Back in 70s, Marvel Comics launched a series called What If ...?, which imagined all sorts of alternate realities featuring their characters, such as "What if Spider-Man joined the Fantastic Four?" and "What if Captain America became President?" As is often the case when imagining history turning out other than it actually did, What If ...? almost always presented a world that was worse than the one we know, even those where tragedies of the mainline Marvel universe -- such as the suicide of Jean Grey, to cite one example -- don't occur. Not all the issues were dark; some were even humorous. Still, there was a strong "be careful what you wish for" Twilight Zone-ish vibe to the comic that was hard to miss.
And then there were oddities like issue 13 (February 1979), which asked the question I'm sure we've all asked at one time or another: "What if Conan the Barbarian walked the earth today?" After running afoul of an evil sorcerer, who hurls him into the future, the Cimmerian finds himself in New York City, surrounded by definitive proof of REH's thesis that civilization ain't all it's cracked up to be.
Needless to say, even jaded Carter era New Yorkers take notice of Conan, although they're not quite sure what to make of him. Pay attention to the third panel and remember this comic is from 1979, three years before Milius' film.
Despite his unfamiliar surroundings, Conan is undeterred, quickly -- I kid you not -- hailing a cab in order to begin his quest for a way back to the Hyborian Age.
No, I've never seen a cabbie who looks like that either, but I guess New York in the 70s was an odd place. The reference to lightning bolts in the boxed text is because this story takes place during the chaos of the New York City blackout of July 1977. It also ties into Conan's plan to get home by using an inverted "ziggurat," namely the Guggenheim Museum, that, when struck by lightning, will somehow open a portal to his own time. Don't ask too many questions.
Conan being Conan, he manages to bridge the communication gap between himself and the cabbie, whose name, we learn, is Danette.
Conan eventually makes his way to the Guggenheim, where he discovers that modern art is at least useful when fighting the police. He then leaves behind the 20th century and returns to the sanity of the Hyborian Age.
Definitely not one for the ages, is it? Truth be told, there's an earnest silliness here that, in my biased opinion, makes it more enjoyable than many of the DeCamp/Carter pastiches, even if its portrayal of Conan leaves much to be desired. And yet Marvel saw fit to do a sequel to this comic in issue 43 (February 1984): "What if Conan the Barbarian were stranded in the 20th century?"
This issue of What If ...? works on the premise that the lightning bolt at the end of the earlier issue failed to send Conan back to his own time, stranding him in our era. He's captured by the police and thrown into jail, which he, of course, promptly escapes, taking to the streets, where his old skills as a thief and a reaver come in handy. He becomes involved in organized crime, sticking his barbarian mitts into anything that'll make him rich and powerful, including -- again, I kid you not -- drug dealing. In short order, he's commanding his own criminal empire, made up of these guys:
Not quite the same as being king of Aquilonia, is it? But, hey, it was the 80s, back when gang members regularly wore Pickelhaube and horned helms. Of course, what good is being a drug lord if you don't have your lady by your side? Conan fancies himself up and decides to pay a visit on Danette, the cabbie from issue 13.
There are no words.
Alas for Conan, Danette's none too impressed by his new digs (or his pet leopard), but he moves on, having bigger fish to fry -- like Captain America. When Conan and his posse decide to break into a museum to steal the Cimmerian's old armor and weapons, which are conveniently on display, it sets off an alarm that alerts the Avengers. Cap answers the call and goes mano-a-mano with the barbarian.
Conan salutes Captain America for his bravery and skill at arms and, rather than kill him, he challenges him to single combat by tossing a sword to his star-spangled opponent. For his part, Cap tells Conan that he doesn't believe him to be an evil man and asks, "Why do you fight against society, instead of for it as we do?" The Cimmerian replies, "By 'we' you mean your city guards, your police, your gangs of mercenaries, all of whom 'keep the peace' by oppression and extortion! Civilization! In all the ages it hasn't changed!"
Some cops show up and ambush Conan and his gang while he's parleying with Captain America. Conan's right-hand man (the bald black dude in the picture above) takes a bullet and Conan vows revenge. Just as the cops are about to put some lead in Conan too, Cap throws his shield to stop them, allowing Conan to escape and musing on the fact that, under different circumstances, perhaps an honorable man like Conan could have been a hero like him too -- a possibility Conan himself ponders as the comic ends.
Despite Uatu the Watcher's promise to one day continue the story of Conan stranded in the 20th century, so far as I know it remains untold. Whether that's a good or a bad thing I leave to you to decide ...