Sunday, 4 April 2010

Savage Tales #6. It's all gone Ka-Zar.

Savage Tales #6, Neal Adams, Ka-Zar and Zabu, dinosaur stampedeIt was either smoke and mirrors or it was page count and covers but was there anything more exciting in the 1970s than getting your hands on one of Marvel's magnificent monochrome mags?

It's ironic that a large part of what made the monthly titles seem special to British eyes was that - unlike Marvel UK's output - they were in colour... ...and yet the black and white US mags somehow seemed more glamorous than the monthlies.

Savage Tales #6 was a perfect example of that, announcing its presence with a dramatic cover by Neal Adams. I have to admit that, at the time, I didn't know who Neal Adams was. Oh I'd seen his work before. I'd seen it in the Batman, and X-Men comics but, although I'd seen it, it'd somehow failed to make an impact on me. For that, I had to wait until the Mighty World of Marvel's reprints of the Kree/Skrull War. But, despite not knowing who'd done it, this cover certainly got my attention and, inspired by it, I remember copying parts of it, on various scraps of paper we had lying around the house.

For me, what makes this comic stand out is that it stars Ka-Zar. Thinking about it, Ka-Zar's the only major Marvel hero who I can't imagine being able to beat any other Marvel hero. Even the less than mighty Ant Man could probably sort him out, by summoning the (presumably) huge insects of the Savage Land and getting them to gang up on him. But it's all about context and, while many of Marvel's heroes were extraordinary people in a more-or-less ordinary (New York) setting, Ka-Zar was a more-or-less ordinary man in an extraordinary setting.

In an oddly bitty issue, we kick off with half a Ka-Zar story drawn by John Buscema and inked by Tony DeZuniga. Although I like DeZuniga, I'm not convinced his inks were ever a good fit for Buscema. Buscema's own style here's virtually eliminated by DeZuniga, making it almost unrecognizable. As for it only being half a story, we're told it wasn't meant to be but DeZuniga fell ill during production and so the tale just stops at the point at which his kidney let him down. Such misfortune seems to have been a common problem with Marvel's black and white mags. I had an issue of Monsters Unleashed which seemed to have suffered a similar crisis.

Then we get a reprint of a Jan of the Jungle story then something about some bloke looking for dragon's teeth before we get the highlight of the issue, which is a Ka-Zar story reprinted from Savage Tales #1. It seems an odd decision to fill the gap left by the deadline emergency with a tale that'd been published only five issues earlier. Fortunately, I didn't have Savage Tales #1 so it didn't bother me but it must've left readers who had that earlier mag feeling somewhat cheated that they'd handed over the then hefty sum of 75 cents for virtually no new material.

The story's basically a big bag of clich├ęs as a man and a woman who looks like Mary Jane Watson turn up in a very naff-looking tank, aiming to steal the Savage Land's supply of Vibranium which bears no resemblance to the Vibranium found in the Black Panther's kingdom of Wakanda. His metal absorbs vibration, this destroys metal. Presumably, this Vibranium would therefore destroy the Black Panther's Vibranium.

In truth the story feels like it could've been written for a colour monthly, and it's only a touch of mild nudity that would've prevented it being published in one. It seems to me this was the major failing of Marvel's black and whiters. To justify their high cover price, they were supposed to be aimed at a more mature readership but, when you read them, it's hard to spot where the greater maturity actually is. Even here, to no doubt protect the mature reader's delicate sensibilities, the scheming antagonist has a noticeable lack of nipples when her chest is exposed.

So, it's an oddly bitty mag featuring half a story, some characters you've never heard of before, some reprints, a woman without nipples, and arguably Marvel's weakest hero but the odd thing is that, for some reason, this is my favourite issue of any of Marvel's black and white mags. Maybe it's because I've always had a soft spot for Ka-Zar - basically a Conan the Barbarian who's free to move in both the modern and the archaic world as the writers see fit. Or maybe it's because his lack of glamour's better suited to black and white than some other Marvel heroes. Maybe it's something else - the sheer deadline-crisis-enforced quirkiness of its story choices - but when I started re-buying my old mags, on eBay, this was the first black and whiter I set out to get.

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