Welcome to Longbox Junk. . .where I write comic reviews that nobody asked me to!
Here we are, folks! The last four issues of my series review of Marvel's King Conan!
These reviews have been taking me a LOT long than I thought they would. Maybe next time I decide to do a series review, I'll NOT pick a title where every issue is a massive double-sized no ads hunk of comic book. That and it's been quite a bit busier than usual at work, but enough with the excuses!
The good news is that, so far, King Conan has been a GREAT series! Yeah. . .there's been a few bumps here and there, but overall I've been having a really fun time reading and reviewing these issues.
I've even come to realize that there IS a Conan creative team standing right up there with the legendary Roy Thomas/ John Buscema combo. . .Doug Moench and Marc Silvestri! Unfortunately, we only get a short time with Moench writing and that time was over in the last batch of King Conan (BOO!)
In this final batch of four issues, the regular writer switches over to Alan Zelenetz and we also get a couple of fill-in artists for Marc Silvestri. What does that mean for King Conan? Let's find out!
PART 4: ISSUES 16-19
ISSUE SIXTEEN (May 1983)
COVER: Marc Silvestri
BLOOD OF AQUILONIA
SCRIPT: Alan Zelenetz
PENCILS: Marc Silvestri
INKS: Ricardo Villamonte
After King Conan's son, Prince Conn, publicly challenges his father over the actions of some Aquilonian soldiers, Conan instructs one of his right hand men, Count Trocero, to show Conn the reality of ruling a Kingdom.
Travelling first to Stygia, Conn finds a land ruled by religion. All things belong to the Cult of Set, even the lives of the common folk. Conn demands that they try to save someone randomly taken to be sacrificed, and so he and Trocero end up infiltrating a Temple of Set. After defeating the undead Temple guardian and the priests, the man they were trying to save kills himself. . .preferring to die rather than to disappoint his .
IN THE MEANTIME. . .
In the Aquilonian capital of Tarantia, King Conan discovers that the citizens of the Northern Aquilonian city of Tahrem are openly revolting against his rule. He gathers a host of Aquilonia's best troops and sets forth to crush the rebellion before it spreads.
BACK WITH PRICE CONN. . .
Trocero and Conn manage to escape from Stygia and travel to the nation of Zingara. . .where the ruler cares for nothing but parties and debauchery. Conn wanders the lawless streets of the capital city alone and is horrified by the barbaric gladiator fights he witnesses. He quickly falls prey to the charms of a prostitute, who drugs and robs the young Prince before Trocero arrives to keep him from further harm.
MEANWHILE. . .
King Conan and the Aquilonian host arrive at Tahrem and prepare to assault the city gates. The city's defenders mock Conan's demand they surrender and then refuse to send their women and children to safety during the coming battle.
ELSEWHERE. . .
Prince Conn and Trocero arrive in the capital city of the nation of Zamora. They find the streets of the city deserted after dark, due to the iron grip of Malakon, a paranoid tyrant who has imposed a curfew, fearing to allow the citizens to gather lest they conspire against his rule.
The two are attacked and taken prisoner by a patrol, and are taken before Malakon, who accuses them of being Aquilonian spies. While Malakon rants, Trocero and Conn learn of Malakon's own plot to have his men sieze the city of Tahrem and trick King Conan into believing there is a revolt brewing.
Conn and Trocero are then thrown into Malakon's dungeons by the mad ruler to starve to death.
Trocero and Conn manage to escape Malakon's dungeons and flee from Zamora, rushing toward Tahrem to warn King Conan of what they've learned before Conan lays waste to an innocent city.
At Tahrem, King Conan tires of waiting for the defenders to come to their senses and orders the attack! A brutal battle is joined, but before the Aquilonians can breach the gates, Conn and Trocero arrive and tell Conan of the Zamoran plot.
As the Aquilonian troops pour into the city, Conan orders them to slay only Zamorans. Instead of the battle turning into a massacre, King Conan is greeted as the city's savior by the captive townfolk.
After the battle, as the victorious Aquilonian host returns to Tarantia, Prince Conn tells his father of what he learned during the past few weeks with Trocero. He tells Conan that he now realizes that Aquilonia has its faults, but he now sees that Conan is at least TRYING to be the best King he can be.
I was more than a little disappointed to see Doug Moench leaving King Conan, but Alan Zelenetz steps in and gives us a great start to this final batch of King Conan comics! I'd even say that this issue stands right there with Moench's last one (#15) as my two favorites of the whole bunch so far!
Yeah, there's plenty of action and adventure to be had, but the thing I liked best about this story was the focus on Prince Conn's journey to becoming a good ruler when his time comes. That even getting robbed by a prostitute becomes a lesson on that journey. It's some really nice character building for Conn and makes for a very enjoyable tale.
On the art side of things, Marc Silvestri's pencils just seem to get better with each issue he draws! His touches of high fantasty and fine linework are JUST what this series needed. Not to mention that this issue has a stunning cover by Silvestri. . .one I think is one of the best in the whole series!
Overall, simply a great issue from cover to cover!
ISSUE SEVENTEEN (July 1983)
COVER: John Buscema
A TYRANT IN AMBER
SCRIPT: Alan Zelenetz
PENCILS: John Buscema
INKS: Rudy Nebres
While hunting, King Conan and Prince Conn make the acquaintance of a young woman named Ayelet. She has come to Aquilonia to enlist the aid of Conan in taking her rightful place on the the throne of Tel-Ammon in Shem, as the true Queen and heir of Atala.
At a feast that night, Ayelet tells her sorrowful tale. . .Her mother, the Queen slain when she was a baby, along with her twin brother, born just moments before the Queen's death at the hands of her husband, Ayelet's wicked father. A sorcerer who had placed his soul in a piece of amber and become invulnerable to harm, and who now reigned over her kingdom with an iron fist.
Ayelet had been taken from the palace by a handmaiden and raised among the nomads of Zamboula until the day foretold the rightful Queen would rise and take her throne. A day that has arrived.
Ayalet has heard of the legendary Conan and his unsurpassed ability to climb the unclimbable. She asks him to scale the sorcerous tower of Bet-Shaid and steal the tyrant's amber-encased soul. Taken by her story and seizing the opportunity to leave the boring city life behind for a while, King Conan agrees to help her.
And so Conan and Ayalet set forth for the city of Tel-Ammon. It's a dangerous journey, and they are attacked by bandits along the way. Arriving at the city, they manage to enter in disguise as part of a travelling circus there for the celebration of the anniversary of the wicked King Nebuhan's reign.
Once inside the city, Conan makes his way to the soaring tower of Bet-Shaid. He quickly discovers that the tower's great height is but an illusion, undiscovered by those unwilling to dare try climbing it.
Entering into the tower by a hidden portal, Conan makes his way deeper inside until he comes to a room and spots his prize. . .the amber-encased soul of wicked King Nebuhan! Conan must fight against freezing sorcerous winds, but eventually he prevails.
Upon taking the magical amber, an alarm sounds and Conan is forced to flee deeper into the tower as he is pursued by invisible spirits. Eventually, he finds himself in a water-filled chamber, where he is forced to fight for his life against a gigantic man-eating crocodile!
After defeating the beast, Conan continues through the dark passages of the tower until he finds himself in the palace itself, following the noises of revelry leading straight to King Nebuhan's throne room!
Among the celebrants in Nebuhan's throne room, Conan spots Ayelet, still in disguise. He shouts to her that he has the amber and they leap to the attack, the two of them cutting their way through Nebuhan's guards as the partygoers flee the carnage.
As Nebuhan tries to flee, Conan throws the amber into a fire, destroying it and setting the castle on fire. Ayelet makes her way through the flames to put a final arrow into her wicked father's heart. Outside the flaming palace, Ayelet declares herself as the rightful Queen to the gathered populace, who cheer the end of Nebuan's evil reign. Conan proclaims that Aquilonia will be the first to officially recognize the new Queen and all ends well.
I really liked this simple, fast paced story a lot. It's got a beautiful Queen seeking to regain her kingdom from her evil father. It's got a tower of sorcery, filled with magical traps and nasty creatures. It's got a desperate battle set against the flames of a burning castle. What more could I ask for in a Conan story? Not much! This is just a good, tightly-written action story.
On the art side of things. After John Buscema left as regular artist eight issues ago, I've been mostly satisfied with the artists who have stepped into his shoes. . .particularly the early work of Marc Silvestri showcased in this series.
BUT. . .
Just LOOK at the pages I've scanned above.
Buscema's art in this issue serves to remind me that, in MY humble opinion, John Buscema is THE definitive Conan comic artist! You can just SEE in his work that Conan is a character that he loves to draw. He brings a special touch to this character that is unequalled (once again, my apologies to any Barry Windsor-Smith fans reading this).
Overall, a solid action packed story backed up with fantastic art. THIS is what a good Conan comic is all about! It's stuff like this that is the reason I'm a Conan comic fan, and why I've been enjoying this series so much.
ISSUE EIGHTEEN (September 1983)
COVER: Marie Severin
THE DEVIL OF DARFAR
SCRIPT: Alan Zelenetz
PENCILS: Rudy Nebres
INKS: Rudy Nebres
While returning to Aquilonia after last issue's adventure, King Conan falls into a trap set by slavers trying to recapture some runaways. After fighting his way out of the pit, Conan finds a cave where the escaped slaves are hiding.
They're a motley group of misfits and freaks led by a hulking masked man called Montago. He tells Conan that they escaped from a Kushite named Ibo Mala. A former general disgraced by cowardice and banished. He now makes his way by kidnapping unfortunate freaks like themselves and forcing them to provide entertainment as part of a travelling carnival.
Conan is taken in by the tragic tale of the misfits and informs them that he has spent more time as a slave than he would have liked, and if there's one thing in this world he hates, it's a slaver! He reveals himself as King Conan of Aquilonia and that he will take up their cause by ending Ibo Mala and freeing the rest of his captive performers!
Besides. . .Ibo Mala's men killed his favorite horse, and someone needs to pay in blood for THAT.
As Conan, Montago, and a nameless dwarf set out for Ibo Mala's camp, we shift scene to the royal court of nearby Khorala, where festivities are in full swing for a royal celebration. It is here that we meet Ibo Mala. . .who is frustrated that his misfit slaves haven't been found yet.
The King is likewise frustrated by not getting the show he was promised, and humiliates Ibo Mala in front of the court, sending him out of the palace stripped of coin and lucky to be alive. An enraged Ibo Mala demands that efforts to find the escaped slaves be doubled.
Meanwhile, Conan and his companions are attacked by an assassin. The dwarf goes missing during the chase, but Conan and Montago manage to bring down the killer, but they get no information from him as to who hired him. Fearing the dwarf has been captured, Conan and Montago continue on to Ibo Mala's camp.
Upon arriving, they are attacked by a cheetah. After a tense battle, Conan and Montago free the rest of the misfit slaves, and learn that Ibo Mala has gone to Khorala, but should be on the road back. Conan and Montago ride out to meet him.
Conan finds Ibo Mala on the road with his bodyguards. Leaping to the attack, Conan and Montago cut their way through the hired swords until it comes down to battle between Conan and Ibo Mala, who is a ruthless and skilled warrior.
Upon Conan's defeat of Ibo Mala, he discovers that the missing dwarf was actually a spy among the misfits, and it was he who sent the assassin and loosed the cheetah on Conan. The dwarf attacks, killing Montago and distracting Conan so that Ibo Mala manages to flee for his life.
At then end of things, the slaves are freed and promised a new life in Aquilonia, but Montago lays dead and Ibo Mala is nowhere to be found. Conan mourns the loss of his new friend and continues on his journey home.
Although this wasn't a BAD story, it felt a bit like filler. There's talk in the editorial page about big things coming up for the series beginning with issue #20, so I wonder if maybe the writer was spinning his wheels a bit before the big changes (which were a title change to "Conan The King" and a return to multi-part stories featuring more of Prince Conn ) on the horizon.
In any case, like I said, it's not a bad story. I've just seen in this series that it could have been better.
On the art side of things. Not bad, but not great. It's pretty good. I'd describe it as "Buscema-Lite" The art has its moments (such as King Conan mourning Montago in the page scanned above), but Rudy Nebres is no John Buscema. . .or Marc Silvestri, for that matter. He's definitely a skilled artist, but when you get spoiled with some of the great artwork that's been in this series, it's hard to compare.
That said, the cover by Marie Severin? *chef's finger kiss* It's one of the best of the bunch!
Overall, it's a pretty solid standalone adventure with some decent art. The issue feels like filler, but it's still a good read. And that's a fine testament for this series that even the filler issues are pretty good!
ISSUE NINETEEN (November 1983)
COVER: Michael Wm. Kaluta
BONES AND A BLADE
SCRIPT: Alan Zelenetz
PENCILS: Marc Silvestri
INKS: Mike Gustovich
We begin our tale in the port city of Napolia, in Argos. Queen Zenobia has gone there on a diplomatic visit while Conan is away helping Queen Ayelet gain her throne (Issues 17 -18). The city is attacked by a band of pirates, led by the ruthless Iron Bones. Zenobia is taken hostage and a message dispatched to Aquilonia demanding ransom for her return.
Upon King Conan's return to Aquilonia, he is informed of Zenobia's capture. He flies into a violent rage and immediately commandeers a ship and crew to set forth for the Western Sea and rescue his Queen.
IN THE MEANTIME. . .
Zenobia is treated cruelly by the pirates and their uncouth leader. The first mate of Iron Bones' crew, Nestor, steps in to stop their torment of the captive queen. When he visits Zenobia later in her cell, the two discover that they grew up in the same nation of Nemedia and both under the tyrannical rule of Tarascus. As they talk into the night, Nestor and Zenobia begin to form a connection.
MEANWHILE. . .
Aboard King Conan's ship, discontent brews among the commandeered crew as Conan steers them deeper into the pirate-infested waters of the Western Sea. Things come to a head with a violent mutiny!
Conan and his bodyguards manage to quell the uprising and continue on their course.
Aboard Iron Bones' ship, mutiny is ALSO afoot when Nestor challenges Iron Bones to a duel for control of the ship and crew after learning that the pirate captain plans on killing Zenobia. . .ransom or no ransom.
Nestor defeats Iron Bones as the lookouts spot King Conan's ship coming upon them fast. He frees Zenobia and prepares his men for battle. He informs Zenobia that he plans on fighting Conan himself, with her hand as the prize!
King Conan and his men attack the pirate ship, leaping aboard, Conan cuts his way through the pirates with a barbarian rage, shouting for his queen! Nestor confronts King Conan and the two of them fight alone while the battle rages around them. Nestor proclaims his love for Zenobia and his intent to take her for his own. This fuels Conan's rage and he runs the love-struck pirate captain through!
King Conan and his men prevail over the pirates and Zenobia is freed. Their re is joyful until Conan informs Zenobia of Nestor's death at his hand. . .unaware of the connection Zenobia had forged with the handsome pirate from her own homeland. The victory and her freedom are bitter when Zenobia sees Nestor, dead.
But in the end, she takes comfort in the arms of her King as they set sail for home.
Another issue that feels a bit like filler as King Conan heads for upcoming changes (more on that below). It's not a bad story. . .it's hard to go wrong with a swashbuckling Conan pirate tale, but like the previous issue, it just seems like it could have been better. But ALSO like the previous issue, it's a good testament to the quality of this series that even the filler issues are pretty good reads.
On the art side of things, this issue sees the return of Marc Silvestri after an absence of a couple of issues. Unfortunately, this is not his best work on the series. Like the quick and simple story, Silvestri's art also seems to not be as good as it should be. Don't get me wrong. It's not BAD. It's just that I KNOW from previous issues that it could be better.
Overall, this is another issue that just seems like filler. The story and art are both good, but they could also both be better, and both writer and artist HAVE shown me better in previous issues. I have the feeling that these last two issues were just sort of tossed off to tie up some loose ends before the changes coming up.
And speaking of those changes. . .
I always thought that King Conan and Conan the King were two separate series. Come to find out, Conan the King is a direct continuation of King Conan, starting at #20. I had assumed I just never came across any Conan the King issues under #20 because that's just the nature of the bargain bin.
WHY they decided to change the name of the series is sort of a mystery I can't find the answer to. There's all sorts of talk and ads in the last several issues of this series about big things coming up starting with King Conan #20. . .
But when the series continued, it was called Conan The King. The series continued under the new name for another 35 issues, with Zelenetz and Silvestri as the main creative team for a good chunk of the run (along with some utterly fantastic covers by W.M. Kaluta as well). The series ended in 1989 with issue #55.
SO. . .
What SHOULD happen here is that I keep on reviewing the series. But I don't have the full 35 issues of Conan The King. I have 15 of them, including the first (20th?). So I won't. That said, the Conan The King issues I DO have are all very good reads. There's a bit more of a focus on Prince Conn in the Conan The King issues, but there's plenty of Conan adventure and great art to be had.
The name change still sort of bothers me as a little comic book world mystery. If anyone out there reading this can shed some light on it for me, I'd appreciate it. The fact is, information on both King Conan AND Conan The King is sparse, to say the least. I'm pretty sure I'm the only person who has ever actually reviewed these issues.
ANYWAY. . .
Enough about Conan The King. Let's wrap up the series at hand.
Simply put. . .if you are a fan of Conan comics and haven't read King Conan, you're missing out on some fine comic books. Yeah, there's a few bumps in the road, but really there's only ONE issue out of the nineteen reviewed here that I would call bad (Issue #11).
Believe me when I say that only one issue out of nineteen being bad is something that is unusual with Longbox Junk. A lot of series can't even pull off SIX issues before jumping off the rails. Heck, sometimes they can't even get up to THREE issues! ONE out of NINETEEN is great.
Overall, this is a series that has a lot of quality. . .good writing, good art, and big chunky double-sized issues with minimal ads. These issues were a little more expensive than average for the mid 80s, but you definitely got your extra money's worth with these hefty comics!
So before I wrap it up and move on past King Conan, I'll say it again. . .
If you like Conan comics, do NOT pass this series up!
The issues aren't really "worth" anything to collectors, so they are easy to find individually in the bargain bins (except the first issue, which IS a bit harder to find, but still not hard on the wallet. I think I paid ten bucks for mine). They've also been collected several times, so not hard to find at all.
Overall, King Conan deserves a Longbox Junk gold seal of approval!
Up Next. . .
We've spent some time in the Hyborian past. How about a little trip into the future? Say. . .the year 2099? That's right. . .MARVEL 2099!
In the next few Longbox Junk entries I'll be taking a look at some first issues of Marvel's ill-fated future world to see what these bargain bin mainstays are all about. Hulk 2099, X-Men 2099, Punisher 2099, Spider-Man 2099, Doom 2099 and Ravage 2099!
Be there or be square.