Friday, March 13, 2009

Famous First Fridays: Amazing Adventures #18-War of the Worlds

Hey, hey, hey, Groove-ophiles! The Groovy Agent is comin' at ya with another all-time fave--the dazzling debut of Marvel Comics' sequel to H.G. Wells' classic War of the Worlds by Roy Thomas, Neal Adams, Gerry Conway, Howard Chaykin, and Frank Chiaramonte. Amazing Adventures #18 reached out from the spinner rack and jumped in Young Groove's hands back in February, 1973. That Romita cover, man, it just could not be ignored. It looked like a red-haired Conan tricked out in leather standing in the midst of a burning city with a couple'a big honkin' Martian Tripods burning people and property with perilous propensity. And, dude, the red-haired-Conan-type wasn't just carrying a sword, but what looked like a ray-gun, too! And ninja stars! Now, Groove, at any age, has always been a sucker for anything that mixes fantasy and sci-fi, so, as much as I hated to see the Beast go, I was dying to know what was going on in AA #18. I laid down my quarter, got my change (change from a quarter for a comicbook! No wonder I love the Groovy Age!), and entered a brand new world...

...As you can see, it was a world filled with savagery and science gone amok! And speaking of amok, the red-haired-Conan-dude, Killraven is his name, was laying a major smack-down on man and mutant alike as he made his way to the lair of a man he called "Keeper"...

But who was Killraven? Who was Keeper? And what was Marvel up to with this alternate future in which Wells' Martians came back and won? To get the answers to those questions, Groove-ophiles, we have to dig a bit. First up, here is some behind-the-scenes info from Roy's editorial in the letters page of AA #18, "War of the Words"...

"Two years. That's how long it's taken, friends and neighbors. Two long and not-always-enjoyable years. Circa 1971, Stan Lee asked me to submit a list of ideas for new titles for his own and then-publisher Martin Goodman's consideration..."

(Roy talks a bit about some ideas he tossed out, like Werewolf By Night, Red Wolf, and Ant-Man and Dr. Strange revivals--and yeah, Ol' Groove still has a lot of ground to cover based on that list alone!--He then talks a bit about Wells' novels and the effect it, the Orson Welles' radio version and the George Pal movie and the effects they had on him.)

"The direct inspiration for the story, I suppose, was the chapter Wells called 'The Man on Putney Hill,' in which a visionary artilleryman talks at length about how life will be under the triumphant Martians. Nearly everything set forward in the main line of this series comes from his speeches: earthmen living in drains (read: subways); Quislings who hunt and rule earthmen for their Martian masters; plus a host of things still upcoming and waiting to be developed by the Bullpen Stalwarts.

"It took a long time for the opportunity for the series to be begun to present itself. Once it did, though, it occurred to me that nefarious and deadline-dodging Neal Adams was the perfect artist to draw the strip. I presented the general concept to Neal one day over the phone and suggested he stop by in a few days so we could talk it over at greater length; the very next day, he show up--with a whole plotline and lead character, yet. I accepted most of what he wanted to do, with a few changes here and there to bring things in line with my original idea--which included keeping the Martians and their technology almost exactly as Wells had envisioned them (they are, after all, a dying race). The only changes: their destruction of our atomic stockpiles and their biological victory over the germs and bacteria of our world--two crash programs which they would logically have deemed vital before a second invasion attempt was begun.

"Eventually, as deadline time rolled around, problems developed because by then Neal had become immersed in several time-consuming projects, including designing costumes for an off-Broadway (like Chicago) stage musical. (Warp--which I'll cover in my upcoming Blinded Me with Comics blog!) We threw in one reprint of the Beast's origin to give him more time to finish--but, in the end, it was no go, and Neal's sometimes crony Howard Chaykin wound up making virtually his Marvel debut by finishing up the last half of the book nearly overnight. By this time, I too had become too immersed with editorial duties to burn the midnight oil over scripts the way I used to with Neal on X-MEN and AVENGERS, so I sorrowfully but confidently turned the scripting reins over to Gerry Conway..."

That's how AA featuring War of the Worlds #18 came to be. A couple decades later, both Roy and Neal Adams would flesh out a few more details about the origins of WotW and Killraven. Here's what Neal had to say about the strip's development (quoted from TwoMorrow's Comic Book Artist Vol. 1, No. 3, Winter 1999):

"This character--later named Killraven (by Gerry Conway)--was travelling through his world, collecting things. And he would trade things in order to create and put together technology to fight the aliens. He carried his backpack all of the time and everywhere he went, he would trade off bits of technology for other bits until he could bring the world together, by putting the pieces back together again, to fight the aliens because civilization was being destroyed. "I was putting together a science-fiction concept. This guy, in effect, was the son of Doc Savage--not the Doc Savage, but a Doc Savage-like character. This guy is motivated by instincts he doesn't even understand; he's doing these things, but he doesn't know why he's doing them--he's very good at doing them because he's the son of Doc Savage and he's a wonderful genetically-created person. And he has a twin brother--only he's working for the aliens. To me, that's a set-up for a really good series. "That concept got lost and, in place of it, was an adventure that didn't actually have progression. My tendency is to move things from point one to point to and on, and when that's not happening, then people jump in and out. It was like what was happening with "Deadman"; the would have writers come in and do a story that would have nothing to do with the last story or anything to do with the next story, so there was no progression. Here, this story was started by Roy and I, and midpoint into it, it was turned over to Gerry Conway again, so I backed out of it. This sounds like a criticism of Gerry again, but it's really not. It has to do with working with the people and and having a relationship, and trusting that it's going to go forward and be positive, and it just seemed to crumble. I felt betrayed."

Finally, in the Alter Ego half of Comic Book Artist #5 (Alter Ego Vol. 2, No. 5, Summer 1999), Roy added the last few details...

Referring to the "The Man on Putney Hill" chapter of Wells' War of the Worlds Roy states: "From this material, I hoped to develop a series to appeal to readers who liked Marvel and DC comics based on the fiction of Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs. In fact, a secondary influence on my concept was the ERB-inspired series "The Lost World" which ran for years in the Planet Comics of the 1940s-50s, with a hero named Hunt Bowman."

On Neal Adams' part in the creation of War of the Worlds: "Much as I wanted Neal to draw this feature, this time I found I couldn't go along with all his ideas (mainly the Martian technology as noted in the AA #18 editorial)...Other notions of Neal's did, however, fit in quite well with what I wanted, particularly at this early formative stage. His somewhat Hunt Bowman-like hero, who wanders around gathering up scrap and discarded gadgets for use against the Martians...I found intriguing. Neal had a great name for this character: 'The Junkman.' I'm surprised he neglected to mention that moniker in his interview; perhaps he's forgotten it... "Naturally, this is not written to denigrate in any way the work that Conway, Chaykin, Marv Wolfman, Herb Trimpe, and others did on the series before Don McGregor and Craig Russell inherited it and proceeded to take it off in new and interesting directions. What would "The War of the Worlds" have been like if Neal and I had stuck it out in tandem? The first near-dozen pages of Amazing Adventures #18, and that single penciled page reproduced in CBA #3, are the closest anyone is ever going to get to knowing."

So, Killraven was to be the son of a Doc Savage-type, and Keeper was "Doc" himself! How wild is that? And as cool as this first issue is, it's genesis is even more interesting. After the debut story, Conway and Chaykin teamed for one more (#19, April 1973) and the strip went through a revolving door of creators. Marv Wolfman wrote #20 (June 1973), joined by new artist Herb (Incredible Hulk) Trimpe. Don McGregor came aboard with AA #21 (August 1973), giving the strip the purpose, focus, and cast it needed to make WotW one of the greatest, best remembered series of the Groovy Age. He remained as writer for the remainder of the series (with the exception of the Bill Mantlo written/Herb Trimpe drawn issue #33, August 1975, and the Mantlo-penned/Keith Giffen penciled fill-in issue #38, July 1976). Rich (Deathlok) Buckler provided energetic and exciting pencils for issue #25 (April 1974), and Gene Colan and Dan Adkins did a beautiful job on issue #26 (June 1974). P. Craig Russell took over as permanent (except for the afore-mentioned issue #'s 33 and 38) penciler with issue #27 (August 1974). In Russell, McGregor found the perfect artist to give life and form to his pithy prose. So strong (and beautiful, and magnificent) were the McGregor/Russell-produced issues (ending with the book's cancellation with issue #39 in August 1976), that it is their run that is remembered and most-praised by fans of WotW.

But the story of the McGregor/Russell WotW collaboration is fodder for another post, Groove-ophiles. Keep your eyes peeled--ya never know when Ol' Groove'll spring it on ya! Pax!


  1. I have just one word to say... well, two: Ape Slayer!

  2. My Bronze Age Brotha, Pete Doree recently covered that b&w phenomenon on Bronze Age of Blogs, Allan--check it out:

  3. I bought Amazing Adventures no. 18 off the stands, thinking it was a Marvel adaption of a the Wells classic novel. I was disappointed to find otherwise, so I never bought another Killraven issue. However, Killraven was like several other Marvel titles in the '70s — I came to love and respect them years later as an adult. I was a bit too young in '73 to fully appreciate this title.

  4. A comic that had great potential.Unfortunately,Marvels creative people never great such a great story,until Alan Davis tried to breath life into Killraven and his Freemen.

    Read my own blog to find my veiws.

  5. This series got off to a very bad start because of Roy Thomas dropping out, Neal Adams only doing the first half and the poor inks of Chiaramonte bringing things down considerably. I can remember my disappointment when Adams didn't finish the issue, since he was already beginning to withdraw from regular comics drawing. This had been promoted as a return of sorts. Newby Chaykin was not a good substitute. But being a good Marvel zombie I bought every issue. Buckler/Janson and Colan/Adkins were good issues and once McGregor/Russell took over everything was fine. But AA # 18 will always stand out as a deeply frustrating what might have been.

  6. Marvel finally got around to publishing a Marvel Masterworks hardcover that collects AMAZING ADVENTURES 18-39, including the much later McGregor/Russell story in the KILLRAVEN graphic novel (Marvel Graphic Novel 7, Aug 1983).

    The series began in 1973, portraying the far-flung future of 2018-2020. The hardcover was released in Nov 2018, I liked that it was released in the future year portrayed.

    I loved the first issue by Adams/Charamonte, and that first 11 pages certainly was a good start, and a sampling of what the entire series by Adams would have been. I kind of liked the concluding 9 pages by Chaykin/Chiaramonte, bringing an early Chaykin's vision to the series, taking it in a different but still engaging direction. For all its incongruity, that first issue was great. AMAZING ADVENURES 18 was among Chiaramonte's first mainstream work, he died tragically young at age 40 in 1983.

    Issues 19 and 20 were dull and uninteresting, Marvel hackery that was phoned in without much feeling.

    21-24 with the McGregor/Trimpe team were mostly stilted writing, but mixed with sections of beautiful prose, where the full cast of Killraven, M'Shulla, Old Skull, Hawk, Carmilla Frost and Grok were all introduced and began to develop.

    Issue 25 by McGregor/Buckler/Janson is what I consider the first fully-formed issue of the series, the humor and banter between the characters finally beginning to reach its peak, but still a bit stilted in parts. It introduced Skar, the first Martian adversary I felt was interesting, both as a character and visually, and truly threatening. And again, while Buckler didn't end up being the regular artist on the series, a good sampling of what a McGregor/Buckler run would have been like.

    Issue 26 again had an artist change, was beautifully scripted, and gives a solid sampling of what a McGregor/Colan/Adkins run would have looked like.

    And finally with issue 27, MgGregor is finally joined by Craig Russell, and the series took peak form for the remainder of its run, with a mixture of humor, beautiful prose, and a very likeable intertwined set of characters that played off each other in some of the best scripting this side of Alan Moore for the remainder of the series, from 1974-1976.

    McGregor in interviews lets on that for all its beauty, the series was notoriously late, explaining the two fill-in issues by Mantlo/Trimpe/Berry in 33, and Mantlo/Giffen/Milgrom in 38 (the latter fill-in while non-canonical was quite good).

    And it's nice in the 474-page Marvel Masterworks hardcover that it also includes the KILLRAVEN graphic novel, another 63 pages of McGregor/Russell Killraven goodness. I can't recall another collected Masterworks volume I've been so eager to see.

    1. There's an Essential b&w collection, as well. It also includes Marvel Team-Up #45 (yay!) and Joe Linsner's one-shot (meh).

    2. Yeah, I skipped the ESSENTIAL KILLRAVEN collection because 1) it was black and white, not color, and kind of ugly in its format, as all the Essential books are, and 2) it mixes new material from another era than the 1970's run, and as you seem to agree substandard new material at that.


  7. McGregor's Black Panther run from JUNGLE ACTION 5-24 was released several years ago in a Marvel Masterworks hardcover as well(getting pricey now in hardcover), and more recently as a trade paperback. Craig Russell inked issue 13 of the series.

    Others might disagree, but for me McGregor's Killraven run is his best work. Some might say the variety of creators on the series makes it uneven, but I find the range of talent across its 23 stories make it enormously interesting, to see it develop across its run from its Thomas/Adams beginnings, several might-have-been runs with Buckler and Colan, two nice fill-ins by Giffen, to the modest greatness of the McGregor/Russell run. And revisited 7 years later in the Marvel Graphic Novel. It is atypical of Marvel in that era (and from what I understand scorned by Marvel editorial in that era, and thus a miracle it was allowed to exist at all) and a series I'd put on a par with Jim Starlin's CAPTAIN MARVEL and WARLOCK runs, Moench/Gulacy MASTER OF KUNG FU, Moench/Buckler Deathlok series in ASTONISHING TALES, Gerber/Ploog's MAN THING 5-11, Wolfman/Colan's TOMB OF DRACULA, the Claremont/Byrne/Austin X-MEN run, and on the DC side Wein/Wrightson SWAMP THING, and Goodwin/Simonson Manhunter in DETECTIVE 437-443, as some of the best and most engaging series work of the decade.



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!