Now, to be clear: the character appearing in King Conan #3 is by no means the actual Pocahontas*. She is instead – spoilers, everyone – the daughter of an Incan shaman who betrayed her people for the love of an explorer, and was cast out as a result… only to wash up on the shores of “an island of golden ruin,” where she becomes – again, spoilers! – a magical femme fatale that personifies the island’s curse. An attempt to seduce Conan – “I need a man… virile enough to ferry us across the churning sea,” she says, attempting to lure him onto a trap made of fingernails from corpses – fails, leading to her turning on him and delivering a monologue where she says things like, “I’ve seen the way you kill! Without mercy, without hesitation! You men of the east are all the same!” and “The only promises your kind understands are those made with blood!” while spooky tentacles fly around her head.
(The fact that Conan stories are set during the fictional “Hyborian age,” a time period generally considered to be somewhere around 10,000 BC or so – and therefore roughly 11,500 years before Pocahontas was even born – would also put paid to the idea that the fictional Princess Matoaka is intended to be the real thing, were it not for the fact that Marvel also publishes comics where Conan exists in the present day and hangs out with his own team of Avengers. Comics, everyone.)
And yet… she’s clearly named after Pocahontas. After all, it’s not as if the name Matoaka is a common one, especially when you add in the Princess title; “Princess Matoaka” was specifically one of the ways in which Pocahontas was presented to the English by the Virginia Company in an attempt to anglicize her societal position. (She was, according to material of the era, “daughter of the most powerful prince of the Powhatan Empire of Virginia.”) The allusion is not coincidental, nor subtle; readers are most certainly being invited to make the connection in a manner just shy of the comic including a line of dialogue saying, “Hey, do you remember Pocahontas? That’s me, I’m Pocahontas.” The obvious question is, why?
One obvious answer is that this fictional Matoaka is intended as some kind of commentary on her real life namesake – but if that’s the case, what exactly is the commentary? That Pocahontas was… despoiled by the men around her, and filled with righteous fury and vengeance? That she was actually a Lovecraftian villain deep down, and we just never saw the signs…? It’s possible that Aaron uses the fictional story – in which Matoaka unwittingly helps her lover steal the treasures of her people, before killing him after his people ransack her city – as some kind of metaphor for the real life experience of Pocahontas, but if so, it’s at best an imperfect one – and one that feels uncomfortable given the sexualized portrayal of the character that includes narration like “she showed him the way to the most sacred
treasures she knew. Her own
.” Such things may be in keeping with the pulp roots of Conan, but troublesome in reference to a real life teenage girl kidnapped and likely raped
by English colonists.
Similarly uncomfortable, and for similar reasons, was Asrar’s visual portrayal of the fictional Matoaka, who looks as if she’s taken fashion tips from Dejah Thoris, scantily-clad ruler of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom. If this is intended to be a reference to the real life Pocahontas, it invites questions about the intent of the creators involved.