The story of Killraven began in Amazing Adventures #18 (May 1973) and carried on until issue # 39 of that magazine. Then there was Marvel Graphic Novel # 7 and then… Killraven # 1. This latter pair of stories were doomed attempts to revive the title.
The original idea by Roy Thomas was a good one. After their failure to conquer Earth in 1901, as told by HG Wells, the Martians went off and made themselves immune to all bacteria and tried again in 2001. This time they succeeded and Jonathan Killraven was captured as a child and raised to be a gladiator for the amusement of his big-eyed, tentacled masters. The Martians could enslave humans to serve them, though some served willingly. Killraven broke out of the arena and lived by raiding and piracy without any real purpose except staying alive. Then a Keeper, one of the Martian’s servants, told him how he had been taken as a child and informed him that he is special. Imbued with a sense of destiny, he decides to free Earth.
The strip was drawn by Neal Adams for the first eleven pages and then by Howard Chaykin for the next nine pages of his first adventure and all of the following issue. Adams designed a kinky sort of costume with lots of bare flesh, thigh length boots and a bit of lace over the belly. Herb Trimpe changed it slightly and added a bit of off the shoulder chain mail in Amazing Adventures # 20. Gerry Conway scripted the first two issues, Marv Wolfman the next and they did a good enough job, but the strip really hit its stride when Don McGregor took over in issue # 21.
Cleverly, he immediately gave names to Killraven’s band of freemen and started the process of character interaction. Previously, only M’Shulla had been given due recognition. Now Hawk and Old Skull were bought more fully into the story and other characters followed. The diversity of race, creeds and colours served to emphasise the fact that they were fighting for all humanity. The costume designs continued to be impractical but this looked okay on Mint Julep and Volcana Ash. McGregor’s scripts tend to be verbose and must have made letterers weep. It would be interesting to count the words in Killraven # 28 and compare it to the number in say Captain America # 119, a Stan Lee script with big panels by Gene Colan. It’s the quality that counts, however, and certainly the first part of the ‘Death-Breeder’ episode, ‘The Death Merchants’ in Amazing Adventures # 28 is one of the better stories in comic book history. Reading the issues one after another, McGregor’s wordy narrative begins to get annoying. I found myself pining for a good old Stan Lee caption that said ‘Later’ or ‘Meanwhile’. To be fair, this would not have mattered if you were reading them as they came out, once every month.
McGregor’s scripts were drawn by P.Craig Russell who is very much of the Barry Windsor-Smith school of comic art. Occasionally, especially in Marvel Graphic Novel # 7, his figures are a bit wonky, the heads too big so they look like children but mostly the pictures are well done. Unfortunately, perhaps because the pair each took a long time to do each issue, there are several fill-in stories. The variety is sometimes pleasing, when Gene Colan pencils a yarn about cereal killers, sometimes a bit Herb Trimpe not at his best or Keith Pollard not at his. In fairness, I suspect they were rush jobs to fill a deadline.
Some ‘Marvel Essentials’ should be snapped up as soon as they come out because the second-hand price soon exceeds the new price as they become less available. ‘Essential Killraven’ is one of these. I paid about £12.00 for it and it’s now used price is £16.00 on one major internet site. This is a testament to the high esteem in which the series was held by many. Alas, quality didn’t translate into sales, which is why it was discontinued.
Quality almost never translated into sales in the seventies. What was wrong with the audience? Fantastic series like ‘Doctor Strange’, ‘Howard The Duck’ and Kirby’s ‘New Gods’ saga were discontinued for commercial reasons. Now they are rightly prized. Some issues of ‘Killraven’ are definitely classics. Others are a bit duff. You get both here but, overall, this edition is well worth the money.
(pub: Marvel. 504 page black and white graphic novel softcover. Price: as low as £16.95 (UK) if you know where to look. ISBN: 978-0-78511-777-3)
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