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Conan battles everything from a worm-eating demigod to a laser cat, but proves unable to overcome limp storycraft in this collection of graphic tales.
Collecting nine issues that were originally published monthly by Marvel Comics in 1983, Vol. 8 is the second with writer Michael Fleisher writing most of the stories. Back in Vol. 7, Fleisher showed an admirable willingness to play a bit with the Conan formula and shake up reader expectations. Here in Vol. 8, the stories get weirder, the storycraft shakier, and Conan ever-farther from the center of things.
Take "Devourer Of Souls." Conan is a mercenary with an army laying siege to a castle. Inside, the Devourer and his sorcerer-master await the coming of a time where a great jewel will expose humanity to the depredations of the Devourer's kin. The Devourer shoots lightning, teleports, and kills soldiers en masse, so why are he and the sorcerer allowing themselves to be stuck inside this castle under attack? It makes as much sense as Conan breaking ranks to sneak into the castle for something to steal and stumbling upon the unguarded jewel, and as much sense as Conan then being accused by his comrades of being a spy. Naturally, those things happen, too.
Really, how good can a Conan story be where Conan spends much of the story locked in a box? Not very. "Devourer Of Souls" doesn't even give Conan much of a role in the final confrontation, something it has in common with other stories here.
Conan still kills people, though. You can count on that. Fleisher changes that up here, too, though; having him heave a sword to transfix a foe from a distance not once but four different times in this volume. I don't know about you, but it struck me as a pretty sissy way for our brawny Cimmerian to operate.
Elsewhere in this volume, you get other problems. "Daughter Of The God-King," an opening two-parter, has a decent princess-rescue story that simply gets too convoluted as Fleisher keeps throwing in left-field plot complications. The last story here, "World Beyond The Mists," thrusts Conan without rhyme or reason into an alternate universe featuring his evilish double Konar. It reminded me of that "Star Trek" episode where Spock has a beard, but that was fun. This just drones on, rather grimly, to its nonsensical end.
Fleisher repeats himself a lot here, like serving up surprise endings with characters turning out to be not what the story leads you to believe. This would work better if Fleisher made these characters interesting in the first place. He also brings back his favorite villain, Captain Bor'aqh Sharaq, even though he was last seen in Vol. 7 being swallowed by a demon. Captain Sharaq is still in business, though, and still called "captain" though his ship sailed long ago. Burning for revenge against Conan, he escapes his hellish afterlife (a simple matter of blowing a hole through it) to go find him.
Captain Sharaq was a good villain the first time, back in Vol. 7, but the rematch later on in the same volume was its weakest story. By Vol. 8 he's become a kind of metal-encased Sideshow Bob, more suited to superhero comics than the reality-based fantasy of Conan's world. Yet Sharaq barely registers in the outcome of "The Jeweled Bird," which pits Conan against a giant tabby cat made of glass that shoots form-freezing rays from its eyes. It's not even the dumbest monster in that story; Conan fights a giant moth there, too.
There are a lot of dumb monsters in Volume 8 to go with the goofy plot twists. Too much supernatural mumbo-jumbo had overtaken the series by this point. The art isn't that good, either, even with John Buscema drawing most of it; too many blurry lines and mashed perspectives.
All in all, Vol. 8 is a depressing effort from people who showed that they could do much better.