Savage Sword of Conan Volume 4 Paperback – Oct 14 2008
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The Savage Sword Magazine was a classic, and showcased what could only be described as the first truly "mature" mainstream works by artists normally associated with standard super hero fare. Yes, they had the occasional T&A shot - which were almost always tastefully done and fully fit within the context of the story - but the overall pacing, often brilliant inking, and oversize format of the storytelling (to say nothing of the tremendous violence) enabled the artists to convey a sense of realism and credibility not found in staple books at the time. Despite the outre and fantastic elements so often present in these tales, the early Savage Sword stories consistently managed to present Conan as more than a larger-than-life warrior - his sense of superstition, incredulity, harshness and raw cunning are present to flesh him out and draw the reader into the story; if this isn't exactly Howard's Conan, he's at least a figure we're willing to follow through a myriad of adventures.
One of those adventures is the non-REH "Conan the Buccaneer," a BEAUTIFULLY drawn tale reprinted within this volume that is a sheer visual delight. Though I have always preferred Buscema's Savage Sword stories inked by Alfredo Alcala, Tony DeZuniga really shines through on this, which blew me away when I saw it as a kid (probably squat down on the clammy linoleum floor of some random 7-11).
Due to the nature of the stories, this is a black and white "essential" collection that you can (and should) pick up which is actually good for more than waxing nostalgic about the post-Silver Age or admiring the stunning artwork - they can actually be read without vomiting. Sure, Roy Thomas is as ham-handed as Stan Lee ever was, but this can be forgiven due to the era in which these were published and by the simple fact you can tell by reading that he was making a genuine effort to get Conan out there in a form somewhat similar to what REH had in mind, aided considerably by the strong artistic talent enlisted to delineate these tales early on.
There are some misses throughout the entirety of the Savage Sword run, especially in the later years, but these early tomes collect the series in its heyday and are not to be missed by fans of the Conan franchise who missed them when they came out, or people like me who just plain miss them.
Conan trapped behind a pillar between a hooded figure and a giant Gila monster...Conan knee-deep in water awash in the tentacles of a sea monster he has just turned into calamari...Conan slashing away at Neanderthals in a snow drift...Conan protecting a woman as he lifts an attacker to throw him off a cliff...
What you don't get in "Savage Sword Of Conan Vol. 4" is the same high class of stories you got in the first three volumes. A significant letdown was bound to happen; the people behind the series ran out of stories by Conan's creator Robert E. Howard and had to rely on the iffier talents of L. Sprague de Camp. Yet the art is consistently good, not only from lead penciller John Buscema but Tony De Zuniga, Sal Buscema, and others. They give these stories a cinematic range and hard-edged feeling to keep you flipping pages.
While never subject to the Comics Code, it took a few years for "Savage Sword Of Conan" to ease itself from its strait jacket of relative probity regarding such things as nudity and decapitation and embrace the possibilities of an adult comic. By 1979, when these issues were published, "Savage Sword" was a-poppin' in naked female breasts and flying heads. Splash pages now feature disrobed women screaming in their beds, while blood splatters many a Conan foe.
Did scripter Roy Thomas get a bit lazy and formulaic in the process? I don't think these issues present him or Conan at their best. One story features his underwater frolicking a la "Blue Lagoon" with a nubile widow. Another has him attacking a horde of Amazons armed with a giant stalk of celery.
Some of the fault is de Camp's, whose Conan stories here are often underbaked and imitative of Howard's best. "Moon Of Blood," for example, is a lame retread of the classic Howard tale "Beyond The Black River," justified as a kind of sequel, but one in which Conan must again be surprised by the same kinds of threats. "Legions Of The Dead" twists the naturalistic world of Conan as created by Howard by pitting Conan against a nation of zombie manipulators.
The two big stories here, covering half of the total book, are an adaptation of the de Camp/Lin Carter novel "Conan The Buccaneer" and of a Howard story, "The Treasure Of Tranicos." Both feature Thoth-Amon, a mighty wizard who Howard himself only used sparingly in one story because Conan can't realistically be expected to fight a superintelligent, supernatural being unless he's as prone to distraction as Thoth-Amon is in these two adaptations.
While both stories are convoluted, they are held together by often-fantastic art, including, for the first half of "Tranicos," a team-up of John Buscema and Gil Kane that brings out the best in both legendary artists even though they represent quite different graphic styles. The good stories here benefit, too: John's brother Sal delivers great facial details in "The Star Of Khorala," a solid sequel to Howard's "Shadows In Zamboula," while the best story here, "The Gem In The Tower," has both lush jungle scenery and the title edifice from which Conan goes mano-a-mano in mid-air against a Nosferatu-like wight.
Even "Gem" isn't that much of a gem storywise; it's just shorter and less formulaic with Conan showing his brainier side. But the art is such a joy, you don't care. In both Howard's and Thomas's hands, Conan has read much better than he does here, but he has seldom looked as fantastic.
Both in size and scope, as well as edgy violence and nudity, something the comics code was ALL against back then, Savage Sword was eye-catching, non-stop action/adventure fantasy that brought together top-notch artists and writers that broke new ground.
And these old ones are STILL better than the newr Conan comics. (That's how great they are!) They still hold up in all areas.
Why can't Hollywood handle Conan like they now do with Batman and The Hulk and Ironman? With an all-new movie, hopefully fully computer animated like Beowulf, it would be a major blockbuster if it were rated R and done like it's creator, Robert E. Howard wrote it.
Collect all of these titles. You won't be sorry.
When Darkhorse announced they will re-print SSoC, all those memories came back in a flood. And being able to read, (and re-read) SSoC I was thrilled. When I found out about it, I thought they were going to re-issue the 1st prints, but then I discovered that they will be in graphic novel format..Lets just say 'giddy' was an understatement! 500+ pages?! ok now I'M REALLY HAPPY! Now granted, the volumes are slightly smaller than the 1st prints, and the print may be dark in places. But when I open up an original, they where more or less the same way. So that's not a problem for me at least.
If you never read SSoC, GET IT! If you love the fantasy genre, GET IT! I also recommend REHs novels themselves. Now, all I have to do is wait for VOL 5.. Uh oh, I'm getting that giddy feeling again!!