Written by: Tini Howard
Art by: Kate Niemcyk, Scott Hanna and Andrea DeVito
Colours by: Jason Keith
Letters by: VC’s Travis Lanham
I was excited about this book when it was first announced. Belit is one of the more remarkable creations in Robert E Howard’s cast of characters. The prospect of the beautiful and fierce pirate, self-styled ‘Queen of the Black Coast’, starring in her own mini-series in the new Marvel Conan universe into which Jason Aaron and Gerry Duggan had already breathed so much new life was cause for celebration. And I did celebrate. Until I read the first issue and encountered a much younger Belit, whose father was a ‘dread admiral’ and whose mother disappeared under mysterious circumstances, and I realized we were going to get a Belit origin story. Oh, well. To be fair, Tini Howard’s Belit is a strong, engaging character and Niemcyk’s art (although not really my favorite style) has grown on me and both do a decent job of telling their chosen story. The fact it’s not really the story I wanted is just one of life’s little annoyances, isn’t it? Let’s see how it ends…
Last issue, having incurred the wrath of Apheru, a high priest of Set, by putting him in a chokehold and then letting him live, Belit was magically cursed and, close to death, confined to her quarters on board the Tigress. This issue starts with an extended dream sequence in which Belit confronts a representation of (possibly?) Set which appears to her as a three-headed snake, each head being an image of her dead father. Some of the imagery here is pretty impressive, most notably a blood-sheathed Belit emerging from an ocean of blood demanding vengeance. But, it’s not entirely clear just what she is doing here. Presumably, in enduring this conversation with her three-headed snake-father thing, she’s fighting the curse that Apheru’s placed upon her, but, while some of the dialogue is pretty snappy, a lot of it is, well, a touch banal. (“You must settle your affairs to keep the ones you love safe,” is, for example, a bit platitudinous. And obvious. I half expected three-headed Dad to give her advice on how to set up a bank account at that point.)
Consequently, when imaginary Belit throws an imaginary torch at her imaginary Dad-monster to make him catch imaginary fire, as impressive as that moment is visually, it still felt a little perfunctory to me. And this is something that I’ve noticed in this series. There are some memorable moments, but some of them don’t hit quite as well as they should because the chain of logic that links one panel to the next is not always as secure as it could be. Nowhere is this clearer than in the couple of pages that follow Belit waking up from her three-headed Dad dream. Her father’s former friend and her current mentor N’Yaga warn her that she’s been cursed and shouldn’t really be heading for the Tigress‘ deck intent on steering the ship back to Luxur in order to have it out with the aforementioned Apheru. Her response is that he can send as many curses as he likes after her. They don’t matter to her. Which is nice for her, I suppose. Similarly, when N’Yaga, who is, most readers will probably feel, quite right to be unconvinced by that line of argument, points out that she’s still showing the physical symptoms of Apheru’s curse, Belit’s response of “I’ll mend on the way” is undermined by the fact that she already looks like she’s fully recovered from the curse. Now, I’m all for strong characters, female or otherwise, and Belit’s strength of will is absolutely one of her defining characteristics, but showing Belit overcoming her physical weakness through the voyage would have been a much more satisfying experience for the reader than simply having her declare that she’ll be okay and then carrying on as normal.
The assault on Luxur and the confrontation with Apheru are both done well enough, but Howard’s dialogue verges on making Belit come across as unpleasantly arrogant at times, a trait she’s displayed throughout the series. This is a tricky criticism, I know. Belit’s meant to be strong-willed and haughty, after all, but there’s a thin line between confidence that inspires and arrogance that causes resentment; I think this portrayal of Belit flirts a bit too closely with the latter at times.
That said, the fight between Belit and Apheru displays Belit’s courage and tenacity very effectively and there’s some very nice art here, too. Again, I would suggest this sequence ends a bit abruptly and, thus, something that should have been the crowning point of the issue (if not the entire series) comes across as somewhat flat.
Although there are some exciting moments and Niemcyk’s art is on the whole pretty effective, an overlong opening dream sequence, some odd dialogue choices and a protagonist that at times borders on the unlikeable mean that I can’t recommend this issue unreservedly. Belit’s past is probably worth exploring but choosing to use a whole five-issue mini-series to do so was, I think, a mistake. Hopefully, the character will be better served at some point in the future.