The Barbarian King: Salomé (2020) by Barbara Giorgi & Nicolò Tofanelli


Salomé muore e arriva nell’Aldilà.

La vista dell’Inferno è così terrificante de spaventare a morte anche la strega.

Con le ultime energie rimaste stringe un patto con un demonio, un traghettatore di anime, prigioniero anch’egli degli Inferi.

Salomé gli dona parti del suo corpo e quel che rimane della sua anima per fuggire dall’Inferno. In cambio dovrà donare al demone un erede, ma fare patti con il Male ha sempre delle consequenze terribili.
Salomé dies and arrives in the afterlife.

The sight of Hell is so terrifying that it scares even the witch to death.

With her last remaining energy she makes a pact with a demon, a ferryman of souls, also a prisoner of the Underworld.

Salomé gives him parts of her body and what remains of his soul to escape from Hell. In exchange she will have to give the demon an heir, but making deals with Evil always has terrible consequences.
Back cover copy to The Last Barbarian: Salomé (2020)

One of the surprises in The Barbarian King 1: Le Spade Spezzate (2019) by Massimo Rosi & Alessio Landi was the appearance of Salomé, the witch-queen from Robert E. Howard’s Conan story “A Witch Shall Be Born” (Weird Tales Dec 1934). This was a surprise not only because of a tie-in with another classic Conan tale, but because Salomé was quite firmly deceased at the end of that episode, long before Conan won his kingdom of Aquilonia. So how did she show up in The Barbarian King?

To answer that, Leviathan Labs published a spin-off: The Barbarian King: Salomé (2020). The creative team for this effort was Barbara Giorgi (script), Nicolò Tofanelli (pencils/inks), Angelo Razzano (colorist), Massimo Rosi (editor), Mattia Gentili (letter), and Lucrezia Benvenuti (logo & map design). This graphic novel covers what happened to Salomé between the end of “A Witch Shall be Born” and her appearance to aid the stricken Conan in The Barbarian King 1.

Robert E. Howard did populate his Conan tales with various non-Conan characters, but he never wrote any separate adventures of Bêlit or Valeria, or of Conan’s grandfather or sons or daughters, so there was no exact precedent for spin-offs. Thus it should not be surprising that in the seventy-odd years of Conan pastiche stories and novels, and fifty-odd years of Conan comics, spin-offs for side characters are comparatively rare. Pasticheurs, faced with the choice of writing new Conan tales or new non-Conan tales set in the Hyborian Age, generally went with the former; although The Leopard of Poitain (1985) by Raul Garcia-Capella is a notable early exception, and The Song of Bêlit (2020) by Rodolfo Martínez focuses in large part on Bêlit, though it is still a Conan story at heart.

In comic books, Marvel was largely skittish about spin-offs, early in Conan the Barbarian‘s run Roy Thomas and Gil Kane had produced a “Tale of the Hyborian Age” backup feature, echoing the successful “Tales of Asgard,” but the idea was never repeated. As Thomas tells it:

So I enlisted Gil to do a “Tale of the Hyborian Age”—a series I’d hoped to use occasionally in the 52-page Conan to give Barry [Windsor Smith] a rest. “The Blood of the Dragon” introduced the concept (which may have been Gi’s idea, since we co-plotted the story) that, when the hydragon was killed, its human assassin was magically changed to take its place. I was always proud of the name “hydragon,” combining the mythical “hydra” and the word “dragon,” and intended one day soon to use the hydragon of the Bossonian Marches in an actual Conan story.

Roy Thomas, Barbarian Life. vol. 1, 76

Conan never faced the hydragon, and there would be no more “Tales of the Hyborian Age.” Instead, Thomas created Red Sonja—an original Hyborian Age character loosely inspired by Robert E. Howard’s Red Sonya of Rogatino from “The Shadow of the Vulture” (The Magic Carpet Magazine Jan 1934). Red Sonja would go on to become a character who could be the protagonist of her own series—or series of series—which are still ongoing as of this writing.

Leaving Red Sonja aside, there were very few non-Conan series to spin-off from the main line: Conan: The Book of Thoth (2006, Dark Horse), Age of Conan: Bêlit (2019, Marvel), Age of Conan: Valeria (2020, Marvel), and Bêlit & Valeria: Swords vs. Sorcery (2022, Ablaze) are the only other spin-off series centered on characters from the Conan line; one might add Robert E. Howard Presents Thulsa Doom (2010, Dynamite) which spun out of Dynamite’s Red Sonja comics, though the character shares little more than a name with Howard’s original creation. Even so, that is a rather sparse showing from the dozens of series and hundreds of Conan and Red Sonja comics produced.

Red Sonja probably gives a good explanation why: for all of the worldbuilding that was put into the Hyborian Age by Robert E. Howard and subsequent writers, many of the comic adventures made little use of this. Red Sonja and Conan often tackled monster-of-the-month in their individual comics, or adventured through cities and countries never named by Robert E. Howard, in what were effectively generic sword-and-sorcery stories starring familiar protagonists. Even when Marvel published both Conan and Red Sonja comics at the same time, the two series were not written with reference to one another; they were effectively standalone S&S series that only nominally shared the same setting.

The same issue is evident in the spin-off series based around Thoth-Amon, Bêlit, Valeria, and Thulsa Doom. Many of these stories were well-written and illustrated—Sana Takeda’s covers for Age of Conan: Bêlit are absolutely gorgeous—but for the most part, these stories veer fairly far from Howard’s original conception of the characters and often have limited continuity with the Hyborian Age in the series they’re nominally spinning off from. Readers interested in greater lore for the Hyborian Age, like readers of the Cthulhu Mythos that desire more fragments of the artificial mythology to fit into their puzzle, were disappointed.

The Barbarian King: Salomé certainly takes it liberties with the character and the setting—but it begins very faithfully to “A Witch Shall Be Born.” Salomé begins just as Howard and Conan had left her, dead and her schemes unraveled. What we get next is her afterlife, which Howard never depicted or wrote about, so the writer and artist had a very free hand. I rather suspect that a possible inspiration for the series was Claudia Chevalier Vampire (2004- , Pat Mills & Franck Tacito), which is a spin-off of the popular Requiem Chevalier Vampire (2000-2012, Pat Mills & Olivier Ladroit)—both series have an emphasis on Hell, violence, sexuality, and mature storytelling, with the spin-offs taking a prominent female supporting character and turning them into a protagonist to expand on their characterization and tell their story.

Salomé’s harrowing, and the physical and mental transformations of her character—something less than redemption—lead her very far from the character that Robert E. Howard created. Yet it does change her into exactly the strange, wan, damaged character who aids Conan in the pages of The Barbarian King. Nor do they ever lose sight of where Salomé came from; her own abandonment as an infanticide and rescue being important themes in her interactions with other characters.

In that sense, Salomé follows the same philosophy of The Barbarian King: Robert E. Howard’s work is the launching point from which the creators start, but they are pushing into new, unwritten territory…but not without losing sight of where they came from, or where they’re going. If you like The Barbarian King, Salomé is an interesting accessory that goes deeper into the background and character of an important supporting character.

The Barbarian King: Salomé (2020) is available from Leviathan Labs. Like The Barbarian King it is in Italian, with no English translation yet.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard and Others and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos.

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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