Monsters Unleashed! #10 (February 1975)
""The Serenity Stealers" (4th story, featuring Tigra)
Chris Claremont (script)/Tony Isabella (plot)-Tony DeZuniga
As a public service, today's review should be considered as falling somewhere between PG-13 and R.
Doug: Today we end our 5-part "Frightfest" with a foray into the land of the Marvel black & white magazines. While Marvel certainly filled up the spinner racks with all sorts of ghouls, ghosts, and goblins, it was on the magazine shelves where some real heavy-hitting creatures lurked. It's only somewhat obligatory that we give this genre its due in this series of posts.
Karen: I have to admit, when I was a kid- say 9 or 10 - a lot of these black and white mags actually scared me. I'd flip through them nervously at the drugstore or wherever and most of the time put them back on the rack. Occasionally I would pick one up. But they kind of freaked me out. What a chicken.
Doug: You know, that cover illustration (by Jose Antonio Domingo, by the way) is not only scary, but pretty indicative of what lies within today's tale. And speaking of tales, how about the homophone "tail", as in when did Tigra get a tail? She doesn't have one in this story, but certainly by the time we got to the Avengers/West Coast Avengers she sure did. If I recall, in one of those horribly convoluted West Coast Avengers stories she made some sort of deal with the devil so to speak and was made into a real cat. Or something like that. Stripes and fur are her coverage in this story, but that fur isn't hiding the fact that it must be a little chilly at the beginning of the story, as artist Tony DeZuniga leaves no doubt that we are indeed reading a magazine published outside the confines of the Comics Code Authority, nipples and all. Anyway, today's review centers on the cat-lady's second appearance as the were-woman. Shall we?
Doug: We begin on the dark streets of Chicago, where Tigra 1st-person narrates a little bit of her history to get new readers up to speed. The splash page is split, also telling about a cabbie out for a stroll. He's a family man, who works very hard to make life easy. As he walks, and Tigra trails him -- not maliciously, apparently, although she does let us know she's "on the prowl". Suddenly the man turns, seemingly calling out to his wife and children. We, the readers, see that he is beset by a trio of crazed, knife-wielding assailants. Tigra sees, and senses, nothing. Yet the man is visibly stricken, and when the were-woman descends to investigate she is driven back by a horrific odor.
Karen: Should I start by saying I've never been a fan of the various Philipino artists that were so prominent in these mags and many of the comics back in the 70s? I just never cared for that dreamy, soft style of art. Anyway, this is early Chris Claremont, and you can already pick up on his style here, the first-person narration that was also common to Iron Fist and some of his other titles.
Doug: Claremont's 1st-person format really seemed to get to me in the Wolverine mini-series. Every issue began with the same dialogue. C'mon -- it's a mini-series! There shouldn't be a jumping-on point!
Doug: Tigra at this point in her history lets us know repeatedly that she is struggling with control between her impulsive cat-nature and the remnants of her compassionate humanity. Seeking to help the man, Tigra is suddenly taken aback by a flash of light from an alley and the emergence of a huge anthropomorphic rat! Tigra reacts as a cat would, hissing and fur raising on her back. Yet before she can instinctively attack the rat-thing, it instead leaps upon the corpse. Draining it of whatever life force remained, the rat stood up and released a Tarzan-like triumph. A husk was all that remained of what had once been Richard Diaz, and the rat ran. Tigra gave chase, and in an Alice-like romp the rat eventually disappeared. Tigra was frustrated.
Karen: That struggle with her inner demons would go on for a long time -- remember the weird stuff with her eating mice in WCA? Or was she under the influence of a demon? I think I blocked it all out. I was right in there with this story until the giant rat-man showed up. I guess in a book about a were-woman I shouldn't scoff, but rats? Oy.
Doug: We scene-shift to the home of Dr. Joanne Tumolo, the scientist who had originally endowed Greer Nelson with her super-powers. Tumolo tells Tigra that the Cat-People (wait for it) can't give any information on the recent murders, all following a pattern similar to what Greer had just witnessed. Tumolo is concerned for Tigra's safety; Tigra is taken back to the day she was transformed, by the afore-mentioned Cat-People (and did I mention that it is also quite cold in Dr. Tumolo's apartment? If they were to make a film of this story, any episode of Friends could have served as Jennifer Aniston's audition). Greer Nelson had been dying of radiation poisoning, and the Cat-People knew how to cure her. Has anyone out there ever read this story, from Giant-Size Creatures #1? Below is a synopsis, from the Comic Book Database:
Greer Nelson, who had been given superhuman powers and become the costumed heroine known as the Cat, was shot with an "alpha radiation" pistol when she interrupted Hydra agents attempt to kidnap her mentor, Dr, Joanne Tumulo. Dr. Tumulo revealed that she was a member of a race of humanoids mystically evolved from cats. She could save Greer by making her one of them. Greer agreed. They used a serum to transform her body and an incantation to bind one of their souls to her. The combined being resembled a legendary warrior of the Cat People, Tigra, and she took the name as her own. Tigra, aided by the passing Werewolf By Night, helped the Cat People drive off their attackers from Hydra.
Doug: After another scene-shift we find one Brock Hunter, self-proclaimed stud about to get his. But what's weird (well, weirder than the last time the big rat appeared), is that we know he's gonna get it -- but he's transformed into a beautiful woman first! After the switch, our nasty rat-guy appears and it's a repeat of the previous kill. Tigra happens to be close by and hustles to the scene of the crime. This time she's not going to let "Ratso" (hey, how annoying was that nickname?) get away. Tigra tracks him, to -- a rat hole. They wind and wind, ever downward, until it opens up into a chamber.
Karen: "Brock Hunter"? Really? That's a name right out of a Saturday Night Live sketch! The shift from Tigra's first-person narration to third person was jarring. Or was it still supposed to be Tigra? But how could she know all those things about him? I'm confused. I'm also confused as to why he turned into a woman. Because he abused women? Loved them and threw them away? But then why did Diaz see his family -- the most important thing in his life? This is not consistent. And Ratso is an annoying nickname, but Claremont has a habit of using annoying nicknames.
Doug: At the heart of the chamber was a white witch, who called the rat creature "Aeskla". She was old and haggard, and said that she needed what the rat had. And then Chris Claremont used the word "mounted" and DeZuniga gave us a bestial missionary position -- the only saving grace for those of us with weak stomachs is the fact that the witch's gown continues to cover her legs. The rat-creature releases his hold and the witch now rises as a beautiful white queen. She sends Aeskla off again, to kill -- the life essence that he brings to her is in effect, her Lazarus Pit. Tigra hides as the rat exits, and then makes herself known to the woman -- Surisha, revealed as the Mistress of the Dark Circle.
Karen: Although he uses the word "Mounted" there appears to be some sort of material passing from the creature's mouth to the old woman's. It is still unpleasant though. Actually "mounted" was used when the creature attacked Diaz too.
Doug: Claremont and DeZuniga then use a "split-screen" view to show the next kill, but juxtaposed with Tigra's battle against Surisha. The next target is a younger man who has just been let go of his job, yet tries to remain self-confident. Surisha tells Tigra that it is the serenity of a man that she craves, as a vampire craves blood. The target begins to be drained, as we've seen twice before; but as Tigra battles, the queen finds that her powers do not affect the were-woman. The cat-side in control, Tigra cannot be tamed. As the rat moves in for the draining, Tigra slashes Surisha, and draws human blood. Surisha summons Aeskla, and the man is instantly healed.
Karen: Again, this secondary narration just doesn't work for me -- it's a broken story mechanism. And this time Ratso/Aeskla is talking -why didn't it talk before? The whole serenity of man idea seems a bit off too. And sloppiness -'Aeskla' become "Aekslos' at the end.
Doug: As Aeskla arrives back in the bowels of the Chicago sewer system, Tigra grabs the queen's sword. But at that instant, the rat turned away from Tigra and back toward Surisha -- whose serenity was fading. The rat sensed that, and did what he did -- drained her of her life force. Trouble was, he hadn't taken into consideration that she was half of his own symbiotic relationship... no more "Ratso". With that, Tigra gave us one of those Silver Age DC-type explanations, where she told us that her half-human, half-cat status threw her own serenity into question -- the witch didn't know what to do with her and was consequently thrown all out of whack.
Karen: Say what?
Doug: Exactly. Well, where to begin with this one? For starters, if this was supposed to be the second life of Greer Nelson and a better selling point than her first four-color foray as the Cat, I'm not sure today's tale is exactly a sales jump-starter. On the positive side, Tony DeZuniga's art is pretty good -- for the plot he had to work with. The rat-creature is pretty scary-looking, and the "mistress of the Dark Circle" is at once ugly and then beautiful. As we've said several times at the top, the story is heavily over-sexed. So that would bring us to the words portion of the story. Tony Isabella's plot seems average at best -- this isn't a terrible story, but there are certainly some holes in it. The serenity angle is weird to me, first off. How was it that Tigra just happened to be at the point of the crime? How did Surisha get in the Chicago sewers (if that is indeed where she was located), and was Aeskla always a rat, or a transformed man? Did Aeskla impart the life essence to Surisha actually through sexual intercourse, or was that just implied and betrayed by the art? And lastly, Chris Claremont was not at his finest hour in the dialogue department -- I got very tired of Tigra referring to her nemesis as "Ratso". And that she didn't recoil at his first appearance -- yeah, I know she's a cat, a were-woman, etc. -- seemed just a bit off to me. But let's hear my partner's critique...
Karen: Oh, I agree with you, this seemed like a real mess, and I didn't even really care for the art that much. So Surisha feeds off a man's sense of worth -- so Diaz's worth came from his family, Hunter's from his sexual prowess and Edwards from his youth (?) -- OK, I can buy it. But I still don't feel like there's anything here really interesting or exciting. We never do really understand how Tigra found Diaz -- she knows murders have been going on, but apparently the first real lead was finding the rat. It just feels incomplete to me. I think the story could have benefited from some editing. Of course, it's probably good to remember that these guys were trying to fill up these mags with stories so they were probably just cranking these things out pretty quickly. And it shows.