The 10 Most Brutal Moments in ‘The Savage Sword of Conan’!
This week, Conan the Barbarian returns to theaters everywhere with a brand new movie, and it probably won't come as a surprise to anyone that I'm pretty excited about it. I love Conan, and in the world of Conan comics, it's hard to beat Savage Sword of Conan, a black-and-white magazine put out by Marvel in the '70s that featured some of the most hard-hitting barbarian action of all time. So today, to get myself pumped up for the new movie, I've gone through a whole stack of Dark Horse's awesome paperback collections to bring you The 10 Most Brutal Moments from Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian!
As you may expect from his reputation, there are very few characters in the Conan who manage to get on his bad side twice. As seen in "The Ghouls of Yanaidar" from Savage Sword of Conan #32, though, it does happen occasionally.
In this case, Conan runs afoul of some old enemies while trying to con them into making him the king of a lost city (you know, as one does), and surprisingly, he even offers to put old differences aside for the time being.
Unfortunately for Virata and Olgerd, they decide to take Conan prisoner and kill him. You can probably guess how well that works out for them.
Yep: Conan grabs a knife out of another dude's belt and then proceeds to kill everyone in the room. And it doesn't stop there, either -- he goes on to kill even more of Olgerd's soldiers, including grabbing one and killing him by jumping off a tower and using the soldier's body to cushion his fall, then carrying the corpse around on his back as a human shield while people shoot arrows at him. Then he fights a yeti. And that's just the first half of the story.
You or I would call that as one of the most badass adventures of all time. Conan refers to it as "Tuesday."
For a guy who is almost never seen on a book cover without the company of what I think I'm legally required to refer to as a "lusty wench," Conan has some serious woman troubles. Take Naia, for instance, a woman Conan met in "Secret of Skull River," who flirtily offered him "anything he might desire" if he'd kill her boyfriend for her, while striking a pose that was only subtle in that it didn't have a neon arrow pointing at her ladybits. Oh, and by the way, her boyfriend was an evil wizard.
Needless to say, this caused no end of trouble for our favorite Cimmerian, but as killing wizards is the closest thing to a steady job Conan has ever had, he managed it in the end. Then came time to claim his reward:
Not only does he cold shove her out of the way, but he throws out aline about being "worth riding twice" that might be the sickest burn on a wench's sexual prowess of all time. Seriously, it might not be quite the same definition we started with, but that's unquestionably the most brutal breakup I've ever seen.
Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor Smith's adaptation of "Red Nails" is often regarded as a high point in Conan comics. It's a beautifully drawn adaptation of Howard's last Conan story that does a great job of balancing action with the creepy, claustrophobic atmosphere of the original story, in a way that could only have been done as a comic.
And it also has a scene where Conan fights a dinosaur.
That's not even the climax, either. It's page six.
The only thing that keeps it from being higher on this list is that even though it's pretty awesome to see Conan just smacking at a dinosaur with his broadsword, he doesn't actually finish the job -- the dinosaur ends up running headfirst into a tree and dying from the impact. Then again, if you can somehow hi a dinosaur so hard that it's driven to committing suicide, you are pretty hardcore.
You may have noticed that this is the point of the countdown where things have shifted away from Conan fighting people and more towards Conan fighting monstrous animals. It happens pretty often in the stories, for the simple reason that once you hit a certain point, people don't really present a believable challenge.
As a result, stuff like this happens a lot.
Admittedly: This is not Conan's best gorilla fight. That happens in my all-time favorite Conan story, Rogues In The House, in which Conan is forced to wrestle a gorilla that thinks it's a wizard. But keep in mind the following:
a) This means that Conan has fought gorillas multiple times.
b) This one is referred to as "a travesty of creation," one of the most metal ways to describe something.
And most importantly...
c) He cuts the gorilla's arm off immediately and the fight then goes on for another two pages, with the Gorilla trying to murder Conan with its bloody stump. It doesn't end until after Conan has stabbed it, and I quote, "again and again into the groin."
At this point, I think we can all agree that Conan flipping out and killing a bunch of people isn't really anything out of the ordinary, but this scene from Savage Sword #8's "Corsairs Against Stygia" is worth mentioning for a couple of reasons:
Even for Conan, hacking his way through a literal boatload of pirates is pretty impressive, but what puts it over the top is the fact that this story takes place well after Conan becomes King of Aquilonia and "retires" from the adventuring life. Sure, his retirement tends to be about as permanent as, say, Ric Flair's, but still. This is the softest Conan has ever been or will ever be, and he is still kicking so much ass that the dude in the foreground is having a nervous breakdown just from being in the vicinity.
Speaking of Conan being the King of Aquilonia, some of you may not be familiar with just how Conan went from being a barbarian thief from Cimmeria to genuine royalty. To make the long story of "Conan The Liberator" in Savage Sword #52 short, it went pretty much like you'd expect, and involved his predecessor deciding it would be a good idea to try to poison Conan with a knife.
And that's pretty much how it happened. And judging by Panel 4, I have to imagine that was a pretty awkward conversation with the rest of the Aquilonian government.
"Mitra's breath! You just murdered the king!"
"...but, well, I mean, he was a tyrant, so I guess we should just say thank you. Now, if we go by the line of succession, I guess our new king is..."
"Uh, why, it looks like it's you! Here's your crown please don't kill us all."
When you've got a character who's as physically dominant and unstoppable at Conan, the natural instinct has to be to create a villain who provides a mental or emotional challenge. That's exactly what happens in Savage Sword #22's "Black Tears," in which an ancient goddess uses her mystic powers to... well, to do this:
That's right: She airbrushes him onto the side of the most wicked awesome van ever attacks him with a crushing sense of existential horror, sending his soul reeling into the vast emptiness of an uncaring universe! It's the sort of thing that twists a mind to realize how insignificant he is, driving them screaming into Lovecraftian madness!
What could one possibly do when faced with such unfathomable horror?!
Conan the Barbarian, everyone: Proving once again that there is no problem he cannot solve by stabbing it right in the face.
Every now and then, a physical challenge does show up to test Conan's mettle, like "Shadows in Zamboula" from Savage Sword #14, which introduces the massive warrior Baal-Pteor. His specialty is strangling people, which he's done since he was a kid.
This, of course, leads to two solid pages and twelve panels of him and Conan standing there with their hands around each other's necks, trying to throttle each other in absolute silence. Until this:
Not only are Conan's neck muscles too ripped to give way, Conan also has the strength to throw him down and snap his neck while still trashtalking him for his inferior strangling technique. Harsh.
From the rest of this article, might've gotten the idea that Conan is a hard guy to get along with, but really, that's not the case. He's a perfectly friendly guy, assuming that you make sure to follow a few very simple rules, as outlined in "Pool of the Black One" from Savage Sword #32.
In this story, Conan shows up on another pirate ship and after answering the captain's question of how he got there with the ultra badass "I swam," he sets about making some friends. But then, one of the crewmen decides to step to Conan.
This isn't just the worst mistake of his life, this is the worst mistake of anyone's life. Ever.
And that is how Conan makes new friends.
Remember way back at the top of the list when I talked about how those guys were old enemies of Conan's? Well, the first time they crossed his path was in "The Tree of Death," and for the most brutal moments in Savage Sword of Conan, there's no competition for what gets the top slot.
Because this is the story where they straight up crucify Conan and leave him in the desert to die. Nails through the arms and everything. And to make matters worse, there are vultures circling that don't intend to wait until he's finished dying to rip the flesh from his bones.
Now, when you're faced with multiple problems like that, it often helps to break them down into more manageable pieces, and for Conan, it all starts with those birds. So in order to improve his situation...
...HE TEARS ITS THROAT OUT WITH HIS TEETH AND DRINKS ITS BLOOD TO STAY ALIVE WHILE NAILED TO THE TREE OF DEATH. There is not enough boldface type in the world for how badass that is.
Of course, he eventually gets free and then goes back to kill the ever-loving hell out of the guys who put him up there in the first place, but c'mon. At this point, that was a given.