Before there was Conan, there was– KULL the CONQUERER!
Before we go any further I want you to put that 1997 movie featuring Kevin Sorbo out of your head. Sure, that film has its chessy-fun moments and, let’s face it Tia Carrere is smoking hot, but as the forefather of his Cimmerian predecessor the film did little justice for the legend of Kull.
Created by Robert E. Howard in 1929, Kull is for all intents and purposes the original Conan and a pretty badass barbarian in his own right. Orphaned as a young child Kull is by tigers until becoming enslaved. Kull later fled to life as a pirate before moving on to the ranks of a soldier and finally King of Atlantis (basically he lived every ten year-old boy’s dream).
Given that the film adaptation was originally intended to be the third Conan movie it’s ironic that Conan’s first appearance was actually a story written for Kull (Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror, 1932). The two “siblings” also share a similar appearance, with black hair and a chiseled physique required of any man worth his weight in pork legs and scantily clad sex slaves. Because of these similarities, and Conan’s pop culture appeal, many people mistakenly take Kull as the knock-off character with even his comic books treading in Conan’s footsteps.
One major difference between the two characters was that Howard was written as much more savage than Kull ever was. Kull would, at times, often choose to outwit opponents like Thulsa Doom (see picture above) rather than strong arm them, but he still wasn’t above a two-fisted decapitation. He was a man concerned more with the mysteries of the world than where his next wench would come from and sought to actively conqueror the world as opposed to just people.
The two did manage to meet on a few occasions in typical comic book tradition (villain pits one hero against the other) that involved time travel, brain-washing and naturally some beatdowns, but there’s never been a clear victor. The first crossover took place in the pages of Conan the Barbarian #68, in which Kull was brought to the Conan’s timeline (Hyborian Age) in a plot that involved magic stones. Of course, the “fight” didn’t last long as the heroes managed to figure out that the stones were the cause of all their troubles and everything went back to normal.
In the end Conan may get all the glory, but Kull was laying the proverbial smackdown on sorcerers, man-beasts and bloodthirsty villains long before his “little brother.” Isn’t it time to give the man his due?