In a breath of fresh air, Marvel Comics has used its newly reacquired Conan license not just to tell stories about the titular barbarian, but also about members of his supporting cast. First up is Belit, the pirate queen, who first appeared in the 1934 “Queen of the Black Coast” story, also popped up in previous Conan stories for both Marvel and Dark Horse, and taught Conan everything about piracy. Writer Tini Howard (Euthanauts), artist Kate Niemczyk (Mockingbird), and colorist Jason Keith (Uncanny X-Men) tell her origin story in a rousing saga of action, heartbreak, and searching for mythical sea monsters.
Having a real cartoonist like Niemczyk on Belit #1 instead of some Frank Frazetta wannabe painter is a real treat and gives the comic a tone never ending activity. She can tell a story in both the foreground and background, which is showcased in the one page sequence where Belit’s father, the former Dread Admiral Atrahasis is jumped by some mercenaries, who he pissed off back in his seafaring days. With a light stroke and blue sky from Keith, Niemczyk makes it seem like the men grabbing Atrahasis are just a mirage to Belit. However, by the end of the page, Belit’s life will never be the same.
Howard and Niemczyk do pull off some great father/daughter moments in Belit #1 as she is taught to be a great fighter, sailor, and leader. Their relationship reminds me a lot of Ned and Arya Stark’s in the best way with Atrahasis telling his daughter realistic truths about the perils of leading an army of killers while she wants to sail and fight sea monsters. It is the emotional crux of this first issue, and Belit learns many harsh truths about honor and revenge, power vacuums and politics when her father is marooned on a sandbar by rival pirates.
Belit #1 walks a delicate line between the romance of adventure fantasy and the reality of the consequences of war. A man who is responsible for killing and plundering so many people doesn’t get to retire and play the Hyborian Age equivalent of nine hole golf. Howard shows this sentiment through beautiful, yet not too flowery speeches along with Niemczyk’s resigned facial expressions and a gorgeous, yet tragic orange sunset palette from Jason Keith.
Belit #1 has a fantastic visual and verbal synergy with Howard using dialogue to build character traits like Belit’s ferocity and her old teacher N’yaga’s dark pragmatism, and Niemczyk choosing the right moment for close-up to show Belit’s emotional state. Niemczyk also has the flair for the dramatic by tipping the page vertically during a big ship boarding scene that turns the tables of the story so far. It lays the foundation for an environment where Belit can truly become a pirate queen before ending on an atmospheric final page.
Age of Conan: Belit #1 sheds some insight on the dark, yet adventurous early days of the woman who would become the Queen of the Black Coast. Tini Howard, Kate Niemczyk, and Jason Keith work in tandem to construct a character arc for Belit as well as a fast moving, swashbuckling plot that isn’t bogged down in thees, thous, and world building. Belit is fierce as hell, and I can’t wait to learn more about her journey to become one of the deadliest fictional pirates in this series.
Story: Tini Howard Art: Kate Niemczyk
Colors: Jason Keith Letters: Travis Lanham
Story: 8.0 Art: 8.0 Overall: 8.0 Recommendation: Buy
Marvel Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review