Great Moments In Comic Book History: The Death of Doctor Druid


Dr. Druid never got much respect.

First introduced in 1961 and originally known as Dr. Droom (his name was changed to prevent anyone from mixing him up with Dr. Doom), Anthony Ludgate Druid was a magic user who hunted monsters and who had studied the mystic arts with a Tibetan lama.  Later, the lama was retconned into the Ancient One and it was said that Dr. Druid was the runner-up for the position of Sorcerer Supreme.  This was a way of acknowledging an obvious truth, that Dr. Druid was an unsuccessful dry run for Dr. Strange.

With Dr. Druid’s monster hunting activities never becoming popular with readers, he was eventually just used as a host for Weird Wonder Tales, a series that reprinted old monster comics from the 50s.  One look at Dr. Druid at this time shows why he was never able to seriously challenge Doctor Strange for the role of Marvel’s most popular sorcerer.

Eventually, Dr. Druid did enter the mainstream Marvel universe.  He joined the Avengers and distinguished himself by getting himself elected Avengers chairman while possessed by a villainous and then disbanding the team.  Even after Dr. Druid got his mind back, no one wanted much to do with him and he faded into obscurity.

He remained forgotten until 1995.  That was when he was resurrected for a series that lasted for four issues.  To this day, there’s debate over whether the series was meant to be a miniseries or a continuing series.  What everyone can agree on is that Warren Ellis radically challenged what everyone though they knew about Dr. Druid.

Now, heavily tattooed and simply calling himself Druid, the former hero was an embittered alcoholic who embraced the dark side of his powers.  For four issues, Druid roamed through London and killed almost everyone who he met.  Druid was a dark and brutal series and it’s probably not surprising that it only lasted four issues.

The final issue featured Druid doing his usual killing and destroying until, in the final pages of the issue, Daimon Hellstrom suddenly appeared and announced, to Druid: “You’re a lunatic, a religious maniac, a bad idea. You should have been stamped on at birth. And, in the end, you’re a failure.”  Hellstrom proceeded to burn Druid to a crisp and what I’ve always remembered about that issue were the final lines announcing that Druid’s corpse was left in a trash can.

When you’re a kid just reading a comic book, that’s some pretty heavy stuff!  Those last moments of Druid have always stuck with me.  I’ve always felt bad for Dr. Druid.  He went from being a failed Sorcerer Supreme to a failed Avenger to eventually getting tossed in a trash can.  He’s also one of the few Marvel characters not to return from the dead. He’s gone, never to return.  He probably won’t even get to appear in a movie.

Alas, poor Druid.  He was the Rodney Dangerfield of second-tier Marvel heroes.  He never got any respect.  No respect at all.

Druid (Vol. 1 #4, August, 1995)

“Sick of it All”

  • Writer — Warren Ellis
  • Penciler — Leonardo Manco
  • Inker– Leonardo Manco
  • Colourist — D’Ireali
  • Letterer — Jon Babcock
  • Cover Artist — Leonardo Manco

Previous Great Moments In Comic Book History:

  1. Winchester Before Winchester: Swamp Thing Vol. 2 #45 “Ghost Dance” 
  2. The Avengers Appear on David Letterman
  3. Crisis on Campus
  4. “Even in Death”
  5. The Debut of Man-Wolf in Amazing Spider-Man
  6. Spider-Man Meets The Monster Maker
  7. Conan The Barbarian Visits Times Square
  8. Dracula Joins The Marvel Universe

Great Moments In Comic Book History: Dracula Joins The Marvel Universe


The year was 1972 and, nearly 20 years after Dr. Fredric Wertham had declared them to be a menace to young minds, horror comics were making a comeback.

The Comics Code Authority, which had been established in response to Wertham’s claim that comic books were creating deviants, had long banned not only horror-centric comic books but also vampires in general.  However, with times changing and creators regularly challenging the antiquated rules of the code, the CCA relaxed its rules about horror comics.  Monsters could once again exist alongside super heroes.

Marvel was among the first to launch a new line of horror comics.  Using Dracula was no-brainer.  Not only was he the world’s most famous vampire but he was also in the public domain so Marvel could use him without having to pay a cent for the rights.  (When you’re a kid, you always think that comic book artists and writers get to do whatever they want.  It’s when you grow up that you realize your favorite comic books only existed as long as they were financially viable.)  Tomb of Dracula was launched in April of 1972 and, despite a shaky beginning, it would go on to become a classic.  Speaking as a collector, it’s also one of my personal favorite titles from the so-called Bronze Age of Comics.

The 1st issue of Tomb of Dracula features Frank Drake traveling to Transylvania with his girlfriend Jean and his best friend, Clifton Graves.  Drake is an irresponsible playboy who has lost millions due to his own bad luck.  However, he is also one of the last living descendants of Dracula.  He and Graves have decided to turn Dracula’s castle into a tourist attraction.  What they didn’t count on was that Dracula would still be alive, trapped in the castle and waiting for someone to set him free.  20 pages later and Grave is dead, Jean is a vampire, Dracula has escaped, and angry villagers are surrounding the castle.

Other than featuring the characters of Drake and Dracula, the first issue of Tomb of Dracula doesn’t offer many hints of what would follow.  There’s no mention of Rachel van Helsing or Hannibal King or, everyone’s favorite, Blade.  It doesn’t even firmly establish that Dracula is a part of the canonical Marvel universe, though later issues featuring Dr. Strange and a host of others would clear up that mystery.  Despite not being anywhere near as good as what would follow, it does what it needs to do.  It sets Dracula free and set him on the road to becoming one of Marvel’s best villains.  Subsequent issues of Tomb of Dracula would provide Dracula with a better supporting cast than just Drake, Graves, and Jean.  They would also provide a more rounded view of everyone’s favorite vampire.  By the time the series ended in 1979, Dracula had become a tragic hero and his story had gone from being just a modern vampire tale to being an epic of good and evil.

And it all started with three Americans flying to Translvania.

Tomb of Dracula (Vol. 1 #1, April 1972)

“Dracula”

  • Writer — Gerry Conway
  • Penciler — Gene Colan
  • Inker– Gene Colan
  • Letterer — John Costanza
  • Cover Artist — Neal Adams

Previous Great Moments In Comic Book History:

  1. Winchester Before Winchester: Swamp Thing Vol. 2 #45 “Ghost Dance” 
  2. The Avengers Appear on David Letterman
  3. Crisis on Campus
  4. “Even in Death”
  5. The Debut of Man-Wolf in Amazing Spider-Man
  6. Spider-Man Meets The Monster Maker
  7. Conan The Barbarian Visits Times Square

Great Moments In Comic Book History: Conan The Barbarian Visits Times Square


Without a doubt one of the greatest Conan stories ever told, What If Conan the Barbarian Walked the Earth Today? opens in the Hyborian Age with everyone’s favorite barbarian getting tossed into a well by an evil sorcerer.  It turns out that the well has the power to send people through time and, before you know it, Conan the Barbarian finds himself transported to 1977 New York!

If you know anything about Conan (especially the version of Conan who appeared in Marvel Comics), you probably have all sorts of expectations about how Conan would handle being in New York in 1977 and the great thing about this issue of What If? is that fulfills every one of them.  Conan neither speaks nor understands the language, he’s wearing a loincloth, carrying a sword, and he’s in the most crime-ridden spot in America.  Being Conan, he does what he does best.  He kills muggers, makes love to a taxi driver, and eventually gets sent back to his time via a lucky strike of lightning.

Here are a few things that make this one of Conan’s greatest adventures:

First, the story incorporates the real-life New York City Blackout of 1977.  In fact, it’s even suggested that it was the temporal energy surge of Conan’s arrival in 1977 that led to the blackout in the first place.  The 1977 blackout, which occurred while New York was suffering from a heat wave and tensions were already high due to the Son of Sam murders, led to widespread rioting.  And to think, it was all Conan’s fault!

Another cool thing about Conan’s trip to 1977 is that most New Yorkers just assume that he’s another Times Square weirdo, with one person actually making the mistake of grabbing Conan’s sword and declaring himself to be Darth Vader!  The people who see Conan mention that he looks like Sylvester Stallone and, I kid you not, Arnold Schwarzenegger!  Keep in mind, this story was published several years before the future governor of California was selected to play Conan the Barbarian in the film of the same name.

Finally, this story is different from other issues of What If? in that it definitely happened.  A typical What If? story would imagine what would have happened if a super hero had lost their latest battle.  (Usually, everyone would die and the universe would end.  What If? was dark.)  What If? #13, though, is just a Conan story.  He goes to the future and then he goes back to the past.  No one’s history is changed.  As far as I’m concerned, What If #13 tells a story that, in terms of the Marvel canon, really happened.  Conan really did cause the Blackout of 1977 and Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson really did see him in Times Square.

For all of these reasons, Conan the Barbarian’s trip to 1977 truly was a great moment in comic book history!

What If? (Vol. 1 #13, February 1979)

“What If Conan the Barbarian Walked the Earth Today?”

  • Writer — Roy Thomas
  • Penciler — John Buscema
  • Inker– Ernie Chan
  • Colourist — Glynis Wein
  • Letterer — Joe Rosen
  • Cover Artist — John Buscema, Ernie Chan

Previous Great Moments In Comic Book History:

  1. Winchester Before Winchester: Swamp Thing Vol. 2 #45 “Ghost Dance” 
  2. The Avengers Appear on David Letterman
  3. Crisis on Campus
  4. “Even in Death”
  5. The Debut of Man-Wolf in Amazing Spider-Man
  6. Spider-Man Meets The Monster Maker

It’s Love, Part 6


Happy Valentine’s Day!

As everyone knows, Valentine’s Day can be difficult when you’re single.  Everyone around you is in love and you’re just trying to find something good to watch on Netflix.  If you are among those who are single today, do not worry and do not despair.  You’re not the first person to find yourself in this situation and you’re not alone.  The path to true love is never an easy one to travel but the destination makes the trip worth it.  To help you on your journey, here are some vintage romance comic covers.  Even in the 1950s and the 1960s, Valentine’s Day wasn’t for everyone.

Finding love is not always easy.

And sometimes, you have to first discover who you are before you become a part of a couple.

But don’t worry because when you find love and you find the right person to share it with, it’s all worth it.

As Jane Austen once said, “There is no charm equal to tenderness of heart.”

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

 

Titans, S2 Ep 2&3, “Rose” “Ghosts” Review by Case Wright


titans-1

Halloween is over and now it’s time for all good persons to rally together and watch Titans! This season is following a tried and true method of bringing the gang back together, but they are emotionally apart and will hopefully return together.  This season’s Big Bad is Deathstroke (Esai Morales) and it’s AWESOME!

“Rose” is about well Rose who is in peril.  She’s missing an eye and is getting chased by the police.  Dick intervenes and takes her in for some reason, but it turns out Rose is Deathstroke’s daughter…Dun Dun Dun!!!! She also has a lot of snark, which the show needs more of.  It also has Jason Todd as a budding superhero looking for acceptance by Dick Grayson as he tries to fit into the Titans.  I’m glad that Curran Walters is a series regular, BUT I feel like his talent and his character is being wasted; he should be on his own show and have him evolve into the anti-hero- Red Hood.

Where’s the rest of our heroes? Hank and Dawn are out in Wyoming trying to go straight by running a horse riding camp for addicts.  Apparently, their need to fight crime was feeding Hank’s addiction.  But, is Dawn hanging up the cape and spandex???? NOPE! She’s out beating meth cookers within an inch of their lives! Yes, she’s returned to badassery.  Their utopia crashes down when their car explodes.  Why did the car go boom?  Deathstroke sprung Doctor Light from prison. He can manipulate energy and blow things up.

This episode dovetails perfectly into Ghosts- Episode 3.  The old Titans- Donna, Hank, and Dawn are back at the HQ and learn that Doctor Light is on the loose, Deathstroke is after them, Dick is harboring Deathstroke’s daughter, and the sushi he fed them came from a gas station.  Basically, everything is terrible and Dick is so busy trying to be a Dad that he forgot that he had to also be an angry badass.  Who is Doctor Light?  He’s a Mad Max looking supervillain who according to the comics is a serial sex offender and murderer.

The old gang tries to find Doctor Light and excludes any of the New Titans from the fight. Why? Because Dick’s trying to protect them and do things differently from Batman, but he didn’t bother to tell the New Titans that the last time they tangled with Deathstroke, it was a disaster. They hint at the disaster that they keep teasing at, forcing us to guess how terrible it was.

There is a secondary story of Starfire being pulled back home to be Queen.  Honestly, I hate this subplot.  She brings so much to the show and this subplot feels like a sidelining to me.

While Dick is trying to be a TV Dad, Jason is determined to prove himself.  He and Beast Boy go after Doctor Light and they find him, but IT’S A TRAP!!!! Jason gives a good fight, but is captured by Deathstroke!!!! OH NO!

These episodes fit together well and act as a great vehicle to ramp up the tension and suspense.  The cast is really bringing it again this season and Esai Morales was born to play this role.  He encapsulates the quiet rage and evil brilliantly!

 

 

Great Moments In Comic Book History: Spider-Man Meets The Monster Maker


With the Marvel Cinematic Universe about to enter it’s fourth phase and having said goodbye the majority of the Avengers, it’s time to really go through the Marvel vaults and give some consideration to some characters who may not be as well-known as Iron Man or Captain America but who still deserve their own shot at cinematic immortality.

Consider, for instance, Baron Ludwig von Shtupf, the Monster Maker!

Baron Ludwig von Shutpf made his first (and, to date, only) appearances in two issues of Marvel Team-Up.  In Marvel Team-Up #36, he kidnapped Spider-Man from New York and Frankenstein’s Monster from the antarctic.  In Marvel Team-Up #37, he summoned Man-Wolf to join them all in his castle.  Baron von Shtupf was the latest in a long line of mad scientists and he had come up with the perfect plan for world domination.  Why not take three great monsters and combine them into one big monster?  It seemed like a good plan but Spider-Man, Man-Wolf, Frankenstein’s Monster, and an Agent of SHIELD named Judith Klemmer stopped him and left him tied up in his study.

The Baron would never appear again in the pages of Marvel Comics, which is amazing when you consider that even a character like the Living Eraser made a handful of appearances over the years before being permanently erased.  Was it because Baron von Shtupf’s name sounded suspiciously like a certain Yiddish vulgarity?  Perhaps.  Not bringing back Baron von Shtupf is a waste of a perfect good character so how about, Disney?  How about a little love for the Monster Maker?  Just imagine what Christoph Waltz could do with the role.

 

 

The main reason that I remember the Monster Maker is because, when I was seven years old, I found a copy of Marvel Team-Up #36 at a garage sale and I got excited because The Frankenstein Monster was on the cover.  My mom bought it for me.  When I got home, I read the comic and I was stunned to discover that it ended with a “to be continued” right after Spider-Man and the Monster discovered the Man-Wolf waiting for them in the Baron’s laboratory.  (This was when I was still too young to understand that all comic books ended with a “to be continued” because that was the easiest way to get kids like me to spend my allowance on them.)

I spent years searching for a copy of Marvel Team-Up #37 so I could find out how the story ended.  It was not until twelve years later, when I came across it on Ebay, that I was finally able to get a copy of the second part of the Monster Maker saga!  For that reason, I have never forgotten Baron von Shtupf and I guess I never will.

 

Marvels Team-Up #36 (August, 1975) and Marvel Team-Up #37 (September 1975)

“Once Upon A Time In A Castle” and “Snow Death”

  • Writer — Gerry Conway
  • Penciler — Sal Buscema
  • Inker — Vince Colletta
  • Colourist — Al Wenzel (#36) and Phil Rache (#37)
  • Letterist — Charlotte Jetter (#36) and Karen Mantio (#37)
  • Editor — Len Wein (#36) and Marv Wolfman (#37)

Previous Great Moments In Comic Book History:

  1. Winchester Before Winchester: Swamp Thing Vol. 2 #45 “Ghost Dance” 
  2. The Avengers Appear on David Letterman
  3. Crisis on Campus
  4. “Even in Death”
  5. The Debut of Man-Wolf in Amazing Spider-Man

Great Moments In Comic Book History: The Debut of Man-Wolf in Amazing Spider-Man


As a super hero, Spider-Man never got any respect.

From the beginning of his costumed career, Spider-Man was often misunderstood.  Perhaps because of his early days as a professional wrestler, he was often dismissed as being an immature attention seeker.  Unfortunately, when you combine that with Peter Parker’s legendary lack of luck, bad things are going to happen.  Especially during the early run of Amazing Spider-Man, being close to Peter Parker meant that there was a good chance that you would end up dead and Spider-Man would somehow be blamed for your death.  Leading the charge would always be J. Jonah Jameson, the bombastic editor of The Daily Bugle.

At the start of Amazing Spider-Man #124, Spider-Man is again finding himself being blamed for two deaths.  This time, though, it’s personal.  Spider-Man is still coming to grips with the death of his first love, Gwen Stacy.  Meanwhile, both the police and Jameson suspect that Spider-Man is also to blame for the death of businessman Norman Osborne.  (What they didn’t know, however, was that Norman had actually been terrorizing the city as the Green Goblin and, as was revealed decades later, Norman wasn’t really dead.)  While Peter Parker struggles to get back into rhythm of everyday life, Jameson demands that Spider-Man be brought to justice.

However, Jonah has a bigger problem to worry about.  His son, John, has returned home.  John is an astronaut and, up until this issue, was always portrayed as being everything that Peter wasn’t.  While Peter was struggling to pay the bills and keep Aunt May from being evicted, John was going to the moon and returning a national hero.  John, however, has brought back something from his mission.  The moon rock that John wears around his neck as a necklace causes John to turn into the Man-Wolf, a werewolf who is full of rage at John’s father, J. Jonah Jameson.  Can Spider-Man save the man who has dedicated his life to making him miserable?

Spider-Man always had a rich and well-drawn supporting cast, with characters like Mary Jane Watson, Flash Thompson, Liz Allan, and Harry Osborne becoming almost as well-known as the webslinger himself.  No character, though, was as beloved and hated as J. Jonah Jameson.  For all of his bluster, Jonah was frequently portrayed as being not evil but misguided.  He may have been too stubborn to admit that Spider-Man was not a menace but Jonah was often portrayed as having his own brand of integrity.  Usually, he tried to do the right thing.  The Man-Wolf saga put Jonah’s integrity to the test.  After years of accusing every super hero in New York of being a menace, how would Jonah react when the menace was his own son?

These two issues also provide a turning point in Spider-Man’s character.  Despite being haunted by Gwen’s death, Peter realizes that he cannot shut himself off from the world.  And, despite his justifiable anger at Jonah Jameson, Spider-Man still saves his life and protects his son because he know that’s what a hero does.

This saga ends with John Jameson temporarily cured and freed of the curse.  Of course, it wouldn’t last.  Man-Wolf would return, sometimes as a hero and sometimes as a menace.  And Spider-Man would be there to meet him.

Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1 #124 (September, 1973)

“The Mark of the Man-Wolf”

Writer:Gerry Conway
Inker:John Romita Sr., Tony Mortellaro
Colorist:Dave Hunt
Letterer:Art Simek
Penciler:Gil Kane

Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1 #125 (October, 1973)

“The Man-Wolf Strikes Again”

Writer:Gerry Conway
Inker:Tony Mortellaro, John Romita Sr.
Colorist:Dave Hunt
Letterer:Art Simek
Penciler:Ross Andru

Previous Great Moments In Comic Book History:

  1. Winchester Before Winchester: Swamp Thing Vol. 2 #45 “Ghost Dance” 
  2. The Avengers Appear on David Letterman
  3. Crisis on Campus
  4. “Even in Death”

The Covers of Adventures Into The Unknown


First published in 1948 by the American Comics Group, Adventures Into The Unknown was the first regularly published horror comic book and it’s success led several other comic book companies, most notably EC Comics, to start publishing horror comics of their own.  Because Adventures Into The Unknown‘s content was never as explicit as some of the comics that it inspired, Adventures became one of the few horror comics to survive the anti-comic book moral panic that erupted in 1954.  Unlike Tales From The Crypt and The Vault of Horror, Adventures Into The Unknown continued to be published after the creation of the Comic Book Code.  In total, it enjoyed a 20-year run of 174 issues.

Below are some of the many covers of Adventures Into The Unknown.  As you can tell, the covers went from emphasizing horror to emphasizing science fiction and adventure after the creation of the Comic Book Code.

Enter The Vault of Horror


by Johnny Craig

Along with The Haunt of Fear and Tales From The Crypt, The Vault of Horror was a horror anthology comic book that was published, from 1950 to 1955, by EC Comics.  Hosted by The Vault-Keeper, The Vault of Horror featured adaptations of classic horror stories along with totally original tales of terror and fright.  The Vault of Horror was so popular among young readers that eventually a psychiatrist named Fredric Wertham claimed that it, along with other comics, was responsible for juvenile delinquency and every other social ill facing 1950s America.  Congress investigated and, because of all the bad publicity, EC canceled all of their horror titles.

However, the jokes on Wertham and Congress because The Vault of Horror is now eagerly sought after by collectors and is viewed as a high point in comic book history.  Below are a few covers from The Vault of Horror, all done by artist Johnny Craig.

Are you read to enter the Vault?

 

Great Moments In Comic Book History: “Even in Death…”


The Uncanny X-Men #144 finds Scott Summers (better known as Cyclops, the occasional leader of the X-Men) working on a fishing boat in the Florida Everglades.  Scott’s new boss, Lee Forrester, is obviously interested in him but Scott is still mourning Jean Grey.  It’s been months since Jean, consumed by the Dark Phoenix, chose to protect the universe by destroying herself.  Scott has taken a leave of absence from the X-Men to grieve and, as they used to say back in the day, find himself.

When the fear-inducing demon D’Spayre shows up, it not only drives Lee’s father to suicide but it also forces Scott to deal with his deepest fears.  Scott hallucinates the plane crash that led to him and his brother being separated from their parents.  He visualizes the X-Men dead, having been killed by Sentinels.  And finally, in the issue’s most famous scene, he finds himself walking down a church aisle with Jean.

As they walk down the aisle, Jean’s costume changes to reflect all of the different roles that she played as member of the X-Men.  She goes from being in her underwear to being in her green Ms. Marvel costume to being the Phoenix to being the Hellfire Club’s Black Queen to finally being the Dark Phoenix.  When they reach the minister, Jean is dressed as a bride.  When the minister tells Scott that he may kiss the bride, Jean suddenly reaches up and lifts Scott’s visor.  A blast a red energy brings the wedding to an abrupt end.

Eventually, Scott teams up with the Man-Thing (who is Marvel’s version of Swamp Thing) and is able to easily defeat D’Spayre.  Since all you have to do to make D’Spayre go away is refuse to believe what he’s showing you, he is not one of Marvel’s most intimidating villains.  Still, Scott’s church hallucination provides not only a perfect coda for the Dark Phoenix saga but it also shows a comic book character dealing with depression.  That’s an emotion that, until Chris Claremont started writing the X-Men, super heroes rarely had to deal with for more than an issue or two.  Even Spider-Man, with all of his problems and guilt, always kept his sense of humor.  This issue of the X-Men finds Scott deeply mired in his grief.  Even after Scott defeats D’Spayre, the sadness remains but he swears to himself that will not surrender to it.

Of course, the impact of this issue is lessened by the fact that Marvel would later reveal that the Dark Phoenix who sacrificed herself was just an energy force that took on Jean’s memories and personality while the real Jean remained in suspended animation at the bottom of Jamaica Bay.  X-Men #144 is still a good issue and a good example of Chris Claremont’s ability to bring out the humanity in even those with super powers.

Plus, we learn how Cyclops plays pool

The Uncanny X-Men #144 (April, 1981)

“Even in Death”

  • Writer: Chris Claremont
  • Guest Penciler: Brent Anderson
  • Inker: Josef Rubenstein
  • Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
  • Colorist: Glynis Wein
  • Editor: Louise Jones
  • Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Previous Great Moments In Comic Book History:

  1. Winchester Before Winchester: Swamp Thing Vol. 2 #45 “Ghost Dance” 
  2. The Avengers Appear on David Letterman
  3. Crisis on Campus