Shadow of the West

During last summer, I became hooked on reruns of Kojak and the scuzzy streets of nigh-bankrupt Noo Yawk in the mid-70s.  This year, I discovered Sixties gem The Wild, Wild West. I knew there was a Will Smith movie in the late 90s but the tv series was never shown in the STV region, to my knowledge.

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Essentially, this is The Avengers in Stetsons- US secret service agent Jim West is a James Bond of the 19th Century, foiling diabolical masterminds with an array of gadgets and the aid of Artemus Gordon, a bon vivant  master of disguise.

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West is played by gravelly, pugnacious bantam Robert Conrad;  a very handsome and athletic actor who would have made a very fine Golden Age Atom in the Wonder Woman series of the 70s.  Ross Martin plays “Artie” and the pair live like kings on a luxury train which also features a laboratory.

Like the Emma Peel era of the Avengers, the first season is shot in black and white and features a variety of death traps; numerous light bondage scenes (lingering on Conrad’s torso, in the main) and a gallery of epicurean super-villains; in particular, the singing dwarf megalomaniac, Dr. Miguelito Loveless.

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The second series is in colour. I’ve caught early episodes in the past weeks starring Boris Karloff, Sammy Davis Jr. and a UFO story with green space girls (which confirms my theory that Jim is an ancestor of the Jupiter II’s Mjr Don West.) I haven’t found it as enjoyable as the first season although it’s certainly even more bizarre.

However, WWW sent me to Aberdeen for the DC Showcase collected edition  of Bat Lash, an unconventional Western character from the late 60s. I only knew this gentleman loner from ads in sixties comics and a couple of appearances with the JLA- which we’ll see below…

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This is a cynically comedic comic with an amoral dandy as lead, with a love for flowers, fine wine and pretty girls. Later in the series, they attempt to give the roguish “Bat” a tragic backstory and an estranged bounty hunter brother, as if his self-interest weren’t heroic enough. The beautiful art by Nick Cardy is truly amazing and it’s well worth a look, although nothing really like the steampunk WWW.

I haven’t read many stories of Dc’s Western characters: the odd entry in the canon of Jonah Hex; or El Diablo; Firehair; the Vigilante  and even Super-Chief.  I did enjoy these stories of the Justice League however.

JLA Conway cowboys hex-justice-league-coverBatton Lash appears on both covers!

I know even less about Marvel’s Western stars. I think I had one issue of the late 60s Mighty Marvel Western circa 1970.

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I’ve read the Englehart Avengers issues with the “rannies” of course, but they’re all quite indistinct personalities.  Only the infamous and puerile  gay innuendo of the Noughties Rawhide Kid series gave him any colour.

The closest analogue to the cowboys and super-heroes comics cited just above was this early 80s Hulk adventure:

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 While he’s really another iteration of Ka-zar or even the Falcon, I was intrigued to read about Red Wolf in the early 70s; his solo series is one I’ve never read. I also knew of the western Ghost Rider from reprints in the final days of TV 21. If there were a Marvel Western star to revive, he has the name, of course, the supernatural shtick and the gimmicks.

 

PeacemakerBrowder smithBen Browder (left) also voiced the animated Bat Lash!

While Dr. Who has featured a few Western-themed adventures on tv, audio and in print,  some years ago I was daydreaming about a US remake of Dr. Who, in the vein of The Office or Life on Mars. WWW aside, the boffin or mad scientist seems a European trope and the Western drifter of the plains seems like a more appropriate image for an American Time Lord. And a VW hippy van made a good substitute for a police box, if the Doctor is something of a snake oil pedlar.

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Coming attractions, here and on Some Fantastic Place: Batman; the Spirit; the Fox and the Vixen.

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A Vagrant and a Wanderer on the Earth

This is the time of year where I revisit the sword-and-sorcery craze of the early-to-mid Seventies- which reared its hoary head again in the very early 80s, thanks to a Heavy Metal boom, the Schwarzenegger Conan Movie and the rise of role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons.

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It was Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian that got me first- very swiftly followed by DC’s Weird Worlds. Gil Kane’s elegant, dynamic and deadly Cimmerian seemed a departure to me: I associated Kane with tearful, tormented and declamatory DC heroes like these:

Dove Flashalthough I was aware, in passing,  of his work on Captain Marvel and Warlock–  who both also seemed weepy and temperamental. I didn’t know in the early 70s that Kane was one of the progenitors of the graphic novel, with His Name is Savage in 1968 and Blackmark, in 1971.

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 Four chapters comprising the first book of Blackmark – a kind of sci-fi Exodus-meets-Spartacus– appeared in Savage Sword of Conan 1-4, beginning in late 1974. The first chapter of the sequel, The Mind Demons, saw print the following July in the second issue of Kull and the Barbarians, a very short-lived sword-and -sorcery magazine from Marvel. I reviewed that issue last summer. https://materioptikon.wordpress.com/2014/08/16/idylls-of-the-king/

Blackmark was scheduled to return in issue 4 but K and the Bs was cancelled  with issue 3. Kane had regained the rights to the series from Bantam Books but his Shakespearean tragedy of ambition, revenge and loss would not resume until  the winter of 1979!

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Marvel Preview 17 prints The Mind Demons in full. It’s a Sword-and-Science feature, not unlike DC’s Stafire or the gruesome Ironjaw from Atlas. Gardner Fox’s prose barbarian Kothar was also set in a distant future but these characters operate in a world where technology is seen as magical in a fallen savage world.  Blackmark wields a sonic “demon” sword which prefigures the lightsabre. Obviously, John Carter amd Marvel’s Gullivar Jones (both of which were illustrated by Kane at some stage) originate the concept (albeit on Mars)  but we can include Killraven in this sub-genre too – and perhaps Kamandi, too.

Marie Severin , of Kull and Sub-Mariner fame, is art director and John Romita Jr is credited as Art Consultant. This very much a graphic novel- it is an illustrated text with the odd word balloon and the style is quite appealing. I’ve seen it used in later comics- such as  1990’s Secret Origins 50, with its O’Neil/Perez Robin story. The character designs of Blackmark are reminsicent of the Gullivar Jones strip from Creatures on the Loose that also appeared in the earliest issues of the UK POTA weekly.

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The driven Blackmark declares war on the mutant lords of Psi-Keep but is betrayed by a sleazy nobleman and his wife is assaulted and expires in the aftermath of the battle. Blackmark is implied to have a great destiny but is humourless and not very identifiable.

Why was Blackmark bumped from SSOC for a spin-off project like Kull? Possibly to bolster the title- the  pensive Atlantean king was never the hit that Conan was ( stories that were too sedate and concerned with disguise and illusion?). More likely, I think, is the length of the stories being adapted for the Conan magazine. Perhaps there just wasn’t room for Kane’s epic.

Cut now to DC, eight years later and, in the wake of the ERB-esque Sword of the Atom ( which I confess, I still haven’t read), a new sword-slingin’ special.

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 Like Blackmark, Talos of the Wilderness Sea is set in a post-nuclear war world. Carn Whitemane is a Moses-figure: the human child of mutants who bears a red birthmark, like a domino mask, when angry. He becomes bonded as a boy with a huge white feline called Star ( shades of Ka-Zar). More appealing than the haunted Blackmark, this prophesied redeemer of the mutants is also Mowgli – and of course, Kane’s  Jungle Book was published by Marvel in the early 80s.

The comic didn’t spawn any sequels however- nothing much happens and perhaps it’s too Marvel-esque even for late-80s DC.  While I first read it in 2011, it’s certainly a dozen years too late for comics’ brief Barbarian phase or a handful of years too early for the edgy Anti-hero age of the 90s.

For admirers of Kane’s work, Talos gives a melancholy flavour of what might have been. In a future post, I’ll try a comics genre with which I’m not at all familiar: the Western.

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Four Letter Words

As I indicated yesterday, having been entertained by the latest movie, I wanted to post some more images of Fantastic Four stories  that had stayed with me over the years.

In my primary school days, life rarely stretched beyond Strathaven and East Kilbride- maybe Glasgow or Clyde coast towns like Ayr or the more distant Girvan, where my godmother lived.

I had missed the most inventive period of Kirby’s work on FF but I think the late Sixties saw the comic at its most cinematic and gorgeous.

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Two early memories of the First Family from Craig’s newsagent

Happily, 10p  reprints enable me to catch up with the earlier exploits of the team in their “B-movie double feature” mode:

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The Diablo comic was from EK but the older one was from Baird’s pet supplies shop in Strathaven

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I missed the 100th issue of the FF – just as we seemed to miss every anniversary issue of every comic here- but, a few years later, the cover could be assembled from the bubble gum cards that accompanied these stickers:

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Of course, it wasn’t simply the fabulous foursome themselves who were an attraction of the comic in its sixties heyday. Many characters span off from concepts featured in the series, including the Silver Surfer, Captain Marvel, Warlock and the Black Panther.

The split book format had been popular in the 60s and I read at least one or two copies of  Tales to Astonish with the Hulk and the Sub-Mariner ( and originally Giant-Man) and  Tales of Suspense with Iron Man and Captain America; Strange Tales with SHIELD and Dr. Strange was one I never read as a child. Too outlandish!

Concurrent with the centennial issue of FF, I think, two new split books  were launched featuring Dr. Doom and the Inhumans- supported by a Kirby Ka-Zar riff on Tarzan’s New York Adventure and an Emma Peel-styled Black Widow.

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Doom is very much ahead of his time here, predating the antiheroes of 90s Marvel ( Sabretooth, Venom or DC’s Deathstroke). The vagaries of distribution in Scotland being what they were, I got the comics above in East Kilbride and this one, with the Skull’s Exiles, in Ayr.

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This one, somewhere in Glasgow city centre.

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The narration in the Inhumans strip reads very like a DC Fourth World comic.

The Inhumans was subsequently graced with Neal Adams art for a short while. Barry Smith took over from Kirby on Ka-Zar and brought a uniquely stylish (while still dynamic) fantasy flavour, not unlike his early Conan stories. The Petrified Man’s demise ( a rip-off from She) haunted me for a long while.

If Kirby hadn’t moved to National/DC, I think Thor, rather than the FF, would have been the vehicle for these guys:

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After Kirby departed, however, the next issue of the comic that I read was by Romita and starred Magneto and the Sub-Mariner. The issues after that had a darker, more menacing tone:

ThingHarknessI didn’t know there’d been two “Ben Goes Bad” stories earlier and wasn’t aware that Stan’s melodramatic scripts were becoming hackneyed and lacklustre ( cf. the Cap/Strucker/Gorilla Man stories).

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The High Street (near Bow’s), Glasgow

Conversely, I was too young to appreciate Thomas’s apartheid story that introduced us to T’Challa’s short-lived “Black Leopard” i.d.

As I indicated in previous blog posts, once Marvel UK began producing b/w weeklies, US Marvels became more scarce. Last time you saw my first Conway issue. with the awful Gor-inspired Makhizmo. I also read this dull Doom/Surfer story:

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I like the cover and the twist ending but otherwise…blah.

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Bought in the village in EK with a Defenders/ Sons of the Serpent comic that was far more cool.

My later encounters with the FF were sporadic and I never enjoyed the comic as much. The Inhumans story above returned to the early 70s status quo- out went Medusa and the Torch’s red togs. I never cared for Buckler and Buscema seemed inhibited or constrained- the FF never had the grandeur and hauteur of his Avengers. There’s also a jaundiced, sour tone in Thomas’s scripts. He sounds as disaffected in much of his 70s work, except perhaps in Invaders.

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Kirby drew some mid-to-late 70s covers and I was excited by this Strathaven purchase, since I knew Marvel Boy from Marvel Super Heroes reprints in the late Sixties. But here, Thomas employed his Red Raven/ Toro schtick by making a vintage hero dangerously unbalanced.

It was, as I said yesterday, Byrne’s FF, wordy as it was, that reconnected me to the Baxter Building gang. There’s something of Gil Kane’s sinewy dynamism in Byrne’s 80s work and I’ll be looking at Kane’s sword-and -science creations in the next post.

 

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4ever

As promised on my Some Fantastic Place blog, and in the wake of the rebooted FF movie, I wanted to post some more covers of Fantastic Four comics to try and identify what was so exciting about them in my younger years…

Marvel_Collectors'_Item_Classics_Vol_1_18These early reprint collections were a great introduction to the origins of the Marvel Universe and this story captures the urban drama/sci-fi blend of early FF adventures. This comic was bought in East Kilbride, when I was in primary school.

Maximus MoonKirby Kozmic: wide-screen adventures with “those nutty Inhumans ” and real-world events reflected in a 1969 moon landing tie-in. Like wild! All bought in Strathaven, while I was in primary school.

Sub-MarinerKirby’s gone, baby.I can remember looking at the letters page of this issue on a sunny day in my dad’s garden (aren’t they always?) and trying to picture baby Franklin in a Fantastic Five…

ThundraI didn’t realise this was a Steranko cover as a kid but I liked villain teams; still do. I’d seen Ben go bad before but Sue leaving here was, oddly, more disturbing. My intro to Thundra where I first learned the word “Ms.”

I read, in a desultory way, about three or four more US FFs in the period between 1972 and 75 but Kirby comics and Grell’s Legion held my real interest. Then circa 1975, the US Marvel drought was suddenly over.

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I really liked this Galactus vs. the High Evolutionary story; Gorr the Golden Gorilla reminded me of (the ” real”) Hank McCoy. The Salem story featured some of the wacky Perez villain designs that would, in about three years, gain prominence in New Teen Titans.  It was also was my last colour FF comic of the 70s.  These were also comics I bought in Craig’s, in Strathaven, during my time as a pupil at the Academy.

I didn’t return to the FF until the Byrne Era, by which time  I was a student at Strathclyde-the first time. I became a devoted follower, despite the deadly, wordy prose style ( I don’t know why Claremont is lambasted when Byrne’s dry as dust style isn’t)

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It was amusing to see the landscape style we knew so well from The Titans and Super Spider-Man in the US. The “Skrull milk” annual returned to the B-movie sci-fi roots of the comic.The She-Hulk was the first non-Kirby replacement member that really worked for me (since Crystal, anyway).  The mid-80s return of Jean Grey was audacious,  although it set a precedent for the resurrection of the honoured dead ( and paved the way for the terrible X-Factor title, a dreadful Ghostbusters riff).

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In the late 80s, the FF was shaken up again as Reed and Sue departed ( and ended up as rather awkward Avengers, briefly). I thought the “Quicksilver as villain” plot was the most interesting thing to happen to the character for about twenty years.

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Fantastic_Four_The_End_Vol_1_2At the very end of the Nineties, I got to see my childhood dream of a Fantastic Five ( although Stan and Jack would surely have found a better code name than “Psi-Lord”! Ugh!)

The Erik Larsen minsiseries World’s Greatest... returned to the comic’s  late Sixties heyday. Above, we can glimpse my favourite take on the Falcon, as, er, a falconer.

The 2007 FF The End series portrays a more mature Torch in a team of Avengers ( including that slinky lady Captain Marvel: a look I wish Carol Danvers had, rather than the military look she sports now. I believe this character might be Her aka Kismet aka Ayesha, the female Him/”Cocoon-Man”).

This series, despite the ominous title, is a joyful tribute to Stan and Jack with a cosmic scope that, I think, is the true secret of the First Family’s success.

(I enjoyed that so much there might be more…)

Coming soon: Blackmark; Talos of the Wilderness Sea; Moon Knight

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Benson and Edgy

Yesterday’s post on Marvel’s Savage Sword of Conan neglected to point out how long the series actually ran for. Nearly a decade elapsed between my last UK issue and returning to the title when Roy Thomas did in the early 90s. In fact, it survived until 1995- over twenty years!

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It’s a staggering 41 years since Carmine Infantino attempted to increase DC’s market share with sixteen new titles. One of the few first issues of that raft of titles that I ever read was Justice Inc. I got it in Rothesay that sunny summer, encouraged by the vibrant Kubert cover and  a glimpse in the old ferry terminal of Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life on a spinner rack.

Panther-4160-a Farmer Doc Savage His Apocalyptic Life

Despite the US nostalgia craze that birthed the Wonder Woman tv series and Reeve’s Superman, not to mention George Pal’s campy Doc Savage movie, the majority of pulp fantasy heroes didn’t take off in comics. Paul Levitz famously said that once DC jumped on a trend, it was a signal that it was over.

Certainly, Karate Kid, Kung Fu Fighter Beowulf and Stalker didn’t last terribly long and looked like shameless attempts to mimic Marvel  leftovers from the earlier part of the decade.  In fact, Marvel’s colour Doc Savage series had ended after nearly a year in the dying days of ’73, (although the b/w magazine, cross-promoting the movie, was a second attempt to find a market.)

I didn’t even buy that mock-biography of Doc in Rothesay- I chose a Star Trek paperback instead, although my brother bought another printing in the early 80s.

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Conan is the only 30s character who bucked the trend. Actually, the Cimmerian was on fire in ’75, if the launch of Kull and the Barbarians is any indication.

Justice Inc. 1 is the brutal story of a globetrotting adventurer, whose albino features become malleable after the shock of the murder of his wife and child . Benson is more believable than the lofty, utopian Doc Savage but his ally, Smitty, seems a combination of the loquacious Johnny and the giant Renny. He also reminds me of Marvel’s Beast, Hank McCoy.

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The second issue continues with the mannered tough-guy scripting of Denny O’Neil but King Kirby replaces Al McWilliams’ gritty realism. “The Skywalker” concerns a sonic weapon and a process which renders metal invisible. I wonder if George Lucas read it?

This is the only JI comic I didn’t own in the 70s. It introduces two new operatives , Rosabel and Josh; the latter’s “dumb darkie act” is jarring to modern sensibilities. In the text page, assistant editor Allan Asherman speculates on “Death Wish” star, Charles Bronson, playing a movie version of Benson. The comic feels very much in tune with the zeitgeist: a Kirby version of the Punisher or the Spectre as the villain is undone by his own weapon and plunges to his death.

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The third issue, “The Monster Bug” which I might have bought in East Kilbride, utilises Col. Sodom, a villain from an O’Neil/ Robbins Shadow story.

It also introduces a fourth operative, chemist Fergus McMurdie, whose wife is transformed into a monster by the Colonel’s bacteriological weapon. Asherman suggested last issue he could be played on screen by “any tall performer with a working knowledge of the dialect”… First Meenister?!

There is an in-joke where Benson disguises himself as “Allan Ash” at an automobile show. Sodom is, of course,  transformed by the bug and plunges to his death, just like the Skywalker. On the letters page,  we learn tha,t while the Avenger was created by the originators of the Shadow and Savage, a Paul Ernst wrote the books.

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“Slay Ride In the Sky”, the final issue in the series and one I bought in Strathaven, concerns an insurance scam by the owner of a failing airline. He uses radio-controlled gulls (!) loaded with explosives to destroy his planes.  The villain’s execution of any survivors brings down the wrath of the Avenger upon him. In the climactic biplane duel, Jason Comb- did you guess?-  falls to his death since he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.  In those days, I would have preferred a Kirby cover but I prefer  Kubert now.

So, why did the dogged and thrilling Avenger fail? Perhaps because of the repetition in the stories but, really, I wonder if the DC audience for Kirby’s art might have diminished as early as 1973. Perhaps that dynamic Marvel “look” had fallen out of favour, replaced by the naturalism of artists like Chaykin , whose own 1975 pulp homage for Atlas, the Scorpion, was reworked at Marvel as Dominic Fortune.

Or perhaps DC lost its nerve, in the battle for the marketplace. Certainly, the company had seemed more experimental and original  in the very early 70s. Compare the Relevancy issues of Green Lantern/Green Arrow, the Fourth World and the blackly humorous “Mystery” comics  with later fare like Richard Dragon, Claw and the Freedom Fighters. But critical acclaim didn’t translate into longevity.

I suspect, in the end,  the pulps just seemed too old-fashioned. “Heroic Fantasy” heroes could employ broadswords and laser beams ( as DC’s Warlord and Starfire demonstrated) and soon Marvel would be saved from financial disaster by Star Wars.

As you may know, DC also  produced a JI  miniseries in 1989 with art by Kyle Baker, possibly after the response to Chaykin’s yuppie revision of the Shadow. I still prefer the icy Avenger to the pure-hearted Doc and if I were pitching a tv series to cash in on Marvel’s Agent Carter, I would cast an eye on Justice Inc.

Coming soon: Blackmark

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A Can of Worms

Last night, on one of those obscure Sky Channels ( Information TV ), I stumbled across White Zombie, a 30s Lugosi shocker which I probably last saw in 1978. It surprised me to think Conan’s creator, Robert E. Howard might well have seen it, or Karloff’s Mummy; they seem right up his street. It’s easy to think of Howard as an antiquated figure, with his bloody pulp tales of lost cities and weird magic. Yet he lived through the Jazz Age with its Art Deco and automobiles.

So, in honour of the fact that I bought the first Marvel Conan Treasury in Blackpool, 35 years ago this week, here is a post on REH’s Conan and his Pictish hero. Bran Mak Morn.

I’ve just read two library editions of Conan from Orion Books. They feature stories which would be adapted in the Giant Size Conan and Savage Sword series: the tales of kingship and betrayal, mostly, but also some of the more extreme and sadistic stories, like The Slithering Shadow and Pool of the Black One.

I only read four issues of the US SSOC until moving on to the UK reprints in the very late Seventies. My second experience of the magazine was issue 17, which we’ll come to below.

The People of the Black Circle is a three-part serial set in REH’s versions of India. ( I think). It’s inspired by Talbot Mundy’s colonial, mystical adventures and the adaptation by Thomas, Buscema and Alcala is exactly how I always picture the Savage Sword version of Conan.

A secret order of magicians enchant the king of Vendhya and his sister, the Devi Yasmina, seeks revenge with the aid of Conan, who has joined the hillmen of what appears to be Afghanistan. The subplaot features the revolt of the seers’ acolyte Khemsa and his lover, Yasmina’s maid.

SSOC 16 also reprints the article, A Probable Outline of Conan’s Career, with new (old) illustrations from Weird Tales, last seen in Marvel’s Savage Tales. There is a portfolio of drawings of Conan, Belit, Red Sonja and Kull and oddly, a random page of postures and poses by a Planet of the Apes chimp- actor!

The second strip is the fifth chapter of Walt Simonson’s dense, stlylised adaptation of REH’s Hyborian Age essay, which is a chronicle of bloodshed and ruin.

The third strip is Worms of the Earth part one, by Thomas, Barry Smith and Tim Conrad. A violent, gloomy and doom-laden revenge story of the Roman occupation of  in Britain, it opens with a crucifixion scene. Marvel was very big on crucifixions in the mid-70s. Something to do with Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar, perhaps.

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The story has a real historical setting: Eboracum, or York as we know it and the hero is Bran Mak Morn ( or Brian McMorrow, as I like to think of him). In the Conan stories, the Picts are essentially Fenimore Cooper’s Mohicans, murderous slayers of frontiersmen. Here, they resemble the people who fortified the Moray Coast. The art for this story is gorgeous and moody but people tend to be brutish or ugly- very off-model for Marvel.

SSOC 17, from February 1977, was my second issue and even in those days of Weetabix Dr Who promotions  and Super Spider-Man and the Titans, I was aware of the sexuality shimmering through its pages. There are several images of female and male torsos and hindquarters in both magazines, which made them feel tremendously racy.

In the second chapter of the Conan story, we see more instances of the “oriental” powers of hypnotism and Yasmina is kidnapped by the Black Seers of Yimsha. ( Of course, in the final installment, Conan rescues her after some nasty reincarnation experiences)

The final chapter of Simonson’s stylish Hyborian Age is printed and a review of Howard’s Spanish Main piracy stories. Fred Blosser probably inspires Thomas here to adapt Black Vulmea’s Vengance for the colour Conan Super Special of 1977.

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The second part of the Pictish tale opens with a stunning double page fenland shot. A horrible saga of tyranny and revenge climaxes as the Pictish king makes a dreadful bargain with the subhuman inhabitants of Dagon’s Barrow. It’s an unsettling horror story, which was reprinted in colour in 2000 and its subhumans also resemble the People of the Dark from the 1975 Conan story by Alex Nino.

The Lovecraftian elements and those from Arthur Machen are, unfortunately, linked to 30s notions of degeneracy and miscegenation. Nonetheless, there is an eerie atmosphere at Burghead and its ceremonial well- REH evokes that mood very well.

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As I said, I followed the UK version of SSOC intermittently up until February 1981, when my obsession with sword and sorcery sputtered out, eventually. Every summer recently, however, it has flared back into life temporarily. For future posts, I’m thinking of revsiting Gil Kane’s Blackmark and Lin Carter’s Kylix stories. I also plan to look at the O’Neil/Kirby adventures of another 30s hero, the Avenger.

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I Shall Shed My Light Over Dark Evil

Lynda Carter’s portrayal of Wonder Woman on the Horror Channel repeats has such charm and innocence that I have warmed to the character in a way I hadn’t before. This is especially true of the WWII episodes, which were never shown in my area in the 70s, to my knowledge.

Wonder Woman is one of several comics icons, completely emblematic of their times, whose stories I read but never really connected with. Iron Man is another. So is Green Lantern. I probably owned three or four GL comics as a kid, including the infamous O’Neil/Adams issue below.

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The only time I ever really followed the character was in the 80s in the Wolfman/Englehart/Staton era. Today’s post looks at the facsmile 1963 Giant Green Lantern Annual which captures the Silver Age space cop at the height of his success.

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Battle of the Power Rings: after foiling a freight robbery, Hal finds he’s losing power thanks to Sinestro. The “satanic-faced foe” impersonates Hal at a meeting of Green Lanterns on the planet Yquem. When Hal escapes Sinestro’s yellow cage  in his underwear, the pair have a power ring duel. Sinestro is exiled by the Guardians to orbit the universe in a green capsule for 18 billion years!

This is a hugely imaginative, even mystical, tale. The Packer Gang aren’t worthy of Hal’s interest – and petty crime seems a silly distraction in the series- but the exotic mythos of Green Lantern is something else again. We are introduced to a number of the bizarre Corps members: the insectoid Xaos, the crystalline Barrio; the piscine Aeros; and Green Lantern T41A- a monocular being with tentacles and six legs. Kane’s designs are fanciful and mould-breaking.

Zero Hour in the Silent City: by contrast, a humdrum short about the limitations of the Power Ring. Pieface is established as GL’s secret biographer. Safecrackers using a supersonic drill, which somehow cancels other sounds, accounts for the title. Broome obviously liked it and reworks it three issues later for “Zero Hour in Rocket City”.

Duel of the Super Heroes: This is the “first in a proposed series” for the “dynamic duo”(!) Green Lantern and Flash. While we see the glamorous  lifestyle of early-60s Californians, as Iris West interviews Hal Jordan, Green Lantern has fallen under the domination of the Spectrans. These aliens inhabit a world “beyond the speed of light”.

Flash and GL clash and the Scarlet Speedster, having become top-heavy (as per the cover image), is then subjected to a Spectran mind-probe ( or “computo-analyser”). The two heroes foil the alien plan to duplicate their powers and invade, then reveal their identities to each other. It’s a rather hokey but efficient way of teaming up National’s New Frontier answer to Batman and Superman.

Special features include “Green Lantern Cover Classics” and How I Draw Green Lantern: a three-page masterclass by Gil Kane, with sketches of GL’s supporting cast.

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Too Many Suspects: from GL April 1949, a gutsy tale of the Golden Age/ Earth 2 GL, Alan Scott. Crook Del Lupin gets people to confess to his crimes via hypnosis but falls to his death at the climax ( this is becoming something of a motif at the ‘Optikon, with the recent JSA/Key story and the upcoming Justice Inc. posts!)

We see Doiby Dickles’ green rocket distress signal but curiously, apart from flight, Alan’s ring doesn’t exhibit any other properties. This Alex Toth strip is fabulously visual and virtually the best thing in the comic. It was also reprinted in the comic reviewed here- https://materioptikon.wordpress.com/2012/10/18/the-bear-necessities/

Secret Life of Star Saphire: Carol Ferris is abducted by the immortal alien Zamorans (amazons) who transform her into their queen, Star Sapphire. She hunts Green Lantern with her powers of flight, teleportation and mind-over-matter. However, since she actually wants to be overcome by the hero during her art gallery thefts, the Zamarons elect to strip her of her powers and memories.

This is a giddy tale of 60s gender politics, with a touch of Gene Roddenberry. “Men are a distinctly inferior species!” “I’m defeated. How terrible…no! How wonderful!”The advanced musical powers of the Zamarons costume-creating barrel organ also anticipates Star Trek.

 Starsapphire

Star Sapphire was a Kanigher/Elias Flash villainess from the very late 40s. an invader from another dimension, she also had contempt for males. This almost-dominatrix element was present in my introduction to the split personality Carol Ferris- SS.

Sapphire Carol

Carol/SS has a much stronger visual than her 40s counterpart and would become a bigger player in the 70s Secret Society of Super-Villains. In the 80s, Englehart would make the connection between the Guardians and the Zamarons and SS would be revamped as a more strident and venomous opponent. Jim Owsley would have her murder GL Katma Tui in a horrible storyline in the late 80s Action Comics Weekly. If there had been a sequel to the GL movie, I imagine Star Sapphire might have teamed up with Mark Strong’s Sinestro.

While this comic was designed to evoke the early 60s, 1998 actually seems more historical: Lost in Space! Star Trek Insurrection!

I am struck by the fact that Green Lantern has a great design, referencing both the blackness of space and the green of oxygenated life. The actor Nathan Filion captures him well in animation: a laconic space cowboy. Hal Jordan is Han Solo. And yet so dull in his stories. A toy salesman. A trucker. An insurance salesman. And the villains! The Tattooed Man. Black Hand.

Goldface.

Replacements for Hal Jordan have had limited success too. Architect John Stweart was reimagined as a marine and a marksman and freighted with tragedy. Recent creation Arab-American Simon Baz was a suspected terrorist and “edgy”90s  imagery was grafted on to the character. Only the 90s Lantern, Latino comics artist Kyle Rayner, ever worked for me.

I wonder if I would have liked GL more if Jim Starlin had served as writer and penciller on the title. His cosmic archetypes of Chaos and Death and his characters’ psychedelic exploits might have been more appealing to me.

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The Emerald Gladiator has, nonetheless, been a hugely successful lead for DC in the last decade and was awarded his own movie in 2011. Although Ryan Reynolds’ tediously contemporary “goofy man-boy” portrayal is out of kilter with suave test pilot Hal Jordan, the film honestly improves with age.

Coming soon:Robert E. Howard and Bran Mak Morn

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