There's one reason a Conan completist will want this volume of the collected Marvel Comics collection: Red Sonja, Conan's most famous ladyfriend, appears here for the first time in her chainmail bikini. For a guy like me, scarlet and peachtone never went together so well!
But Volume 7, collecting Marvel issues first published in 1974 and 1975, is a sharp letdown otherwise, especially in story quality. Using creator Robert E. Howard's outlines and stories for a springboard, scripter Roy Thomas previously developed a sensibly down-to-earth Conan. Here, he lets magic and monsters run riot to the point where Conan's only contributions to his own stories is to grunt and hack away with his sword.
The writing is sometimes pretty labored: "And, amid it all, the Wolf-Woman twirls her rock-laden sling...and deadly is the short song thereof!" Climbing a hill with Red Sonja, Conan makes like Roger Moore: "Why so quiet, girl? Catamount got your tongue?"
Red Sonja, or Son-Ya, as she is often called here, figures in the first of Vol. 7's three storylines, a two-issue adventure which pits them against brother-and-sister vampires looking for new mates - for both themselves and their collection of human livestock. It's not a bad story, but it's not a Conan story, and Red Sonja seems especially unnecessary in it, except visually of course.
Story #2, a one-issue affair, has Conan meet with a bard with a sad history he relates in song. The lyrics are actually taken from a Howard poem, a nice touch by Thomas, but despite a good beginning the story doesn't really develop, cramped as it is within a single 18-page issue with a long poem running through its middle. Again, Conan watches and gapes too much of the time as various wondrous deeds unfold.
Story #3 was a six-issue story run that lasted the entire first half of 1975, and doesn't nearly justify its length. Conan is given an amulet by a wizard and a mission to find another wizard in need of its magic protection. He meets up with more wizards, along with various women, including that wolf-woman, who turns out to be strangely connected to his own past.
Based on a novel, "Kothar And The Conjurer's Curse", by comics and fantasy writer Gardner F. Fox, it's an uncomfortable fit for a Conan tale, too convoluted and packed with the kind of mystical backstory that requires much expository dialogue and flashbacks. Perhaps knowing he had a tough sell, Thomas throws in numerous giant monsters, giving penciller John Buscema and his assistant artists a lot to work with but stretching the bounds of credulity as to what even a muscle-bound Cimmerian could handle. Conan in the past had at your giant snake or gorilla, but here he simultaneously fights off a kraken and a garden of flesh-eating plants.
Perhaps because of this over-fantastic element, Buscema's work does stand out as worthy eye candy, aided no doubt by the computer enhancements of Dark Horse. And at least Conan is recognizable from Howard's original work, even if the stories aren't. Alas, reading through the never-ending "Conjurer's Curse" is a loyalty test no Conan lover should have to endure.
Even Thomas seems to acknowledge this in his Afterword, calling the content of Vol. 7 "a series of potboilers...without being among his most memorable adventures." That's putting it a little too kindly, but those in the know will agree with him that the series had better days to come.