Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Legion of Mediocrity: Marvel Premiere 28

Marvel Premiere 28 Featuring the Legion of Monsters (Feb. 1975)
"There's a Mountain on Sunset Boulevard!"
Bill Mantlo -writer
Frank Robbins -artist
Steve Gan -inker

Karen: Since this is October, and Halloween is looming large over the month, I thought it might be time to review some more monster comics. Unfortunately, the first one I selected is just flat-out terrible. I'm telling you this so you can choose now whether to continue to read this review or duck out before it gets too horrible.
Karen: First up: This book has Frank Robbins art. As I've mentioned in past posts, I am not a fan of his work. I have nothing against the guy but I just don't care for his style. This made it very hard to read The Invaders, but I managed to gut my way through several years of the series, since I loved the World War II setting. But it wasn't easy. And this issue is no different.
Karen: The thing is, I saw ads for this comic when I was a kid, and I desperately wanted it. Why wouldn't I -it had four monsters in it! Morbius, Werewolf By Night, Ghost Rider, and Man-Thing -now that's a monster rally. But I missed it on the newstands, so for years I wondered about it, and then just recently I managed to grab a copy.

Karen: As Mr. Spock once noted, sometimes having is not so pleasing as wanting. Now, the fantastic story of four monsters that lived in a little corner of my imagination has been wiped out by the sad reality.

Karen: Our tale takes place in Los Angeles. An earthquake leads to a mountain sprouting up in the middle of the street, tossing Johnny Blaze (aka The Ghost Rider) off his bike. Blaze switches to his alter ego and rides up the mountain, only to be stunned by a mysterious voice.

Karen: Cut to Morbiu
s, gliding over roof tops in search of a new victim to satisfy his blood lust. Seeing a person on a roof, he dives down and attacks only to discover his intended victim is the Werewolf! Isn't that a coincidence. The two tangle but are interrupted by the burgeoning mountain. For some reason they both decide to investigate. The final member of our cast joins the story when a mountain pops up in the Man-Thing's Florida swamp. I guess it's the same mountain, somehow? This is just one of many things in this story that make no sense.

Karen: Morbius continues to explore the mountain, with the Werewolf literally nipping at his heels. They discover Ghost Rider's bike, and the Man-Thing suddenly pops out of the woods. Then the mysterious voice is heard again and a golden guy ridi
ng a golden horse that looks like it's having a heart attack shows up. He calls himself Starseed.

Karen: This Starseed seems friendly, welcoming the four monsters. Ghost Rider declares that he somehow knows the golden boy: "Like a dream I used to have as a kid! A dream of angels, all in gold!" Oh boy. We then get a long monologue by Sta
rseed, which explains that he was once a member of a group of humans who split off from our primitive ancient ancestors. These 'cavemen' were peaceful and went off to live on a mountain in harmony, but that was destroyed when one of the most ridiculous looking aliens I've ever seen shows up. This tentacled alien nut job lands in its saucer and actually steals the mountain! This is just as bad as Hercules pulling Manhattan Island. Why does squid face steal it? Who knows!

Karen: It turns out Starseed and some of his buddies were inside caves in the mountain when it was whisked off to space. They waited and waited and finally used the aliens' te
chnology against them. Then they sent the mountain back to where it had been before on Earth, although for some unexplained reason, Goldy is the only one still alive. Here's where it really gets whacko -first Ghost Rider tries to explain to Starseed that he can't just drop a mountain into a city full of people. Then Morbius goes on a rant about how the continents have shifted since the mountain disappeared and so this isn't really even the spot the mountain originally occupied! Thanks for the science lesson, but what the heck?
Karen: The Werewolf doesn't give a hoot about geography, he just wants to attack Starseed. Then Morbius declares that he must have his blood. Ghost Rider is trying to figure out who these two freaks are when the Man -Thing creeps up behind him. It gives GR a good scare and he takes off on his bike to try to stop Morbius and the Werewolf.

Karen: While the Werewolf is just filled with primal rage, Morbius is jealous of Starseed, of his beautiful form, and wants to kill him. Ghost Rider intercedes with some hellfire. As those t
wo go at it, Starseed manages to toss away the Werewolf. The Man-Thing approaches, wanting to help, but burns Starseed with his touch. Ghost Rider rams the swamp monster with his bike and tries to help Goldy but he is dying. He waves his hand and each of the four are briefly transformed back into their human selves. But then it is over -"The Dream cannot be continued" and all but the Rider take off. Starseed says his good-byes to GR and dies -"I am going home" -and that's that, as GR pushes his bike down the road in search of a gas station.

Karen: Man, what a let down. I wa
s expecting something that would catch the favor of a classic horror flick, but this was just a mess. This is no 'legion', none of these guys are acting in any way as a team. The Starseed idea just does not fit with these characters. Well, I don't know if it would fit with any book, seeing as how it's such a lame idea to begin with. But this issue really did not work, not on any level.


Ric said...

Hey Karen, Come on... this book is a classic! Well, at least... it wasn't THAT bad! Actually, it might have helped to read this one when you were a youngster and when you weren't so worried about details (details, shme-tails...).

I remember picking this up on the newstand with anticipation for the same reasons you were excited... how could this book not be great?? I remember being put off by the Robbins art, too. Heck, I like his art more now (with my rose colored rear view glasses) than I ever liked him then. (I've been reading early-70s Batmans and Detectives lately... and you thought his ART was tough to get through??).

But the story is okay... a quick done-in-one, with typical Mantlo imagination. It was offbeat, oddball and unique. Well worth the... what? 35 cents?... we spent on it!

I certainly can relate to the feeling of a book you saw advertised or on the stands that you wanted desperately but passed over or couldn't find... that feeling of desperation dims but never goes away!


Matthew Bradley said...

Haven't re-read THAT one too many times (if ever) since I picked it up optimistically back in '75. I'm an unabashed Mantlo fan but, like Karen, found Robbins the biggest possible debit for the otherwise awesome INVADERS. And this legion-that-wasn't-a-legion did nothing to change my mind about him. Well, you can't win 'em all...

Doug said...

Not that inks matter to me when Robbins is the penciller, but I've not ever seen the name "Steve Gan" before.


Doug said...

A little quick research yielded this:

Brought to us by Tony DeZuniga!

And in regard to today's fare, count me among those who have always wondered just how cool this comic would be. I am not a fan necessarily of Bill Mantlo's writing (he can be akin to DC's Bob Haney -- I have to put on my extra-strong suspension of disbelief hat for these two guys), and coupled with Robbins' art I would have to agree with my partner's assessment. A pity, as this should have had some real potential, either as a team-up (as the cover advertises) or as a slugfest.


Edo Bosnar said...

Hope this doesn't derail the thread, since I've never read the issue in question, but re: Bill Mantlo as a writer, I wouldn't put him in the same category as Haney (regardless of whether you think Haney is a good or bad writer). True, Mantlo was all over the board in the mid to late '70s, esp. doing a lot of filler stories, but he really came into his own as a top-notch writer with Micronauts and Rom. I also think his rather lengthy run on Incredible Hulk is underrated.

Doug said...

And Edo, I think therein lies my problem (note - MY problem) with Bill Mantlo -- I don't know that I've read a long run of his writing. Coming to him in a hit-and-miss fashion, perhaps I haven't appreciated him. Haney was on B&B (and other titles) for some time. While there's an overall charm to his I-could-care-less-about-continuity-or-even-practicality style, reading him here and there is a bit of a head scratcher.



Dougie said...

Love Haney. LOVE Robbins.

Doug said...

Since we love corner boxes around here, did you notice that they just cropped the images from the Ed Hannigan cover (

Of course that's not important -- just popped out at me while I was looking at it.


Inkstained Wretch said...

This is one of those ideas that should have been given a second chance ... with the Living Mummy, the Frankenstein Monster, the Son of Satan and Dr. Strange thrown in.

I imagine the first issue starting with Dr. Strange announcing that he just had a vision of an evil that the Defenders cannot defeat but these misfits can.

Roy Thomas scripts and Mike Ploog provides the art.

... I can dream, can't I?

William said...

Just FYI, Marvel reprinted this story in 2006 in a deluxe "Marvel Milestone" edition that also featured a reprint of Marvel Team-Up #24 (Spider-Man and Brother Voodoo) and a b&w Dracula story by Marv Wolfman and John Buscema. So, if anyone is looking for this Legion of Monsters tale, I'd suggest picking up the Milestone edition. All-in-all, it was a pretty cool book.

Now, I am certainly no fan of Frank Robbins but I think his weird art-style kind of works on this story. I rather like his loose renderings of Morbius and Werewolf BN.

As for Bill Mantlo, I've long been a fan of his writing. I mean, he's not the world's most innovative writer, but he has a fun imagination and he had a pretty long run on Peter Parker The Spectacular Spider-Man that I very much enjoyed.

On a related note, in case anyone cares, I am currently working on a Marvel Legends Halloween comic that stars Spider-Man and The Legion of Monsters. And coincidently, (as Inkstained Wretch said) in my story, it is Dr. Strange that brings the Legion of M back together and teams them up with Spider-Man to battle a menace that only they can deal with. I should have it finished and posted on my site at in a couple of weeks… just in time for Halloween.

david_b said...

My Gosh, Karen, not only does this ish make "KISS meets the Phantom" look cerebral, but you may have just unleased the latest of BAB columns...:

"Best Potential Ideas for Books that Failed Miserably in Execution"

Sorry, any Robbins fans, but nearly anything he touched in the 70s qualifies.. I remember trying to handle him on CA&F after the Nomad saga was like a bad hangover.

starfoxxx said...

I just saw a "Super-hero Squad" cartoon featuring Iron man, Werewolf by Night, and Man-Thing. I lovedit! It really captured the vibe I got from Marvel's horror comics, kind of corny/scary.

"Super-Hero Squad" is pretty cool...I can watch it with my nephew, and it's chock full o' Marvel tidbits and trivia. It really captures the "fun" Marvel I grew up with as a kid, with a tongue-in cheek self-awareness. Not as good as Avengers Assemble, but definitely FUN.

Fred W. Hill said...

Looking at that cover, the first thing that popped into my mind was, "that must be Forbush Man ambling towards them." Anyhow, like you, Karen, this was a comic I knew about but never read and sounded neat to my adolescent self but strikes my jaded adult self as rather silly. Also, despite the supernatural trappings and blazing skull, Ghost Rider was mostly more of a superhero comic than a genuine horror comic, like Tomb of Dracula, Man-Thing or Werewolf By Night. At least, towards the end of the original series, as Johnny Blaze & G.R. behaved more like a demon who would seriously mess up anyone who ticked him off, the horror aspect came far more to the fore.

Edo Bosnar said...

William, with reference to Mantlo, thanks for mentioning something I can't believe I forgot: his run on Spectacular Spider-man. Great stuff as well - esp. the Carrion story (which I recall was pretty creepy and Halloweenish).

Karen said...

I had a long comment written last night and then discovered I was locked out of my gmail account. But I'm back!

There are a lot of things wrong with this book (IMO) but what really stands out to me is the feeling that the Starseed character was something Mantlo came up with independently of this story but shoe-horned into it. This character also reminded me of Glorian from Hulk, but Glorian actually first appeared 6 months after this book. So maybe Starseed as goofy as he is had some effect on that?

I suppose what I would have enjoyed more is a story that forced these chaotic, undisciplined monsters to work together -maybe they were captured by Hydra and had to escape. Something where Ghost Rider and Morbius have to get the Werewolf and Ma-Thing to stop attacking them and help them get away. I don't know. That's just an idea.


Dino said...

I have to agree with the general consensus here...never liked Robbins work, always looked too scrappy andhurried to me. Read the Invaders purely for Roy Thomas, endured the art...never read this particular issue , though I have a 100 issue run from this title. Cover is excellent, but story and art seems to leave a lot to be desired...I'd still pick it up for nostalgia though.

Vintage Bob said...

I've always loathed Frank Robbins' art. I mean outright hated it to the point of revulsion. He is among my Top 5 Worst Artists of All Time (along with Mike Sekowsky, Jerry Grandenetti, Rik Estrada, and Al Milgrom).

The fact that I enjoyed Invaders as much as I did speaks to the great writing, because it was VERY difficult to stomach that hideous art!

I think if Invaders had featured a better artist, it would have ranked overall as one of my top ten titles of all time.

This issue was indeed a Legion of Mediocrity issue, and that's being generous. Love the comment about the horse having a heart attack! LOL!

Matthew Bradley said...

The Marvel Comics Database notes that in the 1970s and '80s (BAB prime time), Mantlo wrote for almost every hero in the Marvel Universe, which is no guarantee of quality but pretty impressive nonetheless. I loved his work on IRON MAN (e.g., the multi-part Midas/Madame Masque/Jack of Hearts epic), SVTU, THE CHAMPIONS, and MTU (especially the time-travel saga). As for Robbins, an earlier comment reminded me of his other claim to shame, that stint on CA&F.

Stormin said...

I also never liked Frank Robbins art. I always wanted to buy the Invaders but after looking at his art. I always put it back.

Fantastic Four Fan 4ever said...

I never liked Frank Robbins art...that is until I saw the artist he was paying tribute to...Milton Caniff of Steve Canyon.

If you look at Steve Canyon, it's almost exactly like Milton's style. Now I see that Roy Thomas was attempting to capture the 40's with the Milton Caniff (if I spelled his name right)style.

If you look at the art of the 40's, especially Steve Canyon, you can see what look Roy Thomas was going for when he created "The Invaders".

With the perspective of time and age, I don't think his art is so bad today. His figures look like they are cartoony and made of rubber. However if you can get past that....and it's difficult to in a super hero's more of a quirky art style than bad art...

Matthew Bradley said...

Karen, sorry to contradict you, but although Starseed reminded me a lot of Glorian as well, Glorian came first. Thomas Gideon debuted in his Glorian identity in INCREDIBLE HULK #190 (August 1975), six months BEFORE this issue.

Karen said...

That's all right Matthew, I've become accustomed to you as my own personal "corrector." I just assume that whatever mistakes I've made (and continue to make) on the blog, you'll diligently root out over time for the benefit of our readers. I'm sure as I enter my golden years my mental abilities will decline even more and your services will become invaluable.

John said...

OK, five years since the last comment, but I’m going to strike a contrary note by coming out as a Frank Robbins fan. When I first saw his work back in the Seventies on Captain America and Power Man, when I was a kid, I hated it because he made heroes and villains alike look slapdash and goofy. It was impossible to take any story seriously drawn by him.

But Robbins’s style kind of grew on me with the Invaders and I came to enjoy his crazy figures and exaggerated expressions. Now I see his work as an irreverent, fun take on superheroes. He was more of a cartoonist than a realistic comics artist, and yes, he worked in the tradition of Milton Caniff. Robbins’s own Scorchy Smith is a classic of that newspaper adventure strips genre and probably his best work.

Legion of Monsters is a story with an interesting idea of the ancient mountain returning from space and landing in LA, but the concept isn’t developed at all and doesn’t make the most of bringing Man Thing, Morbius, Werewolf and Ghost Rider together. They just don’t gel at all. Still, great artwork.

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