Friday, April 9, 2010

Conan Meets Elric

What If ...? wasn't the only Marvel comic series where the Cimmerian found himself encountering the inhabitants of another world. Several years prior, in the Spring of 1972, Conan encountered and eventually joined forces with Elric of Melniboné, in a two-part story plotted by Michael Moorcock and James Cawthorn. I have to admit that, in some ways, I find this team-up even more bizarre than the issues of What If ...? I talked about yesterday. That's probably because, by many accounts, Moorcock created Elric as a kind of "anti-Conan," a deliberate inversion of most of the qualities with which Howard imbued his greatest literary character. Having the two of them fight side by side -- and fairly amicably at that -- strikes me as wrong on so many levels, but perhaps I'm just being my typically narrow-minded self.

In any case, issue 14 of Conan the Barbarian ("A Sword Called Stormbringer") begins with the titular barbarian rescuing a young woman named Zephra, daughter of the wizard Zukala, from a band of hooded men riding on the backs of weird beasts. Zukala was apparently an enemy of Conan from a previous tale, but he is now largely powerless and bears Conan no ill will. Indeed, he thanks Conan for saving his daughter and asks his aid in defeating another wizard named Kulan-Gath, a Stygian rival of Thoth-Amon who seeks to make himself master of the world by resurrecting Terhali the Green Empress, a being from "a world called Melniboné."

Zukala explains that Terhali's tomb is located in a city called Yagala, which has been transported to Conan's world by means of dark magic. The wizard asks Conan to travel to Yagala with his daughter in order to prevent Terhali's resurrection. Meanwhile, Xiombarg, Queen of the Chaos Swords, takes an interest in the goings on and sends her minion Prince Gaynor the Damned and his riders to stop Conan and Zephra.


Along the way, the Cimmerian sees a pale rider traveling the same path as he and mistakes him for an enemy. As it turns out, this is Elric and, after a brief struggle, in which Conan marvels at Elric's inexplicable strength, the two agree to talk. Elric explains that he is seeking Terhali's tomb in order to increase his sorcerous power. Once Gaynor and his Chaos Pack show up, Conan and Elric join forces to stave them off, although, ultimately, it is Zephra, who summons a "cleansing rain" by magic, that destroys them.

Issue 15 ("The Green Empress of Melniboné") continues the tale. The trio fight off some demons before arriving at Yagala, where they encounter Kulan-Gath. The wizard believes that they have been sent by Thoth-Amon to stop him and as he mocks them for their failure, Prince Gaynor reappears with more minions. A massive melee ensues, during which Kulan-Gath completes his resurrection of Terhali, who demonstrates her gratitude by killing him. She offers to allow Elric, Conan, and Zephra to serve her as slaves, but, of course, they demur and attempt to defeat her. The two warriors are defeated, leaving only Zephra to face the evil empress. Calling on him, the Lord of Law Arkyn possesses the young woman and uses his power to destroy Terhali but is herself killed in the act. Yagala begins to sink into the lake on which it's situated and Elric, after sharing quips with Conan, heads back to his home plane.

All things considered, it's a very strange story and I can't shake the feeling I mentioned above that, somehow, this story is odder than the one presented in What If ...? On the other hand, it certainly doesn't do violence to the story of Elric, who's traveled to places more exotic than the Hyborian Age and interacted with people far more peculiar than Conan. I suppose I'm looking at it purely from the perspective of Conan and it's here I find myself most uneasy. Marvel's various Conan titles tended to be much more "magical" than I liked and this story is yet another example of that tendency. I'll admit this is a prejudice of mine, but I view Conan as what one might call "low fantasy" and all the demons, gods, dimension-hopping, and deus ex machina magic here is just too much for me. Even so, it's an interesting read, especially given the involvement of Moorcock himself.

27 comments:

  1. [Having the two of them fight side by side -- and fairly amicably at that -- strikes me as wrong on so many levels, but perhaps I'm just being my typically narrow-minded self.]

    Nothing narrow-minded about it: those team-ups were always wrong, wrong, wrong.

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  2. Elric was always odd to begin with.
    While I really enjoyed Elric on his own in the early stand-alone stories, when placed into his proper place in Moore's Eternal Champion/Multiverse I just couldn't get into him. I never really liked Moore's Eternal Champion/Multiverse work anyhow.

    Any what is up with the pointy hat?

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  3. It's been a while since I read the books (although, entirely by coincidence I got them out of storage this morning), but I don't recall Elric ever wearing anything other than a dragon helmet. I think the pointy hat was Kane's way of indicating that Elric was a wizard. Marvel in the 70s wasn't ALL good. I'm with you on the multiverse - those bits always left me disinterested.

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  4. i read somewhere that the pointy hat was lifted from the cover of an Elric paperback.
    I've read Moorcock, and despite his aims, the stories never carried me away like Howard's do.
    I have reprints of these comics- I love the art, but Roy Thomas' scripts are too wordy for my taste.

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  5. I read this first in small novel sized color reprints. Ok for being a comic book team up, which is not saying much. Mind, Elric teamed up with quite a few people who were nothing like them, though normally they wound up taken by Stormbringer and/or betrayed by him, sometimes (also) out of necessity or Fate. But I guess it wouldn't be good to have the title character essentially eternally dead from a guest character!

    Moorcock's site would likely have the cover image here:
    http://www.multiverse.org/imagehive/v/bookcovers/

    (quite a *lot* of art in the Image Hive!)

    Offhand it looks more like a Mobius / Heavy Metal (the magazine) type design.

    Elric was one of my stepping ups from the Conan paperbacks and the comics/comic magazines back in the day, and then later on Karl Edward Wagner as something of a diagonal. To this day it's still hard for me to go back to Conan except as Boy's Own adventure escapism. Which is fine, for when I want to read that.

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  6. I love both the Conan and the Elric stories, so this one I have to find and read; perhaps the very oddness of it attracts me. I hope my FLCS has a reprint in stock.

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  7. Pointy-hat Elric is forever overwritten for me by Dave Sim's parody character, Elrod of Melvinbone, in the pages of Cerebus.

    "Ah say, boy, perhaps we should, ah, cease our fruitless struggles -- and bandy with th' jaw-music, y'hear?"

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  8. I love both the Conan and the Elric stories, so this one I have to find and read; perhaps the very oddness of it attracts me. I hope my FLCS has a reprint in stock.

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  9. Next, Thor in the Hyborian Age?
    That's the only one of these craptastic crossovers I've read.

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  10. I kind of like the creepy art for Elric, except for the pointy = sorcerous hat.

    I've always adored the idea of Elric since first seeing him described in Deities & Demigods.

    Sometime in last decade I picked up a big White Wolf compilation called "Elric: Song of the Black Sword" -- includes Elric of Melnibone, Fortress of the Pearl, Sailor on the Seas of Fate, Dreaming City, While the Gods Laugh, and Singing Citadel. Honestly, I could believe how atrocious I found it to be. Can someone tell me if these stories are representational, or if there's some other canon I should have read instead?

    But back to comics -- Last week I picked up the 2004-06 DC Elric graphic novel by Moorcock & Walt Simonson. Now that's good stuff, I highly recommend it.

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  11. That's: "Couldn't believe how atrocious I found it to be..."

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  13. This has the Reek of Wrongness about it! :p

    I agree re the Super Hero styled magic level in many of the Conan comics; they give a quite misleading view of what's actually in Howard's tales.

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  14. The pointy hat emerged through confusion with Moorcock's other character, Corum, who is generally depicted with a pointed helm or hat. Or so I have been led to believe. Mayhap it is a foul Chaos plot by the Lords of Entropy.

    Verification - hypoo (the dung of Conan's age)

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  15. The pointy hat come about because Barry Windsor Smith based the look of Elric on Jack Gaughan's cover of Sormbringer paperback - http://tiny.cc/olpdk

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  16. Wow, yes, that's almost a carbon copy. I stand corrected.

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  17. Nobody pointed out that the girl is obviously naked (again)...

    Ok, just kidding :)

    Maybe people don't like the way Marvel depicted Conan, nor the idea of having our favorite barbarian working with other fantasy heroes, however, I think Howard's creation is greater than himself, in the same way Count Dracula lives far beyond his author.

    So I just read that comic for what it is: another chapter in Conan's Legend (a chapter you can forget if you don't like it).

    Besides, Elric's world, and the concept of multiverses is made for strange encounters. I'd love to read a story of Fahfrd and the Gray Mouser, once again lost in Ningauble's caves, arriving in Hyboria... What an adventure!

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  18. What If...? Elric wore a Phrygian cap?

    Bizarre.

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  19. Gibbering Ghoul: That's a shame, that you can't go back to Conan and only read it as "boy's own escapism". It seems like every time I reread a Conan story, I find something new: historical allusions, mythological nods, subtle character or story elements that escaped first reading. But then, you're in good company, seeing as De Camp and Carter viewed Howard as little else. Mayhap you can't see the wood for the trees?

    Le Baron: Well, if Conan truly is greater than Howard himself, why is it that the only prose featuring the character currently in print is the original short stories and sole novel? The pop culture Conan - dumb, perpetually loincloth-clad, fights-before-he-thinks, D&D Barbarian - is more well known than Conan, but "greater" is a truly subjective term. If Conan is "greater" than Howard, it's only on a matter of the warped, diluted, simplified caricature being more famous - as is indeed the case with Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes et al.

    Gordon Cooper: So glad I'm not the only one who thought that!

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  20. If it was a true Moorcockian story, Elric at some point would need to kill Conan and devour his soul to find the strength needed to defeat the Big Bad Guy. Sounds like a pretty wussified version of the White Wolf to me!

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  21. One thing worth pointing out with regard to both of your Conan comics posts, James, is that they appear to be written from the perspective of knowing Howard's original texts--and thus lamenting the extent to which Marvel's Conan departs from the Howardian fons barbari. But of course the comic Conan came along in 1970, just five years after Glenn Lord got his hands on the notorious trunk. I'm not sure that we can fairly fault Roy Thomas and company for a Conan that lies closer to de Camp/Carter than pure REH.

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  22. I think I see the problem...

    That wasn't actually Elric, it was *Elfric*.

    On one of Elric's plane-hopping adventures, he ended up in the world of Kel-Og. There, he met & bedded the daughter of the local war lord, an image of whom can be found here:
    http://themodernmajorgeneral.files.wordpress.com/2009/06/elf.jpg

    I'm sure such canny folk as yourselves will see the result of their intercourse in the comic pages above.

    Elfric did his best to play on the name of his father, but never was taken as a serious anti-hero, considering his ties to "Big Cracker."

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  23. Conan looks WAY too surprised when you consider that "THE COMING OF ELRIC" was carved right into the cliff and painted bright red.

    Geez.

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  24. A Conan meets Elric story co-plotted by Moorcock himself? I’m not calling it wrong or right, I’m just calling it sweet!

    Though, from what you’ve shown me, it doesn’t look like it actually worked very well.

    Re “low fantasy”: One of the take-aways of Howard’s tales for me was a corollary of that rule... (Who was it?) ...that each sci-fi story should only have one “beyond current science” element. Sword & sorcery tales should generally have a single supernatural element. I try to implement that in RPGs as each adventure should have a single supernatural element.

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  25. The story isn't the greatest ever, but it's some of Barry Windsor-Smith's best art.

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  26. I quite enjoyed that story. It was good fun. You can find it in Marvel's Essential Conan collection. Probably in some of the other collections, too.

    I'm a big fan of Michael Moorcock and all the Elric stories.

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  27. Now Ima tear the inter-web apart looking for these issues.

    I'm a HUGE Conan fan,but have only just started reading the Elric Saga. I'm curious to see this book and how it plays out.

    O but if Conan ever got his hands on that Storm-bringer, the mad adventures he would have.

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