Monday, May 23, 2005

Today's Retro-review is: TALES OF THE ZOMBIE #1

To kick off the first of these weekly look back reviews, I re-read this weekend, Issue #1 of Marvel's 75 cent magazine line: Tales of the Zombie (1973).

Marvel had just expanded their comic lines into a series of B&W titles with it's other two monster related books Dracula Lives! and Monsters Unleashed!. With this, their third title, Tales of the Zombie was launched. This title was created, based in part from an old 1950's horror story called "Zombie" created by legendary artist (and creator of the Sub-Mariner) Bill Everett. Marvel took the main character from this story, zombie Simon Garth, and built a series around him.

The cover is a striking piece by the 70's #1 cover artist, Boris Vallejo. His version of walking dead Simon Garth is a bit too buff, but hey, this is Boris, so it's to be expected.
Inside we're treated to six comic stories. The first, titled "Altar of the Damned" (written by Steve Gerber, drawn by John Buscema and finished by Tom Palmer) is the origin of our "hero". The back story of the character first presented in Everett's 1950's piece.

Simon Garth, a driven businessman and the head of a coffee corporation outside of New Orleans, is kidnapped by his seedy gardener and "sold" to a local voodoo sect. The story opens with Garth about to become a human sacrifice under the knife of Layla, the Voodoo Queen.

The bulk of this 13 page tale shows the plight of Garth and the creation of the Zombie. The artwork is vintage Buscema. Dynamic panels with exciting camera angels and excellent story-telling. Palmer finishes the art with an ink and lamp black wash. His wash technique gives a swampy-feel look that really enhances the story.

On a personal note, I was 12 when I first bought and read this magazine and I have to admit that the 7 panel skinny dipping scene involving Garth's daughter Donna was something this young kid would "read" again and again and again and...

But I digress.

The second story, "Zombie!" is the reprint of Everett's original story. It's a beautiful piece by Everett, featuring strong visuals and clean inks accomplished during his peak years. The story itself, credited to Stan Lee, is your typical 50's horror morality tale.

Next is another 50's reprint, a five page Dick Ayers piece titled "Iron-Head". This is another "Bad Guy meets his deserving end" type of tale.

The next feature is a five page text story titled "The Sensuous Zombie" by Tony Isabella. It's the kind of text pieces I enjoyed from the 70's line of monster magazines (and when I was a kid I loved monster magazines!) Tony discusses the history of Zombies in the cinema starting with the 1932 film White Zombie and ending with the 1969 classic Night of the Living Dead. This feature is enhanced with various vintage photos.

After a Marvel editorial, is the fourth story, "The Thing from the Bog!". (by Marv Wolfman and Pablo Marcos) It's a fair story with some uneven Marcos artwork and a pretty predictable ending.

The next piece is a two page short by Tom Sutton that's ending is.....missing! I had cut out a order coupon on the page that backed the second page of the story (hey, I needed to order issues #1 & #2 of Marvels' Monster Madness. When I was 12, I didn't really care about mint or near mint).

Finally, the last story of this issue, "Night of the Walking Dead!" (By Gerber, J. Buscema and finished by Syd Shores) is in fact the third chapter of the Simon Garth origin (taking place after events of the Everett "Zombie!" piece).

This story, tends to lay the groundwork of what Gerber has in mind for future Garth adventures. Much like his current Man-Thing series at the time, Gerber seems to excel at writing the silent, hideous creature who inadvertently becomes entangled with the lives of those around him.

In this chapter, the magic amulet (that controls the Zombie) is passed on to Simon's daughter Donna, but soon falls into the hands of a murderous mugger. Eventually though, this gun welding punk confronts our title's star and meets up with a just end.

Overall I enjoyed rereading Tales of the Zombie #1. Thirty two years ago when I first bought it, I'm sure it had more of an impact. Now, since then, having read a multitude of comics, magazines and books as well as watching a ton of horror flicks, the stories seem like a "been-there, done-that" feel. But in my opinion the artwork of J. Buscema and Everett make it worth owning this book.

For those who care, a mint copy of Tales of the Zombie lists at $35 in the Overstreet Guide. (of course since my copy has a coupon cut out of it, it sure the hell isn't mint)

Stop by next week when I'll reread and review another of Marvel's 70's B&W magazine; Dracula Lives #1.


Mister Jinxy said...

Zombies rule!

But killing 'em's even better.

Gary Out of Babylon said...

A great review of a forgotten gem. I'll have to keep an eye out for a battered reading copy in the five bucks and under bin.

I admire this reviewing regimen you've undertaken and will faithfully check back. It takes discipline to write a good review, not to mention pulling a few good panels to sprinkle throughout.

I hope in due course you'll take a lok at some of the early Crazy magazines where many of Marvel's writers and artists let down their hair and turned out some really creative work. The first dozen or so are really outstanding.