Saturday 26 January 2013

Marvel's Black and White mags.

Savage Sword of Conan #15, The Devil in Iron

Savage Sword of Conan #7, The Citadel at the Centre of Time

Savage Sword of Conan #6, The Lurkers Below

Savage Sword of Conan #8, Death-Song of Conan

Savage Sword of Conan #4, Iron Shadows in the Moon

Savage Tales #6, Ka-Zar

Rampaging Hulk #3, the Metal Master

Rampaging Hulk #4, Jim Starlin cover

Rampaging Hulk #9, The Avengers

Monsters Unleashed #11, Gabriel the Exorcist

There were few thrills in life quite like getting a Marvel Treasury Edition but a thrill that could match almost that was getting one of Marvel's 1970s black and white mags.

They might have just been comics but, with their painted covers, extra pages, features, articles and lushly monochrome artwork, they seemed so much more grown-up than any comic had a right to be.

I had ten of them, which by an incredible coincidence just happen to be the ten pictured to the left of this very post.

As you may have guessed The Savage Sword of Conan made a big impression on me and I made sure to get any issue of it I laid my eyes on. If any comic strip was ever suited to such a format, it had to be the adventures of the Hibernian hackmeister.

As mentioned elsewhere on this blog, John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala's adaptation of Iron Shadows in the Moon was a classic of the genre, with a level of illustration that couldn't fail to blow the mind of any unsuspecting ten year old who might encounter it for the first time.

But the duo's The Citadel at the Center of Time and Alex Nino's The Lurkers Below ran it close when it came to Steve appeal.

I got all three issues that I owned of The Rampaging Hulk during one summer holiday, and its tales of the Hulk's wilderness years between the cancellation of his original comic and his reappearance in Tales To Astonish always tickled my fancy at the time, even if the stories were lumbered with surely the worst race of evil aliens ever inflicted upon comicdom, and the backup strip Bloodstone meant nothing to me.

Of the ten mags I had, Monsters Unleashed #11 was probably the weakest, featuring a bandwagon-jumping exorcist and the adventures of a Komodo dragon.

Meanwhile, even though it could only be viewed as an emergency issue - cobbled together from unfinished tales, Jan of the Jungle and a Ka-Zar reprint - with its Neal Adams cover, Savage Tales #6 always grabbed me mightily.

The black and white mags were a venture by Marvel into a more adult market, one that ultimately failed in not just its commercial aim but also its artistic one, in that they were barely more adult than the full-colour monthlies. What nudity there was could mostly only be labelled, "coy," strategically placed hair often being the order of the day. Genuine emotional and intellectual depth was mostly absent. And it would appear, from the editorials that accompanied the Savage Tales and Monsters Unleashed issues, that actually scraping together enough material to fill them in time for the deadline was a major problem.

The Savage Sword of Conan, of course, was a massive success, running for a zillion years before Marvel finally went mad and relinquished their rights to the character. Marvel's other black and white mags mostly struggled to make it into double figures before the plug was pulled. Could they have succeeded if they had indeed been more adult, or did the lack of colour mean they were always doomed to struggle in an American market that took multi-hued heroes for granted? I don't have a clue but I do know that, whatever their failings, they were fun while they lasted.


Dougie said...

I understand Hibernian to mean Irish but Conan's globe-trotting, pessimism and drinking habits seem more Scottish to me. Plus Cimmeria is supposed to be dark and gloomy.

tharg said...

Conan and Hulk definitely suit B&W.

For me, SSOC is comics high point. Thomas and John Buscema together were simply awesome.

Steve, I remember "Rampage" - how did this differ to "Rampaging Hulk"? Was it just a name change?

Steve W. said...

Tharg, Rampage was very similar to Rampaging Hulk but was published by Marvel UK instead of Marvel US. It used the same Hulk stories and covers as Rampaging Hulk but, instead of the likes of Bloodstone and Shanna The She-Devil as backup strips, Rampage had backup strips like The X-Men, Defenders and Dr Strange.

Steve W. said...

Dougie, the Hibernian thing was a mistake on my part. I meant Hyborian but got them mixed up.

Dougie said...

Ah, I thought you were referring to the Irish origins of the name!

Comicsfan said...

I must admit to being mildly curious as to whether or not the Metal Master's power achieved any more success against the Hulk in the newer magazine story than they did in his first appearance. And that Avengers story looks pretty interesting. (Jeez, I can't picture Jan having the strength to be a pallbearer for a regular casket, much less one carrying the Hulk!)

Kid said...

Hibernian. Snigger. Didn't he come from Caledonia?

Steve W. said...

Comicsfan, Sad to say I can remember noting of the Hulk's fight with the Metal Master in that Rampaging Hulk tale. All I remember of the story is Bruce Banner, Bereet and Rick Jones in a museum, looking at Ancient Roman artifacts.

As for the Avengers tale, I'm afraid the scene on the cover is somewhat liberal in its portrayal of what happens in the comic. It turned out no heavy lifting was needed by the Wondrous Wasp.