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My bet’s on vegans being the first to die – What If…? #13

February 2, 2011

Ladies, he’s pumped, greased and ready for modernity. Not only is that a sort of/kind ancestor of the “Days of Future Past” Uncanny X-Men #141 cover, but check out the partially obscured Star Wars poster on the right.

It’s not often that my dour face breaks into a wide smile while I’m reading a comic book. I enjoy them, but my pleasure usually registers internally. It’s even rarer for me to actually laugh out loud at a comic’s attempts at humor. This comic managed to do both. Throwing Conan the Barbarian into the modern day (1977 in this case) could either be a storytelling disaster or it could be a source of nigh-unending amusement. This is the latter, my dear readers. The latter.

Roy Thomas, John Buscema and Ernie Chan conjured this goofy masterpiece, which answers the burning question of “What If Conan the Barbarian Walked the Earth Today?” I’ll skip any commentary about Uatu the Watcher’s customary opening ramblings (and even he looks rather beefy under Buscema’s ministrations) and how Conan is transported forward in time (it involves his usual mix of wenches and wizards), and simply begin with Conan getting plopped down in Greenwich Village:

Conan arrives not only in the Big Apple, but the Big Apple on July 13, 1977. That’s the day/night of the infamous real-life big blackout, which is a nice bit of storyline synergy. Since it’s summer and it’s New York and the A.C. is kaput, his attire isn’t that out of place — this is, after all, the burg that would one day give us the Naked Cowboy. Still, his scant clothing and general beefiness draws some comments from those he encounters, including one lady who wonders if he might be Arnold Schwarzenegger. I realize Arnie was one of the few muscle men to have widespread fame at that point, but I’m still impressed by the prescience shown here for the casting of a film that wouldn’t hit theaters until 1983.

Not everyone is so blasé when it comes to his bare skin. While he’s hungrily eyeing some grub, a busybody old bag gives him the business:

The Cimmerian’s reaction?:

“Give my regards to Oscar the Grouch, bitch.”

Conan wanders around (nearly crossing paths with Peter Parker and Mary Jane) and has the reactions that you’d expect when he confronts automobiles, confusing them with metallic monsters and lashing out as soon as one comes near. But he happens to strike a taxicab driven by what is perhaps the most attractive hack in the history of the universe:

She does what any young woman would do when confronted with a half-naked, sword-bearing man — she decides to take him back to her place. On the way, Conan vocalizes a thought similar to ones I’ve had on certain dates:

When they get to her pad it’s not long before Conan does the other thing he’s good at besides cleaving people in two:

That’s it, big guy. Give her the gift of your love.

As I said above, it’s the night of the big blackout, and the looters are out in force. When some start to break up the store downstairs from his new love’s abode, Conan springs into action. Danette makes it clear that he’s not to kill anyone, much like John Connor did to Ahnuldt in Terminator 2 just before he shot that guard’s kneecaps off. Conan gets the gist of her admonition, but still manages to crunch these 20th century punks in rather comical ways:

A sofa — that’s an odd thing to wield.

After things calm down, Danette tries to figure out this big galoot’s origins by showing him some pictures of various locales. Perhaps she should have done that before the coitus, but who am I to question true love? When a picture of the Guggenheim Museum reminds Conan of a temple in his own time, the two of them, for the lack of anything better to do, go there in the middle of the night. They aren’t the only ones there — you guessed it, more looters. This is a more sinister and more heavily armed bunch, and things quickly get hairy:

A series of delightful defenestrations, impalings, skull-crushings and stranglings follow, as Conan’s muscular vengeance runs its course. The cops are drawn to the ruckus, and after the two lovers exchange momentos (she gives him her cap, he gives her an armband) Conan climbs King Kong-style to the top of the Guggenheim. There he’s struck by lightning and magically returned to his own time. All the two have are their gifts to remember each other by.

I enjoyed reading this comic more than I have any in recent memory. Really. Seeing and reading Conan’s reactions to modern life was a delight, and while not a whole hell of a lot really goes on in this story, it held my attention. Roy Thomas’s gifts were on full display here — there’s a fine line between stupidly fun and just plain stupid, and he walked it like a circus acrobat. Bravo. And the blending of Buscema’s and Chin’s styles made for some very attractive art. I’m not Buscema’s biggest fan, but I’ve always liked what he does with Conan, both here and in his proper title. The looks on the faces of the poor modern goons when confronted by this hulking dude were priceless, as were the images of their teeth getting knocked out and them being thrown out of buildings.

I realize I’ve already alluded to the Terminator franchise in this post, but some of the vibe of this comic remids me of the original film, with a man travelling through time in an electrical disturbance and spending one night with a woman,  a night where their brief dalliance is consummated. As Schwarzenegger would say, “All dat sort of ting.” Perhaps Conan too impregnated his babe in this alternate universe. I guess we’ll never know.

We need a sequel.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Edo Bosnar permalink
    February 3, 2011 5:46 am

    I remember enjoying this story as well; however, your speculation as to whether Conan impregnated Danette brought to mind something that crossed my low-brow mind: to wit, she gives him her cap, he gives her his armband – and a nasty case of Hyborian Age clap (possibly incurable in the 20th century).
    Also, not sure if it’s true, but I remember reading somewhere that Danette was apparently loosely based on Roy’s wife Dann, which adds another layer of weirdness to this story…

    • February 3, 2011 10:09 pm

      If I were married I’m not sure that I’d want my wife to fall into the arms of Conan. Even a fictional version of that wife. Thanks for that bit of trivia — it certainly does add a new spin to this one.

  2. neill permalink
    February 5, 2011 10:02 am

    That’s quite true about Thomas projecting his future wife into the story (lucky guy)–so it’s not hard to imagine him projecting himself as Conan.

    • February 5, 2011 12:39 pm

      I suppose that’s true — but it’s a little hard for me to imagine Roy as Conan. But I’m an unimaginative dolt, so…

      I wonder if he ever said to her, “Honey, tonight… Tonight, call me Conan.”

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