Posted - June 22, 2013 | Updated : August 20, 2015
Conan: The Beast King of Abombi
This is a bittersweet Conan tale. On one hand, it is full of adventure, excitement, beautiful women, powerful men, dangerous magic and savage monsters - all that you could ask for from the 'Sword and Sorcery' genre. On the other hand, these are the last adventures of the beauteous and charismatic Belit. That's right, Belit dies at the end of this story. Now take a deep breath, and let us begin . . .
We begin here
The coast of Stygia where Conan and Belit rejoin the 'Tigress' and its crew. The ship is anchored very close to the coast.
Here's a closer shot of the 'Tigress' at night.
It all starts off peacefully enough but this is a Conan book so before long its action time!
The man running for his life is M'gora, third in command in the 'Tigress', after Belit and Conan. And yes, those swamp rats are as big as small dogs.
After everybody helps out with the rats, M'Gora tells of his reconnaisance mission to Asgalun, a city of Shem - a very important city to Belit who should have been Queen of Asgalun were it not for a foul betrayal. This particular piece of the narrative I found most interesting.
What a choice huh? Join us or die.
Before long Conan, Belit and company infiltrate Asgalun and shortly thereafter fall into an ambush.
To make matters worst, a wizard is involved. A wizard who makes our would-be spies fight each other to the death.
Here is the man who saves the day : Zula. Zula, one of Conan's companions, is an ardent student of the arcane arts. His studies have made him more resistant to the mind control being employed by the wizard Ptor-Nubis. Incidentally, Ptor-Nubis is an associate of the most nefarious Conan sorcerer of them all - the mighty Thoth-Amon. So anyway, Zula manages to shake off the spell and do this.
The tide quickly turns and our heroes stand triumphant.
It is an interesting thing that is happening in Asgalun. It is a Shemite city ruled by a Shemite Usurper-King. But at the same time it is a client state of nearby Stygia. To complicate matters, Asgalun's king has hired Hyrkanians to be his royal bodyguards. And to really confuse the situation there is also a sizable Kushite army serving in Asgalun. Before long, Stygia decides to take over the city state but the King, ever the wily survivor, has already escaped via underground labyrinths.
In a show of arrogance, the Stygians set up a public execution of a Shemite noble in front of the people of Shemite Asgalun.
Conguering a people is bad enough but for the foreign power to rub their noses in it is truly the height of folly.
The action happens quickly as the executioner raises his axe, he is revealed to be Conan, and it is the conquering Stygian that is executed.
Very quickly, Belit is introduced as the rightful ruler of Asgalun.
Nim-Karrak, the usurper, makes a desperate attempt to assasinate Belit but he is foiled by the hynotic powers of Zula.
The rule of Asgalun and her return as Queen has always been Belit's greatest objective. As is sometimes true for things or situations we desire, the wanting of it is sometimes better than the having of it. On realizing that she would have to give up the life of the sea-faring Queen of the Black Coast, Belit lets go of the crown.
The story arc of "The Beast King of Abombi" tells of the rivalry between Belit and the warrior princeling called Ajaga. It is a rivalry fought for the extortion profits gleaned from the villages of the Black Coast.
Zula, the hypnotist, will not join in this adventure. He's a big lost.
Visiting their usual vassal villages, Belit and her corsairs first learn of a new power abroad on the land - a beast king that can command animals
This Beast King, Ajaga, has dared enter the ancient and abandoned cliffside fort of Abombi shown here.
Here is Ajaga being surrounded by mysterious forces while in Abombi.
With Ajaga exacting tribute up and down the Coast, Belit's lucrative career as Queen of the Black Coast is in danger- the corsairs make their way toward Abombi where they are waylaid by a pack of babboons.
Conan falls off a cliff with some babboon attackers and seems lost.
While Belit is rendered unconscious
I think babboons are an excellent choice here. Definitely primates, they nonetheless seem also related to the great cats, what with their long snouts and large chests. They look tremendously formidable - only to be rivalled by gorillas. And yes, Belit is looking superbly gorgeous in this splash page. Belit finds herself prisoner in a cell with the other princesses of the Black Coast
Conan has survived his fall, by using a babboon combatant as an impact cushion, and meets up with an old friend. Sholo - the black lion.
If you've ever wanted to see Conan slay a dinosaur you've come to the right place.
Well, a small dinosaur. The thing about this red beast worth noting is that it has a beak instead of a snout. Paleontologists have recently discovered that some dinosaurs are feathered - so the beak is in keeping with the increasingly bird-like characteristics to creatures once thought of as more lizard-like.
This is just a remarkable splash page of Conan and Sholo done by the incomparable John Buscema.
I love the stylized moon, simply done but effectively evoking a hazy night. The detail on Conan's upper torso is also exceptionally good, massive, angular, yet lithe - the powerful form of a formidable fighter.
This next panel too is fantastic, mainly because of the background treatment. Buscema does some shrubbery, a tree, then the full moon beside the trunk leaving the rest blank and white. Just nice to look at.
And this one, another fine panel. Note the careful detail work of the cliffs right under the moon in the background. Buscema just leaves it hanging there - its just wonderfully executed.
I'm sure you'll agree that this is something we all enjoy about Conan comics : the impossible situations that Conan finds himself in and has to triumph over. Moments like this:
Look at it. He's underwater, he's being attacked by a giant electric eel, he dropped his sword, the only nearby weapon is a heavy boulder. Impossible! Yet Conan will make it, and its fun to watch.
Meanwhile, Belit manages to excape with the aid of Sholo.
Conan has been captured but its the panel layout that has got my attention.
Where it not for our hapless barbarian being trussed up like a wild boar this panel would be pinup worthy. Both layout and details are excellent. I bet the pure pencil line drawing of this panel is drop-dead gorgeous.
Buscema does a page of all the animals being summoned and controlled by the Beast King.
The babboons are still my big favorite here. I remember the babboons are supposed to have colorful faces but the monochrome coloring by G. Roussos works wonderfully considering the serious tilt of the story.
In the darkness of the cave, Belit and Sholo watch in horror as Ajaga prepares to feed Conan to his fierce pets.
Just look at Belit's gorgeous face!.
Belit trying to rescue Conan under a hail of spears.
Things get out of control and the Beast King gets attacked by his own beasts.
I'd feel sorry for him were it not for his hostage taking of the village princesses whom he'd either rape or offer as a blood sacrifice. Extorting from the villages is tolerable but the nonchalant murdering? All I can say to his beasts is bon appetit.
Here's a sad sight : the death of Sholo.
Conan honors him with a burial.
I love the part where Conan vows to salute Sholo's memory with an arrow everytime he passes the coast. It is not for the dead that we do such things; the dead are gone and couldn't care less. It is for ourselves, to remind us of what we admire, and to glory in the remembrance. This is a sad death, but there will be a sadder one later.
The adventure of the sea woman is next. Initially it seems to be a bad fit to the overall 'feel' of the stories around it but it adds something very important considering that the over-arching theme of the collection is the final adventures of Belit, Queen of the Black Coasts. And what does it add you say? This story shows us with utter clarity the nature of the relationship between Belit and Conan.
Well, here is the sea woman, a kind of sea nymph
The character design is pretty blah in my opinion - she looks like some green bar wench. Ok, I'll say it, I wish there was more skin.
The corsairs of the 'Tigress' work like this. They extort protection money from the coastal villages and they raid sea commerce. We follow them for a while as they do their 'job'. Here are a couple of panels showing Belit's generosity with her crew.
She's not doing this out the kindness of her heart. The crew has suffered significant losses, the men are getting antsy for some female company, there are grumblings about the length of the voyage without any holdovers on dry land. Little does anybody know that Belit is feeling an unconscious pull towards her dark destiny.
This is the nearest I've seen Conan to being a faithful husband. He is being mystically seduced by the sea-woman (sea witch?) but he deflects his 'urges' to Belit.
Conan almost dies at the hands of the sea woman but it is his bond to Belit that saves him.
These panels are short on dialogue but the words are loaded and affirms what I have always suspected - Belit is Conan's true love. Not Red Sonja and not King Conan's future queen, Zenobia. For Conan it is and will always be Belit.
Let's have some fun with the crab things that walk like men! Yup, this is pretty crazy.
I won't keep you in suspense, here are the crab things that walk like men:
The crab men have taken human prisoners. It is a mark of Conan's character that he makes freeing them a priority as he says to Belit: "I make great allowances for you, woman, because you've lived as an outcast all your life-- even more so than I. But I'd not leave any men captives of those things, not even if they were Stygians! Come!". A show of strength allows the Cimmerian to break down the cell walls.
Once the crab men have been taken care off there is the matter of the treasure owned by their former captives - the very men Conan - and Belit - rescued. Once again we have a window to the workings of the mind of the Queen of the Black Coast.
So here we are at last - the death of Belit.
Here is where our tragedy begins, a drearier place there never was.
The river is dark, the water poisoned and creatures slither along its banks.
Along the course of this waterway the crew of the 'Tigress' espy the remains of an ancient kingdom.
Including a forbidding bat creature on top of a spire.
From the beginning disaster strikes and men die.
The strange winged creature destroys the corsairs' water supply necessiting a jungle trek by Conan and some companions to search for fresh water. It is a journey that will result in the death of all except Conan.
When Conan returns to the ship the most terrible sight of all greets him.
No illusion, no dream, no narcotic madness this. Belit, vital, beautiful, alluring Belit is dead. The form and face of Conan at this moment, in this panel says it all. He arrays the love of his life as befits the Queen she is.
And Conan waits, alone, unafraid - for revenge!
It starts with the slaying of supernatural hyenas.
And at last, at long last, a confrontation with the winged devil itself.
Conan is trapped under a collapsed rock column, his sword out of reach. He is about to die, when .. .
. . . the ghost of Belit saves him! I love Roy Thomas' narrative on this one as worded in the caption boxes on the panel. "In one mad instant, she is there". When still alive, Belit said this to Conan : "Were I still in death, and you fighting for your life, I would come back from the abyss to aid you!". The ghost of Belit disappears and Conan gets his revenge.
And so our tale and this tale ends with heavy heart.