Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Skull The Slayer #4 - Marvel Comics

SKULL THE SLAYER No. 4, March 1976
Having firmly established the premise behind this time-travelling mid-Seventies title by authoring the narrative of its opening three issues, Editor Marv Wolfman somewhat disconcertingly hands over the writing reigns for “Time Out Of Mind” to Steve Englehart and was doubtless then mortified to see not only the sudden rather arbitrary and contrived demise of James Patrick Scully’s entire supporting cast. But additionally the twisting of the titular character’s already rather prickly personality into that of a completely cold-hearted self-centred survivor. A man who seemingly would rather run and sacrifice Ann Reynolds to a grisly death at the hands of their Ancient Egyptian pursuers than fight at Raymond Corey’s side in order to try and rescue her; “The game today is kill or be killed. Nothing else!”

Indeed having spent some considerable time siding with the Vietnam veteran during his numerous altercations with the contentiously prejudicial doctor, this particular seventeen-page periodical swiftly spins the reader’s allegiance on its head and worryingly shows the superhero to be nothing more than a ‘combat trained killer’ who “doesn’t feel a thing!” Certainly it is hard to forgive the scorpion belt-wearing adventurer for turning his back upon the injured blonde-haired secretary, whether “there’s nothing we can do for her” or not. Whilst the bitter remorse Skull the Slayer later feels as he watches his companions fall beneath the blades of master Slitherogue’s robots does little to erase his earlier contemptuous belief that the scientist didn’t remain behind to “die protecting her… like a man!” But rather because Corey watched “too much television.”

Equally as galling is Englehart’s abrupt introduction of Merlin and the Black Knight into what had, up until this edition, been a thoroughly enthralling tale of Prehistoric civilizations and monsters. This “robotic nightmare of King Arthur’s Time” badly jars with the series’ former direction and also rather belittles the tragic grisly deaths which occurred just a few panels earlier. In fact it is hard to imagine a more perplexing, less engaging turn of events, than the “modern day man” being miraculously confronted with the two fairly standard stereotypical medieval depictions. Truly the “far-reaching House of Ideas” were right to label this magazine’s contents as being concerned with “a world of time gone mad” on its front cover.

Arguably Sal Buscema and Mike Esposito’s artwork for such a “Peril Of The Pyramids” is just as inconsistent as the American author’s script. For whilst Scully’s battle with the Ancient Egyptian warriors imprisoning Doctor Corey is full of “Bam!” and “Tok!”, as is the hero’s subsequent fist-fight with Merlin’s armoured guardian, the Brooklyn-born illustrator’s handling of anything more sedentary in pace, such as the numerous close-ups of the Slayer’s face, is far less successful.
Author: Steve Englehart, and Artists: Sal Buscema & Mike Esposito


  1. As you say, this issue was a bit of a down turn in the series, and Skull abandonment of Ann was a little hard to swallow. this followed by the sudden introduction of Merlin and the Black knight would probably have turned me off of the series back in the day. I didn't mind the artwork though I might just be looking back at it through rose tinted spec's.

    Cheers Roger

    1. Thanks Roger. As you say the narrative is rather off-putting. But the artwork is very good imho, and of course, just as soon as I have time to post my review of #5, you'll discover that everything is all-change again ;-)