I've started this thread for issue reviews of comics from the Silver and Bronze Ages that were by published companies other than Marvel and DC. Comics I currently have in mind to write about include issues of Charlton's Blue Beetle (pre-Ditko) and Son of Vulcan, Dell's Brain Boy, Kona and Space Man, Lightning Comics's Fatman the Human Flying Saucer, M.F. Enterprises's Captain Marvel, and Tower Comics's Undersea Agent. Please feel free to contribute your own reviews.

 

This post displaced The Grant Morrison Thread from the home page.

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First up is Captain Marvel #1 (M.F. Enterprises), from 1966.

 

The splash page of the opening story credits Carl Burgos as having created the character, but the script was by Roger Elwood and the art by Leon Francho (credited as “Francho”). According to the GCD Burgos edited the issue and drew the cover. The issue was a giant with three stories, with a total of 40 story pages.

 

The first story provides Captain Marvel’s origin. We learn he is a robot created by an advanced alien people facing destruction by war. Just before the planet was destroyed he was sent into space with the mission of helping others. On arriving on Earth he befriended a boy named Billy, adopted Earth guise and got a job “as a writer for an important press service”.

 

In the second story an apparition results in the plane he is travelling on crashing on a remote island, where he finds a giant computer (with magnetic reels) built by an ancient human civilisation and inhabited by other-dimensional aliens who look like giant blocks of orange clay with faces, large feet and floppy arm appendages. Despite contrary indications in the earlier part of the story these “Giant Heads” turn out to be friendly and concerned with getting back home.

 

In the third story a spacecraft with a crew of blue-skinned humanoids from Venus lands in a lake. After one of the aliens is shot by a hunter they cause a flood and take Billy captive. It is eventually revealed that the Venusians have come to Earth to tell us that our atomic tests have been causing trouble on other planets (including atomic explosions, apparently[1]). The Venusians have a prisoner, a small man with European skin colouring, who is a member of a murderous race called the Gronks with which they are at war. He calls himself Plastic Man and can stretch his limbs. Captain Marvel describes him as “ruthless”(2). While Captain Marvel is speaking to the Venusians Plastic Man escapes the craft with the plan of starting a new life on our world. Captain Marvel finds him and fights him, but he escapes and disguises himself as a human.

 

The art is often lazy and the plotting slipshod (the second and third stories read as if the Giant Heads were originally going to be villainous and the Venusians were going to be hostile due to the shooting of their crewman, and the author changed his mind), but to my surprise I found the storytelling pleasingly sprightly. The origin shows the writing at its worst; the account of Captain Marvel's origin is framed by the device of Captain Marvel’s having amnesia and needing to work out who and how he came to Earth, but the story ends without any explanation of why he was having trouble remembering.

 

Captain Marvel’s primary power is the ability so separate parts of his body. To split he shouts “Split!”, to reunite “Xam!”; the latter term is called a “magic word” at one point. To power himself he must daily run his hands over the “M” medallion he carries around his neck. In the course of the issue he displays a number of other powers, including laser vision, an ability to project sound waves from fingertips, a computer brain, a water-breathing mode, and abilities to produce a force field and heat. His boots enable him to fly or fly through space, but since his parts fly when he separates them it’s not clear why he needs them. I like him much more when he’s displaying his other powers than when he’s using his body-splitting ability. In the third story he doesn’t employ it until his fight with Plastic Man at the climax.

 

(1) This is what the art seems to depict, but the sequence confusingly segues from this problem to the war with the Gronks, and it may be the artist understood the atomic explosions as having to do with that war.

(2) Yet when he steals clothing to disguise himself at the end of the issue he assures himself that he is “not a thief” and will pay for them "somehow".

Jungle Adventures #3 (Skywald, 1971)

This is one of the comics from Skywald's short-lived colour comics line. It was the last issue of the title. The issue has one new story, three reprints, and a reprinted text story.

The new story, 12 pages long, features a Tarzan-style hero called Zangar. The GCD doesn't have script or ink credits for this. The pencils were by Jack Katz. The cover, which also features Zangar, was pencilled by Katz and inked, according to Nick Caputo (credit at the GCD), by Frank Giacoia.

The cover does not give a good idea of what the art looks like. It definitely has a 70s Marvel look. What it most reminds me of is the early Marvel work of P. Craig Russell. The opening page, which has a sequence of a woman escaping a lion, is particularly attractive.

The story involves a lost kingdom and magic, so it reads more like a Conan-style story than a jungle one. The villain is a sorcerer who has a rock-tower citadel. Zangar's origins aren't explained. He's a masculine hero, confident in his strength, who speaks well and understands the people he encounters. The story's chief weaknesses are it doesn't sufficiently engage the reader with what Zangar is thinking and feeling, and it comes to a rushed conclusion. But it has good images and storytelling, and I wish the series had continued.

The first reprint, "Cult! of the Witch Doctor", is a retitled(1) Taanda story from Avon's White Princess of the Jungle #2. Taanda is also the star of the text story, from #3 of the same title. The character is a white woman who grew up in the jungle as a member of an African tribe and who is regarded by its members as a princess. In the comics story she acts as the tribe's war leader, and a boy character, Koru, is called her ward. In the text story she is the adopted daughter of the tribe's chieftain, and Koru is her foster-brother. In the comics story she defeats an evil queen, a white giantess, who is waging a war of conquest.(2) In the text one she determines that killings ascribed to leopards have actually been perpetrated by members of a leopard cult, and saves Koru from them.

The remaining two reprints are "Jo-Jo Congo King" stories. Jo-Jo is another Tarzan-style hero. He and his mate, Tanee, both have primitive mentalities. In the first story, "Feathered Serpent!" from Jo-Jo Comics #23, a witch-doctor revives the cult of a giant feathered snake to which maidens must be sacrificed.(3) In the second story, "The Forsaken City!" from Jo-Jo Comics #18, Jo-Jo and Tanee come upon the ruins of a modern city on the edge of the jungle that was wrecked when a scientist set off an atomic explosion. It now has only two inhabitants, the scientist and his daughter. I thought this story proof that it's possible to come up with original, interesting premises for jungle stories. The GCD tentatively attributes the art of both these stories to Matt Baker.

The issue can be read at Internet Archive.

The first version of this post displaced the thread Okay Axis Here We Come! The Complete Invaders! from the home page. My hat tip to the GCD for some of the above information.

(1) The original title was "The Witch Doctor Murder Cult!" Neither title fits: at the story's start the villainess performs a human sacrifice, but otherwise she's portrayed as a war leader. At a couple of places in the reprint the word "killed" has been replaced by "destroyed".

(2) The queen's origins are unexplained. In the reprint the giantess's hair is red and Taanda's is fair, but in the original story it was the other way around. In the text story Taanda's hair is red.

(3) Spoiler warning. The snake turns up, and Jo-Jo comes a cropper when he tries to kill it. But it turns out that it's a fake, and that the maidens who were fed to it have been sold into slavery. After Jo-Jo exposes him, the natives execute the villain by burning him alive. We're not told if the women were rescued.

The only Skywald comic I remember seeing back then was Nightmare, and I only recall seeing one issue of that. I'm guessing that's why the company failed, people that might have bought their comics couldn't find them.

The colour comics line was very short-lived. According to the GCD, the longest-running title was a romance comic than ran four issues. Wikipedia's page on Skywald says its editor Al Hewetson said in an interview that the B&W horror magazines sold well until Marvel entered the B&W magazine market and forced Skywald off many newsstands.

Did that to Martin Goodman's Atlas/Seaboard too. Goodman's grandson has been trying to get Atlas/Seaboard going again, but despite the hit movies I think this is a bad time to try to get a comic book company running.

"The Mummy Khafre", in Nightmare #22 (Skywald, 1974) and Psycho #23 (Skywald, 1975).

"The Tales of the Vulture", in the same issues. 

Skywald's line of B&W horror magazines had good art. The writing in the issues I've looked at seems to me as good as Warren's, but I've not read many Warren magazines so I lack much basis for comparison. The magazines' contents were a mix of features and one-off stories. In the issues I've looked at the one-off stories predominate. Alan Hewetson became editor of the magazines in 1972 and wrote many of the stories. A checklist of the company's output, with background information, can be found here.

Many of the issues can be found at Internet Archive. Its "Comic Book and Graphic Novels" section has a page that says "[c]areful consideration has been given to ensuring that all comics included are either in the Public Domain, or have the copyright holders permission to be publically displayed", so I'm writing about them in the believe that they're there legally.

"The Mummy Khafre" was a serial. The two instalments were written by Hewetson and drawn by Cesar Lopez. An editorial note in Psycho #23, p.51, says that it and "The Fiend of Changsha" (from #21 and later #24) will henceforth "appear in 2 out of every 3 issues", but this did not come to pass as Skywald was nearing its end. "The Mummy Khafre" didn't appear in #24, and it was the last issue. The note also talks about the features that were going to run in the company's other titles, and which features were going to be dropped. The next two paragraphs have spoilers for the two "The Mummy Khafre" instalments.

Skywald's Khafre(1) is an ancient Egyptian queen who went mad and committed atrocities. The pharaoh, her husband, had her murdered by the priests of the sun. But loving her, he had her embalmed and entombed like a queen. Without his knowledge, the priests drugged her and embalmed her alive. When her mummy is discovered one of the archaeologists realises she is in some sense still alive, and kills the other in the hope of selling the mummy for a fortune to P.T. Barnum. He gets less than he expected and Barnum takes him on as the living mummy's caretaker. Khafre kills him and escapes.

The first instalment reveals that her head retains its ancient beauty. In the second one we learn that the rest of her body has been reduced to a skeleton. This makes for creepy imagery. She disguises herself as a modern woman (of the late Victorian era) and travels back to Egypt, to the pyramid in which she and her husband were entombed. She animates the figurines that were supposed to be her servants in the afterlife - I thought this a clever bit - and destroys the mummy of her husband. The instalment ends with her the captive of archaeologists who have been studying the pyramid, and plotting her escape.

I read the second instalment first, and thought it was terrific. The feature takes the mummy theme and does something different with it, while still telling a mummy/horror story. Khafre is well-characterised as filled with anger at her treatment and having no regard for life. Her face shows little variance of expression. I think this is actually due to a limitation of the artist's, but it fits a walking corpse.

"The Mummy Khafre" appeared last in the two issues. "The Tales of the Vulture" appeared first. This was a feature used to introduce new characters. The instalment in Nightmare #22 seems, from its introduction, to be the start of the series. I don't know if there were any instalments aside from these two. The editorial note in Psycho #23 says the feature will henceforth only appear "when we feel we have a dynamic new character that is really worth presenting."

The Nightmare #22 story features the Bat, who is like a cross between Man-Bat(2), Morbius, and a werewolf. A man is attacked by vampire bats in Central America. He recovers and returns home, but when the full moon rises he transforms into a vampiric bat-man. In this form he is a megalomaniac, and murders one woman and saves another. The Psycho #23 story features "The Phantom of the Dead",(3) who is an animated wax statue of the Lon Chaney version of the Phantom of the Opera with (literally) the brains of a guinea pig.(4) After being animated by lightning,(5) it wanders about the city mindlessly until the sun starts melting it, when it goes home. Neither of these try-outs has the compelling qualities of "The Mummy Khafre".

Both stories were written by Hewetson and drawn by Jose Martin Sauri.(4) Sauri was one of the staples of Skywald's horror magazines. His art is visually striking, but elevates style over storytelling.

(1) Khafre was the name of one of the pharaohs.

(2) The term "man-bat" is used in a caption.

(3) A feedback coupon below the editorial note on Psycho #23 p.51 calls the feature "The Phantom in Wax". That strikes me as a much better name for it.

(4) At the conclusion of the story its creator says he's going to give it the brain of a human.

(5) In Brother Power, the Geek Brother Power was animated by lightning. Possibly that was Hewetson's inspiration.

This post displaced the thread Saint Trinians and the Adams Family, did the authors ever meet? from the home page.

Vandoom's monster in Tails to Astonish#17 was also a wax statue brought to life by lightning.

The only thing I remember about Nightmare was a gargoyle couple had a child, but a demon appeared and claimed that he, not the male gargoyle, was the father.

That was likely an instalment of a feature called "The Human Gargoyles", which was apparently one of the company's more popular ones.

Thanks for the example of Vandoom. I guess the lightning animation motif derives from Frankenstein's monster.

My editing time is up so I can't correct/complete my final footnote. According to the checklist I linked to Jose Martin Sauri was the real name of the artist credited in Skywald's magazines as Robert or Bob Martin. Psycho #23 credits the art of the issue's "The Tales of the Vulture" story to Cesar Lopez, but it's clearly not his. The GCD and the index I linked to both credit it to Sauri. I've seen Sauri's work in each issue I've looked at so far but apparently he only became one of the company's staples in its last couple of years.

Psycho #23 was the Jan, 1975 issue. I don't have information as to whether it went on sale in late 1974. The letters pages have an extract from a letter by Ramsay Campbell. I assume this is the same person as the horror author.

Nightmare #22, as the issue several times states, was intended as the pilot issue for a fourth Skywald horror magazine called Tomb of Horror. According to the checklist the contents were run in Nightmare because it was decided there wasn't room for a new title. Apparently, Hewetson was still hopeful of launching one: the issue speaks of the new series as planned for 1975. Its editorial pages confirm its instalment of "The Tales of the Vulture" was the first. They also say that "The Mummy Khafre" was going to continue in Psycho and move to Tomb of Horror when it got going. I described "The Tales of the Vulture" as placed first on both its appearances, but strictly speaking in Nightmare #22 it's preceded by a humorous two-page intro. item.

The checklist notes the issue's use of the device of having the stories introduced by the artist or writer. This device was employed for a period by ACG. In its case, however, the people introducing the stories didn't always exist, since the stories were often written by Richard E. Hughes under pseudonyms. One of the stories, "War of the Hell-Damned!", starts with a photograph of Peter Cushing which is incorporated into the story.

Billy the Kid #63 (Charlton, 1967).

This was a long-running Charlton title that started in 1957 with #9. It continued the numbering of Masked Raider, into which the feature was introduced, as the new lead feature, with #6 (1956).

Charlton's Billy is young and blond, and characterised as a nice young man. He's not an intellectual, but he's smart enough to outwit his opponents. He has many friends, including among Mexicans, and also knows Indian ways.

The issue has four comics stories, three of which feature Billy. In the first of the Billy tales Billy is captured by a gang he's pursuing which has a pretty lady member. He copes with the situation by pretending to have lost his memory. In the second, he's nearly lynched after he shoots his opponent (non-fatally, as it turns out) defending himself in a gunfight. In the third, he arrives sick and unable to defend himself in a town dominated by his enemies. The cover has a blurb with the title of this last story, but the cover image is unrelated to any of the tales.

The GCD attributes the pencils and inks of the cover and the Billy stories to José Delbo. I like his art here more than his Wonder Woman work; the storytelling and depiction of action are a bit on the dull side, but he does a decent job depicting the settings and people, and his inks improve his pencils. The writing is tentatively attributed by the GCD to Joe Gill. The stories all end too quickly and don't make the most of their situations, but they have interesting premises and are much better than his SF tales.

The remaining comics item is a three-page account of how American raiders would steal horses from California when it was part of Mexico. The GCD tentatively attributes the writing to Gill, and the art to Charles Nicholas and Vince Alascia. The art is in a similar vein to Delbo's, with a nice finish.

In the text story a rancher who is the son of a British lord plays a role in the capture of some rustlers.

The issue can be read at Comic Book Plus.

The first version of this post displaced the thread New England Comics closes because of snow from the home page.

Special War Series #3 (Charlton, 1965)

This title ran for four issues, and was a kind of war anthology Showcase. "Judomaster" debuted in the fourth issue. The titles used on the first three issues - "D-Day", "Attack" and "War and Attack" - had all been used by Charlton previously. The GCD says the 1966 volume of Attack counted the Special War Series issue as its first issue. That volume was short-lived, but Charlton later revived the title again. A new volume of War and Attack also started in 1966 that continued its numbering from Fightin' Air Force. It used a slightly different logo to the present issue. D-Day was an annual series, and the Special War Series issue apparently appeared instead of a #3.

The cover of Special War Series #3, by Pat Masulli and Rocco Mastroserio, shows a serviceman advancing into a danger he doesn't suspect. This type of cover is very familiar from DC comics, but I think DC only began to do them later. For most of the Silver Age DC war comics commonly had action covers.

The issue has four comics stories. Two are about WWII in the Pacific, and two are about the Korean War.

The first is an eight-pager, loosely related to the cover, set during the invasion of Okinawa. This belongs to the type of story where a solider wins the war by himself, but it conveys an impression of combat as hard and dangerous.

The second story, of the same length, is set during the Korean War and has a DC-ish quality. The nerve of the previously-fearless narrator breaks after a near miss by a shell. After a struggle with himself, depicted in close-up, he overcomes his fear and returns to help his buddies.

The third story is a four-pager about the Battle of Guadalcanal. It seems to be basically realistic in its details. It has a theme of soldiers learning to cope with combat, but doesn't do anything with it.

The final story is a three-page factual item about the different American tanks used in Korea.

The text story is about a non-traditional combat operation during the Vietnam War.

The art of the four stories, by Charles Nicholas and Vince Alascia, is not as good as that of DC's Silver Age war comics, but it's not bad; a bit like Don Heck's early 60s work, but clearer, and with better depiction of action.

The GCD tentatively attributes the writing to Joe Gill. The longer stories have less-interesting premises than the ones in Billy the Kid #63, but more exciting action. The shorter items have less to offer, but aren't incompetent.

The indicia numbers the issue as vol. 4, no. 3. I don't know the reason for the volume number.

The issue can be read at Comic Book Plus.

"Tarzan and the Demon Elephant" from Tarzan #197 (Western, 1970)

Three men from an isolated community of desert people called the Jahalla seek Tarzan's help. Their land is threatened by a neighbouring people called the Sab Rigil who worship a savage elephant called Oopal that the men believe to be supernatural. They want Tarzan to kill it as then the Sab Rigil will flee. Tarzan refuses, so when he is away from home the men kidnap Jane to force him to follow them. Alerted by Jane's mental cry for help, Tarzan follows on his elephant friend Tantor. On the way he sees three more Jahalla men following him. When Tarzan arrives at the border of the country of the Sab Rigil they meet him as night falls and offer to guide him through. When the party arrives at the river which is the border between the two lands it is attacked by Oopal, and the guides flee. The two elephants fight. Tantor wins and chases Oopal as he flees. Left alone, Tarzan crosses the river and enters the Jahalla's walled city. He finds and threatens their ruler, but he refuses to tell Tarzan where Jane is as without Tarzan's help the Jahalla are doomed anyway. Respecting his courage, Tarzan spares him and leaves. He locates Jane by her scent and rescues her. Reaching the river, they meet up with Tantor who has been wounded by a javelin, but not seriously. They attempt to return home on Tantor, but dawn is coming and the Sab Rigil are massed along the river, so they return to the walled city to help with its defence. The Sab Rigil approach the city following Oopal, who is now armoured and guided by a rider. The armour protects Oopal from the attacks of the Jahalla as he smashes through the city gates. There he meets Tarzan and Tantor, who together kill him. The men of the Sab Rigil are routed and Jane forgives the Jahalla.

According to the GCD the story was scripted by Gaylord Du Bois, the pencils were by Paul Norris, and the inks were by Mike Royer. With its images of the two elephants fighting, and the Sib Rigil advancing on the walled city led by Oopal, this is pretty much exactly the kind of story I want in a Tarzan comic. The art is similar in approach to Russ Manning's. I think it's not as good, but that's very high bar. The Norris/Royer Tarzan is a little oddly-proportioned at times, but much to be preferred to Jesse Marsh's. A Marvel artist of the era might have made the action sequences more exciting, but I don't know a Marvel writer would have shown as much understanding of how to plot a good story in this genre without spicing it up with fantastic elements.

I have this story in a British Tarzan Annual from the mid-70s, so I can't review the rest of the issue. According to the GCD it also had a one page text story (rather than letters page), and a Du Bois/Manning "Brothers of the Spear" story.

This post displaced the thread Leonard Nimoy has died at the age of 83 from the home page.

Outlaws like Billy the Kid have often been depicted as misunderstood good guys, even when they were still alive. Pro Se Press has a call for stories about real life outlaws trying to do good and specifically mentioned him in their explanation of what sort of stories they're looking for. There's an old movie that claimed the James Brothers were law abiding citizens until the roalroad killed their mother so they could steal her land. At the end a narrator angrily stated that Jesse James was "shot in the back by a liar and a coward...whose name...does not deserve to be mentioned here." A later film tried to get sympathy for Robert Ford, showing how shooting Jesse James ruined his life. On the other hand My Favorite Martian depicted Jesse James as a psychopath, with his brother Frank acting like Lenny from Of Mice and Men, and the Brady Bunch had someone claim Jesse James shot his father in the back, further stating he always shot people in the back because he was "too cowardly to face them, I guess" to get one of the kids to stop idolizing James.

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