Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Post-Graduate Studies #20

The MU campus is mostly unused right now but
from time to time, our Professors will drop in for Summer courses.
This Week:
by Professor Tom Flynn

In October of 1970, Marvel’s merry band of superheroes appeared in the following comics:

Roy Thomas & Wally Wood/Roy Thomas & Jack Kirby
Roy Thomas & John Buscema
Roy Thomas & Barry Smith
Stan Lee & Gene Colan
Roy Thomas & Gene Colan
Roy Thomas & Herb Trimpe
Allyn Brodsky & Don Heck
Stan Lee & Gil Kane
Roy Thomas & Sal Buscema
Stan Lee & Neal Adams

Plus, they also appeared in this …

October 18, 1970
Cover Art by John Buscema

“Where the Real Action Is …”
“Paul Brown”
Administrative Staff
Coaching Staff
Owners and Directors
Players Photos
Records and Statistics
Bengals Up-Date
Bengals Statistics
“Beware the Linebackers”
“Heim’s Notes”
Game Officials
Stadium and Ticket Information
Visiting Team (Chiefs)
Stories and Photos
Alphabetical (Bengals)
Alphabetical (Chiefs)
Numerical (Both Teams)
Three Deeps (Both Teams)
“The Signals & What They Mean”
“The Third Team”
“Lon Keller”

“The Official Magazine of the National Football League,” Pro! was the gameday program sold at  stadiums across the country during the 1970s and early 80s. While information on the publication is surprisingly scarce on the interwebs, I do know that there were nine different versions of the weekly issues produced, covering all of the eight tilts played on Sunday and the one on the next day as well, since 1970 saw the debut of Monday Night Football on ABC. Each version was tailored for the home team with articles on the coaches and players, statistics, schedules, and more as well as basic information on the opponent. However, they all shared a single cover story. Which brings us to Marvel University. The October 18, 1970 issues of Pro! — coinciding with week five of the season — featured the main article “Beware the Linebackers,” illustrated by the great John Buscema and edited by Stan “The Man” Lee himself. As a life-long fan of the Kansas City Chiefs, I eBayed the edition created for the game held at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati that day, pitting my boys against the hometown Bengals. Happy to say, the good guys won, 27 to 19.

The magazine didn’t cost much, but it has a happy place in my collection of Chiefs and American Football League memorabilia and ephemera that dates back to 1960. That it featured Spidey, Cap, the Hulk, Black Panther and other costumed crusaders was just the Cosmic Cube on top. Another neat twist is that it was released the same month as Conan the Barbarian #1, my very first post on this blog. That’s sweet symmetry by Crom. The five-page “Beware the Linebackers” compared the top players at the position during that era to their Marvel Comics counterpart — comparisons that are tenuous at best in most cases.  But the choice of players spotlighted was prescient: four of them were eventually enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, while the rest made regular All-Star game appearances during their outstanding careers. You’ll also notice that Big John drew the Marvel characters in the same pose as the NFL players in the accompanying photos. Bully for you good sir! And while I’m usually dubious when Stan slapped his name on such high-profile projects, I do think he was involved on this one: it reads like he punched up or re-wrote the copy. 

So let’s dive in: sorry if the scans are of poor quality, I didn’t want to damage my copy by folding it too severely. Here’s the intro:

Fasten your safety belt, frantic one, ’cause here they come! They’re the superheroes’ superheroes — strong, smart, savage and swift.

You know their names. Nobis, Butkus, Webster and Bell. Curtis, Robinson, Howley, Nitschke and Warwick. Call ’em the linebackers … pro football’s dazzling defenders, magnificent marauders who battle against incredible odds every game of the season. 

Now know them as we know them through the world of fantasy. Let’s match these real life super stars with their superhero counterparts from the pandemonious, power-packed pages of marvelous Marvel comics.

Chuck Howley/Captain America
Howley and Cap are proof positive that man improves with age. They’re the marvels of 1970, both living it up after more than a decade of cataclysmic combat. The ol’ shield-slinger, resurrected from comics’ Golden Age of the 30’s and 40’s, came back in the 60’s, bigger and bolder than ever. At the same time, Howley came back from a knee injury to cop red, white and blue honors as a leader of the Cowboys’ famed “Doomsday Defense.” 

We actually start off with a pretty solid teaming. I can buy the connection between Howley — the only player on the losing team to be named a Super Bowl MVP — and Cap. Chuck was originally drafted by the Chicago Bears in 1958 but suffered what appeared to be a career-ending injury that caused him to miss the entire 1960 season. But he “defrosted” his career a year later with the Dallas Cowboys and became one of the best ’backers in the league. Plus, like the Sentinel of Liberty, Howley was a selfless team player, moving from the strongside linebacker position to the weakside when it was decided that Dave Edwards had more upper-body strength. He was also great in pass coverage, something that Cap would have excelled at as well.

Bobby Bell/Dr. Doom
Every once in a while someone makes the scene who’s so totally powerful that he can do almost anything. Dr. Doom is that kind of someone, and he’s dead-set on conquering the world. However, the Chief’s Bobby Bell isn’t quite as ambitious. He just wants to conquer the football world — again. Which shouldn’t be all that hard for a powerhouse like him. But don’t tell ’im we said so. We’ve enough to do now, protecting the world from Doom!

I call bullshit on this one, though the first sentence certainly applies to Mr. Bell. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1983, Bobby played his entire eleven-year career for the Kansas City Chiefs — and throughout all that time, he was regarded as a true gentleman, beloved on and off the field. So you’re hooking it waaaay wide right when you compare him to Marvel’s supreme villain. I’m actually surprised that Willie Lanier wasn’t featured instead. Another legendary Chief enshrined in Canton, Willie had a much higher profile as the first black middle linebacker in the history of professional football, a position regarded as “the quarterback of the defense,” so it was manned by white guys until he broke that stoopid racial barrier. But you can’t go wrong with Bobby. Fellow Hall of Famer Hank Stram, his coach in Kansas City, said “He could play all 22 positions on the field, and play them well.” And few would argue. Heck, Bell is generally regarded as the greatest long snapper in the history of both college and pro football.

Dave Robinson/Black Panther
Super speed, pulsating power, awesome agility and dauntless dedication are characteristics of both the linebacker and the superhero. The Packers’ Robinson and his avenging alter ego, T’Challa, have it all … plus the natural nobility of men who tower above their contemporaries. Dave and the Panther — electrifying examples that not all men are created equal!

Not much to say about this comparison since I’m not that familiar with Robinson, another Hall of Famer, inducted in 2013. Dave and the Panther are both black so that’s one thing I guess. But the Green Bay Packer was a pretty beefy fella, which doesn’t mesh with T’Challa’s sleek and sinewy lines.

Ray Nitschke/The Silver Surfer
The silver-skinned Surfer is a space-born adventurer, exiled on earth where he spends his time trying to make sense out of the woebegone, wacky and warlike nature of our primitive civilization. In the process, he manages to tear things up pretty good. That ol’ philosopher from Green Bay, Nitschke, does pretty well in that department himself. And he doesn’t need super powers to convince the opposition that roughing it with Raymond is an invitation to instant annihilation!

Not only am I throwing the penalty flag on this play, someone is getting ejected. Now one might assume that the NFL would have reached out to DC when putting together “Beware the Linebackers.” Let’s face it: wouldn’t the beer guzzling smokers in the stands during the early 1970s be more familiar with comic book heroes like Superman and Batman? But The House of Ideas was a much more hip publisher at the time so perhaps that’s why they became a partner for this issue of Pro! — and the Silver Surfer might have been the hippest character in their stable. Ray Nitschke? This Hall of Fame player was old school through and through, a blood-and-guts, knuckles-in-the dirt brawler. Ray is about as far from the contemplative Sentinel of the Spaceways as you could get.

Tommy Nobis/The Thing
A guy with a grinnin’ good nature can still come out swinging like a pounding pile driver. At least that’s the rollickin’ rule of the Falcons’ red-haired Nobis and the orange-skinned Thing. Blue-eyed banter and cherubic chuckles go out the window when the famous battle cry “It’s Clobberin’ Time!” fills the air. That’s when lesser men take to the hills as their agonized adversaries bite the dust — and even the stadiums tremble! 

Here’s another where I have scant reference: don’t know much about Nobis. Playing for the University of Texas, Tommy was one of college football’s all-time greatest linebackers — but his pro career fell just short of the Hall. I do have a problem with the Thing though. Would the brutish and bulky Grimm be penciled in as a linebacker if he was drafted by Atlanta? Nah, they would have stuck him on the defensive line. In fact, he’d probably play the line all by himself and the Falcons would use extra linebackers and defensive backs. Talk about a Doom-sday Defense.

Lonnie Warwick/Thor
Don’t let his soft yellow curls throw you. The Viking God of Thunder, with hammer in hand, is no one to mess around with. Lonnie Warwick is the Vikings’ God of Thunder, too … and his foes swear they were hammerstruck. His favorite hues are black and blue, and ball carriers throughout the NFL can show you examples of this valorous Vikings’ thunderous attack! 

OK, fine: Lonnie Warwick is white and he played for the Vikings. So comparing him to Thor is a natural. But it all ends there. Lonnie played with quarterback Joe Kapp during his time with the Vikings. And Kapp — a true tough guy — called Warwick the “meanest man” in football. Mean is not a word you would use when describing the God of Thunder. Plus, Lonnie was on Minnesota when they played the Chiefs in Super Bowl IV. So he’s a loser.

George Webster/Iron Man
Poor Tony Stark. Because of his ailing heart, this swingin’ millionaire industrialist had to design himself some iron threads to offset the frailties of mortal man. The Oilers’ George Webster aches a lot too — just ask him. But, when he pulls on his helmet and pads, look out! He doesn’t need Stark’s electronic gizmos to clobber the foe. His bare hands do alright. If only they didn’t ache so. 

I apologize again: I have little knowledge of Big George. But sadly, the former Houston Oiler  — now the Tennessee Titans — shares some similarities with the often infirmed Tony Stark. After his retirement, Webster lost most of the use of his extremities, eventually losing his right leg in 2002 due to poor circulation. In 1989, he filed for permanent disability benefits from the National Football League, which totaled $4,000 a month at the time. The league, as they are sadly wont to do, fought his claim and won: the Supreme Court ruled that George was only eligible for a $750 monthly payment. For shame. The NFL craps money and still nickels and dimes retired players that suffer because of the ravaging injuries endured during their playing days. A three-time all-star, Webster passed away in 2007. Out of all the players featured in “Beware the Linebackers,” only George and Ray Nitschke are not among the living.

Dick Butkus/The Hulk
When you’re the strongest rampager on earth, you’ve got something going for you. When you’re also the angriest, let mankind beware! Meet the Bears’ Dick Butkus and the Hulk. These two titans have a lot in common — they think everybody’s always picking on them. And what they do in the name of self-defense would make an H-bomb yell “uncle!”

Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1979, Dick Butkus was perhaps the most intimidating linebacker in the history of pro football. As Los Angeles Rams defensive end Deacon Jones once said, Butkus “was a well-conditioned animal, and every time he hit you, he tried to put you in the cemetery, not the hospital.” So I can give you the Hulk. But to me, Dick looks much more like the Thing.

Mike Curtis/Spider-Man
Peter Parker’s sensational spider powers are the result of an accident in an atomic lab. Where Baltimore’s Mike Curtis got his is a mystery. Both are a couple of pussycats, trying to get along in an unsympathetic world where there are always some bad guys stompin’ around, making life miserable. So, what else is there to do but whack ’em around a while, and then try to pick up the threads of a simple life that’s always turning the corner to new adventures.

Curtis was drafted in 1965 by the Baltimore Colts as a fullback, so when he switched to linebacker he was a bit undersized for the position, weighing less than 200 pounds. But he was fast and piled up an impressive amount of interceptions. Which makes him a fair counterpart to Spidey. Though, like the Thing, I don’t think that linebacker would be the best fit for Parker. I’d pencil him in as a cornerback. Think how many attempted passes he could snag with his webs.

Extra Points
Well, that’s it for the Marvel Comics portion of my coverage of the October 18, 1970 issue of Pro! So if you aren’t interested in inane ramblings about the American Football League and other gridiron topics, you can stop right here. Besides, I’ve already tortured plenty of the professors in the University’s break room about the subjects on endless occasions.

Extra Point 1: “Where the Real Action Is …”
The magazine kicks off with a one-page “white paper” by then NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle. Depressingly, it could run in the pages of one of today’s programs with only a few simple edits. In “Where the Real Action Is …” Rozelle bemoans the fact that much of football is played off the field, referring to the decade long skirmishes between the established National Football League and the upstart American Football League. Most of these battles were over the best talent coming out of the college ranks — and, not that Rozelle would admit it, the ever-increasing amount of under-the-table cash and hookers it took to sign them. You see, 1970 was the year that the two bitter rivals officially merged, uniting under the NFL logo with teams separated into the American Football Conference and the National Football Conference. Hopefully, according to Rozelle, with things settled, the focus will now return to the games themselves. Now if this editorial came out this year, the  commissioner’s complaints would be referencing such issues as players kneeling during the National Anthem or the clamor over debilitating brain injuries. However, I must point out that Rozelle and his NFL cronies would never had the issues that plagued the league in the 1960s if they would have been smart enough to get in line with Mr. Lamar Hunt in the first place.

On December 28, 1958, 26-year-old Lamar Hunt, the son of millionaire Texas oilman H. L. Hunt, was watching the National Football League Championship Game between the New York Giants and Baltimore Colts in Yankees Stadium — and he was far from alone. It was the first time this annual contest was broadcast on television and a million viewers watched on NBC. Supposedly “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” it transfixed the nation, turning their affection from college football to the professional alternative.  Hunt, not wanting to enter his father’s oil business and looking to strike out on his own, was well aware that his hometown of Dallas was a pigskin hotbed. So he approached then NFL commissioner Bert Bell and asked if the league had any interest in expanding into Dallas. Bell said there was absolutely none. But he did suggest Lamar contact the Bidwill family, owner of the hapless Chicago Cardinals, perpetual Windy City also-rans to the mighty Bears. Perhaps they would sell him their team and he could move it to Texas. Using that suggestion, Hunt was stymied once again. But when showing him the way out, one of the Bidwills boasted that people from Houston, Denver and Minneapolis were also sniffing around, looking to acquire the Cardinals. On the flight back home, the proverbial light bulb went off over Lamar’s head: if groups in other cities were hungry for a professional football team, perhaps there was enough interest to start a whole new league. 

It’s not like the NFL didn’t have competition before. Perhaps the most successful was the All-American Football Conference, which ran from 1946 to 1949. Not a long run, but the league lives on to this day. After the AAFC folded, the NFL swooped in and absorbed three of its teams: the San Francisco 49ers, the Baltimore Colts and the Cleveland Browns. But Lamar and his compatriots were more determined — and with deeper pockets, could dig in for the long haul. By the end of 1959, everything was in place to kick off the new American Football League in 1960 with eight teams: the Dallas Texans, New York Titans, Boston Patriots, Buffalo Bills, Houston Oilers, Los Angeles Chargers, Denver Broncos and Minnesota Vikings. 

But remember when I mentioned that Bert Bell said that the NFL had no interest in expanding? Well, that went right out the window when it looked like Hunt’s upstart league was actually getting off the ground. The first broadside was fired at Lamar himself, when Bell announced that they were adding the Dallas Cowboys to their roster of teams. How could the newborn Texans survive when the Cowboys could invite such heavyweights as the Giants and Colts to town when they would face off against unknown teams from Denver and Buffalo? They couldn’t, so in 1963 — after winning the 1962 AFL Championship game against Houston — Hunt moved the team to Kansas City and renamed them the Chiefs. Next, the NFL made an even more devious move. The owners of the Vikings were approached and convinced to abandon the new league and become another expansion franchise. But the AFL owners, dubbed “The Foolish Club,” soldiered on and added the Oakland Raiders to keep a balanced eight-team format. Unfortunately, this move would eventually unleash the dreaded Al Davis on the world.

Being instrumental in the founding of such faculty favorites as the Patriots and Broncos was just the start of Lamar Hunt’s incredible impact on the history of professional football. From day one, Hunt envisioned that the AFL and the NFL would have a similar relationship as the American League and National League in Major League Baseball. At that time in the Grand Old Game, the teams in the two divisions never played each other during regular season. But, when the dust settled, the pennant winners of each circuit would face off in the World Series. Of course, Bert Bell and his cronies had no interest in that type of situation. But Lamar persisted and when merger talks started in earnest in 1965, the first AFL-NFL Championship Game was announced for the 1966 season. Fittingly enough, the Chiefs represented the AFL but were crushed by Vince Lombardi’s powerhouse Green Bay Packers. The next year, the Packers once again emerged victorious, trouncing the Oakland Raiders. But, in the 1968 season, the AFL got its revenge as Joe Namath and the renamed New York Jets upset the Baltimore Colts. In the last year before the 1970 merger — the end of Lamar’s beloved AFL as a solo entity — the Chiefs, again quite appropriately, returned to balance the score sheet, taking care of the heavily favored and traitorous Minnesota Vikings, making it two pre-merger wins a piece. There goes the theory that the NFL played a much more superior brand of football in the 60s. 

After a few years, the AFL-NFL Championship Game became known as the Super Bowl. Who came up with that world-famous name? Lamar Hunt. And who suggested that the trophy be named after Vince Lombardi? Yep, you guessed it, even though Vince broke Lamar’s heart in the first poorly attended clash between the two leagues.

Called “Our Pleasant Leader” by the other members of The Foolish Club and inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1972, the great Lamar Hunt deserves a prominent position if the Mount Rushmore of the NFL is ever built. Just keep freakin’ Al Davis off the thing.

Extra Point 2: Other Articles

This issue of Pro! also includes the one-page profile “Paul Brown,” covering the co-founder, general manager and coach of the Cincinnati Bengals. Brown is always hailed as a genius, a man who revolutionized coaching, introducing such concepts as film study and calling plays from the sidelines. But I’ve always thought that he was a blowhard and downright jerk. First of all, he also co-founded the AAFL team in Cleveland, naming them the Browns after himself. Seriously?!? Talk about unfettered hubris. But, when Art Modell purchased the team in 1961 — buying out the coach’s 15% stake for $500,000 — Paul Brown’s star and sideline-to-sideline control began to fade. He clashed with the fiercely independent superstar Jim Brown and was eventually fired in 1963.

When the AFL expanded by two teams — the Miami Dolphins were first in 1966 — he was awarded the Cincinnati franchise in 1968. Now Brown was well aware of the upcoming merger and couldn’t give a crap about Lamar’s league: he only had eyes on a triumphant return to the NFL. In fact, he only agreed to join the AFL if it was guaranteed that the Bengals would be aligned in the same division as his former, now hated employer, the Cleveland Browns. Famously, he once said “I didn’t join the AFL to play the Denver Broncos.” No, the megalomaniac really wanted the chance to face off against Cleveland twice a year. Screw him.

“The Third Team” is a rather dense, six-page article on NFL officials. It’s a nice behind-the-scenes piece filled with a ton of interesting information. For example, the pay for an official in 1970 was $250 to $500 per hour based on longevity. Mightily impressive for the time but a pittance for today’s yearly average of $173,000.

Finally, there’s a three-page, full-color spotlight on Lon Keller, (above) the legendary artist who made his scratch painting covers for football programs. 

Extra Point 3: The Ads
One of the most enjoyable aspects of vintage football programs are the ads — and this issue of Pro! is absolutely packed with them. Of the magazine’s 76 pages, a whopping 71 feature some kind of advertisement, 28 of them full-page. So let’s end this Post-Graduate with a choice selection, reminders of the days when it was a man’s world, cars often exploded when rear ended and Pete Rose wasn’t a degenerate. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Post-Graduate Studies #19

The MU campus is mostly unused right now but
from time to time, our Professors will drop in for Summer courses.
This Week:
by Professor Matthew Bradley

You’ve heard the old expression about getting worse before it gets better?  That perfectly sums up the situation when our undergraduate curriculum ended with Defenders #78, as Ed “Kudzu” Hannigan—who poked his first tendril into this mag as penciler of #58, and has been strangling it as a writer and/or artist ever since—began his longest stint as scripter.  “Better” is defined here as his successor, J.M. DeMatteis, the only new writing talent by whom I readily recall being impressed in my waning Marvel days, with Chris Claremont remaining the late-Bronze standard-bearer; “worse” is Ed’s last 13 issues, and while too anal-retentive to skip them outright, I will, as an academic completist, fast-forward through these five as quickly and succinctly as possible.

Aptly, Defenders #79 (January 1980) finds invasive species Hannigan both writing and sharing penciling duties with Herb Trimpe, who since #68 has consistently proven himself a poor match with this series.  The lettercol provides us with some context, enumerating horrors past, present, and future:  “Ed is back, love it or like it, and he’d like to take this opportunity to thank fellow stalwart Steven Grant for the fantastic job he did wrapping up the Omega storyline….[Dave] the Dude was up from Georgia recently, and Ye Olde Scripter and he had a few chances to go out and…hammer out a plot idea or two!  [They share plotting credit on #89]…For a while [the book is] gonna be like two comics in one as we flash back and forth between Earth and Tunnelworld.”

The latter nonsense, which drags on until #83, finds wing-headed Aeroika guiding Doc, Hulk, and Namor to slumber safely in a valley protected by benevolent spirits, the Nya; “is there no end to this aimless tramping about?” asks an oddly self-aware Subby.  “Dreamspeech” fosters four ponderous pages of exposition, three devoted to local lore—“the narrative, the dream, and the prophecy”—about the slave-built citadel Ogeon and vulture-headed villain Ytitnedion (as usual, read ’em backwards), and one to explaining who the hell these original Defenders are.  Enslaved like the Sputs and Ixhoohxi, the flightless winged ones were created by Ytitnedion, the Nilffim-King and servant of the Unnamed, as “a symbol of good to degrade, freedom to cage…”

So it’s something of a relief to turn from this sub-Tolkien tedium to the Colorado town where Hellcat, Valkyrie, and Defender du jour Wasp try to free Jan’s hubby from the Women Warriors, who raided a nearby airbase, and their ever-dull male colleagues, the Mutant Force.  But they soon join Hank in captivity, with Val hampered by her Enchantress-imposed prohibition against fighting women, and outraged by the betrayal of Omega-refugees Ruth, Amber, and Dian, which is easily explained.  In case anybody was actually paying attention, I’d observed of #78 that “the match-up between the Distaff-enders and the ‘surprise villain’ is way too coincidental,” because this, shall we say, all-girl action is in opposition to—the Mandrill, whom “all women must love.”

Yep, he’s back, female-enslaving pheromones and all, ready to recoup his losses from Daredevil #112 with financing from the “gold raid”; it’s implied that the WW keep Burner, Slither, Peeper, Shocker, and Lifter—who at least warrant an expository footnote now—in line with more than just grapes and fawning.  But a pubescent Dian, immune to the Mandrill’s irresistible musk, has protected Jan from its effect by blocking the airholes in her jar, so they recapture the Quinjet and flee, calling Kyle for help.  As he prepares to defy the I.R.S. and S.E.C.’s court order by going back into action with Nighthawk’s “new aggressive weapons package,” the Mandrill realizes that the escapees’ destination must be the base and launches another raid, this time led by…Valkyrie.

A holdover from #78, Esposito epitomizes the ruin’s—er, run’s—musical inkers, none exceeding two consecutive issues until #88; ever the pro, Espo gives the proceedings a fairly uniform look among the fantasy folderol, while the Mandrill’s dramatic full-page reveal is perhaps better than the relatively minor villain deserves.  Mighty Mike is followed by Dan Green on #80 (February 1980), with Herb back to soloing on pencils, since it appears Ed handled the Tunnelworld jazz last time.  Alas, even Dan can’t keep Kyle’s new and improved duds, with laser cannon making him “the most heavily armed super hero around—with the possible exception of Iron Man,” from looking anything but stupid, yet at least this Mandrill arc is resolved, so there are compensations.

As Val, Hellcat, and the WW/MF box up the Las Animus contingent in a hangar—sealed off by Shocker with an electric field—and Mandy taunts his prisoner, a bored Clea takes Aragorn for a joyride back in New York.  Following a limited test flight over southwestern Kansas, Kyle wings to the rescue; quickly deducing the source of the field, he drops Val and Patsy into it, knocking it out while shocking them to their senses.  His forces routed, the Mandrill heads for his “Central American enclave,” diverting attention with an escape rocket that proves to contain a chained YJ, after which the reunited Pyms, Defenders, and Omega women head for home in the Quinjet, and hope to honor Amber’s request:  “Uh—could we not stop to fight anyone else on the way back?”

Meanwhile, back in Tunnelworld (Sigh™), Aeroika is puzzled when a dozing Hulk awakens as Banner—less so than the latter, whose memory is unusually clear due to the Dreamspeech—and posits that something is blocking his mind-meld.  Bruce wonders if Greenskin’s encounter with a Shmoo, er, “silvery glob” in #76 may be involved, but their discussion is tabled as a member of Ytitnedion’s vulture-headed royal family leads his archers in an attack on the “protected” valley.  “Hulk smash” is the order of the day, yet while he scatters the opposition, Ytitnedion gloats that, “though they fight the Unnameable, the dreaded Name is implanted in the brutish one’s brain—and only I…have the power to bring it to the fore—when the time is right!”  Bwuhahahahahaha!

Longtime Trimpe-inker Jack Abel draws the short straw in #81 (March 1980), and their reunion with the Hulk dominates the issue, excepting a two-page interlude where Kyle’s immediate arrest by the F.B.I. for “contempt of court and interstate flight [har] to avoid prosecution” mars the NYC homecoming.  The other 15 are devoted to the assault on Ogeon by “the four Defenders” (Aeroika evidently having become a non-teammate), who enter via the time-honored method of hiding in the back of a merchants’ wagon.  They see a captive ally, the wizard Xhoohx, paraded through the streets with his Orb of Ommennon, but their cover is blown and their planned rescue postponed when soldiers spot escaped slave Aeroika and a typically hotheaded Subby runs amok.

Facing the Crusher, a gigantic war machine, the Hulk is felled and captured, his subconscious knowledge having been activated, while Aeroika foments rebellion among his race.  Ytitnedion intends to dangle the possibility that the prophecy is coming true, as it appears to be when the winged slave wields a weapon, and then cruelly snatch it away, killing Xhoohx and shattering the orb.  The covers (like this one by Buckler/Milgrom) continue to be intensely forgettable, with the interior artwork a mixed bag—we rarely get a good look at Doc, and when we do in page 14, panel 1, he seems to be impersonated by Ronald Colman; Namor looks like he fell off Mount Rushmore in page 2, panel 1, yet is portrayed in realistic and excellent detail in page 22, panel 6.

In #82 (April 1980), Ghost Rider limpet Don Perlin succeeds Herb with a rarely interrupted run of nearly five years, his layout here and in #83 finished by my all-time favorite, Joe Sinnott, who will return in #93. So if we must endure two more issues of Tunnelworld—this one lacking even an Earth Interlude (EI)—at least the visuals take a quantum leap, with a Buckler/Milgrom cover that is, dare I say it, Brunneresque.  As a teen, less sensitive to the intricate dance between artist and inker, I had a favorably skewed impression of Don that I now attribute to the Perlin/Sinnott Defenders, especially with J.M. at the typewriter; Joltin’ Joe has been known to obscure as much as enhance a penciler’s style, yet while no great loss, Don is vastly more suitable here than Herb.

With its storybook-style border, the splash bodes well, surrounding Ytitnedion’s captives with all manner of lackeys and odd critters; in his gloat/recap, “Yt” complains that Xhoohx’s “pattern of speech is near incomprehensible,” yet tempting as it is to blame Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back won’t be released for four more months.  Having transferred most of his power into the orb, and used the rest to stave off hearing the Name, Big X has some invisible Nya goad the Hulk awake, but Yt sees through and squelches this attempted disruption.  Now enthralled, Greenskin is slated to crush Aeroika’s rebellion, although I feel compelled to ask—as I do whenever I watch Fritz Lang’s Metropolis—whether it’s really in Yt’s best interest to wipe out his own labor/slave class.

As the Hulk is decked out in Nilffim-Rider regalia recalling his days on K’ai, Yt turns to the orb, discovering by chance that it was shielded from magical but not physical attack, and shatters it.  Namor, Aeroika et alia hit sewer tunnels leading to the Citadel so that Doc, rightly suspicious of being manipulated, can do astral-form recon with his physical body safe; Subby spots a “wretch” who, despite the language barrier, clearly bears Yt a grudge, guiding them in via the dungeon.  Yt busts in on Doc and Xhoohx, fulfilling his threat to slay Big X for unleashing the Nya again, yet Doc, vexingly visible to the bird-borne Nillfim he seeks to outmaneuver, uses Xhoohx’s spell to re-form the orb, trapping the Hulk inside, and a slave knocks out Yt with the flat of his sword.

Making up for lost time, the EI in #83 (May 1980) comprises three subplots in as many pages:  in California, the Feds offer the MF a break in return for unspecified services; in New York, Patsy reflexively foils a bank robbery with Val while in her civvies, realizing that her abilities do not in fact depend on her costume; and Kyle’s counsel wonders if the media blackout re: the gold theft suggests a desire for secrecy sufficient for the S.E.C./I.R.S./F.B.I to let him off.  As for the main event, two things on the splash page instill confidence, the first being “At last: the cataclysmic conclusion of the Tunnelworld saga!”  The second is the sure and steady hand of Joe Sinnott as Strange reunites his astral and physical forms amid web-footed, multi-tailed, red-eyed sewer rats.

Doc rejoins Namor and Aeroika, bearing Xhoohx’s body, and they report the wizard’s death to a populace singularly unmoved by news of Yt’s downfall, fearing that the winged ones may only supplant the buzzard king as their oppressor.  Strange is forced to agree that victory remains elusive with the Unnameable still threatening multiple worlds, including our own; I was going to give Ed grudging points for the smoothly expository dialogue of the opening scenes when he bludgeoned me with this:  Ytitnedion “had no identity [Get it?  GET IT?] of his own, therefore, it did little good to defeat him!”  So it’s off to “the end of the world,” as the tunnel tapers to the unknown, to bury Xhoohx in the frozen wasteland and confront the foe where he is the strongest.

After a sudden blizzard helps the captive Yt break free, Strange shelters them from the storm by expanding the orb to encompass them all, completing the prophecy as Aeroika discovers he can fly.  The Unnameable draws all his power inside, creating a huge visage of the Hulk—who has flown Yt to safety—so Doc, Subby, and Winghead make an ocular ingress to his consciousness, battling “memory-images” of his foes (e.g., Rhino, Absorbing Man, Harpie [sic]), Leader).  Doc sweeps away the “hoarde” with a deluge and, as they face Greenskin and Yt directly, realizes that Namor was on the right track when asking, “If we are inside the Hulk’s consciousness, how can the Hulk himself be present?”; they must “see things as they are, deny the faulty premise!”

The bad news is that the strobe-light effect used in Doc’s mystic battle is applied to the lettering, which gave me, as Professor Tom would say, a headache in my eyes.  The good news (other than “Finis”) is that it’s a rare case where he combines his sorcerous and surgical skills, locating and sealing off the exact portion of the Hulk’s memory that contains the Name, withdrawn from the minds of all other victims in a last-ditch tactic.  Although Strange passes out from exhaustion, his unconscious mind conveniently supplies the spell to bring them out of Greenskin’s gray matter and shatter the orb again; unable to call on the now-forgotten Name, Yt plunges off the edge into the vacuum, so, quoth Subby, “The tyranny is ended, and the time for new dreams has arrived!”

Unsurprisingly, Joltin’ Joe helps Don wind this up on a visually respectable note; a nice touch is the contrast between Doc in the first panels of pages 26 (above), typically well-coiffed, and 27 (right), tousled after the battle, while the people of Ogeon on page 6 are a Mos Eisley-style mélange of shapes and hues.  And that’s it from Tunnelworld, bringing blessed closure to one of the most overlong and unlamented arcs in Marvel history, in which sentiment I know I am far from alone.  At the moment, my seemingly endless sojourn in Relocation Hell, as Mrs. Professor Matthew and I struggle to transition between our houses in Bethel and Newtown, makes the likelihood of any future post-graduate studies from this quarter uncertain, but maybe someday, if the stars realign...

Bradley out.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Post-Graduate Studies #18

The MU campus is mostly unused right now but
from time to time, our Professors will drop in for Summer courses.
This Week:
The Trail of...
¡C O N Á N  el  C I M E R I A N O!: 

An Interview with
Mexican Conan Comic Collector
and Savage Sword of Conan Contributor
by Professor Gilbert Colon

The Beginning of Happenings

In 1958, a dozen years before Marvel’s official foray into the Hyborian world of Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Cimmerian, and eight years before Lancer’s paperback editions, an unauthorized issue of a series called by Savage Sword of Conan “the Mexican Conan comics” hit stands in Mexico.  From south of the border it migrated northwards at least as far as Los Angeles, where it fell into the hands of Douglas Menville (a man seen briefly as a policeman in one scene of the 1958 cult film The Hideous Sun Demon, among his other varied movie credits).  The unofficial adaptation, La Reina de la Costa Negra (Queen of the Black Coast), was a 32-page four-color weekly “in the form of a long-running serial” that lasted till 1965, when a letter from L. Sprague de Camp, owner of the Conan rights, scared off the unlicensed publisher.  

The series’ title is taken directly from the May 1934 Weird Tales short story “Queen of the Black Coast,” but its “writers paid little attention to the original Howard material.”  This begs the amusing question, why rip off REH, only to not use REH?  (One notable difference, no doubt a selling point – several commentators have remarked how the Mexican adaptation is considerably bloodier than anything put out in the States.)  In Menville’s words, it had “primitive black-and-white artwork [and] a blond (!) Conan and his warrior-lady Belit, sporting what looks like a Spanish conquistador’s helmet!”

These seeming disparate elements are best embodied by the image of their fair-haired “conquistador Conan” wearing a horned Viking helmet, which makes its own kind of sense when one factors in Menville’s comparison of the art, all of it the work of one Salvador H. Lavelle, to the style of “Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant and Joe Kubert’s 1950’s comicbook Viking Prince.”  And as Marvel itself has pointed out, the visual comes directly from Howard’s own text in “Queen of the Black Coast”: “His horned helmet was such as was worn by the golden-haired Æsir of Nordheim.”  Irrespective of the blond hair, Viking helmet, and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Teutonic accent in Conan the Barbarian, it remains true that Conan was a black-maned Cimmerian, those ancient ancestors of the Celts.  But Aquilonia, Nemedia, Cimmerians, Picts – the Hyborian Age is hybrid history anyway.  Considering that Conan creator Howard hailed from Cross Plains, Texas, this so-named “Conan the Conquistador” could even be called a “Tex-Mex” concoction.  

“They had passed the southern borders…”

Around that time, Menville was in the editorial business of reviving neglected landmarks of genre fiction with fellow editor Robert Reginald, first through the magazine Forgotten Fantasy: Classics of Science Fiction, then through the publishing imprint Newcastle Forgotten Fantasy Library.  In possession of La Reina #2, he wrote to “The Hyborian Page,” a forum for reader mail, though the “letter was never printed [and Menville] assumed that La Reina was simply not of sufficient interest to anyone.”  Another reason for not pursuing the matter was presumably because he was busy with his own mainly nonfiction writing career, later in life venturing into fiction of his own with the novel Under Egypt from Wildside Press (publisher of many REH titles), which he co-authored with Rae Odell.     

Not long after Menville’s unpublished letter, Marvel’s resident REH scholar, Fred Blosser, independently brought the bootleg Conan in question to the attention of Savage Sword of Conan readers in his issue #26 article “The Other Queen of the Black Coast,” but there was even more to the story than that particular piece contained.  This motivated Menville, in issue #44, to expand upon Blosser’s research, turning in an extra definitive piece on the subject, “Conan the Conquistador.”  

In Professor Flynn’s coverage of Savage Sword of Conan #44, at Marvel University, he limited his “Conan the Conquistador” comments to this: “Now Mr. Menville has gone on to become quite the email pals with both Professor Matthew and Gilbert — so I’ll cut this short since I’m sure that the latter will chime in.”  Almost four decades later, Marvel University followed the not-quite-cold trail to the door of Mr. Menville – once extensively interviewed by Professor Matthew, in VideoScope #51 (Summer 2004) – in an attempt to get to the bottom of this Mexi-Conan mystery…

The Voice of the Man Who Almost Arrested the Hideous Sun Demon

It all began when Menville, browsing a downtown Los Angeles bookshop, pulled La Reina de la Costa Negra #2 from that long-gone rack or bin and plunked down coin for it.  What was the initial impulse that prompted him to pull it?  “I’m sure I bought the magazine because of my love of all things (well, most things) Howard, which began when I first discovered his work in the pulps, and also because it was such an oddity.  What?  A Conan comic book from Mexico?  You’re kidding!  I gotta have that!  That was pretty much my train of thought there, I believe.”  

Even the assembled sleuths did not have a complete run of La Reina.  “I remember finding #2 and #16 and eventually two or three others, but I don’t recall which ones,” Menville recounts.  “I found all of the issues I had in various used bookstores, most of which now no longer exist.  Roy Thomas lent me copies of #3 and #4.”  

Menville, in turn, lent his issues to Thomas…who apparently still has them!  “Roy never returned them, but he did pay me for the article.  He’s welcome to keep them, which is little enough thanks to a man who made a lifetime dream come true by reprinting in handsome hardcover volumes the entire run of my all-time favorite comic book, Planet Comics.”

Blosser himself only owned one issue at the time of his article (in which, according to Menville’s piece, he “made a few false assumptions”).  Asked if Blosser ever commented on his own more extensive follow-up work, Doug said, “No, I never heard anything from Fred.”

Also unclear, even today, is exactly how long La Reina lasted, with #16 being the last issue whose existence was substantiated by Team Menville.  “Since #2 was dated October 8, 1958, and the magazine was published weekly, I assumed that the first issue had to be dated October 1,” Doug reasoned. “I never made a special attempt to collect the whole run, but 1965 seems to be the last date any of us saw.  I don’t think anyone knows how many issues in total there were.”  (Glenn Lord, in his bibliographic The Last Celt, puts the number at 45 between the years 1965-66.)  [Dean's Note: The fabulously helpful GCD has cover scans for most of the 53 issues published between 1965-1966]

In his article, Menville wrote, “anyone with further information is encouraged to contact editor Roy Thomas or this writer…”  Alas, he recollects today, “No one ever contacted me about the comic; they may have contacted Roy.”  Thomas, in his “EDITOR’S NOTE,” also petitioned readers to provide the same information, expanding his plea for anything about “the 1950’s Avon creation ‘Crom the Barbarian’ which appeared in a couple of issues of a mag called Out of This World.”

“I had both issues of Out of This World Adventures (I think only two issues were published),” Doug notes, “and both had color comic inserts with two stories.  One was ‘Crom the Barbarian,’ with (I think) art by John Giunta, and the other was an SF tale called ‘Kenton of the Star Patrol,’ with art by Joe Kubert.  The Crom stories were standard sword-and-sorcery tales featuring a hero much like Conan, but further details escape me.  It was a daring attempt to attract younger readers to an otherwise average SF pulp, an echo of several pulps from the 1930s that ran comic inserts, although never in color.  Sadly, this experiment didn’t succeed.”

From the site, "An Age Undreamed Of"

Twilight of the Vikings and Conquistadors

Case closed.  Or is it?  Just as Menville built on Blosser’s initial research, others have built on Menville’s.  At the Cimmerian blog An Age Undreamed Of, Jeffrey Shanks (contributor to the McFarland book Conan Meets the Academy: Multidisciplinary Essays on the Enduring Barbarian) posted his own May 2013 follow-up, the Robert E. Howard Foundation’s nominee for Outstanding Achievement for Online Essay, “La Reina de la Costa Negra: The Mystery of the Mexican Conan Comics.”  It was the third update of something he wrote for REHupa #237 (October 2012) and revised for Comic Book Quarterly #11 (Spring 2013), and in it he cited Menville in both the body of his article and its bibliography, as well as Paul Herman’s 2006 book The Neverending Hunt: A Bibliography of Robert E. Howard, in order to trace “La Reina de la Costa Negra” back even earlier to 1952 when it had an 18-issue run “as a feature in an anthology series called Cuentos de Abuelito (Grandpa’s Stories).”  

Hunting for issues of this time-lost comic from down Mexico way is nowadays either a costly prospect or a dead end.  However in his essay, Shanks offers glimpses of “Mexican Conan” artwork beyond what Savage Sword of Conan displayed, along with links to many more scans (from Jungle Frolics and CROM!) discovered and collected subsequent to Menville’s eye-opening article.  In addition, threads with images can be viewed at CGC and Comic Book Collecting Association.  There is also an issue-by-issue breakdown site called Conan [MEX] and even a Facebook page dedicated to “La Reina de la Costa Negra.”  The Swords of Robert E. Howard, another internet REH forum, posts scans not only of cover art, but both Blosser’s original article and Menville’s.  The actual issue of Foreign Comic Collector (Issue 2/Dec. 2002) reprinting Shanks’ article “The Mystery of the Mexican Conan Comics” can be found online as a PDF.  

All of this owes a debt to Menville and his pioneering quest.  What began with Blosser almost ended with Blosser, had it not been for the dogged detective work of Doug Menville.  Thanks to his article, which built upon Blosser’s and took it to new heights, Menville laid a foundation that others have been building on to this present day.  In light of that fact, Shanks’ La Reina de la Costa Negra article could have arguably (and alliteratively) been subtitled “The Menville Mystery of the Mexican Conan Comics,” owing to the fact that “Conan the Conquistador” (Savage Sword of Conan #44) was the place where the first truly hands-on research and in-depth scholarship appeared 38 years ago.  


The Final Issue?