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've only seen one issue from the series, and most of the MTIO wind-up, but I'm looking forward to reading about it, Jeff.
I have the entire 8 issue series somewhere. The three things I can recall is that I got a Warlord from Mars vibe from it, Skull wasn't too popular with his supporting cast and the Original, from Camelot Black Knight guest-starred. And Skull is still around the MU today!
I used to love first issues when I was a kid (and I would have been 11 years old when this series began), not because I thought they’d “be worth something someday,” but because I like the idea of getting in at the ground level of something new. All of my favorite comics were in their 100-numbered issues, and amassing a complete collection of backissues seemed to me at the time an unattainable dream. I just re-read this series for the first time in many years and discovered that I wouldn’t be able to discuss it without separating my adult perceptions from my childhood perceptions. For those of you without ready access to the originals who choose to follow this discussion, a brief synopsis of each issue will be provided.

ISSUE #1:

Synopsis: A military transport plane enroute to the U.S. mainland flies through the Bermuda Triangle and into a time warp which sends it to the primordial past of 222 million years ago. Apparently, the only survivors of the crash are…

Jim Scully: A Viet Nam vet and former POW in custody for the accidental killing of his brother
Dr. Raymond Corey: Prototypal “angry black man” with a chip on his shoulder
Ann Reynolds: Prototypal mid-70s liberated woman
Jeff Turner: A senator’s son on the run from his dad

After the crash, the focus shifts to Scully, who, separated from the other three, improvises a spear and takes out a Tyrannosaurus (through luck as much as anything else), but is then struck from behind by a rock thrown by one of a group of cavemen.

10-something self: Interesting premise. Off to a great start!

40-something self: Interesting premise. Off to a great start!
He had a pretty good reason: just after the series began he was promoted to editor-in-chief!
Be grateful he dropped Skull and not Tomb of Dracula!
I had never even heard of this series until a few years ago, when I picked up the entire run plus the coda in, IIRC, FF. It was pretty disjointed but I enjoyed some aspects of it.
ISSUE #2:

Synopsis: Scully awakens a captive of the cavemen and meets the other survivors of the crash, who have also been captured. He defeats the biggest of the cavemen in hand-to-hand combat, and further earns their respect by turning aside, Tarzan fashion, a herd of stampeding Styracosaurs. The cavemen lead Scully and the others into a futuristic chamber in a nearby cave, where they find the corpse of an alien which is evidently being worshipped by the cavemen. The chamber walls are also cover in a kind of alien hieroglyphic writing.

A belt with a skull on it attracts Scully’s interest, but the alien is surrounded by a protective electrical field. Using his improvised wooden spear, however, Scully lifts the belt from the uniformed skeleton, which immediately collapses. The cavemen don’t appreciate Scully desecrating their god, and the four are forced to flee for their lives. In desperation, they jump from a cliff into a river to escape, but are soon attacked by an amphibious dinosaur. Scully’s belt begins to glow and he kills the dinosaur with his bare hands.

10-something self: My brother-in-law flew a helicopter in Viet Nam, but Skull the Slayer (and Mad magazine) is what really shaped my childhood perception of the war. I thought the art by Steve Gan was edgier and more realistic than most superhero art I had seen.

40-something self: There was an influx of talent from the Philippines in the mid-70s, and Steve Gan was part of this trend. His style was better suited to Marvel’s black and white mags, and in retrospect, I’m surprised he was assigned to a mainstream color comic.
It's interesting that Scully was impressive before he got the belt!
ISSUE #3:

Synopsis: Scully shows off with his belt while personalities clash. The rag-tag band discovers a plain of staked skeletons, some human others not. The humans were obviously those lost in the Bermuda Triangle, but the identity of the aliens, how they got there and why any of them were staked in field is anybody’s guess. Jeff and Ann’s clothing has become tattered and they help themselves to two of the colorful costumes worn by the alien corpses. Corey stubbornly refuses to “parade about” in a “ ludicrous costume” (or maybe he simply doesn’t like the idea of wearing clothing stolen from a corpse). Walking along a metal path bisecting the field of stakes copses, the four soon come to a high tower covered with the same hieroglyphic writing they saw in the cave in issue #2.

As they approach, they notice that the metal path they were walking rises from the ground and spirals around the tower for as high up as they can see. Speculating the entrance must be at the top, they ascend the ramp and do, in fact, discover a door leading into the tower itself. The tower is hollow in the center (as well as “dimensionally transcendent,” so to speak) and they emerge on a level with terrain, flora and fauna identical to that which they left outside the tower, except the dinosaurs are mechanical, as if they are part of some museum of exhibit. Every level of the tower depicts a different era, with time and technology progressing with each descending level.

A mechanical dinosaur attacks and the group is scattered. By the time they regroup, Corey just stepped through a doorway to a lower level and has emerged in what is apparently ancient Egypt! The issue ends in a full-page panel with the blurb: “NEXT: A new writer! A new approach! And Skull the Slayer fights on!”

10-something self: I remember being very excited about the promise of that last page blurb! I had never given much thought to the writers and artists (let alone editors!) at this time in my life, and this was certainly the first time a comic I read made such a big deal about it! I may not have give much thought to the creators of my favorite comics, but I was certainly aware of them. I used to read letters to the editor and wonder how all the letter writers were on a first name basis with the editors, writers and artists. I figured they must all be personal acquaintances, because the salutations were to “Roy” and “Archie” and “Len” and “Steve” rather than “Mr. Thomas” or “Mr. Goodwin” or “Mr. Wein” or “Mr. Englehart.” As a matter of fact, I found this familiarity somewhat intimidating. I felt as if I needed a personal introduction to write a letter! This feeling of intimidation would come in to play by the time of issue #8 of this series.

I should also point out that Ann’s new outfit wreaked havoc with my eleven year old libido!

40-something self: #3 is the last “pure” issue (i.e. the last one done by Marv Wolfman and Steve Gan). I can see now they were taking a negative (losing the series’ creative team) and spinning it into a positive.
ISSUE #4:

Synopsis: Skull immediately attacks the mechanical Egyptians in an effort to free the captured Dr. Corey. He is defeated by sheer weight of numbers and the group is taken before the pharaoh, a demony-looking alien known as Slitherogue. Slitherogue’s race settled on prehistorical Earth, created the vortex to draw things from the future, built the tower and populated it with robots, all in an effort to change history and conquer time. When Corey points out that it can’t be done, Slitherogue nonchalantly kills Jeff Turner to prove some temporal point.

The other three are then pressed into slave labor building pyramids, but when they notice that the robots can’t move very well in the sand, they make a break for it. Unfortunately, Ann falls and twists her ankle so badly she actually breaks her leg. If they stay and fight, all three will surely die, so Scully makes the pragmatic choice to leave Ann behind, but Corey refuses to desert her. Skull runs to a door built into a sand dune and turns just in time to see Ann and Corey both killed.

A thrown rock hits him on the head and knocks him through the doorway. He falls to a lower level only to be greeted by the Black Knight (from Marvel’s “Atlas” age) and Merlin the magician! Meanwhile, Slitherougue plots with sorceress Morgan le Fey.

10-something self: I was a pretty big fan of the Atlas/Seaboard line of comics which came out around the same time as the title under discussion, so I was already well used to new titles abruptly changing direction only a few issues into their run. That didn’t bother me; I thought it was wild and unpredictable.

“Philosophically” speaking, I can guarantee that this comic gave my young mind more food for thought than any I had ever read before or would read for some time to come, specifically, Scully’s decision to leave Ann behind and save himself. Logically, he would have been killed; we saw that. But did his actions brand him a
coward?

40-something self: The credits box reads: “Together again for the fourth time! Steve Englehart-Author — Sal Buscema and Mike Esposito-Artists.” Was this the origin Marv Wolfman had in mind and would he have presented it so soon? I don’t know but I tend to doubt it; there are a lot of holes in it. I could have gone into more detail in my synopsis, but frankly it wouldn’t have made more sense. It’s pretty obvious to me in retrospect that Englehart had absolutely no interest in Skull’s supporting cast and killed them off as quickly as possible.

He’s what Englehart himself has to say on his web-site about his short tenure: “I used to call this the job I least liked doing, because I never felt any empathy with the character… I forget how I got the assignment, but it was expected to be an ongoing one. However, after this one issue, Super-Villain Team-Up came available and I was able to shift over.”
However, after this one issue, Super-Villain Team-Up came available and I was able to shift over.”

So he came in, burned down the village, and immediately left? Ruthless.
Englehart had the Avengers meet Marvel's Western heroes so why not have Skull meet Camelot's Black Knight?

If Skull was a super-hero, his actions would be cowardly. As a military man, they make sense though they are harsh and cold!

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