Marvel Read-Through: Supernatural Seventies

Ghost Rider’s first cover appearance

In my last post I wrote about the changes to the Comics Code Authority that occurred in the early 70s. For this post, I will be focusing on one of those changes: supernatural/horror characters being permitted. While not crucial to the Marvel universe, these genres were a large part of the company’s output in the 70s. Horror anthologies were all the rage at Marvel and I believe at DC as well. While the majority of these characters tend to stay in their own separate part of the universe, a few have been absorbed into the main Marvel continuity and have gone on to be popular with fans as well.

Man-Thing
Man-Thing

Man-Thing isn’t the most important character in Marvel, in fact he is far from it, but he is unique. First appearing in a small black-and-white segment in Savage Tales #1, a more mature comic magazine aimed at older readers. Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway wrote an intriguing story depicting the creature’s origin. It was a nice change of pace from the superhero comics I’ve been sticking to, and Gray Morrow’s art was lovely to look at. Man-Thing was absorbed into the main universe in Astonishing Tales #12–13 where he meets Ka-Zar. The first issue included a small interlude, continuing Man-Thing’s story from Savage Tales, written by Len Wein and drawn by Neal Adams. The art here stood out to me the most. It was only black and yellow, which suited the horror-themed character excellently. The art was more mature, as originally intended for the character, and it worked very well.

Man-Thing scaring off the villains

This two issue arc was a fun read. It was nice seeing Ka-Zar and his pet sabretooth tiger Zabu again, and the introduction of Bobbi Morse aka Mockingbird was something I enjoyed getting to read. Man-Thing being a sympathetic and tragic character was what I enjoyed most in this arc. It was the continuation of his story just told as part of Ka-Zar’s comic. As for Ka-Zar, I really liked his character. I haven’t read much with him and I’ve never read any of his solo stuff but I kind of fell in love with the character. I would definitely be interested in seeing more of him and going through his solo titles at some point.

Shanna the She-Devil
The She-Devil

Speaking of Ka-Zar, I liked him so much that I decided to check out the first appearance of his future wife, Shanna the She-Devil. I learned from research that her creation was part of a failed attempt to capture a female market with three female-led books, Shanna the She-Devil lasting the longest at five issues. I knew next to nothing about this character other than her role as Ka-Zar’s wife. She won’t come into play much in the grand scheme of things, and won’t be around for a while now, but it was still cool to check out her first issue. It was more violent than most of the stuff I’ve read so far and it felt like it was targeting an older audience than the standard Marvel book of the time. It was different and not the greatest thing I’ve ever read, but overall I enjoyed it.

Werewolf by Night attacking a man
Marvel’s Werewolf

Back to the supernatural/horror characters, I next read the first story featuring Werewolf by Night. Outside of his name and existence, I knew absolutely nothing about this character, not even his secret identity (it’s Jack Russell by the way). This story was very compelling and I was sucked right into it. I never really got into horror comics, but something about this specific story really piqued my interest. Gerry Conway’s prose was excellent. It’s a standard werewolf story, but Conway elevates it with such amazing narration that it could very well be one of my favorite origin issues. I’m actually saddened that this character never really becomes a larger part of the Marvel universe. With a great introduction like this, he really deserved a larger role going forward, instead of mainly becoming a vehicle to introduce Tigra.

Tigra the were-woman

Speaking of who, Tigra is the character introduction I read next. Originally called the Cat and appearing in one of the aforementioned female-oriented books, Tigra is also a character I knew nothing about except her name and existence (oh and at some point she’s an Avenger I think). The Cat #1 was a very interesting origin issue, mainly for the fact that it was a feminist tale. The character wasn’t anything special, but I’m pretty sure this is the first story I’ve read written by a woman and it shows. Let’s face it, Stan Lee could not write female characters for the life of him, and most other comic book writers at the time weren’t any better. Linda Fite penned all four issues of The Cat but sadly didn’t get much other work in the comic book industry. Having a prominent, strong, and finally well-written female headlining character was a stand out moment for me. Fite’s writing blatantly focused on the feminist aspect of having a strong female hero, it wasn’t subtextual at all, and I think this made the comic all the more powerful. Too bad the actual character and story weren’t very memorable. That changed over a year later when the Cat reappeared in Giant-Size Creatures #1 starring alongside the Werewolf in her second origin story. This time, Greer Grant sheds the Cat identity and transforms into Tigra the were-woman, gaining a new look and tying her powers to a secret society of cat-people. Not only was this an improvement for her, but the Werewolf was further developed as he falls in love with Tigra and we see a softer side of the almost mindlessly violent creature. It was a very well-written comic and was a pleasure to read. Involving Hydra was also a nice touch making the characters feel like part of Marvel instead of existing in their own horror pocket-universe.

Tigra and the Werewolf

And now for the main attraction: Ghost Rider! I couldn’t explore Marvel’s supernatural side without educating myself on the original Ghost Rider, Johnny Blaze. I’m familiar with the character and the concept, but have never really read anything Blaze has appeared in. I’ve been enjoying the new Ghost Rider, Robbie Reyes, as a member of the Avengers in the current run, but don’t have any experience reading the first Ghost Rider. His origin issue, Marvel Spotlight #12, was a great introduction to the character and the themes. I was very surprised how much of the occult is tied to the character. There was a lot of Satanism involved in Ghost Rider’s origin, way more than I would have expected from the 1970s. I can’t imagine this type of stuff was acceptable for a protagonist at the time and I can only imagine parents forbidding their children from reading Marvel upon seeing Ghost Rider. Gary Friedrich created something unique with this character, he really was like nothing else I’ve read so far.

The Son of Satan

Eventually warranting a solo series, Ghost Rider was clearly a hit with fans on some level despite the black magic and hellish imagery. Friedrich even got to create another character rooted in Satanism: Daimon Hellstrom the Son of Satan. Tying his first appearance into Ghost Rider #1–2 was a nice way for Friedrich to slip his next creation into the mix. I actually had read some stuff with Daimon somewhat recently (he was a guest in the current Avengers comic and featured in the short-lived spinoff Strikeforce), so I was excited to see how the character began. Again, I really cannot believe how prominent the occult and Hell were in these early Daimon stories. Of course, he is the Son of Satan, but I expected the Satanic imagery to be toned down. I actually really like that Spotlight’s main feature became Son of Satan. I’m sure it was pushing the envelope at the time and I hope that it helped show the comic industry that they can get away with more and delve into these somewhat taboo topics. I’m not extremely knowledgeable in this particular area of comics history, but I like to think that this helped push comics into more R-rated territory. With both Daimon and Ghost Rider, I found myself way more captivated than I would have guessed. I’m not usually big into this type of stuff, even in comics, but this niche part of the Marvel universe is something that I wouldn’t mind exploring more one day.

Lastly, I explored the beginnings of the vampiric side of Marvel with Tomb of Dracula #1 and #10, the first appearances of Dracula and Blade respectively. Again, I enjoyed the darker tone and more mature art. Issue #1 was truly a horror book as three travellers accidentally awaken Dracula after hundred of years and suffer at his hands. I didn’t know that he really is the same Dracula of Bram Stoker’s creation. I expected a more Marvelized origin but he really is just Count Dracula picked up and placed in a comic book. It is such a different side of Marvel, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t originally intended to even be part of the main universe. It definitely feels separate, even issue #10 where the vampire-hunter Blade is introduced. While this did carry more of a superhero feel, it was still so far removed from the flashy mainstream heroes that it easily can be happening in its own universe. Of course, Dracula and especially Blade get absorbed by the main continuity and I’m excited to see that play out eventually. It’s too bad that Blade doesn’t really come back until the 90s since he was a lot of fun in his first appearance and I know how cool of a character he becomes in the 90s, though I wish I would see him again sooner. His look was completely different than what I’m used to and it had a 1970s blaxploitation feel to it, from his afro and outfit and even the way he talked. At least when he comes back that element of the character will be gone. It was also a nice treat to learn that Marv Wolfman wrote issue #10 and co-created Blade. Wolfman created and wrote my favorite character, Nova, so I was happy to read my first story by him.

While not essential to Marvel, no true read-through is complete without exploring a bit of the supernatural/horror side of the universe. I’m glad I checked it out and learned a bit about these rather obscure characters, but I’m excited to get back to superheroes next time!

Issues read:

Man-Thing portion of Savage Tales #1

Astonishing Tales #12–13

Shanna the She-Devil #1

Marvel Spotlight #2

The Cat #1

Giant-Size Creatures #1

Marvel Spotlight #5

Ghost Rider #1–2

Marvel Spotlight #12

Tomb of Dracula #1, #10

Favorite issue: Ghost Rider’s origin in Marvel Spotlight #5 takes it this time

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Scott Baskin

Scott Baskin is a 25-year-old Ryerson University Professional Communications graduate. He is interested in pop culture specifically movies, TV, music, & comics