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  • Greg O'Driscoll

Zula the Black Barbarian!

"Swords Against Stygia!"

Cover of Conan the Barbarian #85 from Marvel Comics.

Several of the first pages are given over to catching up any new readers on how Conan and Belit came to be together and the events of the last several issues. It reads differently in the omnibuses, but back in the day this was a necessity of the genre/medium. When I first began collecting back issues, this kind of thing was a life saver for me. We then get to the most interesting part of this issue: the origin of Conan's most recent ally, the mysterious Zula.

After a grievous massacre, Zula is the last surviving member of the Zamballah tribe of the Hyborian Era. His Kushite captors sold him as a slave to Stygians and eventually he was made a gift to Shu-Onoru. Kept as a slave and assistant in Keshatta, the legendary City of Magicians, Zula secretly learns the rudiments of the mystic arts right under the nose of his arrogant master. Zula's most useful and most frequently used magic trick is a powerful hypnotic influence that can snare all but the most powerful of wills with the briefest of glances.

Zula's origin Part One.

Zula's origin Part Two.

Zula's origin Part Three.

Zula's origin Part Four.

Advertised as "sorcerer and swordsman in one mighty warrior", one gets the impression Thomas (and perhaps Marvel at large) thought that Zula would become a bigger deal than he did. I think he had and still has a lot of potential as a charater. I suppose it is a question of where the copyright sits. Red Sonja is considered a Thomas property? I've never quite understood how the rights work concerning the characters created within Marvel's licensed property comics. In other comics (the Dire Wraiths from Rom for example), Marvel seemed to retain ownership, but not so with Sonja. So, perhaps Zula is in a similar situation? Either way, a cover by Art Adams from significantly later in the run of Conan the Barbarian hints that Zula eventually came to a messy end. On a final note, some might recognize the name Zula even if they are not familiar with the character. Conan the Destroyer, sequel to the cinematic masterpiece Conan the Barbarian, featured a character named Zula. The film version of Zula was a black amazon warrior played with feral gusto by Grace Jones. This makes a certain sense as the screenplay was developed from a story by Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway. I was a kid at the time but do not recall any pissy pants fans crying "woke" that a male character was recast as a woman.

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