Friday, October 31, 2008

Frightening First Fridays: Tower of Shadows #1

Here we are, my Groovy Ghoulies! Halloween is here, and has Ol' Groove got some goodies for you! Put away the eggs and soap! Don't even think about tipping my outhouse! When you least expect it, all through the day, I'm gonna spring some supernatural surprises on ya! Up first is Tower of Shadows #1, featuring Jim Steranko's "At the Stroke of Midnight!"

You know, I believe Stan Lee is a pretty cool guy. Smart as all get-out. I doubt anyone will ever convince Ol' Groove otherwise. To Young Groove, Stan was The Man. And Stan deserves most every accolade he's ever received. But, even The Man has feet of clay. While Stan was smart enough to hire Jim Steranko way back in 1967...while Stan was smart enough to eventually turn Steranko loose on the Nick Fury strip in Strange Tales...Stan was smart enough to know that, if he wanted to create a new mystery mag to compete with DC's successful House of Mystery and House of Secrets, he'd need to get the best to kick the mag off; namely one James Steranko...but Stan still had that "editor's itch" every now and then that made him want to meddle with things he didn't understand. Like Steranko's Alley Award-winning (1969) story for Tower of Shadows #1. Stan didn't like Steranko's cover (the red and black beauty on your left); he didn't like the story's original title ("The Lurking Fear at Shadow House"); he didn't understand Steranko's intentions of homaging H.P. Lovecraft, nor the storytelling innovations (including caption placement and use of color) the gifted writer/artist used in the strip. Here's the whole story, from Steranko himself, taken from Peter Sanderson's article "Steranko and Simon: Back to Back" in Publisher's Weekly, March 7, 2006:

After a bit of banter about a "cute redhead," Steranko suggested gossip and "fights with Stan Lee" as topics for the evening's public conversation. So they decided on Steranko's clash with Lee over the title of "At the Stroke of Midnight," the lead story that Steranko did for Marvel's Tower of Shadows horror comic in 1969.

But first there was a quick digression as Steranko recounted how he ended up redesigning the X-Man logo many years ago when the now wildly popular X-Men series was on the verge of being canceled. The Steranko-designed logo is still used in the comics today and served as the basis for the movie logo. And, Steranko quickly noted, "I never got paid for it."

Back to "At the Stroke of Midnight." Steranko explained that DC Comics had just launched a couple of horror anthology titles, House of Mystery and House of Secrets, which were doing well, and Marvel decided to launch a similar magazine Tower of Shadows to compete with them. Steranko did a story for the series and gave it the title, "The Lurking Fear at Shadow House," which referred to H.P. Lovecraft, whose stories were being revived. Stan Lee, Steranko went on, didn't quite get the Lovecraft reference and came up with his own title for the story. Much conflict ensued before the two men settled on, "At the Stroke of Midnight. "So I lost and he won," Steranko concluded.

Lee and Steranko were continually quarreling over Steranko's storytelling innovations. Steranko disliked what he called "the five-sided panel," i.e., a panel that has a caption that does not extend all the way across the top, hence it now has five sides. Naturally for "At the Stroke of Midnight," Steranko made the effort to write each caption and balloon so that it would run the whole length of the panel. Again, Stan Lee didn't get it and changed the dialogue and captions to fit the Marvel house style.

By this time, they were both infuriated and were arguing about whether Lee was firing Steranko or whether Steranko had quit. About a month later, Steranko got a call from Lee: "Hey, Jim," said Steranko, imitating Lee's easygoing tone of voice. Steranko recalled that he started to laugh: "The whole thing was so utterly absurd." By this time, Steranko concluded, Lee was laughing as well and said, "Jim, you belong here. Come back." And that's just what Steranko did.

(You can read the entire article here.)

So it took a lot of effort to get "At the Stroke of Midnight" from Steranko's drawing board to the spinner racks in July, 1969. Was it worth it? You tell me...

Come back later to see what else Ol' Groove has in store for you today...if you dare! Mmwhahahahaaaaa!


  1. I told this story elsewhere but here 'tis again. I bought TOWER OF SHADOWS # 1 off the stands new and it FREAKED ME OUT!!! I traded it to a buddy for some old, coverless THORs after being creeped out about even having it in the house. Then, about three years ago, I was sifting through the dollar bins at the local comic shop when I came across a fair condition copy of the book and thought I'd try it again. I bought it and was astonished to was my original copy!!! From more than thirty years earlier!!! With my initials neatly written on the bottom of page one!!!AAARRRGGHH!! On top of the weirdness of all that, the damn story STILL freaked me out!

  2. That's a cool story! Thanks for sharing, Booksteve. I think I'd be freaked out by that comic, too--especially if it followed me back home after 30 years!



Blog Widget by LinkWithin
Special thanks to Mike's Amazing World of Comics and Grand Comics Database for being such fantastic resources for covers, dates, creator info, etc. Thou art treasures true!

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!