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Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Hypothetical Adventures of Conan, Part One

I've never been a fan of Marvel's various What If... series, mostly because they a lot of 'em just don't work from a fundamental storytelling level. Either nothing changes (What if the Punisher's family lived? They'd die like a week later.) or it's way too much (What if Captain America formed the Avengers? Well, the Red Skull would also take over the country in the forties, the Punisher would be Iron Man, and the Sub-Mariner never would've come back in Fantastic Four).

And sometimes they just don't make any sense. I mean, apparently, the Avengers winning "Atlantis Attacks" was entirely contingent on the Punisher and Moon Knight, and while I appreciate that Frank Castle and the Fist of Khonshu can make a difference, I've got the sneaking suspicion that Thor and Iron Man could've pulled out the win anyway.

It's maddening. And it's a problem that can only be solved with a liberal dose of Conan the Barbarian. Because the answer to pretty much any question that starts with "What if Conan..." is always the same: somebody would get their ass kicked.



What If #39 dabbles in the same kind of nonsense that I was talking about earlier, because honestly: a fight between Thor and Conan would last about four seconds, three of which would be taken up with Thor swinging his hammer around and shouting something about how the Odinson shant brook this manner of nonsense and Conan coming to the sudden realization that the Nemedian Chronicles were going to end a few pages short of a full run. This thing's got twenty-two pages to fill, though, so what we actually get is "What if a substantially de-powered amnesiac Thor battled Conan?"

But that's okay.

Because--just in case you missed this part--it has Thor fighting Conan.



Ah, that's the stuff.

This particular story begins--as all stories should--with Thor slugging it out with a bunch of giants. One quick trip through a magic cave later, and the Odinson's wandering around the Hyborian age, stumbling across a bunch of dudes who were on the wrong end of Conan's occasional thievery. Conan deals with them in the reasonably efficient manner of dropping a couple tons of rocks on them from a cliff, almost hitting Thor in the process.

Needless to say, this sparks the conflict promised on the cover, and while it only lasts for about five pages, it is a thing of the purest beauty.

It finally ends when Thor picks Conan up and throws him thirty feet into a pile of rocks--while saying "Naught shall satisfy me now save the rending of thy flesh and the cracking of thy bones," a phrase that I intend to use at work at every conceivable opportunity--and they decide to be friends. Because that's how they rolled back then.

Eventually, Thor decides to go find Crom, which in and of itself is totally badass, and only gets moreso when Crom explains that Thor doesn't have his power because he exists in a time before the rise of the gods of Asgard... and Thor reacts by throwing his hammer at him.

Unfortunately for Thor, Crom's at the height of his power, and lazily chucks Mjolnir into the grasp of everyone's favorite Hyborian necromancer, Thoth-Amon, seen here wearing what appears to be Loki's headgear and talking nonsense:



Yeah, anything that guy wants the hammer for is probably bad news. Which is why Conan and Thor bust into his hideout in the City of Magicians and start kicking ass, which is about the time that Thoth Amon decides to throw some lightning... at Thor.

You can probably figure out how that's going to end up.

Unfortunately, Thor's mortally wounded, having--and I quote--"perished this day that men might live," and as his last request, asks Conan to take Mjolnir back to Crom. And he does, climbing back up Crom's mountain and apparently BECOMING A GOD.

And that is totally kickass.

And it's a much happier ending than you'll get from What If... (V.2) #16, wherein Conan goes up against a little-known and seldom-appearing member of the X-Men called "Wolverine."



Like pretty much every What If... that features the X-Men, this one revolves around the Dark Phoenix saga, and if you go back up to Paragraph 8 and replace "Thor" with "Wolverine" and "magic cave" with "the Watcher's house," you're pretty much caught up to speed on how this one kicks off. Also of import is the fact that Red Sonja apparently looks just like Jean Grey. Keep that in mind, because it's going to end up leading to the destruction of the universe.

Yeah. It's one of those stories. And it's significantly less awesome than Thor battling Conan, mostly due to the fact that a vast portion of it's given over to a hirstute, and in this case brain-damaged, Canadian wandering around in a berserker rage and a loincloth, and not much else.



But again, that's okay. I'll explain.

By the time the whole thing's over, Conan and Wolverine end up switching places in time, with Wolverine getting to ride off into the sunset alongside Red Sonja and her chainmail bikini, while Conan pretty much gets the shaft, being sent back to the present-day Marvel Universe about thirty seconds before the Phoenix destroys everything.

But not before we get the single greatest moment in Conan history. Prepare yourself.



CONAN KILLS THE SUPER-SKRULL.

WITH A BROADSWORD.

ON THE MOON!


Congratulations, ISB Reader! YOU ARE NOW FREAKING OUT.




Next, On The ISB!

What if Conan the Barbarian walked the Earth in the 20th century... twice! Crom help you if you miss it!

20 Comments:

Blogger Brandon said...

Once, while in Toronto to see the Maple Leafs play, I was witness to an entire stadium full of hirsute, brain-damaged Canadians.

Luckily,the berserker rages were mostly confined to the hockey rink.

I hoped that while in Canada, I might finally see somebody with that weird Wolverine hairstyle. No luck. I'm thinking that John Byrne and Dave Cockrum were both just high. That thing has never existed outside of comics.

6/19/2006 2:47 AM

 
Blogger Jake said...

There are two other types of What If...? stories as well. The first, which the Conan/Wolverine issue falls into, is the "and so everyone dies" category. These always just become a reason for writers and artists to draw a bunch of fantasy death scenes ("With all his might, he stretches to protect his son, taking the full impact of the blast. Mr. Fantastic is no more!").

The second is the "what the hell difference would that make?" category. These are stories very few people read in the first place, so it's hard to imagine there's really enough demand to justify reexamining them. "What if Death's Head II had lived?" would be an example of this.

Actually, "What if Death's Head II had lived?" wind up falling into both categories above. No one I know read the old Death's Head comics, but apparently if Death's Head II hadn't died, the entire Marvel Universe as we know it would have been destroyed, with all our favorite heroes being tortured to death in horrific ways. Considering what a watershed event it was, you would think it would get mentioned more often.

6/19/2006 4:08 AM

 
Anonymous ArizonaTeach said...

Two thoughts:

1) I know we're gonna see some Conan Pimp Suit Action, so I'm giddy as all hell...

2) What If Spider-Man's Clone Had Lived was awesome. "I'll be Spider Monday, Wednesday, Friday...you do it Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and we'll split Sundays" or something to that effect. For some reason I loved that.

6/19/2006 9:57 AM

 
Anonymous Prof Fury said...

And we should also deliver props to What If? #44 (I think): "What if Captain America Were Revived Today?" (where "today" = early 1980s). One of the great What Ifs of all time, featuring some awesome Cap vs. Evil 50s Cap action and Spider-Man wielding a machine gun.

6/19/2006 2:01 PM

 
Blogger Simeon Bankoff said...

I was looking over the long boxes the tother day and I counted no fewer than 3 seperate What If Cap was revived today/What If Cap became President. The short answer is it never ends well...

Conan in the pimp suit however, well that's when they used to have continuity in What Ifs.

6/19/2006 2:11 PM

 
Blogger Harvey Jerkwater said...

Prof Fury, that issue of What If was the subject of a long and ever-so-witty dissection by a famed blogger: me. You can find it here. Goddamn, that issue rocked.

Though it would have rocked even more had it contained Conan on the moon stabbing the Super-Skrull with a broadsword. Chris was right--that scene rocked me. Hard. Because that is the kind of fine Pimpin' Comic Action that makes any story better. Even the arty-farty comics. Conan on the moon stabbing the Super-Skrull with a broadsword plus Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Boy on Earth would mean a much better Jimmy Corrigan, dammit.

A Wolverine-Conan crossover would work only, and I mean only, if the story and art made hay of the fact that Wolf-boy is 5'7" or so and Conan is at least 6'5". And if it had a jive-talking robot.

6/19/2006 3:44 PM

 
Blogger Mallet said...

I have all these issues.

Because Conan is awesome.

I've talked about how dissapointing it is on the second cover to What if Conan walked today is a lie.

A horrible lie.

I wanted Conan running around with a gun damn it!

But you missed the best BEST part of that book.

After SS dies a kree soldier watches and gloates that he was obviously to week. Yeah a regular kree soldier, he then gets ripped to peices.

6/20/2006 3:56 AM

 
Anonymous Scavenger said...

Well the Death's Head II only makes sense if you follow the whole Death's Head saga thru Transformers, Doctor Who, and Marvel UK. It's a British thing.

BTW, if you find yourself in a What If world..and Wolverine goes evil/nuts on you...grab Kitty Pryde and kill her. It snaps him right out of it (see What if X-Men lost Inferno, what if Dracula beat the X-Men, and others).

6/20/2006 4:41 PM

 
Blogger MrManuel said...

LOL...I actually have that What IF with Thor vs Conan. Not my favorite What If I own, but I own it nonetheless...

6/20/2006 10:50 PM

 
Blogger Scott said...

Just to be a jerk, I feel compelled to point out that that is not the Super-Skrull. It's just a Skrull agent sent to the moon to monitor the duel for Jean Grey's life in Uncanny X-Men #137. He and the Kree rep at the battle famously engaged in a racist, imperialist duel to the death that seemed to span most of the 80s, including appearances in two or three What If ... ?s, the Fantastic Four/Avengers crossover Annuals, the alternate-ending one-shot Phoenix: The Untold Story and probably two or three other things I'm forgetting.

6/21/2006 2:02 AM

 
Blogger Edward Liu said...

"Because the answer to pretty much any question that starts with "What if Conan..." is always the same: somebody would get their ass kicked."

To coin a phrase, F*@% YEAH!

6/21/2006 4:45 PM

 
Blogger Chris Sims said...

Not only did I actually know that, Scott, but you know I actually knew that!

EVERYONE ON THE INTERNET WILL KNOW I'M A FRAUD!

6/21/2006 9:16 PM

 
Blogger Scott said...

quoth Chris Sims:
Not only did I actually know that, Scott, but you know I actually knew that!

I know, I know! But the commenters, the misinformation, the perpetuation of the myth that the Super-Skrull was killed on the moon in battle with Conan — it was all too much.

I couldn't stand idly by and watch you end up on Myth Busters.

Or "Comics Should Be Good."

6/21/2006 10:26 PM

 
Anonymous Dan Coyle said...

"What If Death's Head I Had Lived?" has one truly awesome moment- Captain America throws his shield at Minion/Charnel, and...KASPANNNNNG- SLIICCCHHHH!- it bounces off his arm and decapitates Namor off panel.

6/22/2006 12:19 AM

 
Blogger Dotan said...

Actualy, Thoth Amon isn't talking nonsense, he's talking Hebrew(*) - he's saying "come lightning from the sky"!

(*) - or, as it was referred to in The Mummy movie, "Sfat HaAvaddim" (Language of the Slaves)

6/30/2006 7:55 PM

 
Blogger Chris Sims said...

Thanks for the heads-up, Dotan, that's actually pretty cool.

6/30/2006 8:55 PM

 
Anonymous hypochrismutreefuzz said...

Dude you really have to write up a review of "What if ... a spider had been bitten by a RADIACTIVE HUMAN?"

8/08/2006 10:47 PM

 
Anonymous Jason Bedrick said...

What appears to be gibberish is actually Hebrew. "Bo-ee barak min hashameem" means "create lightning from the heavens".

12/13/2006 5:53 PM

 
Anonymous Hyborian Age Hal said...

CONAN KILLS THE SUPER-SKRULL.
WITH A BROADSWORD.
ON THE MOON!

Almost haiku-like in its poetic simplicity.

ps: Thoth Amon is jewish? Funny, he doesn't look it (and speaking as a jew I feel I can say that). Who knew?!

3/21/2007 4:14 PM

 
Anonymous Pauletta said...

This cannot really work, I feel so.

9/08/2012 1:15 PM

 

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