I wanted to celebrate the release of the new Conan the Barbarian film today by reviewing some of the Conan related material I have. I started by reviewing the first and second issues of his female counterpart, Red Sonja, and Vol.1 of Marvel’s Conan comic. Now I take a look at the Marvel Comics adaptation of the original 1982 Conan film.

Spoilers ahead.

The cover to my copy of Conan the Barbarian Movie Special #1

We start out with Conan’s father fashioning a sword, explaining that Man stole the knowledge of steel from the gods, and that with a trusty sword no man need rely on anyone else for anything.

This, of course, comes right before a party of vicious invaders arrive to kill all the adults, burn down the village, and capture all the children. Conan not only watches both his parents get slaughtered before him, but as the mysterious snake-bannered troop chant and lead the children out of the destroyed village the young Cimmerian sees the heads of his parents hung upon spikes (beat that, Columbiana).

The children are chained to the “Man Killing Wheel of Pain” which is apparently solely used for the purpose of tiring someone to death. Conan swears vengeance on the mysterious troop – and their mysterious leader – who destroyed his family and village, and over the years all the other children die off leaving the adult Conan pointlessly pushing the giant wheel alone. Doing so on his own for so long has turned him into an immense and powerful man.

Eventually the Cimmerian is sold as slave to a man who enters Conan into a variety of pre-Colombian MMA fights. Initially getting his ass kicked the barbarian eventually starts killing/winning every battle. Although still a slave to his master Conan is beloved by the audience, and starts to develop a sense of self-worth. As his fame grows and people of importance wish to meet him he is trained in the ways of literature, war, women, and martial arts.

Eventually an earthquake rumbles through the land, the falling rock crushing Conan’s jailers and breaking open his cage. Understanding that his freedom is more important than the benefits he’d been given the Cimmerian flees, chased by wolves until he accidentally falls into a pit. There he discovers the remains of an ancient king. Conan claims the skeleton’s sword and frees himself from his chains. Emerging into the daylight he slays the wolves and moves on.

Eventually Conan finds a clearing. A figure is huddled by a stone cliff, chained to the rock. A woman exits a nearby hut and bids Conan stay with her. Within her abode the barbarian explains he is heading south, but the woman says he can’t be – prophecy says that he is destined to be king and “crush the snakes of the earth under his bared feet.”

Recalling the banner of the men who destroyed his village Conan is intrigued by the mention of snakes and asks the woman for more information. She refuses until he lies with her, and as they roll on the fur-lined floor the woman says he must head to Zamora.

She then transforms into a pointy nailed/toothed creature and Conan throws her into the fire. A ball of flame erupts from the fireplace and escapes the hut. The barbarian follows it outside and encounters the huddled figure again, who introduces himself as Subotai, the Hyrkanian Thief and Archer. Subotai begs for food so that he may have the strength to die fighting the wolves he’s intended to be dinner for, but Conan frees him. Together they travel to Zamora.

Within the city Conan and Subotai encounter a procession of priests, followed by young men and women carrying snakes. Another faction carries a woman of amazing beauty, who transfixes the Cimmerian and tells him a cleansing of “Doom” is coming before disappearing into the crowd. As the procession leaves they begin to chant “Doom” over and over. Conan notes that it is the same chant used when his village was attacked, but Subotai says it is the same thing all the cults chant, and that every year he’s seen a different animal totem used.

Conan inquires about the woman he saw and learns that she is the Princess of Shadizar, mindlessly enraptured as all of the cult followers are. Subotai is really not fond of the cult and together he and Conan plot to steal a great jewel – the Eye of the Serpent – from the organization’s guarded tower.

Working their way into the structure the duo encounter Valeria, Queen of the Thieves. Her usual group of brigands are too scared of the cult’s leader, Thulsa Doom, and have run off. Impressed with each other’s courage/ignorance all three decide to work together. Once inside they split up; Valeria searching one level while Conan and Subotai descend to the lower pit.

While Valeria spies on a ceremony that includes an entranced young woman, the Cimmerian and Hyrkanian find the Eye of the Serpent – which is guarded by a humongous sleeping snake. Conan is able to grab the bauble, but he is unaware that his sweat has dripped into the eye of the serpent and woken it up.

As the thieves go to leave the chamber Conan is stopped by a hanging symbol that exactly matches the one on the banners of the men who killed his family. Pocketing it Subotai warns the barbarian of the approaching snake just in time for the two of them to kill it. No one in the ongoing ceremony above has noticed any of the duo’s actions until the entranced woman leaps into the pit, where she screams when she finds the great snake slaughtered. Thulsa Doom’s men spot Conan and Subotai fleeing, and the page ends with CONCLUDED NEXT MONTH!

DIFFERENCES FROM THE MOVIE: Oh man, let’s start with the biggest change between the film and comic; Conan narrates the comic. The 1982 film is narrated by later-introduced character Akiro, and this allows for some details to be left out because Conan never told his record-keeper. Things like the Wheel-o-Death are never explained, and we haven’t even learned Valeria’s name in the film at this point. Because of this, added to Conan’s chattier nature in general, the barbarian has very little mystique to him. But the comic does include some great exchanges that the movie lacks.

Overall the comic and movie have been pretty similar. Some scene changes include Conan being willingly released from slavery by his master, and later on the Cimmerian and Subotai do not see the Princess in the streets of Zamora in the film. There are other minor differences in dialogue and blocking but overall the two media have told pretty much the same tale.

Of course the levels of nudity and violence have been tuned down for a comic book, although Conan’s constant narration means we get to know details like “his head shattered like a ripe melon,” which are pretty gruesome descriptions and make up for a lack of visual detail. While the film sometimes benefits from a little mystery thanks to it’s fantastic setting and dark lighting, that mystique is not present in the comic, for better or for worse.

Tune in tomorrow for Part II – the epic conclusion!