Conan the Barbarian #23 (February, 1973)

Gil Kane’s cover for Conan the Barbarian #23 is a fine piece of work.  Nothing to complain about here.  I mean, it’s Gil Kane, right?

That said, I’ve always regretted that the story it illustrates, “The Shadow of the Vulture!”, wasn’t published under the cover that Barry Windsor-Smith had originally drawn for it… 

…which, as you can see, was instead published one month earlier, as the cover for Conan #22.  And what story had the comics buyers of October, 1972, found behind that cover?  Why, a reprint of “The Coming of Conan” from the title’s very first issue, as originally presented two and a half years prior.

Back then, that wasn’t the worst news in the world for your humble blogger, who hadn’t gotten around to sampling an issue of Conan until #4, and thus had never read that premiere story.  Obviously, however, it was a less than welcome development for fans who’d been around since issue #1 — and even for my fifteen-year-old self, it was somewhat dismaying, if only for the undeniable bait-and-switch aspect of the thing.  Something had gone badly wrong here, but what?

The issue’s “Hyborian Page” letters column provided an explanation, courtesy of an anonymous Marvel staffer who was almost certainly the series’ writer and editor, Roy Thomas:

What would have happened had Marvel not honored their “legal contract” to “put out something called CONAN THE BARBARIAN” in October, 1972?  According to Thomas’ non-anonymous account in his 2018 book Barbarian Life: A Literary Biography of Conan the Barbarian, Volume 1, shipping late would have meant “incurring hundreds of dollars in charges in an era when many comics didn’t make much more than that per issue in profits”.  And so, the decision was made to release Conan #22 with its planned cover, but with its interior contents consisting of a reprint of Conan #1.

The “Hyborian Page” piece’s author tries to put the best face possible on this decision, correctly noting that many of the title’s present readers weren’t around for that initial release (and then going on to proclaim the historical significance of Conan #1 in helping launch a whole new wave of Marvel features, “including, one way or another, KULL THE CONQUEROR, the upcoming THONGOR OF LOST LEMURUA, …WAR OF THE WORLDS, the current adaptations in our macabre mystery mags, DOC SAVAGE…”, thereby turning the present unfortunate circumstances into an opportunity to plug other books in the company’s line), and offering a sop to the readers who had been there at the beginning in the form of a single page of barbarian-themed art by Windsor-Smith which, though several years old, at least hadn’t appeared in print prior to this.

The “Special Announcement” (which never quite offers an actual apology) concludes thusly:

Regular readers of this blog will recall that Conan the Barbarian had indeed faced several deadline-related problems in the months since Windsor-Smith’s return to the series after a two-issue hiatus (an occasion which had in its turn roughly coincided with the title’s return from bi-monthly to monthly publication) — problems which, as the first paragraph of the Special Announcement acknowledges, had resulted in some less-than-ideal outcomes: most notably, the reproduction of about half of issue #19 from Windsor-Smith’s uninked pencils, and the completion of issue #21 by multiple artists pencilling and inking over Windsor-Smith’s layouts.

Such readers might also recollect a recent tale of pages-gone-missing-in-the-mail in regards to DC Comics’ Swamp Thing #2, which, as it happens, also shipped in October, 1972 (leading one to believe that the United States Postal Service was going through a rough patch here, at least as far as the delivery of oversize art boards was concerned).  As recounted in that issue’s letters column by the title’s editor, Joe Orlando, twelve pages of the story scheduled for that issue were (temporarily) lost in the mail relatively late in the production process.  Artist Bernie Wrightson had actually begun redrawing the issue when the missing originals finally turned up, allowing the comic to be completed, printed, and shipped on schedule, if just barely.

Knowing all this, one can’t help but wonder how things ultimately turned out for Marvel with its similar postal problem.  Did the missing Conan pages finally turn up in the mail, the way the Swamp Thing ones did?  Or were the Marvel staff and freelancers forced to recreate the originals using those “xeroxed layouts we had lying around”?

These are the sorts of questions for which we can usually turn to the aforementioned Barbarian Life and find answers — even if the answers don’t amount to much more than Roy Thomas admitting that he doesn’t remember the details all that well after almost five decades.  Unfortunately, in this particular case, we don’t get even that much; rather, in his book Thomas just refers generally to these two issues’ deadline problems, never mentioning the lost pages at all.  It would appear, then, that this particular snafu completely slipped the author’s mind when it came time for him to write about Conan #22 and #23 in Barbarian Life (and also that he didn’t take the opportunity at that time to review #22’s letters column, which presumably would have reminded him of the incident).  So, unless Barry Windsor-Smith or someone else involved steps forward with their own recollections regarding the episode, the fate of those particular pencilled pages may eternally remain a mystery.

One thing that does seem clear, however, is that having a whole extra month to deliver “The Shadow of the Vulture!” didn’t mean the end of Marvel’s deadline problems regarding the story — because, as things turned out, it still required two other artists in addition to “scheduled inker Dan Adkins” to provide the finishes for Barry Windsor-Smith’s pencils: Sal Buscema and Chic Stone.  While the resulting product can hardly be called “bad”, it’s still not nearly as consistently satisfying as the artwork in the last issue of Conan to have been produced by the same penciller and inker from the first page to the last, #20.

That said, the opening splash page of Conan the Barbarian #23, pencilled by Windsor-Smith and (according to the Grand Comics Database) inked by Adkins, is unquestionably a beauty:

“The Shadow of the Vulture!” is the fourth chapter in Thomas and Windsor-Smith’s “Hyrkanian War” epic; like its predecessor in issue #21, “The Monster of the Monoliths!”, it’s based in part on a non-Conan short story by Robert E. Howard.  We’ll have more to say about the OG “The Shadow of the Vulture” as we go along; for now, suffice it to say that it was originally published in 1934, and that it’s a historical adventure tale which has as its backdrop the Siege of Vienna of 1529.

As readers of our Conan #21 post will recall, our hero had been part of a small group of soldiers sent to request aid against the Turanian army besieging the city of Makkalet from the latter’s allies in Pah-Dishah.  That mission had gone very, very south when the unit’s commander had attempted to sacrifice Conan to a monstrous toad-god, supposedly at the will of Makkalet’s rulers.  In the end, Conan was the only member of the expedition to survive the experience; perhaps surprisingly, he still feels honor-bound to fulfill his original mission to Pah-Dishah (though it’s implied here that he’s not completely certain of King Eanntum’s complicity in his betrayal, which may factor into his decision).

Conan isn’t interested in chit-chat.  Once he’s been assured by King Ghannif that Pah-Dishah will honor its alliance with Majkkalet by dispatching troops forthwith, he considers his obligation fulfilled, and proceeds to quit the city as quickly as he can…

With the page above (the story’s fifth, just so you know), Dan Adkins turns over the inkwell to Sal Buscema, at least for the time being… but that’s not the only shift in artistic duties that occurs on this page.  As Roy Thomas explains in Barbarian Life:

…I decided the story needed an extra page, because I didn’t much care for the rather casual way Barry had introduced Mikhal Oglu, the Vulture, on original page 5.  So I sat down and scripted a six-panel page, with panel descriptions, captions, and dialogue, which I then rushed to — not Barry, but Sal Buscema!

 

Yes, that’s right—page 6 [sic] of “The Shadow of the Vulture,” which uses a cinematic zeroing-in to then show Mikhal Oglu, with his symbolic “wings,” framed against the fire outside Yezdigerd’s tent, is the one page in all the Barry Smith issues that has no Barry art in it at all.  Why I had Sal pencil as well as ink this page, instead of sending my script page to Barry, I don’t know.  Probably it was a command decision to save time, since we were still running terribly late (and had been, ever since Conan had returned to being a monthly with #16).

 

Interestingly, to the best of my knowledge, no one has ever so much as theorized that that page was not penciled by Barry.  Nor do I think I’ve ever committed that fact to writing before now.  It was no big secret—I just never got around to mentioning it anywhere.  We were frantically turning out comics and had no time to worry.  As far as I recall, Barry never objected to the added page.  At least not to me.

Looking closely at the “new” page 5, one can see reasons why Thomas, Buscema, et al were able to get away with this little bit of subterfuge for decades — the whole page is set at night, after all, and what’s not shown in long shot is rendered with a heavy amount of crosshatching and, naturally, solid blacks.  Nevertheless, I find myself at least mildly chagrined that, prior to reading Thomas’ “confession”, it had never once occurred to me in the last half-century that Barry Windsor-Smith had never touched this page.

And now for the original page 5 (aka the published page 6) of “The Shadow of the Vulture!”…

This scene between Prince Yezdigerd and Mikhal Oglu is the first one in the comic to be directly adapted from Robert E. Howard’s original story (which, like so many other Howard yarns, can be read in its entirety online for free, here).  But there’s no equivalent to Oglu’s “seeing stone” in the prose tale, which, as we’ve noted, was written as a “straight” historical adventure, with no whiff of any supernatural elements at all — plenty of swords, in other words, but no sorcery.

Thomas and Windsor-Smith also added a scene that we’re going to skip here, despite the fact that it takes up a whole page, in which Oglu fights and quickly defeats an ordinary soldier pulled from Yezdigerd’s ranks.  Perhaps this was included as a way of having “the Vulture” display his fighting skills (thus setting him up as a worthy opponent for Conan), but since it’s clear from the beginning that the poor schlub of a soldier is hopelessly outclassed, it doesn’t really do that job all that well.  On the other hand, the scene does allow for an opportunity for our storytellers to add to the comic’s action quota, so there’s that.

Anyway, moving on…

Conan tries to convince Ivga to flee with him immediately; she, however, is reluctant to leave her people behind.  But even as they argue, their time runs out, as Mikhal Oglu and his mounted soldiers arrive (and so does Chic Stone, who takes over as inker with this next sequence, according to the GCD…)

The main point of this scene is, obviously, the tragic death of the unfortunate Ivga, and the additional motivation it will provide our hero for taking out the Vulture.  But there’s something else that occurs here that has some significance to the Conan the Barbarian series as a whole — and as with the Sal Buscema pencils on page 6, it’s something that I’d missed completely prior to Roy Thomas bringing it to my attention in Barbarian Life:

Barry put a lot into Conan #23.  Over and above the basic adaptation, he decided (and I concurred, probably after the fact) that it was time for Conan to lose his trademark necklace-medallion, just as he had doffed his horned helmet back in #6.  We’d included both initially to make up for the fact that Conan had no “costume,” and we were trying to sell in a market geared to costumed superheroes.*  But by now we both felt Conan needed no props, so Barry had him give his necklace to a village girl.

 

It proved a dramatic point in the story, because that lass is then killed by Mikhal Oglu’s Turanians, dying with Conan’s medallion around her throat..

Ducking out the rear of the hut, Conan seizes one of the Turanian solders’ horses by the bridle, dislodging its rider.  “Now, easy, boy,” he tells the animal as he mounts.  “We’re riding out of this hell…”

And now we’ve come to the event for which Conan the Barbarian #23 is best remembered, fifty years after its original publication:  the first appearance of Red Sonja, She-Devil with a Sword.

I’ve called this the “first appearance” of Red Sonja, though, of course the reality is rather more complicated than that.  According to Thomas’ account in Barbarian Life, he’d been planning to introduce a new woman warrior into the Conan series for some time, and in Howard’s “The Shadow of the Vulture”, he found the perfect candidate — Red Sonya of Rogatino, a soldier fighting in the service of Vienna against the besieging Ottomans.

Red Sonya enters Howard’s narrative about halfway through his story, much as she does in Thomas and Windsor-Smith’s comics adaptation.  In her initial encounter with the tale’s ostensible hero, a German knight named Gottfried von Kalmbach, she’s described as follows:

Illustration of Red Sonya by Roy G. Krenkel for a collection of Robert E. Howard’s historical fiction, The Sowers of the Thunder (Donald M. Grant, 1973).

It was a woman, dressed as von Kalmbach had not seen even the dandies of France dressed. She was tall, splendidly shaped, but lithe. From under a steel cap escaped rebellious tresses that rippled red gold in the sun over her compact shoulders. High boots of Cordovan leather came to her mid-thighs, which were cased in baggy breeches. She wore a shirt of fine Turkish mesh-mail tucked into her breeches. Her supple waist was confined by a flowing sash of green silk, into which were thrust a brace of pistols and a dagger, and from which depended a long Hungarian saber. Over all was carelessly thrown a scarlet cloak.

It’s fair to say, I think, that the Red Sonja we know from the comics of Marvel and other publishers both is and isn’t Robert E. Howard’s Red Sonya — and that the distinction between the two amounts to more than the slightly different spelling of their names, or the comics version’s general penchant for rather more revealing attire.**  Rather, it’s their underlying motivation.  As Sonja tells Conan in the sequence shown above, “I’m a soldier in the service of King Ghannif of Pah-Dishah,” who’s only here defending Makkalet (and helping to save Conan’s ass) because it’s her job.***  Sonya, on the other hand, has a personal stake in the Viennese’s struggle against the Ottomans; she’s the sister of Roxelana, a real-life historical figure also known as Hürrem Sultan.  Stolen from her home in Ruthenia and sold into slavery, the actual Roxelana rose through the ranks of the harem of the Ottoman Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent, eventually becoming first his chief consort and then his legal wife; as far as her fictional sibling is concerned, however, she’s a “hussy”, and (at least by implication) a traitor to her people.****

Howard’s introduction of Red Sonya in “The Shadow of the Vulture” continues as follows:

This surprizing figure was bending over the cannon, sighting it in a manner betokening more than a passing familiarity, at a group of Turks who were wheeling a carriage-gun just within range.

 

“Eh, Red Sonya!” shouted a man-at-arms, waving his pike. “Give ’em hell, my lass!”

 

“Trust me, dog-brother,” she retorted as she applied the glowing match to the vent. “But I wish my mark was Roxelana’s—”

 

A terrific detonation drowned her words and a swirl of smoke blinded every one on the turret, as the terrific recoil of the overcharged cannon knocked the firer flat on her back…

As this passage suggests, Red Sonya’s background offers considerable storytelling potential, which Howard barely begins to tap in this particular adventure.  But as far as I’ve been able to determine, none of the versions of Red Sonja that have appeared in comics to date have established any history for the character that incorporates anything resembling the Roxelana angle.  Which, in my opinion, helps make a fair case for considering Sonya and Sonja to be separate characters (though very closely related ones, obviously), at least from a certain perspective.

Returning now to Conan #23, we have a brief interlude set in the Turanian camp, where Mikhal Oglu is shown supervising the secret shooting of a message-bearing arrow over the walls of Makkalet — and then, it’s back to our hero…

For all the lethal violence I’ve seen Conan engage in against his fellow human beings in virtually every issue of this series, it’s somehow more upsetting to watch him mildly abuse a dog.  And evidently, I’m not the only reader who’s had this kind of reaction; indeed, the scripter of this scene felt the same way, back in 1972.

As Thomas writes in Barbarian Life:

Barry… tossed in one scene I was never comfortable with: on page 21 he had Conan annoyed by a yapping dog, and actually had him kick at it and throw a cup at it. It’s funny that this minor cruelty to a mongrel (which wasn’t shown to be hurt) bothers me, when carnage administered to an army of humans never did. Oh, well…

If Conan were a more thoughtful sort of fellow, he might reflect on how odd it is that Queen Melissandra, whom he believes set him up to be eaten by a toad-god, shows no surprise or discomfiture whatsoever at his having survived that experience… and might eventually even conclude that he may have gotten the wrong idea about her involvement with the whole episode.  But, alas, he’s not that sort of fellow, and so…

The next scene brings a return to action, as well as the return of Sal Buscema on inks:

Conan is quickly carried off by the treacherous Naram-Pyr and the latter’s club-wielding ally, his son Rhupen, as the senior traitor explains that the Turanian attack on the southwest wall is merely a ruse, intended to divert the Makkaletian defenders’ attention from their enemies’ true purpose this night…

Remember the several hints about the Turanians’ “inside men” in Makkalet that Thomas dropped over the course of Conan #20?  Sure you do.

The scene in which Conan finally confronts the Vulture is original to Thomas and Windsor-Smith; in Howard’s prose story, Mikhal Oglu is shown riding off into what the reader can guess will be a fatal ambush, but that ambush itself is never described.  The comics version is better, at least to my taste (and not only because it allows Thomas to have our hero quote from Howard’s 1932 poem “Cimmeria”, though that’s definitely a nice touch).

The two-page epilogue with which the comic story concludes, however (and for which Dan Adkins once again picks up the ink brush), hews very closely to Howard’s original text — which is all to the good, since it’s probably one of the most memorable story endings Conan’s creator ever wrote:

The main difference in the endings of Howard’s “The Shadow of the Vulture” and Marvel’s “The Shadow of the Vulture!” is that in the former, the “gift” of the Vulture’s head is accompanied by a note, “written in a bold yet feminine hand”:

To the Soldan Suleyman and his Wezir Ibrahim and to the hussy Roxelana we who sign our names below send a gift in token of our immeasurable fondness and kind affection.

 

Sonya of Rogatino, and Gottfried von Kalmbach

In Howard’s original, then, Red Sonya’s antipathy towards her sister is at least as important as Von Kalmbach’s need to settle scores with Mikhal Oglu.  One may speculate that this episode may not even have been the end of the two soldiers’ adventures in Howard’s mind; in the scene that introduces Oglu earlier in the story, there’s a line that refers to the Vulture’s acceptance of the mission of taking Von Kalmbach’s head as the beginning of “a feud which should spread over years and far lands, swirling in dark tides to draw in thrones and kingdoms and red-haired women more beautiful than the flames of hell.”  That sure reads to me like Howard was at least considering writing more tales of Gottfried von Kalmbach and Red Sonya of Rogatino.  And perhaps he would have, if given enough time; but, as most of you reading this probably already know, the author’s time would run out in 1936, when he took his own life at the age of thirty — just two years after the publication of “The Shadow of the Vulture”.

But although Red Sonya’s creator may have never been able to completely realize his vision for his 16th century warrior woman, her Hyborian analogue would have a long and varied career ahead of her — a career whose next chapter would be coming in just one short month, as the creative team of Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith reached the end (and, arguably, the apex) of their history-making collaboration on the color Conan the Barbarian comic book.  I hope you’ll join me in December for our discussion of “The Song of Red Sonja”.

 

*Although Thomas doesn’t mention it, your humble blogger would also include our favorite barbarian’s brown, furry briefs as an essential piece of his original “costume”, along with his helmet and necklace.  Conan had worn that garment (or others identical to it) from issue #1 on through the last new story prior to the present one, at which time he’d turned it in in for the Makkaletian military-issue leather skirt (well, what would you call it?) that he continues to sport in issue #23.  In retrospect, it’s somewhat ironic to see Windsor-Smith making these sartorial adjustments to our hero so very late in his run on the color Conan comic (he’d be gone with the very next issue, #24), but I guess he wanted to leave the Cimmerian looking better (or at least different) than he’d found (or, more accurately, first designed) him.

For the record, the only one of these changes that I recall my younger self consciously registering at the time it happened was the loss of the helmet — an accessory which, in addition to being such an obvious visual touchstone for Conan the Barbarian‘s earliest issues, actually had its abandonment addressed directly in the story’s dialogue; I (or anyone, really) would have had to have been pretty dense to have missed that one.

**In Barbarian Life, Thomas confesses to not being especially enthused about the outfit Windsor-Smith designed for Red Sonja (accurately described as “a mailshirt and something which can only be described as red ‘hot pants'”), saying, “This wasn’t the way I had seen Red Sonja in my mind.”  While the author doesn’t go on to tell us what sort of look he would have preferred, one may be tempted to draw certain conclusions from his later wholehearted embrace of Spanish artist Esteban Maroto’s unsolicited “scale-armor bikini” design, which would become indelibly imprinted on the minds (if that’s the right word) of a generation of cis het male comics fans.

***As it happens, Sonja’s “job” in Makkalet involves a bit more than run-of-the-mill soldiering… but we won’t learn any more about that until “The Song of Red Sonja” in Conan #24.

****Sonya (and by extension, her creator, Robert E. Howard) may take a dim view of Roxelana, but the modern reputation of this Ottoman empress seems to be considerably more nuanced.  Among the more recent tributes to her legacy are a postage stamp that was issued in her honor in Ukraine in 1997, and a statue that was erected in the central square of her Ukrainian home town of Rohatyn (Howard’s “Rogatino”) two years later, where it replaced the previous Soviet-era monument to Vladimir Lenin.

If nothing else, this former slave girl who became one of the most powerful women of her age must have been an extraordinary person; and at least as fascinating as either Red Sonya or Red Sonja in her own way, even if she never picked up a sword.  And just in case you’re wondering… yes, she is in fact reputed to have had red hair.

18 comments

  1. cjkerry · 22 Days Ago

    This issue of Conan was reprinted by Marvel as part of its True Believers line, one of several Conan comics to be reprinted thusly.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Brian Morrison · 22 Days Ago

    Re: Conan’s leather skirt, as a Scot I’d call it a kilt 😀!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Chris A. · 21 Days Ago

      Or the bottom half of a tunic.

      Like

      • Alan Stewart · 21 Days Ago

        Not to be too pedantic here, Chris A, but I’m pretty sure “bottom half of a tunic” isn’t actually a thing (at least not as a standalone garment). 🙂

        Like

        • Chris A. · 20 Days Ago

          I doubt one could keep it from falling down. 😉

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Steve McBeezlebub · 21 Days Ago

    I prefer Windsor’s battle garb for Sonja. I could never take the character seriously with the chain mail bikini. Yes, it titilated and sold well but common sense says she’d have died in her first battle in it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alan Stewart · 21 Days Ago

      A common answer to your complaint about the metal bikini is “well, Conan’s not covered up very well, either, so there!” — which kind of misses the point. No one would ever consider putting Conan in armored briefs, because he’d look ridiculous, and everyone knows it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • DontheArtistformerlyknownasfrodo628 · 21 Days Ago

        Besides, can you imagine the chafing a chainmail bikini bottom would cause? They don’t call her “Red” Sonja for nothing!

        Liked by 2 people

      • JoshuaRascal · 20 Days Ago

        If Conan were to wear what Red Sonja is usually shown wearing, people would talk…A cross-dressing barbarian! Word would spread all over the Hyborian continent. It would be too funny!

        Liked by 1 person

        • JoshuaRascal · 20 Days Ago

          Title for a new Conan book: Conan the Cross-dresser.

          Liked by 1 person

    • JoshuaRascal · 20 Days Ago

      Not that I’m objecting to the sentiments expressed, but google “Professional Beach Volleyball” and check the images you get. Worlds apart between what the guys wear and what the women wear in competition. I knew the women’s outfits were skimpy, but I never realized how tiny they have become. But that is what they are wearing. Guys couldn’t wear those things for obvious reasons. How women can compete wearing what they wear is beyond me. Must sell a lot of tickets.

      Liked by 1 person

    • jmhanzo · 18 Days Ago

      You’ve got to understand, most of Sonja’s enemies attacked either her crotch of nipples, hence the bikini armor… yeah, that’s the ticket…

      Liked by 2 people

  4. frasersherman · 21 Days Ago

    Conan does wear armor on occasion but never as absurd as Sonja’s outfit. Should have stuck with Smith’s design. However the whole backstory she got (rape, revenge, can never make love to a man who can’t defeat her) was worse. The Dynamite incarnation I read recently drops some of that.
    REH’s Sonya has the advantage that she doesn’t have to play second fiddle to Conan — she easily steals the spotlight from the story’s POV character. Like Howard’s Dark Agnes, she shows he could write women characters who weren’t just sex fantasies.
    My early Conan collection is spotty so I don’t have this one (someday, when I get around to it …). “The Vulture” is a somewhat uninspiring nickname, as vultures are not generally associated with kickass fighting.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. DontheArtistformerlyknownasfrodo628 · 21 Days Ago

    I’m absolutely certain that my 15-year old self was completely unaware of the artistic shenanigans going on behind the scenes on this issue of Conan. Aside from the fact that there were few, if any, readily available news sources to tell me of such things, I probably didn’t have the interest in such goings-on then that I would develop in later years. The revolving door of inkers already made BSW’s penicils look different, so it was easy, especially given the heavily black and shadowed subject matter of the “extra” page drawn by Sal Buscema, to assume that page was also pencilled by Smith. Have they so greatly changed the production schedule of today’s books that these kinds of trainwrecks are no longer happening or am I still just not hearing about them?

    Regardless, this issue was a lot of fun. I feel a bit sorry for Queen Melissandre, who obviously has a bit of a crush on Conan and who was undoubtedly tricked into giving him an ensorcled piece of jewelry. I hope the big guy realizes the truth eventually and puts his sword through the lying liars who perpetrated this scheme as a way of apologizing to her.

    Amazingly, I’d never heard the origin of Red Sonja before and was fascinated to see how much of what we know about her today was actually the creation of Roy Thomas and not Howard himself. Conan certainly didn’t have a lot of success in looking like the hero in front of her in this first meeting, did he? Obviously, they work out their differences, but it’s fun to see them at odds like this and not trusting one another.

    It’s a shame Barry is about to leave this book (for good, I assume), but given his difficulties with the deadlines and production schedule, I can’t blame him. He must have been pulling his hair out. His work on Conan makes up a great deal of his overall legacy and it would have been nice if the industry had been aware of that at the time and found a way to be more accomadating. He really was changing the way comic art looked and very few realized it at the time.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Joe Gill · 21 Days Ago

    I have the entire War of the Tarim originals and I’d have to say it’s among my most prized possessions. Whoever’s inking Smith’s work it just shines through the page as the incredible accomplishment it is. That splash page, the look on Conan’s face as he finally confronts The Vulture, the first appearance of Red Sonja, all truly amazing stuff. Thomas script is equally , painstakingly perfect as well. Keys to Conan’s character and daring like the scene not shown here where he confronts the palace guard with the simple line “Either sheathe your tongue dog or unsheathe your sword. You’ve no other choice.” Bringing out his insolence, bravado and cockiness of youth all in one little panel. The choice of NOT showing the final swordplay between Mikhal Oglu and Conan. Less is more. Conan’s humor shines through as well, a trait not often emphasized like when he tells the village girl “The men have drunk the ale I’ve brought and the women have been kind but this nag of mine won’t carry the whole town!”
    One thing too that always bothered me was the fate of poor Rhupen, though he is a traitor. Talk about being the bearer of bad news! Bringing the head into Yezidigerd’s camp probably qualifies him as the original “don’t shoot the messenger” poster boy. Ended up flailed, perhaps?
    One little trifling point I’d mention too is how Thomas and our blogger (who really deserves more kudos for all the work put into all of this..three cheers for Alan Stewart!) are put off by Conan’s treatment of the poor pooch. This I attribute to our tendency to superimpose our values onto past epochs. Truth is in this far removed primitive times animals were whipped, starved, mistreated and yeah eaten. Men were enslaved, women treated as common chattel. It’s fact though obviously here in a made up realm that extrapolates a lot of ancient times. So in my humble opinion, show the unvarnished past as it truly was, not as how we might wish it to have been!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. JoshuaRascal · 20 Days Ago

    Nice write up.

    Roy Thomas’ writing saved what could have been a disastrous issue #23 given what happened to Barry Windsor Smith’s artwork. I remember being extremely unhappy with Conan #22 being a reprint of Conan #1, and I remember also being unhappy that the artwork in Conan #23 looked like a quick salvage job. But Conan #22 had a nice Windsor-Smith cover, and Conan #23 was saved by what I consider now to be surprisingly good writing by Roy Thomas. It’s too bad the entire “War of the Tarim” story line of Conan #19 to #26 wasn’t entirely done by Windsor-Smith in the fashion that he did Conan #20 and 24, but, in retrospect, given the price of admission (20 cents! Yeah, I know, calculated for inflation that is $1.40, and climbing, in today’s money. Still cheap.) the story line was a remarkable effort worth the read. I should not complain.

    In retrospect, with regards to Thomas’ writing of Conan, both in the Conan Comic Book and in the Savage Sword Magazine, given that for years he was the sole writer, the biggest problem I have with his storytelling was the lack of supporting and recurring characters in the Conan series (Red Sonja is about the only character other than Conan himself to emerge from the Conan comic books.) and the absence of true continuity. Conan pretty much just went from adventure to adventure, cutting down any monster or villainous evil person that got in his way and usually needing help from no one. It’s understandable given that Thomas was relying primarily on the pulp fiction stories of Robert E Howard and others for his story material and that’s the way they wrote their stories. To bad he didn’t make it something more than that.

    The epilogue of the story in Conan #23 where Yezdigerd receives his “present” from Conan could have been the jumping off point for a long term recurring storyline involving Yezdigerd, given that he was a key leader of the most powerful kingdom of the time and a lifelong rival and antagonist to Conan in the Conan print volumes, but it appeared nothing came of it in the Conan comics. After the end of the War of the Tarim, nothing more is seen of Yezdigerd in Conan comics or magazine as far as I can find. The Marvel database doesn’t show much.

    A little point of comparison: the introduction of the Vulture and the introduction of Red Sonja in Conan #23. The Vulture is given a big full page introduction courtesy of Roy Thomas. Red Sonja makes her first appearance anywhere on the last three panels of an eleven panel page on the bottom row of four rows of panels. The Vulture is a one issue wonder who would lose his head before the end of that issue’s story. Red Sonja is still adventuring in comic books to this day, fifty years later. She hasn’t aged at all and is still going around in her infamous chainmail bikini drawn by every artist I know of and a popular character for cosplay models at Comic Conventions. She has been the title character in a movie and is about to be the title character in another movie. In retrospect, too bad it wasn’t a full page single panel introduction in the infamous metal bikini instead of the discarded red “hot pants” outfit.

    Can’t wait for your write-up on Conan #24, IMO one of the all time greats!

    Liked by 1 person

    • jmhanzo · 18 Days Ago

      “…the biggest problem I have with his storytelling was the lack of supporting and recurring characters in the Conan series (Red Sonja is about the only character other than Conan himself to emerge from the Conan comic books.) and the absence of true continuity. Conan pretty much just went from adventure to adventure, cutting down any monster or villainous evil person that got in his way and usually needing help from no one.”

      I think that made it somewhat unique at the time — Conan was a nomadic adventurer who didn’t have a single city used as a regular base of operations like every other superhero. Given Conan’s status as either an outlaw or soldier-of-fortune, it makes sense that he wouldn’t stay in one place long. And given the ancient setting, there weren’t any easy means of long-distance travel or communication.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: Conan the Barbarian #24 (March, 1973) | Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books

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