Claw the Unconquered; finally, a DC Adventure Line success! For a while…

The World Trembles Before the Blade of … Claw the Unconquered!

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            Other than Warlord, Claw the Unconquered had the most staying-power of any of the Adventure Line heroes; and for a time even outpaced the tales of Travis Morgan in Skataris. Claw lasted twelve issues total – there was a hiatus between issues 9 (October 1976) and 10 (May 1978) of 19 months. Issues #13 and 14 were reprinted in the legendary Cancelled Comic Cavalcade.

            Why? Claw’s premise and stories weren’t as limited as, say, Kong. Tor was basically a reprint vehicle. Justice Inc couldn’t seem to build an audience for its pulpy hero. Beowulf and Stalker were too weird despite excellent stories and premises.

            He was the most Conan-like of the Adventure Line. The huge success of Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian was likely the impetus for spawning the entire Line. Claw had long black hair, spoke in pre-Shakespearean jibberish and fought demons and sorcerers.  Plus the stories and art were top-notch. What’s not to love?

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           David Michelinie is the writer throughout the series –and it is obvious he had his ideas for his excellent story arc set in his mind from issue one. Claw’s back story unfolds slowly – perhaps in retrospect too slowly. And much like the Cimmerian, he is not a noble warrior like Beowulf, or a champion of fairness and justice like Tor or the Avenger. But he has honor and will lend a helping, er, hand if he sees it is needed.  I don’t think we ever saw that in Stalker even when he WAS helping damsels in distress.

            The first seven issues were drawn by the legendary Ernie Chua, whose real name was Ernie Chan. If you saw a comic book cover in the 1970s and it was NOT done by Jim Aparo, the odds were fair it was done with his telltale signature mark on it. His drawings were dark and detailed – unlike the lighter touch of the later issues of Kong, for example.  The resemblance between our hero and the Cimmerian were likely intentional, but the minute details of musculature – whether human or demonic – as well as the tone and pacing gave the story the moody look of a DC horror magazine.

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            “The World Trembles Before the Blade of …” appears on the cover of every issue from #1-#7.

#1. June 1975, “The Sword and the Silent Scream”, Cover by Ernie Chua. David Michelinie (writer), Ernie Chua (a), John Albano Jr (i), Ben Oda (l), Joe Orlando (e). We meet Claw, real name Valcan, who walks the streets of Ithar, capital of the realm of Pytharia. During a meal a serving wench spills ale on him and tries to dry him off. She removes his single red gauntlet (this was long before Michael Jackson’s single white glove) and reveals his right hand – grey and webbed and ending in claws like that of a dragon. The Lord of Pytharia – Occulas of the Yellow Eye – has waited all his life for this man. It is prophesied that a man with such a hand will stop Occulas from ruling the known universe. A bounty is put on Claw’s head. And hand…

            We learn through flashback how Prince Occulas learns of the prophecy. He kills (presumably) Claw’s father – who has a similar hand – and mother, unknowingly leaving infant Valcan alive. Occulas also kills his own father to become king. A mysterious benefactor with a glowing white hand saves Claw – we see the baby’s right hand is identical to his father’s. Claw informs a female companion that he has no memory other than the past few weeks – when he entered Ithar. He knows not how his hand came to be as it is. 

            The companion? It was the serving wench from earlier in the story – when city guards chase Claw she leads him into a trap set by Occulas. Hiding in a temple, Claw is attacked by an ancient god, Kann, the all-consuming – a giant eye with venus flytrap-like appendages. Claw defeats the ancient god by grasping a support rod with his dragon-hand and piercing the god’s center with impossible aim and impossible force. Was it strength and ability through desperation or some other power emanating from his clawed right hand?

            The letter column contains a biography of David Michelinie.

This issue includes a full-page ad for Joker, Justice Inc, Claw the Unconquered and Ghost Castle, with a tease for Beowulf Dragon Slayer and Richard Dragon Kung Fu Fighter at the bottom.

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#2. August 1975, “The Doom That Came to K’Dasha-Dheen” (there’s a Howardian/Lovecraftian title if there ever was one – another reason fans of the Cimmerian were attracted to this book). Cover by Ernie Chua. David Michelinie (writer), Ernie Chua (a), Elizabeth Barube (i), Ben Oda (l), Joe Orlando (e). Hellhounds attack Claw and the assassin he is currently fending off. They are rescued by a rope dangling in mid air! They climb up to find the city of K’Dasha-Dheen floating amid the clouds. Actually, it is in between dimensions and requires sacrifices to keep it from crashing to the earth. Guess who the next two sacrifices are? Once safely back to earth, the assassin attempts to again kill Claw to collect the reward and is slain for his efforts.

            The letter column contains a biography of Ernie Chua.

            This issue contains the full-page ad for the DC Adventure Line.

 

#3. October 1975, “The Bloodspear”. Cover by Ernie Chua. David Michelinie (writer), Ernie Chua & Pat Boyette (a), Pat Boyette (l), Tatjana Wood (i) Joe Orlando (e). This issue is noted in price guides as containing nudity. It shows a naked lady with careful covering – tame compared to what we see nowadays… Claw rescues a beautiful maiden being attacked by lizard men while she is stuck in quicksand. He pulls the maiden, named Elathia, from the muck to reveal she is a centaur! She is, in fact, a human turned into a Centaur. A kindly wizard can turn her back if she retrieves Kyriach – the spear of the story’s title. Claw agrees to help. Fighting off monsters galore, Claw retrieves the spear. Once safely in Elathia’s hands, she uses the spear to assassinate Claw – you see, THAT was the bargain the wizard made with her. Claw’s armored hand grabs the spear with inhuman speed and strength and drains it of power – another manifestation of Claw’s power of which he is unaware. He kills Elathia. As she dies she thanks the gods she will finally turn back into a human. She does not. She was a centaur all along and tricked into this mission to kill Claw. The wizard? It was Miftung – the chief wizard of Lord Occulas of the Yellow Eye.

            The story in issue #2 had no threat by Occulas or Miftung – though they do appear in every subsequent issue. Smart move, even if #2 was a bit of filler. It kept the comic from being too repetitive. However, this issue stilled echoed #2 – an ally turns on Claw when all is safe … makes one hope this isn’t going to happen every issue.

#4. December 1975, “The Coming of N’Hglthss”, Cover by Ernie Chua. David Michelinie (writer), Ernie Chua & Pat Boyette (a), Ben Oda (l) Joe Orlando (e). Occulas threatens Miftung if he fouls up again and allows Claw to live. So he opens an interdimensional gate from which N’Hglthss (geshundheit) is “unleashed upon an unwary world … N’Hglthss, whose vile passage brings naught but death and decay … yet who cannot himself be touched by death … it had taken Avistar, the Burning Man, to reveal the only weapon effective against N’Hglthss :a silver sword called Moonthorn, whose origins lie buried deep in Claw’s unknown past … a blade attainable only by uniting the three facets of an arcane talisman known as the Grimstone …” (this was the description from issue #6 – ok, so I’m lazy, but they already did the work FOR me…).  This issue introduces Claw’s ally Ghilkyn, Prince of the Thousand Hills. He is an interdimensional traveler trapped on Claw’s world. During his travels he obtained small horns jutting from his forehead. For the first time in three issues, someone allies with Claw and does NOT try to kill him at the end of the issue.

 

#5. February 1976, “Grimstone Quest”, Cover by Ernie Chua. David Michelinie (writer), Ernie Chua (a), Joe Orlando (e). The first talisman is held by an ancient wizard. He will give Claw and Ghilkyn the talisman if they retrieve the crystal eyes of the Oracle. They must defend themselves from a giant lobster and a beautiful maiden to get it!

            The letter column contains a map of the known world. Gotta love maps – especially since this one was designed by David Michelinie and Debra Urlich, with some help from legends Tex Blaisdell and Joe Kubert!

            This was my first issue of Claw – I got it fresh off the presses! Literally! Most DC comics back then were printed at Sparta Printing in southern Illinois. Workers were allowed to take home bundles for their kids. My father worked for the Air Force, but he carpooled with a lady whose husband worked at Sparta Printing. “You have kids, here!” And thus my future was set in stone…

 

#6. April 1976. “The Sunset Doom of Dhylka-Ryn”, Cover by Ernie Chua. David Michelinie (writer), Ernie Chua (a), Joe Orlando (e). Claw and Ghilkyn seek the second talisman in the village of Dhylka-Ryn, a town tormented by a young villager that was bullied as a youth, until he found a certain talisman … during the battle Claw and Ghilkyn despair for their lives – they knew the end was near. Claw’s hand thrust upward and absorbed all the magical energy in an excellently drawn few panels. Another power has manifest from Claw’s demonic hand…

            The letter column announces the coming of a companion magazine – Starfire! I remember that comic. Fun stuff! I would have made an excellent addition to the Adventure Line. If it actually existed. And lasted…

 

#7. June 1976, “The People of the Maelstrom”, Cover by Ernie Chua. David Michelinie (writer), Ernie Chua (a), Joe Orlando (e). With this issue Claw becomes the longest running magazine of the Adventure Line – all the others by now had been cancelled; the last two being Beowulf, the last issue of which was the month before, and Tor, the last issue being the month before that. Claw bests even Warlord, which had since gone on hiatus months ago with its issue #2. Warlord would eventually win out … as will be explained in its entry. But for now the winner is Claw!

            Also with this issue, the cover price goes up from a quarter to thirty cents. Sales naturally plummet across the board…

            The final talisman is being used to keep an underwater city from being inundated by the sea, er, lake. The city is filled with an advanced civilization of pacifists. Claw tries to take the talisman; Ghilkyn tries to stop him and they cross swords. A small girl asks them to stop fighting. Claw realizes he will destroy these peaceful people and stops. Occulas again threatens Miftung to destroy Claw and the wizard sends a muck-thing from the seafloor to destroy our hero! The city gives Claw the talisman anyway – the needs of the many outweighing the needs of a few, and all that. Claw realizes this is not a civilization of cowards and that bravery comes in many forms.  They lock the talismans together and disappear into the void!

            The letter column announces Ernie Chua is leaving as of this issue to concentrate on his excellent work on the Batman titles.

 

#8. August 1976, “Master of the Seventh Void”, cover by Ernie Chua, David Michelinie (writer), Keith Griffin, Ricardo Villagran and Oscar Novelle & Luis Dominguez (Luis is mentioned in the letter column, but not in the splash-page’s credits) (a), Liz Berube (i), Joe Orlando (e). Another milestone issue – a new art team debuts. And they do an excellent job – they better, they had some huge shoes to fill. The first thing I noticed was Claw looked more like a Native American than a certain Cimmerian. The artwork certainly fit this excursion into weird worlds.

            Claw and Ghilkyn enter the seventh void. By page two Ghilkyn is thrust back to … well, who knows where, leaving Claw on his own…

            Tell you what, let me use the author’s own synopsis from #9. I’m lazy that way: “traversing that demonic plane alone, Claw had come upon the object of his worlds-spanning search – the enchanted silver0hued blade called Moonthorn. But Moonthorn had a guardian – the malevolent politician-cum-sorcerer (snicker) Mahan K’Handa … a creature whose corrupt soul lay captive in a crystal egg about his waist … a vulnerability Claw’s twisted right hand had somehow sensed and had crushed into oblivion allowing the elusive prize to fall into Claw’s grasp and allowed the Grimstone quest to at last end in success.” I will give my collection of Claw comics to the first reader who successfully diagrams that sentence. Now it is on to defeat the evil N’Hglthss (geshundheit)! Remember him? The readers are promised Claw’s origin next issue!

 

#9. October 1976, “Long Die N’Hglthss!” Cover by Ernie Chua, David Michelinie (writer), Keith Griffin & Bob Layton (a), Liz Berube (i), Milt Snappin (l), Joe Orlando (e). The South American Crusty Bunkers (a name given to a core of artists who occasionally helped out Neal Adams and Dick Giordano at deadline time…) are out. The artwork is still well done, but it has lost some of its more macabre qualities … perhaps because this issue takes place on Claw’s home plane. Perhaps. This is the last issue of Claw during its first run and with it, the last comic published as part of the Adventure Line. Next month, in a cover dated November, Warlord #3 is brought back from its hiatus and runs for the next twelve years. Warlord picks up the mantel after being dropped, but by now the Adventure Line had run its course.

            Ironically the issue contained a full-page ad for another non-imprint: the DC/TV Line! Shazam, Isis, Welcome Back Kotter and Superfriends! Don’t worry – it won’t be another blog series…

            Claw returns to his world to find Ghilkyn in pitched battle with mechanical hounds. The friends reunite and finally kill off N’Hglthss. Upon the death blow, Claw is whisked to another dimensional realm and his story is revealed. Claw’s ancestor was a seeker of knowledge. He unwittingly channeled a demon and before he could return the fiend and was cursed to forever have the inhuman power of the demon’s tainted right hand. A synopsis from Claw #10 (remember? I’m lazy – oh, and reread the tale of Claw’s parents’ death in issue #1, it will help with this next part): “… the orphaned child … (was) … raised by the Gods of Elder Light to be trained in all forms of weaponry and, after receiving a mysteriously sentient gauntlet to shield him from the diabolical influence of the hand, to be released to walk the world as an unwilling warrior against the Shadow Gods, creatures of inconceivable eveil whose struggle for control of the fifteen worlds threatens the cosmic balance itself … demons who have chosen as their own dark champion Occulas of the Yellow Eye, the same despot who had ordered Claw’s parents murdered and against whom Claw even how seeks retribution…”. Claw says farewell to his friend Ghilkyn and leaves for Darkmorn to exact his revenge against Occulas of the Yellow Eye. Meanwhile, surprise-surprise, Occulas threatens Miftung with his life for his incompetent wizardry.

 

#10. May 1978, “The Eater of Souls”, Cover by Joe Kubert, David Michelinie (writer), Keith Griffin & John Celardo (a), Mario Sen (i), Clem Robins (l), Paul Levitz (e), Joe Orlando (managing ed). HOLD IT! You just said the Adventure Line had run its course! The title was brought back (after Metal Men was cancelled and a slot was available) a year and a half later! THIS isn’t officially part of the Adventure Line anymore – why bother?

            …

            …

            meh.

            The author tells us a bit of the sales history of the title in the letter column and why this issue is something of a fill-in. The story intended for the December 1976 issue of Claw will be told in the next issue.

            Claw is attacked by another beastie invoked by Miftung and defeats it. {edit/paste} Occulas threatens Miftung with his life for his incompetent wizardry. During a Miftung-invoked storm, Claw takes refuge in a palace in which dwell Those Who Abide. Claw discovers that Those Who Abide are not, in fact, dudes, but men granted immortality by the Shadow Gods. But at a price – their bodies age if they do not regularly perform a human sacrifice. Guess who they’ve elected to be their sacrifice. You get a cheroot…

 

#11. July 1978, “Death at Darkmorn”, Cover by Joe Kubert, David Michelinie (writer), Keith Griffin & John Celardo (a), Carl Gafford (i), Ben Oda (l), Joe Orlando (e). The world map from issue #5 is reprinted in the letter column. This story, if last issue’s letter column was telling the truth, was slated for Claw #9 back in December of 1976 and has been in a vault languishing for the past 1-1/2 years. I am skeptical – the tenor of the artwork – the hue of it – seems more akin to issue #10 than #9. The author may have had the story  back in 1976, but the art didn’t look like something done in the weeks following issue #9.

            Claw is attacked by Occulas’s elite guard. {edit/paste} Occulas threatens Miftung with his life for his incompetent wizardry. Oh wait, his wizardry had nothing to do with the defeat of Occulas’ elite guard. He threatens the wizard anyway. Miftung makes the castle compound float to the clouds. Claw manages a foothold in the floating fortress and climbs his way into the castle. {edit/paste} Occulas threatens Miftung with his life for his incompetent wizardry and demands Miftung cast the Spell of transfiguration. Claw defeats a wax guardian and finally faces Occulas – who transfigured into a giant red-hued demon! Claw kills the demon but Occulas survives! The transfiguration was linked to Miftung’s life, not Occulas. Miftung, in his last bit of sorcery, teleports Claw back to his horse. He explains that with his death, all his magic ceases … including causing the castle to float. Claw watched the castle crash to the earth. He walks away with a victory, but an unsatisfactory one.

 

#12. September 1978, “The Slayer”, Cover by Joe Kubert, David Michelinie (writer), Keith Griffin & Bob Layton (a), Mario Sen (i), Ben Oda (l), Larry Hama (e), Joe Orlando (managing ed). Now the Michelinie/Giffin/Layton team WAS the same team as #9 … having the same art crew would better convince me that #11 had sat in a vault for eighteen months. But now that the talisman/Moonthorn/Occulas saga is over, it is time to move on…

            Claw is caught in a border war between Boske and Kyfirth. He is employed to teach fighting skills to the mercenaries, but not before he is tricked into losing his crimson glove. The demon hand slowly takes over his sense of honor and he begins to slay enemy and friend alike. When he realizes he is about to lose his humanity, he cuts off the demon hand.

            The letter column tells us of Trysannda – a female companion introduced in this issue. She isn’t. The column tells us that five letters were received. If they do not receive any more responses, the title may be cancelled again. It was.

            The issue contained news of the upcoming DC explosion! An event that would change comic book history forever!! Why are you snickering?

***

            Claw #13 and 14 were prepared but never published – except in the first “issue” of the famous-but-mostly-unseen Cancelled Comic Cavalcade… I took the descriptions of these issues from http://comicattack.net/2009/11/retcon-cancelled-comic-1/. As I have said in the past – if someone else has done the work for me … (Note: my additional comments are in italics)

 

#13. “Tthe Travelers of Dark Destiny” was written by David Michelinie with art by Romeo Tanghal and Bob Smith (with Mario Sen (i), Shelly Leferman(l), Larry Hama (e), Joe Orlando (managing ed)). Claw has lost the gauntlet that protects him from his demonic hand’s influence, and as the story opens, he’s recovering in a tavern after severing the appendage. He meets Trysannda, a beautiful sorceress, who is seeking his aid to destroy an evil wizard. Claw declines, citing his maimed state, but the two are forced to flee together. After they finally reach relative safety and set up camp for the evening, Claw’s hand catches up to them and reattaches itself to his arm while he sleeps. Realizing he cannot escape his curse, he must reclaim his stolen gauntlet to hold his hand in check. In a coincidence that can only happen in comics, the thieves who stole the gauntlet sold it to Dalivar the Unethical, the very same wizard Trysannda wishes to kill!

            Ironically, perhaps sarcastically, after telling us Claw had only received five letters, what would have been the letter column of #13 tells us that letters are “cascading in”. Publisher Marty Greenberg (of Gnome Press’ Conan and Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser books in the 1950s) has a letter published.

 

#14. “When the River of Ravenroost … Ran Red!” written by Tom DeFalco and illustrated by Romeo Thangal and Bob Smith (Shelly Leferman(l), Larry Hama (e), the colorist’s name was left blank – as it was likely not yet colored, nor was there a managing editor named as there was no indicia on the title page), opens with Claw and Trysannda arriving at Castle Ravenroost, Validarr’s stronghold (somehow, Dalivar has now renamed himself Validarr since the last issue!).  As Claw battles the elemental guardian of the gates, Trysannda is kidnapped by Validarr. Claw defeats the monster and storms the castle. Confronting Validarr, he comes almost within reach of his gauntlet but is defeated and thrown into the dungeons. Escaping, he finds Trysannda and saves her from a demon. The two flee deeper into the catacombs but end up in a bizarre realm called the Lair of Lunacy.

***

            Warlord was scheduled to run a back-up feature starring Kamandi. It didn’t pan out and something was needed for a back-up until a replacement was found. DC decided to wrap up the hanging threads of Claw’s cliffhanger from #12. Rather than reprint the issues from Cancelled Comic Cavalcade, they ran a new two-part sixteen-page story completing the cliffhanger … again … for the first time … in other words, from scratch. Scratch. Claw. Get it?

 

            Warlord #48, August 1981, “Curse of the Claw”, Jack C. Harris (writer), Tom Yeates (a), Jerry Serpe (i), Pierre Bernard Jr. (l), Michael C. Carmichael (Asst Ed), Ross Andru (e). Claw accepts his coming death until the clawed hand he lopped off back in 1978 reattaches itself. He curses the gods of light who come to him and convince him to be their champion and rule the known universes. He is to go to Ichar (the original run called the city Ithar) whence ruled his nemesis Occulas and conquer the demon horde attacking the city. The leader of the demon horde … um … has a human hand…

            Ironically, this issue of Warlord also has a preview of the upcoming Arak, Son of Thunder series by Roy Thomas and starring another red-hued barbarian who is compared to the Cimmerian. I always considered Arak to be Claw’s successor in DC’s sword and sorcery slot, although Arak is grounded in reality (taking place on earth during a specific period of history, meeting characters who actually existed, etc.). This preview, and the first several issues of Arak, were drawn by Ernie Colon and inked by Alfredo Alcada – who masterfully drew the first two (and best two) issues of Adventure Line alumni Kong the Untamed. The circle is thus complete.

 

            Warlord #49, August 1981, “Hands Across the Hells”, Jack C. Harris (writer), Tom Yeates (a), Jerry Serpe (coloring), Gaspar Saladino (l), Ross Andru (e). Claw and the demon fight for hours to a draw. Before Claw succumbs to fatigue, the wizardess Shalieka performs an incantation to switch their hands forever; although it is likely one shall die. Claw overcomes his opponent and slices off the human hand of the demon – who falls into the maw of the god of death. Claw realizes this hand is not “his”, but his ancient ancestor’s, and it crumbles to dust. Claw and Shalieka ride into Ichar/Ithar in triumph. In the distance, an avatar of the Shadow Gods commends Shalieka on job well done …

            Only one letter in Warlord’s letter column (in #53) made mention of these stories and was favorable – especially enjoying Yeates’ art.

***

            The character appeared in a cameo in Star Hunters #7 (October 1978) along with fellow-David Michelinie-creation Starfire (Star Hunters was also a Michelinie creation).

            This is the total of Claw’s appearances in the Bronze Age. Claw appeared through the DC universe since: in a cross-over miniseries with Dynamite’s Red Sonja, and in his own revived title as part of DC’s Wildstorm imprint (an actual imprint – as opposed to the DC Adventure Line) for six issues. Earlier, he appeared in Swamp Thing (with Adventure Line alum Stalker), the 2008 Wonder Woman story arc Ends of the Earth, along with Stalker and Beowulf, and in issue #1 of the series Time Masters Vanishing Point. His demonic gauntlet appeared in Justice League: Cry for Justice as the villain’s artifact.

            So with his (somewhat) amount of staying power we will likely see Claw again in the future. If you see any future appearances or even in his own title, pick them up! It’s fun while it lasts…

claw by hembeck

         This wonderful drawing was done by the legendary Fred Hembeck. Like him on Facebook and check out his many auctions on Ebay – where I found this sketch card. He has many, many cards featuring comic book characters and figures from literature to pop culture – from Shakespeare to the Three Stooges from Superman to the Beatles!

Original material copyright 2015 Michael Curry

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Unnecessary Farce, Act One

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             This year’s Sparta Community Chorus’ winter play is “Unnecessary Farce” by Paul Slade Smith. The play was announced last fall and I considered trying out for a part. I watched the few versions of the play on YouTube and thought it was funny.

            The director, Erica, played my sister in last year’s play, “Murder in the Magnolias”. I saw her when I went to see the Chorus’s fall musical “Legally Blonde” – which was excellent, by the way – and she asked if I wanted to try out. I said I would like the part of the Scottish hit man. She said she liked that idea – she doesn’t know anyone that can do a Scottish brogue. I told her she dinnae hae t’worry ‘bout dat, lassie.

            Last year my grade school and high school and childhood neighbor Stephanie directed “Murder” … I blog about that here: https://michaelgcurry.com/2014/01/04/40/

            In sum, she mentioned this was the play on her Facebook page. I mentioned I still had the script from our attempt to do it in high school. She said I should try out. I said the dress in act two probably wouldn’t fit me anymore. I tried out anyway and got the part! Two parts, really. Actually, four. I explain why in the blog and a bit later here…

            I made a lot of nice new friends in my first play since 1981 and relished the idea of working with them again.  And although it kept me away from my family during half the week, I enjoyed it thoroughly!

            The try-outs were January 2nd and I met a lot of the same people I worked with in last year’s play. This play has parts for only four men and three women.

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            The website for the author describes it thusly:

“Two cops. Three crooks. Eight doors. Go. In a cheap motel room, an embezzling mayor is supposed to meet with his female accountant, while in the room next-door, two undercover cops wait to catch the meeting on videotape. But there’s some confusion as to who’s in which room, who’s being videotaped, who’s taken the money, who’s hired a hit man, and why the accountant keeps taking off her clothes.”

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From the “Unnecessary Farce” webpage:

The play received its premiere at the BoarsHead Theater in Lansing, Michigan on October 27, 2006, under the direction of Kristine Thatcher – and has had over 145 productions to date.

Paul Slade Smith is a writer and actor based in New York and Chicago. As an actor, he will next appear on Broadway in the new musical Finding Neverland, which goes into previews March 15th. His past performing credits include the national tours of Wicked and The Phantom of the Opera, and productions at American Repertory Theatre, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, The Goodman and Steppenwolf. Paul is at work on his next play, A Real Lulu. For more information, visit http://www.paulsladesmith.com/

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            I tried out for, and got, the part of the hit man. Todd the Assassin. Also called the Scotsman or the Highland Hit Man. I speak in a thick brogue and some of my lines are complete gibberish. “Aw cripes, fer cryin’ Christmas oon a bike!” “Ye woulds be auld at the horn to teel it fest!” The lines are written phonetically and reading through it the first time was very hard to do. I found it easier to read the “translation” in italics after the line and say that with a brogue instead. It took a few weeks to get the lines down and now I have to practice saying them faster.

            I also have to pay more attention to the dialouge around me. Much more so that the play last year. Last year’s play, “Murder in the Magnolias” was a spoof of “southern” plays ala Tennesee Williams and my characters (I played two – and one had multiple personalities so I was playing FOUR characters, really) said mostly non-sequiturs that had nothing to do with the real dialouge.

            In other words, in THIS play when the character Frank says, “The mayor had an appointment with Ms. Brown…” I say, “The half-naked accountant?” (earlier she was caught indelecto and is still in her slip when I come in). Whereas in “Murder” I would have responded with something like “As I went for my daily constitutional in the garden, a groundhog ran over my left foot!”

            That makes it easier and harder. Easier in that the lines flow like real dialouge and makes it easier to memorize and remember my cues. Harder in that if I flub up a line, I flub other people’s next lines, too!

            We are also discovering how hard it is to find even a prop set of bagpipes! Ebay has a broken set of pipes for $50.00 opening bid. Fortunately we will be able to get a nice Highlander outfit from a costume shop in St. Louis for rent during the show.

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          Later on I can give you more details on how the play progresses. So far I have been to only one rehearsal (my character doesn’t show until late in the first act, so I’ve been able to play hooky the first week and the director was sick for one day…!), but that one rehearsal was a hoot! This will be a very funny play and I so look forward to it!

Beowulf, Dragon Slayer: DC Adventure Line

“The First and Greatest Hero of Them All! Beowulf Dragon Slayer

beowulf

            Anyone who took an English Lit class knows about Beowulf.

           It is the oldest known epic poem in Old English. It has been translated and reviewed and critiqued more than almost any other book. Recently JRR Tolkien’s estate published his translation of the story. This is fitting, as “Beowulf” was one of Tolkien’s favorite subjects and you can hear the story’s echo throughout “Lord of the Rings” and most fantasy epics since.

            In sum: hero Beowulf aids King Hrothgar in fighting Grendel, then Grendel’s mother, and – many years later after becoming king – gives his life defeating a dragon. Oh get off about spoiling the ending – it’s Beowulf … People have been saying “Don’t spoil the ending” for over a thousand years now. Well, back then they said “Gefyllan na asecgan hit” but you get the idea.

            As far as I can tell from my internet trolling, DC’s Beowulf Dragon Slayer is the first comic book adaptation of the character in a starring role.  I found that hard to believe – no one wrote or drew a version in the Golden or early Silver Age? The letter column of issue #1 says there were many poor comic versions in the past, but I can only find a few pre-1975 comics with Beowulf in them. Usually just in a short story ala Tower of Shadows #6 from Marvel (circa 1970) or cameos ala Charleton’s Hercules back-up feature “Thane of Bagarth” (with excellent early work by Steven Skeates and Jim Aparo – the first four installments (of 12) were released as its own comic in the 1980s with back-up features by Steve Ditko – look for it)!

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#1. May 1975, “The Curse of Castle Hrothgar”, Cover by Ricardo Villamonte, Michael Uslan (writer), Ricardo Villamonte (a), Denny O’Neil (e), Allan Asherman (asst ed). In a story not too far removed from the original epic tale, Grendel cannot stand the cheers and singing from Castle Hrothgar of the Spear-Danes. Beowulf hears that his father’s friend is in need of him. Beowulf heads to Hrothgar’s mead hall named Heorot (called “Castle Hrothgar” in the title and throughout the story). On the way to Hrothgar/Heorot, Beowulf rescues a female barbarian named Nan-Zee (named after Uslan’s lady-friend) from the thrall of Satan. Upon landing, they are hexed by a jealous Unferth and lured into a swamp where they are attacked by lizard men!

            Naming a character after one’s girlfriends is sweet, but the name is pretty glaring. It takes the reader out of the story and reminds him or her that this is, indeed, a story. But it is an excellent story, nonetheless with EXCELLENT artwork. It’s a dark comic with art from something out of their horror line. We have a lot of potential here!

            The letter column explains how DC developed Beowulf and how they will vary greatly from the poem – remember that. It’s VERY important!

            This comic contains a full-page ad for Claw and Tor.

#2. July 1975, “Slave Maid of Satan!” by the same team. Our heroes are drawn into Unferth’s quicksand trap and are attacked by lizard men. They sink down into the quicksand to find a portal to hell itself! They battle hellhounds, another slave maiden and a dragon before facing the vile spinner of lies himself! The dark one tells Beowulf and company they are pawns in his game. 

            Satan says the only way Beowulf can defeat Grendel is to drink the venom from the Black Viper of the Darklands AND to then eat the ambrosia of the Zumak fruit in the east. Satan whisks them back to Heorot where Grendel waits in ambush. Satan stops Grendel – it is not yet time…

            Beowulf leaves for his quest to find the venom and fruit. Hrothgar offers the services of the evil Unferth, a lurking warrior called the Silent One and a spooky wizard called the Shaper to go with our hero.

            Satan is mentioned more times in this comic than an hour-long sermon at a tent revival. It gets kind of silly after a while. Eventually you here his name pronounced as if by Dana Carvey as the Church Lady.

            The letter column explains how some of the characters were developed – including Grendel and how they strived to make him as un-Swamp Thing-like as possible. They succeeded! Grendel looked great!

            This comic contains the full-page ad for this issue and Stalker #1.

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#3. September 1975, “Man Apes and Magic” by the same team. Beowulf’s ship is attacked by a giant squid sent by Satan! They find the island on which lurks the Black Viper and are attacked by an evil fairy named Little Omen. Finally fighting off Little Omen, our heroes are then attacked by a tribe of pygmies – their chieftain finally stops the carnage and leads Beowulf to the pit of the Black Viper. Meanwhile, Grendal forces Satan to promise that Beowulf will return by the full moon or Grendel will destroy Satan’s kingdom! Beowulf defeats the Viper and drinks his venom.

            The art here is again spectacular, although some of the “hidden messages” are not so hidden and again reminds us we are reading a story. The Shaper casts a spell and his magic words are “Harry Houdini is that you” and “This is dedicated to Winsor McCay” backwards.

            “The Serpent of SATAN!” screams the cover … complete with echo effect and Dana Carvey’s twisted lips…

   

         “The First and Greatest Hero of Them All!” declares the tag-line on every cover for the rest of the series. This issue contains the full-page Adventure Line ad. 

#4. November 1975, “Valley in the Shadow of Death” by the same team. “Beowulf Meets Dracula” says the cover! Dracula? Yes, Dracula, whose Wallachian horde is attacking a desert kingdom where the lost tribe of Israel lives. Beowulf and company battle the tribe, then battle Dracula. In the midst of battle, Satan whisks Beowulf back to Heorot to await the attack of Grendel. Grendel kills Hondscio – one of Beowulf’s most loyal warriors. Beowulf attacks Grendel but is thrown back to the desert just as battle was joined. Dracula is killed by one of his own troop. Satan appears and makes Dracula a lord of the undead! Beowulf and the tribe’s chieftain shake hands – they have each won a battle and lost a great ally. Beowulf must continue on his quest.

            Beowulf’s diversion back to Heorot was strange even for this comic. It made no sense…

            Dracula? I can’t wait to see the latter column on this issue – if the writers of Tor and Kong complain about dinosaurs and cavemen together, what would they make of THIS? “…but Vlad the Impaler lived 800 years after this takes place!” And I can already read the responses: “Meh, what are you gonna do?”

            And there are more backward incantations – “Let’s see Conan top this”, etc.

            A good story, nevertheless. Fun stuff. But I must admit, Dracula’s appearance was somewhat jarring. It was nothing compared to the next issue…

#5. January 1976, “Chariots of the Stars”, Cover: Dick Giordano, interiors by the same team (story idea by Allan Asherman).  Beowulf and companions find a duplicate Stonehenge in the far east – complete with druids who wield a new magic called “science” to defeat our heroes. They awake on the druid priestess’ spaceship – yes, spaceship – and find themselves orbiting the earth. The aliens capture mighty warriors from earth’s past. Beowulf and Nan-zee fight their way free, also freeing the frozen warriors. They fight off the alien leaders Ishtar and En-lil. The ship crashes into Atlantis, activating the volcano on the island and sinking it. Beowulf, Nan-zee and one other warrior from the mists of time survive. Athena appears and whisks the warrior, Ulysses, back to his own time. He will awake thinking he had dreamt this while a prisoner of Circe. Before he goes, Ulysses tells Beowulf he can find the Zumar fruit in Crete.

            Yep, spaceships. Yep, Ulysses. This story had as much to do with the poem Beowulf as the character Ulysses had to do with the novel by James Joyce. In fact, it would have made as much sense if it was James Joyce instead of Ulysses. But so far the book has been great and whacked-out fun. Isn’t that what comics are all about? I’d rather read this again than most comics published today!

            A full page ad hypes three new titles – Adventure Line alum Warlord’s first issue, the woefully short-lived war title Blitzkrieg, and Hercules Unbound – which would have fit in nicely in the Adventure Line faux-imprint, although it was more related to the Earth-After-Disaster line, the flagship of which was Kamandi.

#6. March 1976, “Labyrinth of the Grotto Minotaur”, cover by Ricardo Villamonte, Michael Uslan (writer),  story idea by Allen Asherman, Ric Estrada (a), Ricardo Villamonte (i), Liz Safian (colors), Denny O’Neil (e), Allan Asherman (asst ed). Beowulf and Nan-zee land on Crete and enter the fabled Labyrinth where they face the deadly Minotaur before they can get the Zumar fruit. Meanwhile, Satan annointed Dracula to be his second in command, replacing Grendel, and orders the Lord of the Undead to attack Heorot. A jealous Grendel kills Satan and takes his place as the Lord of Evil.

            The letter column must have been preparing for the onslaught of complaints tying Dracula into the series – saying Beowulf is a hero for all the ages and so we shouldn’t be surprised if he meets heroes and villains from other ages. Okay…

            What a cliffhanger to end the series on!  I guess the only good thing about cancellation is we KNOW how it ends – just read the poem. The poem leaves out Dracula and spaceships, though.

            So we’ll have to use our imaginations: Beowulf fights Dracula with the aid of William Tecumseh Sherman and the Apostle Paul! Then on to defeat Grendel! The next several years’ worth of issues would show the battle with Grendel’s mother, if the comic survived the DC Implosion and then the Crisis. Would it have lasted that long? No, don’t be silly.

***

            The last issue of Beowulf was published in November of 1975 (despite the cover date). Most of the Adventure Line never made it into 1976 (Tor, Claw and Warlord were the only ones – Tor was cancelled after issue #6 released in January 1976.  After issue #2, Warlord would go on hiatus for most of ’76). Why did Beowulf bite the dust? It lasted longer than most of its brethren. The artwork was never less than fantastic! Why were sales low? Note that the only other Adventure Line books that survived – notably Claw – never veered from its roots. Claw never faced Dracula or a spaceship.

            Warlord brought in technology – but it never claimed to be based on a dark ages epic, either. Technology was not such a jarring surprise in Skataris and was part of Grell’s plan from the beginning.

            Stalker stayed to its roots, too.  But in four issues we never got to know or like the Man Without a Soul. We didn’t cheer him on and wish him success as we did with Claw or Beowulf. And he did not have the legacy of being a long-loved strip like Tor, with the power of Joe Kubert’s editorial muscle keeping it alive by linking it to Tarzan and Korak.

             Justice Inc? It always was an awkward fit in this non-imprint. It never had a chance to catch on.

            Kong watered down its potential-filled first two issues – the untamed had been tamed. 

***

            Beowulf appeared in the 2008 Wonder Woman story arc Ends of the Earth, where he unites with fellow Adventure Line alums Claw and Stalker.

            Beowulf was the back-up feature in the first four issues (#0-3) of DC’s New 52 comic Sword of Sorcery. DC’s first Sword of Sorcery book ran in 1973 with tales of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Now why wasn’t that revived and put in the Adventure Line instead of Justice Inc? “WHAT!?” said the editors. “We don’t want to revive a cancelled comic – it was cancelled for a reason, you know!” I guess they were right and the New 52 editors should have listened: the New 52 Sword of Sorcery lasted only eight issues.

            Hey, want some fun reading? This is from a doctoral candidate, seriously: http://www.academia.edu/2470551/Making_the_Medieval_Modern_DC_Comics_Beowulf_Dragon_Slayer

            Wowsers!

Original material copyright 2015 Michael Curry

Justice Inc.: DC Adventure Line with the Avenger!

THE BLOODY PULPS: Justice Inc!

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            “The Avenger!? We can’t have a comic called The Avenger! Marvel will sue the pants off us! That’s why we call Captain Marvel ‘Shazam’ on the cover of all his comics, you know!”

            “Yes, I know that. What an odd thing to tell me.”

            “It’s called an Info Dump. As you know, Bob …”

            Which is why the comic was called Justice Inc. to avoid confusion and subpoenas. It was named after the first Avenger story from Avenger #1.

            The Avenger does not predate the superhero – Superman appeared the year before and Batman four months before. The first issue of his pulp magazine debuted in September 1939. His stories were written by Kenneth Robison, a pseudonym for the writers of Street & Smith publishers. His first story was called “Justice Inc”.

            Adventurer Richard Henry Benson boarded an airplane with his wife and daughter. After returning from “freshening up” – he found his wife and daughter missing! The trauma and horror of their disappearance caused his skin and hair to turn white and his face to “freeze”. He could thereafter mold his facial features into any disguise. He avenged the death of his family and declared war on all criminals. He did this with the help of a troupe of aides and assistants ala Doc Savage and the Shadow.

            Eventually, the writers took away his ability to manipulate his face (and normalized his skin tone and hair color) to help sell him as a closer kin to Doc Savage. It still didn’t work. His magazine lasted only 24 issues, and had five or six other short stories appearing in other magazines, including The Shadow. New stories published as paperbacks have been published through the decades.

            His first appearance in comic books was in Shadow Comics, but it wasn’t until 1975 when DC got the license to give him his own comic, or so I found in my research of various online databases. Any search of “The Avenger” online requires page after page of scrolling through Captain America and his kooky quartet, etc.; but I did the best I could. There were other comic characters called “The Avenger” in the 1950s with no relation to Richard Benson and company – most notably a four-issue comic from Magazine Enterprises in 1955.

            But now, thirty-five years after his debut – The Avenger stars in his own comic:

***

Every issue has the tag: “From the creator of Doc Savage – Kenneth Robeson” on the cover.

 

#1.  June 1975, “This Night an Avenger is Born” by Denny O’Neal (w/e), Al McWilliams (a), Allan Asherman (asst. ed.); cover by Joe Kubert.

The Avenger’s origin story from his first pulp adventure is retold: Richard Benson, his wife and daughter board a plane to Canada. Returning from “freshening up”, Benson finds his family as well as industrialist Arthur Hickock missing. After months spend recuperating from the shock, he investigates their disappearance. Benson meets his first assistant, Smitty, during the investigation. They trace the plane’s occupants to an island on Lake Ontario and wipe out the gang and their surprising leader! They decide to form Justice Incorporated to fight evil in all its forms!

Text column by Allan Asherman describes the Avenger’s operation, equipment and headquarters. The last paragraph hypes the Shadow/Avenger meeting in DC’s Shadow comic, without ever mentioning the issue of The Shadow in which it appears (#11)!  Ew, lost chance at some free PR there – Stan Lee would roll heads if that happened at Marvel…

This issue includes a full-page ad for Joker, Justice Inc, Claw the Unconquered and Ghost Castle, with a tease for Beowulf Dragon Slayer and Richard Dragon Kung Fu Fighter at the bottom.

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#2. August 1975, “The Skywalker”, Denny O’Neal (w/e), Jack Kirby (a), Mike Royer (I & i), Allan Asherman (asst.  ed.); cover by Kirby.

            A story from The Avenger pulp magazine #3 from November 1939: Scientist Robert Gant designs a sound ray that can crumble metal as well as a process to render metal invisible! Criminal Abel Darcy kills Gant and uses these tools to destroy railroads and skyscrapers throughout Chicago to extort millions. Can the Avenger, Smitty and new assistants Josh and Rosabel Newton stop Luke – er – Anakin – er – Darcy the Skywalker in time?

            In a text piece, Allan Asherman describes the potential for a Justice Inc movie: Charles Bronson as The Avenger, Alex Karras or Peter Boyle as Smitty, Bill Cosby and Diana Ross as Josh and Rosabel … dodged a bullet there, didn’t they … ?

#3. October 1975, “The Monster Bug”, (same team).  Colonel Sodom (eww…), a villain from the recently-cancelled The Shadow comic has a serum that turns ordinary citizens into monsters – hideously malformed beasts as only Kirby can draw! He tries to force noted chemists (including Fergus – who joins Justice Incorporated with this issue) into replicating the formula; unless the Avenger can stop him!

#4. December 1975, “Slay Ride in the Sky”, (same team, but with Paul Levitz also as writer). Airliners are exploding mid-flight! Investigating the chemical causing the explosions – tintabulum, leads Justice Incorporated to the airline mogul who is collecting the insurance proceeds – unless the mogul, his goons and a flock of explosive seagulls get to them first!

            The final panel for the final issue says, “…and it is at last ended.” True, but much too soon.

            The letter columns in the last two issues were favorable – although they disliked the original stories being so severely edited for the comic book version. Most recommended multi-part stories. Assistant Asherman repeated that readers deserved their “money’s worth” and “how would most reader’s feel spending their money only to see ‘To Be Continued’ on the last page”.

avenger

 

***

The Avenger has popped up occasionally at DC ever since: sometimes in a Shadow revival, teaming with Batman and Doc Savage, and sometimes in his own limited book – also titled Justice Inc. Dynamite has a Justice Inc miniseries out as we speak – teaming The Avenger with the characters who inspired him: the Shadow and Doc Savage.

            I am a pulp junkie – I will read any genre – from pirates to sports. Mostly I enjoy the so-called Yellow Peril stories such as Dr. Yen Sin and the Mysterious Wu Fang – although I cringe at the ugly stereotyping , the stories are creepy paranoid fun. Secondly, though, I enjoy the crime killers – there are certainly more of them available! I collect the paperbacks when I can and even have a few original pulps. Doc Savage, the Shadow (my favorite), the Spider (a close second) and the Avenger.

            The DC comic from 1975 didn’t last long, which was a shame. Of all the comics from the DC Adventure line, this one could have gone on for years.

            But it was an odd inclusion in the Adventure Line. The other six books were firmly set in the sword and sorcery genre – leaning heavily on the sword side.  Although sword and sorcery had their place in the pulps (Conan, Kull, etc.) –Justice Inc.’s inclusion in DC’s Adventure Line is odd. Why not include the new comic Richard Dragon, Kung Fu Fighter as an eighth Adventure Line comic? It wasn’t (yet) set in the world of DC’s superheroes either and Justice Inc proved “the line” wasn’t all sword and sorcery.

            The answer is obvious: there was no attempt at all in creating a “line”. Six comics had a theme based on the popularity of Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian as well as the revival of that genre in the paperback market. Other than the one-page house ad, I doubt much more thought was put into it.

            At this time DC was also publishing The Shadow – including one issue in which the Avenger guest-starred. The Shadow was cancelled by the time Justice Inc #3 hit the stands. Perhaps they could have advertised them as a “Pulp” line and increased circulation enough for both comics to continue for a few more issues.

            But a “pulp line” may not have worked back then: Marvel’s Doc Savage only last eight issues two years before and the Doc Savage magazine – published concurrently with Justice Inc – also only lasted eight issues.  DC’s The Shadow lasted 12 issues and was cancelled in between Justice Inc #2 & 3.

            It works now, though. Goodness knows Dynamite is going great guns bringing back obscure characters like the Black Bat in comic book form.

            But in 1975 DC included the Avenger in their “Adventure Line” and we the readers are better for it. Like most of the line, it didn’t last long; but Justice Inc was pure pulpy goodness while it lasted.

Original material copyright Michael Curry 2015

Tor: DC Comics’ Adventure Line!

FROM THE WORLD OF A MILLION YEARS AGO: TOR

torad   

             Tor the comic book character has an interesting sixty-year history: Tor is a caveman from one millions years ago…

            Wait, there weren’t any humans (as is currently defined) a million years ago. Certainly not light-skinned, brown-haired cavemen like Tor. There were homo-erectus (snicker) and homo-mauritanicus, but not humans.

            Well, anyway, Tor the caveman from one million years ago fought other cavemen, dinosaurs…

            Wait, there weren’t any dinosaurs a million years ago. The last dinosaur died out sixty-five million years ago.

            Shut up.

tor 

           Tor the character debuted in the comic 1,000,000 Years Ago #1 by St. John Press in 1953. Issue #2 was renamed 3D Comics (renaming comics and continuing the numbering was pretty common until the late 1960s and happened even in the 1970s with Our Army at War turning into Sgt. Rock to name one – something to do with saving postage…) and then for issues three through five the series was remaned Tor. It lasted until October 1954.

           In 1975, as part of its Adventure Line, DC revived Tor with his creator at the helm. Back then a creator-owned character was to DC Comics what President Obama is to a Tea Party voter. And to allow a creator-owned character from ANOTHER publishing company!!? {THUD} “Sol? Sol Harrison’s collapsed! Call a doctor!!”

            But they did. Tor, a non-DC character, whose creator had control over his appearances and content, was given his own DC Comic in 1975. Perhaps it had something to do with that particular owner.

            If Joe Kubert drew newspaper comic strips in the 1920s and 1930s, his name would be mentioned in the same breath as Alex Raymond and Hal Foster.  War comic fans would argue Kubert’s best work was with Sgt. Rock and DC’s other war heroes.  Superhero fans would argue Kubert’s best work was with Hawkman.  Kubert became a legend in both these genres and also what would now be called “sword and sorcery” with Viking Prince in Brave & Bold.  His penciling would probably have even worked with Archie and Casper the Friendly Ghost!

            Kubert’s art is very stylized and yet very accessible.  His characters were realistically lean and muscular.  His women were curvy and beautiful.  When a character looked weary, his shoulders sagged and his arms hung limp at this side.  His action scenes were straight out of “Flash Gordon” and “Tarzan”.   When he had his few off-moments, he had the rushed and sketchy style for which he is the most criticized. 

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            For simplicity’s sake – I will refer to the at-that-time two published versions of the comic as Tor (1953) and Tor (1975).

            The covers of Tor (1975) were great examples of Kubert in all their glory – although I noticed something … of the six issues – three had Tor rescuing a pretty blond. One had Tor fighting ape-men ala Tarzan, in another he rescued a baby from an erupting volcano and another he saved a tribesman with a pretty blond in the background. Four out of six with pretty blondes…

            Every issue reminds us of this dark and dangerous world – where death can come at you from every angle – be careful while walking in water or around rocky corners. Kubert does a superb job keeping up this moody paranoia!

            Later issues describes Tor as a man dedicated to justice and fairness and how rare that trait is among the first men – who are usually too busy just trying to survive!

            Every story was a reprint. Kubert contributed some new pages as bookends or story tags – usually drawings of the artist himself describing Tor and his environs above a splash page of Tor doing something cavemanish.

            “The World of a Million Years Ago” appears as a tagline on every issue. The word “From” was added at the front of that tag only in issue #1.

#1. June 1975, “The Beating”, Joe Kubert (w/a/e/cover), Carmine Infantino (i) (the strip reprint), Allan Asherman (asst. ed.); as a youth, Tor lives in a fishing village. He wanders into the mountain people’s  territory and is beaten by Kobar. Tor is later chased by an alligator-like phytosaur. Kobar, who considers Tor his slave, tries to protect his property by slaying the beast but nearly drowns. Tor rescues him. Their score is settled. Tor learns you can conquer an enemy by helping as well as hurting. The story is bookended by the adult Tor remembering this adventure while hunting food for his village (presumably written and drawn for this comic).

Kubert and Carmine Infantino (who inked) pushed a Tor comic strip in 1959 unsuccessfully. It was published in a fan magazine (Alter Ego) in 1968 and here in Tor (1975) #1. When DC’s Tor was released, Infantino was the publisher of the company.  This may explain why DC decided to publish a comic character whose bulk of profit, if any, would go to its creator. “Hey, Boss, can we publish my old Tor stories?” “No.” “I want to reprint that old strip you helped ink, too.” “Yes.”

Text page: Dinosaurs for Reel (a piece on stop-motion dinosaur movies through the years).

Another text page describes the origins of the Tor character and his world.

#2. August 1975. “A Million Years Ago,” Joe Kubert (w/a/e/cover, Allan Asherman (asst. ed.) – for all remaining issues); while fishing, Tor rescues a monkey-like creature he names Chee-Chee. Finding his fellow tribesmen – led by Klar – Tor sees another tribesman, Zul, under attack by a dinosaur. Against Klar’s orders, Tor rescues Zul. Later a humiliated Klar traps Tor, Zul stops Klar from killing Tor, Klar kills Zul in revenge. Tor kills Klar (need a scorecard?) and is thereafter banished from his tribe!

“Danny’s Dreams”, young Danny Wakely (get it?) is with his fellow students at the municipal museum’s dinosaur exhibit. Danny feels himself going back in time to the days of the caveman! He is chased by Cro-Magnons, attacked by a bear and a saber tooth tiger! The two beasts battle each other over this blond-haired, freckled meal. Danny escapes by inventing the wheel (tying together round rocks) and two-wheels his way to safety. He wakes back up to find the mummified remains of the bear and saber tooth – each died of their wounds – and a strange two-wheeled vehicle found nearby. Did Danny dream this or did he REALLY go back in time…?

Both stories are reprints from One Million Years Ago #1 (1953)

This issue featured the one-page Adventure Line ad.

Writer Don Glut (I assume that is THE Don Glut) had a letter published, thanking Joe Kubert for his original run of Tor and instilling in him a love of dinosaurs that encouraged his writing.

#3. October 1975. “Isle of Fire” (one of only two of the series in which the cover related to the story inside); Tor travels to a volcanic isle ruled by giant hairless red-skinned “fire-men”. Tor rescues their human slaves and kills the Fire-Men leader just as the volcano erupts and sinks the island. Reprinted from Tor (1953) #3.

“Danny’s Dreams” – Danny, as a caveman, and his tribesman’s raft (presumably not the raft Tor used in the prior story) sink in a storm. Danny lands on an isle of pygmies who are sensitive to loud noises. He helps them defeat a “giant” (normal-sized) man that is terrorizing their tribe. Reprinted from Tor (1953) #5.

Uber-fan Richard Morrisey has a letter published – his second in the Adventure Line.

#4. December 1975. “Black Valley”; a tribe routinely sacrifices their infant/toddler girls to the “gods” of the Black Valley. Tor discovers the gods are amazon women. Can Tor make peace between the tribes and the amazons? Can he rescue the latest sacrifice from a hungry saber tooth? This story has a GREAT two-page splash! Pretty rare for the early 1950s… Reprinted from Tor (1953) #3.

Feature: “Animals of 1,000,000 Year Ago” – the triceratops (wouldn’t this have fit better in issue #2 whose cover featured a triceratops?). Reprinted from 3D Comics (1953) #2.

“Killer Man” is a crippled tribesman who kills beasts for sport. The beasts are slaughtering the Rock People tribe in retaliation! (Letter writers complain about the lack of realism at featuring dinosaurs and men together – imagine their reaction to vengeful mammals!) The Rock People ask Tor to stop the Killer Man. Reprinted from 3D Comics (1953) #2.

Feature: The Caveman’s Escape by Allan Asherman. A text piece with photo stills from the movie “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth”.

#5. February 1976, “The Giant One”; Tor helps a tribes tormented and tortured by a Giant!

Feature: “Animals of 1,000,000 Years Ago” – the brontosaurus.

“Danny’s Dreams”; clubs can’t kill a bison, so Danny creates a bow and arrow that helps slay the beast – now the tribe has meat! He draws the bow and arrow on a cave wall to show the tribesmen how to make one. Danny awakes at a museum and sees his own drawings as an exhibit!

All three features were reprinted from 3D Comics (1953) #2.

#6. April 1976, for only the second time out of six – a story from inside the comic makes the cover. The stories in this issue are not titled. I’ve lettered them for convenience’s sake.

A.  Captured by Crater People (subterranean Neanderthals), Tor is sacrificed to the Killer Beast (a T-Rex). Even after beating the Beast, he is forbidden to leave! When he is the only one who helps the chieftain after he is attacked by a giant serpent, he is released because of his bravery. Reprinted from 3D Comics (1953) #2.

Feature: “History of Pre-Historic Animals” – the original bone-head: Pachycephalosaurus! Reprinted from Tor (1953) #4.

B.  Tor watches a triceratops battle a stegosaurus – the winner gets to drink from the water pond. The loser? Tor’s tribes’ meal! Um, what tribe? I thought he was banished… Reprinted from 3D Comics (1953) #2.

C.  Man (Tor) and beast flee from a massive forest fire. The only safe place? An island! But while there a turtle the size of a tank attacks Tor! Reprinted from 3D Comics (1953) #2.

***

            Tor was the last of the “failed” titles in the non-imprint Adventure Line. Beowulf lasted six issues, too, and its last issue was on the stands the month before. Warlord #2 was published the same month as Tor #6 – April 1976. This meant it was published around January 1976.

             Tor was an oddity among the other Adventure Line brethren – it was a reprint series publishing a rare comic that few readers had ever seen.  Joe Kubert linked the book in the letter columns with Tarzan and Korak. Books he published with DC always had an automatic audience. But it didn’t last. Korak would also fold within the year. What would happen in a few issues when the reprints ran out? Would Kubert have done new stories? Did he reprint what was available and voluntarily folded the comic? Perhaps. If he wanted to do new stories, he could have – and used the older reprints as back-ups.

            DC reprinted these stories (and presumably the rest of the 1953 run) in trade paperback and even hardback over the years. In 1993 new stories by Kubert were published by Marvel (of all people) under their Epic imprint.

            The two paragraphs describing Joe Kubert’s art is from my free ebook Brave and Bold: From Silent Knight to Dark Knight, available at Smashwords, Kobo, and through Barnes and Noble here: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-brave-and-the-bold-michael-curry/1120872264?ean=2940046443011

             I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you enjoy this blog series!

Original Material Copyright 2015 Michael Curry

Mt Vernon Now magazine article features Abby’s Road!

Abby’s Road was the lead feature in this month’s Mt Vernon Now magazine for January 2015! Thanks to Robbie Edwards for a wonderful article! I transcribed the article below. Any typos are MINE, not hers! Enjoy!

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An Open Heart

By Robbie Edwards

             The heartbreak of wanting a child desperately but not being able to conceive is a feeling Michael and Esther Curry know well.

            So is the joy and abundant love of a child.

            “We wanted a third or fourth person to love,” said Michael Curry. “We had so much love for each other we wanted it to spill over to someone else. Two people so in love was so wonderful – imagine three or four or more.”

For years, the coupe continued to hope, even through the biological clock was ticking and the couple were unable to conceive.

            “Infertility treatments weren’t working and we gave ourselves until age forty to try to make it work,” Curry explained. “It didn’t. So for a few years we put the idea of a family aside.”

            On Jan. 3, 2009, the couple decided to look into adoption.

            “We should have considered adoption from the beginning,” Curry said. “I think everyone should. Remember the old saying, ‘your spouse is the only member of your family that you get to pick’? You get to pick through adoption, too. I think people make a mistake trying only infertility treatments. They should seriously consider adoption or fostering a child too.”

            The couple began doing research and looking for the agency they wanted to use and soon decided on the Adoption Law Center out of California.

            The adoption process continued with filling our paperwork, submitting photos and competing mini-biographies to build a page for birth mothers to browse.

            Curry said one of the rules when it came to what photos could be used is that the photo needed to be less than one year old.

            The photo the couple wanted to use was about three years old.

            “Our friends renewed their vows for their 20th anniversary in a renaissance-themed ceremony,” Curry said. “We dressed in renaissance outfits for the wedding and took a lovely picture in front of a castle at Boo Rothman Park south of Carbondale. The agency said the photo was fine and they would include it.”

            Curry said after the profile site was made, the two hopeful parents began weeding though the long process of ”red tape” that Illinois requires to be adoptive parents.

            “You have to become licensed foster parents to adopt in Illinois,” Curry explained. In addition, there are fees, inspections, background checks and forms to be complete.

            “We were selected by a birth mother in June and we talked to her on the phone,” Curry said. “She lived in Massapequa, New York and her baby was due on September 23, 2010.”

            Curry said the birthmother selected them because of the renaissance photograph – which in the beginning was not even supposed to be used.

            “She loved reading stories and listening to music of that era and that attracted her to us,” Curry said. “She picked us because of the photograph we weren’t supposed to use because it was over a year old. But they allowed the photo anyway and that was the reason she picked us.”

            The agency contacted the Currys in mid-September informed them the birthmother was in labor and they should make plans to come to Long Island, N.Y.

            The excited soon-to-be parents set off to meet their new baby girl – only to find out there was a bump in the road

            “It was a false labor. She didn’t have the baby that weekend,” Curry said. “There was another false alarm that Sunday. Thursday was the due date. Her doctor decided to push back the due date to October 1st. What could we do? A flight back would cost more than staying the next eight days. We didn’t want to visit New York City or any sights that would take us hours to get back in case the baby was born early.”

            Esther Curry said the actual adoption process seemed to go quick, but witing due to the false alarms is what seemed to take a long time.

            “We got to see her on the second and she was given to us on the third to take back to our motel,” Michael Curry remembered. “It took the rest of the week for the Interstate Compact to be approved between New York and Illinois and we took her home over Columbus Day weekend.”

            The Currys’ newborn changed their lives as it does for most anyone with a new addition to the family.

            “We knew what to expect and prepare for it, but nothing really prepares you,” Curry said. “You expect to be up every two hours for feeding and changing. You expect to plan ahead like Eisenhower on D-Day just to go out to dinner and a movie. But to actually go through it… “

            Abby is five years old now and is a little person on her own.

            “One of my secretaries asked if she was a girly-girl and she certainly is! She loves to dress up in pink and purple. She loves to draw and dance and sing.:

            Curry said he and his wife have had a lot of fun watching her grow and seeing how her mind develops.

            Curry said Abby has even discovered her own sense of humor.

            “Recently she said Robin Hood and Little Red Riding Hood must be related since they have the same last name,” Curry said. “We decided they are cousins.”

            Curry said adoption or becoming foster parents is as big a decision as having a baby and not something to take lightly.

            “This isn’t a whim. This will change your life forever – not to mention the life of the child,” Curry said.

            Curry has written a book about the couple’s experiences with infertility and adoption, “Abby’s Road, the Long and Winding Road to Adoption and how Facebook, Aquaman and Theodore Roosevelt helped!”

            The book uses humor from the perspective of Michael Curry – a self-proclaimed nerdy father and his wife. The book was winner of an honorable mention at the 2014 Great Midwest Book Festival.

 This article copyright its respective holder or holders…

***

The cover of Abby's Road

The cover of Abby’s Road

“Abby’s Road, the Long and Winding Road to Adoption and how Facebook, Aquaman and Theodore Roosevelt Helped” leads a couple through their days of infertility treatments and adoption. It is told with gentle (and sometimes not-so-gentle) humor from the perspective of a nerdy father and his loving and understanding wife.

Join Mike and Esther as they go through IUIs and IFVs, as they search for an adoption agency, are selected by a birth mother, prepare their house, prepare their family, prepare themselves and wait for their daughter to be born a thousand miles from home.

 

Winner, Honorable Mention, 2014, Great Midwest Book Festival


Abby’s Road is available at Amazon here: 
http://www.amazon.com/Abbys-Road-Long-Winding-Adoption/product-reviews/0692221530/ref=cm_cr_pr_top_recent?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=0&sortBy=bySubmissionDateDescending


at Barnes and Noble here: 
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/abbys-road-the-long-and-winding-road-to-adoption-and-how-facebook-aquaman-and-theodore-roosevelt-helped-michael-curry/1119971924?ean=9780692221532


and at Smashwords here:
 https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/457270

 

Stalker: DC Comics Adventure Line

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STALKER: BEWARE THE MAN WITH THE STOLEN SOUL

                I loved this comic. I still have issue #1 from when it was first published (and Justice Inc too, by the way). It enthralled me as a youngster. Steve Ditko & Wally Wood’s combined art was stupendous. The scene where the demon takes Stalker’s soul is breathtaking. As an adult, thanks to ebay and other internet stores, I finally collected the rest of the series. Nothing was concluded, of course. But I got them! Despite my love of the first issue, I could see its limitations.

Trouble was, until the end of the four issues it had only one plot – Stalker wanted his soul back. This sets up a one-note plot which, if resolved, ends the story. Gilligan gets off the island, Stalker gets his soul back – show’s over. Still, it worked for “The Fugitive”…

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But with Conan the Barbarian dominating the sword and sorcery genre in comic books, and other pretenders doing fair if not well – such as Claw the Unconquered – there just wasn’t room for the weird comic about the man with the lost soul. Perhaps he was too much of an anti-hero. Later interpretations of him as a supervillain make me sad.

                Too bad, the four original issues were real gems.

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“Beware the Man with the Stolen Soul” appeared on every cover.

#1. July 1975, “Quest for a Stolen Soul”, Paul Levitz (w/creator), Steve Ditko/Wally Wood (a), Joe Orlando (e); an abandoned boy living as a street rat yearns to be a sword-wielding knight! He begs that land’s Baroness to train and serve her as a warrior. She instead uses him as a slave. He escapes and begs the god of warriors Dgrth to be made a warrior. Dgrth agrees – the child will be given inhuman martial skill in exchange for his soul. Deal! Wait, you want the soul NOW and not when I die? Wait! Too late! Stalker threatens to kill the Baroness in one year – making her remaining year of life a torment – and slays his former slave-master. He feels no joy or satisfaction as he has no soul. He vows to get his soul back!

                A full-page house ad for Stalker and Beowulf Dragon Slayer is in this comic.

                The text page includes a bio of Paul Levitz and a map of some of Stalker’s world! A map! No fantasy epic is complete unless it contains a map!

                How I yearn to see the tale of vengeance against the Baroness in the next year. The editor says in a letter column that by issue #7 Stalker will be in the northern lands wherein lie dragons. Issue #7, on a bi-monthly schedule – would be the year anniversary. Did the Baroness hie herself to northern lands? What a great multi-parter that would have been – Stalker tracking down the Baroness across the map!

#2. September 1975, “Darkling Death at World’s End Sea”, (same team); F’lan, the prior of Dgrth’s temple at World’s End Sea, knows where lay the gateway to Dgrth’s domain. Stalker is captured by F’lan, who will sacrifice the marked one to Dgrth. Stalker escapes with the help of Merilla on the promise Stalker will take her with him.

                The Ditko/Wood art is just as good as the first issue – the World’s End Sea is just that! Just past the shoreline the sea drops off into eternity. Grand stuff!

                The full-page Adventure Line ad appears in this issue.

#3. November 1975, “The Freezing Flames of the Burning Isle”, (same team); The Burning Isle, on which – so Stalker learned from F’lan – hides the portal to Dgrth’s realm. Stalker befriends Srani, a witch banished to the island one year ago. She tells that the gods and demons man worships were in fact ancient aliens from the stars who were themselves banished from this island to their various domains. Is Srani more than she seems?

                The letter column says this could be Stalker’s last issue depending on the sale numbers.

                My copy of this issue is a Mark Jeweler variant: a cardboard insert advertising Mark Jewelers was distributed on or near military bases. Not only did this soldier defend my freedom, he bought a dandy comic book too!

#4. January 1976, “Invade the Inferno”, (same team – the letter column reveals Ben Oda and Joe Letterese (l), Tatjana Wood, John Albano Jr & Carl Gifford (i) through the series); Stalker invades hell, fights its minions and raises an army against Dgrth. Stalker confronts the demon and demands the return of his soul. He cannot return it – only Dgrth’s death can free Stalker’s soul; and only when a god is forgotten can it truly die. Then Stalker shall slay all evil until his soul is returned. So he vows!

                The letter column says this issue wraps up the first part of the series in case of cancellation. They were right! 

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If the series had continued it would thus head to other plots – now Stalker seeks to destroy all evil rather than “just” getting back his soul: a MUCH more open storyline with lots of potential (“The Fugitive” wasn’t just him hunting for the one-armed man – there were lots of great stories in between…). Perhaps he can still find his humanity by helping others – even if his reasons are selfish. Perhaps he would have found allies or (gasp) friends.  How a man with no soul would handle allies and friends would make for some interesting character development – even for only a panel or two, as was normal with 1970s comic books.

If it had only taken less than four issues to get to that point. Between the art and that storyline it might have attracted some attention.

 

                Stalker appeared in JSA Returns as a demonic supervillain, in Swamp Thing (with Adventure Line alum Claw), and in the 2008 Wonder Woman story arc Ends of the Earth as the villain – battling the Amazon with Claw and Beowulf at her side. Stalker replaced Beowulf as the back-up feature in issues #4-7 of the DC New 52 magazine Sword of Sorcery.

                My favorite of the Adventure Line books, if only sentimentally. The art is breathtaking!  It’s Ditko & Wood, folks! DITKO! WOOD!

Original material copyright 2015 Michael Curry