Friday, July 15, 2011

Savages and Sun Gods

Astonishing Tales #4 (Feb. 1970)
"The Sun God!"
Writer: Gerry Conway
Artist: Barry Smith
Inker: Sam Grainger

Karen: Way back in February of last year, I reviewed Astonishing Tales 3 (see it here). I've finally acquired the following issues and decided to read and review them. I'll just be looking at the Ka-Zar portion of this split comic. Not that I don't like Dr. Doom, but I find the Ka-Zar tale more interesting. It would be great if Marvel would collect these stories in a TPB. It would be worth it for the early Barry Smith art alone.

Karen: The mad priestess Zaladane has brought war to the Savage Land. Flying in on pterodactyls, she and her people
reign fire on the peaceful green-skinned Vala-Kuri people. Ka-Zar is miles away and needs some speedy transportation. He wrestles down a unicorn(!!) and heads off for the city, leaving behind his buddy Tongah and Garokk, the petrified man, who appears to be made of stone; unlike Stone Boy of the Legion of Substitute Heroes, Garokk is quite mobile. In turn, Tongah leaves Garokk, who is left to muse about youth abandoning age and age burying youth. He's that kinda guy.

Karen: Zaladane and her forces are wreaking havoc on the poor Vala Kuri, who have neither the means nor desire to fight back. But along comes an enraged Ka-Zar, who launches himself at one of the pterodactyl riders, bringing man and
beast down to the ground. He quickly punches out the rider and takes his flaming device, while Zabu works on the dinosaur. Ka-Zar also waxes a little philosophical here - surely the very young Gerry Conway expressing himself. I've noticed that his early stories seem much more like he's writing a novel rather than a comic.

Karen: In the meantime Garokk has reached the Sun God shrine where he was first transformed. He reaches out to touch it and there is a strange energy enveloping him. A very bizarre-looking Tyrannosaurus Rex comes lurching towards him, and he blasts it away. This was a well-composed sequence by Smith. While Ka-Zar and newly arrived friend Tongah face down Zaladane, a giant fiery head appears in the sky -it is Garokk, now completely c
hanged into the Sun God. He demands an end to the fighting and uses his powers (apparently pretty god-like ones) to destroy all the fire-blasting weapons. The invaders stop attacking -all that is but Zaladane, who is infuriated by this development. She sweeps down and grabs Ka-Zar in her mount's talons and flies off with him! Can you say, to be continued?

Karen: This was a real rip-snorting yarn. I've always liked the Savage Land. It has so man
y possibilities. Gerry Conway does a nice job here of pacing the story. Although the unicorn seemed fairly out of place, I have to say. I wonder if that was his idea, or Smith's? But otherwise, we have all the elements -the hero, the evil queen, the wizard/god -that make this a classic tale of fantasy- adventure.

Karen: It's really fun to look at this early work of Barry Smith. It's instantly recognizable, but it's also clearly still Smith learning his craft. He has a gift for portraying the fantastic, but at times his figures and especially faces are a bit off. The T-Rex mentioned earlier is a good example of this; it looks almost more-bug-like than reptilian. But Smith still has a very appealing style which shows wonderful flashes of the brilliance he would eventually achieve.


dbutler16 said...

Ka-Zar waxing poetic? That alone would make this worth picking up.
Garokk looks an awful lot like the Petrified Man that the X-Men would battle in the Savage Land somewhere around #116. Is this the same guy?

david_b said...

I am finding these mags as the true masterpiece hidden nuggets of the Silver and Bronze Age. Lured into collecting Strange Tales by the Steranko kick I was on.., these mags like Astonishing Tales, early Marvel Features, and the Inhumans/Black Widow issues really had some fun, often ignored stories and art.

I totally agree on Barry Smith's art. Like in his Avengers stints, he fuzes a bit of Kirby and Steranko together, which works great. I haven't followed him as much except on titles he's filled in on as artist, so to me, he's like the substitute teacher in junior high you see every so often.

But he's that one sub you know always ROCKS.

Karen said...

Yup, DButler, these Astonishing Tales yarns are the source of Claremont's Savage Land -X-Men tale. I didn't know that til I got some of these AT books a couple years ago.

David, I agree with you, these 'lesser titles' from the 70s are now my favorite books to collect. I've got most of the biggies from that time but there are still some gems out there with this title, Amazing Adventures, Marvel Features, Marvel Premiere, and the monster books.


Piperson said...

I also was blown away when, about 6 years ago, I found these treasure troves of classic Smith art. I was a huge fan in the 80's and tried to acquire his entire output from Marvel. How did I miss these that rival his Conan work in craftsmanship? THEN to top it off, the Doom stories are drawn by none other than Wally Wood!!!! I'm socked that most collectors miss these issues!
Another great early bronze age title was Astonishing Tales sister mag, Amazing Adventures! This title starts off with a Kirby Inhumans tale and for back up has Gene Colan Black Widow story! Late in their 10 issue run the great Neal Adams takes over the Inhumans tales!
I think this was the times that Thomas had taken over the candy shop and was pupping out all manner of comics goodness! Unfortunately it didn't last long because many of these great works died after a few issues. I guess the world was not ready for such greatness!

Dougie said...

Garokk is a tragic and unsettling character who debuts looking like one of Kirby's DNAliens but is soon revealed to be a riff on Ayesha.
I've been reading Giant-Size Conan this month (Kane and Smith: talk about value for money!) and I like david b's analysis: a fusion of Kirby and Steranko. I much prefer Ka-Zar as a Sword-and-Sorcery adventure.

William said...

Cool review. This looks like a really fun read and I love that Barry Smith art. Beautiful stuff. It looks like Romita did the cover (at least the Ka-Zar half anyway).

I was actually surprised to see that this story even existed. X-Men #115-116 (wherein Garokk meets his fate) was one of the first Byrne/Claremont X-Men tales I ever read, and it's still one of my favorites. That makes me very curious about these issues of Astonishing Tales, just to see how it all began. I now may have to track these down myself.

Fred W. Hill said...

It's, ahem, astonishing to see how quickly Barry Smith's artistry improved in a relatively short period, from those Avengers and X-Men stories of about a year or two before to his work in Conan and Ka-Zar, which here comes off as a sort of cross between Conan and Tarzan.
Interesting that in the credits Conway goes by "Gerard" rather than the informal "Gerry," by which he'd become better known as the scribe for Spider-Man. Anyone think he was trying to seem older?

Edo Bosnar said...

Since I've never read these, I most emphatically second Karen's proposal for a TPB. I've long been intrigued by these stories with the early BWS art.
In fact, I'd also like to see the Jones/Anderson Ka-zar series from the early '80s get the same treatment. In fact, all of this begs the question: why is there not at least a Ka-zar Essentials line?

Dougie said...

Barry Smith's association with "Te Jungle Master" dates back to the end of the Silver Age.
I recently bought MSH 19 (Mar 1969) which starred Ka-Zar by Tuska and written by Arnold Drake and Steve Parkhouse. I was suprised by this credit; Parkhouse later wrote Night Raven and Dr. Who in the early 80s. (Check out the magnificent " Tides of Time".)

The Ka-Zar story is sci-fi, in terms of tone and as bonkers as you'd expect from Drake. The cover is a collaboration by Smith and Herb Trimpe.

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