When we last left Conan, he and his surviving comrades from the Gloryhounds were celebrating their narrow escape from the temple of Bel, God of Thieves. After a night of carousing, Conan and lissome rogue Chaundra the Chat tumbled into bed. As Conan the Barbarian issue 7 begins, however, Chaundra has undergone a startling transformation. The loquacious young woman has become a mute killer, with demonic aggression and strength that belies her slender frame. His life on the line, Conan has no choice but to dispatch his supernatural assailant. Battered and rattled, he stumbles out of the inn and into the streets, heading for the Gloryhounds’ secret hideout. As it has so often, his mind drifts back to reminiscences of his romance with slain pirate queen Bêlit, but he now finds his memories inexorably dragged into darker territory, warped recollections of events that never happened. It begins to dawn upon him that he and his fellows may have escaped the three spectres in Bel’s temple with their lives intact, but they emerged far from unscathed.
With this issue, the Conan the Barbarian “Thrice Marked for Death!” storyline begins sprinting towards its conclusion. This issue is full of both action and supernatural menace, giving both artist Doug Braithwaite and colorist Diego Rodriguez quite a workout. This is perhaps the goriest installment of Titan Comics’ Conan the Barbarian yet, with numerous limbs lopped and even a severed tongue. While dialogue is infrequent in this issue, Jim Zub’s breathless narration keeps pace with the artwork, highlighting Conan’s desperation as he struggles against formidable odds. Like all Cimmerian warriors, Conan’s is a life “measured in sword strokes,” writes Zub. It shines “bright and bloody.”
Appropriately enough, the accompanying Jeffrey Shanks essay explores Robert E. Howard’s use of horror in the original Conan stories. In Tolkien-style fantasy, magic and the supernatural tend to be inherent to the world. In Howard’s variety of sword & sorcery, however, he starts with a gritty, history-inspired setting where magic and monsters are “intrusive” elements. When the supernatural appears, something has gone deeply wrong and the protagonist is in mortal danger. This use of the otherworldly, of course, shares much with the horror genre. Howard’s blend of grounded settings with infrequent supernatural incursions made his stories a popular fixture of Weird Tales magazine and launched the sword & sorcery subgenre of fantasy, so it’s safe to say that this fantasy-horror mixture resonates with many readers. Zub’s work on the current Conan the Barbarian comic continues to carry the torch.
Conan the Barbarian issue 7 ends with quite a bombshell. While there’s only one issue left in the “Thrice Marked for Death!” storyline, it’s becoming clear that the effects of the cursed monolith introduced in the first “Bound in Black Stone” arc will continue to be felt in future issues as well. Issue 8 can’t come soon enough for this reader.