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The Monster Mash - Part 2

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Day two of our trick or treating Halloween look at the Marvel horror craze of the 70s focuses on the supernatural monsters of the Marvel Universe. For all-new tales of the Man-Thing, the Living Mummy, the Frankenstein Monster and the Zombie be sure to give Marvel’s Legion of Monsters hardcover (on sale now) a look. It also includes all the original Scarecrow tales and the Manphibian’s origin for those who enjoy the obscurer corners of Earth-616…

They Came from Beyond the Grave…

With the success of Tomb of Dracula it was only a matter of time before Mary Shelley’s most famous creation also wandered into the Marvel Universe (although, technically, the first version of the character, in Marvel terms, appeared in 1968 in X-Men #40). Initially the book was titled The Monster of Frankenstein but this was changed to The Frankenstein Monster with the sixth issue. After an adaptation of the novel in the first four issues the Monster’s adventures continued at the end of the Nineteenth Century and even included, Universal movies-style, a team-up with Dracula.

With #12 the Monster was moved forward to the present courtesy of a convenient stay in suspended animation in a block of ice. Alternating between his color book and a black and white strip in Monsters Unleashed, Frankie even managed the odd interaction with the rest of the Marvel line. In Giant-Size Werewolf #2 (see what I mean about that Universal theme?) he met Jack Russell and he also teamed up with the Man-Wolf and Spider-Man in Marvel Team-Up #s 36-37. When his title was cancelled mid-storyline the dangling plot threads were wrapped up, of all places, in Iron Man #s 101 and 102.

Supernatural Thrillers had debuted as a showcase-style book mostly adapting spooky shorts like Theodore Sturgeon’s swamp monster It! in issue #1, The Invisible Man in #2, Robert E. Howard’s The Valley of the Worm in #3 and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in #4. Marvel gave the legend of the Headless Horseman a new spin in Supernatural Thrillers #6 when the legendary ghost of Sleepy Hollow became embroiled in the schemes of a crooked businessman and his cronies. In the fifth issue though, Marvel raided those Universal vaults once again, and introduced us to the bandage-swathed Living Mummy.

N’Kantu was a North African tribal chieftain who was captured and cast into slavery in the time of the Egyptian Pharaohs. After leading a revolt against his oppressors he was punished in hideous fashion by the High Priest Nephrus who paralysed him, had his blood removed, replaced with a preservative fluid, then bound him up as a Mummy and finally had him buried alive. Centuries later an insane N’Kantu (I think anger management classes would be largely redundant after that experience) broke free of his confinement and went on a rampage. The Living Mummy’s debut proved so popular that he returned in #7 and remained the headliner of Supernatural Thrillers until its demise with #15, becoming involved with a number of mystical and otherworldly menaces along the way.

Unable to accommodate the Zombie genre in their color books due to the Comics Code Authority’s strictures, Marvel instead presented the adventures of their w alking cadaver, Simon Garth, in the black and white magazine format of Tales of the Zombie. Based on a short story by Bill Everett in the 1950s anthology book Menace!, Garth was a ruthless businessman who fell afoul of a murderous employee and, after being downsized with a pair of garden shears, was transformed into the Zombie to prolong his killer’s revenge.

Controlled by the mystic Amulet of Damballah, the Zombie mindlessly shuffled around New Orleans for nine issues, stumbling into other people’s lives in a very Man-Thing-esque kind of way. In a touching final issue Garth was given 24 hours in human form once again to put right his life and make peace with those he had known when he was alive. Sadly, Marvel being Marvel, his story could never really end, and rather than being left to rest in pieces, he was "revived" in his undead form some years later.

Selected Reading

The 18 issues of The Frankenstein Monster along with his stories from Monsters Unleashed are available in Essential Monster of Frankenstein Vol. 1. Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 2 will let you see him teaming with Spider-Man. No reprints available for the Living Mummy, but the Legion of Monsters hardcover does give you an excellent short story starring N’Kantu that was, far and away, the highlight of those one-shots this year. All of Simon Garth’s original misadventures as the Zombie are available in the creepy pages of Essential Tales of the Zombie.

Watch out… he’s behind you…

Whatever knows fear burns at the touch of … the Man-Thing went the infamous tagline. Biochemist Ted Sallis, working on a variant of the super-soldier serum, is betrayed by his lover to the scientific terrorist organization A.I.M. On the run from A.I.M., a combination of injecting himself with his own invention and a near-death experience in the mystically imbued Everglades swamps, transforms him into the empathic muck-monster known as the Man-Thing.

From these inauspicious beginnings one of Steve Gerber’s greatest writing runs was to come. When Gerber took over the character he stamped the feature with his indelible writing style. The stories revolved around the characters the Man-Thing came into contact with, often leaving the muck-monster in the role of virtual spectator in his own book. Sometimes satirical, sometimes confrontational, and often experimental, this is one of the most intelligently-written and unmissable books Marvel put out in the Seventies. It’s also the run that gave us the first appearance of Howard the Duck. Not bad for a comic that had the snigger-friendly spin-off title Giant-Size Man-Thing

The Scarecrow (not to be confused with the Marvel villain of the same name) was a force of supernature first scheduled to appear in the black and white anthology magazine Monsters Unleashed. However, he/it ultimately debuted in the final Dead of Night #11 (the first ten issues had been reprints of Marvel’s 1950s mystery comics) before making just two more 1970s appearances in Marvel Spotlight #26 and in Marvel Two-In-One #18. Fans of the Thing’s team-up mag will note a lot of references to it in these articles. This is largely because MTIO had a reputation as the book where cancelled character’s dangling plot threads could be quickly tied up in a convenient guest-shot.

The Scarecrow was a visually arresting character from the outset, with an eerie semi-origin and motivation that bordered on the ambiguous. The ages-old enemy of the Cult of Kalumai and their demonic master, the Scarecrow would emerge from a portrait of himself (that was an apparent gateway to his own dimension) to do battle with the latest black magic schemes of his mortal foes. Often surrounded by a multitude of crows, he never spoke, only letting out a maniacal laugh when the moment took him. There were hints that the Scarecrow was linked to one of the supporting cast members but this remained unresolved and his true nature was never fully explained in these stories. A wonderfully atmospheric creation, his brief 1990s return in Dr. Strange failed to recapture the essence of this delightfully macabre entity.

A one-off creation that never resurfaced (until nearly thirty years later…) was Manphibian. Clearly based on The Creature from the Black Lagoon, this aquatic monster was actually an intelligent alien who had been trapped underground for millennia and is freed by a company drilling for oil. His debut story set up enmities with the shady oil company boss and an evil member of his race but, sadly, none of this was followed up on. Legion of Monsters, the black and white magazine he first appeared in, was swiftly cancelled after just one issue.

Selected Reading

Manphibian’s one and only solo outing before his cameos in Nick Fury’s Howling Commandos is, perhaps surprisingly, reprinted in the aforementioned Legion of Monsters hardcover, as are the Scarecrow’s early exploits. Ted Sallis’s swamp-dwelling alter ego can be found in the pages of Essential Man-Thing Vol. 1 and, more briefly, in the Giant-Size Marvel trade paperback.

Join us one final time at the end of the week as we take a final stroll around the dark places of the Marvel U and look at some of the strangest team-ups in the history of the House of Ideas.

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