Thursday, December 25, 2014


Though Robert E. Howard's Conan stories were revived for 1960s paperbacks, my first exposure to the battling Cimmerian was in Marvel's 1970 adaptation of the character to comic books, written by Roy Thomas and delinated by Barry Windsor-Smith.Within the first year, it seems that Marvel knew that it had a hit, for in issues #14 and #15 the barbarian played host to a renowned sword-and-sorcery hero created for the decade of the sixties: Michael Moorcock's Elric of Melnibone. I've never read any behind-the-scenes stories regarding how Moorcock-- who owned his character outright-- came to allow Marvel to adapt Elric. It would seem plausible that both Moorcock and Marvel were "testing the waters" to see whether or not Elric would resonate with enough Marvel-readers to make more adaptations profitable for both parties. .
But Elric would not be adapted by Marvel until much later.

At the time of the two-parter's publication I was captivated by both heroes as presented by Thomas and Smith, and I didn't lose any time reading the prose adventures of both-- though I would always find Howard the writer much more appealing than Moorcock. The two-part story favors the mythic complexity of Moorcock's world, hurling a variety of sorcerous characters seen and unseen at the reader-- and at the barbarian, who says that his head spins "with names I have no faces for." But the strength of Conan's character still holds its own, even when he only has two support-characters with him: Zukala, a wizard whose name was plundered from a REH poem, and his daughter Zephra, created entirely for the comic.

There's nothing special about the "two heroes meet, then become allies" plot, but Thomas' script is chock full of good characterization moments, and Smith's pre-Raphaeleite visuals are consistently excellent.  It's sad to recall how far Marvel's Conan titles fell with respect to this initial high point.

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