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.