Know, oh noble folk of indeterminate gender, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the rise of the Sons of Beeches, there was an Age undreamed of, when the rights to the tales of Conan the Cimmerian did pass from the riders of the dark mustangs onto the House of Ideas. And lo there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. For the Purists of Howard did fear that Conan – mightiest of warriors – would become a warrior of Social Justice, with braided beard and manscaped chest and many mugs of IPA quaffed. Yet this did not come to pass, though tales were told focused upon the women warriors who crossed the path of King of Aquilonia and Conan himself was brought forward in time to join the ranks of the Savage Avengers.
Hither came Conan 2099 – a series bringing Conan even further astray, into the world of Marvel 2099. Here, Conan is king once more, yet also a thief, a reaver, a slayer; black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, though the sword now seems to be a lightsaber. Still, he is Conan with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, treading the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet. Aye, and who knows – perhaps in realms beyond the Earth in issues to come?!
Okay. Now that I’ve gotten the colorful introduction out of the way, let’s get down to brass tacks. Is Conan 2099 a complete betrayal of the concept?
Much as I enjoy the original Robert E. Howard Conan stories in all their epic splendor, I have a hard time holding them up as something pure and unsullied that can be corrupted by a colorful adaptation. Even ignoring the likes of the animated series Conan The Adventurer and various video games over past three decades that licensed his name, the Conan mythos have long been at the mercy of editors and entertainment lawyers who barely paid lip service to the Bard of Cross Plains. Besides, given how frequently Howard bastardized his own stories for the sake of a paycheck (most of the fan-service in the original Conan pulps was added to win the favor of Weird Tales cover artist Margaret Brundage, for instance) I find it hard to believe that Howard wouldn’t gleefully “sell-out” and team Conan with He-Man and write the crossover himself for the right price.
That being said, the Conan we see in Conan 2099 written by Gery Duggan is the same figure we see in the Howard stories; a just king who tries to do right by his people, but a warrior born and bred first. The details of how Conan is still alive and youthful in 2099 are not explained. One presumes it may have something to do with last week’s Conan the Barbarian #11, which saw Conan kicked out of the Cimmerian afterlife for being too stubborn to rest in peace and cursed by Crom to learn that there are worse things than death. Whatever the case, Conan is still ruling a kingdom in 2099, but a witch’s curse soon destroys the new life Conan has built for himself and sends him on a quest to rid himself and the world of her evil. In other words, despite the setting shift from sword-and-sorcery to cyberpunk dystopia sinking into post-apocalyptia, Conan is still Conan and is still fighting the same evils in the same way.
Duggan’s story is all the more impressive for how it utilizes various aspects of the Marvel Universe and blends them into the narrative without requiring any previous knowledge of the 2099 setting or indeed Conan himself. This story stands on its own to a shocking degree given how nearly everything Marvel publishes these days seems to be a crossover or a tie-in to something else. One can easily pick up this comic, read it and be done with it afterward – a rare treasure in these days of decompressed storytelling.
The artwork by Roge Antoni, Erick Arciniega and Travis Lanham proves a good match to the story and captures the larger-than-life nature of both Conan and the setting. Antonio has proven a skillful and versatile artist in the past, yet he outdoes himself here depicting both the savage wastes and high-tech urban landscapes Conan must traverse in his quest. Arciniega’s colors convey a variety of interesting lighting effects and the lettering by Travis Lanham keep the text visually interesting, though there’s far less of the KLANG and CRASH than one would expect from a Conan story.
While the sword-and-sorcery purists may turn their nose up at this sci-fi fueled offering, the spirit of Conan is strong within Conan 2099. You may take the barbarian out of Hyboria and hand him a lightsaber, but nothing can tame Conan’s barbaric spirit. The artwork proves as impressive as the story, which is thankfully accessible to newcomers to both the 2099 and Conan settings. Buy it, by Crom!