I’ve written here before of the short-lived Atlas Comics line of titles that appeared for a brief year in 1975 before vanishing without a ripple. But just to recount the basics for newcomers: after Martin Goodman sold Marvel to Cadence Industries, his expectation was that his son Chip, whom he’d been grooming for the role for several years, would be kept on to run it. Alas, the new owners of Marvel backed Stan Lee over Chip, making Stan President and Publisher and kicking Chip to the curb. In retaliation for what he saw as a betrayal by Stan and by Marvel, Goodman set up Atlas Comics, a rival publishing house, with the expressed goal of driving Marvel from the racks. Within the industry, the organization was often referred to as “Vengeance, Inc.”
I don’t know that revenge is a great motivation for starting a comic book company, especially in the mid-70s when the newsstand market was beginning to crumble and the Direct Sales market really didn’t exist just yet. And Atlas Comics gave up the ghost after a year for trying and losing money. Creatively, they were all over the map, with a few brief shining gems amidst an awful lot of drek or near-drek. Even the good books like Howard Chaykin’s SCORPION wound up being completely overhauled after an issue or two, throwing out everything of Chaykin’s original concept (and Chaykin himself) in a doomed attempt to make the series more like Spider-Man. As always, Goodman was more interested in imitation than innovation.
Right at the very end of their short publishing history, Atlas released a title that was one of the best things they did. It was DEMON HUNTER, and it starred a lead character who fit perfectly at the crossroads of an assortment of trends in popular culture at that time. Demon Hunter was Gideon Cross a telepath and a Vietnam veteran who, trying to find himself after coming back from the war had fallen in with a cult, who gave him a cloak from which he could pull any weapon and set him up as one of their Harvesters of Eyes, their assassins. But upon learning that the Cult intended to bring about Xenogenesis, the return of demons to the world of man, Cross turned against his former masters, and now fights to prevent Xenogenesis from coming about.
DEMON HUNTER was the creation of artist Rich Buckler, working alongside David Anthony Kraft who scripted the tale. Buckler is remembered mostly for his time at Marvel and DC, where he drew most of the big characters in the field, often in a style that emulated either Neal Adams or Jack Kirby in turn. Buckler was also a big proponent of swiping, and his stories were often littered with images cribbed from Kirby and Adams and others. But he was a straightforward commercial super hero artist in a time that didn’t have all that many of them who could compete with the energy level of a John Buscema or a Jack Kirby.
In 1975, though, Buckler was still unformed as an artist, and his work on DEMON HUNTER, while the inking is only so-so, shows a tremendous amount of promise. In particular, he employs the kinds of cinematic tricks in his page and panel layouts that Jim Steranko and later Paul Gulacy would innovate. It’s very distinctive work, and makes me wonder what Buckler would have grown into had he pursued this approach a bit further.
If Demon Hunter looks familiar to you, chances are you encountered one of the later incarnations of the character. Once Atlas folded up shop, Buckler decided to migrate his hero over to Marvel in the pages of his DEATHLOK series. So he gave him a coat of paint, swapping the costume colors and renamed him Devil-Slayer (a better name, when you come right down to it.) And nobody seemed to mind. At Marvel, Devil-Slayer never caught on big, but he was a recurring figure in DEFENDERS among other places.
DEMON HUNTER was very much like a character from the assorted men’s series adventure novels of the time in comic book form, and as such, he was a bit more morally gray than most ongoing characters–a fact that made him all the more interesting.
But Buckler didn’t stop there. In the early 1980s, having grown tired of slaving at work-for-hire, Buckler attempted to self-publish his own title, GALAXIA. It was a black and white magazine that contained several features–one of which was Bloodwing, which was another attempt at refurbishing this material. Again, Bloodwing was called Gideon Cross, and the short story in GALAXIA looks to me as though it might have began life as the second issue of DEMON HUNTER and was reworked to appear there. GALAXIA too only released a single issue, so Bloodwing crashed upon takeoff.
Looks like a bit of copy was edited out in that third balloon in the final panel at the last minute. I wonder if the Comics Code may have objected to something.