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Monday, June 10, 2019

"Child of Sorcery" - a Review from Savage Sword of Conan 29


Savage Sword of Conan #29 (May 1978)
"Child of Sorcery"
Roy Thomas-Ernie Chan

Sometimes when you're a so-called blogger, you read a story and just know you're going to review it. This is one of those stories. I recently read this for the first time, from the Dark Horse collected edition Savage Sword of Conan, volume 3. Those are wonderful books, and I'm happy to own the first four volumes. Long out of print, I should pick up whichever copies in the series on which I can lay hands. Just like Marvel's Essentials and DC's Showcase Presents lines, they are a super-affordable way to get a ton of material as reprints.

This story was of course written by uber-Conan scribe Roy Thomas, based on a story originally conceived by Christy Marx. I did some minor digging to find out about Marx (I'm certain I'd not heard of her before or since), and here's what I discovered:
Christy Marx (born c. 1952) is an American screenwriter, author, and game designer, best known for her work on various TV series including Jem, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Conan the Adventurer, G.I. Joe, Hypernauts, and Captain Power. She is also known for her original comic book series Sisterhood of Steel as well as work on Conan, Red Sonja, and Elfquest. Marx has also authored several biographies and history books (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christy_Marx).

Further, from an interview on the Things From Another World site, back in 2012:
TFAW.com: How did you break into the comics industry?

Marx: It was a combination of luck and preparation, as these things usually are. I lived in L.A. at the time and Roy Thomas had just moved to L.A. while still working for Marvel. I found out that he’d be speaking to a group of fans in a small setting (not a convention), so I showed up with a Conan story I’d written, listened carefully to the questions being asked, and then at the end asked him the question nobody else had the bothered to ask. While I still had his attention, I asked him if he would read the story. He did and he bought it and that was my first sale.
So there you have it. Who knew? Not me - that's why I looked her up!

NOTE: Our friend Pete Doree gave some thoughts, as well as scans, of the complete story just a few months ago. You can check that out here. But since you came to this space today, you must also be curious of my thoughts. Well, away we go!

100-Word Review:
A priestess, nay - a goddess - sits staring at the northern mountains. Her solace is interrupted by the clamor of other priestesses bringing a teen before her. The teen is accused of being found in the embrace of a man, something that is apparently forbidden. After an argument the goddess wins, the priestesses depart, and the older woman spins a tale of her own youth to the girl at her feet. She tells of a wizard who once entered the nunnery, and who spirited her away via a winged demon. Able to send an astral form in search of a champion, she found... Conan the barbarian.
 

The plot is slightly thicker than that, but hey - I only give myself a measly hundred words to whet your appetite. Onward.

The Good: I really liked this story. It's not perfect, and seems to borrow from other sources - sources as disparate as the fairy tale about Rapunzel and Meat Loaf's Paradise by the Dashboard Light. But it ends in a twist that I suppose we should all have seen coming; to my admittedly limited knowledge on all things Conan, the man had no known offspring before becoming king of Aquilonia. Apparently, not so - he did! And I think that's what I liked best about this. It sort of blew the lid off an issue many of us probably suspected all along - let's face it, Hyborian birth control ain't the pill, IUD, or condom! So why wouldn't Conan have a daughter? Or 23?

Ernie Chan's art is as we'd expect - it's just vintage Ernie. It's his own, yet as you read through the 20 pages, you can see elements of Barry Smith, of George Perez, and of course of John Buscema. The final product ends up being a nice stew of all of the above, with Ernie's lush inking of his own pencils to ice the cake. I found the art very comfortable, as I do most work I see between the covers of Savage Sword. There is the occasional odd fit (Carmine Infantino's story in SSoC #34 was better than expected, but I think Alfredo Alcala had a hand in that), but overall the Filipino masters and of course Big John always gave us a treat.

I'll get to a few of the aforementioned plot elements in my next section, but here I'll flip a kudo Roy Thomas's way. The man consistently gave Conan the voice we'd expect, and also wrote the nasties wonderfully. The wizard in this story is no exception. Shoot, even the uppity priestesses near the beginning of the tale seem perfectly voiced. Roy's dialogue smooths some of those plot head-scratchers.

 

The Bad: OK, it's not bad, really. But the plot device where our protagonist animates a few strands of her hair such that they form a very long braid, strong enough for Conan to climb, seemed a bit of a rip-off. I also felt that the whole "the girl was seen in the embrace of a man!" was not sufficiently explained. Were these women like the Amazons of Paradise Island? Was the encounter with the wizard when our narrator was a young woman the catalyst for this man-hate? Sure, I could infer either of the two scenarios and feel good about it. But maybe the story's small length of 20 pages hindered the revelation of such details. But my imagination is good enough.

I'd actually have liked to witness a goddess/sorceress cat-fight somewhere in the narrative. That might have been cool.

I found Chan's wizard evil, but not Buscema-esque over the top evil. He fit the bad guy bill, if underwhelmingly. Conan, after many trials, gave the fellow his just desserts.


The Ugly: Ah, this isn't horrible, either... probably falls more into the "Really?" category. But I had to laugh when I read Roy's exchange between the goddess and Conan the morn following their post-coital bliss.

She: If -- if I come with you, will you stay with me forever? Will I turn to you... and always find you there?
Conan: No. I cannot promise that.

Paradise by the Dashboard Light was also released in 1977. Witness this:

She:
Stop right there
I gotta know right now
Before we go any further
Do you love me?
Will you love me forever?
Do you need me?
Will you never leave me?
Will you make me so happy for the rest of my life?
Will you take me away and will you make me your wife?
Do you love me?
Will you love me forever?
Do you need me?
Will you never leave me?
Will you make me so happy for the rest of my life?
Will you take me away and will you make me your wife?
I gotta know right now
Before we go any further
Do you love me?
Will you love me forever?
 
He:
Let me sleep on it
Baby, baby let me sleep on it
Let me sleep on it
And I'll give you an answer in the morning
Let me sleep on it
Baby, baby let me sleep on it
Let me sleep on it
And I'll give you an answer in the morning
Let me sleep on it
Baby, baby let me sleep on it
Let me sleep on it
I'll give you an answer in the morning
 
Now our Conan was a bit more emphatic than that, but the message was the same - "Nope". So it's not at all the worst part of this story, but it did make me smile.
 
 

3 comments:

  1. Hmmm, this sounds cool; I'll have to see if I can find it somewhere, since I liked Christy Marx's writing on Sisterhood of Steel (about a young woman being initiated into a band of female mercenaries); Mike Vosburg did the art and it was a pretty cool mini-series (8 issues if I remember right, but there's probably a trade somewhere).

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  2. Nice review, Doug. Yeah, you can't miss with those old Savage Sword stories, and based on the images posted at Pete's site, I can see Chan's art was up to par. I never knew Marx wrote a Conan story. Otherwise, I was also going to mention Sisterhood of Steel, which I read for the first time last year. Like Mike notes, it's a pretty cool series - not a mini, by the way, rather it was cancelled, although Marx and Vosburg were able to conclude their initial story so it didn't end on a cliffhanger. It's never been reprinted as far as I know (I read it, erm, online), but Marx later wrote a follow-up graphic novel that had a different artist.

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  3. I never spotted the Meat Loaf connection, nice one!

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