Friday, April 17, 2009

Famous First Fridays: Creatures On the Loose #10 Featuring REH's Kull

Greetings, Groove-ophiles! Ya know how much Ol' Groove loves, loves, loves the works of Robert E. Howard. Ya know how much a fan I am of writer Roy Thomas and artist Bernie Wrightson. Well, here is one of those rare times when it all comes together. When the Marvel Comics version of REH's Conan started catching fire, it was decided to give another REH property a shot. It seemed only natural that Kull of Atlantis be next on the list. King Kull (the original REH version, not the Golden Age Captain Marvel villain who "borrowed" the name) was, after all, Conan's literary "forefather" (Howard's first Conan story was a re-written Kull story, don'tcha know), plus Kull was a lot like Conan--a barbarian who wins the throne of an ancient kingdom--so fans would most likely take to 'im like a Deadhead takes to a tape recorder.

Publisher Martin Goodman and Editor Stan Lee didn't have complete faith in Kull's ability to sell comics, though. After all, Conan was only beginning to pick up steam after a shaky start in his own title. So they plopped Kull's debut story in an issue of Creatures on the Loose, #10* (December 1970, to be exact), then sat back and waited for the sales results. Oh, they'd stacked the deck in Kull's favor, never fear. Roy Thomas was making gold with his Conan scripting, so he was the only choice to adapt REH's "The Skull of Silence". Bernie Wrightson was making waves on Marvel and DC's mystery mags, with his moody, evocative art. He'd even gotten an early sword-and-sorcery comic under his belt when he'd worked on Nightmaster in DC's Showcase #'s 83-84 (March-May 1969). Ol' Groove thinks they did a truly far-out job on "The Skull of Silence". Dig it, baby!

Evidently a lot of fans agreed that Kull was cool, so in March 1971, Kull the Conqueror #1 appeared on the stands. Kull's mag was pretty fab, but it faced a problem that cursed most new Marvel mags as the Groovy Age trucked on: lack of a permanent creative team. For example, when Kull the Conqueror #1 hit the spinner racks, Roy Thomas was still the writer, but artist Wrightson had been replaced by Ross Andru and Wally Wood. With KtheC #2, the art team changed again, this time with the sister/brother combo of Marie and John Severin at the drawing board. Then, BOOM!, Kull was cancelled. The next Kull strip appeared in another monster-reprint mag, Monsters on the Prowl #16 (January 1972). Just as quickly, Kull's mag came back with #3 (April 1972). Just when it looked like things were settling down, Roy Thomas handed the writing reins over to Gerry Conway with ish #4 (July 1972). Things did pretty much settle down for a while after that, with only a fill-in scripting job by Len Wein in issue #8 (February 1973) and Frank Chiarmonte subbing for John Severin as inker in ish #10 (June 1973).

But then with issue #11 (August 1973), Gerry and Marie were gone. Kull the Conqueror was now Kull the Destroyer. Roy Thomas was back as writer, joined by Mike Ploog as artist. The cover promised "A pulse-pounding new chapter in the startling saga of the man called Kull!" Sales must have been slumping, so Marvel played it's new creative team/new direction card (see, it's pretty much always been around--just without all the confusing re-numbering). Thomas and Ploog began adapting Howard's "By This Axe I Rule" (Yep, the very story Howard re-wrote into Conan's debut story, "The Phoenix on the Sword") and they caused quite a stir. Then issue #12 (November 1973) came out and Steve Englehart had taken over as writer. You'd think the team of Englehart and Ploog would sell comics, but you'd be wrong. Kull was canceled again with issue #15 (May 1974). It would be exactly two years before Kull the Destroyer #16 would appear, but in the interim Marvel tried Kull out in his own black and white magazine, Kull and the Barbarians, which lasted only three issues (March-July 1975). When Kull the Destroyer returned in May, 1976, Roy Thomas was back as co-writer, working in tandem with Doug Moench. Newcomer Ed Hannigan was on board as penciler. Moench would take over full writing duties with #17, and he and Hannigan (joined by inker Alfredo Alcala) would stick with Kull through issue #20 (January 1977), then writer Don Glut and artist Ernie Chan would provide the creative stability the title had always lacked when they hung on from issue 21 (March 1977) through the final issue, #29 (July 1978).

As I said in the beginning, Kull should'a been a hit. He's a great character; a deeper, more philosophical version of Conan. Marvel always gave him top-notch creators to spin his comicbook tales. The problem is that there was just too much instability caused by too many creators. Conan had Thomas and Windsor-Smith, then Thomas and John Buscema for most of his Groovy Age run. Kull had six different writers and six different pencilers--not to mention a veritable legion of inkers--in, what amounted to about 34 issues (not counting surprise appearances like the Kull short in Conan the Barbarian #10). Too many cooks killed the king.

(*Creatures on the Loose #10 is actually the first issue of CotL, since it picked up its numbering from Tower of Shadows, and was to be an all-reprint title--which it would become with issue #11 and continue as through issue #15--but Marvel didn't want to waste this beautiful Kull strip, so they kept it on schedule despite the name/format change. You can see Wrightson's unused ToS #10 cover [from Savage Tales #2, which also reprinted "The Skull of Silence" in b&w] elsewhere in this post.)


  1. I remember reading the later KULL series from the Eighties...I picked up a few of these as well, when I could. Good stuff.

  2. Valka! What a great article! I remember having a hell of a time finding new issues of Kull as a kid. Now the collection is pretty much complete, but I had no idea about the Creatures on the Loose story! Looks like I'm back on the hunt. ;)

  3. I'll cover the 80s Kull (and Conan, and Red Sonja, and Solomon Kane, and Almuric...) over on "Blinded Me with Comics", Josh. Be on the lookout!

    Enjoy the hunt, Reis! Tracking down old comics is always fun, fun, fun!

  4. I always liked the character of Kull. This was a great post. I never knew all of this about the comic.

  5. I'm sorry I didn't develop an interest in the sword and sorcery/barbarians until I got a little older. In the early 70s I think the barbarian titles were still over my head a bit.....and 10 years later I was tracking down back issues as I suddenly "got it." Kull was an interesting character being from an earlier Hyborian era....

    I agree shifting creative teams were a problem in the 70s. I think Marvel had grown so fast in such a short period of time (1968-1973), that the problem was inevitable. Still — it was a fun time!

  6. I've been meaning to feature Kul as one of my 1970's Flashbacks, but I believe that you've covered him pretty darn well.

    I'm not sure if the instability of the creators contributed to Kull's secondary status or not.
    I think that a better argument could be made for how hot out of the box Conan actually was from the start, being the primary reason. The Cimmerian simply stole all of the sword & sorcery thunder, other than Red Sonja that is, and everybody was more than comfortable squeezing in a chick in chain mail.

    Particularly one drawn so well by Frank Thorne.

  7. Bernie was so pissed at the color in that first story. He had colored it so that the color slowly drained from the pages to simulate the effect of sound disappearing until the art was totally black and white, then shot back to full color when the sound was restored! It was a really effective visual solution to the story but Stan thought readers wouldn't get it and had it recolored before publication, destroying the effect.

    Ah, the 70's! :-)

  8. Thanks for that insight, Joe! Man, I love having pros stop in and add those great little tidbits!



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