Wednesday, December 7, 2016

This & That: Conan the Barbarian 45

Redartz:  Hello everyone; presenting for your consideration today, a fine example of Bronze Age sword'n'sorcery:

Conan the Barbarian #45 (Dec. 1974)

Brought to you through the talents of writer Roy Thomas, penciller John Buscema, inks by Crusty Bunkers, and colorist Glynis Wein. "Crusty Bunkers", by the authority of the Grand Comic Book Database, consisted of Neal Adams, Dick Giordano, Larry Hama and Ralph Reese. 

The story in brief: 

Conan is drowning his thoughts with a tankard of ale, in a tavern, in the city of Shadizar the Wicked. Apparently he is thinking about Red Sonja, who had been his fighting companion the preceding two issues. Conan becomes distracted, though, by the haunting ballads being sung by the tavern's minstrel. Of course, as is common in the Hyborean Age (and in other eras), a brawl ensues... 


This leads to the imprisonment of Conan and the singer, Laza-Lanti.  Laza relates his story through song, also revealing the story of a lurking monster in the land. 


They manage to escape, thanks to the cleverness of the balladeer (secreting a throwing knife in his lute). Conan is impressed by the youth, and accompanies Laza on his quest to return to his homeland. Upon arriving, the pair encounter some locals who are preparing cattle for tribute sacrifice to the monster. Conan and Laza follow a young woman (who takes the cattle) into a cave, wherein they see the monster himself. Thinking to save the locals from servitude to the creature, Laza attacks, and he and Conan kill the beast. Only then do they learn the monster's secret: it (he) is Laza's father, and the young woman (not so young as she appeared) is his mother. 

The woman, grief stricken at the death of her her own life. Laza, now off the deep end, also kills himself, leaving Conan to ride off alone towards his own destiny.

This issue was one that really stuck in my memory over the years. Like most of my original collection, the Conan books are long gone. Recent years have led to the re-acquisition of a select few, this being one. Your initial impressions, Marti?

Martinex1: Wow - that is a lot of story packed into one issue.  A bit of a disclaimer before I jump in - I have only owned a few Conan issues in my lifetime; it is one Marvel comic that I always wanted to dive more into but there always seemed to be something more enticing.   I have to say that I perhaps had a misguided perception that Sword and Sorcery tales are fairly one note.  (I guess the same can be said for many super-hero comics as well).   What was apparent to me immediately is that there is some great John Buscema art here.  And I also thought the coloring by Glynis Wein was top notch, but she is always great.

 Redartz:  You're quite right, there is a great deal of storytelling in this book. Indeed, that seems frequently the case in Conan stories, at least as written by Roy Thomas. I think of his Avengers and Fantastic Four stories, for instance, which were quite good. But they don't seem to be as intensively scripted. It may be a feature of the S and S genre, as opposed to a superhero tale. At any rate, it made certain you got your 25 cents worth!

Martinex1: One side note and question - and a pet peeve of mine regarding comics - why can they not get the coloring correct on covers sometimes?   That is a nice cover with interesting action, but the female's hair is blonde.   The only character that could be in the story is the dark haired mother of Laza.  Is the colorist on covers different than that on the interiors?  If so, don't they compare notes?   Or was the cover created much prior to the story?  Okay - I'm off my editorial soapbox now!

Redartz: It's been a long time,and memory may fail, but it seems Marvel addressed this in one of their calendars, of all places! There was a reference on a Conan calendar page to the rather generic 'damsel in distress' seen on almost every Conan cover (and, to be fair, many fantasy covers). Seems like they called her "Miraaj", or some such; she was always found in the clutches of some creature or fiend. As such, I always chalked it up to artistic license, but yes, your point is well taken...

And how about the story itself? It seemed basically to be three stories; the bar scene, Laza's story and the concluding battle. I found the bar scene particularly enjoyable, with a fair bit of humor (which was helpful, this story was a bit of a downer at the end). The episode with the jailer was nicely done, as well, following Laza's rather grim tale with the amusing account of their escape.

Martinex1: I enjoyed the interaction between Laza-Lanti and Conan, particularly as they spent time in the prison cell and Laza shared his tale and perspective.  For being a stand-alone single issue story, I felt that there was an outstanding amount of character development and backstory.  Laza felt fully fleshed out as he was given a large amount of dialogue. Oh, and the brawl that got the duo imprisoned was cinema worthy.

I did, however, feel that the mother's character was underdeveloped.  Other than her insisting that the creature was the love of her life, I didn't think Roy Thomas and John Buscema gave that plot point enough specifics to make the development seem real.   To me, it seemed like a "gotcha" Twilight Zone twist.  The monster basically raped the woman in a strange panel, and then she feels loved and indebted to the thing.  I have a lot of questions about that.  If they wanted to portray some kind of love affair then they really missed the boat.

I also did not understand how Laza did not know those were his parents.   Unless I read something incorrectly, he was ten years old when he and his brother left their mother's care - how did he not recognize or know the situation (especially when his mother insists it was such a love-filled relationship)?

Redartz: You make some perceptive observations about the backstory with Timara and the creature. It does cause the reader to wonder what possessed her to remain with the monster who had 'possessed' her. And yes, the story was a bit vague as to how he did, or did not recall, his youth. He remembered the midwife, he remembered the cattle merchant, but not the woman who raised him? Perhaps it was some mind-fogging sorcery from his father, who after all, was able to preserve Timara's youthful appearance. It does leave you questioning. 

So, how about the visuals? 

Martinex1: I cannot say enough about the art.  John Buscema's line work is amongst the best.  I almost prefer the black-and-white starkness in the sample below, but Wein did a fantastic job with that stream of light.   I'd actually like to see a re-mastered version because the printing method at the time diffused some of the colors.


Redartz: I fully agree regarding the high quality of the artwork here. Big John always draws a great story, but some of his Conan work seems even greater. The detailed expression he gives to the various characters in the bar scene , Tumma in particular, really brings them to life. Buscema gives us many beautifully rendered scenes in this issue, a couple that stand out to me are the panel of Conan and Laza in the cell (middle panel, page 7 shown above) and the scene with Timara dancing in the light.
Also, I  must mention the fine inking from the "Crusty Bunkers". Neal Adams is very much in evidence, his precise linework is wonderfully suited to Buscema's robust pencils. Let's take a closer look at that panel of Conan, panel four on page 7. Incredible. 

Finally, Glynis Wein did a masterful job with the colors. The subtle coloration seems particularly effective given the four-color printing of the time. Perhaps the diffusion you mentioned, Marti, accentuates the color gradations, But it would be interesting to see how it reproduces using today's techniques.

Okay, let's talk a bit about the climactic finish.. Aside from the issues mentioned above with the relationship between Laza's parents, I felt that the ending seemed, perhaps, a bit rushed. Granted, with so much ground to cover in the story to that point, there's only so much room in a 25 cent comic. But a big parental revelation and two suicides in two pages? That's pretty fast moving! 

Martinex1: The ending is what I feared in cracking open a Conan comic;  I had a somewhat preconceived notion that his comic is bleak and full of despair.  I don't know why I expected that approach as like I said I haven't read that much of the title.  But in any case, the ending met my expectations with a dual suicide bathed in grief and loneliness.   I just have to be in the proper frame of mind to enjoy that in my fictional escapism.   But at least it was well crafted.

Redartz: So, a few quick takes: you first, sir: 

Martinex1: My good:  The art is really great.  And I like a dense and packed story.   Just the fact that it took me longer that 20 minutes to read is nice, but the fact that secondary characters were nicely crafted is a bonus.

My bad:  One the other hand, it is one example where perhaps a second issue may have benefited the story - particularly in using more pages to develop and define the parents' relationship, the role the monster played in the community, and perhaps a bit more of Conan as it sometimes felt primarily like a Laza story.

My ugly:  The tentacles.   What a creepy thing and a creepy scene (on many levels).

Redartz: My good: obviously, the artwork. This is one of those comics you can just enjoy leafing through to 'look at the pictures'. Also, the nice balance between humor and drama.

My bad:  as you say, a few more pages might have been helpful. The rushed feeling I got from the ending, and the elements you mentioned, all could have been addressed in a longer story.

My ugly: yes, the fate of those tentacles made me wince...

To sum up: a good half hour's reading; not perfect but with some good story nuggets and a visual feast for the eyes. Marti? 

Martinex1:  I
am glad I gave it a try.   I am curious about some of Conan's longer story arcs now and I know we have some further exploration up our sleeves.  Looking at Buscema and Adams' art is always nice; flipped through the book a few times just for that.  I'm encouraged at least to read more.


Anonymous said...

I've read the first 25 or so Conan comics, so I haven't gotten to this one yet, but I've been meaning to keep going. As you said, John Buscema's art is great on Conan; apparently, he really didn't like doing superheroes (and hated drawing cityscapes/backgrounds) so maybe he was just enjoying himself more on the Conan stuff and it showed.

Same with Roy's scripting; he was a fan of the original stories, so it's probably his love of the source material showing through. Plus, Marvel was PAYING to adapt Conan, so maybe Roy figured he'd better put in a little extra effort!

Mike Wilson

Garett said...

Nice review guys! This isn't my favorite Conan story but the art is nice. Interesting to see the different inkers over Buscema and how they change the look-- Adams, Chan, DeZuniga, Alcala.

Glynis Wein is my favorite Bronze Age colorist. Expressive! Comics often aren't the same without color, unless it's a mag like Savage Sword that's intended for B+W. My favorite modern colorist is Elizabeth Breitweiser. Great coloring adds that extra dimension to good pencils/inks.

This issue comes just after a great run of Conan, issues #27-44. Martinex, I don't think Conan is usually bleak, despairing and suicidal! I think he has gusto and a lusty love of life. I did find the first Conan movie to be on the bleak side though. And I'm preferring Warlord now for his more intelligent approach.

I mentioned over at BAB that the new series Criminal came out with a special Savage Sword of Conan issue:
The followup was a Deadly Hands of Kung Fu issue:
Excellent new series, and clever how they incorporate these Marvel mags into the stories.

Edo Bosnar said...

I liked the review as well - good job, fellas.
The fact that both of you mentioned those tentacles as "the ugly" really strikes a chord with me; although I never saw this issue back in the day (a little before my time), it was scenes like that - observed when I flipped open an occasional issue of Conan from the spinner rack - which kept me from initially getting into Conan. That kind of stuff disturbed and/or grossed me out as a kid. I only became more interested in Conan after I read some of those pocketbooks from the late 1970s that reprinted much of the initial Barry Smith run of Conan, and after a buddy at school got me interested in reading the Conan books.
Nice selection of images as well. There's no arguing that Buscema's art here is fantstic; he was really firing on all cylinders when drawing Conan. By the way, since you mentioned panels inked by Adams, I'm pretty sure he also inked that (fantastic) opening splash page.

Redartz said...

Thanks for commenting,guys!

Mike W.- those first 25 issues are spectacular, both story and art! The second 25 are pretty good, too. And I've heard that Big John didn't care as much for superhero stories. His Conan work was immensely powerful, though.

Garrett- you're right about Conan being a bit more positive in tone than some stories might suggest. In fact, he seemed to be having a lot of fun rather frequently. In the preceding story, for instance, he obviously relished the badinage with Sonja.
And I must have carelessly missed your comments about "Criminal"- will have to search that down...

Edo- I understand your initial reticence about Conan. I only tried the book after buying an issue for the Marvel Value Stamps. I wasn't sorry.
And regarding the inks-it's too bad that Adams didn't ink Buscema more often; they were a beautiful combination. Perhaps my favorite inker over John, along with Tom Palmer.

Anonymous said...

Ah yes, I loved this story, having first read it many years ago and it's still fresh in my memory. Love Big John's artwork as always; he really did seem to prefer drawing characters like Conan or Tarzan than superheroes (although he obviously was no slouch in that department either!).

I agree that this story could have been expanded into at last a 2-part issue, if only to further develop Laza-Lanti's backstory with regards to his parents and their weird relationship. But hey, I guess they had no choice but to cram everything into a single issue. Nevertheless, it's one of those Conan stories which still gives you an emotional punch when you finish reading it. Roy, thank you for bringing our favourite Cimmerian to the masses!

- Mike 'by Crom!' from Trinidad & Tobago.

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