Special Introduction by Professor Matthew Bradley
Let us briefly examine the state of play—with the invaluable assistance of Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story—as we enter the critical final four months of 1971, during which I, for one, start to get the true retrospective Bronze feeling. Having hobnobbed with famed foreign filmmakers Federico Fellini and Alain Resnais, Stan the Man decides to go the whole hog and collaborate with Frenchman Resnais (perhaps best known for 1961’s enigmatic but fascinating Last Year at Marienbad) on the sold but ultimately unproduced screenplay "The Monster Maker." To that end, he takes the unprecedented step of a leave of absence from writing comics, for the first time turning over to others the keys of those four titles he had hitherto retained for himself.
In all but one case, his replacement was solid Silver, and in September alone, Stan finally ended his lengthy runs with Amazing Spider-Man #100 (succeeded by Roy Thomas), Captain America #141 (succeeded by Gary Friedrich), and Thor #192 (succeeded by wunderkind Gerry Conway). Then, in October, he at last weaned himself off of Marvel’s flagship book, co-writing Fantastic Four #115 with his successor, Archie Goodwin. After his four-month hiatus, Stan started return engagements of varying lengths with Amazing Spider-Man #105 (2/72) and Fantastic Four #120 (3/72), but for the other two titles it was the end of an era, with Conway supplanting Friedrich on Captain America #149-52 before Steve Englehart began his celebrated stint on the shield-slinger.
Stan suggested that in his absence, Roy et alia keep the home fires burning with anthology titles featuring new strips that could be spun off if they sold well, an effort also encompassing the two revived split books, each of which was taken over by one of its erstwhile co-stars. In November, they launched Marvel Spotlight (postponed from its announced August appearance), which sired an impressive number of progeny, while Amazing Adventures jettisoned the Black Widow, with the Inhumans replaced after only two issues by the Beast and then Killraven. December saw the debut of the short-lived Marvel Feature, plus the absence of Dr. Doom from Astonishing Tales, wherein Ka-Zar settled for two more years; latecomer Marvel Premiere bowed in April of 1972.
The Bullpen pages offer their usual eclectic mix of what was and what might have been. In one that appeared in both September and October issues—due to an anomaly in Marvel’s publication schedule that they would soon correct—the familiar yellow box is now “Roy’s Rostrum,” where he notes, “for this month only (hopefully for us all), Our Leader will be confining his comic-mag chores to finishing up the current Thor saga [in #192]—and to scribbling his usual comments and corrections with an editorial blue-pencil…Smiley’s even delegated to Yours Truly the task of penning this month’s Bulletin Page. And so, switching into third-person speech and high-gear speed, awaaaaayy we go—!” His first item concerns the reassignments…but therein lies the tale.
“Roy Thomas couldn’t resist trying his hand at both Spidey and Fantastic Four,” yet Roy did not relieve Archie on the FF until the final issue before Stan’s comeback. “Gerry Conway pitched in to supply the dialogue for Gene Colan’s dynamic pencils on the landmark first issue of The Tomb of Dracula—a classic-in-the-making which Smiley had plotted and planned to script himself”; it did not appear until April, with Stan credited solely as editor. In October, “several of our much-lauded mags are going double-size to a full, fabulous 52 pages—for a mere 25¢ [most of the rest followed suit in November]….[T]hat’s just what we’ve done to Marvel Feature #1—our newest quarterly book, which will present try-out stories for new series, new ideas,” albeit in December.
And now --- September 1971!
Conan the Barbarian 9
"The Garden of Fear"
Story by Roy Thomas
Based on the Story by Robert E. Howard
Art by Barry Smith and Sal Buscema
After the events of last issue, Conan and Jenna travel across a mountain range on horseback. Suddenly, they are besieged by a pack of Neanderthals. Unarmed, the Cimmerian takes them on with his furious fists until the brutes are called off by their elderly leader, who offers a truce and an invitation to a feast. The next day, a winged blur flies off with Jenna and the barbarian sets off in pursuit. After a long trek through valleys inhabited by giant alligators and curious woolly mammoths, Conan comes across a tower that gleams like jade. At its peak, the young warrior spies a black and beastly half-man, half raven that threatens to toss Jenna into the carnivorous flowers below. The hesitant Cimmerian retreats, but, after causing the mammoths to stampede the tower, steals his way inside. After a harrowing battle, Conan slays the demon with its own sword -Tom Flynn.
Tom Flynn: It’s back to the Smith and Our Pal Sal show, and, at this point, I’ll take them over any current Marvel art team. I may be repeating myself, but the duo manages to create panels that are simultaneously muscular and moody, recalling such masters of The Golden Age of Illustration as Aubrey Beardsley and Harry Clarke. Roy adapts Robert E. Howard’s “The Garden of Fear,” originally published in, appropriately enough, Marvel Tales. It wasn’t a Conan story, instead featuring Hunwulf the Wanderer. Though I’m sure that Howard would have approved of Roy’s treatment. Boy, Robert E sure loved towers. On The Hyborian Page, Michael Barson of Brunswick, Maine, complains that the art took a step back in issue #5, blaming inker Frank Giacoia and asking for the return of Buscema. Which is probably true: however, the answer reveals that, for some reason, the first seven issues were not published in the order that Smith drew them. If Marvel followed the creation of Barry’s pencils, Conan would have been released as follows: #1, #2, #5, #4, #3, #7, and #6. My world will never be the same.
Mark Barsotti: Conan confessions: I've never read a word written by Robert E. Howard. I read CTB
regularly in the mid-'70's, during the John Buscema era, and only caught Barry Smith's art in the occasional reprint, but it wowed me enough to buy Conan #1 at the top of the market, for something like a hundred bucks (how I scraped up that much cash as a teenager is a forgotten mystery). When I started reading new comics again ten years ago, I also went wild buying Silver Age Marvels on eBay, including Smith's complete run on Conan. I ogled every panel, but only actually read a couple issues. So after whooping up Barry Smith for decades, I'm coming to most of these stories fresh, perhaps the longest period of Tantric delayed-gratification in fan boy history. "The Garden of Fear" opens with still-on-the-run Conan and light-fingered blonde hottie Jenna attacked by primitive hill people before their chief Hilamar appears, quickly makes peace and invites our fun couple back to their village for steak tartare and some drum circle boogie. After Hilamar later presents Conan with parting gifts (rope, a knife and some flint), Jenna is abducted by flying demon Garakaa, an apparently familiar bane to the hill tribe, who slouches listlessly back to their camp to chant "the death-dirge of the hills," while Conan, tired of his own Tantric frustrations, is off to rescue his object amour. Thomas' captions are poetic without being precious, and he renames things effectively, has Conan think of the alligators that infest the streams as "loathsome long snouts" and a herd of mammoths as "great tuskers." Smith breaks the pages into odd, oft-tiny panels, packed with delicate detail, the caption-less page 11 being a prime example. Ably inked by Sal Buscema, the art is gorgeous throughout, sensuous, seemingly effortless.
Mark: Conan's quest brings him to a green stone tower, set amid a field of flowers that reek of death and decay. Atop the tower stands Garakaa, "a black winged devil," whose task, our horrified Cimmerian discovers, is to not just air-nap humans on the hoof, but then feed them to the flesh-gobbling plants below. Off goes a member of the hill tribe to his death, but Garakaa merely taunts Conan by dangling Jenna over the side. Bad move, demon, for it allows our hero time to race back to the mammoths, start a fire with the flint Hilamar so helpfully provided, and set the tuskers stampeding toward the tower, flattening the carnivorous ancestors from Little Shoppe of Horrors. Scaling the tower, Conan prevails in a three page death struggle with Garakaa, beautifully choreographed by Smith, while narrator Thomas muses over the demon's linage, "what is it like, to be the lone survivor of a legend-birthing race...always, always, always alone." The writing's several cuts above, say, Rick Jones' Bowery Boys meets the counterculture monologue Roy scripted in this month's Avengers. The story ends with Conan and Jenna striding off toward their next adventure, leaving me sated with "first read" thrills and really happy that, for this issue anyway, the Thomas-Smith team lives up to their legendary hype.
Kull the Conqueror #2
"The Shadow Kingdom"
Based on the Story by Robert E. Howard
Also this Month
Creatures on the Loose #13 ->
Kid Colt Outlaw #155
Marvel's Greatest Comics #32
Mighty Marvel Western #14
My Love #13
The Rawhide Kid King-Size Special #1
Rawhide Kid #91
The Ringo Kid #11
Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #91
Special Marvel Edition #3
Two-Gun Kid #100
Western Gunfighters #6
Where Creatures Roam #8
Where Monsters Dwell #11
In our continuing look at those rare original stories hidden away in the nooks and crannies of the reprint titles, we come to Creatures on the Loose #13. Once we've escaped the Creature from Krogarr and survived a Midnight on Haunted Hill, we discover Len Wein's "Where Walks the Werewolf."Artist Martin Killian is going blind but his surgeon friend, Craig Wade, is convinced he can cure him once they steal the spinal fluid from a wolf (!). They kill a wolf in the forest and hurriedly get to work but weeks after the experiment, Martin is frustrated that his eyes aren't improving. Jettisoning his bandages, the artist discovers the duo had accidentally killed a werewolf and now Martin is infected. Enraged, but retaining his human brain, the werewolf heads for Craig's house to get even. Though the tale's a bit shaggy (I've always wanted to write that), Reed Crandall's art makes the strip a cut above the rest of these quickies.The fact that a werewolf story was okayed points to how relaxed the CCA had become in the wake of the Spidey drug issues. There's actually a pretty gruesome segment when the beast comes across two hapless hunters and rips one across the chest. Sans the weak finale, this story could have fit in perfectly over at Warren, where Reed's work was welcomed with open arms by appreciative readers.
Poor Two-Gun Kid! How does he get to celebrate his 100th issue (a milestone indeed for a western series)? By fighting all the bad guys he'd previously dispatched, only to find they're really robots? By growing a couple extra limbs? Nope, our western do-gooder gets strapped in his saddle and weighed down by reprints! Time to get the hell out of Dodge! - Peter Enfantino