Saturday, July 23, 2011
The Curse of the Sun God
Astonishing Tales #5 (April 1971)
Writer: Gerry Conway
Artist: Barry Smith
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Karen: When last we left the fearless jungle lord Ka-Zar he had been swept up in the talons of a pterodactyl ridden by the merciless priestess Zaladane. We start this story with Ka-Zar struggling to break loose from that terrible grip. The acrobatic savage manages to swing himself free and up on to Zaladane's perch, knocking the reins out of her hands. The gigantic beast flies wildly out of control and the two enemies now cling to one another as they crash through trees to the ground below.
Karen: The beast has fallen in front of the temple to the Sun God, where Ka-Zar's friend Garokk, the Petrified Man, stands, hoping to be free of the godlike power that now fills him, and is driving him mad. He looks at the lake before him and sees a sea serpent attacking boats full of men and tries to stop it. Unfortunately he uses too much of his power and practically evaporates the entire lake, wiping out man and monster alike. This is an effective sequence as we see the water roiling and then the near empty lake bed.
Karen: Ka-Zar and Zaladane have survived their crash and she appears to have changed her tune, as Ka-Zar tried to protect her during their ordeal. She shows him a pool of black water under the city -"heating our homes, supplying liquid wood for our fires..." Sounds like oil right? But then she says, "...and he who drinks from it gains immortality, and then unlimited force---and then madness!" OK, definitely not oil! Ka-Zar realizes what this means for Garokk, and asks inf there is no cure. Zaladane replies that if Garokk bathes in the pool the curse will be removed. Unfortunately she's been playing Ka-Zar -she lured him into the chamber only to release a big nasty ape-like monster on him!
Karen: Back on the surface, Garokk has decided the only way to bring peace to the Savage Land is to wipe out the people. He nearly attacks Tongah and Zabu when he feels compelled to leave in his godly form. Zaladane has summoned him, and he's not happy! Back underground, the jungle lord is battling a much bigger foe than he, but still overcomes him. Ka-Zar sees Garokk and tries to reason with him but it's no use. The crazed man-god begins firing energy beams from his eyes, and the very ground they stand upon crumbles and the twon drop into the underground chamber. Remembering Zaladane's words about removing the curse, Ka-Zar manipulates Garokk into the bubbling pool. Of course, Ka-Zar should know better than to trust the treacherous wench. Garokk starts to change, his outer rocky form consumed by the fire. All that is left is his withered, centuries-old mortal form, now dying. Ka-Zar is stunned but Garokk gratefully accepts death.
Karen: Zaladane comes down to the chamber but Ka-Zar leaves her be, pretty much disgusted with the whole situation. Suddenly, from under some rubble comes the guardian-beast that Ka-Zar had defeated. he doesn't recognize Zaladane and goes to attack her. The whole chamber starts to collapse. Form outside, Tongah and Zabu try to enter but the whole temple is falling apart. After the Sun-God's statues falls, they see a figure in the dust; it is Ka-Zar.
Karen: This three-part tale was solid all the way through. It's fun to look back at two young creators, Conway and Smith, just starting to come into their own, Smith with a few more years under his belt at this point than Conway. His art is much improved from his earlier Avengers work, where he seemed to be trying to emulate Kirby. Here, in his own natural style, he excels. I think Giacoia was a better choice of inker for him than Grainger. There seems to be much more of Smith's fine line work retained in this issue. It's too bad he was not the cover artist as well; the covers for these issues have been fairly pedestrian. For anyone wanting to see some examples of early Smith art that is not Conan, these issues would be a good place to look.