Announced at the Portsmouth Comic Con in 2019 as “a prequel to the classic Conan tale People Of The Black Circle by Robert E. Howard”, Roy Thomas’ storyline for issue ten of Marvel’s Savage Sword Of Conan certainly must have seemed to this book’s slowly dwindling 20,367-strong audience like something that the Barbarian’s creator himself might have penned. For whilst it has been nearly fifty years since Stan Lee’s successor first brought the Cimmerian to the pages of Marvel Comics” it’s clear from this publication’s marvellous mix of brutal knife-fighting, treacherous double-dealing and Hill Code violations that the Will Eisner Award Hall of Famer can still replicate the qualities which made the sword and sorcery hero such a success within the black-and-white pages of “one of the most popular comic series of the Seventies.”
To begin with, the former editor-in-chief immediately throws the reader straight into the action by having “the Western dog” apparently fighting for his life in a local tavern confrontation with Guptar the Argossean. Staged simply to allow the bronzed barbarian to earn some additional coin courtesy of him holding back until certain bets are waged, the match predictably results in a win for the titular character, but also pleasantly progresses the plot by securing for him a job as one of two bodyguards for Lady Serra.
This is a neat way of providing any perusing bibliophile with a modicum of pulse-pounding pugilism straight from the start, whilst simultaneously setting up the main narrative of the comic, and is slightly reminiscent of Howard’s opening to “The Tower of the Elephant” in some ways. Perhaps unsurprisingly considering the technique’s success, Thomas also apparently takes a page out of “The Pool of the Black One” later on, by having Conan unwisely challenge the cowardly Pakim to become chief Hetman of the Afghulis, and subsequently get knocked unconscious by some of the less-honourable tribesmen for his trouble; “The Hill Code is well-known far and wide. It says a Hetman must fight any man who challenges him before the assembled tribe.”
It’s perhaps unexpected then that this book’s sole drawback are some of Alan Davis’ sketches, which whilst predominantly up to Englishman’s usual high standard debatably don’t suit the look and feel of the Hyborian Age. True, the Corby-born illustrator’s depictions of Serra and her hired swordsman, Zubair are prodigiously pencilled, but for some reason the rather round, cartoonish style of the “Captain Britain” artist doesn’t appear to quite suit the square-jawed, grim-faced Cimmerian in several of the comic’s panels.
[PREVIEW ARTWORK – CLICK TO ENLARGE]