BY MATT TUCK, BLOGGER SUPREME
FB@ The Comic Blog
As unlikely as it sounds, Conan the Barbarian could be in for an MCU makeover, and Multiverse of Madness could be the link.
We’ve seen Conan in many forms over the decades. Robert E. Howard first wrote of a black-haired barbarian named Conan who praised a god named Crom in the short story, “People of the Dark,” which was published in Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror in 1932. That same year, Howard would use Conan as the protagonist in “The Phoenix on the Sword” that appeared in Weird Tales in 1932, marking the barbarian’s first starring role.
Howard’s tales of Conan helped kick off the era of sword and sorcery that became mainstream decades later. While the character was known among readers of the genre, he would reach new heights of popularity when Marvel Comics acquired the publishing rights and brought him to life in 1970’s Conan the Barbarian #1.
Conan’s adventures under the Marvel banner would earn him a new generation of fans throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, but it wasn’t until he ventured into Hollywood that the Cimmerian truly became a household name. In 1982, the unlikely casting of a pre-Terminator Arnold Schwarzenegger in Conan the Barbarian made both Arnold and Conan bonafide movie stars. While Robert E. Howard readers scoffed at Conan with a thick Austrian accent, moviegoers were enamored with the barbarian. The film’s success would spawn the 1984 sequel, Conan the Destroyer, as well as a supporting role in 1985’s Red Sonja.
To this day, the general public still thinks of Schwarzenegger as Conan, though Jason Momoa did attempt a reboot in the poorly-received Conan the Barbarian in 2011. The latest news is that Conan will return in a Netflix streaming series, which is currently in development. In 2007, the original Robert E. Howard Conan stories reportedly became public domain, and that could lead to Marvel Studios adapting the character for the MCU despite the Netflix series.
CONAN IN THE AGE OF SUPERHEROES
In 2018, Marvel Comics reacquired the publishing rights to Conan comics, bringing an end to the Dark Horse Comics era that lasted for nearly three decades. A year later, Conan returned to Marvel in full force. At first, he remained in his traditional Hyborian Age setting, but then the company decided to bring him into the Marvel-616 fold. As part of the Savage Avengers, Conan was magically transported to the Savage Land, where he teamed with some of Marvel’s most violent heroes, such as Wolverine, the Punisher, Venom, and Elektra. From there, the House of Ideas took Conan further into the modern world.
The thing is, it would seem Marvel had wanted to have Conan join the 616 universe since the 1980s. Utilizing What If…?’s alternate reality storytelling format, the writers were able to pit Conan against Thor and tell a fish-out-of-water tale with Conan in 1980s’ New York City without changing his character.
Let’s not forget that an futuristic Conan was created in 2019, Conan 2099. Short lived as it was, this version of the famous barbarian further solidifies Marvel’s desire to pull him out of the fantasy world and place him in the modern age. Apart from Savage Avengers, the Marvel editors made Conan an official part of Earth-616 when was formally introduced to the superhero roster with Avengers: No Road Home #5. It would seem that Conan is a card-carrying Avenger, which makes him a Marvel superhero. The next logical step is adapting him for the MCU, and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness could be the key to adding him to the roster.
SHUMA-GORATH AND THE MCU CONNECTION
As long as Marvel sticks with their version of Conan, then I can’t see there being any copyright hoops to jump through, though I admit that I am no expert in the field of movie rights. Now that Marvel has established the Multiverse, basically every story ever written can be connected to the MCU via interdimensional portals. As we saw in Spider-Man: No Way Home, Doctor Strange’s spells are capable of conjuring beings from alternate dimensions. The simplest way to bring Conan into the mix is by having Doctor Strange or another magical superhero conjure a portal to the Hyborian Age. Boom, in walks Conan in his loincloth, and there we have it. But where’s the fun in that? Marvel Studios likes to tease things, especially when it comes to a character on the scale of Conan. That’s where Mutliverse of Madness comes into play.
One of the villains rumored for MOM is Shuma-Gorath, and the Lord of Chaos could be the first link in establishing Conan in the MCU. In the comics, Shuma-Gorath is part of the Great Old Ones and the ruler of countless dimensions. Around 1 million years ago, he ruled Earth, though he was later banished from our realm by the wizard, Sise-Neg. However, Shuma-Gorath would return to kill the Ancient One and battle Doctor Strange.
In the Doctor Strange mythos, defeating a godlike, tentacled monster is just another day on the job. What makes Shuma-Gorath interesting is his ties to the Hyborian Age. The character’s name first appeared in Robert E. Howard’s short story, “The Curse of the Golden Skull.” When Marvel adapted Shuma-Gorath for the comics, the interdimensional demon returned to Earth during the Hyborian Age and was imprisoned in a mountain by Crom.
Perhaps we have already seen Shuma-Gorath in the MCU. During the first and fourth episodes of What If…?, we see a monster with massive tentacles from another dimension. It first appeared when Red Skull summoned the creature before Captain Carter fought it back into the portal. Three episodes later, Strange Supreme absorbed the being’s powers, thus beginning his corruption. Don’t forget that a Doctor Strange variant appears in the MOM trailer, and many theorists believe that is Strange Supreme, crossing between the animated and live-action MCU. If that was indeed Shuma-Gorath, then the seeds for the Hyborian Age have been planted. In fact, Conan could make his first entry into the MCU with his own episode of What If…?.
The Shuma-Gorath theory could extend into a more unlikely scenario. As Disney made official last year, Agatha Harkness will star in her own streaming series, House of Harkness. While nothing has been revealed about the plot or the supporting cast, the gossip is that her son, Nicholas Scratch, will be part of the show. Remember, Scratch happened to be the name of Agatha’s pet rabbit, and that has spawned countless theories relating to her son. It would only be fitting for Nicholas to come to life in HOH.
In the comics, Nicholas is a powerful warlock who wants to kill his mother. As part of the hidden magical community of New Salem, Nicholas sees Agatha as a traitor for using her powers to help the Fantastic Four. In one particular story, he invokes the name of Shuma-Gorath to cast an evil spell, and that would make sense for an HOH plot detail.
SIX DEGREES OF CONAN THE BARBARIAN
Like playing the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, any link to Shuma-Gorath is a link to Conan via the Hyborian Age. Once the mythical world is established in the MCU, it will only be a matter of time before we see Conan as a live-action superhero, for better or worse. For that matter, we could see Conan 2099 in Across the Spider-Verse as a sight gag.
Matt Tuck is the author of the novel, Lost Bones of the Dead. He is a professional writer, avid comic collector, former teacher, and the Blogger Supreme. You can follow him on his Facebook page, The Comic Blog, or on Instagram at matt.tuck.writer.