Saturday, June 22, 2024

Savage Sword of Conan #02 (Curtis)

The Savage Sword of Conan #2 was published in October, 1974. For a complete history of the making of this magazine title, including reviews of the contents of issue one, check out my review HERE. This installment of the series has an awesome Neal Adams cover and once again features content inspired by the works of Robert E. Howard. This issue features:

“Black Colossus” - Roy Thomas/John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala
“Chronicles of the Sword” - Lin Carter/Al Milgrom, Alan Weiss, Joe Staton
“Black Mark Chapter II” - Gil Kane
“The Beast from the Abyss” - Steve Englehart/Howard Chaykin 

In addition to the stories and articles, this issue's stand-alone panel is illustrated by Mike Zeck.

The lead story is “Black Colossus”, a 36-pager that is broken down into three parts. The inspiration is Robert E. Howard's story, which originally appeared for the first time in Weird Tales, June 1933. It has been reprinted numerous times in print format with and without the minor edits made by L. Sprague de Camp. To my knowledge this issue features the first adaptation of the story in comic format. The adaptation was reprinted again by Marvel in their Marvel Treasury Edition #15 as a colorized edition. I won't go into the details of the story because I already covered it in great detail HERE

The story's short intro is simply “Black Colossus”, the second chapter of the story is titled “Hordes of the Veiled One” and the last chapter is “Chariot of the Man-Demon”. Each title insert is a one-page panel carefully constructed by Buscema and Alcala. I love the title page to chapter two with Princess Yasmela, partially clothed, crawling towards the darkness of the pit-spawned incubus. It is just an incredible mix of light and dark with a lot of lines in the foreground to make it look more chaotic as the scene shifts to the dark right corner. As I mentioned in my review of Dark Horse's first issue of Conan, “Out of the Darksome Hills”, that Cary Nord's depiction of an armored Conan slightly resembles page 18 of this issue as Conan is fully decked out like a gladiator. 

The story stays true to Robert E. Howard's version and it's a great read. This is on par with “The Frost Giant's Daughter” (reviewed HERE) in terms of this magazine's most iconic moments. I may sound like a broken record but the art is just spectacular. Page 27's Thugra Khotanlike on the skeletal black camel is awe-inspiring and seems to draw influence from the 1865 painting by Gustave Dore, “Death on the Pale Horse (Revelation)”. This story gains a sequel in the next issue. 

Some fans dislike author Lin Carter, but I have genuinely enjoyed his literary work and the contributions he made to science-fiction and sword-and-sorcery/fantasy. His informal history of the sword-and-sorcery genre, “Chronicles of the Sword”, is just fascinating. Carter points to early literature like Beowulf and Hercules mythology as a catalyst to what would eventually form sword-and-sorcery. He also examines Lord Dunsay's “The Gods of Pegana” and “The Sword of Welleran” among others, citing the “at the Edge of the World” as a sort of gyroscope utilized for the genre”. Obviously, Carter delves into the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard and their impact on the Weird Tales publication. 

The second chapter of Blackmark continues in this issue. As I alluded to in my review of the first issue, this content was originally published in the 1971 Bantam paperback Blackmark. The smaller graphic novel pages have been formatted to magazine size and the book's contents were spread over the first four issues of Savage Sword of Conan

In this portion of the story, Blackmark looks to be about 10 years old and has began practicing swordplay in between working for his father Zeph. While Blackmark is away from the village, an armed group of horseback riders attack and begin slaughtering the citizens. When Blackmark sees the smoke he runs to the village to see his father fighting the men with a staff. After his father is murdered, Blackmark is forced to watch his mother being raped and killed. The men leave Blackmark as a survivor so he can tell others about their strength and dominance. Later, Blackmark is captured by slave raiders.

This was a real turning point in the story and sets up Blackmark's adolescent years and subsequent arena fights as a slave (featured in the next issue). Again, Gil Kane is a phenomenal artist and his storytelling skills propel the narrative in a smooth and unforced way. While a lot has happened to Blackmark, from birth to jaded young man, the narrative is spread enough to allow readers to imagine and fill in the gaps in these characters' lives off the page.

Up to Kull's appearance in this issue's story, “The Beast from the Abyss”, the character had appeared numerous times in comic format. The hero is seen in Conan's vision in the very first issue of Conan the Barbarian in July, 1970. He later appeared in Creatures on the Loose #10 (Mar1971),  Monsters on the Prowl #16 (Jan 1972), Conan the Barbarian #25 (Jan 1973) and #37 (Jan 1974), Tomb of Dracula #26 (Jul 1974). Of course he had his own short-lived title as well, Kull the Conqueror #1-10 (1971-1973) and Kull the Destroyer #11-28 (1973-1978) prior to “The Beast from the Abyss”. 

“The Beast from the Abyss” is adapted from the story “Black Abyss”. This work was left unfinished by Robert E. Howard with Lin Carter finishing the story (beginning with Chapter 3) and it was first published in the Lancer paperback King Kull in 1967. I enjoyed that story immensely and I was happy it was adapted into comic form by Steve Englehart (Batman, Daredevil, Doctor Strange) and drawn by Howard Chaykin (Star Wars, Batman, Punisher)

Kull is in Kamula on business and enjoying a dance routine with Baron Ergon. Kull's friend and confidant Brule, the Pictish Warrior, storms into the room and advises that his tribal brother Grogar has been captured from somewhere in the palace. The duo venture back to the place the man was last seen and discover another corpse. From inside the wall they hear a strange piping sound - “the sort of music dead men dance to on the scarlet floors of Hell!”

The two journey through the wall's secret passageway and descend stairs into a macabre scene of the Baron, half-naked women, a piper, and Grogar laid on an altar awaiting a ghoulish fate. These crazed people are worshiping a giant slug-like creature called Zugthuu the Slitherer. The creature isn't actually named by Chaykin in the story, but the name appears in the magazine's TOC. Kull and Brule get to work fighting Zugthuu, eventually killing the monstrosity and escape with Grogar. 

The adaptation stays true to the story and successfully visualizes the demonic scene of the piper on the altar. This story borders the horror genre closely (don't they all?) and Chaykin's drawings capture the creepy vibes so well. I was really pleased with how this turned out considering the strength of the original material. 

This was another fantastic issue and one that is often cited as a real highlight of the series. It is definitely worth your time to pursue it in whatever format you prefer – trade, digital, individual issues, hardcover. Recommended! 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

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