Reread: Conqueror Of The Barren Earth Part 2


(Originally published April 27, 2013)

Jinal has seen her months of hard work going up in flames as a conqueror called Zhengla marches across the Barren Earth, destroying everything she’s built, and setting forth on the path of conquest that Jinal herself had decided to follow.  Now she finds herself the captive of Zhengla in this issue with a cover date of March, 1985.
(I don’t normally do Trigger Warnings, but there will be some discussion of rape and sexual violence, so be advised.)

But Jinal will escape!  Right?  …right?

Conqueror of the Barren Earth, “The Captive!”
Written by Gay Cohn
Art and Cover by Ron Randall
Edited by Ross Andru

We open with Jinal learning that a gilded cage is indeed still a cage as she waits in the luxurious chambers of a cavern overlooking the vast underground ocean, the ocean that was to serve as a vital component in her plans of conquest.
Now Jinal has to set aside those plans for the time being as she must first find a way to get out of this situation alive.  So she waits, thinking back on the lessons in meditation she had received as a cadet years before her ill-fated mission to Earth.
Finally, after hours spent sitting alone she’s greeted by a familiar face:  the shaman, Yisrah, who had been captured by Zhengla’s forces with her.
Yisrah informs her that he’s been spending time with Zhengla himself, having long-ago learned to recognize the inevitable, and as a result, pledging his services to the conqueror.
He further informs Jinal that Zhengla fully intends to make Jinal his queen.  (And really, who can blame him?)
Jinal doesn’t take either piece of news very well, and informs Yisrah that she views him as a traitor, and that he can tell Zhengla that if he tries any funny business she will straight-up murder him.
For his part, Zhengla takes the news well, and through the heavy door Jinal hears the sound of his laughter.
As she hears him approaching, she searches the room for anything she can use as a weapon, ultimately finding leather straps that she binds around her fists to add some extra oomph to her blows.
Zhengla enters the room tells her that she will not succeed in killing him and explains that he has had a vision in which she is at his side as he conquers the world:

Jinal is a certified Hander of Asses.

Despite her best efforts, which leave Zhengla bloodied and bruised, ultimately she’s no match for his strength and speed, and the fight ends with Zhengla’s declaration, “It’s over, Goldenhair!  By right of conquest, you are mine!”
On that note, we find ourselves off in deep space where the vessel known, fittingly enough, as The Conqueror, prepares for its eight-month journey to Earth, under the command of Admiral Rizek, who spends a little more time wistfully thinking about Jinal and remembering her attempt at talking Jinal out of going on the risky mission to Earth.
On Earth, Jinal wakes to find herself being tended to by Yisrah, learning that she’s been unconscious for several days as a result of her altercation with him.
He informs Jinal that she must rise and prepare, as Zhengla, being restless and ambitious, is riding out on another raid.  Yisrah comments that he has no doubt that Zhengla is fully-capable of conquering the world, and advise JInal to work with – and through – Zhengla to achieve her goals, given that his goals run largely parallel with her own,
She greets this advice with a sneer, and says that once Barasha returns with the Harahashan the tables will turn and Zhengla, being a savage who “deserves a savage’s fate,” will be her prisoner.
While neither JInal nor Yisrah knows how Zhengla learned of the existence of the waterworks, Yisrah notes that his people have mastered their use and are, perhaps, more than mere savages.
Zhengla informs Jinal that she will achieve her goal of uniting the world, but she’ll do so as his consort.  Jinal remains unimpressed:

Shorter Jinal:  “Go fuck yourself.”

Even so, as they ride off Jinal does have to admit that his army is pretty impressive, and she has her doubts that even Barasha’s people could beat him.
Their departure does not go unobserved, as Renna and Skinner escaped from the assault on the waterworks, and Skinner spots the unarmed Jinal, correctly reasoning that she’s a prisoner.  Once Zhengla’s forces have departed, the two plan to move on to find Barasha, but before they can they notice a ship – which must come from D’Roz, given the technology involved – briefly descending on area where Chairman Mangle made his last  stand and then speeding off.  Deciding that there’s no way for them to understand the motivations of the Old Ones, they head off in search of Barasha.
Meanwhile, as Zhengla’s army approaches its target, Jinal asks if she’s supposed to ride into battle unarmed.  Zhengla provides her with an axe, which Jinal attempts to plant firmly in his back as soon as it’s turned to her during the battle.  Once again he proves to fast for her, and upon catching it, throws it into the neck of her Slizek, killing it and sending her crashing to the desert floor.
Zhengla doesn’t respond well to the latest attempt on his life, and declares that if she won’t be his queen she will be his slave.
With the battle won, Zhengla surprises Jinal by being considerably less savage and barbarous than she expected, though he also is as good as his word and relegates her to the status of slave:

Burn!  Both figuratively and literally, given that it’s the desert.

We then get a montage of the next several months as Jinal is forced to cosplay as Slave Leia, while Zhengla continues his conquest of the world.  Still, Jinal’s spirit occasionally flares up, though it’s quickly beaten down.
One significant moment arises after the conquest of a particular city as Zhengla meets with the King of the Mulge, stating that he has offered the King any reward he desires in exchange for his assistance.  The fungus man makes his choice:

What does any man – or woman, for that matter – want with you, Jinal?

Zhengla points out that no one would dare make a move on his mate, but one of his slaves is fair game.  Ultimately Zhengla tells the Mulge King that he has to pick another reward, and he tells Jinal that clearly there are worse things than being with Zhengla.
As she spends more and more time in his presence, she realizes that it may just be the Stockholm Syndrome talking, but maybe Zhengla isn’t as bad as she initially thought.  He makes decisions that are tough but fair, and even wise, and it’s clear that he really is attempting to build a new, unified civilization.
Finally, as the two of them are alone in Zhengla’s throne room one night, he makes one last appeal, reaching out to gently touch her cheek.  While she no longer has the strength to fight, Jinal still recoils from his touch.
Saddened, Zhengla confesses that this is not what he wanted.  He wants the woman from his dream, the fierce, glorious warrior he first encountered in battle, and he wants her to willingly be at his side as he fulfills his destiny.
Further, if he can’t have that, he doesn’t want to go on at all.  He hands Jinal a gun and bares his chest to her.
With the gun in her hand, Jinal’s spirit returns, and the righteous fury building inside of her washes away all of the pain and humiliation.  This is what she wants.
But then Jinal went ahead and broke young Jon’s heart:

Jin, I am disappoint.

In the morning, Jinal asks Zhengla to tell her about the dream he keeps mentioning.
He explains that once he was the simple barbarian that Jinal assumed him to be, off in search of nothing more than mere treasure until one day he stumbled upon a Mulge pit and followed it down into the depths of the Earth, where he found a strange garden with a giant Smurf house in its center.  He went inside and killed the Mulge who were busy hovering over something – or someone – moaning and twitching on the floor.
It was a woman who had been infected with the Mulge spores – a generally fatal, but painful condition that we encountered in the pages of the backup stories – with mushrooms growing out of her eye sockets.
Though they had never met, the woman addressed him by name and commanded him to kill her.  She stated that she knew much, and would share it with him in exchange for his mercy.
”Kill me, Zhengla Koraz, and I will give you the most beautiful and terrible thing a man can have!  I will give you…a dream!”
Following her instructions, Zhengla killed her and took the mushrooms from her eyes, then made his way to the surface, where he was attacked by a wild Slizek.  He killed the lizard, then dipped the mushrooms in its blood and ate them and was given his dream.
He had a vision of conquest, in which a golden-haired woman with a flaming sword rode at his side, and in which even the great city of D’Roz fell beneath his heel.  Upon waking, he set out to make the dream a reality.
Once his story is finished Jinal tells him that from this day on his dream is also hers.  Their moment of tenderness is interrupted by call from outside, and the two rush out to see what all the fuss is about:

Is Zhengla wearing a terrycloth robe?

Up next:  Like it says, “The Warrior!”

Some Thoughts:
This one made me angry.
First, there were all of the indignities that Jinal suffered, so I was angry on her behalf, and then, then there was the betrayal of the readers faith in her, which made me angry at Jinal.
Granted, I understand that she had been beaten down, and that as satisfying as it might have been to see her kill Zhengla, what was her next move going to be?  She never would have made it out alive.
And sure, his goals align with her goals, and ultimately it was the most sensible move to make but…well, did she have to do it so enthusiastically?
I mean, okay, Fu Manchu mustache, questionable fashion sense, and forehead fungus aside, Zhengla is a pretty impressive specimen, but seriously, Jinal, I expected better of you.  What would the Admiral say?
(Whatever she would say, I’m sure it would start out with an, “Oh, Jinal…” that was heavy with suppressed longing.)
The especially annoying thing is that it only gets worse in the next issue.
Of course the most troubling aspect of this all is that while we don’t see it, there’s the clear implication of Jinal getting raped by Zhengla.  And not just raped, raped into a coma.
Given that what we actually see is pretty horrific, what we don’t see, those implied privations and moments of torture that Jinal suffered, must be that much worse.
His shrewdness, his “fairness,” and his noble intentions aside, Zhengla is a monster, so it’s extremely frustrating, to say the least, to see JInal give herself to him in this fashion.
Of course, all of this speaks to how well the character of Jinal had been developed up to this point, and that we, as readers, feel so invested in her that we are stung by her betrayal of our confidence in her strength and intelligence.
So I’m angry, but I suppose that, in a way, it’s a good kind of angry.  It’s demonstrative of how invested I am in the story of Jinal.
Hell, even seeing her in her sexy little slave outfit was annoying, because it’s just so not Jinal.  She has no business being submissive, or being objectified.
I mentioned “Slave Leia,” and there is a lengthy tangent I could go off on here about the iconic appeal of that particular scene and outfit, but that’s not really the focus here.  I will say that while for some there is the appeal of the “slave” aspect, for me it’s never been about that.  In fact, until I started encountering the term in the wider popular culture, I never referred to her as “Slave Leia,” but instead thought of her as “sexy leather and metal bikini Leia.”  For me, it was just that Carrie Fisher looked amazing.
Besides, she ultimately murdered Jabba, and if there was any layer of sexiness to those scenes for me beyond the outfit, it was that, not the slave aspect.
Unfortunately, we don’t get that kind of satisfying scene with Jinal.
All that aside, monster though he may be, Zhengla is an interesting character, and in terms of the story it was interesting to learn about the origin of his dream and his vision of Jinal…and how he got the mushrooms on his head.
Of course, in terms of his presentation, he is something of a racial caricature, with his cartoonishly Asian features and the odd hue of his skin.  I suspect that was intended to be evocative of Genghis Khan or Attila the Hun, and while not cutting them too much slack, it was very much in line with the way any sort of non-white character was presented at the time, and it’s at least an improvement over some of the truly awful presentations of minority characters in the history of comics.
Also, the quality of color reproduction in offset printing at the time – at least in the printing used for comics – didn’t really allow for more natural hues, though, again, that’s not really a justification.
Even so, I have to admit that back when this came out I was so angry that I was tempted to not read the next issue, but I had to see what Barasha would have to say about it all, as, after Jinal, he was my second-favorite character.

The Art:
We see some more of the distorted anatomy and the odd perspective in this one.  However, shorn of the context, Jinal’s outfit actually would be kind of sexy, so I’ll give him props on that.
The real strength of the art in this issue, though, lies in the brutal conflict between Jinal and Zhengla.  It’s clear that while she’s outmatched, Jinal delivers some truly vicious damage to Zhengla, which helps to underline just how dangerous an opponent he is, and the whole sequence feels really raw and real.
Still, I think Randal would have benefited from having someone else ink his work, as he seems to be the kind of penciller who really needs to have an inker who can complement his work, as his ink work tends to be a little thin.
I’m not sure who that inker should have been, as some of the best inkers would have likely overpowered his pencils.  Jerry Ordway, for example, would have left no trace of Ron Randall on the page.  Terry Austin, who was the perfect match for John Byrne back in the X-Men years, seems like someone who is able to adapt to any penciller’s style, so maybe he would have been a good match.  Regardless, they should have brought someone in to handle the inking chores.
Again, I think that printing this in the “new format” would have been a better choice on DC’s part, as it really would have benefited from the higher-quality paper and printing process, which might have helped address some of the problems with Zhengla’s skin tone.

Bonus Thoughts:
In this issue there was a house ad for the launch of the Amethyst ongoing series.  I just thought that was worth mentioning.
And apparently I really read things wrong – in the ad there’s text saying “And who is friend and who is foe are no longer simple questions!”  Said text is placed below an image of Prince Topaz and Lady Turquoise sharing a romantic embrace.  Oh, Turquoise – you disappoint me almost as much as Jinal.  I thought you had better taste than that.
Also worth noting is something from the “Meanwhile…” column written by the late Dick Giordano – who, come to think of it, would have been an excellent choice to handle the inking duties on this – who was at that time the Executive Editor at DC.
In “Meanwhile…” which ran in every DC comic, Dick would share behind-the-scenes information about what was happening at DC, and provide previews of and hints about upcoming comics and events.
This particular column had a segment talking about a proposal from Swamp Thing writer Alan Moore for a special maxi-series utilizing characters that DC had recently acquired from Charlton Comics.  Dick mentioned that the proposal would render the Charlton characters unusable in the wider DC Universe and conflicted with plans that were already in place for using them, so he had asked Alan to devise some new characters in their place and to proceed with his plan, a request with which Alan had agreed, and, as of that writing, Alan was busy at work on developing the idea with artist Dave Gibbons.  The maxi-series, the “wonderful concept” for which Dick referred to as being “gutsy,” and “grittily realistic,” was tentatively titled Watchmen.
There’s also a reference to another upcoming comic, the title and subject of which Dick was not at liberty to divulge, which was being worked on by a hot young writer-artist named Frank Miller.
It’s clear from the description that the comic in question was most likely The Dark Knight Returns.
Motherfucking comic book history all up in here!

Born and raised in the sparsely populated Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Jon Maki developed an enduring love for comics at an early age.

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