“Of Star-Gods And Sales Figures”: The Short-Lived Comic Books That Live Long In The Memory

Another Frenetic Excursion Through Bronze Age Awesomeness. 

creatures-on-the-loose-37

“Easy with that pig-sticker! You and your buddy ought to be more discreet about where you have spats…” – E. Hammond Preiss.

“Not quite a year ago, I composed a brief text feature on the letters page as an introduction and I’m writing what amounts to an epilogue.”

So wrote David Kraft, in an Editorial, snazzily titled: “Of Star-Gods And Sales Figures,” effectively announcing that this: Creatures On The Loose Featuring Man-Wolf #37 (June 1975), would be the final ish.

He explained how: “Sales, of course, are generally the deciding factor. But not totally.”

Apparently, despite “doing well on the newsstands,” it hadn’t been doing well enough. Kraft explained that granting J. Jonah Jameson’s hairy star-cursed son his own book was given “very serious consideration,” but at that time, Marvel had already laid extensive plans to launch a variety of new series.

Wonder if any of them reached the heights of Man-Wolf?

With Kraft‘s script and George Perez’s art, the final ish of Creatures On The Loose is a rip-roaring yarn.

It’s only fault?

Who knows if the savage progeny of the moon managed to land the spacecraft and save his friends on the last page…?

And now, we take a rare venture into DC territory – from Man-Wolf to Ironwolf – hey, get that symmetry!

“You’re no better than the Empress – you’re worse! At least she doesn’t hide her evil behind fine words and gracious hospitality!” – Ironwolf.

The tenth and final ish of DC’s Weird Worlds: Ironwolf #10 (November 1974), features an Editorial called: “Weird Words.” It states that despite being both a critical and commercial success, this title has to close – why?

“In a word: Ecology.

“For years, we’ve been publishing stories in the comics, warning of impending shortages of vital materials… The problem is real. One proof is that there will me no more Weird Worlds. We can’t get enough paper to publish it. Simple as that.”

Hmm… your correspondent is NOT convinced.

This “serious paper shortage” does not appear to have affected all the poor and underwhelming titles churned out – by both DC and Marvel, not to mention other indie publishing houses – during the intervening four decades (thus justifying my love and belief in Bronze Age books).

This particular ish – featuring Ironwolf: a sword-wielding adventurer in the John Carter of Mars mould – has lots to commend it, especially lively art by Howard Chaykin. The story is pleasing galactic fun, enticing enough to make me hunt down further ishs – there are only nine of them, so it shouldn’t be an extensve hunt…

“Fool! My defensive screens can easily neutralize your pathetic attack. Can you do as well against my ionic sword?” – Salia Petrie.

“She’s forcing me into a corner and if her sword punctures the copper foil skinsuit under my costume, I’ll age a thousand years in a second!” – Vance Astro.

The third selection in this eclectic mix also happens to be the final ish of a classic title unfairly terminated much too soon.

Three reasons drew me to Ms. Marvel: a woman as the central character; news of her own forthcoming movie; and perhaps the most obvious excuse: it was written by Chris Claremont – the same auteur responsible for making The Uncanny X-Men such a stupendous – and enduring – series.

After acquiring both impressive and disappointing mags in this series, this ish: #23 (April 1979) is one of the best in the series. Abducted by The Faceless One and taken to the space station known as Drydock, she finds Salia Petrie – a fellow NASA colleague whose mind is being controlled by the cosmic villain.

And there is a cameo appearance by Vance Astro, leader of the Guardians of the Galaxywho will be all the rage in cinemas again next month!

Actually, it is not that difficult to see why the fate of this particular series was sealed: apart from the constant change of artist – always not a good sign Carol Danvers’ drastic change in costume appears to have been a desperate misjudgment. Moreover, being terminated in 1979, alas, meant that female-led series still had a long way to go before achieving mainstream acceptance…

“You people kidnapped me, you seek to destroy our planet… Do you expect me to show you mercy? If so, forget it, fiends. There’s nothing I won’t do to stop you. Nothing!” – Dejah Thoris.

“I have never been one write letters to the editor. However, something has come up that I cannot let pass. Simply put, the termination of John Carter of Mars, Warlord of Mars is an injustice,” stated one disgruntled reader, printed in #26 (August 1979) – the penultimate ish.

On the strength of this exciting – and yet moving – mag, other copies have been sought this past few months. It was truly a great expedition when #7 (Decemper 1977) came into my possession, and at a reduced sale price too. A keen John Carter fan for most of my life, Marvel did a fine job on this series.

This particular ish just happens to be blessed with the pulsating pencils of Gil Kane. And its title: Dejah Thoris Lives promises a suitably feisty appearance by one of science-fantasy’s most iconic princesses. In the hands of that other exceptional Wolf: Marv Wolfman, this ish does not disappoint!

Again, it is such a shame that this brand of awesomeness was ultimately defeated by the crass excuse of “poor sales.”

1979 was one of my favourite years; and yet it seems to have been less than favourable as far as comic books are concerned…

“Awwright, ya flap-eared yahoos! Everybody git your tails inside an’ git them fishbowls off!” – Nick Fury.

Know you this: Nick Fury is one of my all-time fave Marvel characters. It has been an absolute pleasure tracking down the work of the legendary Jim Steranko, arguably the greatest artist to bring this deadly Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. to bold and wise-crackin’ life. You’d think that he would have no trouble saving an experimental title like What If? from the dreaded sales figures curse, but no…

Stan Lee presents: A Stunning Saga Of An Alternate Reality, indeed!

#14 (April 1979) boasts the incredible question: What If Sgt. Fury Had Fought WWII In Outer Space? On the morning of 7 December 1941, the Pearl space station is attacked by a squadron of “crummy Betan lizards.” Such a bizarre premise proved too irresistible; plotted by Gary Friedrich, drawn by Herb Trimpe – and narrated by The Watcher of course! – this special bumper-sized edition is certainly unputdownable stuff!

All the ishs featured here hold reserved places in my ever-expanding Bronze Age collection, although it is a shame that that it is their ephemeral nature that link them together. Ironically, the discontinuation of these titles has bolstered their value – not to mention made them more difficult to come by.

At the end of the day, sales figures proved to be far more effective at crushing heroes than any nefarious plan concocted by the most devious costumed supervillains.

Thankfully, David Kraft and George Perez were allowed to produce the two concluding episodes of the Star-God Saga in a couple of ishs of Marvel Premiere four years later.

Kraft ended that editorial in 1975 by stating: “Doing this series has been a lot of fun for all of us here, especially George and myself, and we hope that you’ve gotten some entertainment out of it along the way.

“We’re only sorry it had to end so soon.”

“I knew one of you super-creeps was responsible for this! Good or bad – you’re all the same…! You’ve got to be stamped out – no matter what the cost! And if J. Jonah Jameson has anything to say about it, you will be!” – J. Jonah Jameson.

 

“A Princess Of Mars,” And Other Classic Comics From The Red Planet.

Visions Of A Red Planet That Has Seen A Thousand Fictional Civilizations Rise And Fall.

dejah-thoris-art

“If it entertains and is clean, it is good literature. If it forms the habit of reading, in people who might not read otherwise, it is the best literature” – Edgar Rice Burroughs. 

Like Mark Watney, the unfortunate astronaut stranded on Mars in this month’s sure-fire box-office hit, it is impossible for me to depart the Red Planet – at least, not yet. 

Having explored other movies to be set on our nearest celestial neighbour, this would be a good opportunity to explore a rich assortment of Martian visions that have adorned comic pages over the past few decades. 

It’s amazing how a red planet always teems with green aliens… 

comic-book-craze172

leagueofextraordinarygentlemen2a

“That’s how The League Volume II begins, with the Martian landscape and Edwin Lester Arnold’s Gullivar Jones and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter, and though it’s not completely wordless, the word balloons are mostly in a Martian dialect that’s not translated on the page for us. Kevin O’Neill draws the heck out of it…” – tor.com 

The artist: Kevin O’Neill (best known for his stunning work on 2000AD’s Nemesis The Warlock), collaborated with writing legend: Alan Moore on an ambitious project in 1999 entitled: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, focussing on a band of famous characters from Victorian literature. 

Unbeknownst to me, a second volume of League adventures was published in 2002. It used H. G. Wells’ War Of The Worlds as the basis for a unique slant on the familiar Martian invasion of Earth theme. The opening few pages in which the dialogue is in Martian has just piqued my curiosity even further.

So be it: yet another tome to look out for this Christmas, methinks. 

warlord_of_mars-marvel_comic2

Deja36-FEATURE1

“There was one slight, desperate chance, [to] take… for Dejah Thoris; no man has lived who would not risk a thousand deaths for such as she” – John Carter.   

Resistance is futile.

Here is arguably the most popular fictional character associated with the Red Planet, or Barsoom as she calls it. Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, becomes the wife of  John Carter, a Virginian cavalry officer “mystically transported” to Mars.

From her introduction in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novel: “A Princess Of Mars” in 1912 to her most recent appearance in Dynamite Comics, she has hardly worn anything more than a tiara, breast ornaments and some strategically-placed jewellery. Traditionally, the typical damsel who lies at the feet of the Earthman, the late ’70s Marvel Comics run portrayed her in a more feisty and fearsome light, showing her deft capabilities with both swords and blasters.

Thou shalt not underestimate a lass who has thwarted the Comics Code Authority as well as disposable alien adversaries for so long… 

martian-manhunter-needed-for-justice-league-jpeg-137126

Martian_Manhunter_Vol_4-1_Cover-2

“Nonsense! I like Chocos, certainly. What is not to like?” – Martian Manhunter.

And then there is Martian Manhunter, a stalwart of DC Comics’ The Justice League. J’onn J’onzz hailed from what he called: “Ma’aleca’andra.” Created by writer Joseph Samachson and artist Joe Certa, this heavily-built and bald-headed green-skinned hero – the last surviving member of his race – made his debut in Detective Comics #225 “The Manhunter from Mars” in November 1955. 

My main introduction to this mighty emerald fella was in my all-time fave DC series – a  positively mind-blowing four-parter series from 1988 entitled: The Weird (this will receive its own forthcoming Post!) where the titular alien – newly arrived on Earth – proceeds to shove Martian Manhunter out of one comic panel and into the next. Not a wise move!

These days, he appears to have had a radical makeover; his humanoid physicality ditched for a suitably more imposing “Martian” look. Although now he runs the risk of being mistaken for Tars Tarkas: John Carter’s main Thark comrade.

watchmen-comics_00367182

“Watchmen wasn’t about a bunch of slightly dark superheroes in a slightly dark version of our modern world. It was about the storytelling techniques, and… the range of what it was possible to do in comics” – Alan Moore. 

How can anyone discuss comic art in relation to Mars and not mention Watchmen? Written by the legendary Alan Moore, with art by the iconic Dave Gibbons, this superhero classic graces TIME magazine’s 100 Greatest Novels Of All Tine and rightly so. 

Dr. Manhattan, the Superman of the Alternate Earth of 1985, exiles himself on Mars after the (ultimately false) accusation that the “accident” in 1959 – vapourised inside the intrinsic field test chamber of his lab – is the direct cause of the cancer diagnosed in his closest work colleagues. He brings companion, Laurie Juspeczyk – the second Silk Spectre – to Mars to help him decide whether to continue intervening in Earthly matters. 

So, where else in this galaxy can a “posthuman god” go to contemplate his commitment to saving the human race?

…Or a superheroine to receive the revelation of who her real father is? 

dr-manhattan-4-26

“A world grows up around me. Am I shaping it, or do its predetermined contours guide my hand? …Who makes the world?” – Dr. Manhattan.

Here are a few more examples of Martian comic art. The range of quality and quantity of comics connected to the fourth planet is staggering.

The mere handful selected for this Post alone demonstrates what an overwhelming inspiration the endless mysteries of Mars have been to generations of comic book creators.

invaders-from-marsmars-comics_fc

Killraven_MasterMartian_h

“Growing up, I think I went to Mars more often than Manhattan… a land of strange and savage beasts (Thoats! Tharks! Sandmice!), whispering winds, towering mountains… and crumbling porcelain cities where mystery and adventure lurked around every corner” – George RR Martin. 

Finally, rather than end this Post with a shameful gallery celebrating the form of Dejah Thoris, here, instead, are excerpts from a rather splendid classic strip from the September 1958 issue (no. 3) of Race For The Moon.  

This particular story was drawn – and most likely written – by another great comics legend: Jack Kirby. Interestingly, this “Face On Mars” predates the notorious oft-published photograph of the Face of Cydonia by 18 years. 

It’s best to let the sheer awesomeness of the following pages speak for themselves…

face-on-mars-p1

face-on-mars-p2

face-on-mars-p3

“Get your ass to Mars!” 

comments

Cheers!