|SKULL THE SLAYER No. 6, July 1976|
Finally ridding himself of his predecessors’ controversial notion that “the untouched world of the prehistoric past” within which Jim Scully finds himself trapped is actually populated by robots and extra-terrestrial governed time-travelling towers, Bill Mantlo’s storyline for Issue Six of “Skull The Slayer” settles into an enjoyable romp ‘down river’ which seems far more in keeping with series creator Marv Wolfman’s original vision for the comic book. Indeed once the Black Knight automaton pinions Slitherogue to a castle wall through the belly with his great sword and the alien peevishly activates the self-destruct to his technologically advanced citadel, the plot soon leaves such foolish fancies far behind and instead begins to build a compelling storyline based upon the titular character’s jungle survival savvy from his military training in Guatemala and Vietnam.
Admittedly the Eagle Award-winner’s narrative isn’t entirely free of its own contrivances however, as the introduction of Corporal Lancer and the bullish Senator ‘Stoneface’ Turner “fifteen hundred miles” from where the antediluvian survivors’ plane crashed “somewhere off Bermuda” attests. This potentially interesting ‘modern-day’ interlude, presumably designed to introduce a subplot the title’s future cancellation would never see explored, was clearly written in order to reacquaint the magazine’s audience with how the publication started courtesy of a six-panel summary piece. But just why a United States congressman would be on board a naval vessel so significantly far from where his son’s plane disappeared in "the Devil's Triangle" makes no sense whatsoever and is disconcertingly co-incidental in the extreme.
Fortunately Mantlo soon gets things back on track by depicting the ex-soldier and his friends facing a canoe packed full of heavily-armed Inca warriors on a river teeming with carnivorous killer fish. This suspenseful sequence proves a genuinely pulse-pounding read and culminates with the super-strong Scully dynamically besting an ichthyosaur armed with little more than a hunting blade. The co-creator of Rocket Raccoon even finds time during all this action for Doctor Raymond Corey to finally settle his differences with the “great white hunter” and step away from some of the physicist’s previously distasteful prejudicial rhetoric; Welcome back, great black egghead! Believe it or not -- I was actually starting to miss you!”
Sadly “Swamp!” is though disappointingly let down by some of Sal Buscema and Steve Gan’s artwork. The duo’s imaginative depictions of the Slayer battling the large marine reptile whilst his companions ferociously tackle the waterway’s blood-thirsty natives are wonderfully dynamical and full of energy. Yet when it comes to the sedentary moments within the text, such as the close-ups of Jim warming to a grateful scientist who “tries smiling for the first time in his life”, then the pencilling appears crude and awkwardly inert.
|Writer: Bill Mantlo, and Artists: Sal Buscema & Steve Gan|