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 re
plies 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 fr
om 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.


Inkstained Wretch said...

"His art is much improved from his earlier Avengers work, where he seemed to be trying to emulate Kirby."

You say that like it is a bad thing, Karen. I think the Avengers issues he penciled are terrific, albeit very different from his later work.

Doug said...

As to artists emulating anyone, I don't care for it. Rich Buckler is perhaps the best example of aping other artists, as there are clearly eras of his work where he (whether told to do so or not) mimicked Kirby and Adams. I think the two defining periods for him are Fantastic Four #'s 155-163 and the Sagas of the Sub-Mariner and the Original Human Torch minis that he did in the late 1980's. He was "being himself" in those stories, in my opinion.

And as to Karen's comment, what I hear most out of the line copied is "trying". Just because you try doesn't make it a good outcome...

But in the spirit of your rebuttal, Inkstained, I do understand what you're saying. Kirby is the gold standard, and I'd not dispute that. Trouble is, only Kirby could do Kirby, so I understand where Karen was going.


Fred W. Hill said...

By the time these stories came out, Barry Smith's artistic skills had progressed enough that he was one of the best comics artists of the era. His art in these issues, as well as his work on Conan and his Avengers 98-100, was significantly better than that on his output of just a few years earlier on the Avengers, X-Men and Daredevil, wherein he was too clearly attempting to emulate Kirby.
Perhaps the main problem for young artists of the era was learning to adopt Kirby's dynamics without copying his actual style.
BTW, I recognize the Ka-Zar part of that cover as big John Buscema's work, but not so sure about the Dr. Doom top half. I'm also wondering whether the story that advertised was any good.

J.A. Morris said...

Thanks for the write-up Karen. It's funny, before you reviewed these Ka-Zar stories, I always thought Garokk & Zaladane first appeared in 'X-men' #115.

Karen said...

I'm glad that these reviews have shed some light on these characters prior to their X-Men appearance. Like everyone else, I was ignorant of these Astonishing Tales stories until recently.

AS far as my comments about Smith's art, my blog-mate has pretty much explained it. His Avengers art wasn't awful, but it sure didn't look as natural or as accomplished as it does here. Even this art pales in comparison to later work but it's still very nice.

Fred, the Doom stories in the issues before this looked cool, because they had very moody Wally Wood artwork. This issue has George Tuska art though, and as I am not a fan of Tuska, it was a letdown. The scripts were by Larry Leiber, and are acceptable but unexciting.


Inkstained Wretch said...

Doug & Karen, I hope my earlier comment didn't come across as snarky. I was just trying to be humorous. (I proablably should have put an emoticon in there.)

Those Barry Smith Avengers issues were -- via Marvel Super Action reprints -- some of the first comics I ever ever bought and probably the first Avengers stories I ever read. As such, I remember them very fondly, proably a lot more than other people.

BTW -- Fred, the Doom stories are reprinted in the Essential Super-Villian Team-Up collection. I haven't gotten to them yet though, so I cannot tell you if they are any good.

Doug said...

Inkstained --

No sweat; if nothing else, my apologies for taking your comment at it's literal worst. I fully understand your intent now.

Electronic communication be damned, I say!! Seriously, I cannot tell you how many times I've proofread an email before hitting "send" and still had it misinterpreted. Ah, well -- until we get Blogger Voicemail, this will have to do.

Thanks for being a good sport!


Inkstained Wretch said...

... And one of these days I'll learn how to spell "probably."

Fred W. Hill said...

Ah, Karen, yeah, Tuska's art never thrilled me either, and neither has Larry Leiber's writing, so I'd expect the Doc Doom story to be a bit of a dud. Too bad Wood's second stint at Marvel was even shorter than his first.

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