One of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon is to dredge through musty longboxes in a quiet comic book store. I find amazing, forgotten stories that can be had for a few bucks, sometimes less (while these days your average new comic book is $3.99 and up)! One of the main reasons I staked out this little corner of the galaxy was to share some of the great swag I’ve pulled out of obscurity; so for the first edition of Bargain Bin Bounty we’ll have a butcher’s at this awesome Conan comic I got a few weeks ago:
What: Conan the Barbarian Annual #9, “Wrath of the Shambling God!” Marvel Comics (1984)
Who: Michael Fleisher (script), Ernie Chan (art), Rick Parker (letters), Christie Sheele (coloring), Larry Hama (editor)
How much: $2, just twice the cover price!
I found this while perusing a shop just down the street from where I recently moved. Though he originated in the pulp sword-and-sorcery tales of Robert E. Howard, Conan the Barbarian has had a long history in comic books. Marvel Comics held the rights from 1970-2000, and from 2003-present Dark Horse Comics has done a bang-up job depicting the badass barbarian.
Conan is fighting a what looks like a Moai statue (those Easter Island heads) on the cover. I love Moai so that piqued my curiosity, but it was the interior art that got my attention. I’ve seen later (mid 80s) issues of Conan where the art is not up to snuff, but Ernie Chan does a great job in these pages. Leafing through the book I also saw that Conan fights a wooly mammoth, and that cinched it. Mammoths, you see, are another thing I love.
The tale begins with Conan leading a pirate crew in plundering a ship full of priests. Conan is doing the right thing though, because these cultists have been raiding villages along the coast of Vanaheim (think Hyborean Age Scandinavia) for victims to sacrifice to the wooden idol lashed to their vessel’s mast. Though Conan is “a thief, a reaver, a slayer,” he generally doesn’t trouble regular folk (unless they cross him first); the priests of evil cults are always fair game though. Finding no valuables to pilfer, the pirates slash the sails of the priests’ ship and maroon them on the cold northern sea.
After wrecking their own ship on an iceberg, the stranded ruffians are rescued by fisherman from the nearby coast. These members of the hospitable Umiank tribe bring the pirates back to their fantastic ice castle filled with fabulous riches and fine bitches, sorely tempting the amoral crew. When some of the scoundrels float the idea of killing the chieftain and plundering the castle, the honorable Conan forbids it.
It is only the barbarian’s inhumanly strong constitution that saves him from being murdered in his sleep. Conan is washed out to sea in the scuffle, barely managing to swim to shore. As he makes his way back to the castle to show his former shipmates why you make sure a Cimmerian is dead after you try to kill him, Conan chances upon a heard of woolly mammoths:
Did Conan just kill the last male mammoth, dooming the species to extinction??? Actually, going by the generally accepted placement of the Hyborean Age (Conan’s epoch) at 10,000 years ago, no. Though they were on their way out, there were still mammoths on Earth after that. Not for much longer though, thanks to barbarians.
While continuing on to the castle Conan encounters the surviving priests from earlier in the book; the fanatics have managed to haul the giant idol of their god onto shore. Conan makes short work of the priests, but one of them approaches the idol as he dies…
It’s a short fight that ends with a deus-ex-machina, but still a good climax nonetheless. Imagine if you experienced events like this on a regular basis; inanimate idols and statues constantly come to life, you invariably get trapped with giant nightmare beasts in dank catacombs, and you are always confronted with undeniable proof of malevolent forces that wish to subjugate (or destroy!) mankind. It’s a marvel that our barbaric hero can keep his solid head on his shoulders as he makes his way through the ancient world.
Conan does make it back to the Umiank castle by the end of the story, but you’ll have to hunt this issue down yourself to hear the end of the tale. If it’s not in your local comic shop give Ebay a try; or else just get Dark Horse’s The Chronicles of Conan Volume 22: Reavers in the Borderland and Other Stories.
Happy hunting and happy reading, Space Station Wagoners!