Friday, February 22, 2013

Key Issues: Conan the Barbarian #100

Comic books often take the reader on fantastical journeys, fraught with peril, into the unknown and unknowable.  Today’s tale is about one such story, filled with danger, sadness and ultimately a love so strong it pulls back the infinite veil to save the hero and break him at the same time.

Before we get to that, let’s get some background information. Conan the Barbarian is Marvel’s interpretation of the R.E. Howard character, a brilliant reimagining of a pulp magazine staple of the 1930’s.[1] Many fine artists, inkers and writers worked on this series for Marvel Comics Group. The most beloved of Marvel’s version usually involved Roy Thomas (story), Ernie Chan (inks), John Romita and/or John Buscema (art/covers). For those not in the know, these are some the biggest names in comic book history, contemporaries and colleagues with luminaries such as Jack Kirby, Will Eisner and Stan Lee.

Conan is many things, and author Howard gives us this insight into his creation “black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandaled feet.”[2]  This is a nice way to sum up most of what Conan does, he steals…a lot, he kills man and beast…a lot, and when his appetite stirs he wenches also…a lot. Conan’s thirst is huge and the character as brought to life in the comics lives his life very much in the moment. This should not lead the reader to believe that Conan is shallow; in fact he is written with depth and all the imperfections of any flesh and blood human being. With that said, when Conan finds love, he really finds it! He inspires devotion in a few very memorable female characters, with well written love stories, well the kind of manly love stories that end in tragedy, revenge, blood…and eventually wenches.

The greatest of those love stories involves the lady, the she-pirate known as Belit.[3] Conan meets Belit in the heat of battle. Conan’s ship the Argus, is rammed by Belit’s own Tigress (Belit is the captain of her vessel and her hearty all male crew will follow her unto the death, how’s that for female empowerment!!) In the blood soaked melee that follows the two captains’ spy one another and the attraction is instant.

So we now know how Conan and Belit met. Let us briefly explore some of the other notable women in Conan’s life. For the sake of brevity I will confine this to female leads found in the R.E. Howard stories and not those made or altered for Conan in the Marvel/Dark Horse continuities (sorry Red Sonja Fans.)[4] Two other women stand beside Belit as strong females; able to hold their own with the untamed savagery of Conan. One of these ladies named Zenobia is promised to be the bride of the future King Conan, we see her closer to the end of the Conan stories so there is less material to work with, but she offers a strong presence in those later tales. The other, and one fans will be more familiar with is Valeria. A warrior in her own right Valeria is nearly a match for Conan’s ferocity and lust for life.[5]

We now have a base understanding of the women in Conan’s life, and we are free to talk about this key issue; Conan the Barbarian #100 from July of 1979. Based on the R.E. Howard story “Queen of the Black Coast”, issue #100 is the culmination of the 1000 days and nights that Conan and Belit spend together.[6] Touted as the death of the Black Coast’s Queen, it is a gut wrenching story. Conan driven mad by her death seeks to avenge her by going after the spawn of hell (“The Winged One” a man beast and the last of its kind) that has killed the one woman able to stand by his side no matter the odds.

 In a prescient moment before her death, Belit tells Conan “were I still in death and you fighting for life, I would come back from the abyss to aid you. Aye, whether my spirit floated from the purple sails on the crystal sea of paradise, or writhed in the molten flames of Hell! I am yours, and all the gods and their eternities shall not sever us.” [7] There is a great moment in this comic that I do not wish to ruin for the uninitiated but suffice it to say Belit is a woman of her word.Ok, so you now know how the story started, and how it ended for Conan and Belit. However just as in real life it is the stuff in between that tells the real story, who we are and how we get there.

 I hope you will take the time to investigate this and other Conan issues. This key comic is also very inexpensive, even in near mint (9.2+ on the 10 point scale) this comic should set you back between 10 and 15 U.S. dollars maximum. The next “Bubble” will focus on comic condition and the grading scale, until then keep reading comic fans!!


[1] Thomas, Roy. "Conan the Barbarian." Comic Book. Ed. Stan Lee. Vol. 1. (Issues 1-275) New York: Marvel Comics Group, 1970-1993. Print.
This is one of many Conan related titles including: Conan Saga, The Savage Sword of Conan, and King Conan. After the end of the characters Marvel run, the property was licensed to Dark Horse Comics, where it is enjoying another life with a new generation of artists.
[2] Howard, Robert E., Camp L. Sprague De, and Lin Carter. Conan. New York: Ace, 1967. 34-35. Print.
[3] First Marvel appearance of Belit comes in Giant Size Conan #1 (September 1974) with story by Roy Thomas, and cover art by Gil Kane. Her next appearance is in Conan the Barbarian #58 (June 1976) story by Roy Thomas, and cover art by both John Buscema and John Romita. Belit’s origin and back story appear in the next issue #59 (July 1976).
[4]Howard, Robert E. "The Shadow of the Vulture." The Magic Carpet Magazine. 1st ed. Vol. 4. Chicago: Popular Fiction, 1934. Print.
The Marvel character "Red Sonja", is based loosely on Red Sonya of Rogatino, a character from this story. In Howard's version she is a gun-toting, sword wielding wild woman. Her sister is the first wife of the Sultan of the Ottoman Turks. The story is set in the 1600’s and has nothing to do with Conan or his world.
[5] Howard, Robert E. "Red Nails." Weird Tales. Ed. Farnsworth Wright. 1st ed. Vol. 28. Chicago: Popular Fiction, 1936. Print.
Valeria makes her debut in this serialized story. Told over 3 issues (#1 July 1936, #2 August 1936, and #3 October 1936- no issue for month of September-) sadly this is also the last complete story published during Howard’s lifetime. Valeria is also used in the 1982 as the love interest in the Arnold Schwarzenegger Conan film; she is a composite of several of Conan’s love interests from the stories and comics.
[6] Howard, Robert E. "Queen of the Black Coast." Weird Tales. Ed. Farnsworth Wright. 5th ed. Vol. 23. Chicago: Popular Fiction, 1934. Print.
The storyline to Queen of the Black Coast is scattered through various issues of Conan the Barbarian, and not told in strict sequence.
[7] Thomas, Roy, and Robert E. Howard. "Conan the Barbarian." Comic Book. 100th ed. Vol. 1. New York: Marvel Comics Group, 1979. Print.
Cover Art for this issue by John Buscema, inked by Ernie Chan.

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