Marvel Is Losing The Rights To A Legendary Hero

Marvel is losing the rights to one of the most iconic heroes of the last hundred years, but it is not for the first time.

By Nathan Kamal | Published

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Marvel Comics is losing publishing rights to Conan the Barbarian, the long-running and iconic sword and sorcery hero it has intermittently published since 1969. The US rights to Conan the Barbarian are currently held by a variety of different subsidiaries of Cabinet Entertainment, depending on the media format;  the comic book rights that had been licensed to Marvel Comics until recently were under Heroic Signatures. Marvel is currently running a series called King Conan (by  Jason Aaron and Mahmud Asrar) that will conclude with a sixth issue this year. Conan the Barbarian has also been recently included in the Savage Avengers comic and presumably will be phased out of that. 

Marvel Conan
King Conan

Conan the Barbarian was first folded into Marvel Comics in 1969 when the character first appeared in the anthology series Chamber of Darkness (which also featured adaptations of works by Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft). He was given his own titular series in 1970, which ran until 1977. Throughout the years, the character has repeatedly switched comic book publishers, most frequently appearing in Marvel Comics and Dark Horse Comics. The most recent Marvel series King Conan recently ran into controversy over the inclusion of a character seen as perpetuating Indigenous American stereotypes and using the name of the controversial real-life Indigenous woman popularly known as Pocahantas. 

While Marvel Comics is the longest-running comic book publisher of Conan the Barbarian, the character has been adapted for just about every form of media there is. Perhaps most famously, the character was adapted for film by John Milius in the 1982 film Conan the Barbarian. The movie was an early breakout for bodybuilder recently turned actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and was followed by the less successful sequel Conan the Destroyer in 1984. It also spawned the spinoff film Red Sonja (1985) starring  Brigitte Nielsen; attempts to reboot that particular property have been attempted for decades but always seem to run into issues. In 2011, Conan the Barbarian was rebooted as a film starring Jason Momoa but did not develop into the hoped-for franchise. 

The Marvel Comics version of the character has mostly kept closer to the original depiction of the character in creator Robert E. Howard’s stories, in which he was portrayed as a shrewd, often-chivalric nomad in the fictional Hyborian Age. Unlike Arnold Schwarzenegger’s iconic version of the character as a nearly-mute, hyperviolent avenger, Conan was initially written as a character who lived as much by his wits as his sword. 

Still, there is a reason why Conan the Barbarian is an enduring character for Marvel Comics and pop culture as a whole nearly 100 years after his first introduction in legendary speculative fiction magazine Weird Tales. Oddly, Marvel Comics have often included Conan the Barbarian in their mainstream continuity, which is why there is currently a run of comics that include Conan teaming up with Wolverine and Venom to fight The Hand. While Marvel might be losing the rights to Conan the Barbarian right now, history has shown us the Cimmerian warrior will just keep showing up again and again.

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