He has fought Red Sonja and The X-Men, Conan and The Avengers, and he once executed Spider-Man on-panel. But what is the deal with Kulan Gath? Your Major Spoilers Retro Review of Conan The Barbarian #15 awaits!
Writer: Roy Thomas/Michael Moorcock/Jim Cawthorn
Penciler: Barry Windsor-Smith
Inker: Sal Buscema/Barry Windsor-Smith
Colorist: Barry Windsor-Smith
Letterer: Sam Rosen
Editor: Stan Lee
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: 20 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $100.00
Release Date: February 22, 1972
Previously in Conan The Barbarian: Between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas, the warrior known as Conan strode the land. Born of Cimmeria, he smoldered, beheaded, and defenestrated his way through the Hyborean Age. Though arguably the best-known of the various fictional skull-splitters, he’s not the only swords-and-sorcery hero in the world. He’s not even the only one in this issue.
Last issue, Conan encountered Zephra, the daughter of a wizard whom the Cimmerian had battled some months earlier. Though weakened by the encounter, her father, Zakura had envisioned a threat from a higher dimension, a world called Melniboné. When Conan and Zephra set out to stop the possible godly incursion, they ran afoul of Melniboné’s greatest hero, the sorcerer/emperor Elric. After the requisite Bronze Age misunderstanding-into-fight, Elric and Conan had to work together to fight off the armies of Xiombarg, forging an uneasy alliance and making their way toward the threat: The wizard known as Kulan Gath!
Through what Conan would call “magicks most foul,” Kulan Gath has become aware of the power of Terhali, an undead witch from Melniboné, whose power is the very threat that brought Elric across the void. It’s always odd for me to see the early ’70s work of Barry Windsor-Smith, as I can’t help but see the Jim Steranko influences, and very little of what would become his later style. This page, however, does show the shape of things to come, even if ol’ Kuley hasn’t yet donned his trademark wedgie hat, giving us some of the first elements of the stylization to come.
Even the combined power of the future King and the former Emperor aren’t enough to stave off an undead green witch AND Kulan Gath, but fortunately, they don’t have to. It seems that Xiombarg’s prophetic dreams were lies, and the witch refuses to work for her erstwhile master, instead killing him brutally. So, uhhh… it’s not really a good introduction to the sorcerer who would effortlessly oppose Selene, The X-Men, AND The Avengers all at the same time. Sorry about that.
While that problem gets ironed out, Zephra finds herself touched by the god(?) Arkyn, who grants her the power to defend Hyborea all by herself. She bursts into flame, the raw power of Arkyn immolating her, as Conan and Elric are forced to watch. (To his credit, Conan wants to save Zephra, but Elric holds him back, warning that the sheer power involved in the battle would annihilate them both.)
It is, as Elric says, a great victory for the forces of goodness and order, but a fatal one for Zephra. Even though he never loved her back, Conan feels responsible for the young woman’s demise, while Elric offers his magic cloak to cover her before returning to his home dimension. Their awkward alliance is perhaps the best part of this tale, but the real piece de resistance comes as the Cimmerian returns Zephra’s body to her father, a task he felt compelled to complete.
Bitterly rejecting Zakura’s sorcerous ways, Conan rides off into the sunset, vowing to find a tavern, a stiff drink, and a world whose boundaries he understands… a world where his strong sword arm can be put to use hacking up his enemies. Co-plotted by Elric’s creator, Michael Moorcock and his frequent collaborator, illustrator Jim Cawthorn, Conan The Barbarian #15 is pretty excellent, weaving a complex and interesting story with a limited page count, with art that never falls below the level of “Wow!”, earning 5 out of 5 stars overall. There’s something entertaining about the idea that this unexpected crossover happened during Marvel’s peak licensing days, with the added bonus of trying to puzzle out how the Robert E. Howard estate got to keep control of the Kulan Gath character even though he’s a creation of Moorcock, Thomas, Smith, and Cawthorn under the auspices of Marvel.
Dear Spoilerite,At Major Spoilers, we strive to create original content that you find interesting and entertaining. Producing, writing, recording, editing, and researching requires significant resources. We pay writers, podcast hosts, and other staff members who work tirelessly to provide you with insights into the comic book, gaming, and pop culture industries. Help us keep MajorSpoilers.com strong. Become a Patron (and our superhero) today.
CONAN THE BARBARIAN #15
Elric and Conan kind of hate each other, and their motives and modus operandi are ill-matched, but this issue's story of their brief encounter makes for a good read, even if Kulan Gath gets punked out in epic fashion halfway through.