The Chronicles of Conan Volume 2: Rogues in the House And Other Stories

The Chronicles of Conan

Volume 2:

Rogues in the House

And Other Stories




By the time that issue #9 of Conan the Barbarian came along, writer Roy Thomas and artist Barry Windsor-Smith had settled into being a very tight team indeed.  The difference between The Garden of Fear and that now primitive-seeming debut issue is vast, both in artwork and storytelling. Here Thomas (as he was to become increasingly adept at doing) adapts one of Robert E.  Howard’s non-Conan tales.

Making their way back through Corinthia, after having fallen foul of the law in Nemedia, the Cimmerian and the beautiful, deceitful Jenna of Shadizar find themselves in the rugged mountain range of that country.  Here Conan is welcomed as one of their own by a savage hill-tribe and the scene of him dancing with them at a feast is a delight—as well as a reminder of how ‘uncivilized’ he is.

Windsor-Smith is really given his head in this tale and rises to the artistic challenges admirably, with some truly stunning silent panels (which were still rather novel in the early seventies).  He and Thomas –not for the last time—find rather ingenious ways around the restrictive Comics Code that was then so stifling in mainstream work.

When they arrive in one of Corinthia’s many city-states for #10’s Beware the Wrath of Anu he is reunited with Burgun, who we had last seen in lost Lanjau.  The two become friends as well as master thieves who torment the authorities of the city.  So much so that Burgun finds himself dangling from the end of a rope (quite shocking back then in its depiction).

The inclusion of Burgun is another clever example of working throwaway elements from Howard into a satisfying and cohesive whole…and also acts as a nice introduction to Rogues in the House, which is, strictly speaking, one of the few (only?) original Conan stories not to have supernatural overtones.  They made this issue, the eleventh, an extra-long one and it is quite simply outstanding. Jenna of course has by now returned to her duplicitous ways and in revenge for betraying him Conan drops her from a height into a giant pool of shit.  It’s a scene that still makes me laugh.  If only all problems with women could be solved in this way. (Just joking.  I think.)

The extra pages left Smith with a problem time-wise as regards how much he could illustrate whilst keeping to his high standard; and so #12, The Dweller in the Dark, is a much slighter work.  It is still good, though; and again the two are pushing the boundaries.  Smith’s art work is quite sleazily erotic in its depiction of a near-naked Queen Fatima (“I was tired of the old hag anyway”, says the charming barbarian); and Thomas having Conan deliberately throw her to the Dweller in the Dark is to my mind very much in keeping with Robert E. Howard’s portrait of the Cimmerian.  I never really got the idea that grew up in the pastiches by less talented writers that this guy had ‘a code of honour never broken’.  It’s quite obvious even in the comic-books that he’s a blood- mad, murderous psychopath.  Still, I know that a lot of enthusiasts don’t want to see that.

For #13 and Web of the Spider-God Thomas asked for the plot to be written by John Jakes, who was then making a name for himself with a blonde Conan-type hero in the form of Brak the Barbarian.  At the end of Rogues Conan had made it clear that he was on his way to western Argos and the sea, but here he drifts back into Zamora.  Incidentally I would count this as the fourth comics tale with non-supernatural elements, following on from Lair of the Beast-Men, Devil-Wings over Shadizar and Rogues in the House.  In the first we have evolved apes; in the next two we have what are essentially a giant bat and a giant man-ape respectively; here we have a bloody great spider, one that even that fella at the top of Jack’s beanstalk would have a problem flushing down his bathtub.  Never mind; our barbarian hero dispatches him to that great web in the sky in double-quick time.

For reasons that Thomas explains in his excellent afterword, issues #14 and #15 were put aside for reprinting in the third volume and we jump forward to #16.  This was in fact a reprint in colour of a Conan story from Marvel’s attempt to enter into competition with Warren Comics’ very successful black-and-white range of more graphic magazines, Savage Tales #1.

Staying fairly close to Howard’s original it is the very problematic The Frost-Giant’s Daughter.  Both in Howard’s original and in the adaptation there’s no getting around it, fanboys:  our hero was intent on rape.  Tell me again about that ‘fighting man’s code never broken’.

Chronologically it takes place before the events of issue #1 but after the barbarian’s baptism of blood at Venarium.   And talking of which, despite my reservations about the age of Conan in volume 1, Thomas has now settled down to the more-or-less accepted chronology—which would put the events in this volume as taking place at around Conan’s 19th and20th years.

This is another excellent addition to the canon and once again, with the fully restored text and remastered colour these stories look even better than they did in 1971 and 1972.   

Author: Charley Brady

Share This Post On


  1. By and large the code is crap but I disagree in one area; Conan does genuinely care about his allies (or as someone put it if your good to him he’ll repay the kindness if you wrong him he will repay you even if it takes years;) he has standards but he’s no boyscout

  2. Well, there’s no doubt that he is ‘a good hater’, as he’s described in ‘Beyond the Black River’. Of course, that was equally applied to Howard himself. Then again, I can never read ‘Queen of the Black Coast’ (an astonishingly overrated work in my opinion) without being appalled at the indifference Belit and he show to their black comrades. Actually, it wouldn’t matter what colour they were, it’s just pretty callous.

    Of course, the real crux is in ‘Frost Giant’ and on that note I recently re-read a Rehupa essay on it by Rick McCollum and it planted an idea with me that gives just a small excuse for Conan’s actions there. Still, it’s just an idea of mine and I may go back to that.

    You probably already dip into REHUPA; if not, try some of their work on the net — it’s fascinating.

    And if you are reading the rest of these summaries I hope that you enjoy them as much as I do writing them. I’ll be posting Volume 7 next week.

    Thanks for taking the time to write, Ryan.

  3. Ouch! Slap my wrist, quick! Days later and it’s just dawned on me that the ‘good hater’ quote was from ‘A Witch Shall be Born’. Too much going on in the old bonce last week, I’m afraid! Apologies.

  4. Conans vengeance on the priest is super in dark horse. Everything done is to get his hands on these miraculous healing potions; Conan forces the priest to drink it chops his head off and chucks the living head into the flames. And because of the potions the priest is conscious the whole time

    Marvel does handle the death of the black sailors better

    One of the few good post roy marvel stories has an immortal warrior named vondharr fall in love with jenna to the point he sacrifices himself to save her. When Conan explains this Jenna is oblivious and Conan appalled at her callousness (a man gave his soul to save her) leaves her in the woods he’s so sickened.

  5. “Marvel does handle the death of the black sailors better”.

    Totally agree with you on that, Ryan. Of course Thomas had three years in which to flesh out the back story, something that Howard compresses into a very short story. I’m convinced that he would have filled in the blanks eventually if he hadn’t found himself in that dark moment that led to his suicide.

    I’ve only just finished ‘Brothers of the Blade’ which leads up to Conan’s prolonged stay with Belit, a character that — if memory serves me, since I FIRST read these years ago — I never warmed to, even in the comics version. I’m trying to go through these in order, though. Since you’re obviously a serious reader I’d be curious to see your take on Volume 7. I must confess that when I first read these that one almost stopped me going further. But Volume 8 is just terrific.

    I’ll have that up shortly and I took time to mention in it something that I left out of the review of ‘Age of Ultron’ — a very nice, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, tip of the hat to the great Roy Thomas himself.

    Interesting mail, Ryan. Thanks. And if you’re not already reading my re-takes on the collected weird fiction of Howard, check them out. I wholeheartedly recommend these books.

    I would also recommend, in case you’ve missed it, a movie on Robert E. Howard called ‘The Whole Wide World’, which has Vincent D’Onofrio superb as Howard. If you haven’t seen it, you are in for a treat. By God, that actor just nails the part!

  6. Vol 15 had the Jenna story and I liked it because it was tragic; Vondharr was a genuinely likable character and the story makes it clear that the reason it’s tragic is the waste. Conan explains what Vondharr did, and Jenna just looks at him like “duh what do you mean.” She can’t even comprehend that. Conan sees the naked ambition and selfishness in the moment, and is appalled. Conan, sickened and disgusted by her callousness, simply rides away and leaves Jenna in the woods.

    All in all it worked; most
    of the stories were meh but that ending was so tragic and beautiful it made up for it in some ways.

    Dark Horse is a mixed bag; Busiek had great ideas but sometimes bumbled on the execution (one example is Janissa. Some ideas of her backstory, such as that she didn’t want to conform to her shithead father’s plans for her, escaped and tried to learn the blade, are awesome. The idea was that this mysterious witch the bone woman helped her get those skills…..but in the process Janissa became bound to the Bone Woman and traded one master for an even more horrible one. Again, totally cool idea. The problem was that Busiek incorporated a lot of demon rape and gave her an absurd outfit.)

    Timothy Truman was better in a lot of ways; the Queen of the Black Coast series sucked ass (Brian Wood had interesting ideas but did a pretty bad job executing them.) Conan the Avenger – the latest series – is actually pretty good once you get past the weird art; it manages to have black characters who are well rounded and sympathetic and it isn’t pc about it.

    There are some other miniseries that are controversial
    Book of Thoth: I enjoyed it however the art is weird and at times it does feel like a revenge of the sith ripoff; nevertheless Thoth’s rise is brutal and evil and there is a sense of tragedy in how his friend Kalanthes (the guy thoth was trying to kill in god in the bowl) failed to realize Thoth’s nature because he was blinded by friendship. The ending is also chilling when we see the final ember of thoth’s humanity die.

  7. Woah hoss, hold your blood there, Ryan! You’re way ahead of me with this Volume 15 stuff. Could we take this debate over to the review of Volume 8? I’m a long way from 15.

    I still don’t know, however, your feelings on the source material, which for me must always be Robert Howard’s sublime original 17 tales in and just after his lifetime.

    I’ll add that the fragments and posthumously printed, completed stories such as ‘The God in the Bowl’and the woefully under rated ‘Vale of Lost Women’ are in there too.

    As much as I enjoy my totally unconnected day job, this is my passion; and it’s nice to find people like yourself who share that passion.

    Unfortunately, it limits how often I can get these out, otherwise I would have the first 14 up already. I’m wary of going farther since I only started these Dark Horse reviews because I wanted to see my thoughts on Roy Thomas’s take specifically down in writing.

    It should be obvious by now that I don’t see Conan as either the best of Howard’s writing nor the noblest –that I leave to Bran Mak Morn. But I’ll get to him, give me time.

    Hell, give me time away from the job and I’ll be boring you with his wonderful writing on Billy the Kid.

    Thanks, as always, Ryan — and keep challenging me. I always want to hear someone else’s take on this material that I love so much.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.