Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Conan The Barbarian #256

TITLE: Conan The Barbarian #256


COVER DATE: May 1992


22 pages


About this particular issue? Not much. In fact, my recollection of this title is spotty at best, as I generally tended to prefer Savage Sword of Conan instead. I remember liking them well enough, but preferring the black and white "mature" take on Conan over the Comics Code Authority version.

But there is a run of about 15 Conan The Barbarian books in my collection, with this issue being the last one. What made me stop collecting this title in the middle of a nine part storyline, I can only hazard a guess. I do, however, remember what made me start collecting them...a McFarlane cover!

That's right, issue #241 had a spiffy Todd McFarlane cover with a crouching, savage Conan staring the reader in the eyes. I'm generally not a huge McFarlane fan, as I like his stuff well enough in small doses, but this cover is really good and still holds up today.

The issue after that one had a cover by Jim Lee, and one after that by Whilce Portacio, and by that time I was reading it regularly. That only lasted for a year and a half before I dropped it, so as not to dilute my regular Conan reading with Savage Sword.

So was this series really that watered down? Was there more frivolity than freebooting? The plundering a tad too plucky? The decapitations decapitated? Nary a bare breast to be found? Let's dig in and find out.

Blood And Bones
The Second Coming of Shuma-Gorath Part V
  • Writer: Roy Thomas
  • Penciler: Mike Docherty
  • Inker: Dell Barras
  • Letterer: Rick Parker
  • Colorist: Nel Yomtov
  • Editor: Mike Rockwitz
  • Editor in Chief: Tom DeFalco
Luckily for us, we get a short little recap of the previous issue to bring us up to speed. Conan has contracted the Purple Plague, and while seeking refuge in a Temple of Mitra, the city is attacked by armored skeletons from the crypts of lost Lanjau.

The temple turns out to not be much of a refuge for a weakened Conan, as the undead warriors make short work of the temple priests. In fact, here's exhibit A for the difference between CtB and SSoC (that's Conan the Barbarian and Savage Sword of Conan as they will be referenced to from here on out).

What good is a decapitation if you don't get to see the airborne head a second after it's separated from it's body? We do get to see the body bleeding out through the neck in the next panel, but the CCA (Comics Code Authority) apparently wouldn't let them draw the head right next to it.

It's here in the temple where the skeletal warriors find a weakened, purple-hued Conan. As is often the case, luck is on Conan's side as the undead are called away by a mysterious sorcerer just as they had Conan at their mercy. It seems they're needed at the center of town, leaving Conan in the shambles of the temple.

Now this being a Conan story, you know that there is a damsel in distress to be found somewhere. Filling the role for this issue is Gwenalda, who has travelled with Conan since they left Atilleos.

And here's exhibit B for Conan v. the CCA...the dutifully clothed maiden. I wasn't expecting a topless wench, but not even a bare midriff? And that is far too much cloth covering the loin.

She does manage to rouse Conan (fully clothed, no less!) and get him on his feet so that they can try to find someplace safe to hide out until Conan can recuperate. Stumbling through the city, they make their way to a tavern where they run into an old "friend" of Conan's named Hobb.

While figuring out their next move, they are visited by the floating, boastful head of Kulan Gath. Now here is something that the CCA Conan gets right; the evil visage of a mad sorcerer bent on tormenting Conan. It seems there's never a shortage of crazy wizards who have it out for Conan, and this one is no exception.

Conan will have nothing to do with this wizard's help, and sends his reply back to him in a wad of spittle as the astral projection dissipates. So much for getting any help from the realm of magic for their current predicament.

All is not lost, however, as Conan spies a jade serpent statue hanging from the rafters in the tavern. It would appear that this is the same statue that Conan plundered from the crypts of Lanjau long ago, the first time that he found cause to run from the skeletal warriors. That gives him an idea, but first he must eat.

Unfortunately, the only food left in the tavern is raw meat. Lucky for him, however, the blood in the raw meat is just the thing that causes the purple plague to go into remission.

Regaining his strength a little, Conan grabs the jade serpent statue and heads to the center of town to confront the skeletal soldiers. His hunch pays off, as the skeletons turn on the mysterious sorcerers who had attempted to commandeer them, in favor of regaining their lost statue.

Conan runs through the town, taunting the skeletons, as they slice down every sorcerer or plague stricken victim in their path. He winds up back at the tavern, just in time to use his unwitting allies to help free Hobb and Gwenalda from a zombiefied pack of plague infested townfolk.

Seizing a horse outside the tavern (there's always one around in the age of Hyperborea, it seems), Conan makes a mad dash out of town with the serpent statue. The undead warriors do their part, and mindlessly follow in their singular quest to retrieve their stolen idol.

Conan is no dummy, as he leads them to a giant crevasse. Jumping to the other side, Conan holds the statue over the gaping crack in the earth. As the undead warriors advance, Conan drops the statue into the abyss with all of the warriors jumping in after it.

After waiting to hear the sounds of the skeletons hitting bottom that never comes (it's a big hole, obviously), Conan lets himself finally relax. Moments later, he is met by Hobb and Gwenalda, who have loaded up a wagon with meat from the tavern. The journey to Cimmeria continues...


We learned that my memory isn't that bad. This was a rather waterdowned version of Conan. It wasn't bad by any means, but do you really want to see Samuel L. Jackson fight "mother-loving" snakes on his "mother-loving" plane when you've seen the R-rated version? Probably not.

It's like the Super Hero Squad version of Conan, where you can get the young ones indoctrinated with the toned down version of the character first. Then, you can hit 'em with the real version and their hooked. All in all not a bad strategy, although I'm a rather poor case study, as my first experience with Conan was right into the deep end of the pool with SSoC.

All characters and artwork reproduced are (c) Conan Properties, Inc. and/or Marvel Comics.

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