Hither Came Conan: Iron Shadows in the Moon, the Bible, and Dark Horse
Timothy Truman turned sixty-three recently. Truman is one of the leading graphic book writers and artists in the industry. He was a cornerstone of Dark Horse’s Conan line, both writing and drawing.
Truman scripted “Iron Shadows in the Moon,” which Morgan Holmes recently expounded on. So, today we’ve got a bonus Hither Came Conan post, looking at Dark Horse’s version. Along with some discussion of the ‘before and after’ in that storyline.
The Free Companions covered issues 16 -18 of Dark Horse’s Conan The Cimmerian run. They picked up the storyline after the end of “Black Colossus,” with Conan at Yasmela’s side, to the disapproval of the Khorajans. He rescues her brother, king Khossus, but by story’s end, is displaced by Prince Julion of Muric (Al-Muric), an exiled stepson of King Strabonus.
Issues 19 – 21, Kozaki, cover Conan leading the Free Companions. After being dismissed from Khorajan service by Al-Muric, they raided willy nilly, building up some enmity.
But all of this is muddled together, as Dark Horse has Conan, near dead, in the swamps of the Ilbars River, the lone survivor of the Free Companions. And until Shah Amaruth shows up, pursuing Olivia, the story is a mélange of flashbacks involving Conan, Olivia’s story, and activity in the swamps. It will take more effort than it’s worth to sort through all that, so I’ll just work in a relatively linear fashion, time-wise.
I’m working from the Conan Omnibus #4, Mercenaries and Madness, so there might be some inconsistencies here and there with how the original issues are laid out. Such is life.
Truman adapted Issues 22 – 25 of “Iron Shadows in the Moon,” wrapping up the Conan the Cimmerian run. The legendary Roy Thomas would script the twelve-issue The Road of Kings storyline, leading up to events of “Queen of the Black Coast.”
Because of the flashback approach, much of the background of Howard’s “Iron Shadows” has already been told. The fight at the Ilbars River, Olivia’s story of slavery to Amaruth, Conan barely subsisting in the swamp as he hides from the Shah’s men, and the opening scene of the story, with Amaruth capturing Olivia, then being butchered by Conan, appeared in prior issues.
From the title page, Dark Horse’s “Iron Shadows” starts with what is Oliva’s dream sequence in Howard’s story. With no frame of any kind, the story of the ‘Children of the Nameless Gods, who dwelled on an island in the Great Inland Sea.’
In six paragraphs, Howard tells the story of how the Iron Statues came to be, dripping with menace and descriptors. I think it’s an excellent example of his ability to convey a lot of interesting information without excess verbiage to do so.
Truman uses six pages and twenty-nine panels, to do the same. BTW – Tomas Giorello and Jose Vaillarrubia did most of the art and coloring for this issue, and I think it looks absolutely fantastic!
“A golden-haired Son of Heaven came to them, that he might walk among them and learn their ways.” However, the proud and arrogant warrior race tied him to a pillar and tortured and then killed him as a sacrifice to their own might, slitting his throat under the full moon.
The son had been crying out to his father just as he was killed. And then “came a din of thunder, as of unseen chariot wheels, and around the room shone a bright celestial light. The doors unto heaven were cast open, and the veil between the worlds was rent…and into the midst of the slayers came the Father, – a living God, materialized out empty air – in answer to his son’s plea.”
Yeah, you know things won’t be good for the home team…
The Father cursed the natives, “Yagkoolan yok tha, Xuthalla!” This is the same phrase the parrot cries out to Conan and Olivia, which is pretty cool. “Xuthal of the Dusk” is the next story Howard wrote about Conan, though I haven’t dug into the connections between the two (besides this phrase…).
They slowly petrify as they stand there, while the Father cuts loose his son’s chains and picks up the body. He turned and pointed to the moon, and the living statues understood the gesture – which is not spelled out any further either in Dark Horse or in Howard. It seems a bit more obvious in Dark Horse, with the illustrations accompanying the story.
That ends the “Iron Statues” story.
The Biblical overtones here are impossible to miss. While not exactly the same situation, it brings to mind The Parable of the Tenants. A vineyard owner had sent servants to collect his due from the farmer-workers.
They killed one, beat another, then stoned a third. The same happened to the next batch of servants. The third time, he sent his own son, thinking they would respect him. But they told themselves that they could kill the son and take his inheritance. So, they do kill him. When Jesus asks what his listeners think the owner will do, they reply, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end.”
The warriors did slay the son to offer him as a sacrifice to themselves, somewhat akin to gaining his inheritance, and when the Father did come, the wretches most certainly did come to a wretched end.
Also, the Son calling out to the Father as he is being put to death has similarities to Christ dying on the Cross. Jesus, tortured and close to death, cried out to God on the Cross. The Son, likewise innocent of wrongdoing but being foully abused, cries out to his Father, just before he dies.
Thunder, loud noise, bright light, the veil between worlds rent – clearly, something big has just happened: and is about to happen.
When Jesus died, the earth shook and rocks split. The curtain in the temple, which separated man from God, was torn in two. And in the story, the Father carries the Son back to heaven. While in the Bible, Jesus ascended into heaven after three days.
Howard was very familiar with the Bible, and it can be asserted, at least, that the inclusion of these elements was not accidental.
The next page begins with Olivia recounting her story, the first five pages of which had finished the prior issue in slightly different form. Olivia’s wording here makes it clearer than in Howard that she recognizes that her father was more barbaric in selling her than Conan’s people are – the supposed savages. Howard’s ongoing discourse regarding barbarism vs. civilization is never really very far from the surface of his stories.
I plan on writing a bit more on the Marvel and Dark Horse Conan stories, so I just thought I’d stretch my legs a little with this post. I may take a look at the storyline about Conan returning Olivia to her father, which reads like a de Camp/Carter pastiche (in general, I’m fine with those stories, so that’s not a dig).
Prior Posts in the Series:
Here Comes Conan!
The Best Conan Story Written by REH Was…?
Bobby Derie on “The Phoenix in the Sword”
Fletcher Vredenburgh on “The Frost Giant’s Daughter”
Ruminations on “The Phoenix on the Sword”
Jason M Waltz on “The Tower of the Elephant”
John C. Hocking on “The Scarlet Citadel”
Morgan Holmes on “Iron Shadows in the Moon”
David C. Smith on “The Pool of the Black One”
Dave Hardy on “The Vale of Lost Women”
Next Week it’s Jason Durall with “Xuthal of the Dusk/The Slithering Shadow”
Bob Byrne’s ‘A (Black) Gat in the Hand’ was a regular Monday morning hardboiled pulp column from May through December, 2018.
His ‘The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes’ column ran every Monday morning at Black Gate from March, 2014 through March, 2017 (still making an occasional return appearance!).
He also organized Black Gate’s award-nominated ‘Discovering Robert E. Howard’ series.
He is a member of the Praed Street Irregulars, founded www.SolarPons.com (the only website dedicated to the ‘Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street’) and blogs about Holmes and other mystery matters at Almost Holmes.
He has contributed stories to The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories – Parts III, IV, V and VI.
And he will be in the anthology of new Solar Pons stories coming this Spring.
I have the Dark Horse comics covered here. They were awesome, I think I need to take a weeks leave, lock myself away and binge read them from Conan #0 through to when my comic shop guy closed up shop and moved to Germany. Agree with you on Tim Trumans talent Bob. His contribution to the quality of the comic was immense.
In terms of the biblical references your insights are noted. I never really thought of it this way, maybe it was the sound of chariot wheels that had me thinking of Helios and Phaethon. I suppose either is a moot point in terms of the Hyborian Age, different time different gods so to speak, but the inspiration REH drew on is interesting.
Not much to say about this one, as I fell out of comics some time before Dark Horse fell into Conan. And of course the story’s already been commented on. But an interesting take on the Biblical echo to the backstory, which I never particularly noticed before, even though it is indeed, in retrospect, obvious. And a neat reminder that Conan’s supernatural world holds more than just demonic horrors; there are actual gods, and some of them they do actually do things, rather than just brood in the background like Crom and Mitra. (I figure Conan just likes to swear by those two in particular because he knows they’re not going to come down and smite him for it. Too much work, right?)
I know a lot of folks like some of the Dark Horse comics, but dislike a lot of the others. I thought that the adaptation of ‘Iron Shadows’ was pretty well done. And the stories before and after expanded the Conan saga pretty decently.
I’m an Evangelical Christian and I know my Bible fairly well. The two references came to me unbidden as I re-read the stories.
I’m only now starting to work my way through the later Dark Horses. And they have been a bit hit and miss. But the expansions here, as well as around ‘Rogues in the House,’ added to my enjoyment of the original stories.
I’d like to see Tim Truman involved with Marvel’s new Conan lines. I’ve struggled through the first two issues of Conan the Barbarian and hated them.
I think it’s a toss up whether Thomas/Buscema or Truman/Giorello/Villarubia is my favorite Conan team. Different eras, I suppose, so they can share my love.
Since you opened up the conversation about Marvel’s current Conan, Bob, I’m encouraged to voice my opinion, as well. I guess Jones is an executive editor on the book? I don’t know what that means for any involvement he might have in the series, but I agree with you, Bob—I got off Barbarian right after issue 1, and, after that experience, I have no interest in Savage Sword or anything else from Marvel. As a friend told me after reading Barbarian #1, “I don’t know what it is—maybe a good fantasy story—but it sure isn’t Conan.”
Marvel doesn’t understand the character. Perhaps this is unfair—because Dark Horse, at the end, was doing similar things by teaming up Conan with Wonder Woman or sending Red Sonja to the 21st century—but, in an upcoming teamup with Marvel superheroes, Conan has heard of a magical artifact so “of course” he is chasing it.
Sigh. No, Marvel, Conan would not be chasing it. Instead, that superstitious Cimmerian would be engaged in an expeditious retreat from its vicinity. Marvel thinks Conan is a Hero.
I loved this sequence of Dark Horse adaptations and expansions — it also managed to make Olivia a far better character than she really was. Unfortunately, it really was the beginning of the end. With all due respect to the legendary Roy Thomas, his run at Dark Horse was atrocious — tired, uninspired story lines that would have been substandard when he was writing in the 80s and was completely flat compared to the Busiek and Truman stories. And that marched us into the surprisingly bad Belit stories by what should have been a great writer, at which point the whole thing started unraveling.
I confess, I looked at the first Marvel Conan and was beyond underwhelmed. I love that Hocking’s second Conan book is finally seeing light, and Scott Oden writing a novella in Savage Sword is awesome, but I’d rather just have these later in their own right.
Greg glad to see I am not the only one who saw Roy Thomas’ run in Road of Kings as below standard. I stopped with the comic a bit later on more due to financial and convenience considerations (comic shop closed down) but was disappointed to hear DH had ceased publishing Conan. Their early days had some real gems, Jewels of Gwalhur mini series, The Book of Thoth which I loved, also the Born on the Battlefield sequence going over Conans childhood.