Friday, February 18, 2011

Stray Observations

Not Feeling It...Oh, Wait:
I watched the latest episode of Young Justice tonight, a show that has been kind of uneven so far. Overall, I like it, but there are a lot of little things that bother me about it. With tonight's episode, right off the bat I wasn't feeling it, mostly because I really didn't like the show's interpretation of Madame Xanadu.
But then it almost immediately won me over with the fantastic interpretaion of Kent Nelson (wonderfully voiced by Ed Asner).
Favorite episode so far.

That Was Really Good:
A couple of weeks ago the latest Dark Horse collection of Savage Sword of Conan (Volume 9, to be precise) appeared in my stack of comics when I went to the comic shop. I just finished reading it and found that there were a lot of great stories in it (and, as is always the case, some so-so stories and just plain bad stories), some of which I'd read back in the days when I was buying the original magazine on an irregular basis, but most of which were new to me.
In particular, the last story in the collection, from issue 102, was really, really good.
So good that I was even able to overlook the whole "The real magic was inside you the whole time!" cliché that served as the story's denouement.
The story was set, as many of the SSoC stories were, during a period in Conan's life in which he was the chieftain of a tribe of Zuagirs, roving bands of desert bandits. Ever the rebel, Conan's band had been ignoring the informal rules that exist amongst the various tribes, often performing raids on other tribes.
The story starts out with one such tribe raiding a village, rounding up all of the valuables - and the women - preparing to execute all of the survivors - except the women, of course - and setting the whole place ablaze.
In rides Conan and his tribe to lay waste to the raiders and send its chieftain and his lieutenants fleeing for their lives. On Conan's orders, his bandits then get to work on putting out the fires, freeing the women, providing medical care to the survivors, and returning most of the stolen property to its rightful owners, claiming only half of what the first tribe would have taken from only the wealthiest of merchants. Sure, Conan's got a big heart, but he still needs to make some profit.
Naturally - as is often the case during the Zuagir periods - Conan's second-in-command is eager to displace Conan and take over the tribe for himself. And to also take over the woman who's been keeping Conan company in his tent at night.
Meanwhile, the chieftains of the other tribes are meeting with the "Chieftain of Chieftains" to demand that something be done about this bronze-skinned, iron-thewed outlander who's been causing so much trouble and has been farting in their general direction. The Big Kahuna agrees that something must be done, but that they can't just outright kill Conan, they have to destroy his reputation, since many of the villages in the area have come to regard him as something of a hero.
(Meanwhile, Conan's second-in-command has been unsuccessfully putting the moves on the lovely Katia, Conan's tentmate)
The Big Boss and his retinue ride off to some sort of ancient temple, which only he may enter - along with a young slave girl who knows that this isn't a place she wants to be - and makes an appeal to the priestess who dwells there. In exchange for the girl, she agrees to help him with the Conan problem, with the aid of her Iron Lions - big guys wearing masks that make them look like lions. As the Boss Man hurries out, he thinks about all of the depraved and cruel things he's done in his life and how they pale in comparison to what's going to happen to the girl he left behind...
Later that night, as Conan and Katia have the tent a-rockin', the Iron Lions come a-knockin', and manage to subdue Conan and haul him to the temple. The priestess then casts some sort of spell on Conan and tells him that he "shall never wield a sword again!" as an odd symbol is burned directly into his brain.
Sometime later, a weary, bedraggled Conan makes his way back to his camp, where his second-in-command has decided that he's now first-in-command. Liking the taste of power - and the notion of having Katia at his beck-and-call - he challenges Conan to a fight for leadership. Conan is unarmed, so one of his men tosses him a sword - which Conan shrinks away from in terror.
The spell has, as it's later put, "unmanned" him, filling him with complete terror at the mere thought of picking up a weapon, or even putting up a fight.
He's driven away as a coward.
Weeks pass and we find Conan living on the streets of a city as a beggar. A terribly unsuccessful beggar, given that as soon as he gets some money he is promptly mugged and, being a coward, is unable to defend himself. Even at his hungriest, he's afraid to fight with a mangy dog over a scrap of meat.
Eventually, he passes out from starvation, but is found in the nick of time by a kindly young widow and her son, who takes him in and gives him a good meal and a warm bed. She soon learns that this was a mistake, however, as in the dim light she sees the Mark of the Lion God on his forehead. It seems that the Iron Lions will kill anyone who provides aid to someone who, like Conan, wears the Mark. She even mentions that they once nearly killed her father.
Like clockwork, the Lions appear, toss Conan aside, and set to their grisly work on mother and son. Conan tries to overcome his fear and take up a sword against them, but he is overwhelmed by pain as soon as he touches the sword and is rendered unconscious.
Upon regaining consciousness, Conan declares, "May the gods forever hold me in loathing."
Back at the camp, Katia has settled in with her new man, and the tribe is happy with the results being delivered by their new chieftain, and throughout the land, it's known that Conan is nothing more than a coward.
Conan sets out from the city towards the remote home of a reclusive priest, said priest being the father and grandfather of the kind woman and her son. Conan has brought their remains to him for a proper burial, and to express his regrets over what his cowardice has wrought.
The priest doesn't blame him, as he understands the nature of what has happened to Conan. He himself has been at war with the Iron Lions for decades, and he offers to help Conan overcome the spell that he's under.
To assist him in his quest, he offers Conan a magic bow that is capable of overcoming the magic that prevents Conan from wielding a weapon, and sends him off on a quest to recover a specific flower, which will be used as part of the process for removing the Mark. Upon arriving at the required location, Conan is attacked by a giant flying serpent. After managing to evade the serpent, he comes up with a plan to trap it. Succeeding in that, he manages to shoot out both of the serpent's eyes before being separated from his bow, but the serpent's enraged flailing still poses a danger to him, and Conan takes up a rock and, with all of the barbarian savagery he can muster, finishes the job.
Upon his return, with the flower in tow, Conan and the priest are confronted by the Iron Lions, who have come to kill the priest for daring to provide aid to Conan. Conan insists that he will fight them with his magic bow, which gets a laugh out of the Lions, who take the bow away from him, tell him it's just a normal bow, break it in half, and turn to finish off the priest.
Conan says not just no, but hell no to that, and springs into action, coldcocking one of the Lions, taking his sword, and proceeding to hack them into the kind of pieces they'd intended to hack the priest into.
That's when the priest admits that the Lions weren't lyin' - it really was just a regular old bow. (The aforementioned cliché about magic, and how it's inside of you), and that Conan will note that the Mark is now gone.
A re-manned Conan then makes his way back to the camp, heads for his old tent, is greeted by Katia, who talks about being so glad that her "beloved" has returned. Conan kicks her to the curb, beats the living shit out of his former second-in-command - or, as Conan called him, the "Sniveling son of a jackal bitch!" - and then, when praised by his former tribe, he tells them that they're all scum, and rides off.
The only unsatisfying aspect of the story is that he never gets around to dealing with the priestess who marked him, but given the rest of the story, I'm willing to give that a pass. After all, it may be that it's something that writer Michael Fleisher dealt with in a later story, or at least intended to deal with, as the non-serial nature of SSoC meant that some extended story arcs took years to complete, and in many cases, for many reasons, never actually did get completed.
The tl;dr version: Conan gets cursed to be a coward, then overcomes the curse and kicks ass.
But anyway, I really liked that story.

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things:
Among the many things I like about the stories in SSoC are some of the epithets Conan hurls at his enemies - such as the aforementioned "Sniveling son of a jackal bitch!" - and the various oaths and curses he throws around.
Really, I suppose you could call it The Savage Wit of Conan:

"By Morrigan and Macha!"
"Curse me for a Brythunian!"
"As sure as I'm not a Kushite."
"Crom flay me alive!"
"Some day, by Crom, some wise man is going to condescend to tell me why it is that women always have such a hard time taking no for an answer!"
"The Lords of Arallu should have warned you: never stand between a Cimmerian and booty."
"Lying dung-heap! I'll hang you by your silken locks and strop my sword on your belly if you don't tell me the whereabouts of the treasure!"
"Did you defeat them with your oaken staff, dog, or did you mearely bore them all to death?"

1 comment:

Merlin T Wizard said...

That sounds like a pretty kickass issue. Conan rocks.