Without a doubt one of the greatest Conan stories ever told, What If Conan the Barbarian Walked the Earth Today? opens in the Hyborian Age with everyone’s favorite barbarian getting tossed into a well by an evil sorcerer. It turns out that the well has the power to send people through time and, before you know it, Conan the Barbarian finds himself transported to 1977 New York!
If you know anything about Conan (especially the version of Conan who appeared in Marvel Comics), you probably have all sorts of expectations about how Conan would handle being in New York in 1977 and the great thing about this issue of What If? is that fulfills every one of them. Conan neither speaks nor understands the language, he’s wearing a loincloth, carrying a sword, and he’s in the most crime-ridden spot in America. Being Conan, he does what he does best. He kills muggers, makes love to a taxi driver, and eventually gets sent back to his time via a lucky strike of lightning.
Here are a few things that make this one of Conan’s greatest adventures:
First, the story incorporates the real-life New York City Blackout of 1977. In fact, it’s even suggested that it was the temporal energy surge of Conan’s arrival in 1977 that led to the blackout in the first place. The 1977 blackout, which occurred while New York was suffering from a heat wave and tensions were already high due to the Son of Sam murders, led to widespread rioting. And to think, it was all Conan’s fault!
Another cool thing about Conan’s trip to 1977 is that most New Yorkers just assume that he’s another Times Square weirdo, with one person actually making the mistake of grabbing Conan’s sword and declaring himself to be Darth Vader! The people who see Conan mention that he looks like Sylvester Stallone and, I kid you not, Arnold Schwarzenegger! Keep in mind, this story was published several years before the future governor of California was selected to play Conan the Barbarian in the film of the same name.
Finally, this story is different from other issues of What If? in that it definitely happened. A typical What If? story would imagine what would have happened if a super hero had lost their latest battle. (Usually, everyone would die and the universe would end. What If? was dark.) What If? #13, though, is just a Conan story. He goes to the future and then he goes back to the past. No one’s history is changed. As far as I’m concerned, What If #13 tells a story that, in terms of the Marvel canon, really happened. Conan really did cause the Blackout of 1977 and Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson really did see him in Times Square.
For all of these reasons, Conan the Barbarian’s trip to 1977 truly was a great moment in comic book history!
“What If Conan the Barbarian Walked the Earth Today?”
- Writer — Roy Thomas
- Penciler — John Buscema
- Inker– Ernie Chan
- Colourist — Glynis Wein
- Letterer — Joe Rosen
- Cover Artist — John Buscema, Ernie Chan
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