Jim Zub is poised to pick up the blade for Marvel's Conan the Barbarian title, but before he becomes the Cimmerian's ongoing scribe, he's taking Conan on a Marvel Universe adventure in Conan: Serpent War - or at least, he's bringing a Marvel Universe adventure to the Hyborian Age.
In Serpent War, Conan will team up with not only other Robert E. Howard characters, but also Marvel's Moon Knight - whose Egyptian mythology background dovetails with Conan's ancient serpent rivalry - to take on the evil god Set across multiple times and realities, with each issue drawn by a different artist.
With the unique Serpent War event about to kick off on December 4, Newsarama spoke with Zub about bringing together his twin loves of fantasy and superheroes and how Serpent War will play into his upcoming Conan run.
Newsarama: Jim, Conan: Serpent War is a truly unique crossover involving several Robert E. Howard characters along with Moon Knight. How did Serpent War come about - both on the page and behind the scenes?
Jim Zub: After working on Avengers: No Road Home, a wild weekly series that brought Conan back to the Marvel Universe, and a 3-part Savage Sword of Conan story called “Conan: The Gambler,” which channeled a lot of classic Conan pulp elements, it was felt I'd be a good fit for developing a story that incorporated multiple Robert E. Howard characters along with a taste of the MU.
Editor Mark Basso sent me a list of possible characters we could use for this story and, beyond obvious choices like Solomon Kane and Dark Agnes, I keyed into James Allison. James is a bit of an obscure choice. He's an interesting 'meta' character, an author who dreams of his past lives and has a connection to all of them across the ages.
James provided a structure, a supernatural connective tissue in canon I could use to bring multiple REH characters together into one story. The fact that there was an amazing Marvel adaptation of the James Allison story called “The Valley of the Worm” adapted by Roy Thomas and illustrated by Gil Kane made bringing that back into the spotlight even more potent.
Nrama: The obvious question is, how does Moon Knight fit into this?
Zub: Khonshu, the God of the Moon, senses a great conflict with Set, the Elder Serpent God who has plagued our dimension since before recorded time. He knows this battle will be fought across multiple levels of reality and time and, in turn, enlists Marc Spector to investigate and fight back this evil, but it quickly takes an unexpected turn once Moon Knight comes across Solomon Kane.
Nrama: So what's the threat Set posed now?
Zub: Set and his followers represent a looming threat in the Hyborian Age as well, so it's a natural connection point for our story, especially one about a battle for time and reality. All Sets are one and this snake has big plans.
Nrama: Conan’s been seen around the Marvel Universe lately, but what’s it like bringing a bit of the Marvel Universe to Conan’s world?
Zub: I didn't want to worry about stepping on Gerry Duggan's toes and the crazy-wonderful works he's been building in Savage Avengers, so the Conan in Serpent War is from an earlier time and we keep him in the Hyborian Age rather than sending him across multiple times. The threats that manifest in these time periods have their root in the Hyborian Age, so taking care of them requires our heroes to eventually head to Conan's "turf" and that's a ton of fun.
Nrama: You’ve got different artists for the issues of Serpent War, including Scot Eaton and Stephen Segovia on #1 and #2, respectively. What do they bring to the different chapters of this story?
Zub: Every artist on Serpent War has a compatible style, so it's amazing seeing them all working together on their issues simultaneously.
I've been a fan of Scot Eaton for a long time and getting to work with him on this is a real honor. The experience he has really comes through in his confident story choices and staging. His pages are just so damn solid and it anchors the wilder ideas I wrote extremely well.
Stephen's work is rich with energy and fits the pulp sword & sorcery genre well. I love his facial expressions and the flow of action he brings to each page.
Ig Guara's work is a wonderful blend between pulp storytelling and modern comic craft that has rich action beats. Luca Pizzari's art style is kinetic and explosive in a way that suits our series extremely well, bringing surreal cosmic calamity to the fore. Frank D'Armata is doing a great job coloring all the issues, which helps solidify the unity between the artists and the story as a whole.
Vanesa Del Rey is illustrating the James Allison sequences that connect a lot of our set pieces together and her art is loaded with atmosphere I know readers are going to love. Jean-Francois Beaulieu is coloring her sequences and he's made her already eerie scenes even more haunting and memorable. Watching it all come together has been a thrill.
Nrama: What are the things you keep in mind when crafting a multipart story with different artists for each issue?
Zub: Pages are coming in for different parts in a way that reminds me of working on Avengers: No Surrender and No Road Home. It's all about communication and properly organizing visual reference to make sure there aren't any inconsistencies. Sometimes an artist in a later chapter draws a scene or item that will be referenced in later pages of an earlier chapter, so you have to reflect that visual ref backward or forward as production dictates. It's a wild ride, but also one that builds a lot of cool collaboration and camaraderie in the creative team.
Nrama: After Serpent War, you’re taking over as the writer of the core Conan the Barbarian series. What can you tell us about that?
Zub: The offer to take over the flagship Conan the Barbarian series came after I handed in the script for Serpent War #1, so clearly that made a strong impression on the Marvel team and Conan Properties. It threw me for a loop because my head was focused all in on Serpent War, but my mental gears started turning on what I could do with the solo series and fleshing out a particular part of the Hyborian Age that hasn't received as much attention.
I really like Conan near the start of his adventures - a bit more brash and foolishly courageous, with youthful energy and a touch of ignorance about the larger forces that shape the world around him. I want to show him discovering people and places and getting into tons of trouble as only he can.
Nrama: How will Serpent War lead to your plans for Conan?
Zub: Oddly enough, Serpent War doesn't affect my plans for the flagship series. They're separate stories that do different things. I view Conan the Barbarian (and Savage Sword) as pure Hyborian Age adventures, insulated from crossovers or time travel. If you're a fan of the Robert E. Howard prose and the classic comic adventures, then this title is for you. We won't be seeing non-Conan REH characters, Moon Knight or the Savage Avengers making their way into the monthly Barbarian title.
Nrama: You came up in comic books with your creator-owned sword and sorcery tale Skullkickers. How did Conan as a character influence that work, and how do you in turn plan to take the lessons of that fantasy comic into your Conan run?
Zub: I wrote Skullkickers as a love letter to reading Conan the Barbarian and playing Dungeons & Dragons, so 2019 has been absolutely surreal. I never imagined that Skullkickers would become an "audition" to work on both those properties in the future, but nine years later here we are. The three things that defined a lot of my nerdy youth was Conan, D&D, and Marvel Superheroes. Working on all three of those at the same time is a dream come true.
I'm bringing decades of my excitement for Conan into the writing, playing to my strengths and hopefully building something both old and new readers can enjoy.
Nrama: Bottom line, what should readers expect from Serpent War?
Zub: Serpent War is epic pulp fantasy adventure that stretches across time and space. It's a story of snake-haunted dreams and savage revenge with a weird and wonderful cast of characters, built for new readers and old.
Whether you've been reading Conan since the start or have never picked up a single story of the Cimmerian, there's something here for you.