Wednesday, April 9, 2014

October 1973 Part Two: It Ain't Easy Bein' the Son of Satan!

Luke Cage, Hero For Hire 14
Story by Billy Graham and Steve Englehart
Art by Billy Graham

Luke Cage's old prison mates, Comanche and Shades, break out of Seagate prison. Their main goal is to find and kill Billy Rackham, the brutal prison guard who tortured them. Since Rackham was fired from the correctional facility, he has landed in New York where he goes to the newspaper building to have an ad taken out so that he can find work. Sleazy reporter Phil Fox overhears that Rackham worked at Seagate so he befriends him in an effort to learn more about Luke Cage. Meanwhile, Cage is visited by a Mrs. Jenks at his office. She was on a date earlier with a huge roughneck named Big Ben Donavan, a date that didn't go well. Big Ben storms into Cage's office in a jealous fit of rage and the two brawl. Luke ends up victorious, with Big Ben vowing to do whatever Cage wants or needs as long as he can stay on his good side. Rackham comes up with the scheme of kidnapping Cage's lady friend, Claire Temple, so that they can use her for leverage to get Cage to do what they ask. When Rackham sees Mrs. Jenks leaving Luke's office he mistakes her for Claire. In search of Rackham, Comanche and Shades head to New York and get themselves fitted with some groovy costumes. When Phil Fox later explains to Rackham that he kidnapped the wrong woman, Rackham beats Mrs. Jenks in a fit of rage. Claire Temple walks up to the door just in time to hear Fox and Rackham arguing about the violent treatment of Mrs. Jenks. To Claire's surprise she hears them mention how Cage is an escaped convict then, just as suddenly, she hears a gunshot go off after Fox tries to stop Rackham from committing further brutality against the woman prisoner. When Claire finally opens the door to go inside she finds Fox dead from the gunshot wound. She picks up the murder weapon just as police arrive on scene. -Tom McMillion

Scott McIntyre: An interesting, if weird, issue. A lot of action and punching, with Billy Graham indulging in his share of Tuska teeth. Big Ben Donovan is just an angry dude with 330 pounds of muscle behind him. This guy, though, is an attorney? So he has no idea how much law he's breaking by busting in and trying to beat the crap out of Cage? And these two escaped goons are hysterical in their outlandish costumes and cheesy names. It almost feels as if a layer of unreality was added to off-set the massive, pounding violence. I'm sure this is all leading to something, but it's worth it to see the end of the annoying Phil Fox.

The Tomb of Dracula 13
"To Kill a Vampire!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

The vampire hunters mourn the loss of Edith Harker while Dracula goes out for a night on the town to observe humans. Dracula kills a serial rapist accosting a young woman. The girl is then bitten by the Count, who has been putting a large number of the townspeople under his hypnotic spell. Some mysterious Asians, working for a man named Dr. Sun, steal a cadaver from the morgue and murder the attendant in the process.  As the vampire hunters regroup, Blade relates to them that he is searching for an older vampire who bit and killed his mother while she was giving birth to him. The vampire, who had posed as a doctor to help deliver Blade, has since vanished without a trace. The vampire hunters track the Count to his latest mansion hideout and attack him. Dracula has his way with the crew as he disarms Van Helsing, pummels Frank Drake, and throws the mute Taj out a window into a moat. When all looks lost for the hunters, Blade strikes Drac with one of his silver stakes, apparently killing him. Dracula's possessed army of townspeople arming themselves and converging on the mansion. -Tom McMillion

Tom McMillion: Well, we know Drac's not really dead yet but it was still an exciting issue. I find it interesting when the evil Count's psychological makeup is delved into. His disgust for the rapist/murderer whose throat he slits makes sense in a way. Dracula needs human blood to survive and he prefers the ladies. A serial killer would be akin to someone going to a farm and killing livestock for no reason. From what I have gathered on the net, Dr. Sun goes on to play a big part in this series and becomes a main rival of Dracula and the vampire hunters. Hopefully this is the beginning of a great story arc.

Mark Barsotti: In the wake of Edith Harker's death Drac continues his unintended role of anti-hero by offing more human vermin, in this case a serial killer/rapist called Skinnee, before attending a prize fight to study the livestock, for "...if I am to eventually conquer them (humans), I must know their every whim, their every mood..." In a nice bit of unexpected characterization, writer Wolfman has the Count revolted by battle in the squared circle. "There is no purpose for this mock battle," Drac sniffs. "This wanton waste disgusts me – revolts me." Good thing he never caught a real blood sport like the WWF or Real Housewives of Beverly Hills!

"You might have seen him. Big guy, black widow's peak, cape,
and... oh yeah, really big teeth!"

Scott: Another solid issue, this one telling the origin / birth of Blade. Edith is still dead and by the end of the issue, it seems Dracula is too. Well, obvious he's not, but at least Edith was cremated and bottled, so the tragedy for Quincy Harker is quite real. I was surprised to see Blade actually apologize to Frank Drake for cracking wise, but he doesn't soften for long. I can see why Blade has such popularity. Aside from Dracula himself, he has the most personality of any other character. Drake is a wiener.

Mark: As Harker and company plot revenge, post-Edith's cremation, we learn Blade's backstory: born to a prostitute even as she was being drained by a distinguished, white-hair vamp in a house of joy, he's had a lifelong hard-on for staking fangers and has never cried for his momma. Thanks to Harker's network of bat-spotters, our heroes track Drac to his current digs. Battle ensues, with Blade staking old red eyes on the last page. Is Dracula down for the count? Tune in next month, same bat-time...

Werewolf by Night 10
"The Sinister Secret of Sarnak!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Tom Sutton

Second Night, and Werewolf is chained in the sewers by Sarnak, along with Jack’s sister Lissa. The self-confident Sarnak tells his story to Lissa—the “Master of Sound” was a successful sound engineer who was caught producing illegal copies of albums and was “scarred for life” trying to escape. But that led to his invention of the control whistle he’s using on Jack—who Sarnak is hired to nab by The Committee in order to “create terror”. The sun comes up, Jack escapes, promises Lissa he’ll be back and defeats one of Sarnak’s minions. The inquisitive Lt. Hackett shows up at evil stepfather Philip Russell’s house, but not in time to save Russell from being kidnapped by The Committee. Jack goes to Buck’s pad for R&R and a favor, but Sarnak’s reign of terror begins! As a squadron of freaks attacks and destroys the city, Jack gets a sonic screen from a friend of Buck’s. On Third Night, Werewolf tackles Sarnak again—and this time the whistle doesn’t work, blocked by the screen! Werewolf frees Lissa and the freaks, no longer being controlled, set upon Sarnak, beating him, unmasking him and leaving the villain’s unscarred face to rot in the sewers. –Joe Tura

Joe Tura: A great Tom Sutton cover gets us howling at the moon, and I realize I owe our Dean a small apology for not agreeing with his assessment of Sutton’s talents last month. He can draw a lovely lupine anti-hero, but I still miss the Ploog. The problem here is the script. Although it’s far from a dog, this Conway tale gets a little lost along the way before we see the weirdo of the week get his comeuppance. The Committee certainly doesn’t look threatening, but they can be, based on who they hire for their dirty work. Sarnak is an interesting one, with a little bit of Twilight Zone thrown in with the “twist” ending. A decent two-parter. Can Quasimodo be next?

Chris Blake: Tom Sutton really makes the issue -- it's hard to believe that we aren't graced with more of his art in these pages after this one.  Sutton captures the pure, nasty ugliness of Sarnak's minions, although I admit that they are more unpleasant-looking than creepy when they emerge into the daylight, out of the shadowy sewer.  Petra Goldberg's approach to the colors lacks the inspired weirdness that George Roussos brought to WWbN #9, which also diminishes the atmosphere somewhat.  I enjoy the smaller touches Sutton brings, whether it's his depiction of Jack's hazy return to self-awareness (pg 8, reproduced above), or the simple bit with the kid trying to safeguard his armful of comics (including Werewolf!) on pg 15-17.

The Incredible Hulk 168
"The Hate of the Harpy!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Herb Trimpe and Jack Abel

The Hulk fights it out with the police at the hospital as he is desperate to see Betty Talbot. Jim Wilson helps smuggle the Hulk out of the hospital area by hiding him under a tarp in the back of a pickup truck.  Betty, now brainwashed by M.O.D.O.K., is transformed (with Gamma rays) into a monstrous creature called the Harpy. When one of his spies reports to M.O.D.O.K. the Hulk's recent whereabouts in New York, the villain sends the Harpy to attack the brute. The Harpy and the Hulk mix it up with the Hulkster getting the advantage. When the Harpy reveals to him that she is really Betty, it causes Hulk to drop his guard and the bird delivers a powerful Gamma blast. -Tom McMillion

Scott: Betty's stint as the Harpy was always one of my favorite Hulk sagas of my early comic book reading years. I originally picked it up in the following issue and only was able to catch up on the groundwork laid by reading yet another Treasury Edition. I give Trimpe and Abel credit for adding an alluring layer of sexuality to Betty (for the first time ever) by having her traipse around nude. Why this was actually necessary to the plot is a mystery since MODOK could have always just removed her garments before the procedure.

Marvel grows up
Matthew Bradley: Per Englehart’s website, “168-170 have become a classic storyline.”  Back then, it was still a big deal to introduce a new gamma-irradiated character.  Okay, we’d had the Leader, the Abomination, and Doc Samson, but over 11+ years of Hulk history, that doesn’t seem excessive.  There’s nothing like getting the crap beaten out of you by your ex-fiancée (who kicks it up a notch by walking around tastefully nude before Betty 2.0 appears in a spectacular full-page shot), and as a MODOK fan, I’m always happy to see him pulling the strings.  I’m less sold on Abel as Trapani’s successor; Greenskin looks great in some shots but positively cringe-worthy on the splash page.  Now, regarding page 8, panel 6 (left):  does that thing come with batteries?
Scott: It's amazing that Betty adapted to Gamma Radiation because of her proximity to Bruce and his work rather than getting, I don't know…cancer. Instead, she is able to withstand a horrendous amount of radiation, more than Bruce himself, to transform into the Harpy. Meh, it's not as though this hasn't come up before. In reality, the founding super-heroes of Marvel should all be at Sloane Kettering. Thunderbolt's relief from duty was nicely done. All in all, this is a good yarn, well written and superbly illustrated.

Peter: I say Stainless is a big fan of bad horror movies as The Harpy is obviously an homage to the bird-brained 1966 sf/horror flick, The Vulture, starring Akim Tamiroff as the titular half-man/half-fowl abomination. I'll admit to a fondness for the film's climax, when, after 86 minutes of mind-numbing boredom, we finally get to see the monster and it's... a giant turkey with Tamiroff's head! Fortunately, the best comic book writer of the 1970s takes the stuffing from the carcass and fashions a  wholly enjoyable nineteen pages. Betty/Harpy's plea for mercy just before she blasts our green skinned hero is positively chilling.

The Invincible Iron Man 63
"Enter: Dr. Spectrum"
Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by George Tuska and Mike Esposito

Iron Man returns to Detroit just in time to save Roxie from wind-blown debris at a construction site; as Tony, he kicks a photographer from the Heraldout of her hotel, revealing that he owns the paper’s corporate parent.  Back home, Eddie March lends a hand when a group of costumed men tries to kidnap Dr. Obatu, and accepts his invitation to visit Tony in Detroit, where reconstruction of the space shuttle is disrupted by Dr. Spectrum, who seeks vengeance for his defeat in Avengers#70.  Spectrum’s sentient power prism is an alien parasite that channels his mental energy to form whatever he wishes, and after the ex-member of the Squadron Sinister leaves the infuriated Iron Man buried in rubble, Happy arrives, walking in as Pepper kisses Tony. 
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: I’ve always liked the Squadron Sinister in general, and since Green Lantern is one of the few DC super-heroes I ever thought was really cool (along with Batman), it’s no surprise that I liked his Marvel knock-off in particular, despite the rather unattractive color scheme of his costume.  Yet there’s very little to get excited about in this entry, which once again displays the oddly divided nature of Tuska’s work on the strip as George is reunited with Esposito; Tony looks particularly good in page 6, panel 3 and page 27, panel 3, and the battle scenes as usual are his strongest suit, but photo-man “Willie-Boy” is a standard-issue Tuska goofball.  Mike Friedrich’s script seems to leave a lot of unanswered questions…whether deliberately or haphazardly, I’m really not sure.

Scott: And now another chapter in the turgid saga of Iron Romance… Between Tony trying to score with Roxy and the Pepper/Tony clinch, it feels like the battle with Dr. Spectrum is there just to keep the boys in the audience happy. The issue isn't actually bad, just nothing particularly memorable. I just wonder what the point is to having Tony pursue yet another girl when he can't ever seem to make it work with anyone. It feels like a way of eating up pages and adding some emotional content. It rings hollow.

Marvel Premiere 11
Dr. Strange in
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Frank Brunner

"The Origin of Dr. Strange"

Story by Stan Lee
Art by Steve Ditko
(reprinted from Strange Tales #115, December 1963)

"The Many Traps of Baron Mordo"

Story by Stan Lee
Art by Steve Ditko
(reprinted from Strange Tales #117, February 1964)

Stephen Strange returns to the temple where he first met the Ancient One, high in the Himalayas. He is greeted by the Hamir the Hermit, who was the Master’s loyal servant. Stephen tells Hamir of the Ancient One’s fate, and the two recall how Strange became a master of magic.  Once a brilliant surgeon whose services were sought everywhere, Stephen Strange was also arrogant and selfish, never doing anything for anyone who didn’t have lots of money. One day he was in a car accident and lost the skill in his hands to be a great doctor. He gradually lost interest in life and became a derelict, until he heard of the Ancient One, and journeyed to see him. The Ancient One only helped those who were worthy, and he saw a spark of goodness in the selfish Strange. Essentially the Ancient One set up a way to find out if Stephen was worth helping. His apprentice Mordo was plotting to use the powers of black magic (learnt from the unseen Dormammu) to overthrow the Ancient One, who pretended not to know. While Mordo prevented Strange from directly telling the Master what he knew, it gave Stephen a chance to prove his worthiness. Once a magician himself, Dr. Strange foiled a later plan of Mordo to overthrow the Ancient One. Back in the present, Stephen decides he cannot reside in the Ancient One’s home and must make a place of his own to succeed as the protector of goodness for mankind. -Jim Barwise

Jim: Believe it or not, this is my first time reading the origin of Dr. Strange, although I had heard the gist of it before. The result being it was likely more interesting for me than most. I’d wondered how they would follow up the Shuma-Gorath epic; a step back isn’t a bad way to do it. An interesting contrast between the artworks of Steve Ditko and Frank Brunner...

Matthew: The fun thing about an issue like this is that we still get three pages of new Englehart/Brunner wraparound material, which not only is in continuity but also justifies the reprints so well—Doc’s reassessment offers a welcome breather as he reports the Ancient One’s death to the loyal Hamir the Hermit—as to make them seem almost deliberate.  They comprise Doc’s origin and tussle with Mordo from Strange Tales #115 and 117, and were surely a handy refresher for neophyte moi back in the day.  Speaking of which, last month’s Marvel Tales #45, with its glorious re-presentation of the Spidey/Medusa brawl from Amazing #62 (and, frankly, an improvement by Romita on his spare original cover), is one of the earliest reprint issues I owned.

Scott: This is the comic book equivalent of a clip show. At least the art in the framing sequence is excellent, but honestly, if the book were this far behind, why not just cancel for the month? Were I a subscriber, this issue might well tick me off something fierce.

Matthew: There’s even a lettercol, which notes that “we’re going monthly for the summer,” and sheds an interesting light on the one-time-only Fox/Starlin teaming.  “After finishing issue #8, Gardner decided he would like to try his hand at some of the new projects about to be unleashed by Marvel.  At the same time, Jim began writing, as well as drawing, Captain Marvel.  However, as a direct result of cosmic rearrangements, Frank Brunner found a way to get the time to draw a regular strip full-time, and he asked Roy for two things.  One was Dr. Strange, because it has been his favorite series since 1963, and the other was…Englehart as co-creator.  Well, it meant some juggling of work for Steve, but there was no way he could turn down a request like that…”

Mark: All the Doc's necromantic powers couldn't stave off dreaded Deadline Doom and so we get two old Strange Tales reprints bracketed between three fresh pages from Englehart and Brunner of Strange returning to the Ancient One's mountaintop retreat in the Himalayas to report his death/after-life transformation to the AO's manservant, Hamir. Normally, re-runs spark a rant, but "The Origin of Dr. Strange" (from ST #115) and "The Many Traps of Baron Mordo!" (ST #117) prompt a more elevated response, an appreciative reminder of the greatness of Steve Ditko.

I know some people don't like Ditko – they think he's old-fashioned or too quirky, that he can't draw good-looking women (or feet!), his panels are too small, he's a political crank. These are the same folks who think their kids can paint like Picasso, and I won't waste time trying to educate the ignorant. Instead, I offer a brief catalog of some of Mr. D's myriad strengths: he's a master of dramatic composition, of light and shadow, of spooky, ethereal/other-worldly effects and facial emotions (mostly dark: rage, terror, hatred). His classic Spider-Man canon is of the early '60's (part of its charm), but his Doc Strange is timeless: it could have appeared in the late 1930's and will speak to readers in 2130.

There's a word for an artist like that.


Marvel Spotlight 12
The Son of Satan in
"The Son of Satan"
Story by Gary Friedrich
Art by Herb Trimpe and Frank Chiaramonte

Note: the action picks up right from the last panel of Ghost Rider #2.

Daimon Hellstrom pounds on the door of the shack and demands release, with a promise to save Linda Littletree.  Sam Silvercloud releases his bonds, and Daimon is revealed to be the Son of Satan.  SoS threatens the two Apache with harm, demanding to know Linda’s whereabouts, since he expects Linda to lead him to Satan.  SoS finally sets off alone, and rescues Roxanne Simpson from the biker gang (last seen in Ghost Rider #2), only to leave Rocky in the desert, so that he can march down to hell itself and confront Satan.  Satan cannot harm Daimon as long as he bears the elemental trident of netheranium (pat pend), so Satan sends a horde of mindless minions to take Daimon down.  SoS turns the tables by threatening to use the trident’s power to collapse the ceiling of hell.  Satan has no choice but to accede to SoS’s demand for the release of Johnny Blaze and Linda.  As they return to the earth’s surface, Satan ignites the mountain into a volcano, in an attempt to vanquish his errant son.  SoS summons his chariot and whisks all three away from harm, but then sets Johnny and Linda down in the desert and flies away before sunrise, so that they might not witness his daybreak transformation back to demonologist Daimon Hellstrom.  -Chris Blake

Chris: Gary Friedrich gave us a tantalizingly slow build (over issues #1 and #2 of Ghost Rider) to this first appearance by the Son of Satan.  I even enjoy watching once again as the age-old “Whatever you do, don’t let me out of this room!” gimmick plays out, since Friedrich is able to provide a satisfying pay-off as SoS takes the stage.   Friedrich initially gives us no indication of SoS’s intentions – he appears as the polar opposite of Hellstrom, and leads us to think that he means harm to Linda Littletree.  The result is a rewardingly suspenseful moment as Sam Silvercloud resists SoS’s demands for information.  We see and hear Daimon’s self-confidence early on, as he boldly taunts the so-called evil incarnate to his face, leaving Satan fecklessly sputtering!

I do, of course, have a few questions: 1) how could SoS expect to be able to preserve his secret identity – once he busts out of the shack on pg 1, it shouldn’t take long for people to add up that Daimon + nighttime = Son of Satan, right?  Does SoS think that Sam and Snake-dance are still poking around the shack, asking themselves, “Hey – where’s Daimon?  Didn’t we lock him in here before that other guy showed up . . ?” and 2) Ghost Rider (largely an afterthought in this issue) had been trapped in hell, but alter-ego Johnny is rescued, and emerges in the waning moments of night.  SoS has fled the encroaching daylight, but Johnny has not been transformed to GR.  Oh well – these points don’t take away from a very solid first-appearance by an intriguing new character.

Matthew: After a two-month tease in Ghost Rider, we finally get the big reveal for Daimon—plus a shout-out to sister Satana in the current Vampire Tales—and damned (ha ha) if I don’t like this better, at least initially, than the strip that launched it.  The two characters are so joined at the hip that it’s a little disorienting to shift gears with Trimpe’s pencils, although GR vet Chiaramonte’s inks provide not only visual continuity but also spooky atmosphere suitable to the subject matter, and I’ve gotta hand it to Herb for cutting loose with some spectacular scenes.  Having sent his youngest out into the world, Friedrich almost immediately turns him over for adoption in #14 by Steve Gerber, who will write all but the last of his remaining Spotlight issues.

Chris: As good as Trimpe’s pencils have been in recent issues of The Hulk (as inked by Sal Trapani), these pages are well off his usual charts, especially the dramatic entrance of the tri-equine-driven chariot (pg 8) and the fury of the hell-battle (pg 22-25).  On a more subtle level, how about Big Daddy’s expression as it transitions from surprise to menace on pg 12.  I reflect on Tom Sutton’s underwhelming art for the past few appearances of Ghost Rider in this mag, and it makes me wonder what Herb might’ve done if instead he’d been handed the artistic reins for those issues.

We’ll see Hellstrom’s powers fine-tuned over the next few installments, but for now, he’s another nightfall changeling, much like GR himself.  SoS becomes far more intriguing (in my book) once he’s able to make the change at a time of his choosing, as he is aware in those moments that the employment of his powers also could result in losing control of his Satan-influenced side.  Later in this series, Steve Gerber will take the character in some interesting directions (including a guest appearance in Howard the Duck).  The character’s promise, unfortunately, is not followed-up.  Once SoS’s eponymous title is cancelled after a mere eight issues (Feb 1977), the character is left on the shelf for a few years, finally surfacing for a noteworthy run in the pages of The Defenders (beginning with #92, Feb 1981), which I view as an ideal venue for him.  To the best of my knowledge, Hellstrom never appeared in an issue of Dr Strange – wouldn’t their conflicting attitudes have made for an intriguing combination?  Surprisingly, Big Jim never consulted me about it.

Marvel Team-Up 14
The Amazing Spider-Man and
The Savage Sub-Mariner in
"Mayhem is... The Men-Fish!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Gil Kane and Wayne Howard

Breaking up a mugging, Spidey sees that the “victim” is Namor and tries to curry favor with the authorities by apprehending him, ignoring his insistence that his business is personal and allowing his nemesis, Tiger Shark, to escape.  The latter’s ally, Dr. Dorcas—who hired the punks to delay Namor—has created marine-human hybrids, the Aquanoids (aka Men-Fish), into whom he intends to transfer Namor’s life-force, and Spidey unwittingly plays into his hands by tracking Tiger Shark.  Our heroes are drugged and imprisoned, but Spidey effects their escape; as Dorcas sics his mutants on Spidey, Namor seeks to avenge his father’s death, yet the damage from their battle destroys the base, from which they flee before Namor kills Tiger Shark.  

-Matthew Bradley

Joe: This ish zips along like a tiger shark crashing through the waves in search of prey. The Men-Fish are not even the focal point of the story, which is fine. I'm not sure Sub-Mariner and Spidey are the focal points! Reading it soooo many years later has me wanting to wonder why this wasn't an annual, so they had time to tell the story without knocking Kane's pencils down to so many smaller panels each page. All in all, OK after reminiscing, but not the yowza I remembered in 73.

Matthew: Reviewing Sub-Mariner #40 (oddly not cited by normally footnote-happy Roy), I wrote, “it’s nice to see Spidey and Namor part on such good terms, as befitting the most eloquently resolved MARMIS in recent memory.”  Len ignores or overlooks that; this isn’t even a misunderstanding, since Namor is so open, it’s just Spidey being, well, a douche, which is also annoying because it takes time away from one of my favorite villains, Tiger Shark, and because Spidey, of all people, should give others the benefit of the doubt.  The inks represent one of only four Marvel credits for Charlton mainstay Wayne—billed as “W.”—Howard, but his handling of Kane’s pencils doesn’t make me weep over that, although I do adore the classic Spidey pose on the splash page.

Scott: Is it me, or is Spidey's behavior at the start of this tale infuriating? Here's a guy who is constantly misjudged and thought to be a criminal, who is never given a chance to explain. So what does he do upon seeing Namor? He attacks and doesn't give him a chance to explain. Namor is in a charitable mood because he gives Spidey a pass. Aside from this, it's a middling issue with Gil Kane art so familiar and by the numbers, it almost looks like a reprint.

Strange Tales 170
Brother Voodoo in
"Baptism of Fire"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Gene Colan and Dan Adkins

Swearing revenge for his murdered brother, Jericho Drumm begins an arduous training program under the tutelage of Papa Jambo, the old man who taught Jericho's brother the ways of the voodoo priest. When his training has finished, Jericho tells the old man he's ready to fight Damballah, the Serpent God, the man responsible for his brother's death. The old man sighs and tells Jericho that there is only one way to fight the villain and that is to undergo one more ritual. Jericho agrees, performing an exotic dance using his dead brother's bones. When the ritual is complete, Jericho learns that he and his brother are now one person, the houngan known worldwide as Brother Voodoo. Meanwhile, Damballah is having a meeting of the world's "cult leaders" to inform them he is the world's most powerful voodoo man. They scoff until he puts one of them to death with his magic powers. Into the mix comes Brother Voodoo, challenging Damballah to a battle. The two wage war with their supernatural prowess and their minds until Brother Voodoo emerges victorious, with Damballah falling victim to his own serpents. -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: A delightful second chapter to what will, unfortunately, be a very quick ride with Brother Voodoo. Damballah's too original a bad guy to really be dead, right? He immediately soars into the second tier of villains with his egotistical rants and snappy dress. Unless I've missed something, this might be one of the first examples of non-linear comic book writing. The servant who offers his services up to Brother Voodoo at the conclusion of this story is the same guy who materialized with the Brother at the airport. I'd completely forgotten about him and Len didn't offer up any explanations last issue. So this has been one long flashback? Cool.

The Savage Sub-Mariner 66
"Rise, Thou Killer Whale"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Don Heck and Don Perlin

Namor and the She-Beast travel back to Atlantis where they renew their battle. Thanks to the aid of his military troops, Namor is able to drive the She-Beast away. Subby tries to gain his strength back while his top advisers question his recent judgement and how he has handled things of late. While throwing a fit of rage, the She-Beast inadvertently releases the monstrous Orka who had been buried underground. The two team up and attack Atlantis, using Orka's army of killer whales. Namor, aided by Tamara and his army, put up a valiant effort but appear to be outmatched as the city crumbles. -Tom McMillion

Tales of Atlantis
"The Sword in the Throne"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Jim Mooney and Joe Sinnott

Kamuu is able to pull out a magical sword just as the demon skeleton is about to slay him. Once the skeleton man sees that Kamuu wields the power of the sword, he bows down to him. The sword takes Kamuu to another dimension where he meets his parents. They show him the future of Atlantis and how it is his destiny to rebuild it. Once he goes back to his own world, Kamuu makes peace with his enemies. -Tom McMillion

Tom McMillion: There are a lot of characters and a lot of action in this story. Unfortunately, none of it is particularly any good. The ending of this series can't come soon enough!

Matthew: Sure, they’ve finally come up with a “Tales of Atlantis” segment I liked—as Joltin’ Joe raises Mooney’s pencils to impressive levels—and it’s the last one.  But there’s a kind of fin de siècle atmosphere about this whole issue anyway, with not only writer Gerber’s tenure but also the venerable eight-year strip itself winding down (to end in September after 104 issues), and next month we are promised “a stunning change in the Sub-Mariner!!,” which usually spells desperation.  I love Orka, yet not all of his appearances are created equal; between Steve’s all-over-the-place script and the cartoon stylings of the Two Dons, this is far from the Human Killer Whale’s finest hour.  Much as I hate to say it, the countdown to Super-Villain Team-Up begins…

Scott: The two Dons, along with Steve Gerber, give us an issue that's not particularly interesting. It's actually kind of dull. The She-Beast of Zypherland is hysterical, with her stylish two-piece and massive breasts. Orka, the Human Killer Whale, looks more like an undersea ape than his namesake. Lots of fighting with some amusing comments from onlookers, which I don't think were meant to be funny. It's really just awkward. This book is sinking fast.

The Mighty Thor 216
"Where Chaos Rules!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by John Buscema and Jim Mooney

The god-jewel Xorr plans to absorb the energies around him, and essentially rewrite the shape of the universe. While Odin and the others depart in the Starjammer, Thor remains on the asteroid to find a way to free Sif and Karnilla within. Mercurio, the fourth-dimensional man, initially stays, wanting the jewel’s energy to save his own world, then departs with his men to plan anew. Odin has his own plan however, and the seemingly departed Starjammer in fact paces the asteroid on which Xorr travels, guiding it on a path only the All-Father knows. On Tana Nile’s home world, the Rigelians observe the approach of Xorr, and plan their own escape. On Earth, Balder recovers his health and sanity, and with Volstagg, returns to Asgard, finding it empty. Mercurio returns to battle Thor, until the two realize their forces are best united. By this time, Odin’s plan becomes apparent to Thor. Odin has been fanning the flames of Xorr’s greed; as the god-jewel tries to absorb the forces from a mammoth star going supernova, it basically burns itself out. Its distraction enables Thor and Mercurio to free Sif and Karnilla, and the Starjammer picks up the Asgardians just before Xorr explodes. The 4-D man and his crew pick up Xorr’s remains in their crafts to obtain the energy to save their world. -Jim Barwise

Jim: A not completely believable finale to Xorr’s tale. If he is so powerful, how does he not know Odin is guiding him to his own self-destruction? And why didn’t Mercurio and Thor realize they could have freed the goddesses earlier if it was so easy? On the other hand, it’s great to see Balder (when are they going to get him into the Thor films?) and Volstagg again. The full-page of the Rigelian home world is nice; the reference to the music of Rigel is a subtle touch.

Matthew: As should be obvious by now, little things seem to bother me, and disproportionately in this mag, for some reason.  Unique to Xorr, his dialogue, within its word balloons, is enclosed in quotation marks.  Why?  Is that because Gerry wants us to understand that he’s quoting from Shakespeare’s immortal play, The Tragedy of Xorr?  Is it because Roy fears the wrath of Xorr’s lawyers if his words are used without proper attribution?  If you want to employ Orzechowski-style variation in the lettering to differentiate his voice, fine, but this just looks idiotic.  Looking better than the late, unlamented Perlin Sandwich is more nice Buscemooney artwork, and while Gerry appears to be sowing the seeds for further tomfoolery, some plotlines are at least resolved.

Scott: An overwritten conclusion to a saga that lost my attention issues ago. While it's a nice development to have the 4D man and Thor become allies and part as friends, it is a case of too little too late. There is an epic feel to everything, but it's really nothing more than too many characters saying too many things over the course of too many panels. It’s very pretty, but hardly exciting. I again have to wonder why Silas and Tana are still hanging around as they provide nothing of interest to the story. Does this title ever perk up in the 70's?

Warlock 8
Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by Bob Brown and Tom Sutton

Carpenter tells his fellow bigwigs that super-humans have begun appearing since Warlock’s arrival; Adam’s followers are rounded up after the presence of demons that only they can see turns a peaceful protest violent; Astrella warns Adam not to go to their aid, admitting that she is the President’s sister; the High Evolutionary sends the Rigellian Recorder—whom he dubs Memorax—to document Adam’s life.  Carpenter is trying to mediate with the marchers when the demons, Aggression and Untruth, wreak havoc, and as Adam intervenes, they assault him with fear, hate, and pride.  Finally, he finds himself in the Oval Office, where “Carpenter” reveals that the Man-Beast has inhabited him since #2, and that Aggression and Untruth are his demon-aides. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: “This particular clash will be concluded—sometime, somewhere in the Marvel Universe,” as Adam begins a 16-month hiatus until his strip resumes in Strange Tales #178.  Friedrich’s script mingles cliffhanger and resolution, confirming that the Man-Beast inhabits Carpenter, although it should be no surprise to alert readers that Astrella is his sibling, since #1 introduced the as-yet-unnamed girl as the sister of the Prophet, soon unmasked as the Man-Beast.  The lettercol contains a missive by Peter Cucich—noting of the same team’s “inferior artwork” in #6 that “Bob Brown is not to blame…because Tom Sutton’s inks, which meshed so beautifully with Gil Kane’s pencils, were all wrong for Brown’s art”—and a “SPECIAL (SAD) ANNOUNCEMENT.”

Matthew: “At the possibly most climactic point in Adam Warlock’s brief career, the vise of economics has gotten us in its squeeze!  This issue, regrettably, is the final one for the golden gladiator under his own title.  Frankly, we don’t know quite what went wrong.  We believe we’ve presented you a succession of well-written, well-drawn stories, full of the exciting action we all read comics for, yet with a gentle prodding of the mind as well.  But in any case, the newsstands report that not enough of you boughtour adventures to make it profitable to continue….[Roy and] Mike are already putting their heads together on just where to tie up some of the loose ends (‘severed cords’ might be a better term!) of this issue’s climax,” at last resolved in Incredible Hulk #175-8.


Chili #25

Combat Kelly #9 (Final Issue)
Crazy #1 ->
Crypt of Shadows #6
Gunhawks #7 (Final Issue)
Journey Into Mystery #7
Kid Colt Outlaw #175
Marvel's Greatest Comics #45
Marvel Spectacular #3
Marvel Super-Heroes #39
Marvel Tales #46
Marvel Triple Action #14
Mighty Marvel Western #27
Millie the Model #205
Monsters on the Prowl #26
Our Love Story #25
Outlaw Kid #18
Rawhide Kid #116
Sgt. Fury #115
Special Marvel Edition #13
Two-Gun Kid #113
Vault of Evil #6
Where Monsters Dwell #24
X-Men #84

If at first you don’t succeed…release another humor book! And that’s just what those madcap men at Marvel did in 1973 with Crazy Magazine. Following in the fun-filled footsteps of the immortal Not Brand Echh and the short-lived Spoof, not to mention the 1973 comic Crazy! (three issues of Not Brand Echh reprints) and the original Crazy from—wait for it—1953 (!), this new mag was basically an answer to the classic Mad. Originally edited by Marv Wolfman, then Steve Gerber (which makes perfect sense to me), Paul Laikin and finally Larry Hama, it also featured a mascot (how original!) named Irving Nebbish. Ugh.

Yep, there were satires of movies and TV shows, prose stories, comic characters and more frivolity. Contributors included a quite impressive list, from Stan Lee (of course) and Will Eisner to Harlan Ellison and Jean Shepherd to Harvey Kurtzman, Mike Ploog and Marie Severin to Roy Thomas, Mike Carlin and Paul Kupperberg.

I only owned a handful of issues, being more of a Cracked fan (one of the only Cracked fans?), and the humor was about on par with the competition, but just not quite there. Satire isn’t the easiest of humor outlets, and existing just to get a toe in the marketplace is normally never a good idea. But incredibly, Crazy went on to elicit mild chuckles for a decade, lasting until 1983 (94 issues and one Super Special). It is beloved by some fans, actually earning high praise with a mention on the Feb 1992 “Separate Vocations” episode of The Simpsons. Principal Skinner, when showing Bart some of the magazines he’s confiscated over the years says it includes “complete collections of Mad, Cracked, and even the occasional issue of Crazy!". Only writers of The Simpsons would dare to pen such a line, and they prove Crazy was the ugly stepchild to the big two humor books—after all, even the Springfield kids knew enough to get them instead! And somewhere, Alfred E. Neuman is still laughing all the way to the bank. –Joe Tura

For my part, I was an avid Crazy collector for, oh, it must have been five issues. The funniest thing, to me, that the zine ever ran was a TV Guide spoof you could cut out. I must have peed my way through dozens of Captain America tight-whiteys reading that damn thing. Wish I still had it. A sample entry (and I'm winging it here) would be the one that read MASTERPIECE THEATRE: "A shock ending awaits viewers of "Mincemeat Pie" because the ending was never filmed." That still cuts me up! Or how about the Dean Martoon Show: "Dean pretends to be drunk so he can cop a feel on the Ding-a-Ling girls." Absolute laugh out loud funny. Incredibly, you can read the entire TV Guide spoof here. I love the internet -Peter Enfantino


Savage Tales 2

“Red Nails”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Barry Smith

“Dark Tomorrow
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gray Morrow

Poetry by Robert E. Howard
Art by Barry Smith

“Hyborian Rage”
By Roy Thomas

“Robert E. Howard: Lone Star Fictioneer.”
By Glenn Lord 

Story and Art by Joe Maneely
(reprinted from Black Knight #1, May 1955)

“A Probable Outline of Conan’s Career”
By P. Schuyler Miller and John D. Clark

“The Skull of Silence”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Berni Wrightson
(reprinted from Creatures on the Loose #10, March 1971)

After a two-and-a-half year delay, Savage Tales returns — and even with a cover price more than three times the cost of a regular Marvel comic, this 74-page black-and-white magazine would have been a bargain back in the day. The thing is jammed packed, so it takes a good hour or so to digest it all. Editor Roy Thomas envisioned the re-launched series as not just an over-sized comic book, but a celebration of Conan and the works and influences of Robert E. Howard in general. And I think he succeeded big time. By Crom.

Roy writes a two-page “The Hyborian Rage” editorial that details how Savage Tales was originally cancelled after the first issue and the efforts that went into finally releasing this second edition. It’s informative, but with stuff like this, the usual Marvel hyperbole might mask actual facts. Glenn Lord, the literary agent of Howard’s estate, provides a 5-page biography called “Robert E. Howard: Lone Star Fictioneer.” Thankfully, the enjoyable piece doesn’t gloss over the darker aspects of the pulp writer’s life and Frank Brunner provides some nice accompanying illustrations. And “A Probable Outline of Conan’s Career,” unpublished for 35 years and written by admirers and authors P. Schuyler Miller and John D. Clark, chronicles Conan’s literary history in Weird Tales, complete with original illustrations from the pulp magazine.

A nice effort was put into the Table of Contents as well, as Pablo Marcos’ muscular drawing of the mighty Cimmerian and his battle axe welcomes readers to the action that awaits.

Of course, there’s plenty of “regular” comic book material included. First scheduled for the previously scrapped issue #2, Gerry Conway and Gray Morrow’s “DarkTomorrow” is an 11-page tale of haves and have-nots set in a dystopian future. It’s nothing special, though Morrow’s art is quite good. There’s a reprint of “The Crusader,” a mediocre, 5-page Joe Maneely story from the ’50s. Like numerous Howard stories, it’s set during the Crusades, so blood-thirsty Professor Gilbert might enjoy it. The magazine also reprints the very first King Kull appearance from Creatures on the Loose #10, with the bonus of the never-before-published Berni Wrightson cover for Tower of Shadows #10, created before the series changed its name to the former at the last moment.

But the star of the show is the amazing artwork of one Mr. Barry Smith, on glorious display in “Red Nails.” As mentioned before, Barry shines the brightest when he inks his own pencils and that’s the case here. Written by The Rascally One, “Red Nails” is an adaptation of Howard’s last Conan story, a three-parter that ran in Weird Tales from July to October 1936. I couldn’t find any concrete information, but I assume it’s a holdover like the Conway/Morrow piece since Smith had already left Marvel at the time. The story will continue in Savage Tales #3 (February 1974), and this 21-page segment basically lays the groundwork for that longer installment. Conan and the beautiful Valeria, a woman warrior in the vein of Red Sonja, come face-to-face with a carnivorous stegosaurus, barely surviving the hair-raising encounter. (Yes, we all know that stegosauruses were herbivores but it was a meat eater in Howard's original. Who are we to argue?) Afterwards, the duo find themselves in a huge walled city carved from jade and inhabited by two small groups of warring cultists, the Xotalanc and the Tecuhltli. But the story is really superfluous: Barry’s visuals are the main attraction. It’s obvious that Smith obsessed over each panel, painstakingly detailing and shadowing every drop of blood, blade of grass, strand of hair, and esoteric architectural aspect of the super-creepy city. Simply brilliant, the finest work of Smith’s career to date. Though I’ve probably said that before. As an extra treat, Barry illustrates the Robert E. Howard poem “Cimmeria,” giving fans another five pages of awe-inspiring artistry. This is comic illustration at its most mature and magnificent. Bravo! 
-Thomas Flynn

Robert E. Howard wrote about the Crusades in his Cormac FitzGeoffrey stories (available from Del Rey in their collection Sword Woman and Other Historical Adventures), all of which were adapted as Conan episodes: “Hawks of Outremer” (Savage Sword of Conan #222), “The Blood of Belshazzar” (Conan the Barbarian #27), and the posthumously completed “The Slave-Princess” (Savage Sword of Conan #12).  But those, like just about all of Howard’s body of work, are of a more existential cast than Joe Maneely and Stan Lee’s throwback tales to the Golden Age of Hollywood’s Adventures of Robin Hood days.  This medieval origin story, “The Coming of the Crusader,” begins with a clash of three civilizations (Christendom, the Moslem world, and the Mongol Empire) and the Black Death, concluding with a trial by combat in which Saracen hero El Alemain’s true Frankish identity is revealed to himself (and an ongoing character to us).  True chivalry is practiced, treachery backfires, and “a new sword-wielding hero” is born – “THE CRUSADER!”  On this note the reprint tale ends, heralding the beginning of this “new” series character (as old as 1955, from the pages of Black Knight) who would go on to appear in two more issues of Savage Tales.  

It is not by whim that Savage Tales reprinted artist Joe Maneely.  Apparently Roy Thomas “as a teen had devoured [Maneely’s] Black Knight comic, and became an immediate fan” (related in the introductory material of Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Era Black Knight / Yellow Claw, Vol. 1), even reprinting those old Atlas Comics stories at Marvel in the ’60s, just as he reprints these Crusader episodes in Savage Tales a decade later.  Obviously Thomas’ affection for Maneely and his work endured well past boyhood and, judging from his role as Marvel’s chief fantasy writer-editor, can be cited as an influence.  The Black Knight series, however, was written by Stan Lee – and, true to its Eisenhower-era origins, evokes knightly adventure as seen in the 1954 Cinemascope Prince Valiant film adapted from Hal Foster’s 1937 comic strip still running at the time.  In 2004, in Ronin Ro’s Tales to Astonish: Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and the American Comic Book Revolution, Lee lamented how Maneely, killed in 1958 after falling from a train, “would have been another Jack Kirby” had he lived.  “He would have been the best you could imagine.  I’d never have let him leave.”  Maneely’s tragically short life and career spanned several formative comic industry decades of special interest to Marvelites and deserve further reading.  

It is worth adding to Professor Flynn's comments that Robert E. Howard himself rubber-stamped Miller and Clark's "Probable Outline of Conan's Career" in a March 10, 1936 letter to Miller (excerpts from the Del Rey collection The Conquering Sword of Conan):

"I feel indeed honored that you and Dr. Clark should be so interested in Conan as to work out an outline of his career and a map of his environs. Both are surprisingly accurate, considering the vagueness of the data you had to work with. I have the original map--that is the one I drew up when I first started writing about Conan--around here somewhere and I'll see if I can't find it and let you have a look at it ... Your outline follows his career as I have visualized it pretty closely. The differences are minor ... The chronological order of his adventures is about as you have worked it out, except that they covered a little more time. Hope the enclosed data answers your questions satisfactorily; I'd be delighted to discuss any other phases you might wish, or go into more details about any point of Conan's career or Hyborian history or geography you might desire. Thanks again for your interest, and best wishes, for yourself and Dr. Clark."– Professor Gilbert Colon

Dracula Lives 3

"Lord of Death... Lord of Hell!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by John Buscema and Syd Shores

"The Vampire-Man"
Story Uncredited
Art by Larry Woromay
(reprinted from Adventures Into Terror #29,
March 1954)

"Bela Lugosi: Dracula of Stage, Screen, and Coffin
Non-Fiction by by Doug Moench

"Castle of the Undead"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Alan Weiss and "Crusty Bunkers"

"I Was Once a Gentle Man..."
Text Story by Chris Claremont

"Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble"
Story Uncredited
Art by C. A. Winter
(reprinted from Adventures Into Terror #27, January 1954)

"Shadow in the City of Light!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Alfonso Font

Now fully into Vampire-mania, Marvel continues its flood of the marketplace with the first bi-monthly issue of Dracula Lives! (it's also the first number to feature a month on its cover). "Lord of Death... Lord of Hell" recounts how Dracula became Lord of Vampires after defeating former LotV, Nimrod. A sequel to last issue's "That Dracula May Live Again!," this installment is a bit talky and confusing (so, is this the real Dracula or will son, Vlad Jr., be handed the reins at some point?) and I'm still not sold on John Buscema's monster art (neither his Dracula nor his Frankenstein monster really float my boat). I will say that I find it refreshing that the zine isn't taken up with lots of quickie Dracula tales. That would lead to boredom mighty fast so editor Roy Thomas' notion of filling Drac with serial-stories is genius.

"Lord of Death..."

Roy Thomas transports Robert E. Howard's Solomon Kane into Dracula's universe in "Castle of the Undead." Kane is searching  for a young lady who's gone missing and, odds are, before the end of the story he'll find her at Castle Dracula. After rescuing Solomon from a pack of werewolves, the Count kindly invites the swashbuckler up for the night. Sure enough, the young girl has been transformed into a vampiress and Solomon Kane must dispatch her rather than save her. This enrages Kane and he challenges Dracula to a duel. Kane wins but, just as he's about to put the finishing touches to the night stalker, the Count reminds him that Solomon owes his life to Dracula. Kane obliges and leaves the castle, knowing that the blood of future victims will be on his hands. A nice change of pace but I couldn't help thinking that Roy simply rewrote the Jonathon Harker section of Stoker's novel with Kane in Harker's place. Nice Pablo Marcos-esque art by Alan Weiss.

"Castle of the Undead"

Doug Moench contributes another of those confounded non-fiction pieces I assume Roy Thomas wanted in to leech a percentage from the Famous Monsters market. With "Bela Lugosi: blahblahblah," Doug actually presents some interesting tidbits but, of course, they're peppered with puns even Forry wouldn't touch. I do find much to agree with Moench's assessment that Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is a better film than the 1931 Dracula (a pretty radical proclamation even today) but his chief reason for the honor (that we finally got to see Dracula turn into a bat on-screen) is pretty silly. Nevertheless, it's a step up and in the right direction since the examinations of film and fiction will continue throughout the zine's run and the level of writing needs to escalate beyond the cheap laugh. The other prose piece this issue is Chris Claremont's "I Was Once a Gentle Man...", Dr. Van Helsing's account of how he got into the vampire-killing business, illustrated with stills from Hammer's Horror of Dracula.

"Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble!"

This issue includes a couple of pre-code reprints from Adventures Into Terror, an Atlas pre-code horror title that lasted 31 issues from November 1950 through May 1954 and featured some pretty sharp art by such legends as Basil Wolverton and (my favorite pre-code guy) Joe Maneely. Issue #7 of AIT featured a story by Wolverton called "Where Monsters Dwell!" One of these days I'm going to get back to my pre-heroes guide to Atlas' horror titles but in the meantime I've reproduced a couple of the covers down below. First up is "The Vampire-Man," an alternate theory of the real identity of Jack the Ripper, featuring vampires. "Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble" doesn't involve vampires (it's a reworking of MacBeth) but it does  feature some nifty art by one Chuck "C. A." Winter. I wasn't able to find much info on this Golden Age artist other than he was prolific and contributed to several of the Atlas titles of the 1950s including Spellbound, Journey Into Mystery, Astonishing, and Battle but I want more Winter.

Art by Font
Finishing off this issue is Gerry Conway's deadly dull "Shadow in the City of Light." Dracula awakes in present day Paris to find himself being staked by a young lady named Helene DuBois, the granddaughter of a sculptor murdered by Dracula decades before. Turns out the artist wasn't killed butu transformed into one of his sculptures, a gargoyle, and he joins Helene in some good old fashioned vampire hunting. As we all know, Dracula always finds a way to survive and this time it's a doozy: while being chased as a bat around the Eiffel Tower, Drac zigs but the gargoyle zags and Dubois is reduced to a million pieces of stone. Not an honorable end for such a graceful creature. Alfonso Font is not a bad artist but he's all wrong to illustrate Dracula (do you see a pattern emerging?) with his Lord of the Vampires resembling David Niven (an actor who would play Drac a few years later but not very convincingly) more than a fearful visage. Debuting is the two-page letters column. The consensus seems to be that all the stories were great but the puns and funny captions have to go. Amen to that. At the end of the column is the first installment in what would become a tradition, a ranking of the stories included in the back issue being discussed (always a couple issues behind in that Postal-only world of 1973).
                                                     -Peter Enfantino

Professor Gilbert Colon on "Castle of the Undead"

Odd though it may seem, there is a certain logic in featuring Robert E. Howard’s fanatic Solomon Kane in the pages of a magazine called Dracula Lives!  Kane, who has fought an assortment of gigantic winged demons, ghosts, and even a vampire queen, is well within the tradition of vampire hunters like Bram Stoker’s Abraham Van Helsing, and that is literally what they turn Kane into here in Roy Thomas’ original story “Castle of the Undead.”  (In Stephen Sommers’ Van Helsing, more theme park than movie, many have pointed out the striking similarities between Hugh Jackman’s interpretation of Stoker’s vampire hunter and Solomon Kane, and the cinematic Van Helsing’s weapons and wardrobe could easily be the Puritan’s hand-me-downs.)  

On the downside, Howard readers will shake their heads at seeing their puritanical swordsman stripped to the waist like a preening fencing instructor.  His flowing frosty hair and exsanguinated pallor are at odds with the image of REH’s black-maned and clench-jawed Puritan.  Ironically, this Kane physically resembles Elric of Melniboné, Michael Moorcock’s albino sorcerer-prince whose Stormbringer blade bestows its wielder vampiric benefits.  Were Kane ever to meet Elric, the Puritan would run him clean through “for the glory of God” and once and for all shatter his diabolical soul-stealing Stormbringer.  At least we have a panel on page 36 of the iconic Kane with his familiar pilgrim slouch hat, cloak, and staff.  

As Dracula’s guest, Kane plays the Jonathan Harker role, right down to being warned about wandering the castle alone and having one of the Count’s vampire vamps enter his bedchamber to steal a victim earmarked for the bloodsucking boyar.  When Kane, accepting Transylvanian hospitality, proclaims “I fought in the cause of justice against ungodly Turks...,” there is a certain irony (unintended?) since Vlad the Impaler also fought Turkish invaders and, in his Dracula incarnation, is certainly ungodly himself.  (What next, Count Dracula and Red Sonya of Rogatino against the Turkish horde?)  

Inevitably, the Puritan bladesman duels Dracula and, as “one who fights...with the hand of God on his shoulder!,” prevails.  While Thomas captures Howard’s character well in most every respect – more so than artist Alan Weiss and his “Crusty Bunkers” – it seems unlikely that Kane, who knew enough to use his splintered walking stick as a wooden stake against the vampiress, would be ignorant of the fact that his steel rapier would fail against the nosferatu nobleman.  More crucially, it seems out of character for Kane, however much an honor-bound man of his word, to spare the “Warlord of the Dragon Banner” knowing full well that “every death laid at Dracula’s door will likewise lay heavy upon...Kane."  If Kane did not hesitate to dispatch Rosella, despite promising her father her return, would he stay the hand of justice to save a nearly invincible immortal evil?  And what of the solemn “vow of vengeance in the name of justice...and of the Lord of Hosts!” that he shrieked upon discovering he just had impaled his friend’s fiendishly transformed daughter whom he had sworn to save?  

In the case of “Undead Castle,” writing this kind of literature is like painting oneself into a corner.  It is always going to be one of those forgone conclusions that Kane can never kill the Count since, unless the writer tampers with established timelines or forces ridiculous solutions like time travel upon the story, Howard’s creation inhabits the 16th and 17th centuries and the events of Stoker’s novel take place circa A.D. 1897.  Unless, that is, a crossover tale becomes Solomon Kane’s “last crusade,” in which case Thomas could have made a cheap twist out of turning Howard’s knight errant into the thing he hates the most, a servant of darkness.  Howard fans will be relieved to learn that Thomas is smarter than this.  

Colliding Stoker with Howard arises from the same impulse that teamed Universal Monsters (Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, etc.) and should be taken only slightly more seriously than King Kong vs. Godzilla, though it is not Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.  While it is tempting to dismiss reflexively any Kane tale not from Howard’s own pen, this one mostly holds up thanks to Thomas staying true to the Kane character and attempting Howard’s prose style).  Since obviously there exists no story to draw from that pits Howard’s Puritan avenger against Stoker’s wampyr, what choice is left except to script a wholly new tale?  This issue of Dracula Lives! elsewhere offers more “mash up” by making the Macbeth of literature into an undead horror tale, meaning Marvel was well ahead of the trend of novels such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter by decades.  -Gilbert Colon

Tales of the Zombie 2

“Voodoo Island”
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Pablo Marcos

“In Memoriam”
Non-Fiction by Jim Steranko

“Voodoo Unto Others”
Story by Tony Isabella
Art by Winslow Mortimer

“Acid Test”
Story by Stan Lee
Art by George Tuska
(reprinted from Menace #5, July 1953)

“Introducing Brother Voodoo”
Non-Fiction by Tony Isabella

“Twin Burial”
Story by Chuck Robinson
Art by Ralph Reese

“From Out of the Grave”
Story by Stan Lee
Art by Gene Colan
(reprinted from Adventures Into Terror #29, March 1954)

“Voodoo: What’s It All About, Alfred?”
Non-Fiction by Chris Claremont

“Night of the Spider”
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Pablo Marcos

This issue’s 22-page Zombie feature is broken into two parts that bookend the magazine, “Voodoo Island” and “Night of the Spider.” Driven by his murky subconscious, the Zombie realizes that his curse originated on Haiti and stows away on a freighter bound for the tropical island — not knowing that his “daughter,” Donna Garth, is also on board, searching for clues to her father’s disappearance. On Haiti, Donna is kidnapped by a mad scientist who transforms her into a giant tarantula. The bloodthirsty spider-woman terrorizes the natives until she encounters the Zombie. The black beast bites the undead corpse again and again, her poison having no effect on the lifeless creature. Exhausted, the spider collapses. The Zombie scuffles away, not noticing when the huge arachnid turns back into Donna. While rather ridiculous, these installments are a marked improvement over the Zombie tales from the premiere issue. Plus, they introduce the talents of Pablo Marcos, the artist who would make the Zombie his signature character. Marcos’ unsettling style is the perfect match for the series, and he would usher “Simon Garth” through the remaining run of Tales of the Zombie. Gerber does a nice job as well, though his writing does tend to get a wee bit hysterical in parts. The Zombie takes a fair share of damage during the course of the stories and it’s a bit disappointing to see that he doesn’t display any of the battle scars. It’s not like he has living, healing tissue, so I would have much preferred if the Zombie got more and more decrepit and deformed over time. Think Seth Brundle. But dead.

“Voodoo Unto Others” is standard fare, but it does have a positive voodoo message, so that must be fairly unique. Vacationing on his family’s Haitian rubber plantation, a young English boy named Raymond is paralyzed by a drunk driver. One of his father’s workers uses voodoo to cure Raymond by transferring his injuries to the man who ran him over. Originally titled “Nightmare” when first printed in Menace #5 (1953), “Acid Test” follows Hunk Gillem, a brutish drunk that once killed the man that stole his love. Now, Gillem is tortured by nightly, uh, nightmares about the undead victim splashing his face with acid. Gillem’s devilish bartender offers a formula that will help him stop dreaming. So, of course, the dream becomes a reality. 

"Acid Test"

A fairly basic 10-pager, “Twin Burial” is about a woman who is accidentally buried in her twin sister’s grave. What stands out is Ralph Reese’s superb use of black and white contrasts. His illustrations resemble the woodblock prints of such 20th century artists as Lynd Ward and Frans Masereel. Easily the magazine’s weakest story, “From Out of the Grave” was reprinted from 1951’s Adventures into Terror #29. (Can you really have a terrifying adventure? Well, perhaps Homer on The Tooth Chipper.) In 17th century London, a graverobber ends up on the vivisection table he once supplied. Yes, the corpses he defiled are the culprits.

"Twin Burial"

On the editorial side, we have “In Memoriam,” a heartfelt tribute to the recently passed Bill Everett by Jim Steranko. Reprinted from Steranko’s fanzine Comixscene, it’s a nice memorial, filled with historical details and personal anecdotes. “Introducing Brother Voodoo” is a promotional piece for the character that made his debut in Strange Tales #169. For what it’s worth, Isabella does go in-depth and there is some interesting, unfinished art by Gene Colon. Chris Claremont provides a history of voodoo with the dopily titled “Voodoo: What’s It All About, Alfred?” I have no idea how accurate the article is, but Claremont avoids sensationalism, basing his research on the book Voodoo in Haiti by the famous Swiss anthropologist Alfred Metraux. A few graphic photos of actual shrunken heads and death masks are included, so there’s a little gore in the gravy.

Boris Vallejo delivers another outstanding cover and this issue’s Honorary Technical Advisors are The Grateful Dead. Offah. -Thomas Flynn

Vampire Tales 2

"The Blood Sacrifice of Amanda Saint!"
Story by Don McGregor
Art by Rich Buckler and Pablo Marcos

"Witch Hunt!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Mannie Banks
(reprinted from Journey Into Mystery #15,
April 1954)

"A Vampire By Any Other Name: A Look at
Lugosi's Non-Dracula Roles"
Non-Fiction by Doug Moench

"Five Claws to Tryphon"
Story by Gardner Fox
Art by Jesus Blasco and John Buscema

"A Generation of Vampires"
Non-Fiction by Chris Claremont

Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Romita

"At the Stroke of Midnight"
Story and Art by Jim Steranko
(reprinted from Tower of Shadows #1, September 1969)

"The Praying Mantis Principle"
Story by Don McGregor
Art by Rich Buckler. Carlos Garzon, and Klaus Janson

One of the best covers ever to grace the B&W line (by Jose Antonio Domingo) kicks off the sophomore issue of Vampire Tales. All the while I'm reading this issue, I'm thinking "There were just too many Vampire Tales in 1973!" This issue's Morbius story, "The Blood Sacrifice of Amanda Saint" purports to be written by Don McGregor. I think Don shopped it out to some grade school fantasy fans.  A veiled chick calling herself Demon-Fire and spouting really bad dialogue like "Demon-Fire has need of your unspent powers of newness and virginity!" attempts to kidnap said virgin Amanda Saint but fortunately (?) Amanda had just been targeted as Michael Morbius' latest snack. Morbius engages in a hellacious battle with Demon-Fire and her band of equally silly monikers (the main henchman, a masked man named Katabolik, is unmasked to show a face "better left shrouded"). Once he rescues the girl he decides, in that very heroic Morbius way, not to chow down on her. Rather, he takes an interest in her plight, going so far as to walk her home, where he meets her odd sister, Catherine (I'll eat my M.M.M.S. button if Demon-Fire doesn't turn out to be Amanda's sister!) and detects an air of... oddness. Soon after, we get one of those obligatory "hey kids, nekkid girl!" shots we've become numb to while reviewing the B&W line and a couple of overly violent panels of Michael feeding on an unlucky taxi driver. Demon-Fire returns to finish the job she botched ("Soon we will place you within the conjurer's circle: the Triad of Solomon! And Lucifer, the Fallen Demigod, will hear our desires!") and somehow gets the best of Morbius this time. End of Part One. What? There's a second part to this silly crap? It'll be interesting to compare the violence in this strip with the upcoming CCA-approved Morbius series in Adventures in Fear.

"Five Claws"
In "Five Claws to Tryphon," explorer Simon Majors aligns the titular stones and opens up another dimension, one populated by giant bat creatures and lorded over by Sharalla, a very sexy priestess decked out in Lily Munster's hand-me-downs. Majors learns that he's to be sacrificed to Tryphon but he manages to escape, taking Sharalla with him. Why? Because "she's too lovely to stay here." In the end, Simon discovers that, without Tryphon, you can't have Sharalla. Incredibly pulpy material, appropriate when you see that Gardner Fox wrote it. John Buscema again mutes whatever creepiness Jesus Blanco may have penciled. A shame.

Despite the best intentions of Marvel to keep their new horror-babe Satana a secret (cover blurb, in-house ads, billboards, sky writing), I had no problem guessing she would be the star of the four-page teaser that climaxes with one of those "I am Satana!!!" reveals. It's going to be hard to discern the differences between Satan's daughter and Lilith, the daughter of Dracula (who'll be unveiled soon) since their get-ups are pretty much the same. Why Roy thought we needed four pages of teaser before   next issue's "first full-fledged saga of the most startling she-demon of all" is anyone's guess. I've got a better question: why is the daughter of Satan starring in a title called Vampire Tales? It's surprising Satanic Tales hadn't popped up on the roster.

The best story in this issue (and indeed in any of the B&Ws I've reviewed thus far) is easily "The Praying Mantis Principle," in which Don McGregor more than makes up for his weak Morbius entry this issue. Sherlock Holmes wanna-be Hodiah Twist investigates a murder at a cathouse known as Madam Angela's. What Hodiah and the police don't realize is that this bordello is stocked with female vampires who ply their trade and then dine on select johns. There are several funny bits in this romp but the scene that takes the cake is when Angela tries to explain to Hodiah that she's a real live vampire. Hodiah, thinking the woman is just a bit gullible, drags her out into the rising sun, only to watch her evaporate. "Astounding experience!" the detective exclaims while watching the prostitute turn to dust, "The poor dear was telling the truth all along!" It's a pity we'll only see the Twist character one more time (in Marvel Preview #16, Fall 1978) as he's genuinely funny without being moronic.

Hodiah takes umbrage

Two reprints this issue: "Witch Hunt," from the classic pre-code days of Journey Into Mystery, concerns a witch-hunter who takes a shine to a pretty girl and when she spurns him, he shouts "witch!" In the end, she's not a witch but (surprise!) a vampire! A lot of these pre-code tales dispense with original plots or twists but usually serve up nice art. The other reprint, "At the Stroke of Midnight" is something of a rip-off since it had just appeared a few years before. You can read my discussion of this Steranko "classic" here. Two non-fiction pieces (neither very stimulating) round out the issue. I have very fond memories of and still own an entire set of Marvel's Famous Monsters clone, Monsters of the Movies, which will pop up in the Summer of 1974. I'm keen to reread these to see if the journalism is on the level of the non-fiction that's popping up in the B&Ws we're reading right now. I'm hoping it's a little more adult.

Ah, if only...!

There's an ad (reproduced above) for the aborted third issue of the digest-sized The Haunt of Horror, complete with a cover illo by Rich Corben (well, I think it's Rich Corben but Richard Arndt claims it's Kelly Freas). Contents slated included: "The Running of the DemonHound" by John Jakes; "Goldfish" by R. A. Lafferty; "The New Witchcraft" by Lin Carter; and "the Night People" by Alan Brennart. With a little bit of sleuthing (and guesswork) I've been able to deduce that the Jakes story was a retitling (or reworking?) of his "The Running Hounds" (from Worlds of If, November 1952). To make things even more confusing, the story will be retitled again and pop up in Savage Tales #10 as "The Running of Ladyhound." -Peter Enfantino

Matthew: The same month Daimon Hellstrom, the Son of Satan, gets his own four-color strip in Marvel Spotlight, his younger sister Satana bows in this sting-in-the-tail B&W quickie—as it were—by Thomas and Romita, and begins sporadic Bronze-Age appearances in both lines (e.g., The Haunt of HorrorMarvel Team-Up, a Marvel Premiere solo shot), including several with her brother in Spotlight and his short-lived mag.  While my memory/knowledge of the Warren horror titles is razor-thin, that was the first thing I thought of when I saw the withered husk of the would-be rapist on the last page.  I thought about other things when I saw Satana’s skimpy outfit…but I don’t want to end up like that guy, so I’d better keep my mind on my work!




  1. I like Marvel's occult charactera, but Hellstrom never worked for me, same as Satana. His character design is ridiculous, and the concept is all over the place. As a superhero he doesn't work. The only time he was interesting was the short Warren Ellis run much later in the 90s.

    Red Nails is a wonderful piece of work. I have it in my collection in different editions, among them the Marvel Treasury Edition. The oversized format does Smith' art justice.

    I think you are right with your assessment of "Castle of the Undead". The story couldn't work. But the art is nice.

  2. “This particular clash will be concluded—sometime, somewhere in the Marvel Universe,” as Adam begins a 16-month hiatus until his strip resumes in Strange Tales #178."

    Actually, Warlock would appear in Incredible Hulk #176 thru #178...then in Strange Tales!