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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4 comments:

  1. Modred the Mystic was an odd sort of bloke. I recall thinking: why would the Marvel Universe even need this guy – when it was already clearly established that Dr. Strange was the sorcerer supreme? If the intent was to invoke and utilize a character from Arthurian legend, why not go with the better known Merlin the Magician? Also, since the first 2 issues of Marvel Chillers did little to define this character – maybe the follow-up books to sort him out should have been Doctor Strange or even Tomb of Dracula…Shoe horning the poor guy into typical superhero books like Two-in-One and Avengers really didn’t help to create much reader interest at all…Ah, well - we known what they say about hindsight…Sometimes the misfires and quirky failed characters are more fun to dwell on and discuss than the successful ones…

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    1. It is difficult to see just how Modred was supposed to fit. He's much more interesting as a villain, but I think they were aiming for anti-hero. It was more of a notion than a full-fledged concept.

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  2. They didn't even wait for sales figures on this one, did they? Just a couple of issues and then out. If they had given the character a little more rope, I bet someone would've been able to energize him. Just imagine Steve Englehart, Jim Starlin or P. Craig Russell at the time. There's really no such thing as a bad character.

    As for how to approach Modred as a creator, you mentioned the Demon, which you've been doing a great series on. Some hints are right there on the kind of potential of an Arthurian Mystic anti-hero. I guess your point is that it wasn't quite realized. My point is that it could be.

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    1. Thanks for the kind words on the Demon material.

      I generally agree with you about the fact there are no bad characters. I've seen plenty salvaged over the years, but Modred seem very thin indeed.

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