Monday, 8 June 2015

Skull The Slayer #1 - Marvel Comics

SKULL THE SLAYER No. 1, August 1975
It is somewhat easy to understand why it took creator/writer and colorist Marv Wolfman four years to sell the basic notion of this comic book “to someone… anyone.” For despite the support of “Rascally” Roy Thomas, another “dinosaur buff”, and a determination to have the title sell “month after month”, the rudimentary storyline to Issue One of “Skull The Slayer” is still arguably little more than the unoriginal tale of a group of Bermuda-bound passengers somehow crash-landing back in time to the Jurassic period.

However, whereas the two-time Jack Kirby Award-winner originally envisaged thrusting “an entire mid-town Manhatten office building into a Prehistoric setting”, “The Coming Of Skull The Slayer!” published storyline contains a rather more intriguing, compelling narrative. Something which perfectly demonstrates Wolfman’s belief that the eighteen-page adventure “was worth the wait” as his “ideas matured, some concepts grew, some changed” and “all hopefully improved.”

Much of this early success is down to the Shazam Award-winner's creation of James Patrick Scully, a disillusioned Vietnam veteran who has been wrongfully arrested for the murder of his drug-addicted brother. Indeed the vast majority of this “book that would make you go Arrgh!” focuses solely upon the titular character, and provides Skull with an especially edgy backstory which not only provides an explanation as to why he would attempt to unbelievably overpower a Tyrannosaurus Rex with a decidedly thin-looking spear and a large rock. But also why the trained fighter would so readily try and adapt to the life of a hunter-gatherer; “Sergeant Scully of the dinosaur patrol reportin’ in, sir.”

Interestingly though, despite his ability to ‘acclimatise’ to his surroundings, wrestling a bovine-like mammal to the ground in the process, Wolfman’s “star” is actually quite the anti-hero and repeatedly demonstrates his mantra of putting himself first by battering his military escort as their plane breaks apart in the sky and failing to search for any other survivors because ‘he’s tabbed enough charred corpses in his five years’. The “bright boy” even demonstrates some mental instability by bursting into hysterical “insane cackling laughter” on a couple of occasions when his dire lonely situation strikes home and he realises “he’s totally out of his league.”

Unfortunately the Brooklyn-born writer’s overly-used and jargon-filled narration isn’t anywhere near as engaging as his creation. Indeed the New Yorker’s nasty habit of explaining everything in some sort of ‘Seventies jive talk’ becomes infuriatingly off-putting extremely quickly and ruins not only the intensity of an arguably contentious backstory. But also the drama of Scully’s perilous primordial predicament.

Possibly the highlight of this Bronze Age bi-monthly though is artist Steve Gan’s wonderfully drawn ‘great giant reptiles’. The Star-Lord co-creator really conveys a sense of scale and bestial dynamism to the primeval world’s carnivorous inhabitants, especially that of the tyrant lizard as it hunts Scully through the undergrowth. As a result it is very clear why Wolfman would state within the comic’s editorial “Old Funny Animals” that “when the final art came in, I finally let out my sigh” as “Steve Gan had done a fantastic job.”
Creator/Writer/Colorist: Marv Wolfman, Artist: Steve Gan, and Letterer: Pablo Marcos

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