Conan was created by Robert E. Howard and his stories are collected by Del Rey in a new book series. In comic book form, Conan has been successful since launched by Marvel Comics with the team of Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith. It has moved to Dark Horse and now re-launched with Conan the Barbarian #1 with the story by Brian Wood who also created the Northlanders series for Vertigo and DC Comics. The first three issues have art by Becky Cloonan and adapts Howard’s short story, “Queen of the Black Coast.” It is a well loved Conan story that was also adapted in Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian in #57-58 and 100 scripted by Roy Thomas and art by John Buscema. Thomas relates Belit’s origin in #59 and expands the adventure to issue #59-79, 85-6, 88-92, 94-99 and Marvel Feature #6-7 showcasing Red Sonja.
Issue #1 opens exactly like Howard’s story with Conan fleeing from soldiers on horse to the docks. Cloonan gives Conan a young, roguish look to him. Wood expands the storyline in six issues, but neglects to open with action filled reason why Conan is escaping the Messantian soldiers. Conan jumps on board the ship The Argus captained by Tito who welcomes him aboard. In a flashback scene, Conan relates to Tito why he was falsely imprisoned and escaped on a stolen horse. Night falls and Tito tells Conan about the feared Queen of the Black Coast. Wood neglects the supernatural fear of Stygia as the ship sails past that cursed land. They unload cargo in Kush and find a ship with its slaughtered crew. Conan has a daydream of Belit seducing him and pulling him into the ocean. He then sees Belit dancing on the bow of the Tigress. Conan uses a bow to start taking down Belit’s crew. He sights Belit, but passes her up to kill another crewman. Tito is killed by an arrow and Conan leads the crew in a pirate battle. His crew is cut down, but Conan fights on using his sword to hack the warriors. Belit commands the crew to halt the attack and seduces Conan telling him, “Make me your queen.”
Issue #3 finishes this part of the storyline and Wood largely departs from Robert E. Howard to expand the story. Conan flashes back to his life in Cimmeria attacking a wolf. He accepts Belit’s offer and has a talk with the old shaman, N’Yaga, who tells him that Belit is a goddess. Conan meets with Belit who tells him she is a princess who escaped from Shem. They have a love scene that Cloonan stages in cinematic fashion so it is stylish and risqué, but not too adult. This covers the first part of Howard’s story, “Conan Joins The Pirates.” The sub-chief of the Tigress, N’Gora gives back Conan his armor and he explains how Belit rescued the crew and took the ship. Conan tells N’Gora to head the ship to Messantia. The shaman checks Conan’s future and sees him alone in the desert as a soldier, running in the snow with Belit, then her eyes as she carves bloody scratches on Conan’s back and then a batlike creature with red eyes. The next storyline, “The Argos Deception” are in issues 4-6 with art by James Harren. Harren’s art is a bit rougher than Cloonan’s pencils and his expressions are exaggerated. The Tigress enters the port of Messantia in a two page spread.
N’Gora knocks out Conan and hands him over to the Messantian soldiers. He is thrown into prison and has a dream of Cimmeria where the ice breaks and he is plunged into the water. Belit visits Conan in prison and they get some prison loving under the night skies. In Issue #5, Conan is taken to a square for his execution. Belit appears as a lady and asks for a contest of champions. Conan is in chains and has to fight a massive warrior. N’Yaga is in the crowd and hands Conan a knife. The warrior draws out Conan’s sword and knocks the knife away. Guards chase Belit, but she cuts them apart with her sword and covers herself in streaks of blood. The crowd hears a thunderous noise from the docks and Conan throws his knife at the warrior’s head. Then, he takes off the warrior’s head with his sword.
Issue #6 has the city in chaos with a two page spread of the docks and ships on fire. He has met up with N’Yaga and they are confronted by Messantian soldiers. Conan kills them along with a horse. He finishes off a soldier holding N’Yaga hostage by throwing his sword into his throat. Soldiers have the docks blocked with a phalanx of shields. Conan sees Belit and to find three soldiers about to kill Belit. He falls into a rage and slices one in half before killing the others and reuniting with Belit. They sail off in the Tigress in a full page spread. The third part is “Border Fury” which started in issue #7 that had the welcome return of art by Cloonan before being taken over by Vasilis Lolos. Issue #7 opens in Cimmeria where Conan and Belit are escaping an attack with arrows. Belit has her eyes covered since she is snow blind. He flashes back to how they left the Tigress and traveled to Conan’s home village of Duthil. They meet Conan’s mother, who is unimpressed by Belit and has them stay in the barn. Conan meets with the village elders who say they are being raided by Conan of Canach. Belit finds the Cimmerian life strange and falls when a wolf that is roped as a guard animal growls at her. The Cimmerian women laugh at her and Conan stops Belit from killing them. A man in wolf armor razes a village and his scream wakes up the sleeping Conan in the barn.
In issue #8, Conan and Belit are on the trail of the raiders. Conan is frustrated at Belit’s fatigue traveling in the Cimmerian wilderness. They reach the razed village of Eirbhe and ask a farmer about the raid. They reach village after village burnt to the ground. They are ambushed by an archer who is felled by Belit’s knife. They take refuge in a makeshift shelter and Conan stares at the landscape. He sees three burnt villages and Belit asks him if he would keep going to find the raiders. Conan says he would and Belit tells him to go to the ice fields and find the raiders. There is what looks like a dream sequence of Belit in the desert riding a black horse and looking at an ocean. Belit wakes the next day and hikes toward the ice field followed by wolves. Conan climbs a peak and screams out a challenge to the raiders.
Okay, we finally have gotten to issue #9 which is the conclusion of the “Border Fury” storyline. Issue #9 sports a painted cover by Massimo Carnevale which depicts the snow blind Belit surrounded by wolves. The comic opens with Belit at a cave and taking out her sword to swipe at intruders. The wolves from the previous issue close on her, but she is able to cut down one wolf when it gets too close. Belit’s vision starts to return and she sets on the other wolves with her sword. This shifts to Conan with a full page spread as he bellows out his challenge. The answer is some arrows which makes him take cover behind a rock. Belit appears and runs over to the rock beside Conan. Belit stands up to parlay with the raiders. Her answer is that Conan knows the leader of the raiders as Maeldun. Conan knocks Belit down as arrows fly towards her.
Conan flashes back to when he and Maeldun were young boys in his village. They are hunting deer in the forest when Conan resorts to tricks to outwit Maeldun. Conan is spoiled at the influence of his grandfather in the village. He hints to Maeldun that the blond haired girl fancies him. Conan laughs at Maeldun and goes away with Coira to tumble with her in the heather. Maeldun later confronts Coira and she slaps him so that he falls and the village smiles at his misfortune. Maeldun runs away and becomes Conan of Canach. Coira ignores Conan and he has lost his childhood friend. Back to the present, Conan taunts Maeldun and they rush towards each other to fight. The duel has some extreme close-ups with Lolos’ art showing Conan’s sword distorted by foreshortening. Conan slices off Maeldun’s arm and his enemy collapses in the snow. They return to Conan’s village and his mother and lover face off. Belit leaves telling her to enjoy the protection her son has won. They ride off into the snow and the storyline ends with a full page of the darkened Tigress sailing from the sunset waters. The next storyline, “The Death”, seems to return to parts 2 to 5 of Robert E. Howard’s story.