You may have guessed that I have not been choosing the comics myself lately. You're right! By my request, we've gone back to the old way, with a comic book landing in my hands that the "boss" has picked for me. How does he decide? What are his reasons? You'll have to ask him. I have time to read the things, and that's about it.
And so, here we are with Conan, The Barbarian, starring in "The Queen of the Black Coast, Part 1."
It starts in the midst of action. I like that. I like that a lot, actually. No heavy handed inner-dialogue while some character sits around "thinking" and thereby catching us up on the story (you know EXACTLY what I'm talking about). Just a little bit of scene setting and then BAM! Conan, on his black horse, riding through a city, down some stairs and leaping onto a ship. That's some fun stuff! The first two-page spread in this comic is pretty gorgeous. The pages of this book even seem thicker than most comics, too. I liked it, it made the book feel heavier, manlier. I never really got used to it, and kept thinking I had accidentally skipped a page due to the feeling of the page between my fingers, but I liked the experience it gave me. Going slowly through a comic that's a story like this--it made it better, somehow.
After the horse-jumping and yelling, there was this great little scene, with that "thing" that you men-folk are often portrayed as doing. You know, you sort of fight with each other first, either with words or fists. Then, through that interchange, something grows your respect or disdain for your "brother". In this case, the bad-assness of Conan earns him some the respect and friendship of his shipmates, it becomes mutual on Conan's side, and a true loyalty is born between him and Tito, Master of the Argus. I liked that part. It was quick, but it felt like it really happened.
After all the fun stuff, we're soon introduced to a woman named "Belit". She's something in the Bitch-Goddess magical creature variety of person, this one a "scourge, a plague among the seas." That's part of her description, and she's drawn with ivory skin, jet black hair, curvier than the Pacific Coast highway, and there's fire coming out of her eyes and blood dripping from her mouth. Yeah....that's where it started to get a little weird. I got a bit distracted, wondering if she was a vampire. And why is her tounge sort of poised at the opening of her mouth like that? And wait, what is going on with those fire eyes? How's she stay so fit? What's going on?
That happens to me with these kinds of stories sometimes, I don't mean to do it on purpose. There will be a thread, and I pull on it a little too hard, and something starts to unravel. I feel like I'm being mean, but I really don't mean to do it, it isn't purposeful. Here, everything was fine, it all made sense and I believed it, and then I saw that blood on Belit's lips and all of a sudden it was like a bunch of cars stopping short in my head, and all those cars are the parts of the story you just have to accept if you're going to participate in the story.
Anyway, the thing with the blood shouldn't have been that big of a deal, but it sort of stands out as where I started to get lost. After Conan hears about Belit, lo' and behold a series of events lead the characters (Conan, Tito and his Argus-ian crew) to sail further out than they expected to and voila, they encounter a ship from a distance that seems to have encountered Belit.
What does that mean? Well, it's a ship, initially depicted in a silhouette that seems to convey tattered sails and a deserted ship. Conan, in what I assume is some kind of act of loyalty, decides he's going to go take stock of this situation and jumps into the ocean to swim to the ship.
And this is where this comic takes a sharp turn and the last seven full pages made no sense to me whatsoever.
First we see Conan get on the ghost ship, only to find dead people and blood everywhere. He calls out Belit's name, and we see that simultaneously, on the other ship, Tito is sitting with his head in hand and head shaking (I think?) and then we cut back to the ship, where Conan has just yelled "BELIT!"
And then we cut to Conan, who is in the water alone.
Then Belit is with him. Next frame, they kiss. Next frame, she sort of lies down on him in the water. I think. The next frame looks like a whirlpool is sort of happening and the two of them are lying on top of the water? Unless the perspective is just drawn weird and we're really supposed to be seeing them as underwater - and she's choking him? I don't know.
On the next page--and I'm sorry, this must be boring to read but I'm still trying to figure it all out--the scene shifts from pinks, purples and flesh tones to icy blues and greys. Conan is returning to the ship, or waking up, or coming to after being attacked, or just sitting up...or anything, I'm not sure. But it's happening on a ship and he's all alone and it's foggy or something. It almost looks like winter. Eleven different frames of him sort of coming to and looking around. Seeing another ship across the way. Is it Tito's ship? Did he never actually leave Tito's ship and this was all a dream? Did he never actually make it onto Tito's ship in the first place, but back in the beginning jumped on some boat and hit his head and knocked himself out?! I sincerely doubt that last one, but I don't have to, do I? There's no real evidence to the contrary. By that logic (or absence of logic), I could, of course, make any claim I want. I don't want to do that. I just wanted to understand the process as I experienced it.
On the next page, there is more of the same, and then Conan spots Belit in her little porn-y belly-dancing outfit on the other ship. She looks at him, with her tongue out (of course she does, I love her, she's such an obvious tramp) and he yells "Alarm!" and is suddenly surrounded by men on a ship that I thought was deserted.
I have no idea where he is, where she is or what's going on. It's supposed to be a cliffhanger ending, but I'm so confused that I just want to put the book down.
Did anyone else have this experience? It's weird that it went from such a fun and succinct little comic with all this warrior-male-bonding stuff before turning into this trippy, mythological thing that either completely lost it's way, or just completely lost me. I'm no artist, but this just struck me as a clear case of the story not being told well by the pictures. There's virtually no dialogue at the end AT ALL. It's all pictures, and eventually just becomes impossible to follow.
So. I guess that's my take on it? You know, at this point I don't want to know what was really intended to be told in those last seven pages. I would love to hear various hilarious versions. You know, like those contests they have to write a caption for a comic or photo. I'd love to see what the most hilarious storyline could be thought up to go with these frames. I doubt that was the intention.
I want to add something here--I really liked the beginning of this comic. I expected to dislike it, because it was about Conan the Barbarian, a character I only know from that silly movie...which, to be fair, I have never actually watched. Instead, I found myself in love with this story almost immediately. Conan was just so likeably bad, that perfect mix. I liked the way he was drawn, the way he did his hair up the way a woman does whenever we take off our make up (just barely pulled back into the scrunchie), and I liked the way everything else looked to. It was a pleasure to read this comic, until it wasn't, and I admit--I might be a little harsh because of that. But I don't see any reason to pretend I wasn't. I can't remember feeling this way before, and it seems ridiculous to say it, but oh well: if the people who cared about the front of this comic had taken the same kind of care with the back, they could have made something really special.
Instead they just made this.
-Nina Stone, 2012