The Final Conqueror

When I was in Glasgow at the start of the week, I saw the hardback “Tales of the Batman” by Archie Goodwin- something of a coincidence since I have been plugging my gaps in the Detective run that featured the 70s Manhunter.

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Today’s post is a “two-fer” and we start with Goodwin’s first issue of ‘Tec, issue 437 from November 1973. Replacing the legendary Julie Schwartz as editor, Goodwin reverted to the 1940s masthead as part of his experimental approach to reversing declining sales.

 

The ghoulish Golden Age-style cover heralds the coming of Brave & Bold stalwart Jim Aparo, whose “crisp and gutsy” style is used to great effect in a moody, silent sequence. “Deathmask” is a pulp-style story of corruption, murder and exoticism as Bats investigates the avatar of the Xochipec god of death.  Bruce Wayne is portrayed as an “effete snob”in this run . Just before my epochal 150th post, we’ll look at what Novick and O’Neill had wrought in the main Bat-book and contrast Goodwin’s approach.

The exoticism continues in “The Himalayan Incident”. This is the debut of Manhunter by Goodwin and 26-year-old Walt Simonson.  It’s  a stylish approach to a ground-breaking character, “the eye of a storm of violence and death”. The  costume, the healing factor, the zen archers and the clones serve to remind me of Shang-Chi and Iron Fist. Even the house ad for Chaykin’s Iron-Wolf in Weird Worlds feels very Marvel.

I actually owned a  copy of this landmark issue in the mid-70s. No idea how- maybe it turned up in our village shop, or was swapped with another kid. Certainly, it seemed a little different to my previous experience of ‘Tec:

 

In any case, let’s return to the ebay purchases…

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The following month sees the move to the 100-page format for Detective Comics.  Issue 438 opens 1974 with a Haunted House story, “A Monster Walks Wayne Manor”.  In the mothballed manor, Alfred is attacked by a mutated Ubu, the brutish servant of Ra’s al Ghul. It’s a short but effective tale of greed and revenge. Aparo’s imaginative Batman logo is formed from ominous storm clouds.

On the letters page, Goodwin explains 70s economics and the nature of comics publishing. He indicates that the reprints will be themed or interconnected across DC books. Much of the remainder of the book is made up of Silver Age  stories which involve some detection. The stars are generally former back-up features from Schwartz’s tenure.

“World of the Magic Atom” is a story of sci-fi and magic by Fox, Kane and Greene. The acrobatic Atom recalls Spider-Man although sans humour and pathos.  Zatanna is a charming gamin-esque character but the story is a little polite and slow. How might a Ditko  depict the Irish mythology aspects of the sub-atomic world?

Fox returns with the masterly Joe Kubert in “The Men Who Moved the World”, a Lovecraftian adventure for Hawkman and Hawkgirl. The Winged Wonders are primal and god-like in this Lost World tale, my favourite reprint in this issue.

“Gotham Gang Line-Up” is a Finger/Giella story from the era of Batman’s New Look. A crime combine holds a contest to decide who’ll have the honour of executing the Dynamic Duo. Alfred sacrifices himself to shove B&R out of the path of a giant boulder.

It’s a dull and childish incident, fuelled by a bizarre bout of homosexual panic as it replaces the faithful butler with matronly Aunt Harriet, who lent a sitcom flavour to the tv show.

“The House that Fought Green Lantern” is a forgettable short by Fox, Kane and Giella. Hal Jordan pursues a fugitive bank robber to the booby-trapped mansion of a recluse. it’s the kind of harmless, if slightly tedious, juvenile fare from DC in the early 60s. Thankfully, the book improves with the last strip.

As a former editor of war books, Goodwin’s second chapter of Manhunter, “The Manhunter File”, involves globe-trotting combat and focuses on the hero’s weaponry. He uses the narrative to build the mystery of Paul Kirk’s death in 1976. In addition to Interpol agent Christine St. Clair, Goodwin introduces her superior Damon Nostrand.

Manhunter reads like a superior spy movie treatment and Simonson’s pencils are ornate and dynamic. If Goodwin and Simonson had launched their interpretation of The Hounds of Zaroff ( a cracking little Gothic picture; you should see it) one year later at the Other Company, we might now be watching Hugh Jackman play Paul Kirk in the cinema.

Next: Night of the Stalker

All images presumed copyright of their respective owners

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The Twisted History Mystery

This morning’s post revisits the last Seventies Tabloid Edition in my collection.  As a fan of the late Sixties/early Seventies Legion, I coveted it for many years, finally getting a copy on ebay five or six years ago- one signed by artist Mike Grell himself.

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It was originally published in the spring of 1978, in the period where the regular Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes comic was giant-sized. It was generally scripted by Paul Levitz and his eventual successor Gerry Conway. The wedding story is bookended by issues 236 and 237.

In the regular comic, as with many DC books of the period, Marvel’s themes and tropes were commonplace.  Conway had built up governmental pressures that would mirror those experienced by The Avengers in the same year. Tragic energy-being Wildfire, created by Dave Cockrum and Cary Bates, was a combative character blending elements of Hawkeye, Cyclops and Iron Man.

This story marks  the second official wedding of two Legionnaires- the first being Duo Damsel and Bouncing Boy in SLSH#200.  As such, it’s in line with the future revealed by the Adult Legion two-parter of 1967.The story is  on a grand scale to match the dimensions of the comic with two alternate futures, NYC in the  twentieth century and the end of time itself.

The tale begins with Superboy flying into the future for the wedding ceremony. Smallville is described as being “just inland from the Eastern Seaboard”- was it John Byrne that established the Kansas location, about a decade later?

Metropolis a thousand years hence now resembles an armed camp. At Supey’s behest, Princess Projectra conjures an image to trace the history of the militant 30th century. However, the wedding ceremony goes ahead with numerous guests including the Substitute Legionnaires ( in their scanty Grell garb); Duplicate Boy of Lallor and Levitz and Grell, in Stan and Jack mode.

After a twenty-one blaster salute, a Lunarite raider kidnaps the newlyweds. Again in Marvel mode, Supey and Legion Leader Wildfire clash over the rescue mission taking precedence over the twist in time.

In chapter 2, ” Murder by Moonlight” Imra and Garth escape from Oseldan Khan, the despot of New Cathay, but contemplate suicide over slow suffocation on the Moon until rescued by Rokk and Tinya. Timber Wolf’s speech is oddly formal and stilted- a trait Conway would pick up on in later years.

Chapter 3 “The Twisted History Mystery”, sees a party of Legionnaires in 20th-century guise tracking the mystery villain from the UN to the NY pavilion at the abandoned World’s Fair grounds. The antagonist is revealed as the Time Trapper, an early Sixties foe. Jeckie, in black polo neck and white dungarees, has a more proactive role in this story than she’s had for three or four years.

This chapter was interrupted by a two-page spread featuring the LSH in 2959. 2968 and 2978. We therefore get a glimpse of the Forte/Swan era classic costumes.

LSH centre spread

The climax of the story comes in chapter 4, “Showdown at the End of Eternity”. Star Boy looks muy macho with his new, deep v-neck costume and weaponry. Supey and Wildfire have another spat and Dream Girl, another underused heroine in the Grell Era, has a prophetic vision of the Trapper’s location.

Sixties guest-star Rond Vidar returns for the second time in Levitz’s first run as scripter, with his hypertime drive.  Blaxploitation Legionnaire Tyroc, who towered above the other males in the centrespread, is left to stand guard for the second time in the story and has no dialogue.

The Trapper’s citadel at the desolate end of time is a classic design from a sci-fi paperback cover. The assault on the Trapper’s lair is a wordless action sequence, where T-Wolf’s acrobatic ability is highlighted. Nowadays, he has Wolverine’s heightened senses and claws.

The Trapper’s origins as one of the extra-dimensional Controllers ( introduced in the Shooter/Swan heyday of Adventure) are revealed and Ferro Lad’s death is revisited yet again. The Trapper’s plot to use the all-poweful Miracle Machine to wipe out the Legion is thwarted by the focused willpower of the team. The villain is catapulted into a Ditko-esque dimension of floating pathways and serpentine jaws.

The dystopian Earth reverts to normal, Wildfire and Clark make up  and Garth and Imra leave for their honeymoon. Everyone laughs heartily like the end of a Glen A. Larson tv show.

The story is colourful although the Legionnaires themselves seem a little bland .  I don’t care for Vinnie Colletta’s inks in general and the placement of dialogue is often clumsy, reading right to left on some pages and one balloon appears twice. The cliche oriental lunar warriors seem clumsy and in poor taste by modern standards. Also, in hindsight, it’s ironic that a rebooted timeline is the major plot point since it’s been the Legion’s curse for about twenty-five years.

El Lad

On the other hand, it’s a mammoth history lesson on the LSH. Witness the eight-page feature on The Origins and Powers of the Legionnaires by Levitz and Jim Sherman.  Yes, it does feature an Imskian Space Pimp and a one-off Kirbyesque redesign for gay fan-favourite Element Lad. It also confirms Levitz’s dismissive attitude towards Tyroc, who is described as “on leave”. Even by 70s standards, the only black Legionnaire was problematic but instead of fixing him and his seperatist milieu, Tyroc was eventually written out in a homage to Roots! It took almost a further five years to replace him with another black hero.

Despite all that, trivia fans get info on all the Legionnaires in order of joining plus the Subs in their 60s uniforms -as would be the case in their remaining 70s appearances- and the Legion Reserve, including the ultra-obscure Kid Psycho.

In the present day, Levitz has written the LSH for nearly four years of drip-feed plotting, with unresolved plots featuring enigmatic characters like Harmonia and the new Glorith. Also, some of the most visually interesting Legionnaires were decanted to another comic. Legion Lost.  Unsurprisingly, the Legion has been cancelled once again. But as the most recent issue of Smallville Season Eleven indicates, the concept never really dies for long.

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Coming soon: Dave Gibbons and the Doctor

All images presumed copyright of their respective owners

Tagalog Klassiks 1978

Back in May, I wrote about the Thomas/ Buscema/Alcala Conan story Black Colossus and its impact on me in 1977. Today’s post concerns the third Conan Treasury Edition from Marvel: one I bought online when I moved up here to Moray.

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Marvel Treasury Edition 19 from 1978 is described as a ” cornucopia of Conan Classic”. The cover featured story is Iron Shadows of the Moon, originally printed in Savage Sword of Conan (American magazine version) in February 1975.

This story is a REH original, printed in Weird Tales in 1934 with the more lush and romantic title Shadows in the Moonlight. Ironically, the story opens with a bloody and brutal act of revenge. Having rescued a runaway white slave, the aristocratic Olivia, from a thinly-disguised Arab sadist, Conan is depicted as death’s oarsman in a phantasmagorical scene by the team of Buscema and Filipino inker, Alcala.

This juxtaposition of hallucination and butchery is the story’s strongest point. Conan and  Olivia take refuge on an island in the inland Sea of Vilayet. There they shelter for the night in a structure of green stone, in a chapter entitled “What Dreams May Come”. REH occasionally used retro-cognitive dreams to reveal plot points: here, a curse is laid on a tribe of black giants by a god whose offspring they tortured to death. The giants have been transformed into iron statues by the incantation: “Yagkoolan Yok Tha, Xuthalla!” Howard and Thomas hint here at a system of magick for their fantasy world. “Yag” is the green planet mentioned in Tower of the Elephant; “Yagkoolan” is an oath spoken by the wizard Pelias in The Scarlet Citadel and “Xuthal” the lost city of lotus eaters in The Slithering Shadow.

The chapter ends with the appearance of the corpulent pirate leader Sergius, introduced retroactively in the Thomas original At the Mountain of the Moon God, which we  discussed in June.

The third chapter, “The Haunting and the Horror” concerns Conan’s rescue by Olivia and an attack by a giant ape. This lengthy sequence seems a rehash of the encounter with Thak in Rogues in the House ( the previous original Conan story)  and also recalls the White Apes of Barsoom.

 The pirates meanwhile are atatcked by the living statues. it seems to me that these two attacks not only mirror each other but they speak of racial anxieties that will manifest themselves in other REH stories. The story ends, however, with one of my most favourite proclamations by a sword-and-sorcery character: “We’ll scorch King Yildiz’ pantaloons yet, by Crom!”

Conan sets off for a new life of piracy with the Red Brotherhood, just as he did two stories previously with the Barachans in Pool of the Black One. Howard would reuse several elements from Iron Shadows ( the high-born slave- Octavia, rather than Olivia; the metal monster; the wicked Eastern villain) in The Devil in Iron, in a story which I like better although it’s less imagistic. Nevertheless, this is a very faithful adaptation and beautifully coloured. I first read it in the Sphere paperback Conan the Freebooter, circa 1978.

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The Hyborian Age of Conan: another reprint of the two- page map of Conan’s world amended this time to reflect stories published in SSOC.

A Portfolio of Howard’s Heroes: three pin-up pages featuring King Kull and Cormac Mac Art by David Wenzel (with a faint flavour of Smith-Conan)and a triptych of Sonjas, including her original tomboyish Barry Smith design.

The People of the Dark: this is a colour reprint of a story from SSOC (US) #6, June 1975. It’s pencilled by another Filipino artist, Alex Nino, the co-creator of piratical Captain Fear and  one  who worked on Korak, Kull, Kamandi and Kong! (DC’s 1975 cave boy, not the ape from Skull Island).

Nino’s artwork is highly stylised and his design is striking. The story is a gloomy one, using the device of reincarnation to tie a modern tale of lust and revenge to a tragedy from Conan’s teenage years. It begins with the murderous monologue by Scotsman(!) Jim O’ Brien who pursues his English love rival into a lost chasm of the hills. There are echoes of Welsh author Arthur Machen as the pair and their sweetheart encounter The Little People: possibly the same creatures from the Bran Mak Morn story “Worms of the Earth”

O’Brien falls in the cavern triggering his repressed memories of his life as Conan, who is stalking a Gunderman for a girl of Venarium. The struggle against the soldier and the “Children of the Night” ends in tragedy but in the modern day, O’Brien’s sacrifice repays Conan’s perceived debt.

It’s an atmospheric and dynamic weird tale (ahem), unusally employing first person narration. It really is an achievement in terms of Bronze Age comic art. Unfortunately, the pessimistic tone and murderous motivation of its dualled protagonist leaves Marvel’s Conan a far more morally compromised character than before.

bw back cover

Here’s a b/w version of the back cover. While a beautiful comic, it’s not quite so rewarding a read compared to the previous Conan Treasury.

Coming soon: The Legion and the Doctor

All images presumed copyright of their respective owners

The Best Defence

Today’s post returns to Marvel Treasury Editions of the Seventies. The Defenders Treasury for 1978- possibly on sale at the end of ’77- was the last oversized “tabloid” comic I bought “back in the day”. The remainder that we’ll revisit in this series were all obtained through ebay, that wonder of the modern era.

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I followed the Defenders pretty faithfully between 1975 and 1976, when Avengers was still a prohibited title by dint of its British weekly incarnation. Those were the Gerber Years of the Headmen; the Red Guardian; elves and fawns and Bozos.

The Day of the Defenders: in our last post, we looked at the plot and art of this moody blend of sorcery and sci-fi. Dr. Strange had lost his own title by this point but Subby would limp on for a few more years. The cameo by the villainous Llyra recalls Thomas’ golden touch on the glory days of this B-list amphibious anti-hero. Namor is in many senses the godfather of Wolverine and Conan and I’m puzzled by his lack of similar success. Perhaps it’s something to do with his aristocratic manner? In any case, I feel he was ahead of his time in the Silver Age.

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The bonus double-page pin-up previously appeared in the fiftieth issue of the Defenders regualr book. Keith Giffen’s work is very Kirby-esque, especially on Val’s silver and gold armour. Moon Knight’s MO is too similar to Nighthawk to my mind but in those days he was barely a cult character.

The New Defender: in his short run on this title, Englehart relies very much on plot elements and character bits borrowed from Thomas’s Avengers- like the Black Knight here, very much a C-list Avenger until the early Nineties.

Valkyrie was also a Thomas villain in her two previous appearances. I liked her immediately when I first discovered the series. The presence of these two Thomas creations sets up the Avengers/Defenders Clash.

This story has a totally different rhythm: it’s more organic and the style less florid than Thomas. It’s fresh and freewheeling. Oddly, Namor is weaing a piratical earring.

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The Defenders Long Island Hang-out: this cutaway diagram recalls the more innocent days of comics’ boyhood as it were. Giffen’s array of floating heads including Howard the Duck ( as we saw in a previous post) adds to the funky and irreverent flavour of the late-70s Defenders.

For Sale One Planet- Slightly Used: part one of a two-part adventure from Len Wein and Sal Buscema. The Defenders are pitted against JLA-pastiche villains the Squadron Supreme by turncoat member Nighthawk. Namor wears the batwing suit for the first and last time in the Dynamic Ones’ own series.

 Sal provides a striking double-page spread depicting a worldwide deluge caused by melting ice caps. It’s dramatic and slightly scary.

And Who Shall Inherit the Earth?: the second half is edited and loses the splash and recap pages. Godlike interstellar geologist Nebulon is discovered ( in a Star Trek-style twist) to be a leech-like amphibious creature. Nighthawk sacrifices himself to save the world but is revived by the collective life force of the team. Revealed as a pretty Rick Jones lookalike, he would go on to attain a costume that is one of my favourite designs in the Bronze Age. It’s dramatic but heroic and I believe a collaboration between Len Wein and John Romita.

It’s a very vanilla story and a little juvenile when compared with some of Wein’s JLA scripts of the same vintage.

This is an undemanding fun collection of strips starring some of Marvel’s second-stringers. Without this series, however, I think it unlikely that there would ever have been a New Avengers by Brian Bendis.

Coming soon: back to the Hyborian Age!