Friday, October 12, 2012

Every Rose Needs a Thorne: Marvel Feature 2

Marvel Feature #2 (January 1976)
"Blood of the Hunter"
Bruce Jones-Frank Thorne

Doug:  Welcome back, ya barbarians!  A couple of weeks ago we examined the first issue of Marvel's Red Sonja vehicle, volume 2 of Marvel Feature.  Today is significant, as it's the first story by the penciller who would be most associated with her in the latter Bronze Age -- Frank Thorne.  But as long as we're on the subject of the pretty pictures, I'll lead this one right off with a big knock on the computerized coloring process.  What a muddy mess!  It's just so uneven, which I think you'll see as you look through the samples I've provided.  And at some point I should revisit (for a review) the trade I'm using (The Adventures of Red Sonja, volume 1 from Dynamite Entertainment), as some of the issues look great -- I don't understand the inconsistency.  Anyway...

Doug: We open this swashbuckling tale with Red Sonja robbing a robber -- ah, the Hyborian Age!  Our mistress has pinned a sleeping roustabout to the ground, by placing a poisonous snake on his chest.  As he wakes, she takes all of his loot, including a mysterious gold key that hung around his neck.  His horse tied up, Sonja rides away on her own mount -- and calls back that the snake was only a garter snake!  Riding away to the village of Khishtam, Sonja stops at an inn for a drink.  Seeing a woman she'd known before, they strike up a conversation.  As her friend admires the golden key, Sonja reads its inscription.  Recoiling, her friend warns her to throw it away -- one of the words names a demon!  Suddenly the proprietor steps in and asks Sonja if her horse was spotted and loaded down...  our heroine replies affirmatively and is then told that her horse is being stolen!  Taking the owner's own mount, she rides hard after this new thief.  Pulling even with him, he attempts to flail at her with her own sword, missing clumsily.  Sonja steers him right into a low-hanging branch, and knocks him down.  Stunned, she is able to pull close to him and then notes that he has a wooden leg -- and is quite young!

Doug:  Sonja returns to the inn, only to find everyone slaughtered about the place.  Her friend, Katrin, has left a message... in blood.  But Sonja is unable to grasp its meaning, so rides off instead with the young man who had tried to rob her.  They head toward his settlement, the people of Gromlic.  However, when they draw close, they see the band has been beset by Picts.  Sonja rides right into the middle, broadsword in hand.  Gromlic himself notices the return of the lad, and likens Sonja to a savior from Hell.  After the Picts have been despatched, Gromlic thanks Red Sonja for her aid.  It turns out that the young thief is Dunkin, the son of Gromlic.  Sonja is invited to stay with the band, as as she preps for sleep Dunkin approaches her.  But it's not with a tone of thanks or even humility that he brings -- rather, he heaps insults upon her and challenges her sexuality.  Sonja reacts with blade flashing, but Dunkin instead plays the card of his disability, gaining the upper hand as he walks away.

Doug:  Gromlic is left to apologize for Dunkin's behavior, and cites the absence of his leg as the source of his surliness.  Sonja wonders if her vow to never let a man touch her lest he best her in battle first has created a barrier tween her and men.  Gromlic asks that she give Dunkin another chance -- she may find him at a fishing stream early in the morning.  So she rides out to Dunkin and strikes up a conversation.  He's rude, as he has been, but warms a bit when she asks if he can read the inscription on the gold key.  He can, and tells her what she already knew -- that Balek is a demon, but that a mage named Neja might tell her more.  Sonja asks him about his rudeness, and if he treats all women that way.  Dunkin flies into a rage, and at Sonja's seeming goading, grasps her and presses hard his lips against hers.

Doug:  Sonja seems to submit to his embrace, when they are suddenly interrupted by one of Gromlic's band.  He comes on his dying breath, with news of trouble back in the camp.  Dunkin and Sonja hasten back, but Sonja knows what they will find -- and she is right.  She warns Dunkin to leave her, that this is a death chasing her; to stay together will only be dangerous for him.  He tells her that revenge will only come from his sword -- Sonja blasts him in the face with her boot and rides away.  Some time later, while laying down, she is snapped to alertness by a figure near.  Rising, she sees that it is Dunkin.  Reaching out to him, she sees that it is indeed him -- impaled on a stake!

Doug:  As Sonja moves off, she finds now that her assailant is not trailing her but instead has gone ahead.  The water with which she seeks to slake her thirst has been tampered with.  She rides to another stream, noting that the animals along the way have died off -- no food for her.  Once at another body of water, it has the same wretched taste she knew before.  She presses on, but her steed succumbs to the heat and dies.  Figuring it had drunk from the tainted water, she leaves it.  On foot and beginning to waver, she spies a farm.  But upon entering the grounds, she sees that its tenants are all dead.  Now becoming fearful, she seeks to sleep; but once prone a coral snake crawls up on her chest.  A heavy rain provides respite and drives the snake away, but the sun pounds down again the next day -- she is approaching death.

Doug:  As she crawls, a giant of a man appears, holding a couple of skins of water.  He tells that his name is Rejak the Tracker, and that he will be her death -- this is the same brigand whom Sonja stole from at the beginning of our story!  He is after the golden key and questions her (hard) about its whereabouts.  She points to the saddlebags.  Rejak begins to rifle through them, when he suddenly cries out and snatches his hand back.  Suddenly he gags, clutches at his throat, and pitches forward, dead.  The coral snake that had menaced Sonja before crawls out of the sack, and Sonja slakes her thirst.  She shakes the snake the rest of the way out of the bag, takes Rejak's horse, and rides off in the direction of the old mage -- Red Sonja has questions to be answered!

Doug:  This really was the first issue in the series, as Frank Thorne and Bruce Jones (later, Roy Thomas) would go on to chronicle Sonja's adventures.  Conan and Belit show up in issues 6 and 7 of Marvel Feature, and since the coloring is much more palatable in those stories, they might be worth a look later on.  However, to do it right I'll need to purchase the 2nd volume of the trade series, as it continues into that collection of reprints.  As far as this story goes, I just found the art really distracting.  Well, not the art -- but as I said at the top the recoloring was awful.  If I were to grade this tale, I'd make sure I left a comment of "Intriguing..." -- not a great yarn, but one that leaves me wanting to read the next story to see of her potential encounter with the demon, or whether or not that was all just an old wives' tale.


Anonymous said...

"She was tall, splendidly shaped, but lithe. From under a steel cap escaped rebellious tresses that rippled red gold in the sun over her compact shoulders." - description of Red Sonya by REH, The Shadow of the Vulture.

Yeah I got a couple issues lying around here, one in which Red Sonja meets a giant robot which was activated using that same gold key, and another one where she met a priest who claimed he could fly.

My, my Frank Thorne really seemed to enjoy drawing women, didn't he? Red Sonja and his later more risque creation Ghita seem to bear this out.

I've mentioned this before, but I've always wondered how REH would react if he had lived to see how Roy Thomas & co had taken Sonya and modified her from a 16th century soldier to a sword-wielding contemporary of Conan. Apart from the fact that they are both fiery tempered red-haired warriors, the two are totally different characters. Who knows?

Anyway, the topic of beautiful warrior women is always popular. Hmm maybe we can do a discussion on Xena, Wonder Woman or Valkyrie someday! :)

Mike 'Crom's beard and Tarim's blood!' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Edo Bosnar said...

Mike, my impression is that Howard probably would not have been too happy about the modifications to his Red Sonya, and I doubt he would have liked the chainmail bikini in particular. If you go back and read his original stories, you'll usually find that he depicted the women protagonists in his stories (Sonya, Valeria in the Conan world, Agnes the Sword Woman) as tough, cunning and rather merciless figthers and/or adventurers, and not as sex objects.
Doug, you're right about the coloring on these pages. It looks awful. Generally I'm not a big fan of computerized recoloring, even when it's done 'well.'

Dougie said...

This was quite a nostalgic treat for me since I bought this comic from Craig's newsagents in Strathaven when I was 12 years old. I bought a comic a day at lunchtime in those days since they were very cheap.
I liked any sword and sorcery title (although Conan was best) but it took a long time for me to appreciate Thorne. Nonetheless, I followed Sonja until about '78 because of spotty distribution. I think the Balek story was my favourite although the Crocodile Men issue gives it a run for its money.
Red Sonja really was a big Marvel star in the mid-70s. I'm surprised she didn't get a solo Treasury Edition.

Rip Jagger said...

Frank Thorne!

There's a talent who doesn't get enough discussion. His ability to tell a tale and still create a lively and visually stimulating comics page is utterly wonderful.

I wish I'd been prescient enough to grab up all his Ghita stuff which post dates the Red Sonja material for Marvel. It's got a soft porn edge to it, but Thorne's craftsmanship raises it above the similar junk which generally inhabits that sideshow of the industry.

Rip Off

Anonymous said...

I can't believe you've been doing this blog for so long but have yet to review an issue of Howard The Duck.
Steve Gerber's topical and savage writing was a perfect match for Gene Colan's superlative art, with occassional work from Val Mayerick too.
I know Howie's rep has been besmirched by that movie, but it's time the series was reevaluated on it's own terms.
In a very strange time, there was no stranger mainstream book than Howard The Duck.

Doug said...

BFK --

I'm not sure how a Howard the Duck comment ended up in a Red Sonja post, but whatever...

I don't have a lot of experience with HtD; I'd not dispute Gerber's brilliance, nor that of Colan or Mayerick for that matter. But as a kid, I thought HtD was pretty silly to be honest. And, in the succeeding years I've just never sought it out. There are way too many superhero mags to collect in tpb and hardcover form for me to at this juncture worry about HtD.



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