Sunday, November 1, 2015

Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #45: Marvel Premiere #34

By Professor Gil Colon, P.o.M.P.


“Fangs of the Gorilla God!”
Script: Roy Thomas
Art: Howard Chaykin

SYNOPSIS: He did not know her name.  He never met her before.  But to track down her murderer, Solomon Kane was willing, “in the name of holy vengeance!,” to journey to Africa’s “savage shores--” where no white man had ever before stepped foot.  

Except one – “the master brigand” Le Loup.  This Frenchman, who slew the innocent maid, and the region’s chief Songa, are “blood brothers now!”  

Almost as soon as Kane makes landfall on Africa’s Slave Coast, “THRUM, THRUM, THRUM, comes the ceaseless monotone of the drums.”  

Kane is quickly captured by Songa’s tribe, but befriends his own blood brother, the witch doctor N’Longa.  

N’Longa strikes a deal with Kane.  “White man now chief Songa’s right-hand man -- and Songa more powerful than me, N’Longa.  You kill white man--then N’Longa be more powerful than Songa.”  

Kane is led out before Songa and Le Loup to face the man who first captured him, “Gulka -- called the gorilla-slayer!,” fresh from a recent kill – a female gorilla, its carcass hanging from one of the hut’s roof-poles.  

Gulka wastes no time sacrificing a tribesman on “the crude altar” to “--the Gorilla God!” (described in Howard’s story as “a shadowy idol [with] great, inhuman eyes”).  

N’Longa is seized and bound on a stake next to Kane, the two sentenced to be “burnt alive!”  Curiously, the fetish man seems less concerned than he ought at this dire predicament.  “Not worry, white man! ... Watch now-- I make mighty magic!”  Then N’Longa “ if he were dying!”  

The sacrifice victim animates and lunges for “terrified King Songa--”  Songa spears it, but “the dead die not!”  Songa, “with a mind-wrenching scream, ... crumples and falls--”  Next, “the Frenchman vanish[es] into the darkness!”  

N’Longa revives.  “My ghost go out,” he tells Kane.  “Kill Songa--come back to me! ... Great fetish me!”  Behind him the tribal warriors sway and chant his name before pointing out to Kane the direction in which Le Loup fled.  Kane pursues, “[o]nce again...the avenger--the scourge of the unrighteous!”  

In a glade, Kane finally confronts the Wolf he has been hunting.  “Time that we stopped this fool’s dance about the world,” Le Loup says.  “M’sieu, en garde!”  

Thrust, parry, a feint, a sudden whirl of blades, and--”  And then, for the Englishman, “the empty futility of a vengeance gained.”  (Per Howard, Kane “always felt that [futility], after he had killed a foe ... as if the foe had, after all, escaped his just vengeance.)  

But the fatigued Kane is not the only hunter.  Stalking him, to “kill him at his leisure,” is “GULKA!”  And lurking behind Gulka is “the mate of the she-ape whom Gulka slew before.”  

Gulka and the “animated and bloodlusting gorilla square off.  Gulka brandishes his spear, but the gorilla rushes him headlong and bear-hugs him until there comes “a shattering sound, as of many branches breaking simultaneously!”  The Gorilla-Slayer is slain, and Kane realizes that “there are more kinds of justice in the primordial jungle than his own alone.”  

The beast impales Gulka’s broken body upon a sharp branch where he “hangs just as the she-ape’s body hangs in the native village!”  After that, the gorilla disappears into the jungle, leaving Kane unharmed.  

“Why,” Kane asks himself, “do the drums still speak inside my head?”  To which they answer, “The wisdom of our land is ancient ... The wisdom of our land is dark...  Flee if you would live--”  Kane returns to a “waiting ship, ... know[ing] he will return to this untamed land one day...”  FIN.  

Like the first part of “The Mark of Kane!,” part two is adapted from Robert E. Howard’s “Red Shadows,” the Solomon Kane “tale of swashbuckling and sorcery” first published in the August 1928 issue of Weird Tales (available today in its most definitive form in Del Rey’s anthology collection The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane).  Without any of part one’s embellishments, this second installment sticks to the story as printed in Howard’s original.  As mentioned last time, Dark Horse recently reprinted both parts of “The Mark of Kane!” in The Chronicles of Solomon Kane, though recolored by Dan Jackson in place of Howard Chaykin.  

The uncredited cover has been, according to the Grand Comics Database, “heavily reworked by John Romita over Chaykin pencils.  Original indexer credited Joe Sinnott as a possible inker.”  On this cover, Kane puts himself between a Kong-like simian and an imperiled African woman in leopard skins off the same furrier’s rack where Jann of the Jungle and Shanna the She-Devil shop for their wardrobes.  It is completely in character for Kane, the embodiment of chivalry, to come to the gallant defense of this tribeswoman-in-distress, but there is no female to be found in these pages.  

Chaykin, using the same shadow-shaded brushstrokes and minimal angular lines, renders his characters too similarly.  There are times in close-up when Kane and Le Loup look barely different.  (He does a little better with the natives.)  It is disappointing because Chaykin has done commendable work when visually interpreting Kane – grim, hard-faced, clench-jawed, severe.  With a little more application, his stylings could have brought out enough distinguishing and defining features to make a more memorable Kane representation.  

FIRST CLASS MAIL,” the Marvel Premiere letters column, alerts Chaykin and Thomas fans that they will soon be collaborating on a little “science fiction series called STAR WARS.”  It will be spread over six issues “since Roy and Howie have no interest in trying to squeeze a two-hour space opera of cosmic proportions into less than a hundred pages!”  Does this mean that Thomas, the man who disparaged space operas as “ether-oaters” and declared the form dead in the pages of “serious” New Wave sf magazine Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction, is being forced to eat his own oats, er, words?  

Chronologically speaking, this is Kane’s first African adventure.  For the proudly Irish Robert E. Howard – that “Last Celt” – “the pipes, the pipes” were always calling him.  But for the reserved English Puritan named Solomon Kane, it is the terrible beat of tribal tom-toms – the call of the wild – that speaks to his savage soul.  “‘War and Death!’ they say, ‘Blood and Lust-- Human Sacrifice and Human Blood!’”  The African jungles strip away the veneer of civilization that is barely there for Kane, barely there for Man, bringing to the surface a lurking, surging barbarism always ready to erupt.  “And, somewhere in his soul, a responsive chord answers:You too are of the night, Solomon Kane...’”  

The Dark Continent setting tells us what Howard has only hinted at before.  Beneath his Elizabethan mask, Kane is Conan; he is more primeval than medieval.  Like Marlow in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, like Willard in Apocalypse Now, Kane turns his back on the jungle and walks away so that it does not swallow his soul whole; it is either that or go as native as Kurtz.  Deep in his DNA is a primal race memory that sings, “You have seen such sights before, back in the dim, dawn days...”  In Howard’s manuscript, the prehistoric siren song of jungle drums chants to him, “[C]ome back down the ages...”  

Kane “knows he will return to this untamed land one day...”  And return he will, many times over – first in an exploit, “The Hills of the Dead,” that will reunite him with N’Longa (previously adapted in Kull and the Barbarians #2 and #3), and later “Death’s Dark Riders” (Savage Sword of Conan #219 and #220) in which he joins forces, in the “Moon of Skulls” lost city of Negari, with none other than Conan the Cimmerian (shoehorned into REH’s fragmentary Kane story by Thomas).  

—Professor Gilbert

Coming Soon: Professor Gil's assessment of 
Doc Savage Magazine #7!

1 comment:

  1. Boy, I've encountered quite a few of these supporting characters in the Kane stuff I've covered in my magazines. Of course I didn't write about them in such depth! Nice one Gilberto.