Monday, September 1, 2008

Labor Day Special: Doug Moench

Labor Day. The day we set aside to honor the laborer. Those who keep things going so we can keep going. If you're looking at the Groovy Age of Comics, you'd be hard-pressed to find a fella more worthy of being honored for his labors than Doug Moench. The cool thing is, not only does it seem that Mr. Moench has a great work-ethic, but he has talent verily oozing from his pores.

Just check out a partial list of the mags he did for Marvel back in the day: Morbius (in Adventures into Fear), Planet of the Apes, Deathlok (in Astonishing Tales), Captain Marvel, Master of Kung Fu, Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, Doc Savage, Godzilla, Rampaging Hulk/the Hulk! magazine, the Inhumans, Ka-Zar, Star-Lord, Moon Knight, Shogun Warriors, Werewolf by Night, Weirdworld...

That's not counting all the fill-ins and one shots on nearly every color and black and white mag Marvel published in the 1970s. Or the cool stuff he did for Warren's horror mags, Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella. Or the Skywald stuff for Psycho and Nightmare. Mind-boggling, isn't it?

Thing was that, even with his herculean workload, nothing Moench did was ever run-of-the-mill.

His most famous work, Master of Kung Fu, took a dying fad and transformed it into a spy comic with the most realistic, sensitive, and yes, adult take on a group of four color characters you'll ever have the pleasure of reading. Not only was it a great action/adventure comic, it was a study of the human condition through the characters; most notably the noble, poetic Shang-Chi, himself.

Deathlok the Demolisher was post-apocalyptic sci-fi at its funkiest. Somehow, Moench (and artist/co-creator Rich Buckler) were able to showcase a murdering anti-hero, cannibals, corrupt military officials, and interracial marriage (still a HUGE taboo back then) under the then-stifling Comics Code. Perhaps it was because, for all its violence, Moench was able to use Deathlok to give us a glimpse of what makes us human. Through Luther (Deathlok) Manning, Moench showed us how we might react to having our humanity stripped from us. No small wonder this little-seen strip inspired the creators of Terminator and Robocop to create celluloid icons.

With the Doc Savage magazine, Moench wrote slam-bang pulp style graphic novellas (usually 40 plus pages). He didn't adapt the novels (he didn't even read many of them by all accounts); he created brand new "super-sagas" featuring Doc and his Amazing Five that included all the essential elements set up by Doc's creator, Lester Dent (aka Kenneth Robeson): exotic locales, beautiful women, evil villains, innovative technology, and solid, twisting, breath-taking plots.

Rampaging Hulk started out as a far-out sci-fi comic, mixing the feel of classic 50s sci-fi movies with the early Marvel age by setting "untold stories" of the Green Goliath between the final issue of his regular comic and his comeback in Tales to Astonish. Moench put on his Roy Thomas hat and wove a continuity that allowed the Hulk to meet up with the X-Men...and even the Avengers before they became the Avengers. After a couple of years, though, the Incredible Hulk TV show was rockin' the tube, so the powers-that-be decided to convert the black and white Rampaging Hulk mag into the full-color The Hulk! mag. Besides adding color (Marvel Super-Color!), the mag was transformed into a comicbook version of the TV show. Moench, pro that he is, managed to do a complete 180 and give us heart-touching, "realistic" stories of the tortured Dr. Banner and those he came into contact with. As a special bonus, when the mag went to all-color, Moench was allowed to slide his beloved Moon Knight into the back-up slot. When neophyte artist/Neal Adams clone Bill Sienkiewicz took over the art chores, the strip caught fire, leading to "Moonie" winning his own title.

If you're not hip to what I'm tryin' to lay on ya, dig this: Moench proved to be one of the most multi-faceted writers of the era. He could do "cosmic" (Captain Marvel and Star-Lord), he could do superheroes (the Inhumans and Moon Knight), he could do horror (Morbius, Werewolf by Night), he could take licensed properties and make them interesting and worthwhile (Planet of the Apes, Godzilla, Shogun Warriors). Great googly-moogly, Moench could even do Tolkien (Weirdworld) and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (adapting The Hound of the Baskerville in Marvel Preview # 5-6)!

After the Groovy Age, Moench moved on to DC where he became their hardest working man, eventually earning the title of premiere Batman writer of the 80s and 90s. Oh, and if you have any doubts that Moench and his body of work aren't the grooviest of the groovy, consider this: nearly every strip I've described in this article is in print to this very day. I dare you to go to a good comics shop and not find tons of Batman graphic novels and dozens of Marvel Essentials with Moench's bi-line on 'em. While you're there, pick up a few, pay for 'em (duh!), and enjoy. You'll be thanking Ol' Groove for it!

1 comment:

  1. Of course I knew that Master of Kung Fu was good stuff, but even now, I'm amazed that he managed to turn Shogun Warriors into a comic that I genuinely liked, even with that Herb Trimpe artwork.



Blog Widget by LinkWithin
Note to "The Man": All images are presumed copyright by the respective copyright holders and are presented here as fair use under applicable laws, man! If you hold the copyright to a work I've posted and would like me to remove it, just drop me an e-mail and it's gone, baby, gone.

All other commentary and insanity copyright GroovyAge, Ltd.

As for the rest of ya, the purpose of this blog is to (re)introduce you to the great comics of the 1970s. If you like what you see, do what I do--go to a comics shop, bookstore, e-Bay or whatever and BUY YOUR OWN!