Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Son Of Vulcan Reports #1

Son of Vulcan debuted in Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds Volume 1, Number 46 dated May, 1965. The dynamic cover is by Dick Giordano. The editor and writer of the debut issue and also the credited creator of Son of Vulcan was Pat Masulli. Bill Fraccio the penciller and Tony Tallarico the inker supplied the interior artwork for much of the comic. Here is what was on the stands when the Son of Vulcan series debuted.

"A Mighty Champion is Born!" begins with a dynamic splash page showing a fully-armored Son of Vulcan between the Roman god Mars and the Roman god Vulcan and announces that SoV will be a hero on Earth.

The story is told in first person by John ("Johnny") Mann, a reporter who was wounded in Korea and has an artificial leg. On the island of Cyprete, after leaving a tenure as a reporter in Vietnam, Johnny is musing about the folly of war and while walking through some Roman ruins asks why the gods, if gods there be, allow such foolishness. There is burst of lightning and Johnny is struck down, seemingly by the very hand of a god itself.

He awakens surrounded by the full pantheon of the Romans and is immediately threatened by Mars, the god of war who offers to dispose of the fragile human by dropping him out of his chariot. Jupiter then confronts Johnny from his throne and asks why such a weak human would criticize the gods. Johnny stands up for himself and says that as a reporter it is his job to tell the truth. Mars again threatens Johnny, but Vulcan steps in and suggests there might be more to this human that they think. Impressed by his bold honesty, Vulcan is allowed to question Johnny since, as Jupiter points out, it was Vulcan himself who is an creator of mankind. Johnny repeats his criticism of the gods lack of action while wars are waged on Earth and even Jupiter threatens the brazen young man. But Venus steps in and asks a favor that Johnny be spared. Then Vulcan takes Johnny under his wing, pleads his case be considered.

The debate continues, but ultimately because Vulcan sees virtue in Johnny is allowed to help him when Jupiter puts the challenge before Johnny to step up and fight to solve the problems he has identified. To that end, Johnny is granted some aspects of the power of Vulcan himself, over the objections of Mars. First Vulcan fashions armor for Johnny, and then Venus gives him the added strength and vitality needed to wear it and wield the mighty weapons at his disposal. He is not to be limited to one weapon, but may summon any weapon he needs such as a spear, a sword, or a sling. Fully prepared, the newly christened "Son of Vulcan" is dispatched back to Earth to find and battle the threats to world peace.

"The Snake People" is a one-page text piece which tells of a man who dreams of a deadly green snake with red eyes. When he draws the snake and shows it to experts, he is summoned and confronted by the police who are investigating mysterious deaths perhaps caused by just such a snake, as reported by one man who survived long enough to report. He is told of a cult who worship snakes and even believe they can become them. The man is given police protection and sure enough he dreams of the snake again and then finds he is about to be bitten when a shot rings out and the snake is slain. A man's body is found where the snake had been and the whole affair is reported as the attack of a mere intruder.

"Watchdogs of the Deep" is a one-page comics tale about how sharks make effective guardians for deep sea activities in the Cold War, making things difficult for Communist spies, but also being quite dangerous to the forces of the free world. The artwork is by Bill Molno.

"He Stands Alone" is the second Son of Vulcan story in this issue. It is written by Pat Masulli, and the art is again by the team of Bill Fraccio and Tony Tallarico. The time is 1965 and the Son of Vulcan returns to the island of Cyprete where live to distinct populations, the Preterons and the Cyclates, both who believe in the myth of the Giant Gladiator, who will one day appear and lead one of those groups to domination of the other and the whole island.

Son of Vulcan transforms back to Johnny Mann and drops out of the sky onto the island, where he heads immediately to speak to General Ator of the Cyclates, hoping to bring reason to the situation. He finds though that Ator is a firm believer in the myth of the Gladiator. Johnny then tracks down a rumor that the Giant Gladiator has already appeared and indeed finds the giant in a local village of the Preteons, urging them on to war. Transforming into Son of Vulcan, he follows the giant as he heads to a giant colosseum known as the "Tomb of the Gladiators". Behind a great stone door, he hears a voice not belonging to the Gladiator and finds the Asian villain Dr.Kong reveal he is behind this charade and that he is plotting to take over the island himself. But SoV is careless and Kong drops him through a trapdoor into a well where he must fight a deadly octopus. The epic struggle with the octopus lasts all night, but in the morning Son of Vulcan is at last able to overcome the beast and escape the trap.

He then finds the Cyclates led by Ator and the Preteons on a battlefield ready to wage war as the Giant Gladiator pledges control to the victorious army. Son of Vulcan intervenes and agrees to battle the Gladiator. A furious battle ensues during which SoV uses many weapons including a fiery sling and his enormous shield. Ultimately he deciphers the secret of the Gladiator and calls for the sword of Ulysses and with a single stroke stabs the Gladiator through his helmet, whereupon the giant falls to the ground. It is revealed that the Gladiator is actually a giant robot and the both the deceived groups, the Cyclates and the Preteons seek the mastermind Dr.Kong who is seemingly crushed beneath the falling ruins of the colosseum. As Johnny Mann drives out of Cyprete though, we see the evil Dr.Kong in disguise already scheming for his revenge.

"The Minatures" is a one-page science fiction story about Earth men who must meet a race of ten-foot tall giants as they descend in their rockets. The aliens discover that the Earth men are much larger than they and immediately decide to leave. It is revealed that the Earth men have used robotic duplicates to deceive the aliens. The artwork is by Rocke Mastroserio.

"The Roman Gods on Mount Olympus" is a three-page overview of the Roman pantheon and associated myths. Jupiter, Neptuen, Juno, Pluto, Minerva, Vulcan, Mars, Apollo, Venus, Cupid, Mercury, Saturn, Janus, Pan, Midas, and Atlas all get a single panel of description. The artwork is by Charles Nicholas.

There's little denying the similarity of the premise of Son of Vulcan to Marvel's Thor who had debuted three years earlier. A lame human who is given the power of the gods does seem all too familiar. But that is also the premise of Captain Marvel Jr., and Freddy Freeman and not Dr.Don Blake nor Johnny Mann is the one who gets the powers. So this is a long-standing premise with a great deal of history. It is a bit of an irony that Thor debuted in a long-running mystery tale comic with no previous history of superheroes and so did Son of Vulcan, but there it is.

The anti-war sentiment in this story really is remarkable, given that we are talking about a 1965 comic book. Vietnam is name-checked, though Johnny's experience is mostly with Korea. The futility of war seems almost to be the underlying theme of the whole comic. Of course the dilemma is what to do with an armored hero who hates war, but is all too willing to fight. The pacifism is muddled, as it would be later when Charlton's other Peacemaker would debut a few years later. I imagine "Cyprete" is a reference to Cyprus, which suffered from similar ethnic divisions.

The strongest aspect of this comic is the characterization which is surprisingly rich for a Charlton comic of this era. The gods are distinctive and Johnny himself has a specific voice, a consistent tone especially in the very talky origin story.

Most folks will criticize the artwork, but personally I've always been a fan of the Fraccio-Tallarico team. I find their work while it might lack the polish of some has an incredible kinetic energy that really moves the reader along. The action can be uninspiring in places, but awesome in others. There's a lot of story to be told in this first pair of tales and so I cut them some slack if panels seem a bit static as information is delivered.

Son of Vulcan is a fun comic from a company which was only known at the time for two superheroes -- Captain Atom and Blue Beetle. Only the Beetle was being published new at the same time as Son of Vulcan debuted while reprints of Captain Atom are just being rolled out.

There will be more to come.

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  1. Never really knew anything about Son of Vulcan til now. Nice review Rip.

  2. Thanks. Getting info out about some of these more obscure Charlton wonders is a personal mission.

    Rip Off


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