This was another book that came to me in trade from my buddy Donald Sims. It was released during that period when Marvel was focused hot and heavy in coming up with monster/suspense series similar in approach to their super hero offerings, an effort that only had mixed results. The lead character who debuts here, The Scarecrow, was a bit of an aborted effort, as this was the final issue of DEAD OF NIGHT. The character turned up in one more solo story burned off in the pages of one of Marvel’s try-out comics, and then his storyline was brought to a conclusion in MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE, where in an odd pairing, he met the Thing of the Fantastic Four.
The Scarecrow was the brainchild of Scott Edelman, one of the less well-known personalities of the era. Scott’s gone on to a long career writing prose since his days at Marvel, but at this time, like everybody who was on staff at Marvel, he was looking to write comics. A two-page text feature in this issue tells the winding story of the Scarecrow’s journey to print–it turns out that the series was inspired by an observation made by Roger Slifer, and that it had been slated to run in a bevy of other titles before landing in DEAD OF NIGHT–all of which were cancelled before it could appear. Talk about a cursed series! John Romita did character designs for most of the main players in the story, but the actual artwork was provided by Rico Rival, an artist who did relatively little for Marvel. There was something about his style that I liked here.
The Scarecrow, it must be said, is a weird concept–something that could only have seen print in the “throw-anything-at-the-wall” 1970s. The story opens with agents of the Cult of Kalumai, dressed in full robes and goat-skull masks, breaking into an art gallery in an attempt to steal a painting that will give them ultimate power. They kill a guard along the way–and when they do, the figure of the Scarecrow within the painting comes to life, enters the material world and after a short struggle, kills them.
The scene cuts to the following day, and an art auction where the painting of the Scarecrow is now up for bid. We’re introduced to Jess Duncan, his buddy Dave and his girlfriend Harmony. Jess has apparently been interested in the painting all his life and so he gets into a bidding war for it with a nasty looking fellow. As the bids rise, Dave takes it upon himself to elbow the guy in his solar plexus, knocking the wind out of him and keeping him from bidding so that Jess can buy the painting. Dirty pool, and the man isn’t happy about it. But Jess and friends aren’t too worried about him as they’ve got the object of Jess’ desire.
Back at Jess’ place, he tells Dave and Harmony that the painting is reputed to have mystical properties. Its first recorded owner was a heretic at odds with the Cult of Kalumai. And who would have guessed it, the man from the auction is the leader of the still-functioning Cult. He and a bunch of his goons break into Jess’s apartment, having followed the friends from the auction house. A brief scuffle ensues, but ultimately Jess and Dave are knocked on their asses, and the Cultists make off with the painting and with Harmony, intending to use her as a sacrifice to bring their Dark Lord back into the mortal world. But after they have left, one of the two men, Jess or Dave, the artwork is deliberately vague about which, rises up and goes after them.
The leader of the Cult of Kalumai reveals that the image of the Scarecrow had been painted atop the likeness of their demon-lord Kalumai by that first owner, to seal Kalumai away from the world–and by restoring the original painting, they can bring him back into existence. Having retreated back to their sanctum, the cult of Kalumai strap Harmony out to a makeshift altar and begin their ritual of sacrifice. But before they can complete it, the Scarecrow comes bursting into the chamber through the skylight. And with him are a murder of crows–who help the Scarecrow do just that to the many cultists inside the room. It’s all fairly bloodless–this is still a Comics Code-approved title, after all. But it’s a lot more vicious than you’d typically see a super hero title being. And why not? The Scarecrow was more of a monster series than a super hero one. If he had anything in common with the long underwear genre, it was with the brutal Michael Fleisher Spectre stories in ADVENTURE COMICS.
The head cultist, the man who tried to win the painting bidding against Jess, tries to flee, taking Harmony with him as a shield. But the Scarecrow pursues, relentlessly–and when the man enters a wooded area not far from the house, he is horrified as the trees themselves seem to come to life and twist around him, twisting and distending his body in a horrific manner. In the epilogue, Jess and Dave have somehow located harmony, who is now lying back on the altar. The Cultists are all no more, and she doesn’t quite recall what happened. But within the painting the figure of the Scarecrow is smiling in a manner that it hadn’t been earlier. And on that note, the issue wraps up. With such a limited premise, I don’t know that the Scarecrow could have gone the distance as a regular series, not without some additional work. But as a weird one-off (or, really, two-off) it was an interesting attempt at something.