Sunday 28 March 2010

Neal Adams, John Buscema, and Red Sonja makes three. Conan the Barbarian #44

Conan the Barbarian #44, Red Sonja, John Buscema, Neal Adams, Dick Giordano
Love at first sight. It certainly happens but does it ever last? Marvel Comics' Conan the Barbarian was an easy comic to fall in love with but also perhaps an easy one to fall out of love with. After all, like DC Comics' Weird War Tales, you don't have to read too many of those issues to realise you're getting pretty much the same few stories over and over again.

Conan the Barbarian #44, Red Sonja, dungeonBut, way back in 1975, the Hyborean Age was still a novelty to me and, unjaded by familiarity, I could fully appreciate the antics of the Hyborean battler.

In fact my first exposure to the strip had come through an unlikely source; Fleetway's unofficial Marvel Annual of 1972. Bearing in mind that the rest of the annual was made up of modern-day super-heroes like Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and the Hulk, why they decided to include a Conan story - and from much later era than the other reprints - I've no idea but I loved it, as, pencilled by Barry Smith, Conan came up against evil sorcerer Zukala and his shape-changing daughter.

But I had to wait a full three years to finally see Robert E Howard's greatest creation in his own monthly mag; Conan the Barbarian #44.

And you know what?

It was worth that wait.

Why? Because not only was it drawn by my all-time favourite artist John Buscema, it was inked by someone called the Crusty Bunkers, which, we were told in the letters page, was a collective name for whoever happened to be hanging around Neal Adams' studio at the time.

Conan the barbarian #44, Conan gropes Red Sonja
Clearly Neal Adams happened to be hanging around the Neal Adams' studio at the time because large chunks of this tale - especially the faces - are clearly inked by him, And that combination of Adams' inks and Buscema's pencils really is something to behold. It has to be one of the most gorgeously rendered comic books of the 1970s. Not only that but Glynis Wein clearly decided to do the art justice by producing one of the best colouring jobs I've ever seen in a comic from that decade. There's just no way round it, the thing just looks fantastic.

Conan the Barbarian #44, Red Sonja captive
As it happens, it was also my first taste of Red Sonja and though it's easy as an adult to knock the scale armour bikini, things look a little different when you're eleven. She had red hair, she had a sword, she ran around in a bikini, what more could you ask of a woman?

Well, in retrospect, you could ask she be less of a wimp than she was in this tale. Although we were given the whole, "she's a warrior woman who no man can have," schtick, reading the tale now, she seems oddly ineffectual. Basically, she gets pushed around a bit, mopes around a bit and then needs to be rescued by Conan at the tale's end. Still, it was the 1970s and it was Conan's mag, not hers, so what can you expect?

At least she got to bash him over the back of the head with a rock before she left.

Conan the Barbarian #44, Conan and Red Sonja fight a giant man-ape


Simon B said...

According to the Grand Comics Database, the Crusty Bunkers for that issue included the sadly recently-departed Dick Giordano. I'm fairly sure that's his inks on Buscema's cover, too.

My first intro to Conan came from that Marvel annual as well ( I posted about it at ) and then Marvel UK brought out its Conan weekly and I was hooked! I've since read the Robert E Howard originals and am now enjoying the Dark Horse series, but I always go back to the Roy Thomas / Barry Smith / John Buscema version. Make Mine Marvel!

Steve said...

It was indeed sad to read about Dick Giordano's death.

Doc Thompson said...

I had the original book.Good as the story was,I did get tired fast of Red Sonja don't touch me crap to Conan.It made Red appear disturbed and bit unhealthy.Thomas,I think only did because we all know,that these two would find themselves getting a room in Shadizor the Wiked and would not be seen til next tuesday.It was,like Belit,forced on the character,before Howard wrote the King Conan stuff early on.Belit was not created yet,and Red Sonja was appart of Conan's Hyborean World.
Still,what Roy Thomas could not do with Conan,I'll be doing with my Prince Toreus Rhann novel.He'll eventually get the red haired warrior chick.