.  They are greeted by a mysterious band of women from the palace and the cave city beyond called Yanyoga.  Conan decides to take them up on their offer of hospitality. . .
 
 
As Conan and Mbega's scouts fall under some sort of spell during the following days of drinking and wanton vice, only Conan's son, Conn is able to keep a somewhat clear head.  As one of the beautiful women attempts to seduce the young prince, he sees her reflection and is horrified to learn that the women are actually serpent-folk in disguise!
 
Mbega's warriors on foot, as well as Nzinga's Amazons arrive in time to help young Conn fight his way through the palace.  Thoth-Amon is spotted with the serpent queen and Conan's friend Trocero presses the attack on their long-sought quarry, though King Conan is nowhere to be seen. The wizard disappears from sight, escaping once again!  
 
 
King Conan wakes on a mysterious shore and finds himself in the company of his foe, Thoth-Amon!
The wizard gloats and taunts Conan, who attacks him.  But as he touches the wizard, Conan finds himself transported to a strange realm where the two enemies battle as spirits!
 
Conan fights well, but finds himself on the losing side of the spirit battle, but unknown to Thoth-Amon, Conan's son has managed to follow the two through Thoth-Amon's portal.  And with an enchanted knife given to him in Zembabwei, Conn kills Thoth-Amon and ends the fight on the spirit plane, dragging both Thoth-Amon and his father back to the real world, where Thoth-Amon dies and crumbles to dust!
 
 
In the end, Conan takes Thoth-Amon's ring of power and throws it into the sea before heading back to the lair of the serpent-folk alongside his son to help his allies finish off the savage creatures, satisfied that Conn is becoming a warrior worthy of being his heir.
 
The End. . .To be continued.
 
THE REVIEW:
 
Okay then, there it is.  The big extra-sized finish to the four-issue "Chasing Thoth-Amon" opening story arc.  All in all, a fine ending indeed!  Yeah, there's still some concern that the series is falling into a "Conan gets captured every issue" story rut, but then again, Roy Thomas is able to make even the weakest story sing with his outstanding writing.  The framework may be flimsy, but Thomas makes the "final" battle between Conan and Thoth-Amon an epic adventure!
 
On the art side of things, John Buscema provides visuals every bit as epic as Thomas' writing. . .which comes as no surprise to me or anyone else who is a fan of Buscema's work.  What IS a bit surprising is that Danny Bulanadi seems to have course-corrected his inks a bit to be more complimentary to Buscema's pencils.  I still prefer Ernie Chan's inks on Conan, but Bulanadi makes an admirable effort to step into Chan's shoes.
 
Overall, an epic end to the first story arc, with writing that drips with adventure and art that takes the reader to another world for a while.  What more could a Conan fan want? Let's get into the next issue and see if this creative team can keep up the great work!
 
ISSUE FIVE
(March 1981)
COVER: John Buscema
 
THE RING OF RAKHAMON!
 
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. . .
 
THE REVIEW:
 
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.
 

CONCLUSION

 
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!

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