This article contains minor spoilers for Savage Avengers #18 by Gerry Duggan and Kev Walker.
Conan the Barbarian has a surprising but subtle link to Thor, the God of Thunder. When Marvel regained the publishing rights for Conan the Barbarian comics, they wasted no time in incorporating him into the modern Marvel Universe. In fact, in the pages of Gerry Duggan and Kev Walker’s Savage Avengers, he is working closely with Doctor Strange, Deadpool, and other classic Marvel heroes to battle an ancient Sorcerer Supreme from the Hyborian Age, Kulan Gath.
Savage Avengers #18 sees Conan break into the Hellfire Club in order to raid it. Of course, the modern Hellfire Club is no longer run by so-called “evil” mutants – it is the trading arm of the mutant nation of Krakoa. Soon, Conan is going head-to-head with several members of the X-Men, and he’s particularly pleased to see Iceman. “It warms my heart that in this weak and pathetic world, there are still warriors descended from Ymir,” Conan tells Iceman – before shattering him. Anyone familiar with comics will recognize the reference to Ymir of the Frost Giants, a classic enemy of Thor – so how is Conan connected to him?
Conan was originally created by writer Robert E. Howard, and in the 1930s he wrote a Conan short story called “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter.” It was actually rejected by Howard’s publisher, and the author adapted it to fit a different hero. It was finally published in the 1950s, and Marvel adapted it into their lore back when they first acquired publishing rights for Conan stories in the early 1970s. The story is chronologically one of the earliest in Conan’s life and sees the warrior near-dead in an icy wilderness after he fought off an ambush. He sees a spectral vision of a beautiful woman who walks near-naked through the blizzard without feeling the cold, and who taunts him into giving chase – until she leads him to a trap where her brother Frost Giants attack. She is Atali, daughter of the Frost Giant Ymir, who is an established part of Marvel lore. This neatly explains why Marvel’s version of Conan references a Thor villain in Savage Avengers #18, believing an ice-manipulator like Bobby Drake must be a descendant of the Frost Giant.
The description of Atali in Howard’s original short story is a fascinating one, and no doubt Iceman would be flattered at being compared to her:
“His gaze went again to her unruly locks, which at first glance he had thought to be red. Now he saw that they were neither red nor yellow but a glorious compound of both colors. He gazed spell-bound. Her hair was like elfin-gold; the sun struck it so dazzlingly he could scarcely bear to look upon it. Her eyes were likewise neither wholly blue nor wholly grey, but of shifting colors and dancing lights and clouds of color he could not define.”
Curiously enough, Marvel is not the sole publisher running Conan stories right now; Ablaze Comics is publishing several because the rights to Conan are partly public domain, and they have recently adapted “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter.” This version is much more true to Robert E. Howard’s short story, taking its time with the plot and even including a copy of Howard’s story; it’s also far more graphic and sexual than anything Marvel would put out. In a quirk of timing, their version was only published in December 2020, so it’s ironic to find a reference to the story of “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter” making its way into the Marvel Universe again right now. Thor and Conan have been connected for a long time.