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  • Greg O'Driscoll

Not as savage, but still the sword of Conan!

Cover of Conan the Barbarian #78 from Marvel Comics..

Originally presented in Savage Sword of Conan #1, this reprint of "The Curse of the Undead Man" by Roy Thomas and John Buscema serves as a filler issue. Presumably the "Dreaded Deadline Doom" so often mentioned in letter columns and Stan's Soapbox caught up with the creative team. The cover insists this is "one of Conan's greatest, most-requested epics", but honestly, the story is middling at best. It isn't bad by any stretch, but is an odd choice for the first story in the first issue of Savage Sword, arguably one the best Conan comics to ever grace the stands.

Conan shows a couple of enemies how it is done!Interior art from CTB #78.

While it is interesting to see the story with George Roussos's colors, the art was already beautiful in black and white and does not benefit greatly by the reduced page size. SSoC was a black and white mag, but it was magazine-sized and many of the pages with high panel counts (8 to 10 per page sounds about right) were easier to make out in the original format. Also, a truly massive two-page spread with Conan leaping over the body of a prospective sacrificial maiden to confront a wizard armed with a spiked mace was redrawn as a single splash page for the monthly mag. Not that the full page splash is bad at all. The linen draped over the captive looks almost like an editorial afterthought. Savage Sword certainly did not shy from a bit of nudity here and there.

Conan and Red Sonja confront an undead wizard. Interior art from CTB #78.

John Buscema always effortlessly drew a great Red Sonja. Interior art from CTB #78.

The story itself is a rollicking adventure. Conan becomes embroiled in things by happenstance. The tale bounces from friendly harlots encouraging Conan to do some harmless robbery in order to buy them wine and some of their company to Conan running afoul of thugs with daggers and a dead body with a missing finger laid in a magical circle.

Red Sonja comes along for the ride after she pops up to save him from getting stabbed after losing his footing. How does the surefooted Cimmerian trip in the middle of combat? By stepping upon a detached finger laying on the ground. Conan foolishly tosses the thing beside a dead body in a magic circle. Unknown to the heroes, when the missing finger (and its ring) are rejoined to the body, the executed wizard returns to life.

Things go from there. One of the more amusing aspects of the story is that the obligatory damsel of the story is a wealthy foreign noblewoman, Brathilda of Brythunia. The wizard wants revenge upon her for testifying against him, so Conan almost inadvertently saves her from the dungeon (and sacrificial altar!) beneath her own manor. It seems that the wizard used to practice unnameable rites at Brathilda's place. Quoth one member of the audience at the execution: "What man has not practiced something or other with Brathilda!"

The two adventurers and noblewoman all escape, but with the wizard "dead" Brathilda stupidly insists upon returning to her home. Conan and Red Sonja sort of shrug and let her run back inside only to hear screams shortly after. It seems the undead man still isn't entirely dead!

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