Monday, February 15, 2021

A King Comes Riding

Conan the Barbarian was, far and away, one of Marvel's most successful comics during the 1970s, spawning not just a second title, the black and white, adult-oriented Savage Sword of Conan, but also Red Sonja and other related series. So popular was Conan that Marvel regularly found ways to include him in non-sword and sorcery comics, such as multiple issues of What If?, where he battles Wolverine, Thor, and Captain America. Interestingly, Spider-Man, Marvel's other powerhouse character from the same era, never met Conan (though he did meet Red Sonja).

Instead, Marvel Team-Up #112 (December 1981) sees Spidey interact with another Robert E. Howard character, Kull of Atlantis – sort of. In the previous issue of Marvel Team-Up, the Webslinger joined forces with Devil-Slayer to fight Serpent Men. As it turns out, these Serpent Men are the same breed as those from the time of King Kull. One of the Serpent Men injected Spider-Man with venom that was slowly killing him, in large part because – and I'm not making this up – he has "much in common" with the Spider-People, who are (apparently) the ancestral enemies of the Serpent Men. Hey, if you can't trust Dr Strange about these matters, whom can you trust?
The only cure for this venom lies in the ancient past, during the height of the Serpent People's power, when Kull was king of Valusia. However, because Spider-Man's physical body is too injured from the effects of the poison, Dr Strange – who, he reminds Spidey, is "a doctor of both the mundane – and the mystical" – plans to project his astral form into the past. Once there, he has the ability to possess people and to control their actions, which he does almost immediately, foiling a plot to assassinate Kull.
Grateful, Kull calls the young man to his court to reward him, but he cannot remember anything of the events, except the feeling that something had entered his body and took control of him. Kull suspects sorcery or the work of spirits. Spider-Man then possesses the king's boon companion, Brule, and explains to Kull and his chief counselor, Tu, who he is and why he has come. Unfortunately, they explain that the only person who knows how to cure Serpent Man venom is the renegade Pictish shaman, Ju-Lak, who is described as "evil – insane – a dealer with demons!" However, Kull feels he owes a debt to Spider-Man for saving his life and agrees to accompany him into Pictland to seek out Ju-Lak.

As these kinds of stories go, it's not terrible – a little ridiculous, of course, even by the standards of superhero comics but far from the worst I've ever read. I couldn't help but wonder what Robert E. Howard would have thought about it, if he had been able to see it himself. Compared to Conan's interactions with Marvel universe characters, this comic was remarkably low key and restrained. The device of Spider-Man astral projecting into the past makes sense, given the involvement of Dr Strange (but I've always had a soft spot for the Sorcerer Supreme). I also appreciated that the writer, J.M. DeMatteis, made an effort to distinguish Kull from Conan by his actions (he spares Ju-Lak, for example, rather than slay him). All in all, it's not a bad comic for what it is.


  1. Heck, Peter didn't just meet Red Sonja, he married her!

    (Well, the body she was possessing anyway - it belonged to MJ after all, and there were many, many years before the blight of the "Day" storyline)

    I suspect REH would take a very dim view of Marvel's current use of Conan, but maybe I'm wrong. The guy did like to jump from genre to genre as writer, and maybe he would've turned out to be a big comic fan and write for Marvel in the Silver Age if he'd lived. In my head canon I'm still reserving the 1940s and early 50s for military adventure stories from him following service in WW2. :)

  2. In some european countries (Spain for example), Savage Sword outsold everymarvel titled, being reissued in hardback as soon as 1982!