[Editor’s note: Article written by Guest Journalist Aaron Nicewonger.]
(As with all of these articles, be sure to click the pics for more detailed, larger versions)
Conan the Cimmerian (or Conan the Barbarian as he’s more popularly known) was created in 1932 by Robert E. Howard. Originally, Howard created the character Kull (Kull of Atlantis, or Kull the Conqueror) in the story “By This Axe I Rule” in 1929, but could not get it published. Changing the character to Conan and the name to “The Phoenix on the Sword,” the story was finally published, and Conan was born.
He has also appeared in comics, films, television shows, RPGs, video games, and even Card Games and a board game, all of which have contributed to the character’s longevity.
The original stories written by Robert E. Howard number around two dozen, if you include the unfinished tales released in later anthologies. They tell the tale of Conan, an adventurer and jack of all trades. He’s a warrior, a soldier, a thief, an assassin, a pirate, a king, and generally whatever other profession finds him glory and adventure and keeps him alive. The stories were not written in order. In fact, the first story ever written starts at the end of Conan’s adventures when he is already a king, lamenting his new position and missing the days of old. One thing that sets Conan apart from other fantasy heroes, is that he isn’t all that heroic. He’s more like the lesser of two evils. He generally isn’t the “slay the evil villain and rescue the princess” type. Usually there has to be some sort of larger motivation behind his actions, like money, lust, boredom, the need to survive, etc. He’s a bit of an anti-hero, and more complex than your stereotypical good guy, which is one of the many attributes that has made the character so popular for so long.
The stories have been released time and again in various anthologies.
The earliest comics to feature Conan in any form were in the form of La Reina de la Costa Negra (“The Queen of the Black Coast”), a comic from the 1950s centered around the adventures of a love interest and side-character in the Conan stories named Belít. The first official Conan comics came from Marvel in 1970 and lasted through the mid 1990s. They were Conan the Barbarian and The Savage Sword of Conan. In 2003, Dark Horse Comics began their run on a series of Conan stories, which is still ongoing. On top of that, Dark Horse is also reprinting the Marvel comics in Graphic Novel format.
On a side note, it’s fun to point out that the President of the United States, Barack Obama, is an avid reader and collector of Conan comics, and is a big fan of the character, and appeared as a character in a comic book called Barack the Barbarian published by Devils Due. Here! Check it out!
Aside from comics, adaptations have also appeared in the form of movies. In the ‘80s, Conan appeared in two films as part of a proposed trilogy. The first film being a rousing success, and the second film…well…not so much. Apparently there were lots of issues surrounding the second film, and contractual obligations and disputes between Arnold Schwarzenegger and the producers, and other factors attributed to the third film never coming to fruition. Instead, we got a spin-off with Red Sonja (more about her later).
Was it a good movie? Not really. Was it watchable? Yes. Twelve years later, in 1997…are fans finally going to get the third Conan film?! NO! Kevin Sorbo (of Hercules and Xena fame) is hired on as Conan. But not wanting to play George Lazenby to Arnold’s Sean Connery, he refuses to play the part. So, in a reverse of the story of Conan first being published, we have a Conan movie being reworked into a Kull movie. Was it good? Not especially. Was it watchable More or less. It depends on how much cheesy camp you enjoy. If you like shows like Hercules and Xena, then movies like Kull the Conqueror and Red Sonja are just fine.
Most recently we had the 2011 Conan the Barbarian, which isn’t fairing well in theaters, and for good reason. And although he’s not officially related to the original Conan literary universe, Solomon Kane was also created by Robert E. Howard and appeared in his own film last year. Though it has yet to have an official release in the states, I highly recommend you track it down. Like the ’82 Conan film, this movie is only barely based on its source material, but also like the ’82 film, this movie is damn entertaining, and shouldn’t be missed!
Then came the TV shows. The first attempt at a show eventually became the show we know as He-Man. Eventually, the attempt would be made again. And Conan the Adventurer was created. Despite being kid friendly and having almost nothing in common with the original Conan, the show was well received and praised for its overarching continuity and plot. The following show, Conan and the Young Warriors, had Conan teaming up with a bunch of kids as he taught them valuable moral lessons. Think full-length episodes of the Transformers and GI Joe PSAs. The final show was also called Conan the Adventurer. How’s that for frustrating?! Yet this was live-action, and full of bad acting, poor choreography, and lousy…well…everything. It featured a humanitarian, happy-go-lucky Conan, and his rag-tag group of “merry men.” It was quickly cancelled, lasting only one season.
Since as early as 1984, Conan has appeared in over half a dozen video games on everything from the Apple II and Commodore 64, to the NES, modern PCs, Xbox 360, and PS3. These games run the gamut of genres from adventure games to action games to MMORPGs. These games received a bevy of mixed reviews, some being critically panned like Conan: Mysteries of Time for the NES, to receiving nearly unanimous critical praise like the MMORPG Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures.
Conan has seen his fair share of adaptations in other formats, as well. In the mid-80s Dungeons & Dragons publisher TSR licensed several RPG modules for playing in the Conan universe. Since then other publishers like Mongoose Publishing and Steve Jackson Games have licensed other Conan RPGs. Furthermore, there have even been Conan board games, and even a Conan collectible trading card game. That’s right! “Conan! I choose you! Conan used Slash! It’s super effective!”
What lies in store for the future of this franchise? Well, there was a proposed Red Sonja film slated for last year, that was to be directed by Robert Rodriguez and star Rose McGowan, but due to scheduling conflicts, and McGowan injuring her arm, it looks like it’s been pushed back. Now with Simon West possibly directing and Amber Heard in the title role. Now, Red Sonja isn’t an original Conan character. She was created by Marvel, and put into the Conan comics universe. She IS, however, based on Red Sonya and Dark Agnes, two of Robert E. Howard’s creations. And she’s super-hot and outrageously awesome, so we’ll allow it.
Also, there was an animated Conan film starring Ron Perlman and Mark Hamill in the works that seems to have been cancelled and may never see the light of day. I, for one, hope it gets finished and released as soon as F-ing possible!
Finally, remember that THIRD part of the Conan trilogy I mentioned?! The first attempt being cancelled, and the second attempt becoming Kull the Conqueror? Well, let’s just hope that one day, someone comes along with the will, know-how, and talent to make that trilogy a reality!
That’s all folks. I know this was longer than usual, but I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!