This was another book that came out of my local drugstore’s Big Bin of Somewhat-Older Comics. It was bought by/for my younger brother Ken, who had eclectic tastes in what comics attracted his attention. He was never all that involved in the medium, for all that he dabbled with it for many years, likely because it was such a constant in my life, and so all of the books that he had purchased over the years eventually wound up with me. This issue of AMAZING ADVENTURES was no exception.
The WAR OF THE WORLDS series was really a very odd hybrid of concepts. You can instantly see former EIC Roy Thomas’ hand in its conception, as it’s a follow-up to the H.G. Wells novel of the same name, set a century later. Its hero, Killraven, had grown up a gladiator in the Martian slave-pits, and this made him a heroic figure along the lines of Conan–battling tanks and walkers and robots and monsters with a sword as his main weapon. As CONAN was one of Marvel’s best-selling series at this time, the influence is undeniable. Killraven is surrounded in his endeavors by a “Merry Men”-esque band of fellow rebels who were a lot more diverse than they typical Howling Commandos knock-offs that tended to populate the Marvel strips of this nature.
While AMAZING ADVENTURES struggled with sales figures for much of its existence, KILLRAVEN became a big hit with a certain segment of the older readership. This all came down to the work of the two principle creators. P. Craig Russell hadn’t yet totally developed the luminescent and airy style he would eventually deploy to illustrate operas and fairy tales in years to come, but he was an exciting new artist with just a hint of Barry Windsor-Smith about him. He specialized in pages that had a bunch of small panels, cramming a lot of story into a relatively tiny space. He would also play around with page composition and storytelling, experimenting in the same manner that his contemporary Paul Gulacy was, and building on ideas that had been expressed by the generation before him.
He was perfectly paired with his collaborator Don McGregor, who was the real heart of the KILLRAVEN series. After a couple of installments written by whoever happened to be floating through the Bullpen that day, McGregor took on the assignment, and in his way, he invested himself completely into the strip. Nobody cared about his own work more than McGregor (though Chris Claremont would rival him in his X-MEN work in years to come) and he was dedicated to depicting both the spiritual and emotional journeys of his characters just as much as delivering action-adventure plots–often, more so. He was also one of the most verbose writers in comic book history, filling his pages with dense passages of prose. His approach wasn’t for everybody.
And if I’m honest, it wasn’t for me. I never warmed to Don’s work in the way so many others have. Part of that, I’m sure, is the fact that he tended to be working on series that were far from the traditional super hero action that I craved as a young reader–his BLACK PANTHER in JUNGLE ADVENTURES had the look of a regular super hero strip, but it sure didn’t read like one. And WAR OF THE WORLDS felt like an amalgamation of all of the genres in comics that I really wasn’t interested in–it was a sci-fi war barbarian series, with just a touch of being a western around the edges. All of those were genres that I tended to avoid in comics, at least at this point in my development. So this issue of AMAZING ADVENTURES didn’t make much of an impact on me at all.
So what was this issue about? The bulk of it is an extended series of flashbacks illuminating the life story and history of Killraven’s developmentally challenged buddy Old Skull–who grew up on a ranch, where his hard-as-nails father called him “Numbskull” because of his bald pate, and the name stuck. After the martians invaded and he was swept up into the fighting pits, Killraven befriended Old Skull and gave him his proper name in recognition of the wisdom he clearly possessed despite his odd speech patterns and manner of expressing himself. There’s also a lot of content relating to what we might today call toxic masculinity and true manly vitrues–McGregor rarely wrote his characters on the nose, so there was always plenty of subtext in whatever they were saying and doing.
WAR OF THE WORLDS is rightly considered one of the classic series of the 1970s, and yet I’ve never been able to really embrace it emotionally. A year or so back I read the whole series in the space of a few sittings after we reissued it all in a single MARVEL MASTERWORKS volume–and while I could follow the storylines much easier in that manner, I still felt a bit distant from what was going on. And the sheer amount of text was often daunting. All that said, McGregor and Russell’s work was clearly affecting to a lot of people, and has stood the test of time–so the fact that it’ll never be on my lost of favorites is almost irrelevant.