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.
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!