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Graphic Novel Friday: Swords, Sorcerers, and Spaceships

I’ve been in a 1970s mood lately, fleshing out my tiny vinyl collection and catching up on classic comics. I’ve trumpeted Dark Horse’s Creepy and Eerie Archives, but lately the publisher has been hard at work feeding my nostalgia with great reprints of lost gems from the 70s.

When an advance copy of John Carter of Mars: Warlord of Mars crossed my desk, I could not stop obsessing over it. I am a sucker for “complete” collections, and this 630-plus page tome boasts “all twenty-eight issues of John Carter: Warlord of Mars, plus all three annuals, collected for the very first time!” Sold! Underneath that: “Featuring a foreword by Michael Chabon.” Sold! Chabon edited McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales and contributed a short story entitled “The Martian Agent, A Planetary Romance,” and its influence was clear: Edgar Rice Burroughs. To have Chabon now introduce Burroughs’ John Carter comics is perfect casting. After I finished the foreword, I looked at the table of contents and marveled at the names associated with the stories contained therein: Chris Claremont, Marv Wolfman, Gil Kane, Frank Miller, Walt Simonson, Carmine Infantino, George Perez, and more. You do not have to keep selling this collection to me, Dark Horse--but sold!

I first flipped to the chapter penciled by Frank Miller and it’s a stunner. John Carter’s love interest, the incomparable Dejah Thoris, lies captive, and Miller’s depiction of her is far removed from his jagged, splotchy portrayals of femme fatales in Sin City. The chapter also features a wild sword battle between multi-armed aliens, resulting in a tangled flurry of limbs, blades, fangs, and action lines. Dark Horse has reprinted these stories in crisp, sharp, black and white pages, drawing attention to the very fine details in expressions--both human and alien, costumes, weaponry, and otherworldly landscapes. These late-70s stories are alive with ideas, strange spaceships, and exclamation marks. The trade paperback comes with sturdy front and back covers, preventing the hefty collection from buckling or warping with all the loving attention that’s sure to come.

On the more supernatural end of the reprint spectrum, Doctor Spektor stars the titular occult detective and monster hunter as he battles the forces of darkness. When the first hardcover collection released last October, I really tried to enjoy it. After all, it was Halloween, and the artwork by Jesse Santos was instantly a draw, but the writing was fairly workmanlike. This month, Dark Horse released a second volume, and once I glimpsed Santos’s art, I decided to give Volume 2 a try--and I’m glad I did. Once again, co-creator and writer Don Glut provides a lengthy and insightful introduction, but he states here that ”The fun--for me, anyway, as the writer--really got a jump-start with the five Doctor Spektor adventures comprising this second Dark Horse collection….” Editorial mandates loosened, and Glut had the opportunity to “do continued stories, bring back old characters, show flashbacks, and do crossovers.” Spektor and his lovely assistant, Lakota Rainflower, also grow more as characters, and so does their relationship (when you spend your life battling mummies and werewolves, I suppose it’s inevitable). The greater freedom granted to Glut really shines through in his sky’s-the-limit writing, especially in the “When Gods Collide” chapter, which features hooded, bearded, and scowling beings traipsing below erupting volcanoes:

They emerged from the darkness below and entered the darkness above, blending with the umbras of night and calling themselves…the Dark Gods! And unlike the noble Warrior Gods, the Dark Gods were totally evil. Led by their decadent King Neffron, these corrupt deities used their magic to create horrendous demons and monstrosities…and to spread their malignance across the earth…

This second volume is a recognizable shift in tone, quality, and storytelling, and in comparing the two volumes, Glut admits that this new collection stretches beyond “such comparatively mundane supernatural phenomena as haunted houses and ghostly hounds.” Hear, hear! Also, Specktor takes more of a proactive role in these chapters: he struggles with the curse of a werewolf and Frankenstein’s Monster (in a fun nod to Universal’s horror films) and isn’t afraid to muddy and bloody his starched white shirt. Plus, Jesse Santos’s artistic contributions are worth the admission. He possesses an economical understanding of line-work, never cluttering the panels with anything other than what is absolutely essential--and then drawing the heck out of those essentials.

If you want more from Don Glut, be sure to seek out The Saga of Solomon Kane, which collects all of the Marvel issues starring Robert E. Howard’s Puritan adventurer. The 400-page paperback boasts “over twenty classic stories!” and Don Glut writes many of them. Neal Adams, John Byrne, and even Bernie Wrightson lend their blood-dipped pens to the stories steeped in demonic terror. I’m finally digging into it while I eye The Savage Sword of Kull the Conqueror Volume 1, which also features artwork by Bernie Wrightson as well as Barry Windsor-Smith, John Severin, and many more. The black and white artwork looks a little washed out in some pages, but it’s still a bargain--perfect for pulling off the shelf and randomly choosing a story to read.

What a thriving decade for horror and science fiction comics. Finishing them all before the next decade, however, is going to be a challenge.



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I hadn't even noticed those Doctor Spektor collections. I've never read the comic, but it sounds like exactly the sort of thing I'm likely to enjoy.

Chabon also penned the script for the new John Carter of Mars film, along with Andrew Stanton. I couldn't be more excited for it.

Great story, David. Marv Wolfman was a creative machine.

Years ago, in the back pages of some random comic, I read a short story about John Carter of Mars and his rescue of the beauteous Dejah Thoris from the clutches of multi-armed Martians. I just found that story again in the new trade paperback "John Carter of Mars: Weird Worlds," and for the first time I was able to read the whole arc. I didn't know at the time that the story's script was by Marv Wolfman and the art by Murphy Anderson, but the creative team changed over the run, and as a whole it's uneven. Still good reading, though, and it's nice to rediscover and supplement something that I read long ago and have kept in the back of my mind.

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