Comic Book / Conan the Barbarian

From out of the earth's dark, forgotten past-- thru the timeless terrors of the Hyborian Age-- stalks the mightiest hero of them all--!
Original in-house advertisement for the Marvel series.

During the resurge in popularity Robert E. Howard's most popular character enjoyed back in The '70s, Marvel Comics was quick to take notice of this, and got the license from Conan Productions. note  In October, 1970, the very first issue of Conan the Barbarian hit the shelves, quickly becoming one of Marvel's top-sellers. Spin-offs soon followed, each becoming popular in their own right, with The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian occasionally overtaking its sister title in sales.

However, what with certain cinematic failures i.e. Conan the Destroyer and the Red Sonja movie, Conan's popularity waned. During The Dark Age of Comic Books, Conan's main ongoing and Savage Sword were eventually cancelled after a combined 510 issues, to be replaced with other ongoings whose issue numbers barely lasted into double figures. Marvel soon gave up on giving Sword and Sorcery's greatest hero his own title, shunting him off into a few miniseries, the last of which was printed in 2000.

Dark Horse Comics then picked up the license in 2003, having previously made several miniseries based on lesser REH properties, such as Cormac Mac Art and Almuric. They took a slightly different approach to the character, putting out one ongoing, with the occasional miniseries on the side.

Final interesting piece of trivia: It was in fact the Marvel comics series that popularizednote  the franchise's title as specifically "Conan the Barbarian" - that title being specifically chosen by Thomas to not conflict with the paperback short-story collections with titles like Conan The Adventurer and Conan Of Cimmeria.

    The Marvel franchise (not including reprints) 
  • Conan the Barbarian vol. 1 (1970-1993). 275 issues.
  • Savage Tales vol. 1 (1971-1974). Anthology title, Conan was the main character for 5 issues.
  • Conan Annual (1973-1987). 12 issues.
  • The Savage Sword of Conan (1974-1995). 235 issues.
  • Giant-Size Conan (1984-1975). 5 issues.
  • King Conan (1980-1983), later renamed Conan the King (1984-1989). 55 issues.
  • Conan the Barbarian Movie Special (1982). 2 issues.
  • Graphic novels (1985-1992). 7 issues.
    • The Witch Queen of Acheron (1985)
    • Conan the Reaver (1987)
    • Conan of the Isles (1988)
    • Conan: The Skull of Set (1989)
    • Conan the Barbarian: The Horn of Azoth (1990). Based on a rejected script for the film Conan the Destroyer.
    • Conan the Rogue (1991)
    • Conan: The Ravagers out of Time (1992). Crossover with Red Sonja and Kull. Involves Time Travel.
  • The Handbook of the Conan Universe (1986). One-shot publication.
  • Conan the Adventurer (1994-1995). 14 issues.
  • Conan (1995-1996). 11 issues.
  • Conan the Savage (1995-1996). 10 issues.
  • Conan vs. Rune (1995). One-shot publication. Crossover with The Ultraverse,
  • Conan the Barbarian vol. 2 (1997). 3 issues.
  • Conan the Barbarian: The Usurper (1997-1998). 3 issues.
  • Conan: The Lord of the Spiders (1998). 3 issues.
  • Conan: River of Blood (1998). 3 issues.
  • Conan Return of Styrm (1998). 3 issues.
  • Conan Scarlet Sword (1998-1999). 3 issues.
  • Conan: Death Covered in Gold (1999). 3 issues.
  • Conan: Flame and the Fiend (2000). 3 issues.

    The Dark Horse franchise (not including reprints) 
  • Conan #0: The Legend (2003). One-shot publication.
  • Conan (2004-2008). 50 issues.
  • Conan And the Daughters of Midora (2004). One-Shot publication.
  • Conan And the Jewels of Gwahlur (2005). 3 issues.
  • Conan And the Demons of Khitai (2005-2006). 4 issues.
  • Conan: Book of Thoth (2006). 4 issues.
  • Conan: Free Comic Book Day Edition (2006). One-shot publication.
  • Conan And the Songs of the Dead (2006). 5 issues.
  • Hyborian Adventures: SDCC Free Giveaway (2006). One-shot publication.
  • Conan And the Midnight God (2007). 5 issues.
  • Conan the Cimmerian (2008-2010). 26 issues.
  • Conan: The Weight of the Crown (2010). One-shot publication.
  • Conan: Road of Kings (2010-2012). 12 issues.
  • King Conan: The Scarlet Citadel (2011). 4 issues.
  • Conan: Island of No Return (2011). 2 issues.
  • King Conan: The Phoenix on the Sword (2012). 4 issues.
  • Conan the Barbarian vol. 3 (2012-2014). 25 issues.
  • Conan: The Phantoms of the Black Coast (2012-2013). 4 issues.
  • King Conan: Hour of the Dragon (2013). 6 issues.
  • Conan and the People of the Black Circle (2013-2014). 4 issues.
  • King Conan: The Conquer (2014). 6 issues.
  • Conan the Avenger (2014-2016).
  • Conan the Slayer (ongoing, started in 2016)

These comics have all included these examples:

  • Adaptational Badass: Some characters from the original books get a dose of this in original storylines they are featured.
    • Zenobia in The Hour of the Dragon was quite the Plucky Girl, who made up for her lack of fighting skills with her courage, intellect and quick thinking. In the Marvel comics, its revealed she has military training, with her father being a soldier that had no sons and showed his daughter how to fight. Also Zenobia ends up being the one to dispose of Tarascus when he tries to double-cross Conan after he had his life spared.
    • Downplayed with Natala in the Dark Horse comics, who is a lot more strong-willed than her book counterpart, who was an easily-scared Damsel in Distress (although she does play out exactly in the same way in the comic book adaptation of Xuthal Of The Dusk), but she is not necessarily a fighter herself. With that said, she is willing to stand up to the likes of Thoth-Amon and even leading him to a trap.
  • Adaptation Expansion: Pretty much every other Conan comic that wasn't a direct adaptation of an REH story or a pastiche. This became more out of necessity from The '80s onwards for Marvel, as pretty much every good Conan story had already been adapted. Dark Horse do more or less the same thing.
  • Amazon Brigade:
    • The '80s team The Iron Damsels. Of course, as they're in Conan stories, All Amazons Want Hercules. The last two issues of Conan v1 featured an actual tribe of Amazons, complete with Lawful Stupid Straw Feminist and Brawn Hilda.
    • The Dark Horse Conan the Avenger featured Janissa the Widowmaker and her She-Devils, an all female group of warriors that fought to free slaves whenever they passed by.
  • Bash Brothers: Zula, Pallantides, Trocero... the list goes on.
  • Boring Invincible Hero: Conan occasionally slipped into this in a few issues.
  • Canon Immigrant: Red Sonya was a musket-wielding 16th century Ukranian in the Howard story that introduced her, but was retconned into being a Hyborian Age swordswoman in the comic books decades later. Thulsa Doom was a villain in the Kull of Atlantis stories before he was adapted into the villain for The Movie - and even then, he had more in common with the Conan adversary Thoth-Amon (a priest of Set with a fancy for snakes) than he did with his namesake (a semi-immortal necromancer with a skeletal face.)
  • Comic-Book Adaptation: Not just or Howard's or Sprague de Camp's adventures, but occasionally of other sword & sorcery stories released around the same time as the original Conan stories, with Conan replacing the heroes in those stories.
    • There were also adaptations of the Conan movies. Conan the Destroyer had two! (The first is an adaptation of the movie Thomas and Conway wrote, the second an adaptation of the movie we actually got.)
    • Dark Horse have also gotten in on the act...
  • Convenient Miscarriage: Zenobia had two; one in Conan The King, another in Dark Horse miniseries Conan & The Midnight God.
  • Darker and Edgier (Hotter and Sexier, Bloodier and Gorier): Marvel's black-and-white The Savage Sword of Conan and the later Dark Horse titles compared to Marvel's Comics Code-constrained Conan the Barbarian.
  • Depending on the Artist: Conan's build may be leaner or bulkier, as shown by pre- and post-Frazetta covers. In the comics, shown by Marvel's Barry Windsor-Smith and John Buscema. Dark Horse usually go with a happy medium...
  • Name's the Same: Both Marvel and Dark Horse put out a Conan ongoing called... Conan. Dark Horse's effort produced over 50 issues, with superb art. Marvel's... didn't.
  • Shout-Out: Quite a few, over the years...

These tropes happened specifically in the Marvel Comics run:

  • Aborted Arc: Happened twice with Conan the King. In its first issue (after being retitled from King Conan) the writers decided to have everyone think Prince Conn was dead, and to have him Wandering the Earth in his own back-up. It was a very good story arc, showing Conan as a man who makes mistakes and having him deal with the consequences of those actions. However, Arc Fatigue and Cerebus Syndrome set in, so after eight issues Conn returned, and the story shifted to Conan dealing with several kingdoms uniting against him and killing his entire legion of Black Dragons, with many of the previous subplots being either killed off or Never Heard From Again. Then, with #50, all of those subplots were pushed aside so the last six issues could tie up all of the Unresolved Plot Threads from the previous story arc. To add insult to injury, the ending of #55 was completely at odds with the end of the second story arc, which was about to deal with Conan fending off yet another tyrant bent on taking over his kingdom, effectively making the last four years worth of stories one big Shaggy Dog Story.
  • Artificial Limbs: There was a story featuring three outlaws who'd run afoul of Conan, and had one Anatomy Arsenal each (well, two did. One just had a plate in his head).
  • Ascended Fanboy: Most people assume Roy Thomas was this. Whilst he was instrumental in getting Conan his own comic, it was Gil Kane who was the big Robert E. Howard fanboy. He did a lot of the artwork for Conan in The '70s, and he couldn't have been happier.
  • Ballistic Discount: In Savage Sword of Conan #75, Captain Bor'Aqh Sharaq has a smith construct him a Swiss Army Appendage that can be fitted with a sword, an axe or a spring-powered throwing iron. Naturally, he kills the smith after the job's done.
  • Comic Book Fantasy Casting: In the early issues of King Conan the titular character bears a strong resemblance to Charles Bronson.
  • Continuity Snarl: Inevitable with Conan canon, but an interesting little hiccup occurred in Savage Sword; Recurring villain Ogerd Vadislav was reintroduced in an issue, despite having been swallowed up by an Eldritch Abomination. There was an L. Sprague de Camp story explaining how this happened, and in a later issue of Savage Sword explained this too... in a completely different way to the pastiche, as Marvel didn't have permission to run that story, so they just winged it. Later, they did get permission to adapt the short story, so they ran it, and attempted to explain how Ogerd survived another attack. It worked... kind of.
  • Crossover: Happened a few times with the Marvel Universe back when the Conan comic rights were owned by Marvel. In fact, the Conanverse version of the god Set became a major part of the MU's Back Story.
    • Regrettably, despite Marvel owning the comic rights to both at the same time, there was never a Transformers vs Conan crossover.
    • But there was a Conan/Elric crossover. No, really.
      • Shallow Parody Thrud once encountered "Eric of Boneymaloney," a "Melancholy Crimson-Eyed Wimp".
    • Conan managed to have a few team-ups with Kull, and a nice two-part team-up with Solomon Kane.
    • What If? Vol. 2 No. 16 features an alternate take on an event in Uncanny X-Men #137, showing Wolverine getting lost in the Watcher's realities and ending up in the Hyborian Age.
  • Digital Destruction: The recolouring of the Barry Windsor-Smith issues, which removes Windsor-Smith's own expressive, balanced colouringnote  with muddy, realistic earth tones and secondary colours. Talked about by artist Tom Scioli here.
  • Easter Egg: During the eighth issue, there are piles of coins in one scene. One panel features a hidden message among the coins: "I must be mad to sit here drawing all these coins".
  • Feuding Families: In Savage Sword of Conan, Conan visits Cimmeria to discover that his family's rivals, the Clan Diarmiad, has used foul magic to murder his parents and his relatives, as well as turning his sister Siobhan into their tortured slave. Conan vows revenge against them and in the end, manages to slaughter every single Diarmiad responsible, though his sister is mortally injured and dies a little after her brother fulfilled his vow. Conan is left the only immediate survivor of his family because of this feud.
  • Fight Dracula: In a one issue of The Savage Sword of Conan, Solomon Kane slays Dracula in a continuation to a story from Dracula Lives.
  • The Fool: Rufio, in King Conan.
  • Gotta Catch 'Em All: Conan the Adventurer became a Crucial Type A and Type B. A talisman of a long-sleeping god was scattered into 6 pieces, and 7 wandering adventurers were promised riches if they found all 6 pieces. Turns out it was the god tricking them so he could initiate a Class 5.
  • Joker Immunity: Ogerd, Wraarl, Boraq d'Sharaq
  • Just Friends: Conan and Red Sonja. During the times they've adventured together it's become clear that Conan is attracted to Red Sonja. Red Sonja, on the other hand, does not feel the same way about Conan.
  • Knife-Throwing Act: In Savage Sword of Conan #119, Conan (in a scene that is undoubtedly a Shout-Out to the movie The Vikings) is forced to play a game where his sister's head is stuck through the middle of a hollow target and he must throw axes to sever her braids while blindfolded. Luckily, he manages not to slay his own sister; and since he ran out of sisterly braids while still having an axe left, he indulges in a manly jest and throws the weapon at Magloclun, cutting the clan leader's own braid.
  • Lighter and Softer: The Comics Code-constrained series compared to the original stories. Averted with The Savage Sword of Conan.
  • Outlaw Town: The Abode of the Damned, in the story of the same name, in The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian #11 (loosely adapted from the Robert E. Howard story "The Country of the Knife").
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: Happens whenever Conan gets lucky in the non-Savage Sword stories.
  • Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome: Taurus and his sister Radegund undergo this in Conan the King, they go from being a toddler and the infant they were in King Conan to young teenagers.
  • Swiss Army Appendage: Captain Bor'Aqh Sharaq has a prosthetic arm that can be fitted with a sword, an axe or a spring-powered throwing iron.
  • The Unfavorite: Taurus, mainly due to his siblings being so much cooler/nicer although it turns out he was a changeling Switched at Birth for the real Taurus... who later made a Heroic Sacrifice for his parents. At least, that's how it was until #50, when the aforementioned Aborted Arc was brought back
  • Vengeance Feels Empty: Though the main character frequently takes pleasure in brutal revenge, this trope pops up when Conan's ally Zula slays his former master. After Conan asks him how it felt, Zula responds that it simply felt hollow. Interestingly, Red Sonja also mentions this trope during this conversation when she says she was unable to slay the man who ravished her after he had been badly tortured.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: In Conan the Barbarian #3, the main focus of the story was The Battle of Clontarf... and how it heralded the death of a god.
  • What Have I Done: Pubilus says this in Conan the King #46, after Zenobia's fourth child dies in childbirth when he refused to let the Asurans protect both mother and child.

These tropes happened specifically in the Dark Horse Comics run:

  • A Form You Are Comfortable With: A hideous hag in Conan the Slayer issue #3 seeks to breed with Conan and places him on a spell that makes him view her as a beautiful sea nymph. He is not fooled by the disguise having already seen how her true form beforehand.
  • Framing Device: The actual stories are framed as an tale to an Eastern prince living in centuries into Conan's future who has discovered the Nemedian Chronicles narrating his deeds. They are narrated by Wazir, his sinister vizier dressed in Stygian robes heavily implied to be Thoth-Amon.
  • King in the Mountain: When Conan's ruins are found in the distant future by the Prince, they find a inscription stating that "in our hour of darkness, when the serpent strikes he shall return".
  • Reality Ensues: Trying to pull a Slave Liberation by assaulting a prominent slave hub, killing all merchants and freeing its prisoners will only result in the neighboring countries at war with each other to put aside their differences and assemble a huge army against you for disrupting their economy, as learned by Conan's mercenary allies.
  • Related in the Adaptation: Natala and Diana, the female leads in Xuthal of the Dusk and A Snout in the Dark respectively are made sisters in the comics whereas in the books there is no indication of such, to set up an entirely original story arc in search of a treasure.
  • Slave Liberation:
    • In "The Damned Horde" storyline, Conan and his allies are forced to storm the slave trading hub of Nippr in search of Natala, and they end up freeing all their prisoners and killing their owners. Its pointed out in-universe the possibility of buying her off, but the mercenaries had no money and trying to buy one specific slave would likely raise some suspicion from the slavers due to her knowledge and they would have been unwilling to sell her. Also the realistic consequences of this feat are laid out in the Reality Ensues entry.
    • After betraying the Bone Woman, Janissa wandered off aimlessly before making a goal of raising an all-female army to free slaves whenever she went. It turns out she was being subtly manipulated by the Bone Woman to fulfill her own goals.
  • Speak of the Devil: The Prince finds a bust statue of Akivasha and upon saying her name out loud, she appears in his mind from the distant past to give him a vision.
  • Sympathetic P.O.V.: The "Sorrow of Akivasha" story in Conan the Cimmerian reframes the Akivasha encounter from The Hour of the Dragon in her point of view, painting the originally seductive and vicious vampiress in a lonely, tragic light.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The Prince in the Dark Horse print served as an Audience Surrogate whom the story was narrated to the readers through him. He hasn't appeared again in any recent comics published since Conan the Cimmerian.
  • The Women Are Safe with Us: During his time with the Free Companions and kozakis, Conan witnessed two men trying to force themselves on a farm girl and he proceeded to lay smack their asses and place them in iron chains as punishment.
  • Worthless Treasure Twist: A treasure hoard discovered by Natala's husband from translating ancient scrolls drives both Conan and Thoth-Amon in its search. They both find out in the end that her husband mistranslated the text and there is no hoard, but a horde of demons waiting for them.
  • You Cannot Grasp the True Form: A trio of monstrous brothers in Conan the Slayer whose physical appearance varied from each person's point of view: to Conan, they looked like normal humans with gigantic proportions, to one man they looked like troll-like creatures, for another they were tentacled beings resembling Davy Jones and another man viewed them as demonic skeletons on fire. This extends to their mother too, though she intentionally assumes a more comely form to seduce Conan. Its hinted that their true form might be even more horrific, but the readers never get to see it.

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