Gather round, Marvel Mavens! This week we journey back to the long, long ago… BEFORE EVEN CONAN THE BARBARIAN! We will also dive into a prison riot, witness the return of the mighty Valkyrie, and watch as the Hulk tries to figure out what to do with money! EXCITEMENT ABOUNDS!
CREATURES ON THE LOOSE #10 (Mar. 1971) & KULL THE CONQUEROR #1-2 (June 1971 – Sept. 1971): I was totally prepared to write off Kull. I mean, I’m already reading Conan—what do I need with another barbarian comic in my life? I’m here to tell you I was wrong, though. HOLY HELL, I was so wrong.
First off, they had three amazing teams of artists working on Kull’s first appearances. Barry Windsor-Smith was, of course, monumental on Conan, bringing an Aubrey Beardsley meets Jack Kirby vibe to the book, but for Kull’s first solo outing in Creatures on the Loose (his first appearance was a brief vision in Conan the Barbarian #1) they brought in Berni Wrightson…
…which was followed by Kull the Conqueror #1 (Ross Andru and Wally Wood)…
…and Kull #2 (John and Marie Severin).
Wrightson was perfect for a fantasy-horror short story and Andru, Wood and the Severins gave the regular title a classically illustrated feel in the vein of Prince Valiant.
The thing I found most unexpected about these issues (particularly the series) was the tone. Rather than taking Conan’s approach of focusing on a young adventurer/thief trying to scrape by in the world, Kull the Conqueror starts with Kull (an Atlantean) sitting on the throne of Valusia. After being raised by tigers as a child (very Jungle Book) and being enslaved and fighting his way to freedom (very Conan), he was manipulated by parties who wanted to see the current Valusian tyrant dead. Kull, not being the most politically savvy individual, fell for it and ended up in single combat with the tyrant, whom he slew.
But when the moment came for Kull to pass the crown along to one of the cabal, he refused and crowned himself. The Valusians hated old King Borna, so they went along with it, and Kull found himself sitting atop the throne in a nation full of people who generally distrusted him as a foreigner, with a cabal of conspirators thirsty for his blood and emissaries from neighbouring lands eager to settle a grudge with him (and Valusia in general). On top of all that, it turns out the ancient Serpent People (who can shape-shift and once ruled as mankind’s overlords) also want Kull dead so they can put a doppelganger on the throne.
Kull is in way over his head, and from this stew of Machiavellian intrigue a Game of Thrones-like web of intrigue emerges with a soldier (not a politician) caught at the centre of it all.
Unfortunately, after #2 came out, Marvel put Kull on the chopping block and cancelled it. The Serpent People storyline hung in the air until the following year when it was published in a random monster book. Thankfully, someone at Marvel evidently saw the value in Kull and fought for him, because the series was resurrected in 1972 and continued for another eight issues (all of which featured breathtaking Severin art).
Track down these issues if you can. They’re not only some of my favourites of the Marvel 1970s comics I’ve read so far, but of the comics I’ve read recently in general.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #99 (Aug. 1971): So, Peter Parker’s not an idiot. After hemming and hawing for the last several issues over what to do about Gwen Stacy, he was finally reunited with her in the previous issue and works out a plan so that he won’t lose her again: he’s going to propose! Before he can do that, though, he wants to have a steady income in order to support them properly, so he goes to J. Jonah Jameson and threatens to walk unless the Daily Bugle starts paying him real money and takes him on as a salaried employee. Screw this freelancing crap! And Jameson does it! He folds!
STICK IT TO THE MAN, PARKER!
On his first assignment as a Bugle employee, Peter heads off to cover a prison riot and discovers the prisoners just want decent living conditions but their ringleader is planning on using the riot as a cover to make his escape (BOOOOOOO!). Spidey stops the riot and gets an assurance from THE ONLY UPSTANDING PRISON WARDEN IN THE WORLD that he will address the grievances and then addresses those grievances AT A LIVE PRESS CONFERENCE!
As Spidey’s swinging across the city on the way back from the riot, he gets flagged down by a TV talk show host (?!) who wants to have him on the program. Spidey agrees and uses the opportunity to talk about inhumane prison conditions at length.
Spidey takes off before the cops can come arrest him and swings over to meet Gwen who’s made a lovely dinner for the two of them. Dawwww. That’s two issues in a row of nice things happening to Peter Parker! When’s the other shoe going to drop? (SPOILER: NEXT ISSUE)
INCREDIBLE HULK #141-142 (July 1971 – Aug. 1971):
Hey, remember what happened in The Hulk a couple of issues ago? Well, in case you forgot… EXPOSITION!
So, the Hulk’s stomping around the city wondering where his lost love Jarella is (his betrothed from the microscopic universe he was Smart Hulk in) when the military distract him with a hologram of Betty Ross. Remembering “quiet nights—a moon—soft winds whispering across a lake,” the Hulk turns back into Bruce Banner and is instantly wracked with guilt at how he let Betty get turned into a life-sized Swarovski figurine. Luckily, there may be a solution! Doctor Leonard Samson (making his first appearance) has theorized a way to suck the Hulk’s “libidinal energy” out of him (umm) and re-direct it at Betty (errr), curing both of them simultaneously.
Betty’s cure doesn’t deplete the entire supply of gamma energy sucked from the Hulk, though, and Samson decides to do an experiment on himself…
The experiment is a success, and Doc Samson finds himself super-strong with flowing green locks!
Finding himself transformed into the muscular asshole who always picked on his previous, scrawnier version, Doc Samson leans into it and rolls off into the night with Betty in the passenger seat of his convertible.
Flipping the tables, it’s now Banner who has the physical inferiority complex and zaps himself with the remaining gamma radiation, turning himself back into the Hulk so he can get his revenge on the man who was attempting to steal away his girl.
Geez, this whole issue is a massive parade of toxic masculinity. Two dudes flexing and posturing over who’s got the manliest physique and is therefore most able to win the attentions of a woman.
Anyway, the Hulk and Samson punch each other for several pages until the Hulk gets the upper hand and forces Samson into submission.
(SPOILER: He doesn’t say it.)
Beaten, Samson limps away with Betty on his arm and the Hulk is sad but he doesn’t know why.
Well, that issue left kind of a bad taste in my mouth. I hope the next issue has something better.
OH, THANK GOD.
Valkyrie, how we’ve missed you! Come back and kick the toxicity out of all the stupid male heroes!
This issue starts with the Hulk having a nap on the Statue of Liberty and all of NYC freaking out about it. How should the city deal with this dangerous problem?! Well, a family of rich socialites decides to throw a benefit party for him. I’m not joking. As nearly every other left-wing group has had a fund-raising event, they decide to throw one for the Hulk. They’re going to lure the Hulk to their Manhattan duplex and raise money (and their standing in the community) by tapping into the “radical chic” of the times.
The family makes it past the military cordon at the base of the statue by assaulting an officer…
…and their plan somehow succeeds. The daughter, Samantha, convinces the Hulk to go along with them by promising him his own country, where the military will never bother him.
Now, I realize this is a comic book, but let’s just parse this out for a minute. The Hulk isn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the shed, but she’s promising him HIS OWN DAMN COUNTRY. Where? With what land? And what, you’re going to raise the funds necessary to make this country happen by holding a charity fundraiser? “Look, Muffy—we provided you with canapes, so the least you can do is cough up hundreds of millions of dollars so we can make our dream of giving this man-monster his own sovereign territory a dream come true.”
Samantha’s dad takes credit for everything, enraging her, and the socialites at the party (including Tom Wolfe) act like assholes.
Outside, Samantha has started her own women’s lib rally, where they’re asking a reasonably pertinent question:
And in another dimension, the Enchantress watches on and transforms Samantha into Valkyrie, who will be the instrument of her revenge on the Hulk and the Avengers.
The socialites raise over $100,000 and hand a pile of cash to the Hulk, who responds exactly as you’d expect him to:
JUST THEN, the Valkyrie bursts through the window and starts beating the hell out of him, because… uh, women’s lib.
She knocks him unconscious by touching a pressure-point on his neck (because Valkyrie is also a Vulcan, apparently) and DRAGS HIS PRONE BODY ALL THE WAY UP TO THE TOP OF THE EMPIRE STATE BUILDING. That’s right, she lugs all 900 lbs of the Hulk’s dead weight up 1,576 steps, at which point the Enchantress orders her to hurl him to the pavement below.
Needless to say, this does not kill him. But it does elicit a bit more sexism.
But before the bout can continue, the Enchantress’ spell fades, Samantha and the Hulk both transform back to their human counterparts, and the battle of the sexes is solved forever.
READ BUT NOT REVIEWED: Conan the Barbarian #7-9 (July 1971 – Sept. 1971): Conan kills monsters, rescues women, ends up broke. Y’know, the usual.
AD OF THE WEEK: “Aww, I wish I had a giant life size moon monster.” “You did. His name was Stampy. You loved him.”
NEXT TIME: Doom is a considerate and accommodating host.