BIRD-MEN OF AKAH MAAT
Classification: Bird-winged humanoids (native to Earth)
Location/Base of Operations:
During prehistoric times and the Hyborian Era, the floating cloud-city of Akah
Maat high above the land of Cimmeria;
current whereabouts Planes of Sephirot.
Known Members: Alhambra, Asura, King of the Bird-Men of Akah Maat (Alhambras father), Shamhat Saraswati, Seraphim, Thaltar the Traitor, unidentified sage and inventor of the Cylinder of Power, Varuna
Affiliations: Oshtur (creator), Conan of Cimmeria
Enemies: The wizard Raskos BQuen, Raskos BQuens personal guard of Bug-Riders, the Man-Bats of Ur-Xanarrh (King of the Man-Bats, Princess Lyzala, Captain Durzzak, unnamed prince)
First Appearance: Conan the Barbarian I#153 (December, 1983)
Powers/Abilities: The Bird-Men of Akah Ma'at possess wings that enable flight; they also possibly have enhanced strength and healing (See Comments). Their level of technology was largely comparable to that of other Hyborian Era cultures, including conventional weaponry such as swords and spears. However, the Bird-Men possessed a vast energy source known as the Cylinder of Power, the deadly cordon of "power batons" it fueled, and other weapons powered by the Cylinder such as a magic ring strong enough to blast through a solid rock wall, all being quite unconventional for the time period. The Bird-Men also had access to giant untamed cloud-hawks, one of which was provided as a mount to Conan. Not needing them due to their own ability to fly, one would guess the Bird-Men kept the cloud-hawks as curiosities, guard beasts, or perhaps beasts of burden.
Traits: Pairs of giant white feathered bird wings sprout from the backs of every member of the race of Akah Maat; presumably they possess other avian adaptations akin to Angel of the X-Men or the Bird-People of Sky Island. Otherwise, the people of Akah Maat appear identical to normal humans.
History: (Marvel Tarot/Marvel Zombies: The Book of Angels, Demons & Various Monstrosities (fb) - BTS) - In prehistoric times Oshtur created the Bird-Men of Akah Ma'at to fight the creations of Chthon and Set.
At some point Varuna, the leader of the Bird-Men, was influenced by Chthon and decided to become Judge and Executioner for the humans. Some of the most evolved Bird-Men followed him in his cause and became known as the Asura. Other highly evolved Bird-Men opposed them and continued to protect humans. They were led by Saraswati and became known as the Seraphim.
The war between the two factions of evolved Bird-Men caused so much destruction that their creator Oshtur banned them to another dimension.
The Asura and Seraphim reside in the Planes of Sephirot to this day.
At around 15,000 BC Saraswati became Sorcerer Supreme of Earth (Saraswati stayed Sorcerer Supreme until 11,000 BC). Guided by Saraswati and her sponsors Oshtur and Agamotto, the Bird-Men evolved into powerful sorcerers and became near god-like beings.
(Conan the Barbarian I#153 (fb) ) - For uncounted eons the Bird-Men of Akah Maat dwelt above Earth in their floating, cloud-enshrouded city; their existence unsuspected by the wingless races of the planet below. The only threat to tranquil Akah Maat was the evil race of bat-winged conquerors from nearby Ur-Xanarrh some half-dozen leagues away. For centuries the Man-Bats endlessly sought to destroy the Bird-Men. Then one of Akah Maats sages devised the miraculous Cylinder of Power. This source of inexhaustible energy, in turn, fueled a cordon of "power batons" encircling the city that unleashed death-dealing bolts upon any invaders. However, periodically the power batons and other weapons charged by the Cylinder needed recharging.
For a millennium Akah Maat enjoyed peace thanks to the Cylinder and the floating batons; but, a fortnight before Conan was drawn into the struggle between the two floating cities, the traitorous elder Thaltar stole the Cylinder, intending to betray Akah Maat. Luckily, Thaltar did not succeed and was shot down by a warrior wielding one of their energy weapons before he could get away. However, both Thaltars dead body and the Cylinder fell to earth far below. Three of Akah Maats most valiant warriors were dispatched to recover the Cylinder and never seen again. If the power batons were not recharged, the cordon will fail--after a millennium of peace, the unprepared Bird-Men would be attacked by Ur-Xanarrh.
(BTS) - The wizard Raskos BQuen or his henchmen discover the slain Thaltar and the Cylinder near his castle. The three warriors of Akah Maat track the Cylinder to Raskoss castle but are captured and tortured for information. The three warriors, courageous to the last, die before revealing anything to the evil wizard.
(Conan the Barbarian I#153) - Just after arriving in the market town of Syterna, Conan saw a local Baron picking out the next girl to have the honor of sharing his bed. The Barons bodyguards moved to collect her, but she squashed a piece of fruit into one of the bodyguards face and said that the Baron "may take his so-called privilege and sit on it!" A guard drew a sword on the young woman who swiftly slayed him with her own blade. His comrades rushed forward to attack, shoving Conan out of the way. Conan swiftly retaliated, punching one in the nose. Battle ensued and two more bodyguards were killed. But before Conan and the cloaked swordswoman could escape, the town guard surrounded them.
As Conan plotted how to escape the dungeon, the unnamed girl used a magic ring to blast their way out of their cell. Recovering their swords and stealing horses, they escaped from Syterna. As they made camp, the girl shared her name with Conan, telling him she is Alhambra. Before he can learn more, they were attacked by warriors mounted on giant dragonflies. Alhambra removed her cloak and, to Conans surprise, revealed a set of giant wings. Alhambra soared into battle. Soon after, Conan slayed a bug-rider and stole his mount to join her. Struck from behind, Alhambra fell earthward. Conan caught her only to have his dragonfly destroyed in the process. Together they fell into a river. Thinking them both drowned, the bug-riders returned home to their master. Conan emerged from the water with Alhambra. Her heartbeat was strong, and hours later she awoke. After recovering their horses at dawn, they set out again. Alhambra told Conan the tale of the war between Akah Maat and Ur-Xanarrh and of the recent theft of the Cylinder of Power. Spying on them via crystal ball, Raskos BQuen learned the nature and use of the Cylinder.
Following the Bug-Riders trail, Alhambra and Conan discovered the castle of the wizard Raskos BQuen not even a half league from where Thaltar fell to Earth. Going up the front steps they discovered the bled and hung bodies of the three missing warriors. Raskos appeared and revealed that he tortured them for information on the Cylinder, but he learned nothing until spying on the two of them. He ordered his warriors to kill them. Before Alhambra could use her ring, she was shot by an arrow from behind. With the shaft protruding from her back Alhambra fell to the ground, and Conan, true to form, slayed the soldiers in a rage. Confronting Conan, the wizard summoned a three headed dragon with a wave of his hand. Conan swiftly slayed the beast, but Raskos escaped behind a stoutly barred door. Conan raced back to Alhambras side. She pleaded for Conan to save Akah Maat then collapsed unconscious and near dead in his arms.
(Conan the Barbarian I#154) - Conan gets to the roof (by a way other than the barred door one might guess) only to find Raskos was already making his escape upon one of the giant dragonflies. Conan pursued upon one of Raskoss own insects. Lost in the reverie of a recap page, Conan noticed too late the bird-warriors hiding in a nearby cloud bank. Slaying his insect mount, they caught him in a net and took him to Akah Maat, while the evil wizard busied himself by getting acquainted with the Man-Bats of Ur-Xanarrh.
Raskos BQuen attempted to bargain with the King of Ur-Xanarrh over the cost of the Cylinder. He made a hash of it, since the bat-kings half naked daughter, Princess Lyzala, quickly warmed up to Raskos, sunk her fangs into his neck, and killed him.
Meanwhile, Conan was brought before Alhambras father, the King of Akah Maat, as a captured spy. Telling the king he had pledged to help his people, the king, seeing nothing to lose, freed Conan and gave him a giant cloud-hawk to fly to Ur-Xanarrh to steal back the Cylinder of Power. Seen approaching the city, Conans giant cloud-hawk was slain, but he managed to ride the dying beast down, leaping to a nearby tower. Brought before the bat-king only to sass him during interrogation, Captain Durzzak and Lyzala dragged Conan off to the torture chamber where both were amazed by Conans strength and stamina, albeit for different reasons. Ordering Durzzak out of the room, Princess Lyzala then proceeded to come on to our hero. Given a respite from the tongs and pincers, Conan broke free and threatened to wring Lyzalas neck if she screamed. Using Lyzala as a hostage, Conan escaped the torture chamber and fled further into the gloomy floating city, tossing her aside along the way. Subduing a sentry, Conan discovered the treasure room and took the Cylinder and a stout ashwood bow. Finding the dead wizards giant dragonfly, Conan made his escape shooting down three pursuers.
Conan returned in triumph, but the horde of bloodthirsty Ur-Xanarrah were on his heels with no time to recharge the power batons. Conan lead them into battle the old fashioned way--with steel! An aerial battle erupted; and, though outnumbered two to one, the Bird-Men led by the barbarian turned the tide. Conan slayed Durzzak only to be struck down from behind by Lyzala. Alhambra reappeared in the nick of time, fully healed and ready for battle, and killed Lyzala with her spear. Alhambra took the unconscious and wounded Conan into her arms and flew him home to his native Cimmeria. Depositing Conan on the doorstep of a cabin, Garn and his wife rushed outside and found the wounded hero. As they wondered who left him in their care, the wife spied Alhambra flying away and believed her to be a goddess.
(Conan the Barbarian I#168) - Alhambra fled an arranged marriage with a prince of the Man-Bats that
formed part of a peace treaty. Going to the surface world, she was
captured by rogues and sold to a freak show. In the freak show, Alhambra
befriended a hairy man named Villardo. Eventually, some of the Man-Bats
came to reclaim Alhambra, but she fought them off with Conan's help, and went to
Comments: Created by Michael Fleisher (writer) and John Buscema (artist), and for Conan the Barbarian#154: Michael Fleisher (writer) and Gary Kwapisz (artist)--the ole' change artists in mid-story trick!
Alhambra is first seen wearing a voluminous cloak, and though Buscema and Chan go to great pains to render it plausible her giant wings are hidden from sight, there are a few shots where the wings flat out do not appear to be there. That and they are so big she should look like a hunchback hiding them under her cloak anyway. Also, it seems a little silly that a cagey and observant rogue like Conan wouldnt notice something odd about Alhambra before she removed her cloak and revealed her wings. Ill engage in a bit of useless speculation and say the cloak was provided by the sages of Akah Maat and its magic concealed her wings during her mission on the surface world.
Alhambras statement that the Bird-Men of Akah Maat dwelt upon their floating island for uncounted eons unknown to any but the Man-Bats of Ur-Xanarrh could be chalked up to legend, hyperbole, poetic license, or whatnot. But if her statement is accurate that means both races are pre-human and possibly magical, other-dimensional, or demonic in nature. She mentions the wingless races below being unaware of ancient Akah Maat, but she does not specifically state human races and could have meant any of the Elder Gods, demon races like the NGarai, dinosaurs, or even the Deviants which all at one point ruled Earth before mans rise to power.
It is possible the Bird-Men have powers or adaptations other than the wings which enable them to fly. For example, Alhambra is shot in the back with an arrow and collapses to the ground, gravely injured and possibly dying. Conan rushes at her request to save Akah Maat, leaving the bird woman in Raskoss castle without anyone to care for her. She isnt seen again until she arrives in the nick of time to save Conans life. The Bird-Men might possess some sort of enhanced healing ability. Or did rescuers find Alhambra and bring her home so advanced healing techniques could be used? She said that with time to rest she had finally recovered from her wounds, but the entire adventure after her injury took one, possibly two days at the most. Not bad for being shot in the back, eh? Later Alhambra easily picks up the wounded and unconscious Conan flies him all the way back to Cimmeria, implying the bird men have some measure of enhanced strength (peak human or enhanced human). If so, it might be safe to assume the Bat-Men have a similar strength level.
Only Captain Durzzak and Princess Lyzala were seen during the Bat-Mens doomed raid upon Akah Maat. The king was conspicuously absent. Most likely he stayed behind in his fortress and lived to plot more deviltry against Akah Maat in the future though neither he, Ur-Xanarrh, nor the Bird-Men and Akah Maat are ever seen again.
For my own part this was always one of the better two part Conan adventures and still ranks as one of my favorite Conan stories of all time despite the switch from the reliable duo of Buscema/Chan in the first part to the good, but somewhat erratic team of Kwapisz (who has done his share of fine Conan stuff) and Camp. The characters and settings of the Bird-Men of Akah Maat and the Man-Bats of Ur-Xanarrh are yet another example of cool concepts Marvel owns that came out of one of their licensed properties comics like Conan, Rom, etc. Im surprised some writer hasnt tied in Akah Maat with the race of bird-men that raised and equipped Red Raven or even brought the Man-Bats back as enemies to menace ol Red. Kurt? Anyone?
The name Akah Maat is likely taken from Maat, the Egyptian goddess of truth or the right and true path. Maat was seen as synonymous with the feather of truth used by Anubis or Osiris to judge the purity of a mans heart after his death. The Bird-Men had feathers in abundance so it would certainly make sense.
by Greg O'Driscoll and Per Degaton
Profile updated/edited by Kyle Sims
Clarifications: Until such time as that story is written, the Bird-Men of Akah Maat should not be confused with:
Alhambra was the daughter of the King of Akah Maat and had been sent to discover what became of the Cylinder of Power and the three warriors dispatched to retrieve it. Later, she avoided an arranged marriage with a Man-Bat prince. She was an accomplished warrior and swordswoman but seemed prone to being struck down from behind. She employed an energy ring with a limited number of uses which was fueled by the Cylinders power. She had something of a sharp tongue, seemed fond of Conan, and was dedicated to saving Akah Maat--except when forced to do so against her will, as when she refused to wed a Man-Bat.
--Conan the Barbarian I#153, (Conan the Barbarian I#153, 154, 168
Raskos BQuen was a mid-level wizard compared to some of the other sorcerous menaces Conan had faced. Still, he had his own stone fortress, a crystal ball, a small army of loyal guardsmen, a stable full of giant dragonflies to use as transportation, and a three headed dragon at his disposal. But he wasnt ready to play with the big boys, as he was easily fooled and slain by Princess Lyzala of Ur-Xanarrh. What I wonder is how a wizard like Raskos managed to live undisturbed amongst the hills of Cimmeria, seeing as how if Conan is any indication the natives are "thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" type folks.
Conan the Barbarian I#153 (Conan the Barbarian I#153, 154
Conan the Barbarian I#153 (December, 1983) - Michael Fleisher (writer), John Buscema (pencils), Ernie Chan (inks), Louise Jones (editor)
Conan the Barbarian I#154 (January, 1984) - Michael Fleisher (writer), Gary Kwapisz (pencils), Bob Camp (inks), Louise Jones (editor)
Conan the Barbarian I#168 (March, 1985) - Michael Fleisher (writer), John Buscema (artist), Larry Hama (editor)
Marvel Tarot (2007) - David Sexton (writer), Doug Sexton & Jeff Christiansen (consultants), Jeff Younquist (editor)
Marvel Zombies: The Book of Angels, Demons & Various Monstrosities (2007) - Jeff Christiansen & others (writers), Jeff Youngquist & Jennifer Gruenwald (editors)
Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe A-Z Hardcover#7: MAGIC (2009) - David Sexton (writer), Jeff Younquist & Jennifer Gruenwald (editors)
Last updated: 07/11/03
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