Bêlit was born in the Hyborian nation of Shem and was the daughter of a Shemite trader. Little is known of her early life, but before she reached adulthood, Bêlit and her brother Jehanan were abducted by Stygian slavers. She later escaped and learned the arts of sailing and swordsmanship. By the time Bêlit was a young woman she was a skilled sailor and fierce warrior, and she became the commander of a pirate ship known as the Tigress, manned by black corsairs. Her crew was intensely loyal to her and regarded her with awe. With the Tigress, Bêlit and her corsairs attacked and plundered many ships and villages from lands as far south as Kush (Hyborean South Africa) to as far north as Zingara (Hyborean Spain). Bêlit grew so feared and respected that she became known as the "Queen of the Black Coast."
Bêlit was originally created in 1934 by fantasy author Robert E. Howard. She made her first appearance in the anthology magazine Weird Tales as the titular character of the novelette Queen of the Black Coast. Bêlit made her first unofficial comic book appearance in 1952 in Mexico, starring in her own series called Reina de la Costa Negra (Spanish for Queen of the Black Coast), written by Loa and Víctor Rodríguez and drawn by Salvador Lavalle. In 1974, Bêlit made her first official American comic book appearance in Marvel's Giant-Size Conan #1, written by Roy Thomas and drawn by Gil Kane.
Bêlit was described by Howard as a wildly fierce yet strikingly attractive femme fatale:
She turned toward Conan, her bosom heaving, her eyes flashing. Fierce fingers of wonder caught at his heart. She was slender, yet formed like a goddess: at once lithe and voluptuous. Her only garment was a broad silken girdle. Her white ivory limbs and the ivory globes of her breasts drove a beat of fierce passion through the Cimmerian's pulse, even in the panting fury of battle. Her rich black hair, black as a Stygian night, fell in rippling burnished clusters down her supple back. Her dark eyes burned on the Cimmerian. (excerpt from "Queen of the Black Coast")
Other characters called Bêlit a "she-devil of the sea," making her the first of Howard's heroines to earn the "she-devil" nickname (though another Howard-inspired heroine, Red Sonja, would earn that nickname in comics). Howard's Bêlit had jet-black hair and dark eyes, yet her skin was ivory-white despite her exposure to the tropical sun. She wore only a red silk girdle, sandals, and jewelry. Due to her Shemite heritage, Bêlit had an intense fondness for material wealth; avarice was her greatest character flaw and this eventually proved to be her undoing.
Bêlit's earliest known comic book appearance was in a Mexican comic book series first published in 1952. Though unlicensed, the stories were loosely based on the adventures of Howard's most popular character, Conan. But the publishers regarded Bêlit as the more interesting character, so she became the main protagonist of the series and it was titled "The Queen of the Black Coast" after her. Conan himself was relegated to sidekick status and was blond and Viking-like instead of dark. There were other notable differences between the Mexican Bêlit and Howard's original: Her ship was called the Venganza ("Vengeance") instead of the Tigress, and it was manned by Vikings rather than black corsairs. Because the Mexican Bêlit was the star of the series, she survived the deadly encounter with the winged monster that killed her in Howard's story arc. When publication of the title finally ended in the early 1960's, her character was still alive and well.
The Mexican Bêlit wore an animal pelt skirt, a Spanish Conquistador-like helmet, and round metal breastplates very similar to those later worn by Marvel's Valkyrie. In early issues the breastplates were the only clothing she wore above the waist, giving her a metal bikini top. Later she usually wore a chain mail shirt along with the breastplates. Though generally depicted as a strong warrior woman, Bêlit was often shown in peril or in bondage on the covers, as was typical of pulp comic covers of the 50's and 60's.
In the 1970's, Bêlit appeared as a major supporting character in Marvel's ongoing Conan the Barbarian title. For her Marvel comic book appearance, Bêlit was given a costume that was essentially a female version of what Marvel's Conan wore: A fur loincloth, along with a matching fur sling-bikini top. Rather than ivory-white skin, she had tan skin to better reflect her seafaring lifestyle. Marvel expanded upon Howard's original Queen of the Black Coast story in the series, culminating in her tragic death in Conan the Barbarian #100 in 1979.
More recently, Dark Horse acquired the rights to Conan and published their own ongoing Conan title, with Bêlit appearing in their retelling of the Queen of the Black Coast story arc. Dark Horse's Bêlit went back to having ivory-white skin as originally described by Howard, though her costume varied: She was shown wearing skimpy metal bikini tops very similar to Red Sonja's, along with silk girdles (purple rather than red), and a brown cloak, tunic, and pants for colder climates. Her depiction by Dark Horse was more frightening and feral than was depicted by Marvel.
Major Story Arcs
Romance with Conan
During her exploits, Bêlit eventually encountered the legendary adventurer Conan the Cimmerian. There was mutual respect and attraction between the two fierce warriors, and soon they fell in love. In her passion, Bêlit vowed that she would one day save Conan's life and even death would not deter her from that vow. Together they continued pirating and adventuring until Bêlit was tragically slain by a demonic winged monster. Afterward, Bêlit briefly came back from the dead to aid Conan against the same demon that had killed her. Her supernatural intervention allowed Conan to avenge Bêlit by destroying the creature, and also fulfilled Bêlit's vow to one day save Conan's life.