-Roy thomas, John Buscema & Ernie Chan
I didn’t read a lot of Conan as a kid. Later in life I read some of the black and white Conan comics. And I’ve read a couple of the books by Robert E. Howard. I like the world that Howard created in his stories, a world of magic and terrifying monsters, but not populated by elves and dwarves. The story in this book does a pretty good job of bringing Howard’s dark and foreboding mood to the comics.
In this story Conan and his sexy pirate girlfriend find themselves heading upriver in a gloomy forlorn swamp, seeking an ancient abandoned city. Conan isn’t so sure about the whole trip, but his “mate” is into it, so he stoically goes along. Before arriving at the ruins, a man on their boat is attached and killed by a giant sea serpent, and the crew spots some kind of flying ape perched menacingly atop the ancient ruins. This gives Conan second thoughts, but his baby thinks there might be a lot of treasure involved, so off they go. Turns out there is a lot of treasure at the old city, and his woman is able to get to it despite a deadly booby trap, by sacrificing the lives of three of her soldiers. Hmmmm, not like her, thinks Conan, but she seems so happy with her treasure, that he lets it slide.
In the meantime, their ship has been attacked by the flying ape; it’s smashed all their water barrels. Conan goes off to search for water while sweet-thing moves her treasure to the boat. While in the dark jungle, Conan accidentally breathes in the aroma of the black lotus which knocks him out and gives him dreams of this past civilization. The gist is that it was once ruled by majestic winged celestial creatures, but over time, for various reasons, they became hideous winged apes that destroyed each other, leaving only the one. When Conan wakes up, he heads back to the ship only to find that everyone is dead from flying ape attack, and his lover is hanging from the yardarm by her precious necklace.
At this point Conan is a little pissed. And just when it seems that things can’t get worse, he is attacked by a pack if hyenas. He takes high ground and is able to cut the pack down one by one with arrow and then sword. Finally it’s just him and the ape. But Conan finds himself trapped under some of the stone ruins. It looks like the end for our hero. Then slice slice, back from the dead his pirate lover attacks and kills the winged ape.
She has returned from the dead to save Conan, just like she said she would while they snuggled on the boat. I forgot to mention that earlier because it just seemed like an idle conversation, but here she is just as she promised.
In the epilogue, Conan gives her and her treasure a Viking funeral.
Unlike batman, Conan doesn’t feel the need to emphasize the lesson we all should have learned. He just wanders off for to more adventures.
This was a pretty good story. About as good as Conan gets, I think. Conan definitely has that every man wants to be him thing going on. In making his way through an uncertain world, Conan has the skill and wherewithal to courageously stand up to the challenges of life, something many of us struggle to do. Plus he’s a muscly stud and gets all the girls.
That’s something to talk about regarding Conan, the women. It’s tricky to judge how enlightened a 1970’s comic book based on 1930’s pulp novels should be. But here’s some thoughts. These women, as you can see from the cover, are everything that junior high boys believe women should be, and they dress the way junior high boys think these women should dress. In fact, the I way I remember it, this is in fact how all women between 16 and 26 do look to a 13-year-old boy. I’ve seen this in action. Last year while teaching a 7th grade reading class, one of my yearbook students, a high school girl, walked into my room, took a camera off my desk, and left. I looked at my class. Where were we, I said. The guys didn’t hear me. Not only didn’t these guys know where we had been, they did t know where they were right now. They were gobsmacked. The woman from the cover of Conan had just walked into then out of their lives.
Men don’t stop feeling this way about women when they turn 14, or 24, or 54. And the fact that the the hot Conan women are so often chained or caged or uncontrollably attracted to the brute of a man who sees her as little more than a sexy warm body is problematic. Red Sonja, the mostly naked heroine who sometimes inhabits Conan’s world is sort of an answer to this idea I guess as she’s always killing the awful men she encounters. (But she’s the one saying smell the glove, you see.) That may be one way of dealing with the misogynistic point of view of the Conan comics. It may also be just another excuse for men to lust after a hottie in a metal bikini. I don’t know. Google images of Red Sonja, maybe not at work or with the kids around, and let me know what you think.
In this Conan story, at least at the beginning, the woman is portrayed as Conan’s equal. Later, however, as she becomes touched with the greed for treasure, she becomes bossy, murderous, and out of control. In the end she learns her lesson, albeit too late, to not worry so much about having nice things. Because you know, that’s how women are.