Saturday, March 24, 2012

Conan the Barbarian: Queen of the Black Coast #2

The ending of Conan the Barbarian: Queen of the Black Coast issue 2 sets up a great beginning. After a skirmish at sea, desire grows hotter between Bêlit and Conan. Nothing in this issue exposes the mutual attraction and repulsion of Bêlit and Conan as exquisitely as the last page. The issue culminates in the final words of Bêlit: “Make me your queen.”

What to make of this final line from Bêlit? Does it diminish her autonomy? Does it rob her power? No, desire is Bêlit’s impetus. Few works capture the workings and effects of desire, Eros, as well as Sappho’s work:
Ἔρος δ' ἐτίναξέ μοι
φρένας, ὠς ἄνεμος κὰτ ὄρος δρύσιν ἐμπέτων.

And Eros quivers my core
like harp strings,
As a wind down a mountain,
Falling on oak trees.
(fragment 47, Campbell, my translation)

"Make me your queen." One simple imperative. No doubt or hesitancy flutters about this command. It is not offered as an  argument or a point of debate; there are no expectations for rebuttals, questions, or examinations of multiple experts. No. It is a simple straight independent clause that manifests a reality by its mere utterance. Why this immediate willingness for Belit to voice such an order to a man, a young one at that, whom she’s never met and who has just killed many of her crew?
Eros moves quickly, like a mountain wind, and has no interest in debate or other plans of an individual. When Eros arrives, it commands, and moves and shakes the heart and soul of an individual; Eros plays their wants and actions like a master musician commanding her instrument. There’s no possibility to resist—there’s no desire to resist. Bêlit is being played by a god.

A god who moves swiftly and strikes hard, having gathered strength by racing down a mountain, mount Olympus perhaps, and falling upon (drenching with sexual connotations) oak trees, strong mighty columns of wood (let your mind work dirty on this one too). Bêlit utters her command to Conan after such a short interval of interaction because Eros works fast.

“Make me your queen.”

Cloonan renders this shock exquisitely in Conan’s eyes, parted wide with surprise, his head angled on his neck, as if pulling back from Belit. Despite the sword in his hand, and taut muscles, this last panel makes clear that Conan is not the one calling the shots. He too has been quivered by wind from down a mountain.

This tension between Conan and Bêlit, and the way Cloonan and Wood handle the interaction, is one of the great pleasures of reading this comic. Difficulty exists balancing two willful characters prone to murderous rages and extreme violence, bringing these two together, in a believable fashion, and in a way that doesn’t weaken the power of either character had to keep Cloonan and Wood awake at night pondering the best way to pull off such a feat, but, it worked.

In the second to last panel Bêlit states “I am Bêlit.” an assertion of her own identity and existence. A statement of force, yet, her body is arched towards Conan, arms to her side, breasts pushed forward head tilted back to look up at Conan. Her body carriage of submission counters the power and command of her spoken words. Likewise Conan’s stance reveals his hesitancy, Cloonan draws him rigid and slightly tilted back from Bêlit; yet he’s not powerless, he has a notched and bloody sword in his hand (and after slaying about 16 members of her crew), this balance of vulnerability and strength exuded by each character toward one another is masterfully handled, and prevents the book and the characters from falling into something very very cheesy.

In the last panel on the last page, the two finally meet one another with a full on direct frontal view, after each character has explicitly stated who they are:
“My name is Conan. I am a Cimmerian.”
“I am Bêlit. Make me your queen.”

The cores of two individuals have been quivered.

No comments:

Post a Comment