Monday, June 06, 2005

Today's Retro-review is: MONSTERS UNLEASHED #1

While Marvel covered zombies in Tales of the Zombie, Dracula in Dracula Lives! and vampires in Vampire Tales they used their fourth B&W horror mag, Monsters Unleashed! to cover the rest.

Issue #1 (1973) has a nice painting done by stalwart comics professional, Gray Morrow. Unlike the comics of today this cover actually reflected a story inside.

Monsters Unleashed! #1 featured 7 stories, an editorial and an article to fill the 74 pages within. First up,
"The Man Who Cried Werewolf" by Gerry Conway and Pablo Marcos. This was based on a short story by Robert Bloch, "The Man Who Cried Wolf". Bloch was still living off his fame as the author of Psycho, which Hitchcock turned into a classic film.

The story itself is pretty simple, an adulterer who winds up paying a heavy price for cheating on his wife. The art is penciled and inked by Marcos and while it looks rough at times his panel layouts more than make up for it.

The second story is a 5 pager titled "The Thing in the Freezer" by Marv Wolfman & Syd Shores (the title is a bit deceiving though) The story is about a flesh-eating disease that's spreading onto the passengers aboard an Ocean liner. The premise is a promising one, people trapped out at sea, trying to outrun a disease. Unfortunately what's squeezed within this short space is more an excuse to draw gross looking victims than anything else.

With a title called Monsters Unleashed!, this gave Marvel an "excuse" to reprint a plethora of their backlog of monster stories from the 1950's. With "Monsters" in the title they weren't restricted to just vampires or zombies like their other mags.

So let the reprints begin!

"Vampire Tale" is a 5 page story about a man, bandaged from head to toe, on trial for murder. Why is he bandaged? What is he hiding? Is he a murderer or something else?
I'd like to tell you, but your imagination is probably more exciting than the finale here. Though there's some beautiful artwork by Doug Wildey.

The next story is an original piece, though it really is a stretch to fit within Monsters Unleashed!. It's a Solomon Kane tale. Solomin Kane is a character created by Robert E. Howard (Conan's daddy), that's described here as a "Brawling Puritan Adventurer". Roy Thomas wrote it (of course) though the artist, Ralph Reese, is a name I'm unfamiliar with. If the work here is any indication though, I'd wish I'd seen more of his work. He uses a fine, delicate ink line that is reminiscence of the old illustrations in classic novels. It especially looks great here in B&W.

After reading this I wonder if this story was actually meant to appear in Marvel's first attempt at B&W magazines, Savage Tales, which was cancelled after a low distributed first issue.

As for the story, it involves a monster on the moors and fearful villagers. Clearly, this was the best story in the issue.

After that we have an article by comicdom's Tony Isabella, titled "Portrait of the Werewolf as a Young Man". It's a nice, comprehensive piece covering the history of Larry Talbot and the Universal Werewolf films.

"One Foot in the Grave" is a four page reprint by Tony DiPreta featuring a morbid florist.
Who, of course, meets his just ends....horribly.

"The Fake" is a five page reprint that is unfortunately, uncredited. While the artwork isn't more than your standard stuff, the story features a hideous "woman" who disguises herself as a beauty, and when I say hideous, I mean hideous. This guy, whoever he is, can really draw an ugly crone.

The final story is a nine pager that's interesting on many different levels. First, "World of the Warlocks!" is rendered by Gene Colan. Colan uses an ink wash technique that really allows his work to look more fluid than usual. A style that he'd never be able to try in the monthly color titles really works in this B&W format.

Second, the script is credited to Roy Thomas and long time comic writer Gardner Fox. The main character in this story is plucked from his body, a soldier in Viet Nam and transferred into a loin cloth wearing swordsman in a bizarre land of warriors, wizards, damsels and, of course, monsters.

This whole origin reminds me of the Burroughs' classic, John Carter Warlord of Mars. At the time that this magazine was published, Marvel hadn't yet acquired the rights to adapt John Carter. I wonder if this wasn't a way to show the ERB estate that they could handle the character? Anyone know the story behind this?

And Thirdly, it's my guess that this may have also been intended for an issue of the afore mentioned Savage Tales.

In my opinion, while the debut issue of Monsters Unleashed! wasn't a classic there was more good here than bad. Also, this format of monster stories gives the reader more of a variety of features than Marvels other B&W horror titles.

For those of you looking for a near-mint copy, the guide lists it at $38.

Next Monday I'm going to briefly skip the debut issue of Vampire Tales and be back with a review of Dracula Lives #2.

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