If, like me, you’re a child of the 80’s, then you probably grew up with Conan. We had two movies, and two cartoon series, plus another movie and cartoon that should have been Conan, but weren’t. The problem, however, is that most of what we saw, was wrong.
Conan would first appear in Robert E. Howard’s story, “The Phoenix on the Sword”. Conan was a described as a tall man with dark hair, bronzed skin, and muscles like a jungle cat. 40 years later, when Marvel picked up the license and started printing Conan comics, they kept him true to this description.
In fact, most of the comics stayed pretty true to the original for a while. Especially when they released “The Savage Sword of Conan”, which was a black and white, more adult oriented comic that my parents probably shouldn’t have let me read. It wasn’t until 1982, when Conan entered the main stream that we see the first real changes. I’m not even talking about casting the light-haired Austrian, Schwarzenegger as Conan. No, the first major alteration comes in the form of Thulsa Doom.
Since for many people, the first glimpse of Thulsa Doom was when James Earl Jones played him, they probably think of him as looking like this.
Howard originally wrote that Thulsa Doom was a villain for Conan’s predecessor, Kull. He was said to be physically the same size as Kull, and he had a face that appeared to be a bare skull with eyes of flame.
Meaning that if he was playing Thulsa Doom, James Earl Jones should have looked more like this:
The character that he actually played in Conan the Barbarian was more akin to Thoth Amon. Thoth Amon was a sorcerer and follower of Father Set, and he gained all his power from the Ring of Set. When we are first introduced to him, he is a powerless slave seeking to reclaim his stolen ring, and as such, his power. Conan would go on to fight Thoth Amon in the sequel Conan the Destroyer, however, instead of being a main villain, he is barely a mini boss.
He’s not wearing his Ring of Set, nor does he have anything at all to do with serpents in this movie. In fact, the only thing that they kinda got right, is that he summons a great fanged ape to fight Conan.
Thoth Amon would later get revisited again in Conan the Adventurer, and animated series. He had the Ring of Set, he could turn into a serpent, he was almost perfect, except his name here was Wrath Amon.
The other downside to the cartoon, is that, well, it’s a kids show. In order to make the show kid friendly, they make a lot of changes, the biggest being that nobody dies. Ever. Instead of Conan’s parents being killed in an attack, they are instead turned to living stone, and Conan is questing to find the cure. Instead of removing the heads from his enemies, he simply has to touch his enemies with his sword to defeat them. Since most of his enemies are serpent men, the touch of his sword sends them back to their home dimension with Set. Otherwise, it was a pretty good show.
This wasn’t the first Conan cartoon either. Mattel was in talks to create a Conan cartoon before the first movie even came out, but for whatever reason, they decided against it. Instead, they came out with He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, featuring a well muscled, loin cloth wearing barbarian looking hero fighting an evil villain with a skull for a head that lived in a mountain shaped like a snake. Mattel was sued for infringement, how they won the suit, I’ll never know, but they did. This of course, lead to the Dolph Lundgren “Masters of the Universe” film, which showed us just how awesome Thulsa Doom could have looked in Conan the Barbarian
A few years after He-Man came out, we’d again run into a bit of a renaming issue with Conan. In the 1985 movie, Red Sonja, we meet Kalidor, who is played by Schwarzenegger. He was supposed to be playing Conan in this movie, but they couldn’t get the rights to the name. Another change from the source material come in the form of the titular character. The She Devil with a Sword was re-imaged entirely for the comics, where she was made a contemporary of Conan. Red Sonja was actually based on Red Sonya, another Howard character, who was a 16th century gunslinger, not a barbarian woman.
And lastly, since I feel I can’t bring up anything connected to Lovecraft without actually talking about that connection, I’d like to give you Dagoth
Yes, it was a terrible rubber suit monster, but it was a terrible Lovecraftian rubber suit monster, that was also worn by André the Giant. Howard and Lovecraft were friends for a time, and their work influenced each other. Many consider Father Set to be one of the Great Old Ones that Lovecraft wrote about. Likewise, Howard wrote about the great evil creatures that ruled before man in several of his Conan stories. Many of the monsters that he would fight were inspired by Lovecraft’s writings. Perhaps in the Conan movie, we could work some more of this in.
The 2011 Jason Momoa film did feature a giant octopus thing, but that whole movie was a mess. Jason Momoa was a good fit for Conan, but the movie itself just seemed to be too jumbled. Like they couldn’t decide what movie to make, so they just cut apart five different scripts and taped them together. Nobody had any back story. All I knew was Conan hated these people, but it never really went into who these people were, or why they did what they did. You can’t just throw a giant octopus thing into the middle of a movie with no explanation. Where did it come from, why was it there. Did that dude just sit in his chair pulling chains and dropping people into the water all day? It just didn’t make any sense, and the whole scene could have been left out of the movie without hurting the story one bit. Hell, half the scenes could have been left out without hurting the movie one bit.
I kinda wish that Marvel still had the rights to Conan. With the way they’ve been treating their properties, it would be interesting to see what they could come up with.