Monday, October 20, 2014

Modred The Mystic!

Marvel's attempt to extract some supernatural horror from the Arthurian saga was somewhat less successful than Jack Kirby's The Demon for DC. Modred the Mystic debuted in the first issue of Marvel Chillers, one of the many short-lived titles Marvel launched onto the stands in the Bronze Age. Marvel Chillers is most famous for the debut of Tigra's series which kicked off in the third installment, but the first two issues featured a time-lost magician who seemed to have some trouble figuring out his motivation.

Modred was an apprentice magician who gets orders to attend Merlin in Camelot. But since this means he'll have to forever renounce the girl he loves, he defies King Arthur's order and instead seeks out the Darkhold, a dangerous tower filled with deadly magic. The Darkhold seizes him and he spends centuries in a trance until he is released by two 20th Century archaeologists.

The trio head to London where Modred seems somewhat delusional and attacks the local police who seeks to corral him. It seems he is under the influence the dark powers of the Darkhold and despite his efforts to defeat them, by the end of the second issue his destiny seems really unsettled.

Created by Marv Wolfman and scripted by Bill Mantlo, this series lacks the punch of most Marvel efforts of the time. The first issue was drawn by Yong Montano and the second by Sonny Trinidad, both highly skilled professionals in Marvel's Filipino Bullpen. But  both issues have that unfinished look which afflicted so many of Marvel's efforts in the Bronze Age as the professionalism in the New York offices was suspect as editorial control shifted from hand to hand.

The story gets picked up a few years later, as did so many, in an issue of Marvel Two-In-One but this too is an exceedingly weak outing. Part of a four-issue tour of England, this story co-stars the newly minted Spider-Woman who by the story's end has formed a partnership with Modred.

That seemed largely forgotten by the time his next appearance in the pages of The Avengers where his connection to the Darkhold makes him more of a villain than a hero. He will suffer mightily in these pages and becomes just one more of Marvel's vast array of mostly forgotten background characters.

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Demonology #10 - Soul Snatcher!

The tenth issue of Jack Kirby's The Demon is an action fest finishing the three-part saga of the Phantom of the Sewers.

The story begins when the Demon ascends onto the dilapidated stage to which the Phantom has brought Glenda Mark, falsely believing her to be a sorceress named Galatea who he blames for disfiguring his face many years before. The Demon casts a spell which calls back time and we see the stage new as it was the night a handsome Farley Fairfax was on it before an appreciative audience and Galatea is casting the spell which summons a creature called the Soul Snatcher which attacks Farley and takes the thing most precious to him.

Farley Fairfax's face is awful to behold. As the modern world reasserts itself the Demon calls forth the "Satan's own steward" Asmoden and defeats him to gain the power to find Galatea. It turns out Galatea is dead, so the Demon uses magic words to bring her spirit to the stage where it enters the body of Glenda.

Glenda, now inhabited by the vile spirit of Galatea rushes to concoct the spell and offers up to Farley Fairfax the thing he most wanted. He falls for it and is given back his face but then the years catch up to him and he dies of old age in mere moments. Galatea's spirit has left the body of Glenda and disappeared. The police arrive and the Demon escapes.

Meanwhile Randu Singh and Harry Mathews search for Glenda and Jason Blood, but find the hidden lair of the Phantom of the Sewers. There they find the wax manikin of Galatea, now inhabited by her ghost. The maniken moves uncovering a hidden bomb. The duo rush out to escape the blast which demolishes the lair and melts the manikin. The Demon appears to wish Galatea a proper rest.

Though clearly inspired by the classic Phantom of the Opera, this story has enough spins and turns to keep it fresh. The addition of Asmoden this issue was particularly interesting as the contentious relationship with the Demon really shows how he fits into the larger demonic universe, and that's not very well.

Clearly Farley Fairfax is called out for his vanity, which seems to be equated with his soul through the story. His madness is a clear result of his having lost his looks and his inability to move beyond that surface loss.

I'm not sure if we're to see any connection between Fairfax's situation and Blood's dilemma with the Demon,  where he too seems not to want to accept what has happened to him, but I suppose the parallel can be drawn.

I'm not sure three issues were needed to tell this story, maybe two would've sufficed, but it's a typically bouncy and fun ride as most Kirby stories of this era are.

More to come.

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Demonology #9 - Farley Fairfax!

The ninth issue of Jack Kirby's The Demon opens with the Demon having been "destroyed" by Jason Blood.

This results in the opening adventure being a flashback to centuries before in Medieval times when the Demon confronted a sorcerer and his creatures to save a village. The Demon drives away the monsters and sweeps the sorcerer into the sky, and then changes into a man who resembles Jason Blood.

Then we return to the modern day where Jason, still injured from the Phantom of the Sewers' attack in the previous issue struggles to go and find Glenda but is held back by Harry Mathews and Randu Singh. He tells them the Philosopher's Stone and demonstrates its power which as seemingly destroyed the Demon. Then news reports are shown which follow the police as the pursue the Phantom to no effect.

The story then shifts to the secret lair of the Phantom himself as he reveals his true name is Farley Fairfax, a great actor once upon a time and he confronts Glenda Mark who  he falsely believes to be a woman named Galatea, a woman he blames for his disfigured face. He bundles Glenda up and runs through the sewers, evading the police and emerges onto an old dilapidated stage.

Meanwhile Jason hunts for the Phantom in the sewers but falls into a well and while grappling to escape unleashes an deadly electrical charge which does not kill him as it probably should've done. He realizes the Demon might not be gone and seeks to use the Philospher's Stone to bring him back. This works partially but before the transformation is complete, the semi-Demon collapses.

Back on the old stage the Phantom uncovers his hideous face and reassembles some old firepots on the stage to recreate the spell Galatea once used to disfigure him and steal his soul to force her to return it. As this is almost done the Demon emerges onto the stage confronts the Phantom who still menaces Glenda.

This installment moves the story along nicely, but Jason seems really not fully understand the magic of the Philosopher's Stone casting doubt on his original scheme. The alienation between Jason and the Demon seems a bit forced, an internal conflict which I suppose is meant to make the Demon more menacing. I'm not sure it's as effective as Kirby might've liked.

The parallel to the classic Phantom of the Opera is still quite clear despite the variations in motivation. Clearly Farley loves Galatea despite loathing what she has done to him.

More to come.

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Demonology #8 - Phantom Of The Sewers!

The eighth issue of Jack Kirby's The Demon begins a story which is at once familiar and but also new.

The story opens with the Demon in Jason Blood's apartment with Harry Mathews and Randu Singh looking at the vast collection of demonologist Blood. They discover that some of the mystical items have been stolen and find a hole in the wall behind a manikin. The Demon descend into the hole and finds an opening into the sewers.

Waiting to catch him unaware is The Phantom of the Sewer, a masked man with a sword. The Demon defeats the ambush and the Phantom runs away to his hidden lair where he has a bizarre apartment which holds a massive organ and a strange manikin of a woman named Galatea. The Phantom plays music to soothe his suffering.

Meanwhile the Demon rests and strangely reverts to Jason Blood without any incantation. Jason finds Harry and Randu as they search for him and they return to his apartment where they meet Glenda Mark. The four plan a party, but restless Jason broods alone. He wishes to rid himself of the Demon and uses the cubed object called the Philosopher's Stone to cover him in mystical ice seemingly destroying Merlin's Demon.

Later at the party the Phantom appears and upon seeing Glenda imagines her to be Galatea who she resembles. He kidnaps her despite Jason and Harry and Randu and escapes back into the sewers. Jason is injured and calls upon the Demon to save Glenda but the Demon does not appear.

Glenda now in the hidden lair of the Phantom discovers her resemblance to Galatea but cannot get the Phantom to understand the difference. He plays his organ to calm her but she rips off his mask and discovers his face is horribly disfigured. As the story ends we hear him blame Galatea for his ruined features and threaten vengeance.

This is a strange Demon story, the first of a three-part yarn. Clearly the Phantom is based on Gaston Leroux's Phantom of the Opera and the movie adaptations which are derived from it, but with a few differences which will become apparent in the succeeding chapters.

The relationship between Jason and the Demon has changed too. Jason had seemed one with his demonic alter ego in previous issues, but here seems oddly alienated from him, seeking his destruction. It's a real shift in the focus of the character and echoes similar problems such as the Marvel characters Hulk and Bruce Banner.

More to come.

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Witches Of The West!

If you don't look closely you'll miss the true title of these two comics - Witches Western Tales. The title was a transitional one for just these two issues which feature reprints of the classic Simon and Kirby western Boys' Ranch.

The two hybrid issues appeared between the last comic titled Witches Tales and the first one title Western Tales.

One thing about comics, it's always a hoot unraveling the complex network of series titles and numbering. The modern tendency to reboot every few years creates a rat's nest of debut issues for the modern reader, but truth told it's never been a reasonable process.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Demonic Redux!

Here's a vintage gem, a 1951 Jack Kirby and Joe Simon cover featuring what must be one of Kirby's earliest renditions of a demon. This seems safely ensconced inside the candle-surrounded circle, but of course we know that won't last.

In fact it reminded me of this classic Berni Wrightson cover from twenty years later. I can almost imagine this scene as what might've happened one minute after the earlier cover.

Here are some details from the Black Magic issue, one that Kirby only did the cover for. 

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Demonology #7 - Witch Boy!

The seventh issue of Jack Kirby's The Demon introduces one of the most popular characters to emerge from the series, Klarion the Witch Boy.

The story begins on the roof of Jason Blood's apartment building when the Demon confronts a mysterious figure who calls himself the Judge and who holds a familiar called a "Draaga". The Draaga attacks the Demon and bites his neck before the Demon is able to fend it off and drive both it and the Judge away who disappear in a cloud of smoke.

A mysterious boy appears named Klarion who tends to Jason's wounds and upsets Harry Matthews not only with the situation but by calling him "Cousin Harry".

Klarion seems always calm and using his odd cat named Teekl heals Jason's wounds. Jason he calls "Uncle Jason" and he asks him for protection from the Judge and others who seek to find and capture him. Another weird entity called a "Horigal" appears but Klarion fends it off but not before it almost sets fire to the apartment.

Leaving Klarion in the apartment Jason and Harry leave to attend a party where Harry's stories of witchcraft are met with derision by Sid Courtney. Courtney is less happy when under a mysterious compulsion he pours a bowl of punch over his own head, a stunt he blames on the hypnotic powers of Jason Blood. At that moment Jason is overcome, and begins to transform into the Demon and Randu Singh and Harry get  him away before Glenda or the other guests can guess what is happening.

Becoming the Demon again, he travels across town atop a cab when a Harpy attacks, but the Demon's flames fend it off but it takes him to the roof of his own apartment building where he finds a witch standing guard with a mysterious fetish. Harry and Randu arrive at the apartment too but find it full of odd looking Puritan types along with the mysterious Judge himself. They have capture Klarion and are seeking to punish him for using powers he's not entitled to.

The Demon appears and using the Hex sign he got from the guard sends the witch mob back into some sort of limbo. Klarion seems comfortable after his rescue, but the Demon then spreads his purple cloak over the Witch Boy and he and Teekl too vanish. It seems Klarion had gone too far when he sought to control the Demon.

If anything this story feels a bit cramped. The Judge is a mighty character and gets sadly little play here. Knowing that Klarion will return in the series later, I'm eager to find out more about this always calm and collected but truly offbeat being. Teekl too seemed to be a creature about which we learn too little, but I trust we will learn more.

I know that Klarion has had a career outside the Kirby books, but I frankly know very little of it.

More to come as the Demon heads into the sewers.

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