In the early ‘70s, Marvel realized that black and white magazines (like Warren Publishing’s stable of horror books, which included Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella) weren’t governed by the Comics Code. They could put out comics in magazine form and show more graphic violence, as well as partially nudity and moderate profanity. Marvel’s publisher, Martin Goodman, didn’t really want to go head-to-head with the Comics Code Authority (nor did he care about magazine-sized comics), so Savage Tales was canceled after its first issue and Marvel’s magazine comics wouldn’t come back for a couple of years.
First up in that first savage issue, though… the most savage hero of them all—Conan! In an adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s ‘The Frost Giant’s Daughter,’ Conan is taunted by a nearly naked woman who goads him into an ambush in the snowy mountains.
He kills his assailants and threatens to rape her in retribution. Before than can happen, though, the woman calls on her father—the frost giant Ymir—to save her, and the mountains rise up and pummel him into unconsciousness.
Conan wakes up and his comrades surround him. When he tells them what happened, Old Gorm is like, “Oh yeah, that’s Atali, the frost giant’s daughter. She does that.” Others think he was hallucinating. Conan holds up the garment he ripped off of her… it wasn’t a dream!
Okay, but this is a one-off sexist story, right? Less restrictions on content can’t just be an excuse for increased misogyny. Surely there’ll be other types of “mature” content in this book. Let’s see what the next story has in store…
I don’t think it’s even worth it to try and give you a recap of the story. I’m just gonna show you some of the highlights, like this:
So, let us never forget: “When a man is but a slave—it is the woman who lives in bondage!”
BUT HOLD ON—WE’RE NOT EVEN HALFWAY THROUGH THE ISSUE!
I’m gonna skip the next story for a minute (don’t worry, we’ll come back to it), but first let’s head to the African country of Orbia (??) where JESUS FUCKING CHRIST—
This rape scene is stopped in two-fisted fashion by Joshua, the “governor of this province you’re grinding under your grimy heel” (and titular Black Brother), but it turns out he’s out of touch with the common people under him because OMG, WHAT IN THE TWELVE HELLS OF EXPLOITATION IS THIS PANEL—
Anyway, a white woman sets up Joshua to be photographed in what looks like a compromising position and posters of it are put up all over the capital within the hour. A mob is riled up against him and Joshua is shot! On top of that, it’s revealed that Joshua’s wife is behind the betrayal because… she likes nice stuff.
He threatens to kill her but she tells him he won’t, because he’s weak. Defeated, he trudges into the jungle, never to be seen again. (No, seriously—this was Joshua’s first and last appearance in a comic book, which is actually kind of remarkable when you consider how much Marvel has capitalized on EXTREMELY niche characters and references over the years.)
(SPOILER: HE NEVER RETURNS.)
Next up is a Ka-Zar story and I’m sorry if you’re a Ka-Zar fan and you want me to wax rhapsodic about the Lord of the Lost Jungle, but I can’t because I HATE KA-ZAR SO MUCH. I’ve tried periodically to get into him, but the concept of a white-jungle-savior Tarzan-ripoff who lives in the centre of the Hollow Earth with a sabretoothed cat for a best friend is too stupid even for me. EVEN FOR ME.
So, with that out of the way, we’re going to move on to the literal and figurative centrepiece of the issue… THE FIRST APPEARANCE OF MAN-THING.
According to Roy Thomas in Alter Ego, the story goes that: “Stan Lee called me in; it would’ve been late ’70 or early ’71. […] He had a couple of sentences or so for the concept — I think it was mainly the notion of a guy working on some experimental drug or something for the government, his being accosted by spies, and getting fused with the swamp so that he becomes this creature. The creature itself sounds a lot like [1940s comic character] the Heap, but neither of us mentioned that character at the time….”
Thomas fleshed out the plot and passed it off to Gerry Conway to write the script. Conway was roommates with freelance writer Len Wein at the time, and Wein wrote the second Man-Thing story (which didn’t see print for a year or two) AS WELL AS CAME UP WITH THE IDEA FOR SWAMP THING, which launched at DC TWO MONTHS LATER.
Despite the similarities between the two characters and their origins, Marvel declined to file a lawsuit and both characters remained. Man-Thing became both a literal and figurative magnet for weirdness in the 1970s (Man-Thing’s home was in the Florida Everglades near the Nexus of All Realities… more on that later) and Swamp Thing launched the career of Alan Moore into the stratosphere, so good work to both swamp monsters.
Anyway, this origin story pretty much exactly follows Stan’s concept. Scientist feels guilty about chemical weapon he’s helped create, tries to get it to his government agent contract for Some Unspecified Reason (is he giving it or selling it? why?), is betrayed by his girlfriend who wants to sell it to some other thugs, escapes, injects the serum into his neck rather than surrender it, and drives his car into a ‘bottomless lake.’
Thanks to the serum, the swampy plant life fuses with his body and he emerges from the bog as… MAN-THING!
The thugs and his ex-girlfriend happen upon him and Man-Thing kills them all except his ex, whose face he burns with his touch but leaves alive. Then, in a final (though predictable) ironic twist, he looks into the water, sees himself and lets out a saddened “UNNHRRRH!”
Yeah. That’s rough, buddy.
So here’s something worth thinking about: in literally every story in Savage Tales, a woman betrays someone. Conan is betrayed by Atali so that she can give his smoking heart to her dad. Man-Thing and Joshua are betrayed by their girlfriends and in the Ka-Zar story the antagonist’s girlfriend betrays him—all of them for money. Even in ‘The Fury of the Femizons,’ Lyra betrays The Sisterhood for a man.
Remember when I postulated that less restrictions on content wasn’t just an excuse for increased misogyny? Well… about that.
It took almost two and a half years for the next issue of Savage Tales to come out, and y’know what? I’m gonna say that was too soon. I would have been okay if the next ish came out around half-past never, but whatever—we’ll find out if this this mag stays true to its misogynistic form when we catch up with #2 in late 1973. And hopefully there won’t be any Ka-Zar.
F*ck off, Ka-Zar.
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One of America’s favorite pets, has always been and still is.
NEXT TIME: DRUGS!!!