Having completed a deal this January that saw the rights for the title return to them from Dark Horse Comics, beginning in 2019, Marvel will once again publish comics featuring Conan the Barbarian. This will mark something of a homecoming for Conan. Robert E. Howard’s famous Cimmerian first appeared in comic book form in Marvel comics way back in 1970. As Bronze Age Sword and Sorcery adaptations go, Marvel’s version of Conan the Barbarian is still, for my money, one of (if not the best) interpretations of the character you can read.
The initial issues of Conan were written by Roy Thomas (who would in fact script the first 115 issues of the title) and drawn by the inimitable Barry Windsor-Smith (at the time known mainly for his work on Marvel’s X-Men and various smaller titles, like Astonishing Tales and Chamber of Darkness). These early issues adapted Howard’s Hyborian world so faithfully that this run eventually included comic book renditions of many of Howard’s original novels and pulp fiction plots.
Originally as a tryout title, Marvel published a character called Starr the Slayer (appearing in the title Chamber of Darkness), then, thinking the rights to Conan would be too expensive, Marvel tried to seek out the rights to publish a Lin Carter-created character: Thongor of Lemuria (who, in the words of Roy Thomas, was ‘half Conan and half John Carter of Mars’). It turned out that Marvel was in fact only able to afford the rights to publish Conan (the Howard estate charged far less than what Carter wanted, although in the end Marvel would publish Thongor too- he appears in Creatures on the Loose #22).
The rest, as they say, is history.
Multiple Conan comics were published by Marvel over the next twenty six years. The rights then passed to Dark Horse who published stories featuring the character in the interim. In subsequent posts, I’ll take a look at some of the spin-off titles and characters. This time, it’s the original Conan comics that started it all that I’ll be looking at. With Marvel to start publishing the Barbarian’s comics again soon, is there also a possible Marvel Conan movie in the works? If so, the price of these issues will spike higher than the horns on the helmet Conan wore in the early issues of his run (full confession: I loved that helmet!).
The horn helmet, the medallion necklace – look it’s Starr the Slayer! No, actually, it’s Conan the Barbarian. This cover and comic are so iconic that it basically captures the Platonic form of Marvel Bronze Age Sword and Sorcery Comic book. Conan’s look, however, was originally borrowed from the character of Starr also drawn by Windsor-Smith (first appearance: Chamber of Darkness #4 ). The horn-helmet and medallion necklace would eventually go, but the great Barry Windsor-Smith art and Roy Thomas scripts would continue. Thomas would last for over a hundred issues, Windsor-Smith, unfortunately, would leave after issue #24 but at least his departure cleared the way for the pencils of John Buscema who would also end up also doing some of his finest work on this title. This comic has shown very strong returns in almost all grades. Currently a 9.4 graded copy can be had for around $650.00. 9.8 are selling at $5,250.00.
By Crom this issue is hard to find! The reason being it had a limited distribution in some areas. The story “The Twilight of the Grim Grey God!” is classic Conan loosely adapted from the Howard penned tale: “The Grey God Passes!” By this point in the run, Thomas and Smith were plotting the issues together and Smith’s work was improving with every outing. The lower distribution numbers make this one valuable. That said, you can still find a high grade copy 9.0 for $110.00. 9.8 copies jump to well over $1000.00 but best returns have been on 4.0s
By issue #23, Thomas and Smith were clearly at their creative peak. Their Conan, after a few cancellation threats and a somewhat slow start in terms of number of issues sold, was starting to pick up in sales and a dedicated fandom was forming. To top it all off, the book had even begun to win industry awards. So comfortable with the character had Thomas become, that he now introduced another Howard creation, Red Sonja, and placed her in the Hyborean age. In her original appearances in the Howard stories, Sonja was unconnected to Conan and lived in the sixteenth century. Red Sonja in the comic was a warrior woman and would appear not only in future Conan comics, but she would eventually get her own series. I’ll be looking at collectible Red Sonja issues in my next post, for now, just know that this comic is still affordable at slightly over $100.00 for 9.0’s and 9.8 copies still under $800.00. Best returns have been on 9.4, but are currently strong in almost every grade.