Monday, June 30, 2014

Savage Sword of Conan Volume Three

I've mentioned it before, but again, Dark Horse did the world of comics and fans of sword and sorcery a huge service by bringing out the old black and white Savage Sword of Conan in these massively oversized compendiums for a great price. The works have been out of print for decades and while it's disappointing to see that it's only the Conan tales appearing in these volumes, for example, some covers reproduced inside boast of Solomon Kane or Red Sonja, we only get the Cimmerian.

But that's okay. At this price point and for material that's hard to get ahold of otherwise? It's a great deal.

This volume brings several classic adaptations from novel to comic format as well as many flashback pieces. One of the interesting things about the Savage Sword, as opposed to save, the Marvel Comic running at approximately the same time, is that the Savage Sword isn't necessarily being told in order. Many of the tales are done in one or at best, two shots and then its onto the next one. This volume for example, even does the Scarlet Citadel, which features Conan in his King mode.

For those keeping track, this volume includes 25-31 of the Conan stories. It has illustrations by some of the greats of the comic genre too ranging from Barry Windsor-Smith, John Buscema, Alfredo Alcala, Jim Starlin, Al Milgrom, Pablo Marcos, and Walter Simonson among others. No offense to Dark Horse's modern take on the comic, but this is one of the reasons why it's sometimes looked at like a pale image of it's former glory days. Walter Simonson? John Buscema? Jim Starlin? Some of these are STILL big names in the industry.

The volume is 554 pages with a cover price of $19.99, although Amazon has it on sale for $14.24.

Below I'll be hitting some of the things I continue to enjoy about these tales and why the Savage Sword of Conan acts as such an 'Appendix N' hit for me.

1. Named Gems: One of the longer tales in this collection is the Jewels of Gwahlur. Another is The Blood of the Gods. Each a set of gems that are priceless and unique. These named gems give the setting more character and history as each of the gems have their own stories associated with them. 

2. Recurring Foes: Olgerd is a foe of Conan who makes his third appearance in this volume. In his previous one, the 'Sleeper of the Sands' took him down into the desert hell with him. We never learn how he escaped. It's almost 'super hero' like in that if there's no body, don't assume that the foe is dead. 

3. Languages: The authors rarely fail to make mention of the numerous languages that the people speak in the setting. There are times when speaking with one faction they'll try to hide their true intentions by speaking to their own allies in another language. This brings further depth to the reading and can be a great use in any campaign. The only problem is that usually languages take some heady resources that are often better spent on fighting ability as opposed to something that can just be picked up.

4. Change Meetings: In Hawks of Shem, the tale starts when Conan is accused of following a soldier who turns and attacks him thinking that Conan is an assassin. The real assassins attack shortly thereafter and the two become allies. Having characters be mistaken for someone else is a good way to keep the characters on their toes. In one Dungeons and Dragons game I ran, the party had a Necromancer from the Diablo book with bone armor. They approached a fort that, unknown to the party mind you, had recently come under attack by ghouls, skeletons, and other undead horrors, so they immediately started firing on the characters until the characters could convince them that they were not there to fight. 

5. Quick Change: Tribes, armies, cities, and gods rise and fall at the drop of the hat in Conan's world. A king may think himself an actual god and try to fly. An entity that has lain dormant for thousands of years may rise and devour a city. Armies are betrayed by their generals. Things are constantly in a state of flux.

6. Amara: That's Conan's pirate raiding name, "the lion". It's a name that Conan is associated with only by those in the know while others only know of one or the other and when they put the two together, it's not always a good thing for Conan. Having an alias, especially one that lasts for a while and has specific meaning to a group of people, provides characters with further bits than just their original name. Elric for instance, outside of being known as a Kinslayer, is often called the White Wolf.