EDITOR’S NOTE: While the barbarian known as Conan is iconic, nearly as famous is the Cimmerian’s dread of sorcery. Whether it’s movies, books, comics or the original works, the otherwise unflappable adventurer often would prefer to turn tail when faced with magic. However, equally famous are Conan’s fights against this thing he fears the most. So which is it? Conan scribe Timothy Truman took some time to give his opinion to Comics Bulletin.
I don’t think it’s contradictory to Conan’s origins at all to have him face supernatural enemies and/or fantastic menaces. There are elements of the supernatural in more than one Conan story:
- The Phoenix on the Sword: A supernaturally conjured demon, summoned by the incognito wizard Thoth Amon.
- Frost Giant’s Daughter: The frost giants and daughter of the title.
- Tower of the Elephant: The “transcosmic being” Yog Kosha and a magic gem that defeats the wizard Yara.
- Scarlet Citadel: The wizard Tsotha’s dungeon is full of horrors, including a demonic octopus, a “bodiless thing hovering in the air,” and various, darting “shadowy forms, abnormal and monstrous in outline.” The good wizard Pelias in the story uses a crystal globe to show Conan what’s happening in his kingdom, then summons an alien flying creature to fly the king back home. Plus at least one zombie sighting: at the end of the story, Conan beheads Tsotha, the wizard’s head is snatched by big carrion bird, and Tsotha’s animated corpse chases after it.
- Queen of the Black Coast: Flying apes. Admittedly, they might not be supernatural, but they are certainly fantastic.
- Black Collossus: A “monstrous, night born incubus” which is “a shapeless shadow” that “is no living thing of form or shape or blood”. Then there’s Nantouk, who reveals himself to be an ancient, resurrected being.
- Xuthal of the Dark: The monster, Thug.
- Pool of the Black One: Supernatural giants.
- Devil In Iron: Khosatral Khel, another resurrected being who “crawled up from the Night and the Abyss ages ago to cloth himself in the substance of the material universe.”
- Snout in the Dark (plot outline): A murderous, pig-like supernatural monster which climbs walls, summoned by Tuthmes.
As for the approach I took in adapting and expanding on Howard’s “Hand of Nergal” fragment, the army aren’t really zombies, per se. (Although there is at least one walking dead person in the tale, and maybe another by the time we get to issue #50.) The creepy warriors army are actually creatures constructed of the souls of warriors from ages past, summoned from the realm of the god Nergal and made living flesh. They and their chariot-riding war leader are based on descriptions of creatures that Howard himself provides: “Slinking shadows, glimpsed from barred windows, alien to humanity and sanity” which Yaralet’s terrified citizens hid from and “and bolted their doors against.” A child dares to peek out the window at them, is struck mad and dies “frothing and screaming.” That the alien creatures might perhaps be somehow martial in nature was suggested by REH’s description of “the swift rumble of chariot wheels along the empty streets in the darkness.”
To create a background for these night horrors, I relied on research. Nergal is the Mesopotamian god of death, mentioned in the scriptures contained in the famous Epic of Gilgamesh. Since Howard was an avid student of history and mythology, he almost certainly knew of the Epic. Knowing this, I referred to it and found the following passage:
“Ereshkigal made her voice heard and spake, addressing her words to Namtar her vizier:
‘…If you do not send that god to me
According to the rites of Erkalla and the great Earth
I shall raise up the dead, and they will eat the living.
I shall make the dead outnumber the living!'”
Seemed liked a cool enough scenario to me.
By the way, while doing the research, I think I also located the source of the title in a transcript of a letter sent by the king of ancient Cyprus to the King of Egypt. In it is the following passage:
“In my land the hand of Nergal, my lord, has killed all the men of my land, and so there is not a single copper-worker”; And “the hand of Nergal is upon my land and upon my house. My wife bore a son, who is now dead, my brother.”
So there ya go. I try my best.
Hang in there until you read issues #49 and the double-sized issue #50. The arc is structured like a novel, and things develop apace.