Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Classics - Conan the Barbarian #24

   When Marvel started its Conan the Barbarian series in 1971, I was a bit disappointed that the art was by Barry Smith.

   Two years later, it was announced that he was leaving the series, and I was heartbroken.

   In that short time Smith somehow went from being one of Marvel's lowliest art talents to one of its best - and he did it by developing his own amazing style which owed more to classic illustration than traditional comic art.

   And what an issue to end with! "The Song of Red Sonja" brought the recently-introduced swordswoman into the Hyborean Age.

   She and Conan are fellow soldiers in the city of Makkalet, and after an exuberant celebration, they decide to get together - to commit some larceny.

   Conan has more romantic goals in mind - an idea not exactly refuted by Sonja, but that's because she has a goal in mind, and she needs Conan's help. So she seduces him - and let me tell you, 12-year-old Chuck was a huge fan of the beautifully-rendered sequence where Conan and Sonja go for a swim - and she doffs her chain mail shirt.

   Of course, it's all handled discreetly - but I paid special attention to those panels.

   The team sets forth on a job that will put them in a fight for their lives - and introduce a interesting element from the Kull stories.

   The art in the issue - penciling and inking and coloring - was handled by Smith, and it's wonderful! Lush, exotic, rugged, sexy, with amazing character designs, stunning environments - it was his best work to date.

   He'd only draw one more Conan story - the epic "Red Nails" - so he ended his run on the character on a high point. (Wait, he also did a "Conan vs. Rune" story, didn't he? That was awesome, too.)

    Writer Roy Thomas also rose to the occasion, penning one of his best efforts in his much longer run on the series (and that's saying something - his work was top notch from beginning to end). The story is a great combination of action, humor, lust, monsters and surprises - just a real delight.

    To this day, it's one of my favorite single issues from Conan's four-decade run in comics - and it made me a Barry (Windsor-)Smith fan for life.

   A true classic!

Grade: A+


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