This discussion has been coming to a slow boil on the back burner of my mind for some time now, but it’s finally been moved to the front. For anyone who cares to dig your backissues out of the longbox to better follow along, you have until tomorrow to do so. In the meantime, here’s Marv Wolfman’s introductory editorial from issue #1 to get the discussion rolling.

 

OLD FUNNY ANIMALS by Marv Wolfman

 

It’s been four years! four years since I tried selling the basic concept of SKULL THE SLAYER to someone… anyone. And now, at long last, for better or worse (though I naturally think the better) — it’s here! And you wanna know something? I think it was worth the wait. For, in that time, my ideas matured, some concepts grew, some changed, all hopefully improved. The basics are still there — the thrust of what I wanted remains. Only some of the secondary aspects of the series have been changed — and all for the better.

 

As I said, it began four years ago when I was working as an assistant editor for Marvel’s Declining Competition. I had the idea for a then very different sort of magazine. The concept was simply: thrust an entire mid-town Manhattan office building into a prehistoric setting — into a jungle inhabited by dinosaurs, and observe how us sedentary modern-types would cope on a totally alien, yet familiar, world.

 

But the setting was to be more than simply a dinosaur comic. There would be a secondary plotline… one dealing with caveman, and, shall we give some of the secret away—? Other time periods, the Bermuda Triangle, and more! In effect, four years past, the intention was for Skull to become a cosmic dinosaur series. No joke!

 

The idea was turned down for a variety of reasons. Firstly, the concept of a series which progressed from issue to issue was frowned upon. No continued plotlines, much less stories. Secondly, the concept was not understood, perhaps because it broke away from a rigid thinking that went on there at the time. Anyway, it was no go.

 

I left my editorial job a year or so later and moved on to another company where I became script editor. But before I had time to suggest Skull as a feature, Marvel called and I answered.

 

Rascally Roy Thomas made me an editorial offer I couldn’t refuse, and so I brought myself and Skull with me. But duties kept me from suggesting the idea until March of 1974. Roy thought about Skull for a few moments and said that he, too, was a dinosaur buff, that he always wanted to do a similar type strip, and that if Stan said fine, we’d go with it. Stan did.

 

Roy and I began working out the details. He felt that apartment house idea was not feasible. It would spread the focus of our plots too thin, and, to be a commercially acceptable book, it would not have one solid star. After all, we wanted the idea of the book — if we wanted to do it month after month we’d have to sell it. We may not always like it, but sales are what keep us in the business, and past sales have always indicated that one strong star makes for a winner. Besides, by that time my thinking had somewhat changed and I was seeing major problems with the series if it had gone totally my way. So we decided on a four person group, with Skull as the star.

 

Roy asked for names, and my first thought was, oddly enough, Skull. There was a problem; we still were publishing KULL, and the one letter difference was not a good idea. For the next two months we battered names around, and, in the meantime, I worked to get ahead on TOMB OF DRACULA and CRAZY. After a while we got sick of waiting for a name and Roy said, just use the tagline “Slayer of Men!” and send out a plot to the artist. We’ll come up with a name later.

 

Then there was a mixture of good and bad news: Kull was cancelled, which meant we could use Skull. I grabbed for the chance, and when the pencils came in from the Philippines, the first thing I had lettered was the title: SKULL, THE SLAYER (after all, he wasn’t going around slaying me — just dinosaurs, and “Skull, slayer of Dinosaurs” doesn’t exactly trip easily off the tongue!).

 

When the final art came in, I finally let out me sigh. Steve Gan had done a fantastic job — and more… exactly what I had wanted. We quickly photostated it, and I took it home to color (yes, color).

 

Anyway, at long last, SKULL THE SLAYER is coming out… and, in the typical way of mixed up Marvel — so is the new KULL AND THE BARBARIANS, so we still have a Kull and a Skul, as well as a Kree and a Skrull, and Crom knows what else!

 

Ah, well, here it is — four years later, but, I hope, worth the wait.

 

See you in two months, and in the meantime, don’t accept and wooden pterodactyls.

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I only know Skull the Slayer by name, but I'm enjoying this thread. I'd guess they've already left behind the differentiating premise of being trapped in the Age of Dinosaurs/Cavemen (ah, Comics! At least Kirby came up with the idea of the Dawn People.)

Losing his backing cast also cuts him loose from any kind of novelistic story and allows him to be a generic superhero that can pop up anywhere.

I'm only guessing here and will await developments...

I'd have thought the 'angry black guy' isn't quite prototypical for the times if he's also a doctor. He sounds like Sydney Poitier with attitude, which is a fairly unusual mix!
Yes, it was strange that they created another dimension when they already had the Savage Land. I guess they figured Ka-Zar wouldn't share his Hidden Jungle with another hero who's just as mighty as a mastadon as he!

Too bad they didn't think (or want) to do a Devil Dinosaur crossover!
I only know Skull the Slayer by name, but I'm enjoying this thread.

Ah, there you are, Figs! I wasn’t sure if you were reading this thread or not because you hadn’t commented, but if I hadn’t heard from you by tomorrow, I would have brought it to your attention. On May 31, in the Mircronauts discussion, I said, “I also think Micronauts represents writer Bill Mantlo’s best and most personal work,” and you replied, “I hope we explore some aspects of this, especially the 'personal' part. It's quite a trick to put so much of himself into something that was twice removed from him in terms of ownership.” Tomorrow we’ll examine Bill Mantlo’s approach to writing Skull the Slayer .

I'd guess they've already left behind the differentiating premise of being trapped in the Age of Dinosaurs/Cavemen.

Yes, it was strange that they created another dimension when they already had the Savage Land.


Dr. Corey does point out early on that dinosaurs and cavemen (not to mention aliens!) shouldn’t coexist. It is my read that all of the anachronistic elements of the series (including the cavemen) have been drawn there through the vortex. We’ll see this again on Monday when we get to issue #7 and Scully interacts with a group of Incan Indians. I don’t think the setting is another dimension (such as “The Land of the Lost,” another favorite of mine at the time), but rather it is the primordial past of 222 million years ago, albeit with a few incongruous elements such as cavemen and Incans thrown into the mix. All of the mechanical dinosaurs and men we’ve seen were inside the aliens’ tower (yet another “incongruous” element).

ISSUE #5:

Synopsis: Slitherougue sends a passel of demons through a warp to attack Skull and his newfound allies, Merlin and the Black Knight. They manage to drive the demons off, but Merlin is “killed” and revealed to be a robot. Meanwhile, back at Morgan le Fey’s castle, Slitherogue magically resurrects Corey, Ann and Jeff. The two sides are gearing up for a major battle, Morgan le Fey against Merlin, with Skull and the others on opposite sides. They have a major grudge against him (even Jeff for some reason), especially Ann and Corey whom Scully left to die.

The four eventually break off from the main battle and Scully has to fight defend himself against the attack of the other three. Eventually Corey takes a stray arrow from the main battle to the shoulder and Scully somehow manages to talk himself back into the others’ good graces. “When the battles lost and won,” the entire thing is revealed to be a scenario played out over and over by automatons. Even the “Black Knight” is revealed to have been a robot all along. As the issue draws to a close, Scully leads the others through the door leading out of the “Egyptian wing” of the tower.

“NEXT: A new beginning as fact, fiction and fantasy merge in the Empire of the Sun! Be here!”

10-something self: I’m pretty sure I missed the parallel drawn between Scully the soldier and Black Knight the automaton when I was eleven, but even I wasn’t as surprised as I think I was supposed to have been to discover the Black Knight was actually a robot. Incidentally, I was already familiar with the character due to a stack of “Marvel Super Heroes” I’d acquired in trade as backissues.

Lemme tell ya boy, that “new beginning” blurb really had me jazzed for the next issue! I thought I was really getting my quarter’s worth! Speaking of which, the price on the cover of this issue virtually blasted the words “Still Only 25 Cents!” and even at my tender years I knew what that meant!

40-something self: The writer replacing Steve Englehart (Sal Buscema stayed on as pencilLer) turned out to be Bill Mantlo, and as much as “Stainless Steve” wanted the supporting cast out, “Boisterous Bill” wanted them back. They were brought back as quickly and as clumsily as they were taken out.
I knew the supporting cast were in later issues. I thought they were only thought to be dead but the villain actually resurrects them! How evil! I hope they thanked him or sent a card or something! You know, a liitle super-strength isn't that impressive anyone when your bad guy has the power over life and death! Just a point!

I wanted the robot Black Knight to stick around!
“NEXT: A new beginning as fact, fiction and fantasy merge in the Empire of the Sun! Be here!”

2 issues after the last one? Wow! This book was in trouble! They don't make 'em like this anymore. (Thank God!) Even the JLA these days changes creative teams less often than that!

Looking forward to Mantlo's tenure, in any case.
ISSUE #6:

Synopsis: After having tied up loose ends from Englehart’s one story and bringing the premise back to Wolman’s original in the previous issue, Bill Mantlo proceeded to move the plot in his own direction. First of all, he introduced two new characters: Freddy Lancer and Senator Turner. Lancer is Scully’s enemy from their Vietnam days. He had a small part in issue #1 and was presumed killed when the tail section broke off the plane, however, this issue reveals he survived but wasn’t sucked through the time vortex into the past. He is rescued by the Coast Guard cutter with Jeff’s father aboard searching for his son.

Back in the past, Scully et al encounter a tribe on Incan Indians.

The series is “Still only 25 cents!”

In lieu of my 10- and 40-something selves reacting to this issue, here is Bill Mantlo’s introductory essay.

REMEMBER THOSE OLD FUNNY ANIMALS…? by Bill Mantlo

To set the scene — let’s just say that my heart was way up there in my throat that day when I heard a voice calling from out of the Inner Sanctum — the office of Marvel’s devil-may-care editor — Meverlous Marv himself. The voice was his, of that there could be no doubt, and the words sent a chill through my being as I looked a fast left to Assistant Editor Chris Claremont’s desk for support, but — in true diplomatic style — the Cheerful One hurriedly pretended to be checking for any last minute corrections on the X-MEN — and left me facing the Lion’s Den alone.

“Is that Mantlo out there? Send him in!”

Like I said — way up there in my throat.

“Sit down, Bill. How’d you like to write SKULL THE SLAYER?”

I sat down. My eyes never left Marv’s face as my brain raced ahead, trying to figure out (a) if he was kidding, or (b) what I was being set up for. You see, like all writers, I’m naturally insecure about things like this, and editors are the very people who manage to totally unbalance my sense of rationalism and send me scurrying for a saner worldof few surprises and no decisions to be made — especially on the spot. I guess that started two years ago when another editor — a short little guyby the name of Tony Isabella — took leave of his senses long enough to try me out on a strip called THE SONS OF THE TIGER for a black & white title of Marvel’s called THE DEADLY HANDS OF KUNG FU. Well, with prodding and much proofreading… it worked, and a writer was born — more or less. But I’m digressing…

You see, since that day I’ve been fervently hoping for a strip that would allow me to prove muself competent on more than just the level of a “fill-in writer” — a guy they call in when a regular writer can’t meet his deadlines, or a script gets lost in the mail, or Los Angeles falls into the Pacific. And while Marv, then as black & white editor and now as color editor, allowed me to continue developing the Tiger-Sons — and even expanded my fill-in chores by assigning me regularly to MARVEL TEAM-UP and MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE — there was still the feeling that I was borrowing other people’s characters… never really creating or enhancing any of my own. And then, when MORBIUS, THE FRANKENSTEIN MONSTER, and THE SWORD & THE STAR got cancelled out from under me before I’d even gotten a chance to get to work on them… well, that brings us back to the voice in the office.

“So, enough with the flashbacks! What about SKULL?”

“Okay — but…”

I saw his bushy eyebrows go up (they don’t call him Wolfman for nothing), and then, before he could unleash one of those Asgardian lightning-bolts he’d borrowed from Len Wein, I hastened to explain.

“Marv,” I said, sweating now, “give me just a minute! Look — I’d love to write SKULL — maybe more than any other strip in the house. As I see it, the bbok embodies more elements of sci-fi, adventure, and characterization than most super-hero strips! Why, it’s virtually limitless in potential, but…”

“But? He asked, interested now.

“But I’ve got to be able to do it my way! I mean, when SKULL #1 came out, I flipped. That terse caption style you employed, the secondary characterizations, the enormous range of possible sub-plots — all of it, the total concept, was really far out! It showed an intricacy of development second only to the style you managed to bring to DRACULA (lesson #1 in how to butter up an editor)… but —”

“Again with the buts? But what?”

“But, blast it — I can’t deal with Slitherogues, Time towers, Black Knights, and the deaths of three people I felt were and integral part of the strip. If I’m gonna do it, it’s gotta go back to dinosaurs, cavemen, the Bermuda Triangle, lost civilizations, aliens — all that stuff that was promised in the first few issues. Not that I didn’t like what Steve tried to do — but it’s not what I would do.”

“Which is—?”

“Retain Jeff and Corey and Ann! Get Scully back up against those lizards of his. Remember — the second half of the title you gave the book was THE SLAYER — of DINOSAURS — right? Those prehistoric beasties were as much co-stars of the book as Scully’s crew. And other things…”

Lots of other things.

Some of ‘em Marv liked, some he chucked out — but through it all I could see a faraway gleam in his eye as he remembered bits and pieces that he would have liked to have put into SKULL. It was, after all, his baby. So what was left? I walked out, making sure to shoot a rubber-band past the ducking head of a giggling Chris Claremont, and rushed home to rough out a plot — taking time to give Sal Buscema a fast phone call, telling him we’d be working together on yet another title, and finding out that Sal was as thrilled at the return to the original concept of SKULL as I was. Sometimes things work out like that. Sometimes they all come out right. Sometimes — but if I get too positive it’ll negate what I said earlier about insecurity and writers, and we wouldn’t want that to happen, would we?

So look — now it’s up to you. So far your letters have reflected mostly praise for SKULL, and those that were criticalwere constructively so. All that’s needed now is for you to keep on buying the mag — ‘cause that’s where SKULL’s survival really rests — in the sales figures that Smilin’ Stan looks carefully over every month. Only you people out there can keep the Slayer alive!

Peace — thanks — and see ya in sixty!
ISSUE #7:

Synopsis: Surprisingly, the Incans speak English. There is a power-struggle between the king and the high priest. After Scully and the others are subjected to a series of physical trials, it is revealed that the king/sun god is actually Navy Captain Victor Cochran who came through the vortex thirty one years prior. “Meanwhile” in the present, Senator Turner and Freddy Lancer form an alliance.

In considerably smaller type than the previous two issues, the price is now 30 cents.

10-something self: Good to see the title back on track and moving forward!

40-something self: Good to see the title back on track and moving forward!
ISSUE #8:

Synopsis: Scully and company ally themselves with Cochran as the high priest’s forces, Samurai and other time-tossed warriors mounted atop pterodactyls, attack. Cochran is wounded by an airborne archer and his followers see their god bleed. Scully is knocked unconscious as the Incans are overrun and things look in a bad way.

“NEXT? Well, what can we say? This is it, pilgrims — the very LAST ISSUE — unless you CARE enough to make your voices heard! Write: Skullduggery c/o Marvel Comics and if you will it—The Slayer will soon be back!”

10-something self: I didn’t write in to save Skull. As my 10-something self mentioned in his discussion of issue #3, I was a little intimidated at the time by the familiarity of Marvel letter columns. Besides, I wouldn’t have know to address it to “Dear Bill” or Dear Marv” or “Dear Archie” or who. I sure hoped other readers would write in, though.

40-something self: I wonder now if a letter from me might have helped to tip the scales. Probably not.
I wonder if the series might have had a better chance if the writers had spent more time on the story itself and less time penning long-winded justifications and explanations of what was going on in the background...?

Isn't this from the 'throwing stuff at the wall and see what sticks' phase that is mentioned in Philip's Golem thread?

I'd imagine it might have only taken a few dozen letters to constitute an 'inundation'. Numbers like that might tell them that there was a base to build on, rather than just 'standard attrition' (if each letter-writer equaled 100 fans like yourself that didn't).

Did you *love* the Skull the Slayer comic? I'd fancy I wouldn't have thought much of it as a kid. I might even have thought it a bit 'grown-up' for me then, but that can be a selling point too.
Unfortunately three writers in eight issues is not a sign of a healthy book. But the premise was so non-superheroish that I'm surprised it was even green-lighted to begin with. Marvel was moving to strictly costumes by that point beyond barbarians and licensed titles like Star Wars.
So, are you going to continue with the conclusion to Skull's adventures in FF?
At the time Marvel was still publishing the volume of Ka-Zar that continued his series from Astonishing Tales, but it was cancelled not long after. Possibly both titles were finished off by the price rise. (Marvel's Tarzan series, and Devil Dinosaur, both came later.)

The covers from that series of Ka-Zar, and its predecessor in Astonishing Tales, only occasionally show dinosaurs. Apparently, the idea was to sell it as a Tarzan-type series. I'd be interested in hearing if dinosaurs were prominent in the stories, if anyone knows.

The Skull the Slayer covers play up the presence of dinosaurs in the series much more. (They're absent from the main images on ##3-5, but #3 has a robot dinosaur and a blurb referring to "the world of dinosaurs", and they all have a dinosaur with Skull in the character box.) They strike me as a pretty good set of covers, except for the dull #5, and as getting across what the series was about, except for #5.

If retailers ordered from a title list in those days, it could be some passed on it on the basis of its title. On the other hand, the title could've been taken as that of a barbarian comic, and Conan was a strong feature back then.

I remember the characters as antagonistic towards each other, but someone else will have to say if they persistently came across as unpleasant to be around.

The splash of the City of the Gold reproduced here (is that from #7?) strikes me as a pretty nice piece of comics art.

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