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  • Greg O'Driscoll

King Conan of Iskander?

Cover of Conan the Barbarian #81 from Marvel Comics. Art by John Buscema and Ernie Chan.

This is the third issue of the three-part epic that recasts REH's Valley of Iskander into a Conan tale set in the Hyborian Era. Conan has overcome the brutish, blond Ptolemy in a wrestling match. Now he must save the lost valley and its inhabitants from Hun-Ya-Di, the Hyborian version of the ruthless Hungarian adventurer and nemesis of El Borak, Hunyadi.

Hun-ya-di and his army of henchmen make their move on the hidden city of Attalus. Being that Conan choked Ptolemy into unconsciousness in the previous issue, the Cimmerian is now called upon to lead the city's small force of fighting men to stop the Stygian's advance. What follows is all out battle, skillfully rendered by Howard Chaykin and Ernie Chan. A comic of its time, there are way too many narration boxes, but it doesn't spoil the intensity of the scene.

Battle scene from CTB #81.

Hun-ya-di's last words, courtesy of original author REH.

In fact, this is a more intense than usual issue in terms of gore and violence. While never quite reaching truly explicit levels overall,Chaykin, Chan, or both make a lot of use of the trailing gore being flung from Conan's blade as he swings it. It is also lost somewhat in the covering but still visible on the Buscema and Chan cover as well, which makes me think this was a little touch added on by Chan when inking. In addition, Hun-ya-di has a suitably dramatic last line, courtesy of the original text by Robert E. Howard, but big shot of a the decapitated head was reserved for Ablah, a lesser traitor character.

Where the art does fall short is the gaping eye socket of Hun-ya-di, though that probably has more to do with this still being a code-approved comic. Instead of a gruesomely rendered scarred socket, all we get is an overlarge area of black ink. This could have been an after the fact bit of censoring mandated by editorial before the issue went to press.

Ptolemy is grateful Conan protecting his kingdom and so is the scantily clad Bardylis. Offered the crown and throne of Iskander, Conan waves off the offer. He is not yet ready to become a kind and when he is, he does not want it to be confined to a single remote valley. Bardylis offers her body as reward and it is less clear how Conan responds.

Things are written in such a way that make it seem as if Conan is warding off the blonde woman and staying loyal to Belit, even as Bardylis says they may or may not enjoy an evening as lovers before he leaves.

Image of a decapitated head from CTB #81.Interior art by Chaykin and Chan.

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