REVIEW: Age of Conan - Belit, Queen of the Black Coast #1

Belit, Queen of the Black Coast #1 is due out 3/13/2019.

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
Price: $3.99

For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics asBatmansBookcase.

Comic of the Week: Conan the Barbarian #1 is a Fitting Successor to Past Conan Comics

Conan the Barbarian #1 was released 1/2/2019.

By d. emerson eddy — Know, oh prince, that there would come a day that Marvel would regain the license to Robert E. Howard's Cimmerian...

Conan, as a property, is near and dear to my heart. Dog-eared copies of some of the old Ace paperbacks were among my favorite things to read as a kid. They filled me with a sense of wonder and sparked my imagination in regards to mythology, archaeology, and history, having a lasting effects that endures to this day. Later, I got into Marvel's Conan comics, mostly under the Epic imprint, but I normally took to Conan as a prose literary experience.

It wasn't really until Dark Horse took over the license—and began publishing the beautiful series from Kurt Busiek and Cary Nord, as well as reprinting those early Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith stories—that I really began to appreciate the comics experience more. Timothy Truman, Cullen Bunn, P. Craig Russell, Kelley Jones, Greg Ruth, and countless other creators tapped back into that sense of wonder I had as a kid and reignited a passion for Conan and his world. (I also highly recommend checking out The Conan Reader this week from Dark Horse that collects a wide cross-section of some of their best in a thick volume.)

It made me wonder, though, about Marvel regaining the license. Would it be as good as what Dark Horse had accomplished?

I don't know what the future holds, but this first issue is off to a good start. The artwork from Mahmud Asrar and Matthew Wilson is beautiful. Capturing the action, violence, and feel of Conan perfectly. There's a weight and a grit to Conan, the background characters, and the world conveyed through the artwork that enhances the atmosphere of the story, especially during the fight scenes. You feel and hear the chunk of the axe and the slash of the sword, which I think is interesting since there are no accompanying sound effects like you'd normal see here. That seems to be a testament to how powerful Asrar's line art is in representing the action.

Which is not to say that Travis Lanham is absent throughout the book; he's given a lot of dialogue and narration to tackle, just that most of the sound is left to the art. Lanham's lettering definitely captures the spirit of an old tale from the Nemedian Chronicles in appearance.

And then there's the plot and execution of the text of the story. To my mind, Jason Aaron was born to write Conan comics and it shows in this first issue. It's rich in lore without being side-tracked by too much explanation. It's the right kind of wordy, being dense in narration and dialogue, but not feeling over-written, cramped, or cluttered. It's not quite the same style as Roy Thomas, or Howard himself, but that's the general feel.

It jumps between two different time periods, connected by a dead god and a witch, and it feels like it gives a holistic view of two of the major time periods of Conan's history, as a pit fighter starting out and then as a king, while building something larger. It's a good introduction to Conan and tells an interesting story in its own right. I'm very intrigued as to where Aaron, Asrar, Wilson, and Lanham take this.

Conan the Barbarian #1
Writer:
Jason Aaron
Artist: Mahmud Asrar
Colorist: Matthew Wilson
Letterer: Travis Lanham
Publisher: Marvel
Price: $4.99

Check out past Comic of the Week selections on the list page.

d. emerson eddy is a student and writer of things. He fell in love with comics during Moore, Bissette, & Totleben's run on Swamp Thing and it has been a torrid affair ever since. His madness typically manifests itself on twitter @93418.

Top Comics to Buy for January 2, 2019

By Zack Quaintance — Oh hey, would you look at that? We got the date for this piece right! Though, we’d be lying if we said it wasn’t a challenge. Basically, the New Year has arrived folks! Bringing with it those always-confusing date problems that take place in writer’s heads before we’ve fully adjusted.

Last week’s post-Christmas crop of comics was pretty barren (although it wasn’t without some great titles). This week’s bunch is a bit better, at least in terms of volume. What’s also great is that some of our favorite series from 2018—namely Action Comics and Immortal Hulk—have new installments! Pair that with the start of Jason Aaron’s highly-anticipated run of Conan the Barbarian, and hey, maybe this year will be starting off special.

All that said, let’s take a closer look!

Top Comics to Buy for January 2, 2019

*PICK OF THE WEEK*
Action Comics #1006
Writer:
Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Ryan Sook
Colorist: Brad Anderson
Letterer: Josh Reed
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99
The Red Cloud sets her sights on someone close to Superman, but how can the Man of Steel stop a villain he can't touch? As the invisible mafia controlling Metropolis' underworld steps more into the light, its leader finally stands revealed with a secret that will have massive implications for Superman and Clark Kent!
Why It’s Cool: At this time last year, the vast majority of comic book fandom didn’t even know which DC characters long-time Marvel writer Brian Michael Bendis would be taking over when he made the jump to DC. Fast forward to now, and it’s almost hard to remember that Bendis didn’t spend all of last year writing Superman stories. His work on the character has been (in my personal opinion) fantastic, and leading the way is the Daily Planet-heavy story taking place in Action Comics. It continues to build this week with an expanded look into corners of Metropolis that have rarely been seen, setting as it does some track for more major happenings later on in the year. Also, competition is fierce, but of all the top-tier artists Bendis has collaborated with since coming over to DC, I do believe that Ryan Sook is my favorite. This may be his last issue of Action Comics for the foreseeable future, but later this year he and Bendis will be collaborating on something larger, which is definitely something to keep an eye on. Oh, and speaking of last year: can you believe some yutz suggested Bendis was taking over Green Arrow? Absurd!

Conan the Barbarian #1
Writer:
Jason Aaron
Artist: Mahmud Asrar
Colorist: Matthew Wilson
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $4.99
BY CROM, THE GREATEST SWORD-AND-SORCERY HERO RETURNS TO MARVEL!
From an age undreamed...hither came Conan the Cimmerian, 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...Robert E. Howard's creation returns to comics, in an epic tale as only MARVEL could bring you!  Conan's travels have brought him to the far reaches of the unkown, from his birthplace in Cimmeria to the kingdom of Aquilonia and all in between. As his fighting prowess allows him to carve his way through life, so too does it attract the forces of death! The all-new ages-spanning saga begins here, by writer Jason Aaron (THE MIGHTY THOR, STAR WARS) and artist Mahmud Asrar (UNCANNY X-MEN, ALL-NEW, ALL-DIFFERENT AVENGERS), as Conan's destiny is forever changed!
Why It’s Cool: Jason Aaron has done absolutely incredible things with the Thor franchise, crafting what is currently the best years-long superhero run in all of comics. He just has a knack for the epic, nigh-biblical brutality inherent to norse mythology. And what, if any, comic book franchise just so happens to feel like a close cousin to norse mythology? That’s right, Conan the Barbarian. Aaron takes the keys of that book with Conan the Barbarian #1, the first in a trio of new Conan comics from Marvel, who snagged the rights for the character last year. As Thor starts to wind down with this year’s War of the Realms event, Aaron looks to start another all-time great stretch of comic book writing right here with this one.

Crowded #6
Writer:
Christopher Sebela
Artist: Ro Stein
Inker: Ted Brandt
Colorist: Triona Farrell
Letterer: Cardinal Rae
Publisher:
Image Comics
Price: $3.99
Trapped with the psychopathic streaming superstar Trotter on one side and all of Los Angeles carrying a weapon and a two-million-dollar-dream on the other, Charlie and Vita have only each other-and a few of the secrets they've been keeping from each other-to rely on for their survival.
Why It’s Cool: There is no shortage of stories in comics right now that envision terrifying futures. Hell, there’s no shortage of stories in comics right now that envision terrifying near futures. That said, Crowded has distinguished itself as one of the best, doing so with a mixture of big ideas and seasoned pacing moves from one of the best writers of creator-owned comics in the industry today: Christopher Sebela. Of the many excellent new Image Comics launched in 2018 (more on that next week...stay tuned!), this is one of the best.

Immortal Hulk #11
Writer:
Al Ewing
Artist: Joe Bennett
Inker: Ruy Jose
Colorist: Paul Mounts
Letterer: Cory Petit
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $3.99
"HULK IN HELL" PART ONE!
Jackie McGee is in hell. Carl Creel is in hell. Walter Langkowski is in hell. Eugene Judd is in hell. Carl Burbank is in hell.  Los Diablos is in hell. Shadow Base is in hell. New Mexico is in hell. Planet Earth is in hell. We are all in hell...
 ...and so is the IMMORTAL HULK.
Why It’s Cool: As you may or may not find out in this week’s forthcoming Best Comics of 2018, our committee of one absolutely loved Immortal Hulk last year, finding it to be a comic that both spoke to the essence of a classic character while pushing this franchise into novel new territories. This book, in other words, could do no wrong, and because of this, we’re very much excited to see where it’s all headed in the New Year. Based on preview text, that place is clearly hell, which, awesome.

The Walking Dead #187
Writer:
Robert Kirkman
Artist: Charlie Adlard
Inker: Stefano Gaudiano
Gray Tones: Cliff Rathburn
Letterer:
Rus Wooton
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99
"THE ROAD BACK"
Can Rick Grimes bring peace to the Commonwealth-or will he tear it apart?
Why It’s Cool: Although the jury is still out on whether it’s working, Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard are clearly trying to sophisticate and evolve the central metaphor at the heart of their long-running Walking Dead comic, perhaps to avoid the ironically slow death that seems to be afflicting the television show (what with the lead actor begging out, and everything). It remains to be seen, of course, whether they stick the landing, but the emotional heart of this current plotline is Michonne, and it’s pretty well-done, so much so I find the book engaging in a way it hasn’t felt since before Negan got put in that cage. There’s a weird metaphor at work here too, wherein the governor of the town where everyone is content and cared for, yet class discrepancy runs wild, looks a whole lot like Hillary Clinton, which has the lasting effect of reminding us of simpler times with more understated political problems. Kirkman et. al clearly thought like most of us that she would win and are left holding the bag...if only they could bring back Negan, who, let’s face it, is basically Trump.

Top New #1 Comics

  • Champions #1

  • Infinity Wars: Infinity #1

  • Man Without Fear #1

  • Star Wars Age of Republic: Obi-Wan Kenobi #1

  • Wolverine Long Night #1

Others Receiving Votes

  • Archie 1941 #1

  • Archie #701

  • BPRD Devil You Know #12

  • Detective Comics #995

  • Giant Days #46

  • Hex Wives #3

  • Justice League Odyssey #4

  • Marvel Knights 20th #5

  • Redneck #18

  • Shatterstar #4

  • Terrifics #11

  • Titans #32

  • Tony Stark: Iron Man #7

  • Unnatural #6

  • Winter Soldier #2

See our past top comics to buy here, and check our our reviews archive here.

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase. He also writes comics and is currently working hard to complete one.