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Saturday, November 3, 2018

Conan's First Outing Without Roy Thomas; an Unusual Premiere for a Revolving Door of Writers

A Review of Conan the Barbarian #116 - "The Crawler in the Mists!"


HEY KIDS! It's fun to READ as you HEAR!
The action comes alive!
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Welcome to Countdown to Conan, a series ringing in the return of Robert E. Howard's popular Cimmerian to Marvel Comics. Today's installment is written by Wally Monk.)

One would think that the absence of fantasy's most prominent comic book writer would have warranted some fanfare (or perhaps a eulogy) from Marvel Comics at the time. Instead, the first issue where Roy Thomas is not at the writing helm has an interesting - and rather uninspiring - history.

The story, written by Len Wein and J.M. DeMatteis, was originally part of a book and record set by Power Records in 1976. The company put out a large number of these, which include a comic book and a 45 RPM record, telling kids "It's fun to read as you hear! The ACTION comes alive!

Conan wasn't the only comic book character to get the book-and-record treatment. Other properties included Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, (Tomb of) Dracula, Space: 1999, Frankenstein, Man-Thing, Star Trek, Justice League of America and Batman. 
The artwork alone is worth the price of the album.

Some major changes were made to the comic book; pages 1-3 were added and drawn by John Buscema. Pages 4-22 were taken from the book and record set and were drawn by Buscema and Neal Adams. 

"The Crawler in the Mists!" wasn't the only Conan story to receive the book-and-record treatment. A larger 33 1/2 RPM album was made containing FOUR classic Conan stories, with Crawler included. For those of you who enjoy reading comics with commentary, I've included the videos below to all of the stories on YouTube (full audio.) Engage your inner child, dig Conan the Barbarian #116 out of your long box, and follow along! 


CONAN - "The Crawler in the Mists!" Audio

Review: Conan the Barbarian #116
This tale begins with an all too familiar scene - Conan is on his horse riding through the desert, when the horse is spooked by a venomous snake lying in wait in the sand. As the horse throws Conan, the viper bites him, and we're treated to a full page of Conan trying to suck the venom from the wound to no avail - the Cimmerian collapses and all fades to black.

Conan awakens on the back of a camel, chained to a wiry man named Rasto. When Conan inquires where he is going, Rasto informs him that Conan is his slave. He's bound for the market in Shadizar, City of the Wicked, where Conan will bring a tidy sum on the slave block. Whatever in the world made this tiny little man think that chaining himself to Conan was a bright idea remains to be seen.
Rasto's plan - obviously - turns out to be not so sharp as Conan yanks the merchant off his horse and makes short work of the remaining caravan members. Soon, it's Conan and Rasto (whom Conan calls "little worm") wandering through the desert on the back of a lone camel. The merchant tells Conan that he'll be on his way once he's freed from the chain that binds the two together - but Conan says the only way is to take off Rasto's wrist. The merchant, of course, declines Conan's generous offer.

They finally arrive at a city called Kamalla, where Conan inquires of a local villager where he might find a blacksmith to break apart the chain which binds him to Rasto. The villager tells him to leave the city while he still can. 
As the duo continues making their way through the city, they find doors slammed and windows being closed as they ride through town. Conan eventually decides to bed down for the night in the town square, since no one offers to open their doors to the Cimmerian and his companion. 

Conan is jerked awake in the middle of the night by a monstrous force and the screaming of Rasto, who has been grabbed by what seems to be a giant slug! Rasto is pulled away from Conan with so much force that the chain binding them is snapped in two like thread.
As Conan tries to fight the giant slug, it slithers off into darkness and rising mists which begin to fill the town. Soon, Conan loses sight of the creature, but another takes its place, attacking the barbarian.

Conan wastes no time, attacking the second slug-beast with his sword, only to discover the slug's hide is as hard as a diamond! Finding a loose column, Conan manages to force the monolith down on top of the creature, ending its life.
With the second slug dead, Conan follows the sound of shuffling and Rasto's voice, only to find the old merchant held in the slug's embrace. As Conan moves to the attack, Rasto calls out that the Cimmerian mustn't harm the creature, as he doesn't understand what it is doing.

Conan, confused, continues to attack, but is interrupted by a voice thundering in his mind, paralyzing him where he stands. The slug is a wizard named M'Najj, a great sorcerer from another dimension. The slug Conan slew was his mate. Apparently, the two traveled to Hyboria from their own dimension, taking the old and infirm of Kamallah to repopulate their own dimension. There, the humans were given new and peaceful lives. Conan watches as Rasto is sent to this dimension, and sees the merchant with a new, healthy body, approaching a paradise of which he could only dream. 
M'Najj tells the troubled Conan that since he is a barbaric, dangerous creature, he has no room in this new world. Sadly, the barbarian rides, "leaving the gates of paradise and the city in the desert far behind him."

CAPSULE REVIEW: This was a good issue, and the record that accompanied the earlier release is of high quality. I'd recommend picking up the book-and-record version if you can. While many old themes are borrowed for this issue, it's certainly clear that Conan would remain a viable hero for Marvel, despite the change in writing teams. The art remains good, and if you weren't a regular reader, you probably wouldn't many changes

On a scale of 1-10, I'd rate this issue a 7.4. On eBay, copies of this iissue (the regular series) were available for less than $10. Copies of the book and record set ranged from $9.99 to $24.99 depending on condition.

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

4 comments:

  1. I read this one when it came out and a couple of times since. I thought it was quite a good story. Unfortunately, many of the issues that followed weren't quite as successful--their main saving grace being the Buscema art.

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    Replies
    1. Agreed. Marvel's Conan run did slip quite a bit in later issues. I stopped reading it entirely around issue #170.

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  2. First, I think either Rasto's or Conan's arm would break before the chair would.
    Second, that inhabitant of Kamalla didn't seem to think M'Najj's realm was a paradise.

    Thanks!

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    Replies
    1. Suspend your disbelief a bit! You are a welcome but harsh critic sometimes :)

      As for the inhabitants of Kamallah (I left some details out of the review) they obviously were afraid of the slugs...but the infirm and the others who couldn't flee the "monsters" could be communicated with telepathically and were absorbed into the paradise.

      Does the story have holes? Sure. But most fantasy stories do. I enjoyed it nonetheless.

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