Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Jungle Lords and Armored Despots, Part 2

Astonishing Tales #4 (February 1971) picks up Ka-Zar's story again, using this issue and the next one to finish up the current story arc. And there's a lot that happens in this story arc. It's actually interesting to consider how much story writer Gerry Conway and artist Barry Smith manage to fit so comfortably into a total of 20 pages.

It's another case in which multiple plot twists make it difficult to effectively summarize the plot. Ka-Zar is back in the Savage Land, hoping to somehow stop the rampaging army of the Sun People. The army is currently attacking a city of peaceful lizard men, who have been at peace so long they have no idea how to fight back.

I love Ka-Zar's attitude when he arrives to help. The story as a whole is an effective portrayal of the tragedy of war. But at the same time, Ka-Zar is given some dialogue that also points out the necessity of being ready to confront evil. "While you awaited your champion," he tells the lizard people when they say they can't fight for themselves, "your women died. Is this peace--or sheer folly?" Comic books from this era often don't get the credit they deserve for how thoughtful they could be.

In the meantime, the Petrified Man's continuing mutation gives him the power of the Sun God and he pretty much just orders the army to stop fighting. Queen Zaladane objects to this and has her pterodactyl snatch up Ka-Zar. The P. Man, though, soon goes insane with power. The action moves to the temple of the sun god, where lots of shenanigans ensue and Zaladane and Petrified Man end up dead. 

A great story, compactly and effectively told, visually striking and salted with a number of strong character moments.

The Dr. Doom half of the book is also fun, but I think a little less effective in its storytelling. Written by Larry Lieber, the art in issue #4 is still by Wally Wood (who had been the regular artist on the feature), with George Tuska taking over for the fifth issue.  Doom, while he's waiting for his castle to be rebuilt after the events in the previous issues, decides to spend a few days at the French Riveria to see how more mundane rich people entertain themselves. He's not impressed and after wrecking the casino in the hotel after someone implies he might be interested in mere money, he heads home.

In the meantime, the Red Skull--who is currently hanging out with a band of would-be despots known as the Exiles--decides that Latvaria would be a good place to start a Fourth Reich. Taking advantage of Doom's absense, he and his gang take over.

Doom returns and is, I think, too easily captured when he's knocked out via a gas attack. How many times in the past have we been shown his armor is air-tight? Gee whiz.

He escapes, though, fairly easily and sends the Red Skull and his gang packing without too much trouble. He also uses hypnotic gas to make them think he's shrunk them down before sending them back to their island hide-out.

The story has some fun imagery in it, but the Skull and his gang are far too underpowered to give Doom any significant trouble. There are some effective moments in the story showing how living under tyranny can bring out the worst aspects of human nature in some of the populace, but the action sequences simply don't have enough tension or excitement to them. Also, Doom seems far too merciful to the Skull and the other Exiles.

On the other hand, watching Doom taking some vacation time in the Riveria is undeniably fun.

Doom's feature lasted just a few more issues, though this does involve a great story featuring the Black Panther which I'll probably review eventually. Ka-Zar took over the feature as the sole lead through issue #20, then we got an unusual but fun set of stories featuring It, the Living Colossus--a character taken from a Tales of Suspense story from 1961. Deathlock the Destroyer showed up in issue #25 and stuck around until Astonishing Tales came to an end with its thirty-sixth issue.

So the days of anthology books featuring the seperate tales of two different characters came to an end. As I said last week, I miss books like that, but the economics of modern comics would probably never allow for it again. Oh, well. It was fun while it lasted.

We are overdue for a look at the next issue of Tragg and the Sky Gods, so we'll do that next week.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...