SUPERHEROES FROM THE CRYPT
MARVEL'S BRONZE AGE WORLD OF HORROR
The following is an in-depth portrayal and analysis of Marvel's foray into the horror genre during the Bronze Age period of the 1970s. Although limited to a few years of success only, Marvel's very own world of horror was quintessential in shaping and defining the more diverse structure of the Marvel Universe which grew out of the superhero dominated Silver Age of the 1960s.
It should be pointed out that the timespan notion of "Bronze Age" applied here (i.e. equalling the decade from January 1970 to December 1979) differs from the traditional point of view, which usually sets the end of the Bronze Age roughly around 1985.
of Marvel superheroes which Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve
Ditko and others had created since its inception in 1961
had revolutionized the comic book medium and quickly
became a great success both in artistic and financial
terms for the industry. It had been a "clean"
world in many ways - Spider-Man / Peter Parker had his
problems in life (that was part of the success formula),
but it would always be clear what exactly the problem was
and how it might be solved. Most importantly, one could
always tell the good guys from the bad guys and at the
end of the day, good would prevail and crime would never
pay. It was a world of primary colours and happy endings,
and although the bad guys would end up being caught out
after a physical clash, blood or even just bruises were
never to be seen.
But the world was changing fast. By the mid-1960s a generation gap and a political divide marked most of American culture, and society was changing alongside with it. Comic books were slower than other media in responding, but eventually social questions (many of which were also highly political issues) made their way into the storylines. The world of superheroes got far more complex than it had ever been, as their adventures suddenly took place in front of the backdrop of the Vietnam war or drugs. It got harder and harder to figure out what the problems really were, and the line between good and bad seemed blurred at times. But despite all the adaptations made, the superhero concept still seemed too clean to a growing number of readers. It was time for something new. The continuing rise of inner-city poverty and crime rates, the political and social aftermath of the Vietnam War, the hardships of economic recession, and the looming shadow of the oil shock of 1973 were just some of a number of problems that plagued the US in the very early 1970s. As the economy continued to slip, the decade looked set to become an era of disenchantment and mistrust. Much of the diversification of the comic book industry's output at the beginning of the 1970s mirrored the problems of society.
In 1970, Marvel Comics - together with the rest of the industry - thus found itself at a threshold. Comic books needed to find a way to adapt to the real life changes and thus renew its appeal to existing as well as new readers.
One approach was to make the world of superheroes more gloomy, such as depicting drug issues (Amazing Spider-Man #96-98, May-July 1971) or the deaths of central members of the regular cast (such as Gwen Stacy in Amazing Spider-Man #121 [June 1973] and the Green Goblin in Amazing Spider-Man #122 [July 1973]).
Another approach, which had previously stood the test of time in many economic and social crises, was to fall back on escapist themes. Among these, the horror genre has always been a popular metaphor - economic recession and vampires both left people at the mercy of something which was very much out of control for most individuals, but at least someone could drive a stake through the latter threat.
|Accordingly, Marvel's range of horror characters and comic book titles played an important role in the diversification the House of Ideas underwent as it progressed from the 1960's Silver Age to the 1970's Bronze Age period, and it happened straight away as January 1970 saw the release of a new horror title called Where Monsters Dwell.|
the "classic" 1960s decade of Marvel Comics the
horror and science fiction genre had completely given way
to Stan Lee's highly successful theme of superheroes for
almost the entire Silver Age period until Marvel
rediscovered the world of spooks and ghouls in late 1969
and launched two anthology titles (Tower of Shadows
and Chamber of Darkness). According to Roy
Thomas, the general situation in late 1969 / early 1970
was characterized more than anything by first increasing
Marvel's output (starting with a fistful of anthology
titles) and then going for diversity in the second step:
Based on the past experience with Tower of Shadows and Chamber of Darkness, Where Monsters Dwell (first published January 1970), Where Creatures Roam (July 1970) and Fear (November 1970) featured no original material and simply reprinted monster stories from the late 1950s and very early 1960s.
stories used primarily came from Journey into Mystery,
Strange Tales, Tales to Astonish and Tales of
Suspense, mostly written by Stan Lee and Larry Lieber
and pencilled by Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Don Heck -
all of which had since acquired cult status and made the
stories "sellable" for a second round. Whilst
virtually all covers of Where Monsters Dwell and Where
Creatures Roam were reprints, later issues of Fear
featured new cover artwork by some of Marvel's
finest staff, such as Gil Kane (pencils) and Frank
Giacoia (inks) for issues #5, #6 and #9, Marie Severin
for issue #4 and John Severin for issue #8.
Where Monsters Dwell would eventually become the longest running Marvel anthology reprint title, numbering 38 issues before being dropped in October 1975, whilst Where Creatures Roam ran for only 8 issues until discontinued in September 1971. A completely different fate, however, was meted out to Fear - retitled Adventure into Fear as of issue #10 (October 1972), it would turn to featuring new original material as of that point.
|EXPERIMENTS FROM THE LAB - EARLY MARVEL BRONZE AGE HORROR|
|Even as Marvel was turning out these anthology titles, the House of Ideas was about to rethink its approach to the horror genre.|
|In August 1970, the first issue of a
new Marvel comic book title was published which, at first
sight, had no relevance to the horror genre. Astonishing
Tales #1 was a revival of the classic "double
feature" format of the 1960s, accentuated by a name
which was very close to one of the best known such titles
from the Silver Age, namely Tales to Astonish.
However, Astonishing Tales also had a brand new
twist because it featured Ka Zar (who basically was a bit
like the Sub-Mariner, a good guy sometimes forced by
circumstances to battle it out with one of Marvel's
superheroes) and Dr Doom - an archvillain by any
Roy Thomas provided the first two plots before handing over the concept to Larry Lieber and then Gerry Conway. The first four issues were pencilled by veteran artist Wally Wood, before George Tuska and Gene Colan both did two issues.
|The cover of Astonishing Tales #1 (August 1970) [left], original artwork by George Tuska (pencils) and Mike Esposito (inks) for page 6 [center, scanned from the original artwork in my private collection], and the same page as it appeared in print [right].|
Doctor Doom was dropped as feature character after Astonishing
Tales #8 (October 1971), this was the first time
that a major publisher starred a villain in his own title
(a few years later DC would follow by giving the Joker
his own book), and this move was highly significant for
the horror genre as it paved the way for the concept of
having a figure, which is perceived as being basically
evil, as the starring character of a comic book. In this
respect, Dr Doom paved the way for Marvel's classic
horror titles such as Tomb of Dracula, Werewolf
by Night and Ghost Rider.
Many things were changing all around, and on the level of comic books, Marvel was trying to come up with new ideas and concepts. Thinking back on an experiment made in 1968 (Spectacular Spider-Man #1-2), one such attempt was to try and tap into a new generation of readers (like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had done in 1961/62) by designing titles with a larger size format which were meant to look more like magazines than traditional comic books and featured black and white content with more "adult" themes.
||Other publishers were already using
this formula with great success, such as Warren who
published Vampirella, Eerie and Creepy
Testing the waters, Marvel published Savage Tales #1 in May 1971. Their first large-size black & white anthology magazine also featured Marvel's first horror character of the Seventies in an 11-page story, a creature called Man-Thing. Dying in a swamp, scientist Ted Sallis - who tested his own formula for the creation of "super soldiers" - rises again from the dead as a result of the mixture of swamp life and chemical waste.
It was, however, a one-off appareance for the Man-Thing (which would resurface many moons later to become one of Marvel's household Bronze Age horror characters) as Marvel's distributor faced severe difficulties in handling and marketing the first issue, resulting in a long delay before the next issue of Savage Tales could be published - in fact, it would be two more years before Marvel attempted another black & white magazine venture.
|THE 1971 REVISION OF THE COMICS CODE|
|At virtually the same time Stan Lee was approached as editor-in-chief by the US Department of Health, asking Marvel to do a comic book story which would depict drug abuse as negative and dangerous. Lee agreed and wrote up a story spanning The Amazing Spider-Man #96-98 (May to July 1971 issues). However, the CCA refused to approve the story precisely because of the presence of narcotics. Insisiting on the relevance of the cause, Lee consequently published the books (backed by publisher Martin Goodman) without CCA approval and therefore without the CCA seal. The books were highly successful and well received by critics, subsequently forcing the CCA to revise the Code that same year, permitting the depiction of "narcotics or drug addiction" if presented "as a vicious habit" - without any real intention to do so, Stan Lee had reformed the comics code (Lee & Thomas, 1998). The horror genre was also granted more flexibility as vampires, ghouls and werewolves would now be allowed if "handled in the classic tradition of Frankenstein, Dracula and other high caliber literary works by Edgar Allan Poe, Saki, Conan Doyle". Zombies (with no literary background to save them) and indeed the word horror itself however remained on the blacklist (Nyberg, 1998).|
revision of the code opened up many new possibilities,
but Stan Lee together with Roy Thomas and Gil Kane were
already out of their starting boxes before most others
could even start to ponder the new situation. Only five
months after launching a non-CCA-approved issue of Amazing
Spider-Man, Marvel's best-selling comic title would
again make an important contribution to the horror genre,
only this time in a more direct way when Amazing
Spider-Man #101 (October 1971) featured the debut of
Dr Michael Morbius aka Morbius the Living Vampire.
A Nobel-prize winning biochemist, Dr Morbius (presumably a name thought up by Stan Lee and Roy Thomas on the basis of Latin morbus, i.e. illness) had attempted to cure himself of a rare blood disease with an experimental treatment involving vampire bats. However, he instead became afflicted with a far worse condition that mimicked the powers and bloodthirst of legendary vampirism, meaning that he now had to digest blood in order to survive and felt a strong aversion to light. Morbius gained the ability to fly as well as superhuman strength, and his appearance became hideous: his canine teeth extended into fangs, his nose flattened to appear more like a bat's, and his skin became chalk-white. Similar to vampires, Morbius would turn others into "living vampires" by biting them.
|It is rumoured (but always without quoting a reliable source) that Lee and Thomas wanted to put pressure on the comics code by creating a "living vampire" - a concept which would at least partially outsmart the CCA's taboo list where vampire's were defined as "walking dead". Whatever the background of his creation, it is the foreground of the first appearance of Morbius which is truly important for Marvel's way of re-defining the horror genre for the Bronze Age.|
|APPLYING THE SUPERHERO CONCEPT|
importance of Morbius the Living Vampire for Marvel's
Bronze Age horror comic books lies with the circumstances
of his first appearance. Even if Amazing Spider-Man
had already clocked up 101 issues, any character opposing
Marvel's most successful superhero at that point in time
would automatically be given super-villain status.
Accordingly, Morbius was presented in a visual form which
resembled the Green Goblin far more than any of the
average popular culture vampire imagery. At the same
time, the title of Amazing Spider-Man #101 made
reference to the horror genre as it screamed out "A
monster called... Morbius!"
According to Roy Thomas, he and artist Gil Kane actually wanted to introduce Dracula into Amazing Spider-Man #101 but were held back by Stan Lee who wanted a "super villain vampire" - and who possibly already had different plans in his mind for Dracula (Cooke, 2001). Thus Morbius became the first instance and example of what would become Marvel's principal Bronze Age approach to the horror genre: applying the superhero concept and letting loose, so to say, superheroes from the crypt.
The guiding principles were fairly simple and had mostly been tested previously. The real novelty was, as often, the approach of combining these different threads into one formula - something which Marvel was still virtually unbeatable at even ten years after the inception of the Fantastic Four.
The central approach was to create a character which would feature as the central figure of a continuing saga of individual episodes. As a result, the focus would shift in comparison to most popular culture storytelling, making the source of horror (e.g. Dracula) the main character of the plot and the subject of the storyline, complete with a more or less regular cast of individuals involved with the main character (such as Harker or Van Helsing had already been in Stoker's Dracula). This was very different to what had been presented in colour comics before - which often ran along the lines of "I dared to enter the haunted castle" and only provided a plot for a couple of pages. Marvel already knew from Dr Doom in Astonishing Tales that turning the "bad guy" into the main character of a comic book - its "anti-hero" so to speak - worked and was accepted by the readers.
A secondary aspect of this approach was to furnish such characters from the horror genre with their own comic book titles if they proved to be selling well enough, rather than having them appear in a more generic publication format. This, again, paralleled Marvel's approach to their superheroes since the early Silver Age period, but unlike the circulation restraints experienced in those days, Marvel would now virtually make it a policy of flooding the market, including horror titles. Some of them sold reasonably well, but if they didn't make it Marvel would just drop them and try something else in an attempt to get a bigger share of the market (Cooke, 2001).
immediately prior to the launch of Marvel's attempt to
inject something akin to the superhero concept into the
horror genre, the House of Ideas had to fall back on
reprint material in order to establish a presence in this
obviously promising segment of the comic book market.
The publication of King-Size Special Tower of Shadows #1 in December 1971 and Chamber of Darkness Special #1 in January 1972 was an attempt to breathe a second life into the original material Marvel had assigned for the first issues of these two titles when launched in late 1969.
King-Size Special Tower of Shadows #1 featured reprints from Tower of Shadows #1 and 2 (with a story from Atlas period Journey into Mystery #61 tossed in as filler for the final five pages) and Chamber of Darkness Special #1 likewise featured material from the first two issues of the title.
|It was a first move, but Marvel had clearly sensed that putting out Atlas period reprints in anthology format alone would not prove enough to grab a substantial slice of this newly emerging market interest and that original material would be needed as main competitor DC Comics - quite unlike Marvel - already had a well-established range of anthology horror titles, of which House of Mystery (launched in 1951) was perhaps the best known.|
|WEREWOLF BY NIGHT|
|But by late 1971, Marvel was ready to hit back. Surprisingly, though, the first "superhero from the crypt" wasn't Dracula, but the classic Werewolf. A creature rooted in centuries of traditional folkore in Europe, it was often portrayed as being innocent at heart and suffering from an unhappy personal fate. One of the oldest literary sources is the short poem Bisclavret, written in Anglo-Norman in the late 12th century and describing the fate of a garwolf (Bloch, 2003). In more recent times the novel The Werewolf of Paris (1933) by Guy Endore has been accorded classic status (Squires, 1986).|
|The creative process behind Marvel's
version of the werewolf theme was described by Roy Thomas
in an interview:
One of Marvel's most successful horror characters, Werewolf by Night made his first appearance in Marvel Spotlight #2 (one of Marvel's tryout magazines) in February 1972, and the launch was considered important enough to merit being mentioned in Marvel's regular monthly Bullpen Bulletin:
The series focussed on Jack Russell, whose family (originally from Eastern Europe) was cursed with lycanthropy. Starting on his 18th birthday, Russell would find himself transforming into a wolf-like creature every time there was a full moon. Similar to Bruce Banner and the Hulk, Jack Russell would always be seeking ways to either avoid or at least control the transformations. Eventually he would gain the ability to change into the werewolf at will and control the beast, except on three specific nights of the full moon when nothing goes.
Scripted by Gerry Conway and pencilled and inked by Mike Ploog, the character had a good reception amongst readers, earning the werewolf his own mag in September 1972 after appearing in Marvel Spotlight for three issues. Ploog, who had just turned thirty, was one of the emerging comic book stars of the early 1970s. After initial work for Warren's line of black & white horror magazines he approached Marvel with a Western sample of his artwork.
In the end, Werewolf by Night turned out to be Marvel's second most successful venture into the horror genre, when - after a run of nearly five years - Werewolf by Night was cancelled and ended its publication run with issue #43 in March 1977. For Mike Ploog, it was the beginning of a genre career at Marvel, where his art style made him a favourite with many readers of Marvel's horror books and something of a natural choice for the editors when it came to assigning an artist to a new horror title in the months to follow.
During that time, Werewolf by Night had also appeared in several crossover plots, including encounters with Spider-Man (Marvel Team-Up #12, October 1973) and Dracula (Tomb of Dracula #18, March 1974). From a systematic point of view, the crossover with Spider-Man in Marvel Team-Up #12 is of great importance because of its inherent statement with regard to Marvel's approach to continuity and the "Marvel Universe".
|The creatures of Marvel's newly unfolding world of horror were defined by Marvel as all being part of said universe, and therefore dwelling in the same world as all of Marvel's super-hero characters. Apart from the obvious implication that this could provide encounters between these two "basic sets" of characters, it led to another interesting conclusion, namely that all of these horror characters which had a literary background were to be perceived as real rather than fictional characters from a novel. However, because the mark of their original authors was so strong (most noteably in the case of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Bram Stoker's Dracula), the existence of these books was not ignored or questioned but rather portrayed as a case of factual reports by these very authors mistakingly perceived by most of the world as literary works of fiction. An interesting twist, this would even lead Marvel's writers to have Dracula musing about Stoker's novel and the Monster grabbing a copy of Frankenstein from a bookshop window.|
|THE TOMB OF DRACULA|
next interpretation of a classic horror figure was to be
Dracula, created by Bram Stoker in his 1897 novel.
Heavily pushed by Stan Lee (Cooke, 2001), the plans
surrounding the vampire count were first announced to the
general readership in mid-1971:
Originally planned as a black & white magazine rather than a colour comic book, this concept was changed as late as after completion of Gene Colan's artwork for what eventually became Tomb of Dracula #1. As a result, the original art was oriented to a magazine size of 8,5" x 11" rather than the standard size for a comic book and therefore had to be extended vertically and horizontally (Cooke, 2001). As far as the storyline of the first issue is concerned it is somewhat unclear who contributed what. According to the official Marvel statement, Stan Lee plotted the first issue (October 1971 Bullpen Bulletin), whereas Roy Thomas seems to remember plotting that issue himself, working on just a few verbal sentences made to him by Stan Lee (Cooke, 2001). Whilst this may well be a case of differing definitions of plotting and scripting, both sources agree on the fact that Gerry Conway (who was only nineteen at the time) - credited with writing the first issue on its splashpage - was brought in almost last minute to, basically, supply the dialogue (October 1971 Bullpen Bulletin).
Tomb of Dracula #1
pencilling art on Tomb of Dracula #1 was
entrusted to Gene Colan (who would then go on and stay
with the book right throughout its entire run) after
having literally fought for this assignment from Stan
Officially, the launch was further delayed because of restrictions on printing capabilities. These were due to an increase of pages in most Marvel titles, turning them into "king size" books - a move Marvel had to undo again only two months later (November 1971 Bullpen Bulletin), but with a cover date of April 1972, Marvel finally launched the much announced first issue of Tomb of Dracula featuring a cover by Neal Adams:
According to Roy Thomas, Marvel's editor-in-chief at the time, Tomb of Dracula (the extension to the vampire count's name was necessary for Marvel to be able to copyright the title) had a good start, the book eventually becoming a good, solid seller for most of its run (Cooke, 2001). Despite an initial lack of constant authorship (Gerry Conway worked on issues #1-2, Archie Goodwin on issues #3-4, and Gardner Fox on issues #5-6), Marvel's newest horror title found favour with its readership, and the title went from bi-monthly to monthly publication as of Tomb of Dracula #9 in June 1973.
By that time, Marv Wolfman had taken over the scripting and Tomb of Dracula would eventually become the flagship of Marvel's line of horror titles and the longest running comic book title with a villain as its namegiving hero - above all thanks to the artwork of Gene Colan (often superbly inked by Tom Palmer) which was, in a word, definitive. After a long period of work on Daredevil, Colan created an intensely atmospheric visual rendition of the horror saga that was to unfold. The fact that he remained on the series for the entire length of its run was paramount to its success and is a prime reason for the status of cult classic which Tomb of Dracula has achieved.
Colan established a distinctive look for Marvel's vampire count while maintaining many of the features readers would probably come to expect (such as the cape), and embedded this in a general visual atmospheric setting which went far beyond the classic horror comic qualities. Issue after issue Colan's style provided a truly captivating visual journey into the dark shadows, often incorporating well-known landmark buildings to set the scene.
The kick-off script used Bram Stoker's plot from the novel as part of its background storyline but opened with the re-animation of the vampire in modern times, which involved the last living descendant of Dracula, an American named Frank Drake. The great advantage of this approach was that the almost inevitable translocation of events to current times took place straight away, avoiding tedious twists and turns the storyline might otherwise have taken (as happened later on with the - greatly inferior - Monster of Frankenstein). The frequent change of writers, however, posed a problem, as Marv Wolfman concluded immediately when he was handed Tomb of Dracula #7 as author number four.
Because of Marvel's systematic approach of having only "real" characters in its universe, never mind how fantastic they may be, Bram Stoker's book - as a consequence - is not, as everybody thinks, a work of fiction, but rather an account of actual events. The logic of this approach then dictates that the other characters of the novel - most importantly, Dracula's adversary Van Helsing - were just as real as the newly revived Dracula himself, setting the scene for Rachel van Helsing, granddaughter of the famous vampirologist, and Quincy Harker, the son of Jonathan and Mina Harker (both pivotal characters in Stoker's novel).
Fighting the newly risen lord of vampires would be a team effort - as it was in Stoker's novel - but this time the group of individuals would not be formed by family ties but rather by a common cause.
Harker, an elderly man bound to a wheelchair, is a man who uses scientific means and sophisticated machinery to hunt down vampires - something he has done, as he himself explains, for the past sixty years after having been trained by Abraham van Helsing himself. He is the driving force behind the group of vampire hunters, carrying on a lifelong crusade to fight and destroy vampires. Being old and paralyzed, he is seen as a kind of mastermind behind the group effort.
One of the best known characters amongst the group was an original Marvel creation with no ties to Stoker's novel whatsoever: Blade the Vampire Slayer, introduced in Tomb of Dracula #10, became the title-giving star of three movies and one of the most successful African-American characters in comic book history.
concept of having a group of "vampire killers"
as opponents to Dracula's actions and scheme of world
domination was presented and worked on so well that it
became an important element of the ongoing saga and
contributed in a very important way to the success of Tomb
Marv Wolfman, after taking over the scripting as of Tomb of Dracula #7, stayed on the book together with Gene Colan until the title was finally cancelled after 70 issues in August 1979 - the longest run of any Bronze Age Marvel horror genre title and the "superhero from the crypt" par excellence.
Marvel's Tomb of Dracula broke new grounds. It was far more than just an average vampire tale, weaving an ongoing saga which plotted the vampire count against the group of vampire hunters and others who sought to put an end to his existence.
Gene Colan and Marv Wolfman achieved a quality of storytelling which was not only in the best vein of the classic gothic vampire stories but also added its very own stamp of originality and thematic momentum - which remains fresh and vibrant even 30+ years after it was created. Tomb of Dracula is a comic book classic beyond its genre, and the jewel in the crown of Marvel's bronze age horror world.
figures indicating to Marvel that both their versions of
the Werewolf and Dracula were successful, the House of
Ideas was clearly getting a grip on the genre and a
larger slice of a market which showed all signs of
growing - a fact which also demanded higher output in
order to seize even more market share. However, rather
than turning to another classic figure of the genre,
Marvel would next come up with an original creation: the
eerie Ghost Rider - branded as the most supernatural
superhero of all.
Launched in issue #5 of Marvel's tryout book Marvel Spotlight (which had already proven a successful launchpad for the Werewolf by Night series), the story introduced Johnny Blaze, a motorcycle stunt performer in a travelling circus who sold his soul to what he believed to be the devil in order to save the life of his stepfather. As a result, Johnny Blaze transformed into a leather-clad skeleton with a skull cloaked in a sheath of flame, riding a fiery motorcycle and wielding blasts of hellfire from his skeletal hands.
the new line which would soon lead to the branding
"Macabre Marvel", the Ghost Rider's first drive
around the block was supervised by editor Roy Thomas,
writer Gary Friedrich and artist Mike Ploog - with the
original authorship of the character remaining a matter
of dispute. Thomas links the creation to a character he
made up for Daredevil, the motorcyclist villain called
Friedrich, however, disagrees (and took Marvel to court in 2007), alleging that his copyrights to the character have been exploited:
The official Marvel version at the time would seem to support Friedrich's view:
Ghost Rider starred in Marvel Spotlight for 7 issues and proved a great success. The additional good news for Marvel was that the horror genre had caught on to such an extent that original material could gain a readership just as well as classic characters could. Ghost Rider would eventually be given his own title book which hit the newsagent stands in September 1973.
For a surprisingly long period of time, the Ghost Rider remained something of an enigma. Half demon, half superhero, his adventures did not fall into the horror genre as clearly or as strictly as other titles, such as Tomb of Dracula. The Ghost Rider would get mixed up with the supernatural in one issue and with the Hulk in the next, and he saw his first cross-over with Marvel's superhero icon Spider-Man in Marvel Team-Up #15 only two months after starting out in his own title book. This was a superhero who only called the crypt his part-time home for the first two years of his publication run.
However, when author Michael Fleisher and artist Don Perlin took over, the Ghost Rider would eventually shift completely to the horror genre. There were no more guest-appearances from other Marvel characters, and satanic cults, demonic bounty hunters, and vampire bats took center stage.
The Ghost Rider proved a highly successful character, bridging both the Bronze Age era 1970s and the early 1980s with a total of 81 issues. The saga finally came to an end in June 1983, making it one the longest running Marvel horror comic book series of all. In 2007, the Ghost Rider became the second Marvel horror character after Blade to feature as the title giving star in a big budget Hollywood movie.
|DEJA VU FOR A LARGER SHARE OF THE MARKET|
the mould of Tomb of Dracula and acting on the
possibilities of the moment, Marvel promoted Werewolf
by Night to its own title book in September 1972.
Creating more new material, however, would take some
time, so Marvel had to fall back on existing concepts to
increase its horror genre output straight away.
Reader reaction to the Man-Thing (introduced in Savage Tales #1 in May 1971) had been very good, but the publication of a second story, originally planned for Savage Tales #2, had been postponed.
in need of more horror material, Marvel published the
existing material in June 1972 in Astonishing Tales #12
and #13 as a black & white feature with colour
highlighting in order to adapt this material to the
book's colour format.
Following this second appearance, Man-Thing received his own regular series in Marvel's anthology title Adventure into Fear as 10-page lead character from issue #10 (October 1972) to issue #19 (January 1974).
Steve Gerber, who would become Man-Thing's most prominent writer, succeeded original author Gerry Conway as the feature continually expanded in terms of page numbers.
reached the standard 19-page length of Marvel's superhero
books with Adventure into Fear #15.
The final quarter of Marvel's 1972 publication roster saw more deja vu as three new anthology titles reached the market. For the October production run, Marvel re-introduced one of its best-known 1950s/1960s title: Journey into Mystery. Most would, of course, remember it for having been the launchpad of the Mighty Thor, who subsequently made the book his home from issue #83 (August 1962) until it changed its title to Mighty Thor after Journey into Mystery #125 (February 1966). Rather than continue the numbering where it had left off, Marvel - most certainly wanting to present something "new" - launched the revival with issue #1 (which accordingly became volume II) in October 1972.
the proven anthology format from the classic era of the
genre, Marvel's intentions were to get the rights to
stories by well-known literary authors (such as Robert
Bloch, Robert E. Howard or Theodore Sturgeon) and then
adapt these into comic book format.
This concept worked very well before, but once again, as with Tower of Shadows and Chamber of Darkness, a lack of editorial stability made the book's more literary approach falter after a few issues. As of Journey into Mystery #7 (October 1973), reprints from the original Atlas/Marvel Journey into Mystery from the mid-1950s started to appear and take over the book completely, occasionally accompanied by reprints from early stories which had appeared in Tales to Astonish and Strange Tales.
volume run of Journey into Mystery lasted for a
total of 19 issues before being cancelled in October
Only a month later, in November 1972, the relaunch of Journey into Mystery was followed by another bi-monthly anthology title, Chamber of Chills, and Marvel would round off the 1972 horror genre production run with a third anthology title, Supernatural Thrillers (previously announced by Marvel as Gothic Thrillers), in December. Both titles initially followed the concept format of Journey into Mystery: Chamber of Chills #1 featured the comic book adaptation of an original short story by Harlan Ellison ("Delusion for a dragon slayer") and other original stories from Marvel's writership, whilst Supernatural Thrillers #1 adapted Theodore Sturgeon's story "It" to comic book format. As with Journey into Mystery, Chamber of Chills had impressive content quality for the first few issues, but once the ball was rolling, Marvel's problems with their pronounced lack of editorial guidance struck - in spite of Marvel showing at least a basic awareness of the problem:
The first reprint material appeared in Chamber of Chills #5, and only three issues later the title would feature nothing but Atlas/Marvel period reprints until its final issue, Chamber of Chills #25, in July 1976.
Given its very basic editorial manpower - in comparison to rival DC (Cooke, 2001) - there seemingly wasn't much Marvel could do to prevent these changes in their horror anthology titles (and there wasn't, as pointed out before, much interest either, as it tied up a lot of workforce). From time to time, however, one of them would get away, and Supernatural Thrillers would be such a title. Following Sturgeon's "It" in its premier issue, the book featured well-known horror genre classics in its following issues: H.G. Wells' "Invisible Man" in issue #2, R. E. Howard's "The Valley of the Worm" in issue #3, R.L. Stevenson's "Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde" in issue #4 and, eventually, "The Mummy" in issue #5 which, lacking a literary prototype, was based on an original script by Marvel's Steve Gerber. This character would catch on, making the title its own up until its final issue, Supernatural Thrillers #15, in October 1975.
|THE MONSTER OF FRANKENSTEIN|
|Following the successful launch of the two classic horror characters Dracula and the Werewolf, it really was just a matter of time until Marvel would introduce the Frankenstein Monster, and this time came in January 1973 (actually, this was a return - the Frankenstein Monster and its creator had been the only classic horror characters to feature in Marvel comic books during the Silver Age period.|
upon a conceptual framework by Marvel's editor-in-chief
Roy Thomas (Cooke, 2001), writer Gary Friedrich and
artist Mike Ploog started The Monster of Frankenstein
(renamed The Frankenstein Monster after 5 issues
in order to emphasize the name Frankenstein (as pointed
out on the letters page of Frankenstein Monster
#10, May 1974) with a four-issue adaptation of Mary
Shelley's original Frankenstein, first published
Shelley ended her novel with the monster bidding farewell to the explorer Sir Robert Walton somewhere in the vast emptiness of the Arctic Sea, and this is where Friedrich set out from. The year is 1898 and readers are introduced to the explorer's great-grandson, Robert Walton IV, who is about to reach the goal of his mission - finding the Monster. Once the block of ice encasing the creature is hauled onto the ship, Walton IV retells the classic tale from Shelleys novel to a young midshipman.
A fairly ingenious framework to present the basic corpus of Shelley's novel, the adaptation was - as had been announced in Marvel's advertising - indeed faithful to the original literary work and, in actual fact, did better than most other adaptations (such as movies) by featuring almost all of the story's elements and characters - even including the narrative framework of the original novel which provides various different viewpoints of the monster's story.
The visual rendition of this concept was a challenge, because the image of Frankenstein's Monster had been so indelibly defined by Universal Pictures and Jack Pierce's make-up to the extent of making Boris Karloff's looks as monster iconic. This meant that assigned artist Mike Ploog was faced with the question of either following the established image (as closely as Universal's copyright on the make-up would allow [Frank, 1974]) or do something completely different which might not match up with the reader's expectations.
Marvel, not surprisingly, took no chances and so Mike Ploog came up with a Monster which, in visual terms, didn't copy the Universal imagery too closely but remained within the range of the Karloff mould. Later on in the publication run, John Buscema and Bob Brown would come closer to the Universal look, with Val Mayerik eventually taking this as a basis for a Karloff-based but nevertheless distinctive Marvel monster look.
The way the adaptation of Shelley's novel was handled met with an enthusiastic reader reaction, and it all seemed to work out as Roy Thomas had planned:
But what seemed like a blessing at first quickly turned into a curse as Friedrich had to come up with an original plot which would meet the high expectations set by the first four issues. It proved extremely difficult to "go on from there", and the fact that Friedrich opened his first original plot - still set in the year 1898 - with a quote from the lyrics of CCR's 1969 song "Bad Moon Rising" would, with hindsight, be unintentionally fitting for the anachronisms which would befall the title for most of the remaining saga: Marvel's tale of the Frankenstein Monster quickly became unbalanced and lumbered about, plagued with a sometimes glaringly inconsistent plot and far too much lack of atmosphere.
Only three issues after the Shelley adaptation Marvel already felt the need to give the series a shot in the arm with a three-part appearance of Dracula, Marvel's most successful horror character by far. Once the battle with the vampire count was over, Marvel decided to prepare the monster for a transfer to the present by, once again, deep-freezing him in ice.
The switch to modern times under writer Doug Moench and artist Val Meyerik as of The Frankenstein Monster #12 was a controversial issue amongst readers but handled in a swift and convincing way by the creative team.
Nevertheless, the lack of a true genre atmosphere remained, despite Moench's successful attempts to reduce inconsistencies and add new interest in the form of a regular supporting cast.
editorial board must have had an extremely hard time
overseeing the letters page of The Frankenstein
Monster as more and more negative reader feedback
came in, because after all this was a proven horror
formula which Marvel was seemingly unable to handle
successfully. Many corrections were made along the way,
but often this just added to the unstable course of the
Marvel had run the Frankenstein Monster more or less straight into the ground, and the end of the series came about - without announcement and therefore abruptly in the midst of the storyline - in September 1975 with issue 18. Sales by that time must have been dismal, and the only conclusion to draw was that whilst Marvel was able to make the most out of Dracula as a classic horror figure, The Frankenstein Monster simply failed to leave its mark.
|1973 - THE YEAR OF THE ANTHOLOGY TITLE|
everything else happening in its horror field, 1973 was
mostly and truly the year of the anthology title for
Marvel, who were thus able to build up an enormous market
presence and corner as much as possible of the horror
genre's popularity. The titles chosen for these
all-reprint and mostly bi-monthly anthology titles were
in the best of their 1950s material tradition - Crypt
of Shadows (launched in January 1973), Vault of
Evil (February 1973), Beware (March 1973), Dead
of Night, Uncanny Tales (Uncanny Tales from the
Grave as of issue #3) and Weird Wonder Tales (all
first published in December 1973) - and Marvel's
advertising announcements in their monthly checklists
were apt in tone:
The Marvel Comics Group was growing and growing fast, not the least due to the increasing range of horror titles, and by early 1973 the expansion reached an overall total of well over three dozen titles published by Marvel every month (according to the March 1973 Bullpen Bulletin). Slightly more verbose, the announcement of three new anthology titles in one single month also displayed Marvel's intention to look beyond the horror genre as such and test the waters for crossover sci-fi material as well:
The wording "drawn by some of comicdom's finest" was, of course, a euphemistic way of describing the fact that the book featured reprint material from the Atlas period.
|BLACK & WHITE BARRAGE|
original foray into the domain of the black & white
magazine format (featuring more mature content) with Savage
Tales #1 in May 1971 had not been a very impressive
market move, as the follow-up issue was more than two
years in the making (and eventually only published as
late as October 1973). In early 1973, however, Marvel
reconsidered the concept in the light of the developments
and the surge in interest and therefore market share
which the horror as well as the fantasy genre had
generated since mid-1971.
The time seemed just right, and so Marvel did what it had done in the field of the horror genre over the past two years: challenge the competitors. In this case, the result was nothing less than a full scale assault on the black & white magazine market, essentially flooding the market with no less than four horror magazines, a humour magazine, a revived Savage Tales and a movie gag photo magazine - all in 1973.
By this time, the situation was such that, from the perspective of Marvel's editor-in-chief at the time, Roy Thomas, the House of Ideas had the horror market pretty much cornered:
This confidence was further boosted with the new set of black & white magazines Marvel was about to launch and therefore lash out at the only remaining real competitor according to Thomas.
The first black and white horror magazine to be launched was Dracula Lives! in June 1973 (with the cover only carrying the date "1973"). Advertised as a "giant sized 75c comic" (June 1973 Bullpen Bulletin) Dracula Lives! #1 in fact only contained 35 pages of new original material in its total pagination of 72. The remaining pages were filled with pre-code reprints from the early 1950s and text-only articles plus photos from old movies. In order to stay clear of the established Tomb of Dracula and avoid contradictions with the storyline of Marvel's most successful horror title, the material in Dracula Lives! generally stuck to a different set of time and location.
Next in line was Monsters Unleashed, first published in July 1973, which followed the formula set out by Dracula Lives! the month before. Whilst the first issue seemed to indicate that this title would feature adaptations of literary horror stories in the vein of the colour titles Journey Into Mystery and Chamber Of Chills, Monsters Unleashed quickly became just as erratic as many of Marvel's previously released colour anthology titles. Apart from sword and sorcery material creeping in - which didn't seem to fit the magazine's title at all - Marvel decided to feature black & white versions of some of their horror genre figures already featuring in colour titles as of issue #2 - most noteably the Frankenstein Monster.
The third black & white title of this barrage was Tales of the Zombie. Written by Steve Gerber and very atmospherically pencilled by John Buscema and inked by Tom Palmer, the story centering around Simon Garth, a successful coffee harvester in New Orleans who is turned into a Zombie by means of voodoo rituals, lived up to Marvel's definition of "mature" - it was violent and graphic, and topped with a fair amount of nudity.
Tales of the Zombie was unique in that it featured a complete story arc across the entire ten issues Marvel would eventually publish. The magazine is, however, even more noteworthy for the fact that it featured zombies both as story characters as well as in its title - at a time when the Comics Code (not applicable to magazines) still had an outright ban on the walking dead (Nyberg, 1998).
Finally, Vampire Tales #1 was published in August 1973, featuring an adaptation by Ron Goulart and Roy Thomas (pencilled by Win Mortimer) of the short story The Vampyre, published in 1819 by John Polidori (based on a fragment by Lord Byron) and the progenitor of the literary vampire of the romantic period. Issue #2, however, went a completely different way and featured a reprint of the Morbius origin sequence from The Amazing Spider-Man #102, after which he would be featured in his own ongoing series in Vampire Tales until June 1975.
Marvel's entry into the black & white horror comic magazine scene was impressive, but at the end of the day this all-out assault launched in order to cut into competitor Warren's niche market had very little effect, as James Warren himself concluded:
Different mindset or not, the black & white market did not prove a successful venture for Marvel. The titles launched soldiered on for a couple of issues and were then quietly dropped from production, despite the fact that, unlike the many promising colour anthology titles, Marvel provided the black & white magazine line with stable editorship and that the man in charge, Marv Wolfman, had even worked for Warren prior to signing on at Marvel (Cooke, 2001).
The problem was elsewhere. Warren was the established black & white comic magazine market leader, so Marvel had to compete with established publications such as Vampirella. Luring readers away from these would be extremely difficult at the outset, so Marvel needed to build a market position through new readership. The House of Ideas, however, couldn't have picked a more adverse time for this, as the US economy and the US dollar went into the worst slump since the 1970 recession and consumers, stunned by higher prices, were spending less and less (NN, 1973).
Unable to escape the general market situation, Marvel even had to increase the cover prices of their established colour comic books in early 1974, communicated through their June 1974 cover date letters pages. This was the worst possible setting for the black & white comic magazines, as the established readership already needed to pay more just to continue buying their regular comic books before even thinking about something new, and together with content which was hardly ever a "must buy", it eventually broke the neck of Marvel's venture into the black & white comic magazine market.
Marvel did make one final attempt in April 1974 with the launch of Haunt of Horror under the editorship of Roy Thomas and Marv Wolfman. Starting with issue #2 the magazine became the home of "Gabriel Devil-Hunter", Marvel's answer to the splash created by the movie The Exorcist in 1973. Written by Doug Moench and pencilled by a number of constantly changing artists, Gabriel seemed to derive much of his appearance from Nick Fury with his eyepatch and firm jaw. As for content, the quality was very poor - or, in the words of Tony Isabella (editor for issues #3 and #4):
Haunt of Horror lasted for five issues before cancellation in January 1975, and the helter skelter publication dates (ranging from monthly to tri-monthly) really speak for themselves. Marvel finally quit trying for the black & white market with original material. Masters of Terror, launched in May 1975, was an all-reprint b&w magazine featuring stories previously published in their colour anthology books such as Supernatural Thrillers or Tower of Shadows, but this only lasted for a mere two issues.
The headliners of the various cancelled b&w magazines were regrouped in September 1975 in Legion of Monsters #1 - which would remain the only issue published. For the rest of the Bronze Age period, Marvel's less than successful venture into the b&w magazine market finally came to a grinding halt until October 1979, when Tomb of Dracula would be transferred from the colour format to the b&w magazine of the same title - again, with little success.
Marvel's 1973 barrage of black and white magazines was an attempt to ride on a wave of "mature content" which very quickly became based on nothing more than cliches which were amplified through covers which too often were repetitive, unimaginative and - to a certain degree - even crude.
|THE LIVING MUMMY|
1973, Supernatural Thrillers #5 - which, as
described previously, had started out as one of Marvel's
ambitious projects intended to feature comic book
adaptations of literary material - presented its first
original feature. The main character of Steve Gerber's
script, however, was another well-known classic from the
Universal range of horror movies: The Mummy. Universal
portrayed its 1932 movie (again featuring Karloff) as not
being based on any literary work, although similarities
may well be found between the plot and Arthur Conan
Doyle's short story Lot 249, first published in
1892, in which a British
student finds a magical papyrus scroll, uses this to
bring back to life a mummy bought at an auction (which
explains the title of the story) and then secretly sends
it out to kill his enemies in the night.
Stan Lee wanted to complete Marvel's rendition of the classic Universal Horror Cabinet from the 1930s when he called for Marvel's own Mummy character (Cooke, 2001). Again, as with Dracula, a tag-on was needed in order to be able to copyright the character, so the House of Ideas came up with The Living Mummy and a background plot which follows the underlying motives of most Mummy stories: an innocent and well meaning individual is punished unjustly by being mummified alive, comes back to life, and seeks out revenge.
In Steve Gerber's storyline, this translated into a noble African tribal prince called N'Kantu who - together with the members of his tribe - is defeated and enslaved by the Ancient Egyptians. Forced to work on monuments for the pharaoh, N'Kantu plans and leads a rebellion which ultimately fails and for which he is punished by the high-priest Nephrus. He paralyses N'Kantu whose body is then wrapped in papyrus, and his blood drained and replaced with an unknown alchemical preservative. Finally, N'Kantu - conscious through the entire ordeal - is placed inside a stone sarcophagus. 3,000 years later N'Kantu regaines control from his paralyzing fluid and digs himself free to wreak havoc on those that had wronged him, going on a murderous rampage in Cairo until he locates Dr Alexi Skarab who is a descendant of Nephrus. Events go all wrong when the police force arrives on the scene, and eventually N'Kantu is seemingly electrocuted.
|When N'Kantu returned in Supernatural
Thrillers #7 (after a six month hiatus following
issue #6 and with the cover logo now reading Supernatural
Thrillers featuring The Living Mummy), Gerber and
Val Mayerik (who took over from Rich Buckler) brought the
character to New York City. From issue #7 the series ran
continuously up to the final issue of the book, Supernatural
Thrillers#18, in October 1975. As of issue #8, the
creative team became writer Tony Isabella and artist Val
Mayerik, who was occasionally credited as co-plotter.
John Warner wrote or co-wrote the final two issues, with
Tom Sutton drawing the finale. The stories increased to a
length of 16 pages with issue #11 and became full-length
standard 18-page features the following issue. Before,
the title had featured mostly Atlas period sci-fi and
fantasy reprints as backup stories.
Following the initial introduction of N'Kantu, the seemingly lifeless body of the mummy is shipped to a New York museum. Not long, though, and N'Kantu awakens. The rest of the The Living Mummy story arc centers on N'Kantu regaining his memory and his conflict with the Elementals - four extradimensional humanoids who use the mummy as a pawn against a foe called the Living Pharaoh to obtain the Ruby Scarab (which grants special powers to its bearer).
|Eventually, N'Kantu is able
to gain control of the scarab and blasts the Elementals
into nothingness through its powers. At that point, the
Living Mummy bowed out. The concept behind the character
provided some entertainment but was seriously hampered by
the Kirbyesque and unconvincing "Elementals"
which gave away much of the classic Mummy theme. As Tony
Isabella, author of most of the Living Mummy plots, puts
The editorial perspective regarding horror titles by that time was quantity over quality, as Roy Thomas freely admits with regard to the very little time devoted to most individual titles:
|Strange Tales was one of Marvel's showcase comic books of the 1960's Silver Age. Originally an Atlas horror anthology first published in 1951, it eventually gave over to Marvel's move from horrors to heroes in 1962 when the Human Torch featured in issue #101. This appearance was followed by Dr Strange in issue #110 who shared the title with Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., as of Strange Tales #135 in August 1965.|
title ended with issue #168 in May 1968, when Doctor
Strange and Nick Fury received their own titles the
following month (Doctor Strange #169 and Nick
Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #1). However, four years
later, Strange Tales returned to Marvel's
publication run once again, resuming its old numbering
with issue #169 in September 1973 and introducing the
horror feature "Brother Voodoo", written by Len
Wein and pencilled by Gene Colan.
Similar to Blade from Tomb of Dracula, Brother Voodoo was a character who fought evil. When New York psychologist Jericho Drumm returns to his native Haiti after twelve years in the U.S. he finds his brother Daniel on his deathbed.
Previously not believing in the superstitions of his ancestors, Drumm needs to adjust his views when he realizes that his brother is a voodoo priest (a "houngan") whose condition has been inflicted by Damballah, a powerful serpent god, at the command of an evil voodoo sorcerer (a "bokor").
Daniel extracts a promise from Jericho to learn the ways of voodoo and avenge his death. Jericho Drumm is instructed in this task by Papa Jambo, an aged master, who resurrects Daniel's spirit and merges it with Jericho's own, making Brother Voodoo the most powerful voodoo master of all. After defeating Damballah, Brother Voodoo continues to fight for those who have no protector on the isle of Haiti.
The impetus to launch a voodoo themed series came from Roy Thomas:
Marvel navigated around the fact that zombies were still banned under the comics code by calling the undead creatures "zuvembies". However, this little masquerade did not have to be held up for long, as the format didn't prove very successful and only lasted for a five issues run before being dropped after Strange Tales #173 in April 1974.
Brother Voodoo continued briefly as a backup in the black & white Tales of the Zombie issues #6 (July 1974) and #10 (March 1975) before being relegated to Marvel's guest star circuit in which he managed to hang on over the years and achieve a certain degree of fame, albeit as a very minor and also somewhat contrived Marvel character.
Apart from mostly one-off guest appearances (e.g. alongside Spider-Man in Marvel Team-Up #24 in August 1974 or face-to-face with the werewolf in Werewolf by Night #39 in July 1976) Brother Voodoo featured in a multi-issue story arc in Marvel's top-selling horror title Tomb of Dracula, which ran from issue #31 to #36 between April and September 1975.
|September 1973 also saw the second horror character - after the ground breaking appearance of Morbius in October 1971 - make his debut in the pages of a Spider-Man comic book. John Jameson, astronaut and son of Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson, had appeared in the very first issue of Amazing Spider-Man, but his story in Amazing Spider-Man #124 took on a decidedly different twist. After he had discovered a ruby-like stone on the moon's surface during a lunar space mission and turned this into a pendant to wear around his neck, John Jameson eventually fell victim to a peculiar and very individual form of lycanthropy during the next full moon as he found himself transformed into a creature which was half man and half wolf as the stone became fused to his body. Written by Gerry Conway, pencilled by Gil Kane and inked by John Romita Sr., the introduction of the Man-Wolf, which spanned two issues, is recalled and described by the editor in charge, Roy Thomas, more as a haphazard market move than a truly thought out storyline:|
In context, it must be pointed out, however, that Amazing Spider-Man was, at that time, running on an almost unparalleled level of intensity in its storytelling, virtually producing one classic issue after the other as the the deaths of two central figures - Gwen Stacy and the Green Goblin - continued to reverberate through the book month after month. Gil Kane left Amazing Spider-Man in between the two Man-Wolf issues #124 and #125 and was followed by Ross Andru, who would leave his mark for the next sixty issues.
Like Morbius, Man-Wolf fought Spider-Man a few more times before receiving his own series, beginning in Creatures on the Loose #30, in July 1974. It lasted for the rest of the run of this book (which had been Tower of Shadows before taking on its new title in March 1971), which ended in September 1975. Jameson's lycanthropy, however, came back from time to time, allowing Man-Wolf to make various guest appearances over the years.
|The dangling plot which had been left in suspension in Creatures on the Loose #37 was even taken up again and brought to its final conclusion more than three years later, in December 1978 and January 1979, in Marvel Premiere #45 and #46.|
|SON OF SATAN|
Marvel's tryout book Marvel Spotlight had
already proven a successful launchpad for both Werewolf
by Night and Ghost Rider, a third horror
genre character made his debut in this title when Marvel
Spotlight #12 hit the newsagent stands in October
Although "phantasmagorical" sounds like one of Stan Lee's many zany word creations, it is in fact based on an originally French noun describing "a shifting series of phantasms, illusions, or deceptive appearances, as in a dream or as created by the imagination" (according to the Random House 2006 Dictionary) - which fits the character of Daimon Hellstrom, aka the Son of Satan, rather well.
speaking, Hellstrom made his very first appearance in Ghost
Rider #1 in September 1973 (and was joined by his
sister Satana - no surprises here - in Ghost Rider #2
in a story which sported the somewhat cheesy title
"Shake hands with Satan"), but he wasn't given
center stage until his appearance in Marvel Spotlight #12.
Following a row of horror characters which had, over a period of roughly two and a half years, become quite long, Stan Lee was now aiming for the "ultimate horror", the maior domus of hell himself. Roy Thomas, however, felt that this might be crossing a line better left untouched and managed to stop Lee who was just a foot or so short of creating what would have been the ultimate superhero from the crypt - the devil himself.
Gary Friedrich set the general plot in a way which had "Rosemary's Baby meets the Exorcist" written all over it: Satan, taking the name Hellstrom, marries a woman named Victoria Wingate and together they have two children. Even though the boy - Daimon - is born with a huge pentagram on his chest as a birthmark and the girl is named Satana by the father the mother never suspects a thing. When she finally does find out, she spends years in a mental institution (during which the children are raised separately). After her death, Daimon finds her diary and learns of his family background.
Marvel's original concept was aimed at making the Son of Satan a dual-natured character in the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde tradition. By day he was supposed to be Daimon Hellstrom, a priest - by night, though, his dark heritage would take over, endowing him with destructive powers, a red cape and a trident fork. Daimon routinely visited Hell during his adventures (usually gaining access through some underground passage), with touches of the greek Hades and Dante's Inferno here and there. Daimon's actions, despite his darkside persona in control at night, were always aimed at bringing his father's empire down.
Satan made a few appearances as a character in Marvel comic books (e.g. in early issues of Ghost Rider and laterissues of Tomb of Dracula), but it never really worked, and the House of Ideas knew it. However, Daimon Hellstrom was received well enough by the readers for Marvel to have him continue until Marvel Spotlight #24 (October 1975) before moving him to his own book, Son of Satan #1, in December 1975. The title lasted for eight issues before being cancelled in February 1977. He had his first cross-over in Giant-Size Defenders #2 in October 1974 and would later on even become a member of this "non-team", whilst the classic encounter with Spidey - which in this case would perhaps have seemed less inevitable than others - took place in April 1975 in Marvel Team-Up #32.
But perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this character and his title - all in all one of Marvel's lesser concepts for their Bronze Age horror genre run - is that it sparked no controversy or protest to speak of when published in the mid-1970s.
|Marvel's very first Silver
Age original horror character, the Man-Thing, was also
one of those who got pushed around most. Originally part
of the May 1971 black & white test-tube Savage Tales
#1, he resurfaced in mid-1972 for two issues of Astonishing
Tales before appearing regularly in Adventure
into Fear as of October 1972 - first as a 10-page
lead character, later on in standard 19-page format until
issue #19 in December 1973.
Kicking off Marvel's new horror offerings for 1974, Man-Thing received his own solo title in January 1974. Written by Steve Gerber, the art was entrusted, successively, to Val Mayerik, Mike Ploog, and Jim Mooney. Like many other major Marvel horror characters, Man-Thing had his additional quarterly Giant-Size Man-Thing which totalled five issues between August 1974 and August 1975. Apart from featuring Atlas period horror and sci-fi reprints as back-ups, Giant-Size Man-Thing issues #4 and #5 have become classics due to the fact that they ran a Howard the Duck feature, Steve Gerber's whacky Donald-Duck-meets-Fritz-the-Cat spoof.
Marvel's first original horror creation of the Bronze Age
is sometimes accused of being a rip-off copy of DC's
"Swamp-Thing". The two are indeed very similar
in appearance and both call the swamps their home.
However, in terms of publication history, Man-Thing
appeared one month ahead of DC's Swamp-Thing (Savage
Tales #1 in May 1971 vs. House of Secrets
#92 in June/July 1971). No copying was involved according
to the credited authors, although some amount of
interference may well have taken place as Len Wein
(writer for DC's Swamp-Thing) points out:
|After a total run of 22 monthly issues, Man-Thing was cancelled in October 1975. In the final issue, writer Gerber himself appeared as a character in the story, claiming that he had not been inventing the Man-Thing's adventures but simply reporting on them (Marvel's standard approach to works of fiction such as the novels Dracula and Frankenstein) and that he had now decided to move on. The Man-Thing would, true to the mobility it had always displayed since its inception, be around for many guest appearances in an exceptionally wide variety of titles, starting in-sync with Man-Thing #1 in January 1974 with Marvel Two-In-One #1 and later including Master of Kung-Fu #19 (August 1974), Daredevil #114 (October 1974), Incredible Hulk #197 (March 1976), Iron Man Annual #3 (1976), Howard the Duck #22 (March 1978) and Marvel Team-Up #68 (April 1978) to name just a few.|
|MORBIUS THE LIVING VAMPIRE|
|After his debut in Amazing Spider-Man #101 (October 1971) and a second match against Spider-Man (and the original X-Men) in Marvel Team-Up #3 and #4 (July and September 1972) Morbius the living vampire - the first incarnation of Marvel's application of the superhero concept to the horror genre - was eventually given his own full colour series in February 1974, starting with Adventure into Fear #20. His firm rooting in the superhero tradition was a deliberate choice, as Roy Thomas has pointed oput on several occasions:|
Gil Kane, who was the first to draw Morbius and also pencilled his early appearances, had a large influence in the overall creative process and also a clear affinity to the character:
It must rank as one of the curiosities of Marvel Comics that both Gil Kane and Gene Colan had actor Jack Palance in their minds when they drew the facial features of their vampire characters, Morbius and Dracula - even though the final visual appearances did differ quite considerably.
Marvel itself, however, tried to liken the solo appearances of Morbius to Dracula as often as possible, even adding blurs to some covers which told the potential buyer that this comic book was "in the fearful tradition of Dracula!". Allusions to the best-selling Tomb of Dracula were further increased by having Morbius encounter Blade in Adventures into Fear #24 and subsequent issues, where Morbius continued as the star of the bi-monthly title (with "The Living Vampire" set in far larger letters on the covers than the book's actual title) until cancellation came about in December 1975 with issue #31 - which a cover blurb announced as the "thrill-fraught final issue".
had left the book as of issue #22 and was followed by an
everchanging cast of pencillers, whilst Doug Moench took
over the script from Steve Gerber as of issue #26,
followed by Bill Mantlo as of issue #29. In-between,
Morbius had appeared in Giant-Size
Superheroes #1 in June 1974, the first of Marvel's
oversized 64 pages comics, in which Spider-Man fought
Morbius and Man-Wolf in a story drawn by Kane and written
by Gerry Conway.
Partly in parallel to his appearances in Marvel's colour comic books, Morbius also featured in the eleven issues of the black & white magazine Vampire Tales from August 1973 to June 1975. Other appearances in colour titles included Giant-Size Werewolf by Night #4 (April 1975), Marvel Two-In-One #15 (May 1976) and Spectacular Spider-Man #6 (May 1977). In Marvel Premiere #28 (February 1976) Morbius featured as part of the one-off "Legion of Monsters".
Based on his attire and the very circumstances of his creation by Lee, Thomas and Kane, Morbius is the visually most obvious "superhero from the crypt".
|No other such Marvel creation featured a tight bodydress together with an overtly muscular body - archetypal features of the superhero genre - because, as has been discussed earlier, the element of the crypt is necessarily required to be the prime element for a horror genre character. The outward appearance was not the defining trait - Marvel had most of its horror characters conform to established visual appearances in popular culture (as defined, in most cases, by the Universal movies), resulting in darker colours and an emphasis on the entire physical appearance rather than the actual body. Morbius, however, was the proverbial exception to the rule.|
the demise of Brother Voodoo in issue #173 of the newly
revived Strange Tales, Marvel launched another
new horror & mystery character with a minority
background in June 1974 when Strange Tales #174
introduced the Golem.
The Golem - an animated being created from clay - has a long standing in Jewish folklore but is best known through the tale about Rabbi Judah Loew who defends the Prague ghetto by creating a golem. In the late 19th century the golem was adopted by mainstream European society, and Gustav Meyrink's 1915 novel Der Golem (1915) served as inspiration for the classic expressionist silent movie Der Golem - Wie er in die Welt kam (1920) by German actor and director Paul Wegener. Also released in the USA in 1921, it featured Karl Freund as director of photography, who would later shoot The Mummy with Boris Karloff.
|Marvel set the
tone of its adaptation of yet another classic character
of horror and mystery folklore right at the beginning
with its introductory caption at the top of each title
page of the Golem stories:
Marvel's serious problems regarding sustained editorship have been pointed out above on several occasions, but no other character was hit by this the way the Golem was.
Written by Len Wein and pencilled by John Buscema with inking from Jim Mooney - a great lineup of proven quality to start any new comic book character - the plot kicked off deep in the Sahara desert, where Abraham Adamson (a descendant of the famous Rabbi Judah Loew from Prague) is actually searching for the Golem (accompanied by his nephew Jason, his niece Rebecca and excavator Wayne Logan) after having carefully studied the ancient parchments of the legend. Their search is successful and they are able to unearth the Golem statue when they are discovered by Colonel Omar and his gang of looting soldiers. Wounded by their gunfire, Adamson is left behind to die with the Golem while his companions are taken as hostages. With all of his remaining strength, Abraham Adamson intones the "Mystic Alphabets of the 221 Gates" to bring the statue to life, but when nothing seems to happen Abraham begins to cry in desperation - and when one of his tears lands on the foot of the giant statue, a searing flash of light appears. In that very moment Abraham Adamson dies - and the light begins to shine in the eyes of the Golem...
Wein, Buscema and Mooney thus provided an impressive and extremely well executed start, but this momentum was all but wasted when the creative team was changed completely for the next issue and editor Roy Thomas brought on longtime Iron Man plotter Mike Friedrich as writer and Tony de Zuniga as penciller and inker. Even worse, the team didn't make the deadline and so Strange Tales #175 featured nothing but Atlas reprints in August 1974.
|And when the Golem finally
did return in Strange Tales #176 in October 1974
- a long four months after his introduction - Marvel
announced that Strange Tales would be given over
to the character of Adam Warlock as the continuing
Marvel's fragile editorial set-up had finally reached the point where this system actually axed a series itself - and most noteably one with a far more promising start than many others even before this had fully cleared the launchpad.
The entire incident was also, of course, an indication of the lack of cohesiveness Marvel displayed both in its approach of thinking as well as its approach in handling things when launching a new title at that time - as Roy Thomas freely admits:
The dangling plot was taken up and concluded a year later in Marvel Two-In-One #11 (September 1975) in a story fittingly announced on the cover as "End of a legend!". Scripted by Bill Mantlo and pencilled by Bob Brown, it remains the Golem's last stand in Marveldom. Thus the first announced attempt of Marvel to establish a "Jewish hero" (as the Golem was labelled in the letters page of Strange Tales #176) faltered because Marvel Comics itself tripped over the cable and pulled the plug.
|1974 - THE LAST OF THE ANTHOLOGIES|
|Dropping the Golem was not,
however, only a matter of editorial failure. The horror
genre itself was beginning to gradually lose appeal with
the broader readership, and with a total offering of 19
monthly or bi-monthly colour horror books in mid-1974,
there was no more real market demand for Marvel to
increase its horror range. As such, the changeover from
the Golem to Adam Warlock, from horror to
science-fiction, was both symbolic and a shape of things
Nevertheless, Marvel seemingly put out a new anthology title, Tomb of Darkness, in July 1974. In reality, this was simply a new title for the book previously labelled Beware, which was last published in May 1974.
of Beware #9, readers found Tomb of Darkness
#9 on the newsstands.
It continued the formula of featuring entirely reprint material from such early 1950s Atlas titles as Adventures into Terror, Journey into Mystery or Adventures into Weird Worlds, with early stories and artwork by, amongst many others, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The title thus continued its bi-monthly run until November 1976, when Tomb of Darkness #23 became the final issue.
1974 was only half over, but Marvel would release no more new horror titles during the rest of the year. With a readership market which no longer showed signs of growing, consolidating the position and market share was the order of the day for Marvel in order to keep competitors (above all, of course, DC) at bay.
|But overall, the market for
the horror genre was beginning to enter a state of
decline. Whilst Marvel had launched 9 new colour comic
book horror titles in 1973 and introduced no
cancellation, the figure for 1974 was down to just 2 new
titles - with the same number of titles cancelled.
Marvel was trying to regain stability, but found itself in more turbulences as Roy Thomas, who stepped down as editor-in-chief in 1974, was followed by no less than four EICs in a period of three years only: Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Gerry Conway (who returned from DC but left the job again after a mere three weeks) and Archie Goodwin .
|1975 - THE YEAR OF CANCELLATIONS|
|Midway through the decade,
the comic book industry's traditional retail outlets -
small community stores and newsagents - were increasingly
being replaced by large stores which were not interested
in selling comics. The number of distribution outlets was
shrinking fast, and rising paper prices were cutting into
By mid-1975, Marvel had lost $2 million and found itself in bad financial shape. Although sales remained strong, the profits had dropped. In response to this financial crisis, Marvel Comics owner Cadence installed a new company president, who pared the number of titles produced, firmed up publishing schedules, and reorganized sales and distribution. Not something to be done in a day or two, Marvel would spend the rest of the 1970s cutting back on expenses and new publications in an effort to remain profitable (Daniels, 1991).
The most successful new venture Marvel was able to launch in that troublesome year of 1975 was the re-intrdouction of the X-Men in Giant-Size X-Men. The characters would become the company's most popular franchise and open up new markets both in the US and abroad. The superhero theme showed future potential for becoming a strong seller once again only two years later, in 1977, when a TV series featuring the Hulk became a big hit. Also in 1977, Stan Lee himself branched out by creating and writing a syndicated Spider-Man newspaper comicstrip which soon became highly popular and successful and which is now the longest running strip ever featuring a superhero. The industry was suffering, but the classic Marvel comic characters were proving a solid base for retreat.
In sharp contrast, Marvel's grand pandemonium of horror titles almost collapsed. 11 titles were cancelled in 1975 and one saw a change of genre. At the end of the year, the total of Marvel's colour horror titles was down from 19 to 9. Despite the cut of more than 50% of titles, this still seemed like a sizeable number, but the problems Marvel had with the horror genre ran deeper than what was evident at first sight. Not only was the industry in flux, but society as a whole was in transition, and with it popular culture as television was drawing kids away from reading, including comics.
Worse still, the horror genre was seeing fundamental changes. Mainstream Hollywood was focussing on disaster movies and thrillers such as Spielberg's 1975 box office hit Jaws, whilst independent filmmakers came up with disturbingly explicit and gorey "splatter" movies such as the 1974 Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the hit movie Halloween (1978). Also on the rise was the occult horror film, following up on the box office success of The Exorcist in 1973, which prompted major studios to release movies with big name stars and high production values, such as de Palmas Carrie in 1976 (based on a book by Stephen King) and Hollywood legend Gregory Peck in The Omen that same year.
The classic "gothic" horror theme was over and out, but only one of Marvel's three flagship horror titles - The Ghost Rider - could be seen as fitting the new horror themes, whilst Tomb of Dracula and Werewolf by Night clearly represented the more "old-fashioned" school of the genre. The only other Marvel horror comic which seemed to be "spot on" was - nomen est omen - Marvel Spotlight, which throughout 1975 featured the Son of Satan until he was given his own title book in December of that year.
Marvel tried to branch out more into the occult and launched Marvel Chillers #1 in October 1975 - the first new horror title in 15 months after the relaunch of Beware as Tomb of Darkness in July 1974 - which featured Modred the Mystic, a 6th century wizard placed in suspended animation until reanimated in modern times in London.
background rooted the character in the realm of the
Arthurian legends - the notorious traitor Mordred
who kills King Arthur at the battle of Camlann is also
known by the variant spelling Modred - but the empahsis
of the evolving plot was clearly on the aspect of black
magic and the occult. Based on a concept by Marv Wolfman,
written by Bill Mantlo and illustrated by Yong Montano (Marvel
Chillers #1) and Sonny Trindiad (Marvel Chillers
#2) the character only lasted for the first two issues of
Marvel Chillers before bowing out and making
room for Tigra the Were-Woman (who, despite the add-on,
has nothing to do with lycantrophy and belongs to the
ranks of superheroes rather than the horror genre,
despite an origin story with heavy undertones of
Thus, by December 1975, another horror genre character and title had come - and gone. As usual, this would never rule out one-off appareances in other titles, and Modred would thus briefly resurface in November 1977 in Marvel two-In-One #33 and in Avengers #185 - 187 (July-September 1979). Finally, in parallel to the launch of Son of Satan, Daimon Hellstrom's sister Satana - developed by Roy Thomas and John Romita and first featured in a four page story in the black and white Vampire Tales #2 - became the main feature of Marvel Premiere #27 in December 1975, but this remained a one-off appearance in this umbrella title. Originally, both Modred and Satana - along with a few other characters - had been announced in mid-1975 as planned features in Giant-Size Werewolf by Night and Giant-Size Dracula respectively (in the June 1975 Bullpen Bulletin) in a planned move to cut down on the amount of - highly unpopular - reprints in the Giant-Size horror titles. Not surprisingly, the plan fell apart completely, not the least because both Giant-Size Dracula and Giant-Size Werewolf were cancelled, each after a run of five issues, in June and July 1975. Marvel was thinking about restructuring their horror range, but by mid-1975 cancellation more often than not became the only viable choice.
|By the time the
autumn 1975 production run preparations were due, the
fate of many Marvel horror title was sealed.
The first to feel the axe was the reprint anthology Dead of Night, which appeared on the newsagent racks for the last time in August 1975 after a total run of 11 issues. Oddly enough, the anthology format of Dead of Night was dropped just in time for its last issue and replaced by a 16-page original story by Scott Edelmann (plot) and Rico Rival (pencils) featuring The Scarecrow. Obviously not to be confused with DC's Batman villain created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane who first featured in World's Finest Comics #3 (Fall 1941), Marvel's character was originally - by name, at least - an Iron Man villain without superhuman powers (a circus contortionist by trade) who made his debut in Tales of Suspense #51. Now, however, he was portrayed as a mysterious character who has the ability to leave a painting and spread terror.
An interesting but short-lived concept in the mould of Dorian Gray, it was devised to be published as a bi-monthly feature taking over Dead of Night , (according to a text page entitled "A bit of rag and a clump of straw" appearing in Dead of Night #11), but could not save the title from cancellation. Despite plans for its own series, the appearances of the Scarecrow thereafter were limited to one-off stints in Marvel Spotlight #26 (February 1976) and Marvel Two-In-One #18 (August 1976).
September 1975 saw a far more high-profile - by name and popular culture status - title drop dead when The Frankenstein Monster appeared for the last time with issue #18. There would, however, be far more axing the following month - in fact, October 1975 can be seen as the turning point for Marvel's world of horror.
|Apart from more
cancellations of reprint anthology titles, of which
Marvel had been putting out too many anyway - Where
Monsters Dwell after 38 issues, Journey into
Mystery after 19 issues, and Uncanny Tales after
12 issues - October 1975 also saw the end of the
Man-Thing's own title after 22 issues and the Mummy -
another classic, i.e. more "gothic" horror
figure - bowing out with the end of Supernatural
Thrillers after 15 issues.
And finally, two more reprint titles fell victim when Crypt of Shadows (totalling 21 issues) and Vault of Evil (totalling 23 issues) were deleted in November 1975. Within four months, Marvel had slashed through its range of horror colour comic books, and true to the genre it quickly became an actual bloodshed.
|The axe also
fell on titles outside the horror genre - for example, Unknown
Worlds of Science Fiction, a black & white
magazine launched in January 1975 with high hopes was
also cancelled in November 1975, after only six issues -
but it wasn't a broad swipe like the infamous "DC
Implosion" in 1978. Marvel was desperately looking
for new success formulas and formats, and new concepts
and titles were supposedly even pieced together in
multiples over luncheons (Cronin, 2005).
Naturally, most of this new material had nothing to do with the horror genre, but when Marvel launched a new team in Champions #1 in October 1975, former X-Men Angel and Iceman together with the Black Widow and Hercules were joined by the Ghost Rider, adding a touch of the supernatural.
Authors and artists on this title kept changing, meaning that despite the invested talent - Tony Isabella, Chris Claremont and Bill Mantlo scripting, and George Tuska, Don Heck and Bob Hall pencilling - the title lacked a constant artistic direction. The Ghost Rider stayed on the team until the final issue, Champions #17, in January 1978.
|1976 - 1979: THE YEARS OF FINAL DECLINE|
|1976 started off with
another one-shot horror feature in Marvel Premiere #28.
Following on the heels of Satana was the Legion of
Monsters, which teamed up the Ghost Rider - already
appearing in The Champions - with the Werewolf
by Night, Morbius and the Man-Thing.
Reminiscent of the Super Villain Team-Up formula (which Marvel had launched in August 1975), the Legion of Monsters was a "non-team" formed on the spot as a mountain suddenly erupts out of the earth in the middle of Los Angeles and the four key horror figures all happen to be around.
fairly frequent cameo appearances of horror characters in
other titles, it actually seems quite surprising that
Marvel had not tried out the "team formula"
earlier. However, written by Bill Mantlo and pencilled by
Frank Robbins, Marvel Premiere #28 turned out to
be a fairly cheesy comic book (the actual nemesis turns
out to be a giant golden alien on a golden horse).
Despite the cover-blurbs announcements that this was "the most spine-tingling team-up of all", providing "Action in the mysterious Marvel manner", Marvel Premiere #28 may be seen as living proof why such a "horror team" might not work just as well - probably due to the same reasons which made Universal Pictures' "second wave" of 1940s horror movies so second grade: Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolfman and the Mummy were all strong characters in their own movies, but once they were being thrown together the quality of the stories deteriorated rapidly.
The success of Marvel Premiere #28 was minimal, and the Legion of Monsters was not to be seen again throughout the remaining years of the Bronze Age.
company, Marvel was in desperate need for new markets and
directions to take. One move - which was a marked
departure from the established formula of having
continuity and story arcs over and across several issues
of various comic book titles - was the introduction of
Marvel's Classics Comics line. As the plural -s
in Classics indicates, this was not to be a
reprint format for classic Marvel material from the early
to mid 1960s (as featured e.g. in Marvel's Greatest
Comics) but rather a series of comic book adaptations from classic
The idea was not, of course, a new one, and even its potential for success had long been proven by Albert L. Kanter who first published Classic Comics in 1941 (the series changed its name in 1947 to Classics Illustrated in a move to dodge the growing criticism directed towards comics as a whole). The line was launched with an adaptation of The Three Musketeers and soon distributed by a dedicated publishing company (Gilberton Publications), which would eventually handle Illustrated Classics for the next quarter-century. Sold off to another company, titles continued to be issued until the final demise in 1971.
Unlike other comic books that went off sale when the next issue was released, each issue of Classics Illustrated was reprinted as often as necessary to make it continually available. The selling point was, more or less, to expose young comic book readers to great literature and thus awaken their intellectual appetites. In reality, however, fairly long and complex stories were condensed into a single comic book, often achieved only by omitting key plot elements or characters. Some adaptations were outright confusing, and it is to be assumed that many a reader who tried to take a short cut through his English class reading assignments by going for the Classics Illustrated versions was in for a nasty surprise.
the series was a success, and that was just what Marvel
needed. Although Martin Goodman had left Marvel as
publisher in 1972, his belief in cashing in on proven trends (which
he had applied since the early 1950s (Daniels, 1991)) was still a part of
the system at the House of Ideas. Stan Lee himself
announced the new line in his July 1975 soapbox column:
It would, however, be 1976 before Marvel Classics Comics #1 was released, featuring an adaptation of a classic of the horror genre, Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde, scripted by Kin Platt and drawn by veteran Philippine comic book artist Nestor Redondo
Eventually, 36 issues would be produced, and most of the literary works adapted for Marvel Classics Comics had featured in Classics Illustrated before, with only two exceptions - one being the adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula in Marvel Classics Comics #9, scripted by Naunerle Farr and drawn by Nestor Redondo. Other issues to feature works associated - sometimes in a broader sense - with the horror genre were The Time Machine (issue #2, 1976 ) scripted by Otto Binder and pencilled by Alex Nino, Hunchback of Notre Dame (issue #3, 1976) scripted by Naunerle Farr and drawn by Jon Lo Famia, Frankenstein (issue #20, 1977) scripted by John Warner and pencilled by Dino Castrillo, Invisible Man (issue #25, 1977) scripted by Doug Moench and drawn by Dino Castrillo, and finally three short stories by Edgar Allan Poe (issue #28, 1977), retold by Donald F. McGregor and illustrated by Michael Golden.
Apart from Doug Moench's adaptation of H. G. Wells' account of the Invisible Man, none of the artists engaged in the production of Marvel Classics Comics were truly household names at Marvel. It was a typical sideline, of which Marvel would pursue many more in years to come.
the fact that it took place outside the Marvel Universe
and therefore outside the "regular" production
run of the House of Ideas (and was shut down after only
two years in 1978), it proved significant for Marvel's
range of horror genre comic books - simply because the Marvel
Classics Comics heralded the end of the superhero
from the crypt. Prior to the classics comics, horror
characters such as Dracula and Frankenstein had been
viewed by Marvel solely within the Marvel continuity
framework. Now, these very same characters were presented
strictly within their original conceptual framework.
It could be seen as a statement by Marvel indicating that these characters could also be handled differently than before, i.e. in a completely traditional manner rather than having them in a setting which was specific to the Marvel universe. In effect, it turned around much of what had been laid out before, and the grim reality of the horror genre in Marvel's production output as of 1976 spoke the same language. In the end, Marvel Classics Comics #9 and Marvel Classics Comics #20 were in a curious yet direct competition with Tomb of Dracula and the previously cancelled Frankenstein Monster - and they compared very unfavourably.
Marvel's world of horror was slowly bowing out, and in February 1977 even Marvel's attempt to cash in on the interest in the occult originally caused by the Exorcist movie ultimately proved unsuccesful as Son of Satan was cancelled after a mere 8 issues.
one month later, in March 1977, Werewolf by Night was
cancelled with issue #43 after having gone from monthly
to bi-monthly publication in 1976. The same fate was
dealt to Marvel Spotlight (which had introduced
Marvel's Werewolf in 1972) in April 1977 after 33 issues
- although this was no longer a loss to the genre as Marvel
Spotlight had not featured a horror character since
issue #24 in October 1975.
Marvel also lost the last of its once so numerous anthology horror titles when the plug was pulled for Weird Wonder Tales after 22 issues in May 1977. Remarkably, Weird Wonder Tales #19 had featured a heavily edited (i.e. retconned, partially redrawn and completely relettered) reprint from the 1961 Amazing Adventures featuring Dr Druid (called "Dr Droom" in the original material and regarded as Marvel's first superhero by some) and ran another Dr Druid story in the final issue (with lookalike characters spliced into issues #20 and #21).
|By mid-1977, only two titles from the glory days of Marvel's world of horror were still in print, Tomb of Dracula and Ghost Rider. They were faced with even more competition from a different genre (although the two had sometimes almost fused in the past) when Marvel released the first issue of their adaptation of George Lucas' Star Wars in July 1977.|
book was a giant success, running for a staggering 107
issues before being cancelled in July 1986 - and
according to Jim Shooter, editor-in-chief at the time, it
virtually saved Marvel from crashing:
It was a time for laser swords and death stars in a future which took place in outer space, not vampires and other ghostly appearances rooted in the earthly reality of the present. The same market which had demanded horror comic books a few years back was now yearning for science fiction, and Marvel - as virtually always - was quick to follow.
Actually, the two genres were not that far apart. Some books and movies always defied a clear distinction between horror and science fiction, as the latter was not always concerned with space travel and starships only.
1958 movie The Fly is commonly seen as a horror
movie, but the fact that scientist Hedison (played by
Vincent Price) has his horrific
accident when he tries to use his newly invented
teleportation device could also be seen as science fiction
gone wrong. Similarly, the extraterrestrial lifeform in
Ridley Scott's 1979 movie Alien is
quintessentially a monster stalking innocent human beings
- a classic horror genre theme.
Marvel also kept mixing up the two genres, such as having the Mummy face "extradimensional humanoids" in the form of The Elementals. However, when Marvel released their own version of Godzilla in August 1977 this was more of a sci-fi themed move than an attempt at a horror revival. Actually, it was a Godzilla revival, triggered - like so many other things - by the Star Wars movie, resulting in many of the numerous Godzilla movies playing as reruns on local television.
Godzilla first featured in the 1954 Toho Co. Ltd.'s movie Gojira, the most expensive movie ever produced in Japan at the time. It was such a huge success that it spawned a new style of Japanese cinema and a genre in its own right: the kaiju eiga ("giant monster"). The monster's mutant creation and subsequent release on the world was the result of nuclear energy, unleashed by the terror of nuclear war. As the only nation ever attacked by atomic weapons Japan had its own reasons to fear such mutations, and Gojira turned these fears into cinematic terror (Hixson, 2002).
Doug Moench and artist Herb Trimpe had Godzilla surface
off the coast of Japan in the mid-1950s during nuclear
testing and then quickly switched to the present day with
Godzilla appearing off-coast in Alaska and beginning a
rampage across the Western US, ripping apart the Alaska
pipeline, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Hoover
Godzilla also fought other gigantic monsters, which was very much in line with the seemingly endless string of Japanese Godzilla movies.
Nevertheless, the gigantic lizard moved within the Marvel universe and quickly found himself up against S.H.I.E.L.D., the Supreme Headquarters International Espionage Law-Enforcement Division of Nick Fury fame, as well as the Champions (oddly enough minus the Ghost Rider, who was a member of the team in its own book at the time) and even the Fantastic Four, the Avengers and - very briefly - with Spider-Man in the last few issues of the series.
Trying to establish a west coast based title in contrast to Marvel's standard east coast / New York bias, Moench realised that the title needed added interest. Godzilla as a character didn't work as a superhero from the crypt - it had to be seen as a sci-fi book anyway - so he was in desperate need of superhero relief.
It didn't work.
Godzilla wasn't Star Wars after all, and so the overall storyline was wrapped up neatly (with Godzilla going out to sea, back to where he came from) for the cancellation of the title, which came in July 1979 with issue #24.
|As the year
1977 was drawing to an end, there were still three years
left to the end of the 1970s and the Bronze Age period of
Marvel Comics, but the horror genre - which had had such
an impact on the comic book scene early in the decade -
was now quickly becoming an endangered species. In November 1977, the flagship of
Marvel's world of horror, Tomb of Dracula, was
downgraded to bi-monthly publication. It became more and
more evident that horror was no longer a good regular
This did not, however, preclude a horror themed comic book from selling well enough to justify a one-off issue, especially if it was a film tie-in. In precisely such a context, Marvel published The Island of Dr Moreau in October 1977.
Oddly enough, The Island of Dr Moreau was numbered as issue #1 all the same, but a second issue never materialized. Scripted by Doug Moench and pencilled by Lara Hama, the comic book contained 30 pages which told the story of Andrew Braddock who is cast adrift for days on a lifeboat.
|When he finally hits land
he finds that his good fortune turns into a nightmare as
he is trapped on an island owned by a mad scientist named
Dr. Moreau and hunted by beasts that are part human-part
animal. Based on the screenplay by John Herman Shaner
& Al Ramrus, the comic book also featured some
behind-the-scenes information pages on make-up techniques
and animal training used for the film.
Over time, more movie adaptations would be released by Marvel, but there would be no trace of the horror genre after Dr Moreau between Battlestar Galactica, Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Again, horror in its classic form had simply lost its appeal to readers, even in a one-off format. A mere six years after virtually exploding onto Marvel's production list, the horror genre had outlived its market value.
In 1978, only three regular titles remained - Tomb of Dracula, Ghost Rider, and Godzilla - although some might argue that Kirby's curiously unbalanced Devil Dinosaur - which ran for nine issues from April to December 1978 and featured "the King's" seriously high-flying philosophical approach with a story telling technique aimed at nine year olds - was as much a horror title as Godzilla. With two rampaging dinosaur titles balancing out Dracula and the Ghost Rider, it seemed as though even the very essence of the genre was now in danger of being thrown overboard.
Other horror characters were only passing through guest appearances in straight superhero titles, such as Brother Voodoo in Marvel Two-In-One #41 (July 1978) and the Man-Thing in Marvel Two-In-One #43 (September 1978). But then the whole industry was having a rough time, and indications of a better future were few and far between as DC had significantly cut back it's line of titles toward the end of 1978 in the "DC Implosion".
By 1979 the market for comic books had shrunk to an all-time low, and Marvel's overall annual sales figures of approximately 5,8 million copies hadn't been as low since 1965 (Tolworthy, AN). Marvel's horror genre flagship title, Tomb of Dracula, was cancelled after 70 issues in August 1979 - the longest running Bronze Age Marvel horror genre title and the "superhero from the crypt" par excellence had bowed out.
title and main character were relaunched as a bi-monthly
black and white magazine in October 1979, but this newly
packaged vampire tale met with very limited success and
was cancelled after only 6 issues in August 1980.
Closing the saga on Dracula and the gang of vampire hunters with the death of both its title character and his arch-enemy Quincy Harker, Tomb of Dracula #70 served as a symbolic end of an era.
Just like the comic book title featuring Dracula, the company named Marvel Comics had, in some ways, reached the end of a familiar road: the company's passing from the hands of owner Martin Goodman into those of a series of faceless corporations, Stan Lee's departure from the company's NYC offices in order to be closer to the Hollywood "in people", the resignation of Roy Thomas as Editor-in-Chief and the new philosophy instigated by Jim Shooter, the end of the days of free-wheeling experimentation and the rise of the X-Men phenomenon, and finally the exodus of much of the talent which made the Bronze Age shine - all of this cast an uncertain shape of things to come.
However, just as the decade of the 1970s and with the Bronze Age of comic books were coming to a close, the horror genre gave off a last spark.
The Man-Thing had been the very first original Marvel horror creation back in the May 1971 black & white test-tube Savage Tales #1, and oddly enough it would also be the last Marvel horror character to receive its own new Bronze Age title when Man-Thing (volume II) #1 was launched in November 1979. In the end, however, even the Man-Thing could not turn around market trends which had run against the horror genre for a few years now, and after only 11 bi-monthly issues, Man-Thing vol. II was cancelled in July 1981.
|The only Marvel horror character to really outlive the era of its conception, the 1970s Bronze Age era, was the Ghost Rider. A highly successful character by all standards, he bridged both the Bronze Age era 1970s and the early 1980s with a total of 81 issues before the title was finally cancelled in June 1983, making it the longest running Marvel horror comic book series of all.|
|MARVEL'S BRONZE AGE WORLD OF HORROR - ANALYZING THE FACTS & FIGURES|
range of horror characters and comic book titles played a
very substantial and important role in the
diversification the House of Ideas underwent as it
progressed from the 1960's Silver Age to the 1970's
Bronze Age period - together with other non-superhero
themed genres such as Marvel's sword and sorcery comics (escapism to worlds unknown to earthly
reality) which were spearheaded by the launch of the
highly successful Conan
the Barbarian #1 in October 1970).
However, the horror genre was not, as the actual publication figures clearly show, an overall Bronze Age period phenomenon: It almost exploded onto the Marvel comic book scene in 1972/73, peaked in 1973/74, was just as swiftly reduced in output quantity by 1975/76 and only played a very minor part in Marvel's total output of comic book titles for the remaining years of the 1970s.
By the end of the first Bronze Period year, 15% of the production output - i.e. every sixth comic book Marvel published - was a horror title. By the end of 1972, the actual number of horror titles had doubled in comparison to 1970, but the share of the total publication output remained virtually the same (17%) as Marvel had also increased the number of comic book titles it published in a massive way.
|The total publication output remained more or less stable in terms of comic book title numbers throughout 1973 and 1974, but the full swing which hit the horror genre raised both the number of titles published and the genre's share of Marvel's total output, meaning that virtually every third title the House of Ideas published in 1973 and 1974 was a horror title (31% in 1973 and 32% in 1974) - an impressive figure for a comic book publisher who had built his success on switching from horror and sci-fi to superheroes in the early 1960s.|
|But then this new wave of
horror was not a revival of what had gone before the
Fantastic Four but mostly an entirely new format: the
superhero from the crypt could - and indeed did - fit the
Marvel mould with ease. Titles like Tomb of Dracula,Werewolf
by Night and Ghost Rider were at the first
heights of their success and stood proud alongside
Marvel's established superhero characters.
The decline, which set in in 1975 with substantial cancellations of horror titles, was even more dramatic in terms of the importance - or growing lack of it - which the genre held for Marvel because the total number of titles published in that year would be the highest of the entire Bronze Age period.
|From this point on, the drop in the share of horror titles published by Marvel was on a steady downhill slope, from 16% (1975), 12% (1976) and 9% (1977) to the rock bottom share of a mere 8% for the last two years of the decade. The time it took to drop from 1 in 3 horror titles to less than 1 in 10 was only four years, and the decline was further hastened by the fact that the industry as a whole was in dire straits - Marvel's total output had dropped from a record 63 titles in 1975 to just 38 by the end of 1979.|
|As important as Marvel's
world of horror was in creating a number of Marvel
characters and titles generally acclaimed as classics
(such as the Ghost Rider or Tomb of Dracula) it
was limited to a comparatively brief period of time, and
the high tide mark was 1973 with 8 new titles, a total of
19 titles, and not a single cancellation. The turning of
the tide, only two years later, came with a beating, as
cancellations outnumbered the remainders in Marvel's line
of horror titles.
In analysing the impact of the horror genre on Marvel Comics in terms of quantity and thematic diversity, it is however important to take into account the role of the reprint titles.
|Since the beginning of the Bronze Age, Marvel had released a growing number of reprint titles onto the market, which effectively played a key role in the way the House of Ideas became the overall market leader in the industry. This was especially true for the horror genre, to the extent that the total horror genre output for the first two years of the 1970s consisted entirely of reprint anthology titles. Even with the "superheroes from the crypt" taking flight successfully as of 1972, the reprint comic book remained almost the basic inventory stock of Marvel's line of horror comic books.|
|In 1973 and 1974, the
heyday of Marvel's world of horror, reprint anthology
titles made up half of the number of titles. Even though
most of them were bi-monthly books as compared to the
titles featuring original material (which by that time
had mostly switched to monthly publication schedules),
they left a definite mark on how the genre was presented
to readers at newsagents and in spinner racks. In terms
of profit, they were obviously much cheaper to produce
than original material, but they also had far less market
potential, and the cancellations wave of late 1975 hit
the reprint anthology first and hardest. By the end of
1976, there was only one title left, and by 1977 it was
all over, whereas the remnants of marvel's line of
original horror material were able to cling on, albeit in
reduced und still dwindling numbers, right up to the end
of the Bronze Age period.
In the end, and with the added clarity of hindsight, Marvel's outing into the world of ghouls, monsters and vampires must rank as one of the most innovative moves in the company's history.
its success on the newly revived superhero genre since
1961, the House of Ideas was once more bold and clever
enough to turn a necessity into virtue when, after almost
ten years, the success formula began to show first signs
of faltering. Adapting to the new world into which
Marvel's comic books were published, the creative teams
at work managed to take in as much novelty as needed
whilst sticking to certain formulas which seemed
essential in order to keep alive Stan Lee's "Marvel
Mystique". The original material produced to cover
the newly popular horror genre always stood out in front
of the reprint material as a fresh interpretation of a
classic genre. Not all of it worked, and some of it was
less than mediocre. But it was always unmistakably
Covering the genre from wall to wall whilst infusing it with the underlying principles of the superhero comic book was an innovative approach. Without it, there would be no Tomb of Dracula or Ghost Rider, which became comic book classics beyond the borders of the horror genre. The "superhero from the crypt", as I have labelled him, is one of Marvel's milestone contribution not just to the Bronze Age period of the 1970s, but to comic book history as a whole. Not surprisingly, a number of these characters have reappeared throughout the past 25 years and keep on doing so.
Furthermore, Marvel owes much of the new momentum the House of Ideas gained through the series of increasingly popular and big budget movie adaptations to its Bronze Age world of horror, too: the movie which, in a way, broke the ice for Marvel in 1998 was Blade - the vampire slayer from Tomb of Dracula.
|POST SCRIPTUM - WHERE TO FIND THEM LURKING|
|For those interested in
reading up on Marvel's Bronze Age of Horror, the options
Tomb of Dracula is by far the best covered series, with reading options in the black and white Essentials range as well as high-end colour Omnibus editions, plus a few separate reprints mainly of the first issues over the years. The only other material to receive the comprehensive colour reprint treatment is, somewhat paradoxically, the reprint material from the Atlas age, which has been covered in full by Marvel in their Masterworks edition.
Most Bronze Age Marvel Horror, however, is restricted to the black and white Essentials range, which covers a lot of this era either in dedicated volumes (e.g. Werewolf By Night, Monster of Frankenstein, Ghost Rider and Man-Thing [the latter since also featured in a comprehensive Omnibus colour edition]) or Essentials compilation volumes which feature the likes of Son of Satan or Brother Voodoo, along with some material from the b&w magazines and the lesser characters such as the Golem or Modred.
In 2007 Marvel published a series of single issues featuring some of their best known horror characters, and this new material was collected in a hardcover trade titled Legion of Monsters which also featured material from Legion of Monsters #1, Marvel Premiere #28 (with the "Legion of Monsters") as well as all the Scarecrow material from Dead of Night #11, Marvel Spotlight #26 and Marvel Two-In-One #18 - plus the entire horror section from the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe.
In addition, the three volumes of Marvel Firsts - The 1970s published in 2012 offer many "first issues" (the theme of the books) of Bronze Age Marvel Horror in their original (i.e. non photoshop enhanced) colours.
page originally posted on the web
27 May 2008