Thursday, July 16, 2015

Guest Post - If I Had a Buck... Barbarians

Doug: Here we have another of Mike S.'s budgetary nightmares -- picking and choosing Bronze Age goodness, but armed only with a dollar! Today's fare -- the animal loincloth crowd!

I Need to Buy Some Pants But Only Have a Buck!  A Barbarian Shopping Spree!

Mike S.: Back in the height of the Bronze Age, it seemed the comic choices were well balanced with Super Heroes, Funny Animals, Teenage Jokesters, Richie Rich (in a category all his own) and of course the Barbarians and Warriors. 

It was not uncommon at all to find a fine selection of loin clothed, weapon wielding, long maned combatants in the comic rack. Savages, warlords, destroyers, and she devils armed with sword, sorcery, and sometimes just their bare hands battled wizards, creatures, and even dystopian futures.
Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard seemed to have invaded the industry as their numerous creations came to life in four glorious colors. Their success was of course followed by numerous copycats armed with knives, battleaxes, and broadswords.

In my youth, in my assessment of what to buy, I lumped these many characters together. From Tarzan to John Carter, from Conan to Killraven, from Kull to Kamandi, I considered these adventure series to be secondary to those of their powered and costumed super heroic counterparts. I dismissed them as cavemen of no interest (even if they battled Martian technology). But I was wrong. Later in life, I found joy in seeing John Buscema’s depiction of the Hyborian Age in Conan, and the kookiness of Kirby’s impending animal rule in Kamandi, and the drama of Joe Kubert’s jungle action in Tarzan.   

So I offer to you another $1 challenge of “If I Had A Buck…” With no competition from other genres, if the comic rack was limited to only adventurers, warriors, and barbarians, who would you choose? There are nine titles, nine stories to choose from, but you only have one measly dollar.  Make your selection wisely or you may lose your head (metaphorically speaking of course). This was a difficult list to assemble, as there were so many titles and great covers to choose from and I am honestly no expert. Titles like “Turok, The Dinosaur Hunter” and “Skull, The Slayer” didn’t make the cut.  Nor did “Ironjaw” or “Wulf, The Barbarian”. But that does not mean you can’t discuss them if they interest you. 

What were your favorite titles in this genre? What did you like about the characters and stories? Did you get drawn in and did you collect these series? Or were you like me and only picked up issues here and there? Do you lump the futuristic fighters with their ancient equivalents, like I do? Is there a storyline that you would recommend? How did you choose to spend your dollar? And most importantly, why were these characters so averse to wearing shirts and why did so many of their names start with a hard “C” sound?

Have fun and here is the list of choices:
Amazing Adventures featuring Killraven, Warrior of the Worlds #32; $0.25
Conan the Barbarian #72; $0.30
John Carter, Warlord of Mars #13; $0.35
Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth #17; $0.20
Lord of the Hidden Jungle, Ka-Zar #13; $0.25
Korak, Son of Tarzan #58; $0.25
Kull the Destroyer #18; $0.30
Red Sonja, She-Devil With a Sword #11; $0.35
Tarzan #222; $0.20


Edo Bosnar said...

Hmm, I see what is to my mind a glaring lack of Marvel's Tarzan, which is my favorite comic book version of Lord Greystoke - I would have been all over that, as it was one of the only titles of this type that I read from month to month.
I was actually late to the game on barbarians and warriors. I only read Conan (both the 4-color series and Savage Sword) semi-regularly, usually borrowed from a friend who was really, really into the barbarian books (oddly, I suppose, I did read all of the prose Conan books I could find at the time). I recall having a single issue of Amazing Adventures with Killraven. I never read any of the first Ka-zar series, but was a very devoted reader of the second series by Jones and Anderson from the early '80s.

So anyway, I think I'll do what I did last time and just pick a whole row - in this case the top one, with Killraven, Conan and John Carter. Those are the best covers (although that Kull cover is quite nice as well) and I came to appreciate all three characters later in life.

Humanbelly said...

Well, heck, I have several of these issues already-! Even better, though, two of them are from little gaps in the runs I have. So-

Kamandi #17-- an issue I'm missing; god bless ya, Mike. And that was a point where Kamandi hadn't quite started to decline yet.

Tarzan #222-- at one point, the spinner rack at Buy-Lo had four different Tarzan issues from this period lingering on it, so I impetuously picked them all up. I believe this would have been the next issue. Tarzan's always been kind of ho-hum for me-- but that Kubert art in this series is just lovely. He's kind of a whole artistic genre of his own, y'know?

Killraven #32-- would be my next favorite of what's listed. I really enjoyed that book; probably worth a binge-read, I bet.

Hmm-- I was also buying Conan, but I reeeeally didn't care for the forever-long Beliz (Belit?) arc; I'd lost interest in John Carter by then; and Red Sonja was okay (and hormonally invigorating. . . ), but rather directionless, IIRC.

Soooo, I'm gonna go off-list and snag Atlas' oddball, short-lived IronJaw #1-! My buddy Bryan had it, and it seemed like such a stretch of a character concept (and absurdly impossible from a pragmatic, prosthetic standpoint) that I simply would have to grab it for another closer inspection. Probably a 25 or 30-center, so I bet I'm still safe!

Saaaaaay, Mike--- dare I speak the words, "Enter the lost world of. . . THE WARLORD" here? I mean, it's the name of the book itself, right? Heh--

And, wow, you mentioned Skull the Slayer! I can't believe how frequently we seem to mention that poor EXTREMELY short-lived mess of a title around here. I actually fear that we may pique some poor uninformed soul's interest, and they might come away with an impression of, "Wow, maybe I should pick that title up sometime-!" No, no-- trust One Who Knows, there is no enrichment or enlightenment to be had by self-collecting a Skull the Slayer Mini-Omnibus.


HB in the Mornin'

Redartz said...

Killraven, Conan and Red Sonja. I recall greatly enjoying the Killraven series; no longer do any reside in my possession though. Worth reading just for Old Skull...

Like you, HB, I was less than enthusiastic with the exteeeeeennnnded Belit story. Not to wish anyone ill, but I was glad to see Conan return to solo adventures after her fatal issue 100.

I always picked up Red Sonja, any chance that arose! Even in my youthful eyes her 'bikini armor' seemed ridiculously impractical, but I didn't complain too much...
Frank Thorne's art was ok, but the occasional Dick Giordano story was a welcome treat.

And hey, I still have a dime left; maybe it will bag me a back issue of Savage Sword of Conan at some yard sale on the walk home!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Humanbelly said...

I do believe one of you Britsters, Colin, had previously mentioned in passing the Marvel UK re-purposing of Killraven as an ape series, and geeze, I STILL cannot wrap my head around the utter, utter disrespect for the integrity of the material that it exhibits! If ever there were a case to be made for the necessity of some modicum of creative control over one's work. . .

(Also, "Apeslayer" just sounds inane. Like, a first-thought-in-the-head choice. Even naming his sword or his gun with that would have been a questionable cliche. His name didn't even HAVE to change-- it's not like his reason for living in the domestic version was to commit large crow-icide. . .)


Edo Bosnar said...

Well, HB, there's no Skull the Slayer omnibus but there is a recently published trade paperback. That's actually one I'd be interested in getting, although I'd only be interested if I could find a remaindered or used copy somewhere south (like, way south) of $10.

Humanbelly said...

Boy, edo, I'm reading those Amazon reviews, and find myself wondering if they could possibly be talking about the same book that I remember. One addendum, though, is that the art was indeed quite solid throughout-- although fading memory reminds me that some of the middle issues may have had Sal looking rather constrained with trying to force WAAAAAAY too much major plot and setting demands into the few pages available.
But no, the main characters were almost insultingly one-dimensional and shallow, and all of the plot developments were completely of-the-moment (*groan* Bermuda Triangle-- AGAIN??), contrived, and gimmicky.

For some reason, Barbarian/Warlord-type heroes just don't hold nearly the appeal for me as they used to. Maybe it's a teenage boy, wish-fulfillment thing? (Well. . . duh- ) Of the ones pictured, I still think I like Kamandi the best, 'cause he really wasn't from the same mold at all. Other than being scrappy and resourceful, he was little more than a (small-ish) guy perpetually scrambling around in order to simply stay alive. Not a noble savage, or leader of a rebellion, or warrior king-to-be, or anything of the kind. And heck, his "loin cloth" was (inexplicably) a pair of incredibly ragged blue-jean cut-offs. . .


Anonymous said...

I would angrily stomp out of the store and look for one that carried DC's Warlord (aka Travis Morgan)...but barring that, I suppose I'd load up on Conan, Killraven, Ka-zar, and Tarzan.

Mike Wilson

Humanbelly said...

Ooh, aren't we also missing Kull and Thongor out o' this conversation?
Boy, how is it that DC didn't jump on this bandwagon any more than they did? Unless. . . it certainly looks like some savvy copyright manager at Marvel may have gone out and snatched up pretty much ALL the rights to the most well-known of those pre-existing characters. . .


Martinex1 said...

Hi all. Mike W. and HB, I have to plead ignorance on Warlord. I honestly know nothing about the series. What made it so great that I would tick off customers by not carrying it? Also, Edo regarding Marvel's Tarzan, I also have to say I am uneducated. Please fill me in. Was it that much better than the DC Kubert run?

Unfortunately, I only shared series that I had some knowledge of or had copies of at some point. It is amazing to me just how many titles fell in the genre. I don't see much of this at all at the comic shops today.

I have to say I was partial to Killraven and John Carter. I guess I liked the bridge to futuristic turmoil.

Edo Bosnar said...

Martinex, re: Marvel's Tarzan. As I indicated above, it's my favorite comic-book version of Tarzan (with art by John Buscema in roughly the first half of the series, followed by Sal for the rest), but that opinion generally puts me in a minority. Most fans prefer the Kubert-drawn series for DC, or the Russ Manning newspaper strips.

Warlord, by the way, was a pretty popular series, especially the initial run of issues both written and drawn by by Mike Grell. It lasted for about 120-130 issues, making it by far DC's most successful series of this genre.
Which leads me to my next point, about DC not jumping the warrior/barbarian bandwagon. They only landed one set of licensed characters, Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser (in the 5-issue Sword of Sorcery series) but they created a bunch of their own: like Claw the Unconquered (12 issues), Kong the Untamed (5 issues) and Stalker (4 issues; art by Ditko and Wood), and two pre-existing characters from myths and legends, Hercules Unbound (12 issues) and Beowulf (6 issues). As you can see, none of them lasted very long. Later, in the 1980s, they had Roy Thomas' Arak, Son of Thunder, which lasted a respectable 50 issues, and Arion - Lord of Atlantis, which had a solid 35 issue run.

Anonymous said...

@Martinex1: I liked Warlord for a lot of reasons...Mike Grell's great art (and writing), the setting (Skartaris, a "hollow Earth" world with dinosaurs and barbarians), the mix of genres (lots of sword and sorcery stuff, but Travis Morgan used a .44 AutoMag through most of the series, and there were aliens and ancient Atlantean computers scattered around Skartaris), and some great supporting characters (Machiste, Tara, Jennifer, Shakira).

It dragged a bit after Grell left (though the art was always good, with the likes of Ron Randall and Jan Duursema taking over later), but overall it's definitely worth a read, especially if you're predisposed to like the genre.

Mike Wilson

Anonymous said...

Hmm OK lessee here ... I'd buy the Killraven one (I still have that actual issue, a great story foreshadowing virtual reality years before the Internet), Conan, Tarzan and Ka-zar all for $1. I'd probably cop out and just buy all three Robert E. Howard creations (God rest his troubled soul) Conan, Kull and Red Sonja. Hmm ... that'd come up to 95 cents. Did anything cost 5 cents in US stores back then?

I second the call for Warlord - Mike Grell really made a splash with his creation, both storywise and artwise.

- Mike 'keep the change' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Anonymous said...

Killraven was such a cool series at that point! Both art and story were worth far more than a quarter, so a real bargain there! And a no-brainer buy! What else? Red Sonja. I wasn't crazy about the art, probably because of the more "realistic" style over in Conan, and I thought the two should be read as a "piece", but the character has always been interesting as a lone female. Korak would finish it out for me. I'm partial to "knock-offs" because there's more leeway for the writers in where they are permitted to take their adventures.

Dougie said...

I was crazy about sword and sorcery comics, circa 75-78. Then I was old enough to get Howard/Lin Carter/ERB/Moorcock paperbacks and hardcovers in our local library. If a comic ( or a book) had a map with cities named Noobol or Kartha, I'd be overjoyed.

I've often posted about the vagaries of distribution in West Central Scotland. You could only rarely follow continued stories. Also, I never even glimpsed some series ( Thongor; Fafhrd/Mouser)until back issue shops started sprouting up in Glasgow or Edinburgh in the early 80s.

I'd probably buy two of the three I bought at the time. The Killraven story is a prog-rock freak-out. It's like a comic by Gene Clark and Brian Wilson: singing vegetables, a meditation on Native Americans and a parody of the Hound of the Baskervilles.

My second choice would be Kamandi. Although it wasn't a sword and sorcery title, I loved the invention and the humour. The Gopher storyline was one I only saw an ad for.

I followed the Belit storyline for about ten issues, then the colour Conan became less easy to find in my region. Nonetheless, I liked the long-form plotting and, again, the humour, so that would be my third purchase.

The Kull story, which I bought in the local newsagent one school lunchbreak, was a disappointment. I was never a Moench fan other than the Shang-Chi series and the contemplative Kull's world is one-dimensional. I wouldn't go for it now; also I preferred the three issues of DC's John Carter to the Marvel version.

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