Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Savage Sword of Conan Volume Nine

Dark Horse comics did fantasy fans, as well as comic fans, a huge service when they brought the old Savage Sword of Conan back into print. The only thing I question, as I usually do, is the choice of cover. It's not that this is a bad cover but rather that this volume includes a cover by artist Joe Jusko.

If I was publishing this? Oh yeah, that cover full color straight on.

Volume Nine has over five hundred pages of bone crushing action. Ernie Chan and John Buscema bring the Hyborian age to life like few before of after them. John in particular renders wide scenes that bring the reader fully into Conan's world.

While last volume introduced readers to the Devourer of Souls, here he makes his return. He is a glutton for turning men into worms so that they are easier to devour. His insatiable lust for souls thought, isn't his primary motivation. Rather, he desires to bring his people, a whole race of soul eaters, into Conan's world. The world that the Devourer of Souls hails from is low on this precious resource.

It's a good trick. To showcase someone hoarding something that they don't normally have access to. To show people who might have once been poor to eke out ever copper piece they can. To do work that others might not, even though they can afford not to do that work.

In this volume, the Devourer does manage to bring several of his kin to Conan's world. But even then, the Devourer himself stands different. It is he that wears the armor. It is he who has the winged helm and cape. It is he who uses magics to turn men into worms that may be devoured by his people.

He even names himself as Wrarrl of the Demon Helmet.

But whereas in the previous fight, Conan won through luck, this time, even as Conan initially is beaten down again by the Devourer, this time Conan actually has a plan. This time Conan is able to use deception to make the Devourer lower his guard.

There are also a few other colorful characters. While we get no Red Sonja and Conan this volume, we do get the Snow Raven. While mainly a thief, she's also no slouch with sword or bola and manages to get the upper hand on Conan not once, but twice in matters of thievery. Still, the last and final laugh of the issue goes to Conan who switches a bag of gems for a bag of stones.

While many of the standards here here, Conan being stronger than any man has a right to be, lasses and lords aplenty, there is some amusing banter as well.

"Good steel is scarce here! Give us your sword!"

"You've a fine sense of hmor Kushite! I admire that in a man!"

Then there's this little gem.

There are also numerous bits where Conan is working for one person, and the other people working for that person, are working against Conan's new employee and so Conan winds up facing double and sometimes triple betrayal as the person he's working for, seeing him kill the traitors, doesn't know that those were traitors and so casts Conan out!

There are also some reminders that Conan's era is far from civilized.

"I am but a poor priest of the Zambolian mysteries... why kill me?"

"Why not? You are old and blind and of no use to anyone!"


Be that as it may though, it does bring up some interesting scenarios. In one, Conan is offered a job as a palace guard but must "displace" one of the current members. Sounds almost like some of the old 1st edition Monk or Druid bits where there can only be so many of each rank.

To do this, Conan and another guard fight with staff on a stone bridge over a pit of long spears. To fall into the pit, the "Well of Spears", is to die. Suffice it to say it's not Conan who is knocked into the pit.

John Buscema, as usual, brings us into the world of the barbarian in it's vast scope. For example, the Temple of the Lion. The people who come it as mere ants before it's epic size. Men astride horses far far away form the temple and still, the temple looms like a mountain off in the distance.

As usual, there are a few choice bits for adventuring seeds that I think I'll steal.

Conan brings a fence an item of some small worth. The fence needs light to see it and appraise it right? Turns out that light in the window is an alert to guards who come by to capture those that the fence sells out in exchange for turning a blind eye to other things the fence does. That whole candle in the window bit is classic but I'll be damned if I've used it more than a handful of times in 20+ years of role playing.

In another tale, Conan's and his shipmates are lost at sea and tossed onto land. Here they come across a wicked queen whose cruelty to her people inspire rebellion. In exchange for plunder, of course Conan and his men are all too happy to help.

On one hand, the queen indulges the worst aspects of her court. There are orgies, gladiatorial combat, both against man against man, and man against beast, as well as outright slayings of people to savage apes.

On the other, the queen isn't actually human and those who've supposedly laid with her, well, they've been turned into demons that were ready to turn the town into a bloodhouse before Conan gets there and seals them in the labyrinth.

The use of illusion and other magic to take the form of an appealing enemy is a simple one. It's one I've used quite frequently because I swear despite almost everyone in my group being 40+ years old they still think they're in high school.

That use of illusion though goes both ways. For example, in one story, when Conan is washed upon shore, he is asked to kill a sorcerer who is keeping Kiriandra, a sorceress prisoner. Turns out that sorceress thought, isn't a real woman, but rather, a thing that the sorcerer created so that when Conan kills the sorcerer, she returns to a state of inhumanity

The Savage Sword of Conan is always a nice visual feast. At it's 500 pages, it's a great bargain. It's inclusion of monsters from various parts of the world into its own mythology to craft monsters powerful enough to challenge Conan, entertaining. If you're a fan of fantasy and a role player, these classics may not all have aged well, but there's a lot to find enticing about them.