Tuesday 13 July 2010

Conan the Barbarian #67. Red Sonja vs Belit

Conan the Barbarian #67, Red Sonja vs BelitIf there's three people you wouldn't let loose in your local library, it's Conan, Belit and Red Sonja, as all three quickly reveal themselves willing to kill just to get their hands on one page of one book. Blimey, what'd they do for a whole copy of Harry Potter?

Sadly, however, it's not reading they're interested in. It's money. The page is from the legendary Book of Skelos and is thus worth a bucketful of cash to whoever gets their hands on it. Thanks to this - and them being typical, immature, petty and over-emotional females - we get the clash we've all been crying out for; Red Sonja vs Belit.

Well, admittedly, I've not been crying out for it, I'd be more interested in Sonja vs Valeria, who Sonja was clearly a bit of a rip-off of. But, still, beggars can't be choosers. When the clash comes, Sonja easily wins their battle with swords and we never get to see who's handier with a knife, as Sonja's more interested in stealing the page she came here for than continuing the fight. You suspect writer Roy Thomas couldn't really bring himself to admit that professional warrior Sonja would flatten her more rustic rival.

Despite being nicely drawn (but poorly inked) - and Sonja being quite cool, easily outwitting Conan and Belit, and happy to hang around in sewers - it's an odd tale that doesn't seem too sure what it's actually about. Its "A" Plot's quickly discarded in favour of a side-track in which Conan sets about breaking his old mate Yusef from prison. At the end of this diversion, there's a tacked-on and frankly ludicrous panel in which we're told that, while Yusef was in his dungeon, he found his way into the next cell, in which he met the man who stole the page and brought it here in the first place. It's clearly an attempt by either Thomas or Buscema to tie this otherwise irrelevant strand into the main plot but, as it doesn't advance either the plot or our knowledge of what's going on, it fails miserably.

Conan the Barbarian #67, Red Sonja vs Belit
Accusations of sexism have been flung at Roy Thomas over the years and this issue doesn't help, as Sonja and Belit, being typical wenches, can't get through a simple conversation without a cat-fight breaking out, and Tara of Hanumar who was introduced a few issues back as a live-wire tomboy is now, thanks to pregnancy, reduced to spectator status.

Then again, Sonja and Belit's behaviour, while immature and petty, is undeniably in character for both of them, so at least you can make some excuses for Thomas there. Having said that, of course, he was the one who gave them immature and petty personalities in the first place.

Maybe it's just me but the choice of cover for the issue's odd. Leaving aside that the Tara on the cover bears no resemblance to the Tara inside it, and is clearly just the helpless girlie who turns up on the front of every issue, and that nothing on the cover actually happens in the story, you'd have thought Sonja vs Belit, as the main selling-point of the tale, would've been the thing to make the mag's front.

Finally, are they sure about Conan's legendary battle-sharpened senses? Most mind-boggling scene is when Conan completely fails to notice, for panel after panel, that Tara's pregnant, despite her sporting a bump the size of Neptune.


Colin Smith said...

Steve, as always I enjoy your summaries of comics I picked up myself in long distant past. But there's one thing I think I ought to take issue with. I can think of two or three local libraries I've known which I'd be happy to let "Conan, Belit and Red Sonja" loose in. That's not such a high ratio after almost 50 years of borrowing books all over the UK, but still I'd buy "Conan: Barbarians In The Library if the setting was the right one.

Steve said...

Come to think of it, most of the books in my local library probably pre-date this issue's "Book of Skelos" by several millennia, it's been that long since they updated the stock. Bearing that in mind, it might not be such a shock to see the three of them turn up there looking for long lost ancient tomes.

Come to think of it, wasn't that Thulsa Doom I saw lurking in the "Romance" section?

Simon B said...

Didn't Robert E. Howard give Belit that petty and immature personality back in 1934? Just sayin' :-)

Steve said...

Probably. It's that long (1991) since I read REH's story that I can't remember what she was like, although I seem to remember her being dead at the end of it.

Anyway, I'm going to cop-out by saying Thomas was responsible for her characterisation in the comics (he could have amended it if he'd wanted to) and therefore I might as well blame him.