The first full week in September is “What If Week.” The Writer’s Blok is reading and offering thoughts and opinions on some of these gems of the Marvel Universe. The What If stories are meant to examine what would happen if things went differently than it did canonically in the Marvel Universe. The subject matter ranges from mundane to grandiose. When you read a What If comic, it could be something as silly as “What if Wolverine Was a Girl?” or something as serious as “What If Charles Xavier Led The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants?” You can see how the events in these books are interesting as they are isolated and free from the shackles of continuity. Today’s offering is from the Cap, and it is “What If Conan The Barbarian Were Stranded In The 20th Century?”
“What If…” was a popular run of comics in the 90’s. I remember when they first started to come out everyone was talking about them and as most gimmick/ fad comics they ran their course and were relegated to distant memory. As part of the website’s ever changing landscape to keep yall entertained, Scott assigned each of us a “What If…” ‘at random’, (but I’m calling shenanigans on that) and charged us with giving it a read and coming back with our impressions. I call shenanigans because I know that Scott knows that I love Captain America and Conan, anyone care to guess which “What If…” I was ‘randomly’ assigned?
If you guessed “What if Conan the Barbarian were stranded in the 20th century” you’d be correct (how fortuitously ‘random luck’ is). This comic mercilessly smashed together the two completely different echelons of characters that I love. Before reading this I never would have equated the two in the same hemisphere, a conclusion I’m sure most of you would agree with. They’re just too different, Captain America is a soldier bound by honor and duty to fight in defense of his country and to that goal no other allegiances take precedence. While Conan is also synonymous for being a profound warrior, he fights for entirely different reasons, his attitudes towards combat and society all center on maintaining his own personal freedoms whether or not they clash with anyone else’s. Of course this sets up for a perfect clash in their personal ideals.
The premise of the “What If…” is that Conan is transported to the present day, and how he adapts to routine ‘city life’. Of course he’s at an obvious disadvantage of thousands of years in his learning curve, but Conan’s unrestrained prowess and incredible instinct for survival see him through the infancy of his stay in the 20th century. Without question he’s more than a match physically for modern man, but what a lot of non-Conan readers fail to realize, is that Robert E Howard(1) wrote Conan as being incredibly cunning (not the dumb brute most people associated with his size, apparent barbarism or the Schwarzenegger movies). His ability to adapt and learn is what allowed him to get through all Hyperborean scrapes and what allows him to thrive in the 20th century.
Eventually Conan picks up enough language to communicate. That starts out simply as knowing enough language to rob someone and progresses into full functional conversation skills. He eventually works his way into a leadership role of a local gang. Conan’s natural leadership is epitomized as the gang transforms its demeanor and style to match Conan’s. Eventually his gang members even begin to dress as he does and gives themselves the moniker ‘Barbarians’. Even though he’s running a thieves den, Conan upholds his own sense of individualistic morality, dictating that innocents will not be harmed and the only people they should rob from have to be rich enough to not miss what’s being taken. After a time the petty-robbery loses its luster and Conan wants to steal treasure worthy of legend.