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Monday, April 15, 2019

Blogger Days Are Done...Find us on WordPress!

Paint Monk's Library finds new home at www.paintmonkslibrary.com


Thanks to all of you who have been loyal readers here on our Blogger site. Effective Sunday, April 14, this (our old) site will no longer be updated. All of the news, reviews and the Classic Countdown to Conan will still be going strong at our new site with new articles every week. 

Please visit our new permanent home at www.paintmonkslibrary.com.

Since Google announced their closure of the Google Plus platform, I've been actively working on setting up our site at WordPress.

Don't forget to update your browser and bookmarks! In the meantime, we'll be setting up web forwarding so that Google eventually will redirect you to our new - and permanent - home.

Thanks so much for spending your time with me here - and I'll see you at the new internet location.

As always, I am - Wally (AKA Paint Monk)





Saturday, April 13, 2019

Bêlit Hauls In a Dead Beastie in Age of Conan #2

Review: Age of Conan - Belit #2 (2019)


By WALLY MONK - Paint Monk's Library Editor

When we last observed young Belit in the first installment of this mini-series, she had killed her father (at his request), and later began to brace the crew of the Tigress for an encounter with one of her long-sought ocean beasties.

In this issue, Belit argues with the Tigress' new captain, behaves like an unbearably spoiled brat, and shows none of the fierceness that would make a reader believe she will become the Queen of the Black Coast so beloved by Robert E. Howard fans. 

The young she-pirate comes across more as an angsty young lass with something to prove and serious self-esteem issues. In truth, I am curious why the captain didn't throw her overboard. This is the Hyborian Age, after all, and the deadliest cutthroats on the ocean blue certainly wouldn't put up with a petulant, pushy child - and certainly not without her legendary father to protect her. 

In a continuing unfortunate series of events, writer Tini Howard brings more of the same; poor writing, poor story telling, and a world that is the world of Conan in name only. Truth be told, if I were reading this for enjoyment, I would not buy another issue. Alas, I have committed to reviewing the entire run and I pray that it gets better and shows me some reason why Marvel even bothered sending this off to the printing presses. Despite this - and contrary to how this review may appear - I am desperately trying to find something good to say about this book. 

I have read many average reviews of this comic, and I've heard from readers who have been critical of harsh reviews. Some say this is a Conan comic for younger readers; that it could be a jumping-on point for younger boys and girls. While this is possible, I don't buy it.

In the last issue (as I wrote above), Belit kills her marooned father at his request. Her behavior is more annoying and radically immature than truly fierce. One would certainly hope that this is not the sort of fare we want to serve kids in any form, although I am certain this will prompt some to call me  too "old fashioned".

Without further complaint, here's a brief look at the comic.

Synopsis: Age of Conan: Belit #2 (Spoiler Alert!)

The pirates aboard the Tigress are relatively eloquent with their language
 for people you would expect to be formidable, black-hearted sea dogs.
Deep at sea (the front page tells us so), the crew of the Tigress sounds an alarm, as tentacles are spied attacking the lead vessel in their fleet, the Imperatrix. An enthusiastic Belit orders the men to arms, as she begins to try and steer the ship to assist. She's pushed off the wheel by the fleet's captain, who normally mans the Imperatrix but is aboard the Tigress. Belit responds, "I hope that thing eats the trash that was your stupid ship and no one ever speaks its name again!"

When the captain goes to strike her, she looks at him and defiantly says "do it." Apparently, he is intimidated by this young girl, yet he blames his departure on the beast going back into the depths. He heads to the captain's quarters, but Belit beats him there, slamming the door behind her. Inside, she mopes for a moment about the deep sea beast, then dresses herself in pirate jewels and looking in a mirror, tells herself that the Tigress is hers.

Much of the issue is a back-and-forth between Belit and the ship's captain, as she finally convinces him she's the real deal by slamming his hand in a door. I'm not kidding. Young Belit has convinced the captain that they can become feared by going fishing for a sea beast - and bringing it back to the coast, offering the people their their services as protector from all of the sea creatures that live nearby and will one day threaten them all.

Does the crew catch a beastie? If they do, how will they bring it to shore? And what will the reactions be if they succeed? 

CAPSULE REVIEW: First and foremost, I think the biggest problem with this issue is the artwork. That's not to say that both the writing and plot are sorely lacking; rather, any impact the story could have is dulled by comedic, superhero artwork that has no place in a fantasy comic. The action sequences (involving human characters) are uneventful, even poorly drawn.

Artist Kate Niemczyk is tremendously talented, but either we
don't see that in Age of Conan: Belit, or the art style is poorly
matched with the sword-and-sorcery genre. 
I still can't wrap my head around this, as Kate Niemczyk's artwork in the Mockingbird limited series from Marvel was much better. Is Niemczyk channeling her inner Mike Allred here? It's clear she has talent (anyone who can draw more than crude stick figures has talent compared to me), but it's also clear that she has no idea whatsoever what the sword and sorcery genre and Conan's world are all about. 

And if she does, then her artwork is a poor match to said genre and any Marvel editor worth their salt would have caught this. Roy Thomas details in his memoir "A Barbarian Life" just how much effort he and Stan Lee made to make sure they found an artist who could bring the world of Conan to the readers in a dynamic, in-your-face and otherworldly manner. 

At this point, it is obvious the editors at Marvel felt here that two talented creators with big names could assemble an effective comic, the rest be damned.

It's truly sad. I don't think either Tini Howard of Kate Niemczyk should have been set up for failure like this - they are both talented, but very out of their element with the subject matter in this book. They may know contemporary society and today's social mores - but based on the two issues thus far, they have no idea who Howard's (or Thomas') Belit was, or are trying to completely re-invent the wheel. 

The pirates aboard the Tigress are caricatures, and between bad dialogue and the way they are drawn, I'd be more likely to laugh when they tried to board my ship than give their threats any weight whatsoever. At least we got to see some combat, and those are all sequences which Niemczyk handles well. It's the character-to-character dialogue panels and smaller fight scenes where she drops the ball. 

On a scale of 1-10, I'd rate this issue a 4.0. It's a Marvel comic, after all, and in theory it takes place in the Hyborian Age. In the words of Forrest Gump, comics are "like a box of chocolates". If that's the case we're expected to eat a tofu-filled, boring and tasteless morsel with this book. 

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Paint Monk's Library to Move to WordPress Soon

Google Plus Demise Prompts The Library To Find A New Home


When Google announced last fall that they would be killing the Google + platform, it set off some alarm bells for me as a blogger.

When will they kill off Blogger? What will happen to all of the efforts my volunteer writers and editors have engaged in? And what should I do about it?

The answer was simple - find a better solution, one that I control, and one that isn't at the mercy of corporate fancy. Thus, I made the decision to move over to WordPress both for the readers, for my writers, and ultimately, for peace of mind.

In the next few weeks, the date undecided, we'll make the plunge to end our time here on Blogger and move over to WordPress with a new URL, a slightly updated site, but with all the content you've found here imported and switched over to our new home. It may take a few months to convert all of the imported files to an easily readable format, but all our old posts will be there. I will spend an hour or two each day cleaning them up.

For the last few months, one of my friends here at the monastery - "Brother Bob" - has helped with template installation on our WordPress site in his free time. A new programmer has taken over customizing the template and adding functionality. Two artists have been busy at work on new banners and logos for the site upgrade.

You may have noticed that this week was absent our "Classic Conan Countdown" reviews - the reason is simple. In order to port them over to the new site, it would double my workload, and I'd rather they be posted on their permanent home than here (with the need to re-post them later). Regular reviews of the current Conan titles (Age of Conan: Belit, Conan the Barbarian, Savage Sword and Red Sonja) will continue here until the new site is ready.

Thanks for your visits here, and we're not going away, we're just moving locations. Stay tuned for more information and a "go live" date very, very soon. We are close enough to launch that I can reliably tell you to get ready! See you on the "WordPress" side. 

As always, I am - Wally (AKA Paint Monk)

Friday, April 5, 2019

Colak's Art Impressive, Strong in Red Sonja #3

REVIEW: RED SONJA (Vol. 5) #3


By BOB FREEMAN - Paint Monk's Library Writer

The time is right for a Red Sonja movie. Of course, there is one in development, formerly helmed by Brian Singer until the hashtag-me-too movement caught up with him and he was systematically discharged from service, both rightly and thankfully so.

Now is the opportunity to make something special. Something strong, vibrant, visceral, savage, and yes, beautiful. Something sexy. Red Sonja is all those things, and so much more.

With Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel both generating feminist headlines, who better to pick up the mantle next than the She-Devil with a Sword?

I would love to see someone like Kathryn Bigelow get tapped to direct. Securing a great director and script are paramount. While good casting is cruscial, Jason Momoa as Conan the Barbarian proved that having the perfect actor in the role is meaningless without the right people behind the camera.

That said, someone like Charlize Theron has the starpower to pull this off, but at 43, is this the right move? Perhaps someone younger, lesser known, like Alexandra Daddario, who is 33, or someone even younger, say Barbara Palvin at 25.

Regardless, Red Sonja has the potential to be a major film that would put the Hyborian Age front and center, set to thrill audiences like never before. They just have to respect the source material and deliver a spectacle worthy of the name.

REVIEW: RED SONJA v5 #3:

Red Sonja negotiates with another "cousin" who has led his Woodland mercenaries to Sonja's camp in hopes of getting a cut of the treasure horde the Hyrkanians had stolen from the invading army of Emperor Dragan of Zamora.

Sent away, Vorgon leads his troops to Dragan,offering to raid Sonja in exchange for getting to keep all the bounty. The Emperor readily agrees.

In the ensuing battle, Sonja's "Barrens", women warriors who are widowed or too old to bear children, have laid a trap for Vorgon's men and they are cut down.

CAPSULE REVIEWThis was the best issue so far. While there's still too much humor in the writing, Mark Russell realy stepped up his game, delivering a meaningful, message-driven story, that hit all the right notes.

While I wish it were played more straight, for one shining moment, Red Sonja was the best comic I read this week.

On a scale of 1-10, I'd rate this issue an 8.5. Mirko Colak's artwork continues to be top shelf and the writing finally compliments Colak's draftsmanship. The title sells for $3.99 US.

Alba Gu Brath - Bob Freeman (aka The Occult Detective)

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Beautiful Artwork, But Still Not "Howard's" Conan

Review: Conan the Barbarian #5 (2019)


Conan the Barbarian (2019) #5
Variant Cover
By BOB FREEMAN - Paint Monk's Library Writer

I am growing weary of this book. Five issues in, not even halfway, and I am desperately trying to maintain my objectivity.

I don’t want to dislike Conan the Barbarian. I have loved the character for 40 some years. Marvel’s original run is my all-time favorite comic. I thoroughly enjoyed the majority of Dark Horse’s work on Conan. I am not asking for the singular vision of Roy Thomas from a bygone era. All I’m asking for is a comic that stays true to the character that Robert E. Howard breathed life into.
Dozens of comic creators have accomplished this in the past, many of them in recent memory. I expected the same from Marvel’s relaunch.
You can say that I’m out of touch, that I’m old and curmudgeony because I do not like what I’ve seen so far from the House of Ideas. My time has passed and comics are different now. You can say that, sure, but maybe, just maybe, Marvel (and the whole comic book industry) is on a downward spiral, hemorrhaging readers because they’ve forgotten how to tell all-ages comic book stories

Synopsis: Conan the Barbarian #5 (2019)


Conan is alone at sea, trapped on a ship of the dead. Having stolen a wooden idol, Conan booked passage on a ship so he could deliver it to a buyer in Messantia. Pirates, however, attacked, with the sole purpose of stealing the idol.

Conan makes short work of them, but once the idol tasted blood, bad things happened, and the Cimmerian awoke, alone, and was forced to sail the ship as best he could, fighting off mutated monsters from the deep and from the charnel house below decks. Eventually, another pirate ship appears and Conan kills a third of their crew before being named captain.
They set fire to the battered ship and it and the idol sink to the depths of the ocean. As the Cimmerian recants his tale, he realizes that, although he views most men as fools, he is drawn to their company. He was not meant to be alone.
CAPSULE REVIEW: Jason Aaron is an accomplished name-dropper. Here we have the mention of Messantia, the capital of Argos, as well as the characters of Belit and Thoth-Amon. But there’s no weight to it. No emotional resonance. Why? Because this character is simply not Conan.
The writing is just not good. I continue to think the plot is solid enough. It’s salvageable, but the actual words on paper just are not working for me. None of it rings true, largely because Conan’s characterization is off.
I was more enamored with Mahmud Asrar’s artwork in this issue. There were certain panels that were absolutely stunning, and the splash-page in which Conan boards the pirate ship should go down as one of the most iconic interpretations of the character in comic book history, but he continues to be inconsistent.
The colorist, Matt Wilson, delivers some beautiful work that really elevates Asrar’s inked pages.
This run could have been really special. No one is more surprised than me, a Jason Aaron fan, that it is ultimately on his shoulders that the book has so consistently missed the mark.
Black Starlight by John Hocking, the companion serializtion, continues to be the book’s brightest spot.
Conan and his companions fight off another supernatural threat attempting to steal the emerald lotus from Zelandra, this time in the form of a leech like creature with wings and arms, and speaking in crude R’lyehian.
This was the weakest chapter thus far, though I suspect it would have faired better had I been reading the novella in its completed form rather than as a sliver of the whole.
Hocking has some skills as a writer, but his stories always seem a little too “Dungeons & Dragons” for me, and that’s speaking as someone who is a huge D&D fan. What I mean is, Hocking gets Conan as a character, but he puts him in situations that seem out of place. more akin to an adventuring party facing an rpg module than a story culled up from the annals of prehistory as Howard’s tales cam across.
Still, all in all, an entertaining read.
As for the comic itself, on a scale of 1-10 skulls of my enemies, I would rate this issue worthy of 6, mainly because, at least Conan isn’t dressed up like a medieval Punisher.
Alba Gu Brath – Bob Freeeman (aka The Occult Detective

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Red Sonja, A Severed Finger & A Wizard Reborn

Review: Conan #78 - "Curse of the Undead Man"


Conan the Barbarian #78
is a colorized reprint from the
premiere issue of Savage Sword.
(EDITOR'S NOTEWelcome to The Classic Conan Countdown, a series of reviews focusing on the original 275 issues of Marvel Comics' Conan the Barbarian, which were published from 1970 to 1993.)

By BOB FREEMAN
Paint Monk's Library Writer

Crom, it feels good to be back reviewing classic Conan. Oddly enough, my first review, back in the proverbial Hyrkanian saddle, is a reprint from the premiere issue of Savage Sword, specifically "Curse of the Undead-Man"

"Curse" is interesting in that it was an adaptation of an unfinished Howard story called "Mistress of Death" that featured one of his most captivating creations, Dark Agnes de Chastillon.

Dark Agnes appeared in two complete tales, "Sword Woman" and "Blades of France". The third story was completed, rather poorly in my opinion, by Gerald W. Page in 1971. I first read it, not long after I had discovered Howard's prose Conan, in the Sword Woman collection from Berkley in 1977.

Roy Thomas' adaptation introduces the character of Red Sonja, a fiery amalgamation of Howard's Dark Agnes and Red Sonya of Rogatino, with a dash of Valeria thrown in for good measure.

Sonya is more Thomas than Howard, to be sure, but she fits in well in Conan's Hyborian Age and I'm not so much of a purist that I don't welcome her there. Yes, there are aspects of the character that are somewhat ridiculous, with the chain-mail bikini being the most obvious. But is it patently more ridiculous than the scantily clad barbarian in most renditions?

No.

At the heart of it, Red Sonja works because of the strong foundation from which she has sprung, particularly those two Dark Agnes tales. Side by side with Conan, Sonja was every bit the Cimmerian's equal and a hallmark of the cultural revolution of the times, perhaps even more so now.

Review: Conan the Barbarian #78

Conan struts through the city of Arenjun's decadent Maul, coming upon a bevy of voluptuous prostitutes, who convince him to seek out plunder for a week long debauchery of drink and women. Off to relieve someone of their coin, Conan is nearly run over by a robe-clad priest fleeing a band of thieves.

The thieves turn on the Cimmerian, but Conan makes short work of them. However, the barbarian trips over something and the lone remaining thief goes for the kill, only to be savaged by the killing stroke of Conan's old friend Red Sonja.

Sonja chides Conan for tripping over seemingly nothing in such a wide alleyway, but the Cimmerian discovers the culprit — a bejeweled, severed finger. Exploring further, the two uncover the head and body of Costranno, a sorcerer whose execution Sonja witnessed just that morning.
He had been turned in for practicing "nameless, obscene rites of life and death" in the home of a woman named Berthilda, one of ill-repute. Berthilda, believing the source of Costranno's power was in his "ring-finger" had cut it off. As he was about to be executed, he vowed to return from the dead to seek his revenge.

Sonja surmises that Costranno's followers were trying to reassemble the body. Conan, with his distaste for magic, tosses the finger aside in disgust, and neither he nor Sonja notice as it slowly crawled its way toward the dead sorcerer's hand.
Later, in a seedy tavern, Sonja comes into conflict with the prostitutes Conan had engaged in the Maul, decking one of them, but the whore retaliates by calling on the city guard, accusing Conan and Sonja of the murder of the thieves in the alley. The two fight their way out of the tavern, but Conan had noticed a hooded figure wearing Costranno's ring.

Sensing impending danger for Berthilda, Conan and Sonja go to her place only to find Costranno and his acolytes with the woman laid out on an altar.

The Cimmerian springs into action, leaping over Berthilda's body to tear into the sorcerer, but he seems impervious to Conan's attack. Meanwhile, Sonja makes short work of the acolytes, but then a beastly arm reaches out of the nearby pit and tries to pull her in.
Conan cuts off Costranno's hand, robbing him of his power, and the sorcerer dies once more. The Cimmerian tosses the body into the pit, distracting the beast so that Sonja could escape.

Sealing the pit, Conan and Sonja escape with the unconscious Berthilda, who, upon waking demands she be unhanded and that they leave her house at once. She storms off back to her home, and Sonja is convinced it is solely for the magical ring. They realize the ring had fallen into the pit and had probably seen to resurrecting the sorcerer once more.

Conan and Sonja walk down the street to the resounding screams of Berthilda. The sorcerer Costranno finally got his revenge.

CAPSULE REVIEW:  What a smashingly excellent issue. Oh, it's got its share of problems, mostly nitpicky ones, such as the writer calling the severed finger a "ring finger" and the artist drawing the forefinger... but that won't detract any points, as far as I'm concerned.

The biggest crime here are the muddy colors. Of course, this issue being a reprint, it was originally meant for grayscale, so the colorist had their work cut out for them. If you look at the original publication, you can see that it's translation is solid enough, but that it was meant for black and white.

In point of fact, Savage Sword was a far superior product, and I think the perfect medium for tales of Howard's Cimmerian.

One final note on the writing, comparing "Mistress of Death" with "Curse of the Undead-Man", Thomas does a fine job of adapting Page's finished manuscript, with the addition of Conan to the tale making it far more palpable.

On a scale of 1-10, I'd rate this issue an 9. On eBay, this issue generally is available for around $5.

Alba Gu Brath - Bob Freeeman (aka The Occult Detective

Monday, March 25, 2019

Savage Sword #3 Finally Hits the Nail on the Head

Review: Savage Sword of Conan #3 (2019)


Savage Sword of Conan (2019) #3:
"The Siege of Khesatta"
By TROY CHRISMAN
Paint Monk's Library Writer

Marvel’s Savage Sword of Conan hits its third issue and readers are thrust knee deep into the meat of the five-part story arc “The Cult of Koga Thun.” 

This issue, “The Siege of Kheshatta”, is the continuation of Conan’s adventure in Stygia after escaping a cursed slaver ship with the help of his new companion, Suty. 

Here's a quick recap of the first two issues to bring new readers up to speed: After uncovering an ornate box - which, once opened, imprinted an ancient map in the Cimmerian’s mind. Suty and Conan seek out the city of Kheshatta and an answer to the riddle of the map. Exploring the city uncovers a library and a guardian within, a female warrior named Menes. While the trio discuss a plan to follow the map, Menes is whisked away by followers of Koga Thun, an evil sorcerer she believes is not only in search of the map, but also an ancient secret buried underneath the city.

* SPOILER ALERT!* 
Synopsis: Savage Sword of Conan (2019) #3

“The Siege of Khesatta” begins as Menes confronts her assailants, peeling away any visage of them being anything but evil agents of the foul sorcerer and his cult. While she struggles to escape, Conan joins the fray, unarmed save for his environment. A well-launched pillar ruin halts the attack while well-aimed fists fell another cultist, finally surrendering a blade to the raging barbarian’s grip. When the odds and number of cultists against Conan grow, he turns to cunning and a natural lever to turn the tables and squash the opposition – literally.


The trio again gather to plot the battle against Koga Thun and his plan to find the map and ancient weapons buried under the city which have evaded his grasp (despite decimating the town through magic and sheer force). But as the three talk, a thick storm descends on the city in the form of fog, sand, wind, and blazing magenta eyes.

While the barbarian grips steel, ready to split the giant reptilian face in two, his senses clear and standing before him is Koga Thun, flanked by two female acolytes each with flames emanating from one of their hands. Koga Thun demands the map, as sinewy, dead hands reach from all angles to secure the barbarian. Conan promptly chews off a hand that wanders too close to his face and spits it back in the sorcerer’s face – a fitting response to his foul magic.



Koga Thun then lays his twisted hands on Conan and peels back the layers in his brain, searching deeper and deeper for the map. Menes breaks the evil one’s concentration by sheer force, knocking the two female acolytes together with a push and in turn knocking into Koga Thun, freeing the Cimmerian to strike out and cut his way free. 

As the three race for a break in Koga Thun’s dark barrier, Suty is wounded, but the the trio breaks through, regrouping and plotting yet another strategy. Menes believes Koga Thun has been searching the wrong location for the ancient weapons and the real mystery will be revealed underneath the city. Despite ancient tales of cursed warriors who failed while seeking the weapons, the three descend further under Khesatta. As Conan leads the way, seeing visions shared to only him by the map in his head, they plunge forth - and straight into a waiting crowd of undead.


CAPSULE REVIEW: The third issue of Savage Sword of Conan is simply the best yet in Marvel’s revival of this character. It is the most complete from cover to back. The story within includes a delicious taste of the villainy of Koga Thun and even while they escape, Conan and his new allies feel his presence pounding in their souls (and Suty pounding in his veins). 

The artwork has grown leaps and bounds from the first issue, simply due to what is going on behind the scenes. Background art is much more fleshed out and the world of Hyboria feels full and robust. The city is ruined, but daunting and the catacombs underneath are dank and brooding.

The only dent I can find in the latest issue is one that may be the niggling of a longtime comic reader. The combat sequence between Koga Thun and Conan was confusing. I feel the writers captured the surreal quality of the foul magic that had helped capture Conan and transported he and his allies into a different reality of sorts. But the actions of Menes to help free the barbarian required several views to capture what actually happened. A bit of narration here would have explained the actions and better served the story. It may be a small quibble and maybe narration is a lost art, but in this case it could have served as a great help.

Another issue is this new Conan still hasn’t shown the mind-numbing avoidance to magic Robert E. Howard’s barbarian showed this Howard canon. Here, the barbarian treats Koga Thun as just another foe, not one that makes the hairs on his neck bristle and his inner fire burn.

But those are minor issues with a comic that steers us Conan enthusiasts in no direction but full steam ahead for the conclusion of this story arc and the ones that follow. The Savage Sword is in good hands and appears to be thriving, Koga Thun be damned.

Once again, an Alex Ross cover hits all the right marks and even includes an “after Buscema and Chan” signature line in tribute to legends John and Ernie.

My little nitpicks aside, this issue ranks a solid 8 of 10 and propels us in anxious anticipation to the next part of the tale. This feels like the Savage Sword of old while boding well for the future of the series.
.
The book also includes part three of Scott Oden’s 12-part novella “The Shadow of Vengeance.” I will be reviewing this tale at its conclusion and am very happy to announce I have reached out to Scott and Perilous Worlds’ Editor Howard Andrew Jones and will have an upcoming Q&A with Scott. 

Feel free to submit any questions you may have for Scott through the Paint Monk or to me at troychrisman@gmail.com.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

A Giant, Raptor Eggs & A New Ruler in Harakht

Review: Conan the Barbarian #77 - "When Giants Walk the Earth!"


Conan the Barbarian #77:
When Giants Walk the Earth!
(EDITOR'S NOTEWelcome to The Classic Conan Countdown, a series of reviews focusing on the original 275 issues of Marvel Comics' Conan the Barbarian, which were published from 1970 to 1993.)

By ANDY MAGLOTHIN
Paint Monk's Library Writer

Conan the Barbarian #77 wastes no time getting into the thick of the plot - the opening splash page shows our Cimmerian in the clutches of a gray-skinned giant. At the end of the last issue, Conan was thrown into a pit, where he discovered a sacred stone and was grabbed by the massive humanoid as he approached.

Conan quickly becomes the aggressor, climbing onto the giant, and locking his arms around its neck. Without hesitation, the giant hurls the Cimmerian across the room with ease. As the giant holds the barbarian's head to the ground, he swiftly grabs the sacred stone intending to bash in Conan’s skull.
The scene abruptly shifts to the Temple of the Hawk-God, where we find Mer-Ath and Neftha discussing Conan’s fate. Neftha asks Mer-Ath if there is any way he can intervene on Conan’s behalf. Mer-Ath stresses the decision is not his to make, it is up to his brother, Hor-Neb. Mer-Ath is merely a priest, but Hor-Neb is a warrior and thirsts to have all of Stygia kneel before him.

At the same time, Bêlit is being held captive by a group of guards. She is fighting to free herself  when Hor-Neb demands they all stop fighting. Hor-Neb approaches Bêlit, asking why she is fighting so hard when he has offered her the queenship of Harakht - the Shemite hellcat has the option of either joining him on the throne or dying with Conan. As the conversation continues, Bêlit stops fighting and Hor-Neb calls for her release, stating that her choice is obvious. As Bêlit and Hor-Neb approach each other, she attacks him, clawing at his eyes proclaiming she prefers to join Conan in hell than serve with with Hor-Neb on the thrown of heaven. Angered by her response and attack, Hor-Neb has the guards take Belit away.
Meanwhile, Conan has been pinned to the floor by the giant. The colossus' arms are so long, Conan is able to pull his legs up, scissoring the giant’s head between Conan’s calves, but more importantly, pushing the rock from the giant’s hand. Conan flips the giant to the ground, grabs the giant stone with intent now to kill him. For some reason, Conan pauses for an instant when the giant stammers in a gloomy voice, “Go on, outlander! Kill me!”

Standing atop the giant with rock in hand, Conan opts against the fatal blow, instead asking the hulking humanoid how he came to live in the pit. The giant reveals his name is Gol-Thir, and he was placed there to keep an eye on the sacred stone and hawk eggs. Gol-Thir was one of the stronger guards in Harakht, and when Hor-Neb discovered the stone would accelerate the growth of the raptor eggs, the giant was placed there to stand guard. The energy of the stone caused Gol-Thir to grow to gigantic proportions within a short time. Conan requests Gol-Thir’s help out of the pit, and he agrees as long as Conan promises not to hurt Hor-Neb.
Gol-Thir assists by breaking the shackle around Conan’s neck. Using extreme strength and skill, Conan climbs the crooked, jagged rock facing back to the top of the pit. Conan creeps around the throne chamber until he enters an area where he finds Hor-Nab, Mer-Ath, Neftha, and a large number of guards high above him. Hor-Nab challenges Conan to decide he and Bêlit’s fate. There are two doors in front of Conan: one door has Bêlit and a passage to freedom, one door has certain death. Conan refuses to pick and opts to scale the wall to attack Hor-Neb. He quickly discovers Hor-Neb planned ahead -  the top of the walls are freshly greased and Conan falls to the ground.

Neftha asks Mer-Ath which door would allow Conan to escape safely. Mer-Ath says Hor-Neb told him the door on the left housed Bêlit and lead to safety. With a slight gesture, Neftha alerts Conan to pick the left door – which reveals a sword-fanged giant leopard growling and ready for the attack.
Hor-Neb reveals he knew both Neftha and Mer-Ath would attempt to warn Conan, so he intentionally told them the incorrect door. Hor-Neb calls for a guard to seize them. 

As a guard approaches Neftha, she grabs his sword, slicing into him knocking him into the pit with Conan and the vicious leopard. The leopard sees the wounded soldier lying on the ground and attacks. Neftha flings the stolen sword to Conan and he opens the other door to reveal a bound and groggy Bêlit.

Meanwhile, a third panel opens to reveal Gol-Thir, who enters the pit as Conan attempts to carry Bêlit to safety. Hor-Neb demands Gol-Thir attack Conan. The giant approaches the Cimmerian, their eyes meet and Conan realizes something is amiss. Gol-Thir grabs Conan’s arm, hurling him atop of the stone wall right in front of Hor-Neb. The giant’s legs are so weak from his rapid, uncontrolled growth, they snap beneath him.
Conan lands atop the wall and the palace guards attack. Conan seizes an opportunity to hurl his sword into Hor-Neb’s arm. The attack catches Hor-Neb off balance and he tumbles into the pit – right onto the leopard. The leopard takes advantage of another easy kill.

Acting quickly once more, Conan grabs a soldier’s spear and jumps into the pit to face the leopard. The leopard springs high into the air and Conan times his attack to thrust the spear through the cat’s body.

The guards once loyal to Hor-Neb now cheer for Mer-Ath as the bodies of Hor-Neb and Gol-Thir lie dead in the pit. This is a new day for Harakht - as king, Mer-Ath will transform the people from a war-mongering nation to one of peace.

CAPSULE REVIEW: Another awesome Gil Kane/Ernie Chan cover sets the stage for this action packed issue. We see many iconic covers from the Conan the Barbarian series, but this one does not get enough recognition. The perspective and intensity of the scene prepares the reader for a fun-filled issue.

Picking up where Conan the Barbarian #76 ends, Thomas gives us a cliffhanger battle between Gol-Thir and Conan before he transitions to a scene with Mer-Ath and Neftha. This cliffhanger keeps you wanting more, wondering if the Cimmerian might be in major trouble - or worse - when we see him again.. Kudos to Thomas who is credited as writer/editor and Archie Goodwin as consulting editor. Pacing like this is a credit to the comic medium!

The team of John Buscema and Ernie Chan continues to impress with this issue. The intense dialogue and fighting between Conan and Gol-Thir is palpable from panel to panel. Details in the artwork like the stones, rock formations, and shadows all help set the mood and texture of the environment.

The story behind the sacred stone provides some explanation for the giant raptors, but also leaves some mystery behind - where did the stone come from? Has it affected Conan or anyone else exposed to its magic? Is it in any way related to the Star-Stone way back in Conan the Barbarian #1? On a scale of 1-10, I give this issue of Conan 8 Aquilonian Luna.

Living life my own way – Andy from Aquilonia

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

A Fallen Star-Stone, Brother-Kings & A Hawk God

Review: Conan the Barbarian #76 - "Swordless in Stygia!"


Conan the Barbarian #76:
Swordless in Stygia!
(EDITOR'S NOTEWelcome to The Classic Conan Countdown, a series of reviews focusing on the original 275 issues of Marvel Comics' Conan the Barbarian, which was published from 1970 to 1999. This review is written by Wally Monk.)

Roy Thomas did an impressive job adapting Robert E. Howard's stories and poems to the sequential art form used in comic books. His "Queen of the Black Coast" story arc is very good, as are later adaptations we will visit this year, including Conan the Barbarian #98 (based on Howard's poem "Sea Woman") and Conan the Barbarian #104 (adapted from Howard's short story "The Vale of the Lost Women").

While trying to remain true to the timeline established by Robert E. Howard and later authors who tackled his works, Thomas also had the monumental task of "filling in" missing years and months throughout the Cimmerian's timeline with tales he created himself. The story arc here is one of these endeavors, and I think Roy Thomas very solidly hit the proverbial mark. This issue pushes his latest story forward.

In Conan the Barbarian #75, the Cimmerian was following the trail of his beloved Belit to the Stygian city of Harakht. The rulers of this independent city-state have been engaging in piracy along the River Styx. Using giant hawks, the Harakhian raptor riders have absconded with Belit, and now they've earned the ire of a certain dark-haired savage.

This tale continues the multi-issue story arc which will be concluded in Conan the Barbarian #77.

As a reviewer and long-time reader of Conan's comic book adaptations, I must admit that I am biased toward stories that take place within Stygia. It's a fantastic location, drawing on the darkest aspects of the Egyptian mythos to create a vivid milieu of serpent worshipers, dark magic, and  evil clerics.

In this issue, John Buscema once again shares a "co-illustrator" credit with the talented Ernie Chan. The artwork is excellent, and the two make a great pair. Lettering was done by John Costanza and the capable coloring completed by George Roussos.

This is what I call a bridge story, one of many that doesn't tell a complete tale in itself - rather, it sets the stage for the remaining installments of what I'll the "Harakht" storyline for lack of a better term.


Review: Conan the Barbarian #76
Having fallen from the back of a dying hawk, Conan emerges from the River Styx. The body of the giant crocodile he barely was able to defeat lies on the shore, and the Cimmerian finds himself without a sword. Looking toward the south, he knows that he must travel to Harakht to rescue his beloved pirate queen.

In the brush along the river, Conan finds the hawk-shaped helmet belonging to a defeated rider. As he slides it onto his head, he heads toward the city where Belit is being held captive.

Meanwhile, Belit is in the clutches of the hawk riders, who alight atop a building in Harakht. Belit wastes no time punching her captor in the face, only to be subdued by their leader named Ator, who  happened to stop by to check on the returning riders. (As an off-topic aside, I'm curious if the name of the bad 1980s film Ator the Fighting Eagle was inspired by this character and his hawk-headed helmet)
A hawk helmeted rider named Ator stops Belit's short-lived escape attempt.
Belit is taken to the throne room of Harakht's king, Hor-Neb. The monarch determines that Belit will be added to his harem, but there is an objection. Mer-Ath, the high priest of Harakht and co-ruler of the city, enters and tells him that Belit is better suited to be with him. An angry dialogue ensues, as Hor-Neb threatens the high priest, telling him that if he does not relinquish his claim to Belit, there will only be one king in Harakht. As Mer-Ath leaves, Hor-Neb tells Belit that the high priest of Harakht and co-ruler of the city is also his brother.
Hor-Neb wins his bid to add Belit to his harem in the city of Harakht.
Conan has made his way to the city gates. Knocking on massive, wooden doors, the guards give entry to Conan. They soon realize - after observing his boots - that Conan is not a hawk-rider but an outsider. This particular series of panels is one of a few poorly written exchanges I've observed throughout the Roy Thomas Conan run. In a country of dark-skinned locals and inhabitants, they had to see Conan's boots to realize he was an outsider? Apparently his bronze skin, build, complexion and accent were not enough - darn those boots!

Once inside the city, the remainder of the issue becomes a battle for Conan and Belit's escape. Sadly, they do not. Captured and brought to Hor-Neb's throne room, Conan is dragged to the edge of a pit as Belit refuses to join the king of Harakht in his harem or add her corsairs to his army. This month's tale ends with Conan facing off against a massive giant at the bottom of the pit.

CAPSULE REVIEW - It's easy to enjoy the Stygian setting, as I've said before. The fact that both rulers of Harakht are brothers adds an interesting dimension to the story. Conan and Belit's failure to escape shows that the guards in Harakht are not just caricatures in a story line, but a formidable force with which to be reckoned.

The artwork in this issue is good, but compared to others, there aren't many opportunities for Buscaema and Chan to draw beautiful splash panels, except for the opening page. We're treated to plenty of competent fight scenes, but as an issue that serves to move a larger story along, it's merely serviceable.

On a scale of 1-10, I'd rate this issue a 6.0. Not bad, but just a cog-in-the-gears of a larger Conan story. On eBay, copies of this issue were available for less than $5

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The River Styx, Giant Crocodiles & Hawk Riders

Review: Conan the Barbarian #75 - "The Hawk Riders of Harakht!"


Review: Conan the Barbarian #75:
The Hawk Riders of Harakht
(EDITOR'S NOTEWelcome to The Classic Conan Countdown, a series of reviews focusing on the original 275 issues of Marvel Comics' Conan the Barbarian, which was published from 1970 to 1993.)

By WALLY MONK
Paint Monk's Library Editor

It seems like ages ago that I shared the sad tidings that our reviews of the first volume of Marvel Conan would come to an end. In reality, it's been a mere three months, but your letters and encouragement have prompted Paint Monk's Library to resume the countdown - and we plan to stick it out this time until the bitter end in Conan the Barbarian #275.  

Before we begin anew with a review of Conan the Barbarian #75, I would like to thank all of you for following this blog, sharing your thoughts, and passing along kind words of encouragement both here, on Facebook and on Twitter.

A hearty "huzzah!" is also due to PM Library writers Bob Freeman, Andy Maglothin, Joeseph Simon, Troy Chrisman and Dean Plakas, who have continued to support the blog  - and who all eagerly (and enthusiastically) agreed to help continue our classic Conan the Barbarian reviews.

When we last saw our intrepid Cimmerian in Conan the Barbarian #74, he had made swift work of a massive sea serpent while the crew of Belit's Tigress set the Stygian fleet aflame in the Port of Khemi. This issue begins with a beautiful splash page featuring Belit, Conan and a slave-girl named Neftha outside the city of Khemi, watching the Stygian fleet burn.

This tale, and perhaps parts of Conan the Barbarian #74 begin a multi-issue story arc which will be concluded in Conan the Barbarian #77. One of Robert E. Howard's most vivid landscapes within Conan's world, these tales take place in Stygia, a dark land full of sorcerers and ruled by worshipers of the snake god Set. Inspired by mythological Egypt, Stygia is perhaps my favorite land in the Howard mythos.

Review: Conan the Barbarian #75

In the Stygian city of Khemi, it's not safe to wander the streets at night. Briefly admiring their work in setting the city's fleet ablaze, Conan, Belit and Neftha knock on the door of an Argossian merchant. When the tradesman answers, cursing the intruders, Belit's drawn sword ensures their entrance to his home and temporary sanctuary from the wandering city guard.

Conan and his companions make small talk with the merchant, who bemoans his bitter luck and the late night intrustion. Belit makes certain to note that they have seen the merchant's small skiff, loaded with merchandise, asking him if he is headed down the River Styx to the great city of Luxor. When this is confirmed, Belit informs him he'll be taking three new passengers along.


Morning dawns, and soon Conan, his companions and the merchant are headed to Luxor. Conan is dressed as a slave trader, and both Belit and Neftha have dyed their skin to fit in more with the locals. As they travel down the river, both Belit and Conan reflect on the crocodiles along the riverbanks and the birds who nest among them. Here, we are given a good reflection and history of Stygia - Belit notes that at one time, an Ibis headed god was prominent, but the snakes and Set are the masters of the land now.

As the sun makes its way across the sky, the merchant becomes concerned, telling his oarsmen to pick up their pace. Conan asks him why he seems so shaken, and he informs the Cimmerian they are passing the City of Harakht. A mid-point between Khemi and Luxur, Harakht is ruled by a despot whose bad behavior is largely ignored. Harakht, the merchant says, is a safeguard against the neighboring land of Shem and the ruler's misdeeds are overlooked because of the importance of the city.

Their conversation is cut short by brigands swooping down to raid the vessel atop giant birds of prey! These thieves, sanctioned by Harakht, have been raiding merchant trading vessels, intercepting them before their luxurious goods reach the capital city.

The first arrow takes the merchant down, and his body topples over the edge of the boat. Crocodiles swarm in for the kill, accustomed now to fresh meals whenever the hawk-riders appear.

Belit manages to hold her own, injuring one of the hawks, but is soon grabbed in one of the massive raptor's mighty talons. Conan helplessly watches as Belit is carried away - but he has a plan of his own. As another raptor-rider swoops in, Conan grabs the bird's tail, losing his sword in the process. The barbarian manages to throw the rider off, but finds that he cannot control the hawk.

Mustering all the strength he has left, Conan breaks the bird's neck and it falls to the earth.


Conan lands on the banks of the River Styx, the dead body of the hawk nearby. He struggles to remain conscious, drifting in and out of reality. He finally regains his senses when he hears the sound of splashing water and a flock of ibis taking wing. Having just fallen from the heights, he now has to contend with the beasts of the deep. With only a dagger in hand, Conan dispatches the enormous crocodile, setting his sights on the city of Harakht and his beloved Belit.


CAPSULE REVIEW:  This was an excellent issue of Conan, both in the artwork and in Roy Thomas' narrative. I miss the days of narration boxes, which do a great job fleshing out bits and pieces of immersive stories that artwork alone can't express. The combination of Ernie Chan and John Buscema is a hit, and you can see the influence of Chan's work in collaboration with Buscema's pencils. The two make a true dynamic duo.

Beautifully illustrated action panels fill
the pages of Conan the Barbarian #75. 
The action sequences within this book are first-rate; this issue contains some of the best fight scenes I've read in all of my issues of Conan thus far. Ironically, the cover wasn't the strongest I've seen, and it certainly does not "pop" like many of the legendary covers featured on the iconic Savage Sword of Conan magazine. The final panel, pictured above this capsule review, is one of my favorite - you know that Conan is angry and ready for battle. After all, his Belit is gone, and there is no stopping the Cimmerian now.

Conan the Barbarian #19-29 featured what we've called here the Makkalet storyline, involving the Turanians, Prince Yezdigerd and the Livng Tarim. Where that particular story arc got old very quickly, this one seems much more promising and certainly just as action packed. Before this 4-issue story arc is finished, we'll be treated to more action and even more Stygian foulness.

On a scale of 1-10, I'd rate this issue a 7.9. Copies on eBay were available in various conditions for $5 or less.

As always, I am - Wally (AKA Paint Monk)


 
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