|Oh, Jinal - he should be kneeling at your feet.|
Conqueror of the Barren Earth, “The Conqueror!”
Written by Gay Cohn
Art and Cover by Ron Randall
Edited by Ross Andru
I have to admit that I’ve been waiting to write this one up for a while. In fact, this issue is the primary reason I wanted to do a write up on this mini-series at all.
When it was still actively maintained, Dave’s Long Box, the blog of one Dave Campbell, had a feature called “The F*@% YEAH FILES,” which focused on those moments in comics that make you burst out with such an exclamation of profane excitement.
If I had such a feature on this blog, this issue would be in it, as it contains one of the single greatest panels in the history of comics.
(Also, if I had such a feature I would just straight-up type out the word “fuck,” because that’s how I fucking roll.)
But before we get to that, we have to get started, and in this case we start around a campfire, where Zhengla is explaining that it’s time for his mate and her two most trusted retainers to share in his vision. Towards that end, he has some magic mushrooms from the Mulge, and he, Jinal, Barasha, and Yisrah are about to do some tripping. Yisrah would prefer to decline, but Barasha tells him that they have no choice in the matter.
Renna and Skinner, meanwhile, are feeling uncomfortable. Renna is ill-at-ease with all of the Mulge about, and Skinner’s nose is bent out of shape because Jinal apparently cherishes Barasha and Yisrah more than she does him. Poor Skinner.
Those assembled about the fire indulge in the magic mushrooms and soon reality begins to swirl around them, at which point Jinal reveals that she and Zhengla are aware that there is a traitor in their midst, and that she suspects both Barasha and Yisrah, and this ritual is intended to determine which of them it is, as the mushrooms will reveal the true essence of each of them.
For his part, Zhengla appears to be a bronze giant wielding a flaming sword, while Barasha is revealed to be an enormous, noble serpent. Jinal, meanwhile, is suffused with an incandescent glow, blazing like a star and burning even brighter than she had in Zhengla’s first vision of her.
Zhengla seems to see something more to Jinal, but before he can determine what it is, Yisrah is revealed to be an Old One.
Zhengla had suspected Barasha, given that in his youth he had studied at the feet of the Old Ones, and never imagined that there was an actual Old One among them. He moves to strike Yisrah down, despite Jinal’s protests.
Once the blow is struck, reality is restored and Zhengla demands to see the body. Skinner informs him that there is no body – at the last second Yisrah pulled out some sort of device and simply vanished. Jinal is amazed that the Old Ones have access to teleportation, as it’s a technology her own people never developed.
As a result of their shared vision, Zhengla, Jinal, and Barasha are bound together in mind, body, and spirit, which is a thought that fills Skinner and the others with misgivings. (And jealousy, I should think.)
The war council assembles and discusses their plan for invading D’Roz, unconcerned about whatever intelligence Yisrah managed to bring back to the Old Ones. Barasha notes that defenses of D’Roz are too great for even an army to overcome, which leads Jinal to suggest that a smaller contingent might succeed where an army would fail.
With only a force of one hundred, they ride out in search of D’Roz.
Several weeks later they come upon D’Roz, which is surrounded by pilgrims who have come to appeal to the Old Ones, and who are providing their limited technology to aid in the defense of the floating city.
Said defense, which is demonstrated when sand pirates attempt to attack the city, consist of giant robots and a force field that can quickly appear about the ramp that leads up to the city gates.
Watching the failed attack provides Jinal with a strategy for getting inside the city.
For weeks Zhengla’s forces spend their time practicing cavalry drills, before finally attempting an assault on the city. They are, of course, driven away by the robots and the force field, but every day they keep trying, veering away from the assault at the last second.
Eventually, as per JInal’s strategy, the Old Ones begin to view this as less of a threat and as something of a game, and finally the day comes when the assault does not veer away at the last second, and the Old Ones are too slow in bringing up the force field, allowing Zhengla, Jinal, and a dozen others to make their way up the ramp while the remainder of Zhengla’s forces attend to the robots with the blasters recovered from the Qlov ship.
Inside the city walls they rely on Barasha to lead the way, as he knows the city from the time he spent there. He calls out to the Old Ones, stating the nature of their grievances against them, and in response the wall in front of them dissolves. Zhengla, Jinal, and the others make their way through a treacherous labyrinth that claims two of their number – just red shirts, not anyone important – and they eventually find themselves in the antechamber to the Great Hall, where they receive an unexpected blast from the past: the reanimated corpse of Chairman Mangle who is now in service to the Old Ones.
The strange energy field that sustains him makes him too strong for Zhengla and impervious to Jinal’s energy sword. Renna determines that the weird pack on his back must be his power source. She blasts it, and he is weakened, but doesn’t fall until Renna finally drives her sword through him.
With that last heart wrenching obstacle out of the way, they are free to make their way into the Great Hall.
And man, is it ever great.
Just…just see for yourself:
|Wait for it...|
Skinner states that just blasting him like that hardly seems fair, but Jinal points out that it’s stupid to consider fairness when it comes to a man who can kill a Qlov with his bare hands.
Though he isn’t long for this world, Zhengla is still alive, and he calls out to Jinal. He states that his vision showed him he’d conquer the world, but it didn’t show him anything about actually ruling it.
He asks Jinal to promise to take his vision as he took it from the woman in the Mulge cavern. Jinal takes his hand and says, “I promise…my lord.”
When next we see Jinal, she is eating Zhengla’s forehead fungus (Note: Ew.), and is presented with a vision of herself fully unifying the people of the Barren Earth, causing the desert to bloom, and ultimately leading her people back into space, with the city of D’Roz itself serving as her flagship, and out in the reaches of space she…
The vision fades, only to be replaced by the image of Yisrah, who has come to answer her questions.
He reveals that the Old Ones were responsible for the creation of the Mulge and the Harahashan in an effort to create a race suited to life on the hostile planet that Earth had become, and in between these two experiments they had created another race: the Qlov.
The Qlov had been enormously successful, progressing from simple hives to space travel in under a thousand years. This had led to strained relations between the Old Ones and the humans who had departed Earth, who viewed the Qlov as monsters. The expatriate humans swore that it would mean war if the Qlov ever entered their sector, and that was exactly what happened.
Yisrah tells Jinal that it’s not her destiny to defeat the Qlov, but rather to reveal the truth.
Jinal wakes from her dream and is summoned outside by Barasha, who, in his Yoda-y way, tells her, “Changed is everything!”
From the highest tower of D’Roz, Jinal looks up to the sky and sees The Conqueror, the starcruiser commanded by Admiral Rizek, which has finally completed its long journey to the Barren Earth.
As stated above, I completely misjudged Jinal, but I have to say that it was fantastic to have my faith in her restored.
Looking back at it now, there were plenty of clues in the story that pointed to this turn of events, but I completely missed them back when I was twelve.
Which, honestly, is probably just as well, as it only served to increase my enjoyment of the story.
Overall, the storyline – from the backup feature through the mini-series – was admittedly derivative of a lot of other stories, but that’s really a minor quibble when you consider the fantastic character arc followed by Jinal, and the complexity of the resolution of the story of Zhengla is something to behold. After all, there were multiple layers to that moment when she blasts him, as she achieves revenge and manages to remove the final obstacle to ultimate goal, and at the same time, it’s clear that despite everything she did legitimately love Zhengla.
It would be interesting to see this story presented as a modern comic, one that’s not limited by the necessities of compressed storytelling or the censorship of the Comics Code Authority, the latter of which prevented any real exploration of the complicated relationship between Jinal, Skinner, Renna, and, if the story had progressed beyond that end point, with Admiral Rizek.
Even so, while clearly colored by nostalgia – and with good reason, I think – the story still holds up even if it does require making certain contextual allowances.
I don’t really have anything more to say about the art, as everything said about it in earlier issues still applies, so with that we’ve reached the end of this particular Nostalgia Review.
Next up, I think, is the Alan Moore coda to the Silver Age, Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? which will then be followed by the new beginning that came from that ending, John Byrne’s The Man of Steel.