The Bronze Age Cometh! The Amazing Adventures of Killraven

Amazing Adventures #18-39

Marvel Comics, 20-30 cents, 1973-76

#18-20

Hot on the heels of a fury of fantasy heroes such as Tarzan and Conan the Barbarian, Roy Thomas looked for further ways to expand this non-powered concept of heroes. Taking H.G. Wells’s noted novel War of the Worlds and morphing it into a post apocalyptic action series based on the Martians second visit to earth, they’ve totally subjugated mankind, made them slaves, as well as use humans in genetic experimentation to further their goals of dominance.

In the introduction, he creates Killraven, a spectacularly successful arena fighter who’s a rebel with a secret even he doesn’t know. He gives the adventure proceedings a new coat of paint as it were, unique from its fellow fantasy comics brethren.

The first issue, written by Thomas, has some good establishing art by Neal Adams. Good with depicting action and distinct likenesses, Adams immediately gives the series an oomph that would have been difficult for a lesser artist. He makes the first story very successful, establishing the cast and world in a visually exciting manner. Sadly, Adams isn’t available afterwards, but Howie Chaykin steps in admirably. While he isn’t the draftsman Adams is, his forte with fantasy based themes, as well as exotic costuming make this a still interesting read. Continuing in this schizophrenic creative vein, Gerry Conway and Marv Wolfman step in for scripting chores on the next two issues, keeping the action going from what I assume is Thomas skeleton for the series. Regardless, the proceedings are still on track, probably saying more about the method of Marvel comics production and its in-house talent pool at the time than anything else. Don McGregor takes over as the series regular writer next issue.

#21-24

The next four issues feature new regular artist Herb Trimpe. While McGregor’s prose displays an inspired attack, the strip goes more into irony and commentary on the human condition. Whether it’s deadlines, or budget(?), Trimpe’s art gets more and more rushed from the first issue, and by the last two, story content is reduced to 15 pages per issue, with golden age monster reprints filling the book(ugh!). While he’s not able to get past flat, stereotypical characters, the divorce from Marvel reality helps enormously, and the series becomes more a treatise on mankind according to McGregor’s philosophy. The mere 20 cent cover price makes it a bargain compared to the majority of Marvel’s output of super schmucks. Hope the new to comics Rich Buckler’s art next issue can elevate it…ooh, Klaus Jansen inks, too!

#25-28

Well, after the totally underwhelming run of Herb Trimpe on art, newcomer Rich Buckler does a fill in on issue 25, and the possibilities of the book begin to show a bit as it starts to evolve. While Buckler’s figure work is a bit wonky, his emulation of both Kirby and Neal Adams add an excitement to the proceedings that wasn’t there before. The next issue is another fill in by Gene Colan, of all people; he gives this episode a dark melancholy that helps demonstrate McGregor’s story emphasis. This schizophrenic approach to visuals,-(hey, who’s got time to do a Killraven issue?), and the continued use of a mere 15 pages to tell a one off, really hurt McGregor’s strengths in trying to make his point. On one hand, he’s got bigger fish to fry, but can’t do it in 15 pages AND perform the dynamics that Marvel comics demand (editorially, I assume).

Then in issue 27, Craig Russell arrives. Two things happen that make this story work so much better than than the entire previous run. One, Russell’s art is fully ensconced in the romantic and social depths that McGregor’s writing has desperately needed a visual partner for, and Russell’s chops are up to the task. Second, he is able to turn this into a two parter, utilizing 30 pages to tell the entire story, and give it the space and length it needs to be convincing. Killraven’s band here is also given the room necessary to develop their one dimensional depiction so far, and begins turning them into genuine people. The best story of the bunch thus far, both in writing and in physical depiction.

#29-34

McGregor and Russell totally fooled me here. While last issue provided a satisfactory end to the Death Birth Citadel story, this next issue picks up mere minutes from the end of the last, making this project not one of several short stories, but evolving into a continuing narrative, really without a concrete end from issue to issue. I notice as well that Russell not only does pencils and inks, but has been doing the coloring for the last two issues as well. If creators were trying to transform this into quite possibly the most ambitious workload as possible, this comic is able demonstration of it.

Russell’s art complements McGregor’s prose perfectly. While it can be argued McGregor bites off more than he can chew in his socially conscientious narrative, Russell’s art is equal to the task, providing the needed checks and balances, elevating a mere post apocalyptic tale into what can be said is as close to a work of art as Marvel could ever publish.

But commercial publication schedules will have their way, and this one provides more casualties than just McGregor and Russell, as issue 30 provides a frickin reprint of the Herb Trimpe story we just read a few issues ago, Killraven not an old enough property to have enough history of reprints to choose from, so this one is bookended by some character pages by Russell along with a couple of pages of the main villain reiterating what we pretty much knew. Whoop, wait, the character pages provide a couple of tidbits fleshing out some facts hereto unknown about the characters. But otherwise, ugh, pass.

Issues 31 and 32 get things going again, solidifying the continuous narrative McGregor is pursuing, with little advancement in plot, but it doesn’t seem to matter. At this point, Killraven’s story with his crew isn’t about the quest, but more about McGregor’s disillusionment with humanity and its self destructive path. One that the Martians have not only finished, but provide a inevitable exclamation point for. #32 emphasizes this, putting Killraven and his buds into a prewar amusement park that caters to the dreams of the freemen, showing in its conclusion the futility of man’s selfish goals in the first place. These nihilistic threads are balanced by Russell’s exquisite art, giving hope in the form of beautiful fantasies for the freemen. By this issue, he has mercifully given up coloring and handed over inks to the excellent Dan Adkins.

Of course, after two mere issues of overwhelming craft, we fall victim to another fill in. This one written not by McGregor, but Bill Mantlo and drawn by the ever present Herb Trimpe. This issue stands out as a sore thumb scheduled as a fill in, the editor knowing by now this will be the norm. However, astute readers will notice this one should have appeared after next issue. The story itself? Well, let’s just say this. While it was originally published in ‘75, it lands with a thud as perhaps the most graceless way to offer a sliver of continuity with a writer that had little idea of the narrative McGregor is working toward here. Also, even in 1975, this had to come off as fairly racist in its idea and execution. Now it seems little more than a horrible embarrassment in the annals of comic publishing history.

While #33 is pretty jarring in its near complete train wrecking of the series flow, with #34, our intrepid duo manage to right the ship again with perhaps the end(?) of the current storyline, and their ultimate battle with the toughest villain of the series. McGregor provides dramatic sacrifice for his characters, and Russell gives the proceedings a convincing display of an epic finish. War of the Worlds comes full circle here, transforming its narrative of basic action comic into something mainstream comics hadn’t seen before.

#35-39

And here you have it. The final five issues of Amazing Adventures featuring Killraven complete his saga, in a more or less satisfactory manner. The deadlines for the book have at this point convinced McGregor and Russell to limit themselves to more modest, single issue stories, or perhaps McGregor has decided that format suits his needs better. The aim of each issue seems better off for it, primarily since this was a bimonthly comic.

#35 features Jack Abel inks, perhaps the best work I’ve seen by him, no doubt guided by the tight pencil work of Russell. Sonny Trinidad embellishes #36, and #37 has Abel back again, all to satisfactory ends. Each issue’s themes work very well in the 18 page chunks, suggesting McGregor has a bit more of a handle on how to approach his stories. There’s also a nice balance between attempting to tell a story, with the metaphorical flourishes still there, just reigned in somewhat by conventional story standards, and perhaps the better for it. At last, the series, while not as ambitious now, has started to gel somewhat.

#38, being one of those shoehorned in fill ins, features for some strange reason another script by Bill Mantlo, I guess because he did the first fill in. While not as offensive as the first, retreads a theme McGregor has already covered, and is clunkily drawn by Keith Giffen (in his first published work?), whose Kirby influences only hurt his cause, both in terms of the utterly graceless figure drawing, and some pretty insufferable page layouts. Once again, you can pass on this one.

#39, the final issue, has McGregor and Russell depicting what they seem to know would be their last; they made sure they got it done in time for publication, with Russell inking his own work, but in a more simple, flowing style, showcasing what would later become his signature traits. McGregor, for his part, realizes there’s absolutely no way to tie up or finish his plot threads, and avoids them entirely. While visually looking a bit rushed, it’s nice they were at least able to go out on their own terms.

In hindsight, it seems inevitable this series wouldn’t make it commercially, as I can’t imagine the young male audience (for the most part, I presume), having the patience for the all over the place storytelling, and the artistic level set up by the creators here far too labor intensive and prose heavy to keep it them entertained, as well as on schedule. While Killraven never quite grabs you on a personal level (its characters being pretty much vehicles for McGregor’s main interests), the series remains a piece of Marvel Comics history that shows an experiment, that while never standing a chance under the systems it inhabited, at least a demonstration of what could be in commercial comic books.

A smoother read of this series would be pretty much the first couple of issues for set up (#18 & #19), skipping to #25 & #26, the semi successful fill ins, #27 is where Russell comes on board, skip 30 with the reprint, read #31 & #32, skipping the abominable issue #33 fill in, picking it up again at #34-37, skipping the sad issue #38 fill in, and end with the somber finish of #39. This order of experience will give you an uninterrupted, more pleasing read of the series, unencumbered by the commercial necessities of deadlines and interruption of mainstream hack work.

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Star Wars: Thrawn #4 (July 2018)

Star Wars: Thrawn #4

All of a sudden, Thrawn is about Thrawn again. The issue covers a few years, sometimes emphasizing some of Thrawn’s achievements, sometimes just hopping ahead. It’s just really nice to have Thrawn and sidekick Vanto back. They’re so fun together.

There’s also the analytical stuff, which is what makes Thrawn engaging. Not the action or intrigue–the issue even determines Thrawn’s no good for intrigue–but the plotting and the contemplation. Well, the contemplation when Thrawn gets to quiz Vanto about it.

It’s such a nice return to form, it barely matters the issue doesn’t really go anywhere, just does a bunch of summary to set up the next issue. It’d be even nicer if writer Houser had employed a similar tactic on the previous issue, which lost its leads to world build.

Good art from Ross. He’s able to mix in some silly composition choices–floating heads talking across an action panel–to reasonable success. Thrawn isn’t strict; Ross uses its fluidity to good result here.

So. Perfectly fine stuff. Especially for a licensed tie-in novel adaptation.

CREDITS

Writers, Timothy Zahn and Jody Houser; artist, Luke Ross; colorist, Nolan Woodard; letterer, Clayton Cowles; editor, Heather Antos; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Star Wars: Thrawn #3 (June 2018)

Star Wars: Thrawn #3

Thrawn really isn’t important this issue of Thrawn. Instead, it tracks the adventures of a young woman from the Outer Sim who ends up on the Imperial homeworld and discovers corruption and manipulation in politics. But she sees an opportunity for advancement, and calls on Thrawn to help her.

For a while, it’s a decent issue. It seems like Houser is building to something. He might be–the issue has a hard cliffhanger–but he’s immediately overdue on it. An indulgence issue. Maybe it’s to the eventual trade paces out well. But in floppy? It’s a little much.

Especially since it’s so confusing. There’s so much dialogue, so much exposition. But then an event will occur and it won’t seem like anything previous discussed. And you reread the previous discussions and it certainly doesn’t seem like they’re talking about planning the immediately occurring events. The issue’s lead–the new woman–keeps a lot to herself.

The book is getting to be a bummer. But Ross’s art is awesome this issue.

CREDITS

Writers, Timothy Zahn and Jody Houser; artist, Luke Ross; colorist, Nolan Woodard; letterer, Clayton Cowles; editor, Heather Antos; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Star Wars: Thrawn #2 (May 2018)

One of the amusing franchise realties for Star Wars is Imperial officers aren’t bright. The movies established early on only Darth Vader had any brains. Darth Vader, then the Emperor. Otherwise, the Imperials were twits.

So Thrawn, which has a genius alien ascending the ranks of the racist Imperial Navy, has a somewhat peculiar problem. How can writer Houser show Thrawn’s ability to excel amid a group of twits. Even allowing for some intelligence, they’re still a bunch of racist twits. It’s kind of an interesting thing. Houser doesn’t really explore it because you don’t get to acknowledge a problem with a franchise in a licensed title. Well, whatever Star Wars is to Marvel.

It’s a successful issue. Maybe a little less impressive than the first; Houser thinks the big reveal is a lot more dramatic than it turns out to be. Thrawn is still all about Thrawn and his human flunky, Ensign Eli. Eli’s supposedly Thrawn’s handler (and is his assigned aide), but Thrawn’s really two steps ahead. Or ten steps. Whichever. Eli’s not too bright.

Decent art from Ross. Little too much with the computer shading, but decent art. He doesn’t do the action well. Like when there are fistfights and prison breaks and whatever. Those scenes, which are rushed in the script, are confusing on the page. Too little information and not the best panel subjects.

But a fine enough, sci-fi comic. It’s a little Star Wars, but not a lot Star Wars. It’s just the right amount.

CREDITS

Writers, Timothy Zahn and Jody Houser; artist, Luke Ross; colorist, Nolan Woodard; letterer, Clayton Cowles; editor, Heather Antos; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Punisher: The Platoon #6 (April 2018)

Punisher: The Platoon #6

Here’s the thing about Garth Ennis. His story arcs might read well in trade. His limited series might read great in a sitting. But he writes comic books. He paces comic books. And Punisher: The Platoon #6 is one hell of a comic book.

Ennis goes an unexpected route resolving the previous issue’s cliffhanger. He uses the frame a lot, revealing the frame isn’t a frame so much as a perch. It’s the reader point of view, whether they know it or not. Ennis has his epical story arc and juxtaposing and it flows nicely, but these things aren’t the most important thing. The most important thing is how the comic has read and reads.

Because Ennis delivers. He confirms he made a promise earlier in the series–one entirely without verbalization–and he delivers on it. He shows he can do this comic and do a war comic and also do a Punisher comic and then he moves past proving he and Parlov’s abilities to someplace else.

Or maybe Ennis just wanted to make a bunch of grown men cry. With the added bonus it’s a Punisher comic making them cry. It’s one hell of a comic.

Parlov’s art is on, of course. There are a lot of talking heads moments cut into the big action–with the narration and the talking heads so strong the big action flashback panels are almost intrusive. They don’t break the pacing because they’re supposed to be intrusive. Ennis is sort of doing the Wizard of Oz reveal on how the comic works and he needs to get the reader alert.

Damn.

What a comic. The issue and the series. Ennis and Parlov.

Damn.

CREDITS

6: Happy Childhoods; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Goran Parlov; colorist, Jordie Bellaire; letterer, Rob Steen; editors, Kathleen Wisneski and Nick Lowe; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Star Wars: Thrawn #1 (April 2018)

Star Wars: Thrawn #1

Even through Thrawn gets a fair number of close-ups in Thrawn #1, I finished the issue feeling like he didn’t. Thrawn is a Star Wars comic–one of the new official ones so all those old official ones from Dark Horse starring Thrawn are out of continuity. Though, since they’re all based on Timothy Zahn novels, there’s got to be crossover.

This issue deals with how blue super-intelligent alien Thrawn gets into the Imperial Academy. There’s even a cameo by the Emperor (which is maybe the comic’s only draggy scene). Otherwise, it just moves and moves.

Some of the brevity is thanks to the narrator. It’s not Thrawn, but some Imperial cadet who gets stuck translating and babysitting him. The cadet’s not a jerk, but he’s completely disinterested in his assignment. Writer Jody Houser uses the cadet as the reader’s vantage point, but the cadet’s got more information than he’s sharing in narration. Got to keep it dramatically compelling.

And Houser and artist Luke Ross are able to keep it compelling. Even when the comic hits a second or fourth talking heads sequence. There’s sporadic action, but most of it is just seeing how Thrawn reacts to this new world around him. There’s Star Wars minutiae but the better, not-created-by-George-Lucas minutiae (i.e. the Galactic language being called Basic–it’s immediately self-explanatory).

It’s an exceedingly competent comic book. Good art, good scripting.

CREDITS

Writers, Timothy Zahn and Jody Houser; artist, Luke Ross; colorist, Nolan Woodard; letterer, Clayton Cowles; editor, Heather Antos; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Punisher: The Platoon #5 (March 2018)

The Punisher: Platoon #5.

One issue to go. Why am I so surprised Ennis is bringing the two plotlines together–Frank and his platoon, the Viet Cong and the female soldier. But he handles it in a way it can surprise, even after a whole issue of visual reminders the two subplots are very, very close to intersecting.

Ennis and Parlov do it on the last page. They completely change what Platoon might be about. They introduce all sorts of new potential in the penultimate issue. In the last page. Because Ennis has been so careful at advancing the Viet Cong plot line. He never neglects it.

The Frank plot line has the platoon on a body reclamation mission. Ennis gets some history and some commentary out of that subject. Parlov gets to do some gorgeous green landscapes. Those Jordie Bellaire colors. Then, little by little, Frank and the platoon lose the sky. It’s not night, they’re just going deeper and deeper into the jungle. It’s incredibly claustrophobic.

And it’s all a distraction so Ennis can bring out the proverbial big gun. He foreshadows it a little and builds expectation, but it’s still a surprise; the foreshadowing is nonspecific, ditto the expectation. Parlov and Ennis pace this issue deftly, confidently guiding the reader to the cliffhanger.

Next issue’s going to be something.

CREDITS

5: Deadfall; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Goran Parlov; colorist, Jordie Bellaire; letterer, Rob Steen; editors, Kathleen Wisneski and Nick Lowe; publisher, Marvel Comics.

X-Men: Grand Design #2 (March 2018)

X-Men: Grand Design #2

Piskor is into the original Uncanny X-Men series proper now with Grand Design. He summarizes about sixty-five issues. He covers costume changes–without fanfare, though often with humor–he covers all the weird sixties villains. The space aliens. The coming Phoenix force.

There aren’t any asides. The closest is when Jean Grey goes off to college, but she’s not there for long. A couple pages. But there’s no intense focus on any on character or part of the history Piskor covers here. He’s just getting it out on the page, efficiently, with the right mix of foreshadowing, brevity, and humor. Piskor rarely goes for anything approaching a laugh, but when he does a sight gag, it’s great. When he does a written gag, it’s great too.

The voice of Grand Design–so the Watcher’s voice, as the Watcher is still narrating–keeps the comic calm. It’s still very active, it just doesn’t have overarching intensity. Scenes and sequences can have intensity, but it’s history. Removing the intensity is why Grand Design can get away cataloging all the dumb ideas in X-Men comics and make them great.

Piskor’s art is fantastic. Again, he doesn’t really take any time out on any one thing this issue so there aren’t any art focuses. But it’s fantastic cartooning even without a special topic.

Grand Design continues to amaze.

CREDITS

Cartoonist, Ed Piskor; editor, Chris Robinson; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Punisher: The Platoon #4 (February 2018)

Punisher: The Platoon #4

The tragedy of Punisher: The Platoon is almost unbearable. Ennis juxtaposes the Americans and the Viet Cong. The female Viet Cong Frank Castle, the Frank Castle Frank Castle. The one with a dark shadow over him, even though only the reader can see it. It’s not in the bookend narration. The vets sitting around being interviewed? They don’t acknowledge the tragedy of Frank. It’s the saddest thing in the world… an earnest Frank Castle.

And something I suppose you wouldn’t get if you weren’t entirely versed in the character. Or at least in Ennis’s Punisher MAX. Or some of it, anyway. It’s freaking intense. Nothing happens this issue; violent-wise, I mean. The two times things could go violent? They don’t. Ennis and his war comics realism.

Frank’s marines are on R and R. Drinking and whoring. Ennis loves writing the old men jovially recalling those days. It’s actually kind of cute, as very little else in Platoon ever gets to be cute. Frank’s Viet Cong alter ego’s mentor is sort of cute. But he’s also a brutal commander so it’s a problematic cute.

There’s a conversation scene with Frank and one of his men. Just talking about their lives. Frank Castle talks about his personal philosophy. The other guy offers him advice. It’s extremely affecting as it continues because it’s so foreign from Punisher comics. Freaking Ennis. So good.

Parlov’s art is awesome. No action, lots of talking heads, just beautifully paced visuals. Parlov’s really got this one down.

CREDITS

4: Absolute Consequences; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Goran Parlov; colorist, Jordie Bellaire; letterer, Rob Steen; editors, Kathleen Wisneski and Kathleen Lowe; publisher, Marvel Comics.

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