According to Malmberg, Marvel decided late last year not to extend its agreement with Heroic Signatures for the Conan license past the end of 2022. “The message we got was that they decided to not pursue licensed characters,” he explains, a detail with potential implications for Marvel further down the line***.
Knowing that Marvel was stepping back from Conan duties, Heroic Signatures decided to re-assess how it approached Conan as a comic book property, with the result that it will take over the creation of Conan comics itself when the Marvel license ends, working with partners to publish the books across the world. According to what Malmberg told ICv2
, Heroic will be working with Panini outside the U.S., but in terms of a U.S. partner, he’s playing his cards a little closer to his chest: “We have one partner that we have been discussing details with, and are close to conclusion in my view,” he tells me, suggesting that “summer sounds about right” for the timing of any upcoming deal.
Whoever the U.S. partner ends up being, they’ll be getting more than just Conan as part of the deal. Malmberg told me that Heroic Signatures’ plan for its comic line extends far beyond the most famous of Robert E. Howard’s characters. “Our IP portfolio is quite large,” he writes, adding that the company “would like this opportunity to feature less commercial and unknown characters than perhaps a licensee would.” Malmberg also intimated that the creation of all-new concepts and characters for the comics line was a possibility.
As for Conan’s immediate comic book output, that’s actually far rosier than it might seem. Ignoring the fact that Ablaze Publishing’s mature readers title The Cimmerian continues unabated – reprinting European adaptations of Robert E. Howard’s original Conan stories, it’s been assumed that these books exploited some legal loophole in terms of copyright by avoiding the name “Conan” on their covers; the truth is, they’re also a licensee of Heroic Signatures – Marvel has an aggressive collected editions program for the character throughout the remainder of this year, with no less than eight collected editions scheduled before the company loses the license at the end of 2022, including the final two volumes of Conan the Barbarian: The Original Marvel Years Omnibus, as well as Conan the King: The Original Marvel Years Omnibus and Savage Sword of Conan: The Original Marvel Years Omnibus Vol. 9.
While King Conan #6 – currently targeted for a July release, paper shortages notwithstanding – is the last new Conan-only material Marvel will release before surrendering the license, the character remains at the center of the Savage Avengers relaunch, which releases its first issue today – and even after Heroic Signatures takes over comics publishing for Conan, that doesn’t necessarily mean the end of Conan’s adventures in the Marvel Universe, according to Malmberg.
“Marvel retains reprint rights to [Savage Avengers and Avengers: No Way Home] and we hope that we can have Conan be a guest star at the House of Ideas in the future,” he shares. “No such plans at the moment, but we had a great time working with their editorial team.” (Sorry to everyone wondering if Marvel would have to quietly pretend a chunk of its last three years worth of comics didn’t actually happen.)
As unlikely as it seemed as recently as Monday, Conan fans might be looking at a future filled with even more barbarian-ing than before, in a multitude of different locations… including the Marvel Universe. What is best in life, again…?