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Wednesday, May 23, 2007
  1980



Wow - has it been 27 years already?
27 long years ago -
I was but a kid.
And here I discovered high adventure
and even the basics of romantic storytelling
in a comic-book starring
a brutish barbarian
and the most improbable co-star -
a pirate woman!
But the inimitable writing style of one
Roy Thomas
and the incomparable artistic talent
of one John Buscema
made it all feasible
plausible
and immensely enjoyable!
CONAN and BÉLIT
were the first true super-hero
"celebrity couple"
for me anyway!
I never gave a damn about
Lois & Clark
Peter & Mary-Jane
Reed & Sue
and I didn't even KNOW yet
the actual FIRST couple
of super-heroes:
Aquaman & Mera
A Royal couple, too!
Conan & Bélit were my first royal couple!
My King Arthur & Guinevere,
Tristan & Isolde,
maybe even Romeo & Juliet
of the Hyborian Age -
doomed from the very start...
No other couple -
not even Aquaman & Mera -
have come close
to the tragedy
of these two:
the barbarian
and his queen.

Roy Thomas combined elements from
various genres of literature
in an extra-long story arc
that had many believe that Bélit was
a PERMANENT addition to the Conan book...
But it could not be...
Marvel owned the license at the time
And they were sticking to "cannon" -
that means, at least in broad strokes,
sticking to what the creator of this character
had originally written about him...
Robert E. Howard's original tales
of this brusque barbarian
had no such saga in its middle portion...
And Conan,
like many other genre heroes,
was deemed "best" as a solo act;
a loner and a wanderer,
without any attachments.
Thomas and Buscema
prolonged the blissful
yet tumultuous and
adventurous moment
as long as they could -
but Conan and Bélit would part definitively
in a landmark issue #100.
At the end of that story arc,
itty bitty me felt sad
and yet, it felt right.
For such an ending
was more in tune with what real life is
really all about.
No happy endings here
- à la
"Angélique et le Rescator"
- no.
The idyllic coupling began at sea,
as Bélit sailed the High Seas
as their de facto queen -
a title she has in common with Mera...
And, years later, ironically,
Aquaman would be
branded as a sort of
"Conan of the Seven Seas"
to complete the analogy
linking the two most tragic
couples in all of
sequential art fiction...

And, as it is,
my four most favorite
characters
of all time
in the medium.






In a series that started in 1970 -practically as I was born- Conan met Bélit in issue #58... They would form a couple as well as a renowned and feared duo for many thrilling adventures - until issue #100, when it all ended abruptly. (Yes - Marvel had the appalling idea to "save this event" for the landmark 100th issue... In the span of 42 issues, the cover price had rose from 25 cents to 60 cents. It is past the 2 dollar mark nowadays. That's the "House of Ideas" for you...)
Cover art (shown above - or click on this link) was by John Buscema and Ernie Chan - the latter would create another tragic hero for rival DC during practically the same years (in 1975 to be exact) - a character that closely resembles Conan, named Claw The Unconquered, whose tragic fate was to have the hand of a demon grafted onto his right arm... Note the synchronicity that, in issue #36 of the classic Aquaman series, a villain named Claw appeared and was aptly defeated by the hero.
(There was also a villain named Magneto in that issue - he bit the dust too, as did a certain 'Torpedo Man' as well. All three villains were known as the "Awesome Threesome" though - since their names would go on to be worn by such greater characters,
I suppose...?)

Furthermore, Claw The Unconquered is now seen teaming up with an old accomplice of Conan's that reminds me much of Queen MERA - Red Sonja!
The new acolytes have been freed from their respective prisons (in Claw's case, it was DC limbo, pure and simple! In Sonja's case, like her former acolyte of fortune Conan, she used to be misused by Marvel in the seventies and eighties mostly) and now team up in a brand new home: Dynamite Entertainment. Although Claw remains as much a slave of his "devil hand" as of DC Comics Inc - DC (via its Wildstrom imprint) made all of this happen. And Red Sonja evokes her days fighting alongside a pre-Bélit Conan; proving once more that nostalgia always triumphs (and it is the purpose of this site too, to make it so!)






Aquaman and Mera are, truth be told, an improvement on the couple that Conan formed with his bodacious Bélit. A true couple too, as in legally married - unlike the pathetic Sub-Mariner and his illicit on-again, off-again affair with the very married Invisible Woman, Susan Storm (who surely wishes she was invisible now, I am sure...!)
And to think that so-called "comic-book experts" will take away from AQUAMAN & MERA their rightful place as the FIRST and FOREMOST married couple in all of comic-bookland - and give that title instead to Mr. Fantastic & his Invisible bride who CHEATS on him! The Fantastic Four have NOTHING on the Aqua Family; even the pesky Temp-pest would put out the Human Torch's fire within seconds and any old stand-by (such as the Liquidator or that 'Blowhole' whale of a man atrocity that Erik Larsen introduced) could be brought back to keep The Thing busy - long enough for Aquaman to find a way to neutralize him more effectively! As for Sub-Mariner himself - his lady Dorma was a pathetic cheap version of Mera. And then, she died (though in nothing comparable to the Bélit Saga) and 'Namor' wept oceans, allegedly... Up until he found another object to fancy, that is! However, his Marrina was even more pathetic - and was eventually slayed by his own hand!
There's simply not dream couple material there...



Aquaman The Barbarian Atlantean King - he owed his new look to Conan but also to Kull The Conqueror (his ancestor, in a way) the Russell Crowe Gladiator and probably to Viking lore as well...





I am glad Marvel no longer owns the license rights to Conan!

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Comments:
Hmm...

1980 was perhaps the year that disillusioned me the most about romance, love, bliss, couplehood and the whole shebang...!!!

What, with Conan & Bélit on one end, and the discovery of the best James Bond film of all time (OHMSS - in which 007 loses his bride to a flurry of bullets courtesy of his arch-nemesis Blofeld minutes after having wedded her!) on the other end, I guess itty bitty me got the impression that the quest for this sort of happiness is futile and ephemeral at best!

:(


It didn't improve with the years - with the classics (Wuthering Heights, Shakespeare, Molière) the not-so-classic ("La Poupée Sanglante" - more on this one - soon!) and the abominable (Faust on the silver screen and the various Phantoms of the Opera, to name but two sources...) were all enforcing that first impression...


And you know what they say about first impressions - don't you?


:!
 
Diana Rigg/Emma Peel/Tracy Bond
does bear a striking resemblance to Conan's queen, Bélit!

Only time Diana Rigg ever dressed like a Queen of the Black Coast though was when she was within the dark confines of... the Hellfire Club! :!


But I digress...



And if I flash-forward to 1984/1985...

My first real glimpse at the formidable couple formed by the King of the Seven Seas and his own Sea Queen, well, it was when Aquaman and Mera called it SPLITS!

What a splash that made on my already deeply disillusioned psyche...!

No puns intended... too much!


:!
 
All is well that ends well though, because:

- Bond always remembers his Tracy as "the one" (no other Bond Girl compares to her; much less Felicity Shagwell and any "Powers Tart"...!)

- Conan does likewise for his beloved Bélit (not even Red Sonja measures up! That says it all, right there!)

- And Aquaman always finds his way back to his mesmerizing Mera...!



;)
 
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