CONAN THE BARBARIAN #91

“Savage Doings in Shem!”
Writer: Roy Thomas
Artists: John Buscema & Ernie Chan

Conan, Belit and Zula have made it to the coast and the rendezvous with the Tigress. There is great happiness among the Corsairs that their goddess and Amra have returned. Soon after M’gora comes from the swamp returning from his mission to Asgalun. He is attacked by giant swamp rats but Conan and the Corsairs come to his rescue. From M’gora they learn what is going on in Asgalun. The Stygians have hired Kushite mercenaries to help them keep control of the city. M’gora and the Corsairs with him were drafted by them and were able to enter the city. Nim-Karrak the king who is all but a puppet of the Stygians has hired Hyrkanian mercenaries to guard him. The city is on the verge of a civil war. Belit is determined to go back and have vengeance against her uncle and reclaim the throne.

So Conan, Belit Zula and M’gora are able to infiltrate the city. Thanks to some of the Corsairs who serve with the Kushite mercenaries. They are lead by M’gora to a supposedly easy way to enter the palace. Once in a pleasure garden a trap is sprung by the Stygians. M’gora was under the control of Ptor-Nubis the Stygian advisor to the king. Ptor-Nubis uses his mind control to take over the four and force them to fight each other to the death.

So Conan and Belit are reunited with the Black Corsairs. Nice to have them together after such a long absence. Most of the issue is exposition about Asgalun. This was because Marvel had recently acquired the rights to De Camp’s stories and one of his dealt with Asgalun. So we get a nice detailed backstory that fits in his version with the current storyline. I did find it interesting and Roy like always knows how to integrate such stuff into his official canon. Plus throw in a little giant rat action and you have a fun story. Getting close to the big resolution of Belit’s quest for revenge.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #90

“The Diadem of the Giant-Kings!”
Writer: Roy Thomas
Artists: John Buscema & Ernie Chan

Conan, Belit and Zula have taken over a trade boat and are heading down the river Styx. They make for a rendezvous with the Black Corsairs. In Luxor King Ctesphon III and Thoth-Amon discuss their next moves to kill Conan and Belit. They know that they are heading to Asgalun so Thoth-Amon uses his sorcery to contact their agent to be ready for them. Conan has the ship stop just before Khemi so they can avoid the city. They are going to hike overland and meet the Corsairs along the coast. They also press into service the ship’s crew.

Along the way they pass through land that the Stygians regard as cursed. An earthquake swallows the man who has the food. So they are forced to climb down. They find a cavern with a giant skeleton. They also find a jeweled diadem in a casket. The Stygians attempt to escape and also steal this diadem. This triggers magic that resurrects the giant. The giant starts to eat the Stygians. Conan waits for dusk when the bats will go out. The huge numbers distract the giant so Conan and Belit can escape. While escaping Conan uses his sword to blind the giant.

Well this issue was a filler along the way for Belit and her final quest for vengeance against her uncle. Already we know that Neftha knows where they are heading. So the Stygians will be ready. Otherwise this was just a little adventure in their travels. A giant resurrected by magic. Nothing Conan hasn’t handled before. The saga of Belit is heading into the homestretch.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #89

“The Sword and the Serpent!”
Writer: Roy Thomas
Artist: John Buscema & Ernie Chan

Conan, Belit and Zula are escaping the palace in Luxor. They slaughter some guards and get to the secret underground passage. Only more guards are waiting since Neftha now King Ctesphon III knows of this passage. So Conan and company go down a passage that the guards are forbidden to enter. Thoth-Amon stopped the guards because he wants his minions to get Conan. Soon after Neftha assumed the throne he visits her and gets her support to make him her advisor. She will also cast down all the other wizards to make him supreme in Stygia. But first he has to kill Conan and his friends.

Conan and the group stop for a nap. During this time a giant snake with a medusa head uses hypnosis to lure Belit to it. Zula who has some wizard training is immune to the creature’s hypnosis. Zula kills it. Later a rockslide separates Conan. Belit and Zula come to rescue him but these are not his friends. They are serpent-men who can shape shift. Luckily Conan discovers this in time and kills them. When his real friends show up he has them say the magic words ‘Ka Nama Kaa Lajeramma!” Words from the time of Kull that no serpent-man can handle. Right after that they meet M’gora and the Corsairs. Only Conan knows they are fake and uses the words to drive them off. The three reach the surface next to the river Styx. A trade boat is nearby and hopefully the three can find passage to the sea.

Conan and company now have to escape from Luxor. Their first part of the journey is through the underground catacombs. Here they fight the various snake creatures of Thoth-Amon. Thoth-Amon has taken advantage of the new regime change to consolidate his own power. Also Zula finds out that the guy that sold him into slavery is in Shem with Belit’s uncle. So a convenient way to get out of the promise to go to Kheshatta. Roy has decided to get to the main quest for Belit’s vengeance and not bog down into another side trip in Stygia. An enjoyable story filled with excitement and intrigue in the Stygian court.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #88

“The Queen and the Corsairs!”
Writer: Roy Thomas
Artists: John Buscema & Ernie Chan

Conan and Zula are reunited with Belit after saving her from the Devourer of the Dead. Belit tells the story of how she was captured while guiding them through a secret passage to the palace. How after being turned to snakes they were inside the palace. Neftha guides Belit to the chambers of the Stygian king Ctesphon II. Only they find out its a trap. The king with his wizard advisor Hath-Horeb are waiting with guards. We find out that Neftha is the sister of the king and the true heir. Belit tries to fight her way out and takes the king as hostage. Only the king is revealed to be Hath-Horeb using his sorcery to impersonate the king. He knocks Belit out and that is how she wound up floating in a sarcophagus.

So they reach the palace and Belit finds her old clothes and sword. They come on the main chamber and Neftha is about to be executed. The three attack and Belit corners the king on a balcony. She finds out from him that he killed her father so she kicks him off the balcony to his death. Now Neftha with the help of Hath-Horeb is made the new king. Her first order is to command that Conan and Zula be imprisoned while Belit is killed. Belit manages to kill Hath-Horeb and thanks to Zula’s wizard skills are able to escape.

Well finally the conclusion to the Stygian quest. It took a lot of twists and turns along the way. Now the stories told were excellent but finally good to reach a conclusion. What a conclusion. Belit finds out her father’s fate. The weak and cowardly Ctesphon II is killed while begging for his life. Neftha the mysterious slave girl how is king. Apparently the Stygians were ahead of their time. Only men can be kings and a woman can become a man by just saying so. There was always something about Neftha and Roy didn’t let us down. Zula is shown to have some skills as a wizard from his days as a slave to one. A really exciting issue that I enjoyed greatly. Now they have to escape Stygia.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #87

“Demons at the Summit!”
Writer: Roy Thomas adapted from story by Bjorn Nyberg
Artist: Tony Dezuniga

A reprint from Savage Sword of Conan #3.

“The Hyborian Age”
Writer: Roy Thomas adapted from essay by Robert E. Howard
Artist: Ernie Chan

A brief history of the Hyborian age. How the various tribes after the great cataclysm formed into the nations that existed during Conan’s time.

So another issue with a reprint from Savage Sword. Once again a good story and this time the coloring wasn’t too bad. Yet I prefer original stories and the original appearances. The Hyborian age was an abridged retelling of Howard’s essay done by Walt Simonson in the Savage Sword series. This was good for a filler but the series in Savage Sword was better.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN ANNUAL #3

“At the Mountain of the Moon-God”
Writer: Roy Thomas
Artists: John Buscema & Pablo Marcos

Reprint for Savage Sword of Conan #3.

“Beast from the Abyss”
Writer: Steve Englehart adapted from story “Black Abyss” by Robert E. Howard & Lin Carter
Artists: Howard Chaykin & The Crusty Bunkers

Reprint for Savage Sword of Conan #2.

So the third annual was filled with reprints from the early Savage Swords. The stories were excellent but sadly in this format they left much to be desired. The coloring was not the best. Also being shrunk down to fit also degraded the artwork. Thankfully this was the last time they used reprints for an annual. After this the annuals were original works and excellent.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #86

“The Devourer of the Dead!”
Writer: Roy Thomas and Ed Summer
Artists: John Buscema & Ernie Chan

Conan and Zula have arrived at Luxor the capital of Stygia. First Conan manages to climb the wall and help Zula over after taking out a guard. Than disguised as a Stygian and his slave Conan goes to the local tavern to get some intel. A funeral of an important Stygian presents an opportunity to get into the palace. So Zula takes out some obnoxious Set acolytes and appropriate their robes. Joining the procession they go to a half finished pyramid where the body along with the slaves are sent to the Devourer. One of the priests notices that Zula is a black and not Stygian so Conan and Zula fight their way out. They escape by jumping into a pool. Coming out farther along the river under the pyramid they catch a ride on the funeral barge with the coffin and recently slain slaves. They come to a huge chamber and find the Devourer which is a giant blob like creature with several mouths. They set fire to the barge and escape on the coffin. The fire causes the Devourer to flail around and cave in the chamber. Then it is discovered someone is still alive in the coffin. They find Belit there. She says she was put in by King Ctesphon II. Also that Neftha the slave girl is actually the king’s sister.

So Conan finally reaches Luxor. This was an enjoyable story. Luxor was portrayed in a two page spread and looks like a cool city. I love the humor with the Set acolytes who were making fun of Zula as a dumb barbarian and he answers them intelligently in their own language. He also gets the satisfaction of taking them out. The big ending has them take out a monster and surprising find Belit in the coffin. Another big surprise is finding Neftha wasn’t a common slave girl but Stygian royalty. Sets up anticipation for the next issue. Also nice to finally get toward the resolution of Conan and Belit’s quest.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #85

“Of Swordsmen and Sorcerers!”
Writer: Roy Thomas
Artists: John Buscema & Ernie Chan

Conan and Zula are heading toward Kheshatta on stolen giant hawks. They land to take a break and tell each others stories. Conan tells how he met Belit and why they are in Stygia. Zula tells how as a young boy his tribe the Zamballahs were attacked by Kushites on a slave raid. Zula is the prince of the tribe and the last surviving male. He was eventually sold to a Stygian sorcerer named Shu-Onoru. While his slave he taught himself to read the magical texts and watched his master while playing dumb. Shu-Onoru had too much contempt for blacks to think his slave could learn anything. Yet Zula when he reached manhood decided to try and summon a demon to free himself. It didn’t work and his master sold him to a slaver. That is how he ended up in Harakht. Now he wants to go back for revenge. Conan decides that his vow to Belit is more important and will leave for Luxor. The two fight but Conan manages to convince Zula to help him on his quest for Belit in exchange he will than go to Kheshatta and help Zula. The giant hawks die in the night and they must continue on foot. In Luxor Belit and Neftha turn back to humans and are under the palace in Luxor.

Roy decided to use this issue to give us two things. First was a recap of Conan and how he came to be with Belit. Not a bad idea since the story was sidetracked for several issues and helps to refresh established readers and those that just jumped on board. The second was to give us a backstory for Zula. It was an interesting story for an interesting character. Roy also wisely decided to forgo another side trip and instead get on with the main story. So we are off to Luxor and hopefully reunite Conan and Belit. Then the big final confrontation with King Ctesphon.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #84

“Two Against the Hawk-City!”
Writer: Roy Thomas
Artists: Ernie Chan and John Buscema

Conan has come back to Harakht after completing his mission and finds his mate Belit missing. He goes to the temple and confronts the king Mer-ath. Mer-ath tells him that while Conan was gone he had a dream. A dream of Harakht being destroyed because of the actions of Belit. So he tried to have her arrested but Belit managed to grab Mer-ath and threaten his life to gain her freedom. She also took Neftha along as a shield since Mer-ath was her lover. So now Mer-ath plans to use Conan as a hostage until Neftha is returned to him.

Conan tries to fight his way out and a net brings him down. A black slave than knocks him out. Conan is taken to a dungeon and chained to the wall. His only companion is the slave who brained him. The slave named Zula has a proposition. If he frees Conan than Conan will accompany him to Kheshatta so he can take care of unfinished business. Conan agrees and Zula produces a vial of acid that dissolves their chains. Then they fake a fight so the guards come. They ambush the guards and fight their way to the giant hawks. Zula knows how to control them so the two escape Harakht.

Meanwhile Belit and Neftha reach Luxor. Neftha knows a way in and takes them to a small temple of Set. Neftha chants a spell which turns the two women into snakes so they can slither into the palace.

I enjoyed the side trip that Conan took. We got some great reimaging of Howard stories but it is nice to get back to the main plot. We find out what has happened to Belit and Neftha. The slave girl they rescued is proving to be genuine in knowing stuff to help Belit gain entry to the palace in Luxor. Another big thing is the introduction of a new character to the Conan universe. Zula a black slave who is a warrior and aspires to be a wizard is a favorite of mine. A mysterious and powerful companion that will show up throughout the Marvel Conan. This was a really great story filled with action, suspense and the return of the great John Buscema.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #83

“The Dance of the Skull!”
Writer: Roy Thomas adapted from story “Black Canaan” by Robert E. Howard
Artists: Howard Chaykin & Ernie Chan

Conan meets up with Neth-at who was searching for Conan. He tells how the captive they had heard drums and knocked out his guard and escaped. Conan is also under the spell of the drums and continues toward them. Neth-at follows him. They see a figure go into the river. Then Neth-at sees Sabia and fires an arrow at her. The thing in the river than grabs him and drags him under to his death.

Conan comes to the source of the drums and Toroa is there performing a juju ceremony. The captive black is being transformed. Sabia comes and dances but dies from the arrow that Neth-at fired at her. This causes the blacks to panic and run away leaving Toroa alone. This also breaks the spell that was on Conan. He confronts Toroa and kills him. His creatures which are half man half crocodile attack and drag Conan into the river. He manages to decapitate one and escape. Then finding the captive slowly turning into a man-crocodile he sets the hut on fire and continues on to the hawk city of Harakht.

I enjoyed this Howard story. It was a very creepy one filled with a mysterious atmosphere. Conan was under some spell and struggle as he could was powerless to resist. Thankfully Neth-at managed to free him before dying. I also enjoyed the artwork of Chaykin and Chan. These two worked well together. These two Howard stories adapted to Conan were a good idea to fill in the time before Buscema could come back and continue the main quest.