Killraven Marvel Masterworks volume 1


By Don McGregor & P. Craig Russell, Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Marv Wolfman, Bill Mantlo, Neal Adams, Howard Chaykin, Herb Trimpe, Rich Buckler, Gene Colan, Keith Giffen & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1135-5 (HB)

When the first flush of the 1960s superhero revival began to fade at the end of the decade, Marvel – who had built their own resurgent renaissance on the phenomenon – began desperately casting around for new concepts to sustain their hard-won impetus. The task was especially difficult as the co-architect of their success (and the greatest and most experienced ideas-man in comics) had jumped ship to arch-rival National/DC, where Jack’s Kirby’s battalion of Fourth World series, The Demon, Kamandi, Last Boy on Earth, OMAC and other innovations were opening up new worlds of adventure to the ever-changing readership.

Although a global fascination with the supernatural had gripped the public – resulting in a huge outpouring of mystery and horror comics – other tried-&-true genre favourites were also revived and rebooted for modern sensibilities: westerns, war, humour, romance, sword & sorcery and science fiction…

At this time Stan Lee’s key assistant and star writer was (former-English teacher and lover of literature) Roy Thomas. As he gained editorial power Thomas increasingly dictated the direction of Marvel: creating new concepts and securing properties that could be given the “Marvel Treatment”. In a decade absolutely packed with innovative trial-&-error concepts, the policy had already paid huge dividends with the creation of Tomb of Dracula, Monster of Frankenstein and Werewolf by Night, whilst the brilliantly compelling Conan the Barbarian had quickly resulted in a whole new comicbook genus…

This hardback/digital compilation collects the bold and mercurial science-fiction thriller from Amazing Adventures #18-39, as well as the saga’s notional conclusion in Marvel Graphic Novel #7: an eclectic and admittedly inconsistent hero-history that has at times been Marvel’s absolute best and strong contender for worst character, in a sporadic career spanning May 1973 to 1983.

The feature struggled for a long time to carve out a solid identity for itself, but finally found a brilliantly effective and fantastically poetic voice when scripter Don McGregor arrived – and stayed – slowly recreating the potential epic into a perfectly crafted examination of contemporary American society in crisis; proving the old adage that all science fiction is about the Present and not the Future….

He was ideally complimented in his task by fellow artisan P. Craig Russell whose beautifully raw yet idealised art matured page by page over the long, hard months he illustrated the author’s increasingly powerful and evocative scripts.

The tone of those times is scrupulously recalled in McGregor’s Introduction before Marvels most successful Future Past opens…

The dystopian tomorrow first dawned in Amazing Adventures #18, conceived by Thomas & Neal Adams – before being ultimately scripted by Gerry Conway – wherein a ‘Prologue: 2018 A.D.’ introduces a New York City devastated by invasion and overrun by mutants, monsters and cyborgs all scavenging for survival.

The creative process was a very troubled one. Adams left the project in the middle of illustrating the debut episode, leaving Howard Chaykin & Frank Chiaramonte to flesh out the tale of how, at the turn of the 20th century, a refugee mother sacrifices her life defending her two young sons from terrifying alien Tripods and the vile human turncoats who had early switched allegiance to their revolting, human-eating new masters…

Nearly two decades later, escaped gladiator Killraven overcomes all odds to kill a monstrous genetic manipulator dubbed the Keeper and save his brother Joshua, only to discover his sibling long gone and his despised tormentor grateful for death.

The elderly scientist had been compelled to perform countless mutagenic experiments for his alien masters but had secretly enacted a Machiavellian double-cross, creating hidden powers in Jonathan Raven which might eventually overthrow the conquerors. All the boy had to do was survive their horrific arena games until he was old enough to rebel against the Martians who have occupied Earth since 2001…

With his dying breath, Keeper provides his uneducated murderer with the history of ‘The War of the Worlds!’: of Free Mankind’s furious futile, atomic last stand and how the alien conquerors had possessed the shattered remnants of Earth…

Keeper reveals how gladiatorial training and scientific abuses shaped Killraven into the perfect tool of liberation and retribution, even to the warrior’s recent escape and first attempts at raising a resistance movement. However, just as the story ends, the designated-liberator realises he has tarried too long and mutant monsters close in…

The adventure resumed in #19 as Killraven narrowly escapes the psionic snares of ‘The Sirens of 7th Avenue’ (by Conway, Chaykin & Frank McLaughlin) and the other myriad terrors of the devastated metropolis to link up with second-in-command M’Shulla and strike a heavy blow against the alien butchers by destroying two hulking mechanical Tripods.

Newly elevated by the conquerors to the status of genuine threat, the rebel and his followers plan a raid on a New Jersey base but are instead captured by the mesmerising Skarlet, Queen of the Sirens, who hands them over to the Martian governing the city…

Forced to fight a mutated monstrosity in the alien’s private arena, Killraven unexpectedly turns the tables and drives off the gelatinous horror before boldly declaring he is the guardian of Mankind’s heritage and will make Earth free again…

Amazing Adventures #20 was written by Marv Wolfman, with Herb Trimpe & Frank Giacoia illustrating ‘The Warlord Strikes!’, wherein the Freemen raid a museum and acquire weapons and armaments, and create a brand-new look for Killraven…

Easily defeating the traitorous lackeys of the Martian Masters, the rebels are blithely unaware that the carnivorous extraterrestrial devils have deployed their latest tool: a cruelly augmented old enemy who hunts them down and easily overcomes their primitive guns, swords and crossbows with his own onboard cyborg arsenal…

The ambitious new series was already floundering and dearly needed a firm direction and steady creative hands, so it’s lucky that the concluding chapter in #21 (November 1973) saw the debut of Don F. McGregor: a young ambitious and lyrically experimental writer who slowly brought depth of character and plot cohesiveness to a strip which had reached uncanny levels of cliché in only three issues.

With Trimpe & “Yolande Pijcke” illustrating, ‘The Mutant Slayers!’ began the necessary task of re-establishing the oppressive, hopeless, all-pervasive horror and loss of Well’s original novel. Determined to translate the concept into modern terms for the new generation of intellectual, comics-reading social insurgent, McGregor also took the opportunity to introduce the first of a string of complex, controversial – and above all, powerful – female characters into the mix…

Carmilla Frost is a feisty, sharp-tongued geneticist and molecular biologist ostensibly faithful to her Martian masters, but she takes the earliest opportunity to betray their local human lieutenant to help Killraven and the Freemen escape the Warlord’s brutal clutches. For her own closely-guarded reasons, she and her bizarrely devoted monster anthropoid Grok the Clonal Man join the roving revolutionaries in their quest across the shattered continent…

In issue #22 (art by Trimpe & Chiaramonte), the motley crew arrive in America’s former capital and encounter a ‘Washington Nightmare!’ After defeating a band of slavers led by charismatic bravo Sabre, Killraven forms an uneasy alliance with local rebel leader Mint Julep and her exclusively female band of freedom-fighters.

The green-skinned warrior woman has also battled Sabre and cautiously welcomes Killraven’s offer of assistance in rescuing her captured comrades from the literal meat-market of the Lincoln Memorial, where flesh-peddling mutant horror Abraxas auctions tasty human morsels to extraterrestrial patrons.

The raid goes badly and Killraven ends up on the conquerors’ menu in ‘The Legend Assassins!’, before the liberated resistance fighters unite in a last-ditch attempt to save their tempestuous leader from The High Overlord. The captured leader, meanwhile, finds himself main course in a public propaganda-feeding/execution, about to be devoured by a debased vermin-controlling freak named Rattack

The hero’s faithful followers – including gentle, simple-minded strongman Old Skull and embittered Native American Hawk – arrive just in time to join the furious fray in #24’s spectacular ‘For He’s a Jolly Dead Rebel’ (inked by Jack Abel) but their escape is only temporary before they are quickly recaptured. Their valiant example impresses more than one disaffected collaborator, however. When former foes led by Sabre unite in battle against the Martian Overlord, the result is a shattering defeat for the once-unbeatable oppressors…

A returning nemesis for the charismatic rebel and his freedom fighters debuted in Amazing Adventures #25. ‘The Devil’s Marauder’ (art by Rich Buckler & Klaus Janson), sees Killraven inconclusively clash with cyclopian Martian flunky Skar. During the battle, the hard-pressed human is unexpectedly gripped by a manifestation of hidden psychic power – granting him visions he cannot comprehend…

Travelling across country, the rebels stumble onto another forgotten glory of Mankind’s past in the state once called Indiana. The race circuit of the Indianapolis 500 is now a testing-ground for new terror-tripods and thus a perfect target for sabotage. However, when the fury-filled Killraven tackles human-collaborators and Skar resurfaces, the incensed insurgent steps too far over ‘The Vengeance Threshold!’

Gene Colan & Dan Adkins illustrated #26’s ‘Something Worth Dying For!’ as the Freemen reach Battle Creek, Michigan and the Rebel Rouser encounters a feral snake/horse hybrid he simply must possess. Soon after the band is ambushed by human outlaws guarding a fabulous ancient treasure at the behest of petty tyrant Pstun-Rage the Vigilant

Since the place was once the site of America’s breakfast cereal empire and this wry yarn is filled with oblique in-jokes – many of the villains’ names are anagrams of Kellogg’s cereals – you can imagine the irony-drenched secret of the hoard the defenders give their lives to protect and pragmatic Killraven’s reaction to it all…

The drama kicks into spectacular high gear with AA #27 and the arrival of P. Craig Russell (inked by Jack Abel) for the start of a dark epic entitled ‘The Death Breeders’.

Whilst crossing frozen Lake Michigan in March 2019, the band is attacked by monstrous lampreys and Grok suffers a wound which will eventually prove fatal…

McGregor loathed the notion of simplistic, problem-solving, consequence-free violence which most entertainment media slavishly thrived on. He frequently tried to focus on some of the real-world repercussions such acts should and would result in…

The heroes headed to what was once Chicago; now a vast industrialised breeding-pen to farm human babies for Martian consumption. En route, they met pyrokinetic mutant Volcana Ash, who has her own tragic reason for scouting the ghastly palaces of Death-Birth

While the new allies undertake an explosively expensive sortie against the Death Breeders, in the far-distant halls of the Martian Kings of Earth the Warlord is tasking the repaired Skar with a new mission: hunt down Killraven and destroy not only the man, but most importantly the legend of hope and liberation that has grown around him…

In #28 (pencilled, inked and even coloured by Russell in the original) Ash reveals her horrific origins and the purpose of her quest as the Freemen battle monsters thriving in the chemically compromised lake. Elsewhere, chief butcher The Sacrificer watches his depraved boss Atalon live up to his decadent reputation as ‘The Death Merchant!’: emotionally tenderising the frantic “Adams and Eves” whose imminent newborns will be the main course for visiting Martian dignitaries…

Everything changes during Killraven’s fateful raid to liberate the human cattle. When the disgusted hero skewers one of the extraterrestrial horrors, he experiences severe psychic feedback and realises at last his debilitating, disorienting visions are an unsuspected ability to tap into Martian minds…

And in the wastelands, Skar murderously retraces the Freemen’s route, getting closer and closer to a final showdown…

With Amazing Adventures #29 the series was rebranded Killraven: Warrior of the Worlds and ‘The Hell Destroyers’ reveals the rebel leader’s greatest victory, inspiring thousands of freshly-liberated earthlings by utterly destroying the temple of atrocity before gloriously escaping into the wilderness and a newborn mythology…

The pace of even a bi-monthly series was crippling to perfectionist Russell, and ‘The Rebels of January and Beyond!’ in #30 was a frantic 6-page melange from him, Adkins, Trimpe, Chiaramonte & Abel, all graphically treading water as The Warlord “reviewed” (admittedly beautiful) fact-file pages on Killraven, M’Shulla and Mint Julep.

The saga continued in #31 on ‘The Day the Monuments Shattered’ wherein McGregor & Russell close the Death Breeders storyline in stunning style. Pursued by Atalon and The Sacrificer into the icy wilds from Gary, Indiana to St. Louis where broken Earth outcasts hide as the Twilight People, the fugitives take refuge in a cavern. This is to allow an accompanying Eve to give birth in safety, but only leads to an attack by a monolithic mutant monster just as their pursuers find them. The battle changes the landscape and ends three ghastly travesties forever…

In #32, ‘Only the Computer Shows Me Any Respect!’ (art by Russell & Dan Green) sees the reduced team in devastated Nashville, where Killraven, M’Shulla, Carmilla, Old Skull and Hawk wander into leftover holographic fantasy programs conjuring both joy and regret, even as Skar’s tripod brings him ever-closer to a longed-for rematch.

Things turn nasty when Hawk’s painful memories of his father’s addictions to fantasy detective Hodiah Twist then manifest as cruelly realised threats and the malfunctioning program materialises a brutally solid savage dragon…

Issue #33 was another deadline-busting fill-in. Written by Bill Mantlo and illustrated by Trimpe & D. Bruce Berry, ‘Sing Out Loudly… Death!’ finds the Freemen sheltering from the elements in a vast cave and discovering a hostile tribe of refugee African Americans who had returned to tribal roots in the aftermath of invasion. The hidden wild men observed only one rule – kill all honkies – but that changed once Killraven saved them from a marauding giant octo-beastie…

The long-delayed clash with Skar at last occurred in #34 as the cyborg ambushes the wanderers when they reach Chattanooga, Tennessee resulting in ‘A Death in the Family’ (McGregor & Russell) – two deaths, actually – before the heartbroken, enraged Warrior of the Worlds literally tears his gloating nemesis to pieces…

Amazing Adventures #35 followed the epic tragedy as the last battered survivors stumble into Atlanta, Georgia and meet ‘The 24-Hour Man’ (McGregor & Russell, with finishes by Keith Giffin & Abel), encountering an addled new mother and instant widow, even as Carmilla is abducted by a bizarre mutant with an irresistible and inescapably urgent biological imperative…

‘Red Dust Legacy’ (illustrated by Russell & Sonny Trinidad) focuses on Killraven’s ever-developing psychic powers with the charismatic champion gaining unwelcome insights into the Martian psyche, even as The Warlord travels to Yellowstone and taunts the rebel leader with news that his long-lost brother Joshua still lives. The hero has no idea it is as an indoctrinated pawn codenamed Death Raven

The self-appointed defender of humanity then invades a replica Martian environment in Georgia, shockingly destroying the Martians’ entire next generation by contaminating their incubators…

Inked by Abel, #37 reveals the origins of affable Old Skull in ‘Arena Kill!’ when the wanderers discover a clandestine enclave of humans in the Okefenokee Wildlife Preserve before one final fill-in – by Mantlo, Giffin & Al Milgrom – appeared in #38. ‘Death’s Dark Dreamer!’ sees Killraven separated and stumbling into a wrecked but still functional dream-dome to battle the materialised fantasies of its ancient occupant. His pre-invasion, memories-fuelled attacks reconstitute strangely familiar defenders patterned after Iron Man, Man-Thing, Dr. Strange and almost every other hero you could think of…

The beautiful, troubled and doomed saga stopped – but did not end – with Amazing Adventures #39 (November 1976) as McGregor & Russell introduced the decimated Band of Brothers to an incredible new life-form in ‘Mourning Prey’. This beguiling meeting of vastly different beings pauses the voyages on a satisfyingly upbeat note, with understanding and forgiveness wining out over suspicion and ingrained violence for once…

And that’s where the gloriously unique, elegiac, Art Nouveau fantasy vanished with no comfortable resolution until 1983 when Marvel Graphic Novel #7 featured an all-new collaboration by McGregor and Russell starring Killraven: Warrior of the Worlds.

That painted full-colour extravaganza is reproduced here and commences after a catch-up Prologue and six pages of character profiles to bring readers old and new up to speed…

‘Last Dreams Broken’ opens in February 2020 at Cape Canaveral where Killraven connects again to a distant consciousness and sets off for Yellowstone in search of answers to inexpressible questions…

Along the way the rebels meet 59-year old Jenette Miller – probably the last surviving astronaut on Earth – as ‘Cocoa Beach Blues’ finds her teaching the warrior wanderers some history and human perspective in between the constant daily battles, whilst in ‘Blood and Passion’ The Warlord prepares his deadliest trap for his despised antagonist as Killraven is finally reunited with Joshua. The drama runs its inevitable course in ‘Let it Die Like Fourth of July’ as all the hero’s hopes and fears are cataclysmically realised…

McGregor’s long-anticipated conclusion did not disappoint and even set up a new beginning…

Also included here is the text introduction page from Amazing Adventures #18 for a fascinating insight into Roy Thomas’ expectations of what became a landmark of visual narrative poetry that was far beyond its time and mass audience’s taste. These are augmented by working materials – notes, photos, plots and more – from McGregor’s copious files, plus house ads. Also on view are a Russell pin-up from Marvel Fanfare #45, and the Killraven-starring wraparound cover to The Official Marvel Index to Marvel Team-Up #3 by Sandy Plunkett & Russell and an expansive Biographies section on the many creators who contributed to this unique series…

Confused, convoluted, challenging, controversial (this series contained the first ever non-comedic interracial kiss in American comics – in 1975 if you can believe it!), evocative, inspirational and always entertaining, this is graphic narrative no serious fan or fantasy addict should miss. Do it now: the future is not your friend and Mars needs readers…
© 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1983, 2001, 2005 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.