Saturday, April 10, 2010

Conan vs. Thor

Not content with his becoming a drug dealing gang leader in the 1980s or fighting side by side with Elric of Melniboné, Marvel decided in the June 1983 issue of What If ...? to answer the question "What if the Mighty Thor battled Conan the Barbarian?" Like so many tales of the Thunder God, Loki is involved, tricking Thor to enter a series of tunnels that lead backward in time to the Hyborian Age. Because this time is before the Norse gods gained ascendancy, Thor loses his memories and wanders about with no knowledge of who he really is or how he came to be in his current predicament.

Unfortunately for Thor, one of the first people he encounters is Conan, whom he mistakenly believes is attempting to kill him. A fight between the two warriors ensues and Conan more than holds his own against the "Aesir" warrior. He even manages to get off a rather amusing quip.

Of course, as is so often the case in Conan team-ups, he and his Norse opponent fight one another to a standstill and agree to cease their struggle, opting instead to become boon companions. Conan and Thor then set off to engage in a little robbery to fill their purses, which Thor considers dishonorable, despite the Cimmerian's claim that one must do what one must to survive. Flush with cash, the pair go out drinking together and Thor asks Conan about the gods of this age. Conan's none too keen on the subject, but he nevertheless tells Thor of Crom and his indifference to men and, for some reason, Thor feels compelled to seek out the Cimmerian deity's mountaintop home. Apparently having nothing better to do, Conan joins him.

Once there, Thor beseeches Crom to tell him who he is and why he is here. Crom does reveal Thor's nature and origin to him but isn't too pleased to see a god from the future, so he decides to steal Mjolnir from the Thunder God, lest he start horning in on his territory.


As you'd expect, Thor will have none of this and tries to whack Crom with his hammer -- to no avail. Crom simply catches Mjolnir and casts it away into the wilderness, far from Thor and Conan. Dejected, Thor returns to Conan, who witnessed none of this. He explains to the Cimmerian that, "I am Thor, thunder god of Asgard, a divinity of a later age. But Crom has stripped me of my one link with home, my hammer Mjolnir --" Without missing a beat, Conan says, "I see. It seems I underestimated your imagination as earlier I did your strength, friend." That's right -- Conan just called the Mighty Thor crazy.

Still, Conan decides to accompany Thor as he quests across the Hyborian Age for Mjolnir. This being a Marvel Conan comic, you can pretty much guess what's become of it: that's right, Thoth-Amon has got his mitts on it and he's using its power to try and take over the world. Neither Thor nor Conan can allow this and a battle royale ensues, in which Thor, calls upon Mjolnir to obey him and not the Stygian sorcerer. In a blast of thunder and lightning, Thoth-Amon and his evil schemes are destroyed, but so is Thor, who is so weak from his separation from Asgard that he is, apparently, susceptible to death.

Before he finally expires, though, Thor charges Conan with a final task:

Honoring Thor's wishes, Conan then takes Mjolnir and climbs Crom's mountaintop home. The comic ends on an ambiguous but suggestive note with these words:
But whether he attained the cloud-strewn summit and stood before the grim god Crom does not matter ...

What matters is that, on this day, Conan the mortal took his first step toward becoming much more.
The implication, as I read it, is that Conan becomes a god in this alternate universe, perhaps even taking up the mantle of Thor himself. It's completely ridiculous, of course, but I'll admit that there's something vaguely moving about Thor's death and Conan's loyalty to his memory, particularly given that Conan earlier implies that he thinks Thor is a madman. Odd as it seems, this is not as bad a comic as one might expect, even if it's very far removed from anything REH could have written.

8 comments:

  1. I have collected zillions of Thors over the years, but this one is new to me! Awesome post!

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  2. Sounds like a Mentzer quest for immortality, a la the D&D Master set. But I'm probably just weird...

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  3. I own this comic, and I have always liked it. For me, it really was a good use of the theme, "What If?"

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  4. It was an interesting post, but the pictures don't enlarge when I click on them, and so I can't read them, though it's obvious that you intended them to be read...

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  5. The sad thing, is that super-powered Conan stories like this really turn me off. They are so unlike the REH originals that they are just a new character with the same name. Conan became a stereotype rather than a "real" person, and I find that really sad.

    Still love to read your posts though, James!

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  6. If only they had teamed Conan with Forbush Man - my life would be complete.

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  7. James, I have the same feeling about this issue that you do. Howard would never have written this, but within the different framework of Marvel's Hyboria it is oddly entertaining and moving.

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  8. Thor's my favorite superhero, bar none. The Walt Simonson run completely changed my relationship with comics.

    Now it's doubly funny that I just got the Moorcock/Simonson Elric book the other week.

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