There's an importance to being earnest; a gravity to identity. You can take the northern boy out of Cimmeria or the ''desert flower'' out of Shem, but 'place' burrows deep, it gets in under the fingernails -- local is for life.
Conan the Barbarian #7 begins a new arc, 'Border Fury.' As has been his want since this series began, writer Brian Wood teases the reader with a prelude of the overture to come: Bêlit is blind, temporarily, and she and Conan have gone north to Cimmeria. Seems that while Conan was out stealing horses, bedding a pirate Queen and being a party to a ruse, some sociopath began to run amok in Cimmeria razing, pillaging and killing the in the name of Conan -- it's identity theft for the Hyborian Age.
When Conan and Bêlit had their meet cute in issue #2, Bêlit was blind to the cold reality of Cimmeria. For her, the land of Conan's fathers was mere ''myth and children's stories'' until she took ''this hardest of men,'' this man ''cut from stone'' as her lover. Now, her alabaster skin competes with the snows of the north, roles reverse and now the Shemite and not the Cimmerian is the stranger in a strange land. If this story took place in the modern age, one imagines Bêlit's tweets would read: Cimmeria, I am in you.
It does not go well for this child of ''arid dunes'' and ''azure skies.'' It is here that a less lazy reviewer would not lean on a cliché that calls Bêlit a 'fish out of water,' or that this latest arc acts as a 'meet the parents' type situation, but there it is. Is it 'too soon' for Cimmeria, for its dark satanic forests and its howling winds; too soon on the tour to play to the hometown crowd? Wood is again at play in the fields of identity as he casts Conan and Bêlit into a plot in which each will learn who the other is both home and away -- in the city and in the country. Bêlit remains the captain and in command. Even sightless, she continues to call the shots. ''Be my eyes,'' she tells Conan. She urges him to trust her. She promises to prove to him ''that this land has not gotten the better of me.'' The setting may change in latitude, in distance, yes, but not in the freedom to choose, to define oneself; as N’Yaga says in the previous issue: ''This is Bêlit.'' This is the importance of being earnest and what Conan must learn as he continues to sail by Bêlit's side.
Conan the Barbarian #7 marks another return and another departure as artist Becky Cloonan brings her indelible inky mark back to this latest (and perhaps her last) issue. As Wood said in late May, Vasilis Lolos will take over the art for the remainder of this arc[*]. I am no seer, no N’Yaga. I hope, in time, if Crom wills it, Cloonan will return to this story. She (as much as Wood) has created a Conan for the ages and her imagining of Bêlit is the criterion for any artist from now on, for hers is the Ur-Bêlit.
Cloonan creates a real imagined woman who looks and acts as if she indeed does possess ''the blood of ancient kings in her veins.'' The range of emotions that Cloonan draws out of Bêlit is remarkable. From the childlike amazement when Bêlit sees snow for the first time to how she seethes when this daughter of Shem is shamed by Conan's mother and the other women of the village. And then there is that tender moment at the end when Conan tells Bêlit that he can't carry out his task and clear his name (establish his identity) without her. Bêlit's eyes are closed, her hair is entwined with Conan's; her lips -- made crimson by the king of color himself, Dave Stewart -- are the slightest bit apart, the reader knows she is in love and it's the kind of love to kill for and to die for. In this moment Becky Cloonan is peerless.
Issue #7 ends in a dream/nightmare. Unlike previous noctural imagnings (so far, Wood has had Conan dream in each of the first issue in each story arc) Conan was Bêlit-less, now he lies awake with his lover's arm across his chest. Bêlit sleeps earnest and safe in the knowledge of who she is, where she is, and why she is with this barbarian. Here's hoping Becky Cloonan's Bêlit, the Bêlit, will wake again. Perchance to dream …