November 29, 2011

Conan the Barbarian # 4 - Thomas & Windsor-Smith

One of my favorite fantasy subgenres is ‘sword-and-sorcery’, and Robert E. Howard ascribed to this subgenre with his Conan saga. “The Tower of the Elephant” (published in April 1971) exemplifies the fertility of the ‘sword-and-sorcery’ frame, whilst including an unforgettable combination of fantasy and science fiction.

“Torches flare murkily in the maul this night… where certain denizens of Arenjun, thief-city of Zamora, hold their roaring revels”, that’s how the fourth issue of Conan begins. The Cimmerian is now in a city inhabited mostly by thieves, kidnappers and delinquents of all sorts. They all brag about their crimes, but for all their accomplishments, none has attempted to enter the Tower of the Elephant.

As a foreign visitant, Conan does not understand why all men and women in Arenjun are so afraid of Yara, the powerful wizard that dwells within the tower. But the barbarian as any other young man is full of vigor, enthusiasm and overconfidence. That’s why without any sort of planning, he ventures into the tower.

All barbarians are well known for their ability to climb, and so Conan has no problems escalating the walls of the tower, and in the gardens of Yara’s residence, he comes face to face with Taurus, a haughty Nemedian that has bestowed upon himself the sobriquet of ‘Prince of the Thieves’.

Unlike Conan, Taurus has prepared himself for this mission months in advance. He exterminates the mute lions of the garden with a powder made of the black lotus, a venomous plant of the exotic eastern regions; he also has enough tools to escalate the towers. Conan and Taurus decide that the best option for them is to work together, and since there will be more than enough gold and jewels for an entire army they won’t have problems in sharing the loot.

Of course, besides the guards and the lions in the garden, the tower has its fair share of defenses… and that’s why in one of the upper chambers, Taurus loses his life, poisoned by a gigantic black spider which Conan manages to drive away. Now, as I’ve pointed out before, the demise of Conan’s companions is one of the constants in Roy Thomas’ inaugural installments: Olav dies in the first issue, Kiord in the second, Dunlang in the third, and now Taurus in the fourth…

The darkest secret of the Tower of the Elephant is soon revealed to the young barbarian, as he beholds an uncanny figure, unlike anything he has ever seen in his life (there were no elephants in Cimmeria). This creature is alive and answers to the name of Yag Kosha, blindness prevents him from seeing the barbarian, but understands that behind Conan’s words there is not treachery but bravery.

During their conversation, Conan finds out that Yag Kosha comes from another planet, another galaxy, although because of Earth’s gravity he has been stuck on our planet for centuries. Yara has stolen the powers of Yag Kosha except for one last enchantment. It’s that enchantment which brings about Yara’s doom and the complete destruction of the tower. Once again, Conan escapes unscathed but without a single coin of gold, thus forced to keep on the run until new opportunities arise.

Barry Windsor-Smith’s first issues had an unmistakable Kirby influence. That no longer seems to be the case, as he starts applying cross hatching techniques (which I’m personally very fond of) to create textures and define volumes. His love for details it’s also evident in the first page: in the lower frame we see around twenty men and women, all in different positions, all with different attitudes, and we can observe what’s going on with them: some are drunk, one in particular (the one closest to the reader) is smoking in a pipe some sort of antediluvian opium and numbed by the drug, he doesn’t realize the woman sitting next to him is stealing his gold.

The page with the lions is pure movement and action, whereas the page with Yag Kosha is like the calm before the storm. There is the stillness of the monster and then one or two movements are enough to surprise the reader; with only eight panels this British artist manages to create an eerie atmosphere that captures our attention.
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Uno de mis subgéneros fantásticos preferidos es el de 'espada y hechicería', y Robert E. Howard explotó este subgénero con la saga de Conan. "La torre del elefante" (publicada en abril de 1971) ejemplifica la fertilidad de este tipo de relatos, al mismo tiempo que incluye una inolvidable combinación de fantasía y ciencia ficción.

"Las antorchas destellan lóbregamente al acecho de la noche... ciertos ciudadanos de Arenjun, la ciudad-ladrona de Zamora, celebran sus rugienten celebraciones", así es como inicia el cuarto número de Conan. El cimerio está en una ciudad habitada principalmente por ladrones, secuestradores y delincuentes de toda clase. Todos presumen de sus crímenes, pero a pesar de sus proezas, ninguno se ha atrevido a entrar a la torre del elefante.

Conan es un visitante extranjero y no entiende por qué todos los hombres y mujeres de Arenjun le tiene tanto miedo a Yara, el poderoso hechicero que reside en la torre. Pero el bárbaro, como cualquier otro joven, está lleno de vigor, entusiasmo y confianza excesiva. Es por eso que, sin haberlo planeado, se aventura a visitar la torre.

Los bárbaros son bien conocidos por su habilidad para trepar, así es que Conan no tiene problemas escalando los muros de la torre, y en los jardines de Yara, se encuentra cara a cara con Taurus, un arrogante nemedio que se ha otorgado así mismo el sobrenombre de 'príncipe de los ladrones'.

A diferencia de Conan, Taurus se ha preparado para esta misión con meses de anticipación. Extermina a los leones mudos del jardín con un polvo hecho de loto negro, una planta venenosa de las exóticas regiones de oriente; además, tiene herramientas para escalar la torre. Conan y Taurus deciden que la mejor opción es trabajar junsto, después de todo, habrá más que suficiente oro y joyas para un ejército entero, así que no habrá difucultad al repartir el botín.
my page / mi página

Desde luego, además de los guardias y los leones del jardín, la torre tiene otras defensas... y, de hecho, en una de las cámaras superiores, Taurus pierde la vida, envenenado por una gigantesca araña negra que Conan logra abatir. Tal como he señalado antes, el fallecimiento de los compañeros de Conan es una de las constantes de los relatos inaugurales de Roy Thomas: Olav muere en el primer número, Kiord en el segundo, Dunlang en el tercero y ahora Taurus en el cuarto...

El secreto más oscuro de la torre del elefante es revelado cuando el joven bárbaro contempla a una singular figura, distinta a todo lo que ha visto antes en su vida (no existen elefantes en Cimeria). Esta criatura está viva y responde al nombre de Yag Kosha, la ceguera le impide ver al bárbaro, pero entiende que detrás de las palabras de Conan no hay traición sino valentía.

Durante su conversación, Conan descubre que Yag Kosha viene de otro planeta, de otra galaxia, aunque a causa de la gravedad terráquea ha estado atrapado en nuestro mundo por siglos. Yara ha robado los poderes de Yag Kosha, excepto un último encantamiento. Y es este postrer encantamiento el que provocará el fin de Yara y la destrucción de la torre. Nuevamente, Conan escapa ileso pero sin una sola moneda de oro, su única opción es seguir viajando, a la espera de nuevas oportunidades.

Los primeros números de Barry Windsor-Smith tienen una clara influencia de Kirby. Este ya no es el caso aquí, ya que el artista aplica técnicas de entramado doble (que personalmente hago de vez en cuando) para crear texturas y definir volúmenes. Su amor por los detalles también es evidente desde la primera hoja: en la viñeta inferior vemos alrededor de veinte hombres y mujeres, todos en posiciones diferentes y con actitudes distintas, podemos observar lo que están haciendo: algunos están borrachos, uno en particular (el que está más cerca al lector) fuma en una pipa un opio antidiluviano y, entumecido por la droga, no se da cuenta que la mujer a su costado le está robando su oro.

La página con los leones es puro movimiento y acción, mientras que la página con Yag Kosha es como la calma antes de la tormenta. Hay inmovilidad en el monstruo, y luego un par de movimientos son suficientes para sorprender al lector; con sólo ocho viñetas, el artista británico crea una atmósfera siniestra que captura nuestra atención.

6 comments:

  1. I've never really read much Conan (a few issues of the original Marvel series and a handful of the Dark Horse stories), but the last several blog entries have provided a really interesting synopsis of those stories. Keep it up!

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  2. Oh, I will Jason! I'm having too much fun reviewing these classic Conan issues to stop.

    Like I said, you should get the reprints of the Thomas / Windsor-Smith run. As you will see in future posts, the best is yet to come.

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  3. I read only a couple of issues of Conan when I was a kid. They were interesting and I would have liked to read more, although there was never enough money for everything, so I never collected his mag.

    I like fantasy, myself. Have you read Tellos? It is for all ages, unlike Conan, but there may be similar elements that may make you like it.

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  4. Well, there are some amazing Conan stories waiting for you.

    I have heard lots of good things about Tellos, but I haven't read it.

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  5. If you see it, buy it whatever the cost. It is very good an also (sadly) quite short.

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  6. I will, César, thanks for the recommendation, I appreciate that.

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