In the early 1970’s, Marvel dove head-first into the black and white magazine market. Of course, that medium was already publishing fantastic stories thanks to the creators at Warren Publishing. Some of those creators would leave and join Marvel Comics, and help them ascend and to produce some of the best mags of the decade. One of the best being Savage Tales! Issue one was released in 1971, but it didn’t exactly fly off the stands. The next issue wasn’t released for two years, but when it hit, the market was in a different place, and it sold well. The floodgates were opened, and Marvel reaped the benefits.
Savage Tales was a good mix of action, adventure, sword and sorcery, and even horror. This specific issue gives us a Ka-Zar story (“Requiem for a Haunted Man”), and the creative team on that one is utterly fantastic. Gerry Conway (writer) and Russ Heath (pencils) are joined by the studio known as the Crusty Bunkers (inks), to give us the lord of the Savage Land, Zabu, and an unfamiliar face, as they fight savages, crocodiles, and more! A prose story (The Running of Ladyhound) by none other than sci-fi scribe, John Jakes (with a couple of images) and then a tale starring Shanna the She-Devil! This tale was scripted by Carla Conway (first wife of Gerry Conway), and the art team is Ross Andru and Vince Colleta! Not too bad, eh? Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, we get a cover by Boris Vallejo, as well!
Time marches on, and so does my look at Marvel Premiere! As the good Doctor is being drawn into a mad adventure through time, we see the emergence of a powerful mage named Cagliostro! This man is from the past seems to be so powerful, that Dr. Strange and Baron Mordo both seem to be jut pawns to him, but is he really who he claims to be? As the Doc and Baron Mordo attempt to convince Cagliostro that each of them is worthy of his attention, but he seemingly couldn’t care less!
Time travel can be one of those things that get terribly convoluted and quite frankly foolish. One man who has proved on more than one occasion that he’s up to the task of writing a good time travel story, is Steve Englehart. If this story isn’t enough, pick up a copy of the trade paperback, “Celestial Madonna” for another tale with the time-hopping Kang the Conqueror! Once again, Frank Brunner shows us how incredibly talented he is, by giving us another issue filled with fantasy and magic! Throw in the Crusty Bunkers (inks), John Costanza (letters), and Roy Thomas (editor), and you’ve got one fantastic creative team!
Some of you may be wondering why I skipped issue #11. Easy answer is because it basically just reprints the origin of Dr. Strange, by Ditko and Lee. Not that the material isn’t great, but that’s not what this is about. There was a little bridging material, where the Doc went to the former dwelling of the Ancient One, and told his followers that the master is dead. In this issue, the Doc runs into a bunch of gypsies, and a huge Gargoyle! The run of Doc Strange in this title was coming to an end soon, but Englehart and Brunner sure didn’t slow down with the excitement!
For reasons unknown to me, Mike Friedrich scripted some of this issue, and he’s obviously a capable writer, and left a good imprint wherever he traveled. We know that Englehart and Brunner were just getting started with the good Doctor, and they would bring him to new heights, never before seen. No disrespect to Ditko/Lee or Thomas/Colan, but this team set the tone for decades to come, and along with John Costanza lettering, and the Crusty Bunkers inks, this issue is another gem of the run!
You know something, writing about Dr. Strange, and actually comics in general is one of the most edifying things I can think of to share. Why is that, some of you may ask? Well, explaining it isn’t easy, but I’ll try. You see, the vast array of subject matter, the varying intensity of the stories, the mind-blowing artwork, and just the overall satisfaction of reading these great stories and then sharing them with those who might never have read them or even thought about reading them, is quite a thrill. Over the years, people have had differing opinions on comic books (speaking of those who have never read them). Most seem to think they’re for adolescents or weirdos, and just never give them a fair shake. That is nothing short of foolish, and I would guarantee that anyone that considers themselves a fan of fiction (even though most stories draw parallels to everyday events from history), would be impressed by the more complex works of the industries greats.
OK, mild diatribe over. Let us now forge our way into the past, and see the death of one of the Marvel Universe’s great characters. If you go back and read the wondrous stories of the early years, and origin of Dr. Strange, by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee, you’ll see just how much of an influence the Ancient One was on Strange. When you understand that, you’ll know how difficult it was for Strange to kill his mentor. Possessed by Shuma-Gorath, the vile creature that intends on killing Dr. Strange, and invading the universe that he and the Ancient One protect!
In only their second issue together, Steve Englehart and Frank Brunner show us that they mix incredibly well as a creative team. Their styles seem to be a match made in heaven. Englehart at this point had already written some great stories as only the third person to write the Avengers title (after Lee and Roy Thomas). He proved that he was more than worthy of taking the reigns of any book and either continuing the greatness or amplifying it. It’s true that these issues (as with a majority of the Bronze Age) are very trippy, and if you don’t appreciate that kind of material, you might not find these stories to your liking. With that said, these two creators (along with the Crusty Bunkers inking, John Costanza lettering, and Roy Thomas, editor) do their best to present a story that is chocked full of action, drama, and of course, magic!