In the world of legendary pulp writer Robert E. Howard, doom and gloom often hang over the heads of sword-weilding, muscle-bound warrior kings like Conan and Kull. But while the biggest of Howard's characters had hundreds of years of backstory developed by their creator, plenty of "name" Howard creations remain surprisingly underdeveloped.
This is where Arvid Nelson, Dynamite Entertainment and "Thulsa Doom" come in.
"Interestingly enough, Thulsa's 'original appearance' consists of a few paragraphs at the end of a half-written story never published in Howard's lifetime - that's it!" Nelson told CBR. The acclaimed "Rex Mundi" writer will helm the August-launching "Red Sonja Presents: Thulsa Doom" miniseries for Dynamite.
While many know the character as a snake-themed cult leader through James Earl Jones' performance in the original "Conan" film, the brief origins of Doom laid out by Howard reveal a much more savage, death-obsessed warrior often portrayed with a distinctive skull-masked appearance.
Nelson explained to CBR that part of his goal in this origin series remains reconciling these two ideals. "I've always thought Howard's original Doom was the inspiration for Skeletor, if you can believe that. Making him more of a David Koresh in the original 'Conan' was a stroke of genius. Skeletor is pretty sweet, don't get me wrong, but we'll be staying more on the David Koresh side of things."
Drawn by former "Red Sonja" artist Lui Antonio and featuring covers by Alex Ross, part of the motivating factor for Dynamite's release of a "Doom" comic is the developing of a Thulsa Doom film for actor Djimon Hounsou. However, Nelson promised that as a Howard fan, his only goal in crafting the origin was to make Doom a standout character on his own. "When I worry too much about the 'big picture,' I just hyperventilate! I'm trying to write a story people want to come back to every month, that's it," the writer said. "Like I mentioned, the actual source material for Thulsa Doom is very sparse. The character everyone is familiar with is more a concoction of Oliver Stone and John Milius than of Howard. It's a good concoction, but it's not Howard's. Thulsa is really a mystery. That's great for me, because I get to make a lot of creative decisions."
That open nature means that Nelson can pick and choose which elements of Howard's world he wants to play with, including some rarely exploited bits of story. "In Howard's timeline, Atlantis is destroyed in a cataclysm, and then thousands of years of chaos ensue. It's not a period Howard ever set a story in, not to my knowledge, but it's a part of his mythology that's always fascinated me," Nelson explained. "So Thulsa's story is going to be as much Mad Max as it is swords-and-sandals. It begins right after that cataclysm, right after the destruction of Atlantis, right as the world is descending into darkness.
"Our stories are going to be set in the dim, dim recesses of Thulsa's past. He actually isn't a villain - not yet. But he isn't really a hero, either. He's trying to be one, but his dark side keeps dragging him down. And his world is disintegrating all around him. So he's a tragic figure, someone whose best intentions are always twisted and thwarted. Eventually, Thulsa himself becomes twisted."
That story arc - setting Doom up as a tragic, empathetic figure more so than an obsessed cultist -Â jibes with what Hounsou described to CBR as his goal for the Doom film last year and one that Nelson remains excited to tackle. "Thulsa's not even sure he wants world domination. He's not sure what he wants. He's an anti-hero. His dark side hasn't eaten him up yet, but it's there, constantly bubbling beneath the surface. It's a tough balance to strike, for Thulsa and for his writer."
With series artist Lui Antonio having some experience in the world of "Red Sonja" (who thanks to ownership, shares the current fictional landscape with Doom), this new series aims at delivering a similar set of archaic thrills to comic fans. "Lui is one of those artists who draws with intense atmosphere," Nelson said. "I mean, when he draws a dingy tavern, you can smell the sweat and the stale beer. You feel like you're there. He's got a fantastic sense of design, too. Sometimes my scripts come out like miniature novels, but I'm really looking forward to seeing what he does with them!"
"Red Sonja Presents: Thulsa Doom" #1 hits comic shops this August from Dynamite Entertainment.