Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Barbarian Who Tested The Waters!

I have a confession to make:

I've never read one page of one issue of Conan the Barbarian.

But before you start pelting me with tomatoes, in my defense I can tell you that I've read stories which featured another character who perhaps laid the foundation for Conan:

Yes, of course, Arkon the Magnificent, Conan's predecessor (in a comic book, that is) by a mere six months--created by not only the same writer who would adapt and script Conan in comic book form, but also by the same artist who who would later become Conan's definitive penciller.

And while the similarities don't stop there, there are some interesting differences between the two characters. For instance, while Conan is no stranger to witnessing sorcery, Arkon can employ it from time to time. If you want to bring him to your dimension, you just find a musty book with the proper spell:

Yes, I'm shocked as well at the Toad professing ignorance of something. Arkon doesn't care much for him, either. But, I ask you, could Conan deal with super-speed?

All right, so practically anyone can floor Pietro. I'll give you that. Why don't we focus on Arkon's origin. For one thing, he's the ruler of an entire world that revels in brutal war as a way of life:

And while Conan prefers hacking up his enemies with a sword, Arkon's weapons of choice are his very cool lightning bolts, which can either deliver destructive power or act to transport objects back to his world. Though terrified opponents like the Toad don't at first realize the difference:

Also, Arkon, like Conan, can not only ride exotic beasts, but both men have a knack for talking to and dealing with women:

And I don't know how Conan treats prisoners who have something he wants, but Arkon is as utterly ruthless as the rest of his race:

But all is not well on Arkon's world, because the one enemy he can't meet in battle is science:

With Arkon's world on the brink of doom, it suddenly gets a reprieve when it's unexpectedly flooded with light from an atomic explosion on the planet Earth. Yet Arkon's vizier (I doubt Conan had a vizier) investigates, and warns him that the light is only temporary:

The vizier states that a massive enough atomic explosion on Earth would be enough to bring light again to their world for ages--though, if you've gotten a good look at this crew, you probably didn't spot any physicists among them, nor are their artillery facilities likely to produce an atomic bomb. And so a plan is crafted to kidnap a group of top scientists from Earth and force them to build a weapon to destroy their own world. To that end, Arkon crashes a nuclear conference on Earth and quickly escapes with the men he needs:

And we've already seen Arkon use his "ultimate persuader" to extract the knowledge he needs from these men. (Jeez, these guys can build sophisticated equipment, but apparently not a lab to harness the atom. Well, constant warring doesn't leave much time for atomic research, I suppose.)

Now, doesn't Arkon appear a lot more interesting than some wandering barbarian looking for wine and wenches (and not necessarily in that order)?


Then let's up the ante: how about when the Avengers arrive in force to take on Arkon and his legions?

Arkon's world has presumably been decimated by hunger and disease by this point--but it seems Arkon is a resourceful enough leader to have a sizable battle force kept at the ready for any incursions. And it's Arkon himself who strikes the first blow against the Avengers:

The Avengers, like Arkon's battle-hardened race, also know their business. And, seeing what they're up against, they respond accordingly. Put simply, they make one hell of a strike force:

Arkon is in this fight to win, but even he can see the writing on the wall. But his vizier helps him to see the greater picture at stake:

Arkon then grabs the atomic doomsday weapon, as well as a witness, and engages the final stage of his plan: returning to Earth to deploy the bomb. But the Avengers have spotted his escape, and are hard on his heels:

Given the buildup which I've lavished on Arkon, I guess I can't complain at the apparent ease with which he deals with these four Avengers, even though the man is outnumbered and arguably outgunned. But let's take the assaults one at a time and see if Arkon's mettle can be justified. First on the scene is Quicksilver, whom we can assume will be taken out (heh) quickly:

Alright, he's not able to reach full speed on the ledge. But even a fraction of super-speed is still pretty darn fast, isn't it? Faster than, say, a foe to notice you, turn, and move to defend himself? What do I know.

Also pretty quick on his feet is the Black Panther, for all the good it does him against one of Arkon's bolts:

This is where I note that Conan would have only thrown a sword, which would have electrified squat. But, wasn't the Panther in the process of leaping anyway? So how is Arkon's strategy successful?

The big guns then arrive. First, the Vision, who hears Wanda's first-ever words to him, but is a little busy defending himself from an arsenal of specialized bolts that would do Hawkeye proud:

And speaking of Hawkeye, Goliath is the last to prevent Arkon from dropping his weapon of mass destruction. And he's stopped by--leverage!?

All right, so we know that Arkon likely wrestled in what passed for high school on his world. Apparently he and his team wrestled mastodons, if he can pin Goliath.

Fortunately, the tense situation is resolved when the vizier breaks in and tells of the efforts of the other Avengers, who have managed to save the Imperion's world without the use of deadly force:

With the crisis over, Arkon is left to reflect on his time with Wanda, whose influence was put aside in the heat of battle but now provides us with something of a "Conan moment" for the two:

So it's goodbye to Arkon, and hello to Conan the following October. I won't speculate as to which one could take the other--though I'd imagine Conan could be tempted to enjoy a few weeks of warring and spoils on Arkon's world, by Crom.

If you'd like to follow up with Arkon, though, you'll find that his world's problems aren't over yet--and after another skirmish with the Avengers, next time he'd come gunning for the X-Men! Needless to say, Wolverines and Imperions tend to have personality conflicts.


B Smith said...

Nice account of The Magnificent One's debut! While reading it, I thought to myself "Now really - what world leader would get around wearing only a pair of leather underpants, boots and the occasional cape?"

Then remembered that I'd just been reading about Vladimir Putin...and my question was answered :-)

It was also interesting to see that artwork. I seem to recall that Tom Palmer usually coloured any art that he inked, and his judicious use of Zipatone really set it apart from other artwork in the day - though all the strides made in colouring via computer have rendered it obsolescent, one supposes.

(I remember feeing quite pleased with myself as a child the first time I was able to identify a specific artist's work; it was a Neal Adams Avengers issue...thing is, I only ID'd it (recalling it from the only Adams X-Men comic I'd seen) because of Palmer's Zipatone)

dbutler16 said...

I love that Iron Man can whip up a device to save a world in 5 minutes. Reed Richards, eat your heart out!

Wanda's powers will be restored by crossing the dimensional barrier, and Arkon knows this, just...because?
Anyway, I've always been an Arkon fan, and I was also kinda late to the Conan party. I bought a handful of issues back in the day but was never that much into it.However, I did get The Chronicles of Conan, vol. 1 recently, and enjoyed it.

As to B Smith's comments about a world leader only wearing leather pants, Arkon's got nothing on Namor for under-dressed leaders!

Comicsfan said...

dbutler, an Avengers story from early 2001 echos your sentiments exactly on Iron Man, as they face the threat of the Bloodwraith and Iron Man prepares to fire a custom-built weapon:

Captain America: "Will this work, Iron Man?"
Iron Man: "Well, Cap--considering I had to design it on the quinjet over, build it out of spare parts, and haven't been able to test it at all... yeah, it should work."

(See issue #37 for this mammoth construct built out of "spare parts." Yeesh.