Skull the Slayer #1-8
Issue(s): Skull the Slayer #1, Skull the Slayer #2, Skull the Slayer #3, Skull the Slayer #4, Skull the Slayer #5, Skull the Slayer #6, Skull the Slayer #7, Skull the Slayer #8
Aside from a gratuitous reference in Invaders and the obligatory wrap-up in Marvel Two-In-One (where all the cancelled series of the 1970s eventually find resolution), there are no touchpoints to the Marvel universe, and if it wasn't for the fact that the main character eventually comes back years later as (a) Blazing Skull and then shows up in a Hawkeye comic, i really should have ignored this series and devoted my time to something like the Saga of Crystar, which at least had guest stars.
The origins of this series begin four years earlier, when Marv Wolfman was still at DC and had an idea involving throwing an apartment building in New York back in time and studying how the various people in the building learned to survive. DC didn't approve the idea (apparently too close to Tarzan, which they had the license for), but Wolfman brought it with him to Marvel where Roy Thomas narrowed the scope to a core cast of recurring characters instead of Wolfman's apartment idea. Wolfman's intended name for the series was always Skull but there was a hitch when Marvel thought that was too close to Kull. Marvel temporarily lost the Kull license, allowing them to go with Skull, and then they got the Kull license back and kept Skull anyway. Roy Thomas suggested a tagline "Slayer of Men" but Wolfman said he'd really be slaying dinosaurs, so it just became Skull the Slayer.
Since this was Wolfman's longtime brainchild, you'd think he'd stick with the book all the way through, but he's off the issue after the third issue (due to his EiC duties, although it doesn't stop him from writing other books). Following Wolfman's run is a single issue by Steve Englehart that takes the series in a strange direction, followed by a hasty retreat by Bill Mantlo in his first non-fill-in color series. Art on the first three issues is by Filipino artist Steve Gan (co-creator of Starlord), who also inks issue #1-2 & 6. The rest of the series is drawn by Sal Buscema.
All you really need to know about this series is that a former Vietnam POW named Jim Scully is being transported for trial after killing his junkie brother (who attacked him first) when the plane goes into the Bermuda Triangle. Scully, followed by a cast of hangers-on, finds a belt on a dead alien that gives him super-strength, and he fights dinosaurs and other weirdness for 8 issues.
The Wolfman issues make a decent attempt at saying something about how the Vietnam experience makes Scully more suited for his new savage environment than modern society. But it's marred by heavy exposition, especially from the secondary characters who each have specific gripes that they clunkily explain in paragraph form. Things go downhill from there.
Let's introduce our cast. Raymond Corey, physicist. He's a black guy with a stereotypical chip on his shoulder and he's an antagonist to Scully through the entire series (in the sense that he gripes and moans a lot; he's not a bad guy).
Here's Jeff Turner. He's happy to summarize his motivation for you himself.
We'll see his father Senator 'Stoneface' Turner later in the series.
And here is Ann Reynolds, Raymond's assistant. Does she have a gripe, too? You know she does.
Her complaints are fair enough, and still relevant today. In fact, everyone's motivations are just fine, it's just the way they get blurted out that is pretty terrible. And then there's the fact that there's nothing that happens in the course of this series that serve as character arcs addressing their issues. In fact Reynolds quickly becomes the stereotypical "girl in a barbarian adventure", with torn clothing and always a damsel in distress.
If Reynolds had risen to the occasion and proven herself in this strange environment such that Raymond realized he should have made her a partner instead of an assistant, while Jeff learned to be self-sufficient so that he doesn't have to worry about his overbearing father anymore, etc., it might have turned out to be a decent narrative. But as it stands, partially because of the constant creative team changes and partially because the series was cancelled suddenly (but mostly just because of bad writing) everyone is pretty much stuck in the role they start off in.
Now here's Scully himself. He got extensive training prior to going to Vietnam, but he was captured immediately and spent 5 years as a POW.
When he was released, he was given an award for never giving information ("Got an award for not saying what he didn't know"). Then he went home to find out that his wife had divorced him and his brother was not just a junkie but strung out on untrendy drugs.
I actually have't seen much of Steve Gan's art, but the panel above looks very John Buscema to me; it's not bad. And of course dinosaurs are always awesome, no matter who is drawing them.
A caption helpfully tells us early on that we don't have to pay attention to the rest of the people on the plane flying over the Triangle, because they're not going to survive.
But it will turn out that one of the soldiers transporting Scully, Freddy Lancer, survives without falling into the Triangle warp, and he'll figure into a subplot at the end of the series.
The narration in the Wolfman issues is "snappy", and gets annoying pretty quickly.
Here is Scully even before he finds the super-strength belt:
And here's the alien with the belt.
You have to love that a word balloon mostly covers the skull shaped belt buckle in the one panel that would have actually shown it. Quality!
Here's the discovery that the belt grants super-strength (not that he really needed it considering how well he was doing previously!).
Ok, no, that's not a Brontosaurus even now that we're allowed to use the word "Brontosaurus" again. A response in one of the lettercols jokingly but accurately states that never in the history of comics has a writer actually gotten through an issue with dinosaurs and gotten the names right.
And that's when they're even trying to be accurate as opposed to just throwing us some horse-dinos.
And forget about behavioral patterns. Holy crap is that a lot of T. Rexes hanging out together.
The dead alien that they found was intriguing, and things get even weirder as they discover a path leading to a giant tower. Any RPGer knows that you have to first stop to loot the corpses.
Funny how Ann's costume change nearly results in her wearing less clothing. Also, Jeff looks beefy for a guy that is supposed to be a young teen.
Here's the tower itself.
And as they're climbing it:
The dead aliens were one thing, but with the tower "floors" we're definitely going in a different direction altogether. And next come the robot T. Rexes.
I am 100% in favor of robot T. Rexes no matter the circumstances, but it is a little weird to introduce a robot version after showing Skull fight and kill a real one. Like, where are we going with this? It's with that and this final scene that Wolfman departs from the book.
I therefore can't fault Steve Englehart for shifting this book in an entirely different direction for his issue, although the 'new writer, new approach' blurb suggests that maybe Englehart had already told his plans to Wolfman at this point.
In Englehart's issue, we do get to meet a live alien and hear an explanation for the Bermuda Triangle.
But the explanation means that everything we're seeing here - the people, the horses, and ALL the dinosaurs? - are actually robots.
And beyond that, Englehart kills off the entire supporting cast.
I do like the idea that Scully, damaged from 'Nam, is willing to let Ann die. Ironically, a letter in this issue says, "Skull just doesn't have personality and neither do his supporting characters. Ann has potential, but only if you don't take the strong will of a liberated woman and make her the constant reason for SKULL to risk his neck because she fell down running away from a stampede."
To replace the supporting cast, we get the original Black Knight and Merlin.
While the alien, Slitherouge, teams up with Morgan Le Fey.
Again, holy crap, where are we going with this?!
According to Englehart, he jumped from this title when he had an opportunity to write Super-Villain Team-Up (alternatively, a note in the lettercol says it's because Dr. Strange went monthly). But i'm not so sure. Mantlo describes in an intro essay issue #6 (his second issue) that he convinced Wolfman to allow him to reverse all of Englehart's changes as a condition to write the book (odd demand at a time when he admits he was chomping at the bit to write any regular series), but a response in the lettercol for issue #8 says it was a "joint" decision between Wolfman and Mantlo. Maybe it's just me, but i kind of read between the lines and think that Wolfman hired Mantlo to reverse everything that Englehart did.
It's certainly the case that Mantlo quickly reverses everything that happened last issue.
Merlin turns out to be a robot...
...and, in the end, so does the Black Knight.
And the entire supporting cast is brought back.
Mantlo gets the cast out of the tower, and then blows it up.
From there, Mantlo moves things back in a more traditional Savage Land direction, getting the group back to their crashed plane so they can pick up some supplies, and then getting back to fighting prehistoric monsters (also developing possible enhanced uses for Skull's power belt; i love when people hit things so hard they explode).
He also starts a subplot showing Freddy Lancer getting rescued and getting hired by Jeff's father Senator Turner to locate his missing son. It's not exactly a friendly relationship.
This subplot won't actually go anywhere (it won't even get picked up on in the Marvel Two-In-One conclusion) but it does suggest the possibility of people going in and out of the Bermuda Triangle area if the series continued, making it all that much more like the Savage Land.
Things seem back on track, but the final plot bogs down the final three issues. Skully's gang is attacked by "indians" or "redskins"...
...who take them to the lost Incan City of Gold.
They are forced to fight some dinos.
And prove themselves to be the favorites of the gods, like another white man from the modern era, a WWII era navy topographer named Victor Cocharn.
I guess i should note that Ann isn't constantly falling over herself anymore. You can see her fighting back against the Pteradon. Mantlo and Buscema also get her some pants for the final issue.
Cocharn is bitter about having been scarred in the accident that brought him to the Triangle, although he's happy to be treated like a god here and he's not exactly shunned because of his face.
The story then grinds to a halt as we get into the politics between Cocharn and the Jaguar Priest of the city, and - and i know this is hard to believe - not even the arrival of samurai on pteradons can make it more interesting.
The series ends with the cast prisoners of the Jaguar Priest.
The lettercols reflect the roller coaster ride of direction changes, with some people liking Englehart's changes, some happy that Mantlo dumped them, and some claiming that Englehart's changes were "misinterpreted". Issue #7 says that the series hopes to eventually reach #200, but issue #8 announces that the series is cancelled. "SLAYER SLAIN THROUGH LACK OF INTEREST!!" is how the cancellation note is headlined. They say that the book was actually turning around, at least in terms of responses in letters, but it was too late to save it.
As a random extra, here's an image of Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema from Mantlo's introductory essay in issue #6.
Quality Rating: C-
Chronological Placement Considerations: When this group resurfaces in Marvel Two-In-One #35-36 (Jan-Feb 78), it's said that they've been missing for about two years. That probably should be treated as a temporal reference based on the publication dates; the events shown here all happen in quick succession. But we do have Jeff's Senator father showing up in Marvel Team-Up annual #1 where it's said that he's under investigation for improper use of military funds. So this series ought to take place before that issue. On the other hand, this series ends on a cliffhanger that is seemingly picked up on in Marvel Two-In-One #35. But at least some time passes between the end of this series and MTIO, because it's said there that the character Victor Cochran died since the end of that series. So either the characters here escaped the Jaguar Priest, had more adventures, and then got recaptured in time for MTIO, or time just passes differently in the Bermuda Triangle zone. I'm therefore keeping this story at publication date instead of directly before MTIO #35.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (3): show
If Scully was a pilot, than why is a Captain America-level fighter before he gets the belt? And why does the dialogue imply he was drafted?
Posted by: Michael | February 12, 2015 10:10 PM
It's easy to see why Wolfman's original idea was rejected by DC: it's way too similar to Murray Leinster's SF story "The Runaway Skyscraper". There were still some DC editors who were longtime pulp SF fans at that time.
Putting Conan into all those Marvel promo ads made economic sense; his books sold really well, especially to segments of the public that didn't normally buy comics(the same applied to MOKFu). That's why Conan was able to suatain a b&w magazine until Marvel dumped all its b&w's in the late 1990s, long after all its contemporaries got cancelled.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | February 13, 2015 3:28 PM
Statements that the book was becoming more popular indicated by the letters or latest numbers, but it was too late, was a very common refrain from Marvel in the 1970s and to a lesser extent the 1980s. I think someone's ego required it.
Posted by: Chris | February 13, 2015 9:41 PM
To be fair, they never became exactly rare. Nor are they necessarily fraudulent. It is quite usual for word of mouth to attempt to spread when a book's sales become worrisome.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | February 14, 2015 5:47 AM
Englehart stated back in the 8/78 Comics Journal that he hated writing this book.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | February 28, 2015 4:06 PM
Issue 7 was one of the first comics I ever owned, so my judgement may be biased, but I think it's the best issue of the series, and if the rest of the issues had been as good, the book would have lasted longer. It's a self-contained issue with a straightforward plot and almost none of the pointless bickering that otherwise made the book such a drag. Ann finally stands up for himself, and Corey actually makes himself useful (apparently in the Marvel universe, knowledge of the language of the Incas is required to become a physicist.) And it even gives you a "so big, so fast!" alert.
Posted by: Andrew | May 10, 2015 8:55 PM
Issue #1 would've preceded the movie 'The Land that Time Forgot' by a couple months.
Posted by: Oliver_C | March 26, 2016 7:32 AM
There was a Bermuda Triangle fad in the 70s, fuelled by sensational non-fiction books. Wikipedia's article on the topic mentions some.
The 1977 TV series THE FANTASTIC JOURNEY followed a group of travellers journeying between different times on an island in the Triangle. Given the dates it's not impossible the show was influenced by this series.
I think SKULL THE SLAYER #4 was modern Marvel's first use of Morgan Le Fey as a villain, although the next issue revealed the version here to be a robot. The GCD tells me she had earlier appeared in the 50s BLACK KNIGHT series.
Posted by: Luke Blanchard | March 26, 2016 1:18 PM
I wonder if this is where Alan Moore got the idea for the Time Tower used by the League of Infinity in some of the Supreme stories he wrote for Awesome Comics. IIRC it likewise had the property that each level in the tower represented a different era in time. Also, the future was upwards, and the past was downwards. That's the only other place I ever saw this gimmick used, but now I'm wondering if this Skull story writer might also have borrowed the idea from somewhere else.
Posted by: Holt | February 16, 2018 6:26 PM
@Holt: I think both may have gotten the idea from an Isaac Asimov novel from 1955, THE END OF ETERNITY.
Posted by: Thanos6 | February 17, 2018 1:00 PM
The cover design of #4 was reused from Conan the Barbarian #51.
Posted by: Luke Blanchard | March 10, 2018 3:20 PM
I just saw Luke's comment about The Fantastic Journey - it might have had some influence from Skull the Slayer. It's a little tough to say since the cast was shaken up after the pilot episode, including the removal of the lead actor (although Jared Martin, who was bumped up to the top of the cast listing for the series, was introduced in the pilot and both he and Carl Franklin are more similar in character to Skull than the original lead, who was more of a "Dr. Quest" type). But in fact, the cast of Skull bears a stronger resemblance to the cast of the series than the cast from the pilot, something that would make sense if the creators were fans of the show. Hell, I never even saw the pilot until a couple years after the series had run when it turned up as a TV movie coupled with the first series episode - even as a young viewer, it was jarring to see the way that the cast shuffle was carried out.
Posted by: Dan H. | March 10, 2018 6:00 PM
(Apologies for losing the plot due to a phone interruption halfway through my previous post. Obviously Skull predated Fantastic Journey and so the cast lineup of the show wouldn't have been an influence on the comic).
Posted by: Dan H. | March 10, 2018 6:03 PM
Comments are now closed.
|SuperMegaMonkey home | Comics Chronology home|