Was Conan more a loner or a misfit? You will get an argument from many over this, but Volume 12 of the Chronicles Of Conan puts him firmly in the latter camp.
For the past three-plus years, kicking off a year before the start of the Carter Administration, the Marvel Comics version of Conan had travelled in the company of his lover, Bêlit, raven-locked corsair and pretender to the throne of Asgalun. But Bêlit's time in Conan's world came with an expiration date, and by mid-1979, it was time for Conan scripter Roy Thomas to honor the vision of Conan creator Robert E. Howard. Hence the last issue preserved in this volume, #100, a milestone in more ways than one.
The volume is a personal milestone for me, too, since it includes issue #92, which triggered my deep love for Conan while pining for home at sleepaway camp. Reading comics is a way of connecting with the child inside of you, and that's certainly true for me here. Conan as envisioned by Thomas and drawn by John Buscema and Ernie Chan remains a figure to be reckoned with, and with the story of Bêlit in sharp focus, Vol. 12 is a great read, if not as strong in its whole as a couple of other previous volumes (6 & 11).
To start with my favorite part, Bêlit's reaching for the Asgalun throne captured in issues #90 and #92 (a two-parter broken up by a single-issue flashback), you get a very rich and fulfilling resolution to Bêlit's attempt at achieving social legitimacy through coup d'etat. "I want the crown, so I'll take it, my lover", she tells Conan, and attempts to do exactly that with unpredictable results that really demonstrate the brilliant "anything-goes" ethos of this comic series. Philosophical, ironic, and bloody, this two-parter doesn't disappoint.
The next four issues here deal with the title character, "The Beast King of Abombi", a mixture of Dr. Doolittle and Dr. Doom whom Bêlit and Conan must destroy to regain her hold over the tribes of the Black Coast. Yes, there's clichés and genre tropes to be found here, but the overall effect is exciting and vibrant, with Buscema's pencils bringing the jungle to savage life.
Thomas was clearly building to his big Bêlit finale, issue #100, which makes issues #98 and #99 all the more disappointing. They offer two standalone stories, "Sea-Woman" and "Devil-Crabs Of The Dark Cliffs", with weak filler for storylines read in many other Conan comics. One has a mystical woman concealing dark and deadly secrets, the other a tribe of monsters developed with a cool cover and little else in mind. How do you kill a homicidal crab? Just drop a rock on a boiling crevasse, and watch them cook up like Fridays at Red Lobster! "Anyone for steamed crab-meat?" Conan asks with a hard-to-swallow smirk at story's end.
All this is pretty minor in the face of issue #100, featuring Marvel's adaptation of the last four chapters of Howard's "Queen Of The Black Coast" (more than 40 issues after adapting Chapter 1). This is a very straightforward account of Bêlit's last act in Conan's life, where she talks about her love for him being greater than death and makes good on the claim. It's a double-sized issue that many Marvel Conan fans consider the series apogee; I consider it pretty darn good myself, and even better in this Dark Horse reproduction where a scaly beast slain in a river stains the surrounding water with pinkish clouds well beyond the original four-color Marvel spectrum.
Vol. 12 gives you a hearty reason for reading these Marvel reprints from the start, especially in the way it presents Bêlit as Conan's ultimate lover and reason for mixing with the rest of the world. There's something romantic and sentimental amid the bloodletting and fury that stays with you long after you turn the last page. Even barbarians need a little love.
What did you think of this review?
Fun to Read
About the reviewer
Bill Slocum (Bill_Slocum)
Reading is my way of eavesdropping on a thousand conversations, meeting hundreds of new and fascinating people, and discovering what it is about the world I enjoy most. Only after a while, I lose track … more
Consider the Source
Use Trust Points to see how much you can rely on this review.
Conan and Belit, Queen of the Black Coast, reunite with their pirate crew aboard the Tigress only to be drawn into the vermin-infested swamps of Stygia. In the dark depths of this haunted land, they battle for their lives amidst stately pleasure gardens transformed into treacherous dens of deceit. There, a twisted beast-king reigns supreme, his hordes of abominations descending mercilessly upon the Cimmerian and his lover. Together, the two shall face monstrous man-crabs and a sultry sea-witch, but when an ancient secret is unleashed it means only one thing for a member of their heroic party - death!