By Zack Quaintance — I was into this book from the moment Marvel unveiled the creative team. I’ve written a lot on here about how much I enjoy Tini Howard’s work, be it in creator-owned series like Euthanauts or work-for-hire gigs like the recent Captain America Annual. So, having Howard’s name on a book—even for a franchise like Conan that, to be perfectly frank, I have a baseline of disinterest in—makes me pay attention. With this new Age of Conan: Belit, Queen of the Black Coast miniseries, however, it was artist Kate Niemcyzk’s name that pushed my interest to the next level.
Niemczyk, to my mind, is a really underrated visual storyteller, bringing clean linework, a pleasant density of visual gags and other touches, and ability to handle complex concepts as they apply to page composition. I’ve enjoyed her style quite a bit on past work, especially Marvel’s Mockingbird comic from a few years back (talk about underrated). With this Belit book, I was curious to see how artwork so clean and energetic would apply to the inherent savagery of the Conan the Barbarian world.
Indeed, of the three titles to launch in this line so far, this comic is the least photorealistic and most cartoony, which is not a bad thing. It really serves the main character well: a young girl whose father’s past sins cause him to be beaten and marooned on a sandbar right in front of her. There is an innocence and idealism at the start of this tale that both the writer and artist (colored here by the absolutely essential Jason Keith) convey perfectly...right up to the point where the plot forces Belit to take action in a way that loses a bit of her innocence with sacrificing any of her determination or power.
Following this action (you’ll have to read to learn the exact nature), the artwork seems to shift ever so slightly, especially the colors, taking our story to a bit darker place as the action on the page accelerates to accompany the journey. This is not a dark comic though, even with some of the early travails the protagonist goes through. It’s actually probably the ray of light in the new Conan line.
What emerges through the course of this debut issue is a picture of a series that aspires to be a pure high seas adventure in bygone times, one with a strong (and young) female protagonist. This is a fun read for season comics fans, but, more importantly, I think it’s a comic that once collected has a real potential to extend the Conan line to younger readers. It strikes a balance between immersive realism and out-sized fantasy that I think the best comics of the All New, All Different Marvel relaunch also found a few years back. It’s tricky ground to tread, and I’m excited to follow this series from start to finish as the creators pull it off.
Overall: The most vibrant and kinetic book of the new Conan the Barbarian line, Belit, Queen of the Black Coast #1 does a great job creating high stakes that feel serious while also building a tone perfect for pirate adventure. 8.5/10
Age of Conan: Belit, Queen of the Black Coast #1 (of 5)
Writer: Tini Howard
Artist: Kate Niemczyk
Colorist: Jason Keith
Letterer: VC’s Travis Lanham
Publisher: Marvel Comics
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Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics asBatmansBookcase.