• Conan The Slayer Volume 2: The Devil In Iron

    Conan The Slayer Volume 2: The Devil In Iron
    Released by: Dark Horse Comics
    Released on: November 29th, 2017.
    Written by: Cullen Bunn
    Illustrated by: Sergio Davila
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    “Conan has killed the traitor Kyrylo, murderer of his own father, the Kozak hetman. But Conan could not save young Taraslan, Kyrylo’s brother and inheritor of their father’s mantle. Left vulnerable and leaderless, the Kozaks are attacked by Turanian assassins under cover of darkness during Taraslan’s funeral. As Taraslan’s body burns, the Kozak camp becomes a battlefield. Conan fights savagely alongside the Kozaks and finally faces the leader of the assassins. Suddenly, a figure rises from the flames—impossibly, it is the blazing spirit of Taraslan, who takes vengeance upon the enemy leader, burning the Turanian to cinders before disappearing back into the fire. Seeing their former leader’s intervention as an endorsement of Conan, the Kozaks acclaim the Cimmerian as their new hetman!”

    This issue begins at the remote island of Xapur. Though uninhabited, the island contains ruins of a prehistoric kingdom dating back long before Hyborian rule. The island rarely has visitors, but on this night things are a bit different. The pirates of Vilayet are here, waiting for Conan, the new leader of the Kozaks, so that they can discuss their mutual problem – Turan. The leader of these pirates is Sorella, his men are called The Reavers. He’s chosen this cursed island as a meeting place because there is no one here to listen in as they talk of killing the Turanians.

    Elsewhere, a ship sails across the Vilayet Sea, wind filling its purple sails. It’s a supply ship, a trader’s vessel, one that was very familiar with this route – but when a ship with no markings and no lanterns approached, they knew they were done for. Sorella’s archers make short work of the sailors as Conan watches from the pirate ship’s bow. These Turanians aren’t going down without a fight though, and Conan himself gets involved in the melee when it’s time to board. The scuffle takes him into the hull where he discovers the ship’s cargo – a massive ape, now freed by Conan and looking to exact revenge on those who caged it in the first place, and anyone else it comes into contact with for that matter!

    The next issue begins when a Yuetshi fisherman, caught in a storm, scaled the cliffs of Xapur only to find just what he was looking for – an ancient city where a perfectly preserved body of an ancient lay in rest, a ceremonial dagger laid on his chest. When the man tries to steal the blade, he realizes that the hulking body of the ancient man isn’t nearly as dead as he had hoped.

    Elsewhere, Jehungir plots against Conan again. He needs to be rid of him if he is to take over the Kozakis. Conan and his crew launch a series of raids, each more daring than the next, making things even more difficult for Jehungir. He and his advisor Ghaznavi plot to lure Conan to Xapur, where it is difficult to escape, after he’s been plied with women and wine – then they intend to hunt him down and kill him. A captured woman named Octavia will be the bait – though she’s none too happy about this. They setup a prisoner exchange to set all of this in motion, and sure enough, Conan drinks too much and gets friendly with the beautiful woman, just as it was planned.

    Octavia is no fool, however, and she manages to talk Conan into starting a fight. Conan emerges the victor but again, Ghaznavi has a way to keep the plan in motion by convincing him Octavia has escaped Jehungir and fled to Xapur…

    Conan’s always had a weak spot for the ladies, so it’s not a shock that he would follow Octavia to Xapur. As he searches the island for her he comes across the ruins for which the island is named. When he was on the island a few weeks ago the ruins where just that – ruins – but now they seem to have been rebuilt into a huge fortress. No humans could have built a structure this big in such a short time. When confronted with this insanity, Conan decides to leave, to get out of the east and head west from whence he came – but then he finds a shred of clothing that smells of Octavia’s perfume.

    He sees large footprints leading back towards the ruins and follows them. When lust overpowers his fear, Conan makes his way to the top of the wall and gazes on what lies on the other side – a huge, shining city, reborn but seemingly completely abandoned, there are no people nor animals here. Conan, being Conan, doesn’t want to leave empty handed and despite his better judgement continues further into the city to find the buxom blonde he’s been dreaming of since first meeting her. He makes his way into a room and finds a beautiful dark haired beauty named Yateli, who is decidedly nonplused about finding a sword wielding barbarian in her room. She tells him of the night before, when the Yuetshi scaled the walls only to be defeated by Khosatral magic – was it a dream? She’s not sure. She’s sleepy, her memory is foggy, but she seems to remember being stabbed in the chest the night before. Yet she’s alive, so it couldn’t have happened. Despite the woman’s advances, she’s not who Conan is here for. When she falls asleep he moves on, past a sleeping guard and into a chamber where a giant snake that seems to be a living statue lies coiled around a column.

    As he moves further into the belly of the building he hears drums, then voices, and then in some sort of trance he sees the origins of the being men call Khosatral Khel, how he had his slaves raise the city of Dagon and waged war against the Yuetshi only to be defeated by a priest and lay dormant for centuries – until that fisherman arrived on Xapur and inadvertently resurrected him.

    Jehunghir Agha and his men wait in hiding for Conan to appear, but so far the barbarian has done no such thing. He figures Conan is still searching for Octavia but wonders if the Cimmerian’s troops are nearby if they won’t come looking for their leader. Jehunghir decides he and his men will follow Conan into the island’s belly, leaving the wizard Ghaznavi and a half a dozen armed men behind with instructions to kill Conan should he slip past them and make it back to the marsh.

    Of course, Jehunghir Agha and his archers are shocked to find the ruins rebuilt – the men wary of the stories they’ve heard of the place, stories of horrible hauntings. Jehunghir Agha urges them forward, unaware that inside the walls Conan is doing battle with Khosatral Khel, and while the fiend may have the advantage Conan is Conan and being Conan, won’t go down without a fight. They brawl amongst the palace walls until Conan is able to distract the beast so that he and the lovely Octavia might make their way out. They bar the door and head up the stairs but it’s no matter, seconds later Khel is hot on their trail. Eventually their make their way to a dead end, a room with only one door and no windows. The door is metal as is the bolt that secures it and it buys them some time, but not enough time.

    Then, just as the door is about to come hurtling down, Khel stops. There are sounds outside but Conan uses this reprieve to find the blade that he saw in his vision, the blade that he thinks might be able to stop Khel where his sword was not. But in order to get to the dome where the blade rests, Conan must pass the copper throne and the massive supernatural serpent that rests upon it.

    Conan takes Octavia by the arm and pressures her to move quickly, telling her that this is a place of ghosts. They can’t be certain that the giant snake he just killed will stay dead. Eager to escape, Conan finds the door hidden in the wall and manages to get it open – he saw this in a dream, he has no other explanation for how he was able to find it as easily as he did. In this dream, possibly a taunt from the iron giant Khosatral Khel himself, he saw become a god to the natives and he saw him go on to demand blood sacrifices and how he was eventually defeated.

    The two survivors wander the halls and find the chamber where Khosatral was laid to rest. Conan insists that they find the knife that was used to do this – and then sure enough, beside the dead body of someone who tried to rob the tomb, they find just that. They make their way outside and head towards the place Conan hopes his boat still rests, screams audible in the distance, possibly from Jehungir Agha, the man who tried to use Octavia as a lure to trap Conan in the first place. The Cimmerian and his muse have no sympathy for this man, all of his warriors now laid to rest by the giant that calls the island fortress home. Of course, once they come face to face the draw swords and do battles.

    The Ghul that had followed Conan to Xapur is anxious, though the freshly slaughtered corpses left in Conan’s wake do appease him somewhere. Elsewhere on a nearby island, Ghaznavi finds that the trap he had meant to set for Conan has failed and that he is now the one in grave danger, the soon to be victim of what he assumes are demons. Conan pursues him, much to the dismay of lovely Octavia who requests that they head back and leave him be. Conan, however, wants revenge, even if this quest takes them to what Octavia calls ‘an evil place.’

    When they come across an empty village Conan can’t help but explore, despite his lady friend’s pleas to do no such thing. She notes that the skin and bones that litter the camp indicate that it is likely populated by cannibals but when he hears a scream nearby, he ignores that evidence and instead heads towards it. Here they find the inhabitants of the village about to feast on Ghaznavi. They’re about to leave him to his fate when Conan notices that the tribe also had some captive children on the menu and so, with sword drawn, the Cimmerian rushes in to save them. It goes well at first until one of the cannibals slashes Conan who learns the hard way that these tribesmen are quite adapt at poisoning their foes in combat. Octavia flees and hopes to provide a distraction but it’s no use, she’s captured too.

    When they awake, they’re bound on the altar just like Ghaznavi, which will make escape difficult indeed…

    A stunningly violent issue even by the admittedly very violent standards of the series, this issue nevertheless offers up a genuinely surprising twist and some really great moments of ‘pure’ Conan before it comes to its finish. It’s great stuff, seriously hard edged and played by writer Cullen Bunn with deadly seriousness. It’d be easy after a while for Conan to fall into self-parody or to come off as campy or overdone, but not here. Not in this series. This Conan is ferocious, his sword appropriately savage and his blood lust, while more often than not quite noble, difficult to quench. If he hadn’t been so hungry for revenge and had heeded Octavia’s words the two of them would have been able to easily get to safe ground but this need for true revenge that drives Conan to pursue an already weakened and useless Ghaznavi proves to be a fool’s errand. The dialogue ,the situations, the outcome and those twists, Bunn writes all of this like a seasoned professional, he’s clearly got a deep understanding of the character and the utmost respect for his legacy.

    As to the artwork from Sergio Davila, with beautiful coloring work from Michael Atiyeh, it’s been great since the first issue but it’s only gotten better in the last year or so since that first issue debuted. There’s a ridiculous amount of detail here and some panels that take up almost entire pages really give him a chance to show off how finely tuned his penciling skills are. His penchant for drawing the human body is also impressive. Conan is a sinewy musclebound hulk of a man, but he never looks inhuman, just fit. Octavia is curvy, meant to be attractive of course, but her proportions never seem ridiculous of unrealistic. And those cannibals, they’re genuinely frightening, as is the Ghul that has followed our barbarian friend for the last few issues. Atiyeh’s coloring brings this to life really nicely, making those jungle scenes look lush and green while giving the cannibal tribesmen an eerie, dusty almost alien look that seems wholly fitting.