Post by Roquefort Raider on Aug 20, 2014 8:45:54 GMT -5
With a cover date of May 1971, this Marvel black and white mag was something of a revolution. Meant for a more mature audience, it presented stories of adventure, horror, action, conflict... Savage tales.
Note the John Buscema painted cover, something we would not be seeing enough of in the following years. (From memory, other Buscema covers were seen on Savage Tales #2 (cover dated October 1973!), Savage sword of Conan #40 and Marvel Super Special #9). Of course we might say "well, no wonder that Big John would take the time to paint a cover for this momentous issue", except that in may 1971, Barry Smith was still the regular artist on Marvel's Conan the barbarian! In fact, you'll notice that Conan's garb here is typical of the early Smith issues. As far as I can tell, then, this is the first Conan image published by Marvel and drawn by Buscema.
From the busy cover, you can tell that there's a lot of story to be found in there for 50 cents. And boy, did that issue deliver.
To begin with, there is an 11-page adaptation of Robert E. Howard's story "The Frost Giant's Daughter", written by Roy Thomas (and how lucky Conan fandom is that Roy got to write the character before anyone else) and gorgeously illustrated by Barry Smith. Now according to Mike's amazing world of comics, Savage Tales #1 came out the same month as Conan the barbarian #5 and in all honesty, you'd think that the former had been drawn years after the latter. Young Smith really knocked it out of the ballbark, here, pushing his still-developing skills to the limit and producing one of the most beautiful pieces of comic-book art I've ever seen, anywhere, by anyone.
The story starts with a double-page splash where vast snowy vistas are suggested by an elegant and very fine linework:
When the story was reprinted (in color) in Conan the barbarian #16, a new splash page was added. I show it here in black and white from a translated version.
Post by Roquefort Raider on Aug 20, 2014 8:51:48 GMT -5
The new version had more than an extra splash page; it also covered parts of a character's lovely anatomy. In the original story, Atali, the Frost Giant's Daughter, taunts dying men on snowy battlefields and entices them to pursue her over the frozen wastes so they can be murdered by her huge and brawny brothers. She's clad with nothing but a flimsy veil, despite the intense cold. In the story, Conan manages to grab her at one point, and she escapes by leaving the veil behind (which allows Conan to realize, later, that he hasn't dreamed the whole thing); in CtB16, Atali modestly retains part of the veil. Phew! The code is safe.
When the same story was translated for the first Robert E. Howard issue of L'Écho des Savanes special USA, a French magazine, the unedited Savage Tales story was used. Note in passing the very pretty Neal Adams cover that graced that issue; it would not have been amiss on a Savage Tales issue.
The Frost Giant's Daughter was one of the Conan stories that Weird Tales unexplicably turned down; Howard re-wrote it as "Gods of the north", but I'm glad it could finally be read in its original form... and so beautifully adapted here. Kurt Busiek used it in the first story arc of Dark Horse's Conan reboot, but although Kurt is an excellent Conan writer and that Cary Nord is an excellent Conan artist, their "Frost Giant's Daughter" does not come near this one in terms of sheer impact. It is, in the true sense of the word, a modern classic.
Had the issue stopped after 11 pages, it would have been a good deal... But there was more!
Post by Roquefort Raider on Aug 20, 2014 8:55:17 GMT -5
The second story is... "Fury of the Femizons", written by Stan Lee and drawn by John Romita. The Femizons here are a future society led by women, in which men are kept as pets and slaves, in a none-too-subtle story about gender equality. The art is certainly beautiful, but the script hasn't aged all that well (except in a quaint sort of way). Nevertheless, the story was reprinted in Savage Tales #3!
Post by Roquefort Raider on Aug 20, 2014 8:56:42 GMT -5
The Frost Giant's Daughter and Conan's first black and white adventure would have been a milestone already, but this issue also features the first appearance of... Man-Thing!!! In magnificent black and white, as drawn by the unique Gray Morrow.
A sequel to this origin story would later be spliced into a Ka-Zar comic-book. Man-Thing is definitely meant for mature readers; not because of an overabundance of exposed skin, but because of the dark and depressing nature of the tale. Ted Sallis, who would end up muck-encrusted and with a carrot for a nose, is betrayed by his greedy wife and and doomed to a tragic fate. Another modern classic!!!<br><br>But being betrayed by one's wife is not Ted Sallis' exclusive problem. The following story, titled "Black Brother", is something extremely rare in a Marvel mag (and sadly so, too): an actual "real world" story, without magic, without super-powers... but with a greedy spouse. Here, in the imaginary African country of Orbia, a regional governor tries to prevent the abuse of his people by foreign workers whose employers rule the land by proxy through corrupt officials. Our hero, Joshua, is so efficient in his crusade that the central government tries to frame him with some sex scandal, and later tries to murder him. Realizing that his own wife set him up, Joshua leaves town for the jungle (where we expect he's going to have some "origin" that'll turn him into a superhero of some kind, this being Marvel comics, although to my knowledge that never happened). We are left with a good story of corruption and courage. It was written by Dennis O'Neil (under his Charlton pseudonym of Sergius O'Shaughnessy) and drawn by the ever-capable Gene Colan). I'm surprised it hasn't been reprinted more often (as in "never", AFAIK).
Post by Roquefort Raider on Aug 20, 2014 8:59:52 GMT -5
And now before moving on to the next story, a page of publicity which would have made me drool back in 71.
Now that would have sent me looking for those comics, had any been available in my neck of the woods!
Rounding up this issue, "The night of the looter", a Ka-Zar adventure written by Stan and drawn by John Buscema (pencils and inks). Well, what do you know, this one has a faithless wife too! I didn't realize that the mag had a theme! (One could even argue that it's a very sexist issue: it has a tale where the hero almost rapes a goddess, another in which women are depicted as harpies, and three with a faithless wife (including one that features a giant-sized Man-thing).
Post by Roquefort Raider on Aug 20, 2014 9:03:23 GMT -5
After the extraordinary Savage Tales #1, we might have expected a string of issues with the same characters and (hopefully) the same brilliant creative teams. It might have been, in an ideal world... but in the real world, it would be two and a half years before Savage Tales #2 would see print. I am sure that I've read somewhere in Alter Ego that Martin Goodman just didn't quite know what to do with this magazine that wasn't the same format as the other Marvel comics, and that wasn't sold on the same spinner racks... but I can't find the article. However, Writer/editor Roy Thomas helpfully provided a two-page editorial in issue #2, explaining the reasons Savage Tales had almost died aborning.
Luckily for us, Stan Lee eventually decided to re-enter the magazine field; not with only one mag (be it Savage Tales or Spider-Man) but with several titles like Dracula Lives!, Monsters unleashed and Tales of the zombie. And Savage Tales itself would join them on the rack.
It might have been too late... after two and a half years, Barry Smith had parted ways with Conan the barbarian. But free from the constraints of the monthly comic and not yet estranged from Marvel, he drew for this and the next issue what is arguably his best Conan work (although I would say that's actually CtB #24), in a Roy Thomas-written adaptation of Robert E. Howard's extremely violent story Red nails.
The cover for issue #2 is the second of those rare John Buscema painted efforts, and it is clearly superior to his previous one. Not quite Frazetta (or even Boris), but a good looking piece with the unique Buscema energy. Conan, oddly enough, is still wearing his early Barry Smith-era fur short and the three-piece medallion he traded away in issue #23 (while that same month, CtB #31 was on sale). Maybe that painting had been done years before? It would be interesting for Roy to tell us about it in a future issue of Alter Ego.
Post by Roquefort Raider on Aug 20, 2014 9:04:30 GMT -5
The issue opens just as later Savage sword of Conan issues would: with a blurb freely adapted from Miller and Clark's "a probable outline of Conan's career", an early fan-based effort to draw up a chronology of Conan's life (and one which Howard had largely endorsed in a letter to P.S. Miller). Such blurbs would help new fans to know when the story was supposed to have happened, because the stories meant to see print in Savage Tales would not necessarily be presented in chronological order. And Mr. Thomas, bless him, was always something of a historian... particularly when writing comic-books. As a ten-year old fan, that pseudo-historicity of the Conan comics, the seriousness with which its character's life was depicted, was a HUGE draw. It meant the character was worth getting interested in; that there was a rich history behind him- one we would sicover in due time, like a puzzle. That's something the PTB at Marvel in the 80s never understood. They thought Conan's appeal laid in his killing monsters and wearing a fur diaper. But I digress.
The first story here is the opening chapter of Red nails, which would conclude in issue #3. Red nails (the prose story) was the last Conan story written by Robert E. Howard. It is a very dark tale of a civilization collapsing on itself, as any civilization was doomed to do, according to Howard's oft-stated philosophy. Only the cleanliness of the barbarian's raw, natural and honest soul would allow him to survive this nest of corrupt and degenerate snakes. Its adaptation here is nothing short of stupendous, and it's a good thing that it was reprinted several times, the first of which being in the first Conan Treasury (Marvel treasury #4), colored by Smith himself. There would be a Red Nails special published by Marvel in the 80s (with the odd choice of using the cover of CtB #21 instead of, say, the Red Nails-inspired picture that saw print in Epic Illustrated from February 1983; it would have been a cool wraparound cover). Red Nails was further reprinted in Dark Horse's fourth Conan reprint volume, although there it was re-colored by someone else than Smith... a fine effort, but one that doesn't compare to the original's artist's vision.
In this chapter, Smith uses the same delicate linework that had made CtB#24 such a beautiful piece.
Post by Roquefort Raider on Aug 20, 2014 9:10:27 GMT -5
The story goes as this: We are introduced to one Valeria of the Red Brotherhood, a young, tall woman who started a career as a pirate and wants nothing more than to be treated as one of the lads. But being a sculptural blonde makes it hard for her scurvy comrades to keep their hands to themselves, and she had to look for work land-side in the country of Stygia (kinda like Egypt, culturally speaking). While there, an officer in a mercenary company she had hired her sword to made untoward advances that she met with a blade, and she had to flee the wrath of his men (including his own brother) down in the jungles of Kush and beyond. Luckily for her, one of the mercenaries of that band had been Conan, and although his intentions are no more honourable than theirs, he at least never forces himself on a woman when she says no (Savage Tales #1 notwithstanding). So as the story opens, Valeria climbs on a steep, rocky mount to see if she's still being followed, and that's where Conan rejoins her to tell her that he's killed all her pursuers.
Needless to say, she refuses the Cimmerian's amorous advances and is even ready to skewer him when the pair's horses start neighing in panic. The two of them scramble down the steep cliff to find themselves facing the cause for the (now dead) horse's terror: a stegosaurus-shaped carnivorous dragon! They scramble back up the mount, which is thankfully to hard a climb for the beast. However, it decides to lie in wait. Conan and Valeria seem destined to die of thirst up on their small stony outcrop, and even the fruit that grows there is lethal: Conan recognizes the luscious drupes as Derketa's apples, named after a Kushite goddess of death. And no help is likely to come from a walled city they can see in the distance, which seems to be quite abandoned.
But! (Yes, there's a but). The ever-ingenuous Cimmerian reasons that if they poison a dagger with the apple's juice, they can tie it to a long branch and try to stab the dragon. Which they do in the page above. The beast is severely hurt and goes to a river to quench the fire that burns him, and Conan explains that he's likely to be blind by then. So Valeria and he try to tiptoe their way down from the mount and away from the monster, who unfirtunetly catches their scent and chases them! After a few hectic moments involving running like mad and trying to pierce a dragon with a sword, the creature brains itself on a massive tree and falls dead. Phew!
Conan and Valeria, now horseless, make their way to the city they espied earlier, which turns out to be one huge building; an entire city (made of jade, no less!) covered with a roof.The main door is not locked and they go in. Inside, everything looks deserted and dusty, and the images on the wall depict the life of an old, sybaritic civilization. While Conan explores a bit to look for stray jewels or coins, Valeria sits down and dozes off. She wakes up a while later when furtive footsteps suggest someone's coming and doesn't want to be seen; from a balcony she can see it's a small and wiry brown man, one floor down from her. As he moves to another room she follows on her own floor, but when she gains sight of him again he's lying dead on the ground! A second man shows up and goes to his friend, but he's then joined by the likely killer: apparently, an animated skeleton with a flaming, horned death's head! Valeria, being made of stern stuff, jumps down from the balcony and kills the creature with a single stroke... and he was only a man after all, wearing phosphorescent body paint and a skull for a mask. The small man she's saved is overjoyed by this kill, as thecreature was apparently quite a fearsome boogyman thereabouts; and Valeria sees that the skull itself seems to be alive, and to try to put her under some sort of hypnotic spell! A spell she interrupts by smashing it to pieces with her sword. (This issue is way less sexist than Savage Tales #1)!
The little guy, named Techotl, convinces Valeria that they now have to run away, because the people from "Xotalanc" are sure to pop up soon. Techotl would rather the two of them ran to his own people, called the Techutli, but Valeria insists on finding Conan first. And that's how the chapter ends. A great intro, full of action and hinting at sinister things to come! And that gorgeous art... Oh, Lord.
Post by Roquefort Raider on Aug 20, 2014 9:14:06 GMT -5
What follows is typical of the Thomas-edited Conan magazines: a scholarly article on matters pertaining to Conan, his creator or some other Howard-related subject. Here the piece is written by Glenn Lord, the first and still today the greatest Robert E. Howard scholar. The subject is Robert Howard himself, and the article is illustrated by Frank Brunner. I tell you, those were truly golden days for Conan fandom!
Next we have a Gerry Conway/Gray Morrow science-fantasy story; as ever, Morrow doesn't disappoint.
Because Savage Tales is the mag that never ceases giving, on the next page we have another Barry Smith effort: the poem Cimmeria, which actually predates the creation of Conan, printed right from the pencils. Here's a link (barrywindsor-smith.com/studio2/cimmeriapg1.html) to the complete story (although that particular version is inked). By the way, the link is to a version inked by Smith himself; Tim A. Conrad also inked a version that would see print in SSoC #24.
Following this, a reprint from Joe Maneely's The Crusader, a series I'd love to read more of.
Right after, we get the "Probable outline of Conan's career" (see above) reprinted in full, with images taken from the original Conan stories in Weird Tales. In thos pre-internet days, this was a priceless resource!
We round up the issue with a reprint of the King Kull story "the skull of silence", that had seen print in Tower of shadows#10, with the added bonus of an unused cover by the story's artist, the ever-amazing Berni Wrightson.
Cripes, even the "next issue" page is fantastic: it's a full-page Conan image by Windsor-Smith, not taken from any story!
I purchased Savage Tales #2 twice. My first copy is missing pages 3 and 4 (but not the corresponding ones at the end of the book), meaning that someone very delicately cut the page away in such a way that it doesn't show at all. I suppose he wanted the splash page to put on his wall, and if I regret both the disfigurement of the comic and the sale of a damaged book, I can at least appreciate the person's tastes!
Back-issues of Savage Tales 1 are of course outrageously over-priced since it's a first issue, but I think the rest can be tracked down online without spending too much, though some patience may be required. Such has been my experience, at least (still don't have a copy of ST 1).
Great point about the appeal of a character like Conan deriving from so much more than the surface details that executive types tend to latch on to. I find this is a phenomenon that recurs over and over in various places - how many record company execs thought punk was all about mohawks and leather jackets?
Post by Roquefort Raider on Aug 21, 2014 15:44:16 GMT -5
Four months after Savage Tales #2, readers were treated to the end of Red Nails in issue #3. In the editorial pages, Roy explained the distribution and pecuniary problems faced by the title, and ominously warned us that this might be the last issue of the mag! (Noooooooooooo!!!)
(Luckily, we know now that when numbers came in, they would warrant continued publication).
Savage Tales #3 has a painted cover by Pablo Marcos, also something I haven't seen that often. (I am not, generally speaking, a big fan of Mr. Marcos pencil work; but this cover does the job. It has an almost Romita-like quality to it, despite the trademarked Marcos posture of the main character).
Post by Roquefort Raider on Aug 21, 2014 15:45:05 GMT -5
The issue is mostly about parts II and III of Red nails, still with the astonishing Smith artwork. In a nutshell, the story unfolds as follows: Conan rejoins Valeria and Techotl, who takes them to his people in a corner of this shut-in city of Xuchotl. There our heroes learn what's going on in this strange place. Centuries before, some rebel tribe from Stygia (whose members for some reason all carry Aztec- and Mayan-sounding names) fled from their homeland and the anger of Stygia's king. Many of them were killed by the dragons who in those days were more numerous in those parts, and they ended up at the closed doors of the walled city of Xuchotl (the inhabitants of which didn't exactly welcome the newcomers). A slave from the city, called Tolkemec, opened the city gates to the rebel Stygians, who slaughtered the local population and took their place in the city. (The treacherous Tolkemec will eventually be tortured and thrown in the catacombs beneath the city. Good for him)! The rebels' leaders, the two brothers Xotalanc and Techultli, later argued over a woman they both desired, which caused a very violent feud between their respective followers. The Xotalancas had the habit of collecting the heads of their Techultli enemies and keeping them on shelves, while the Techultli hammered a red nail in a black pillar for every Xotalanc murdered. After a few generations, both tribes were now very few in numbers and rapidly dying out.
Conan and Valeria are hired by Techultli's king, and just the following night the Xotalancas risk everything in one massive assault that leaves all of them dead. Conan is sent by Techultli's king to the Xotalanc corner of the city, just to make sure nobody's still hiding out there, but it is a dupery: he instructs some of his men to murder the Cimmerian. Needless to say, the murder attempt fails.