In the realm of pop culture it continues to be Marvel Comics’ world! Over the past few years Balladeer’s Blog has been reviewing some old, old, OLD Marvel stories from decades ago. From the research I’ve done, I feel the late 1960s through mid-1970s were Marvel’s creative height, with only the Uncanny X-Men title retaining consistent art and story-telling quality beyond that time period.
I’ve covered The Celestial Madonna Saga (1973-1975), which also contained The Avengers/ Defenders War and the original Thanos War within its own storyline. I’ve examined the 13-part Black Panther story titled Panther’s Rage (1973-1975), the original Kree-Skrull War (1970-1971) and, most recently, the 7-part Adam Warlock tale The Magus (1975-1976).
Readers requested more Marvel, so, since these are fun and light time-passers, here comes Killraven, the Warrior of the Worlds.
WAR OF THE WORLDS/ WARRIOR OF THE WORLDS/ KILLRAVEN: In the early 1970s Marvel was experimenting with hybrid titles combining the old and the new by fusing licensed properties with unique Marvel twists.
The most famous and longest-lasting example was Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu. In 1973 Marvel licensed the use of Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu plus other characters from the Fu Manchu tales. Rather than just churn out a Fu Manchu comic book series “the House of Ideas” instead combined it with the Kung Fu craze of the time and created Shang Chi, the son of Fu Manchu.
Shang Chi, as a surrogate Bruce Lee, and Sir Denis Nayland-Smith, as a surrogate Braithwaite from Enter: The Dragon, were the core of the new series. Shang Chi started out as an operative of his evil father Fu Manchu, but realized the error of his ways and threw in with Sir Denis and his team to battle his father’s malevolent schemes.
In 1976 Marvel licensed the rights to do a comic book tie-in series with 2001: A Space Odyssey and ultimately incorporated their most popular character from that series – Mister Machine aka Machine Man – into the mainstream Marvel Universe.
The same year as Shang Chi – 1973 (so BEFORE Star Wars) – Marvel had worked similar “synergy” by taking their license to do a comic book series based on H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds and combining it with sci-fi post-apocalypse action. The main character was Jonathan Raven, aka Killraven, a charismatic rebel leading an uprising against Earth’s 21st Century Martian conquerors.
Killraven’s use of a sword AND futuristic firearms in action set against a post-apocalyptic backdrop also brought a little John Carter of Mars appeal into the series. By 1976 the promising saga was canceled due to poor sales but gained a cult following in the decades since then.
Killraven’s influence could be seen in the original 1980s mini-series V, especially the element of humans being used as food by our alien overlords and the sentimental “heroic freedom fighters versus evil tyrants” appeal. Killraven writer Don McGregor incorporated similarly themed stories and characters into Sabre, his other post-apocalypse comic book series.
Even Star Wars reflected some aspects of Killraven’s tales: the Rebel Alliance against the bad guys, the armored badass (The High Overlord in Killraven’s case) and, of course, the way Killraven wielded enigmatic, more than human abilities called simply “the Power” in K.R.’s series. (PLEASE NOTE: Killraven’s use of The Power came years before Star Wars and The Force.) The young sword-wielding hero was slowly mastering the Power as the series went along, but cancellation cut short his development of his paranormal gifts.
And yes, I know that both Killraven and Star Wars drew on the same vast inheritance of sci-fi tropes but the close proximity of K.R. (1973-1976) to Luke Skywalker (1977 onward) makes the comparisons inevitable.
About fifteen years back, Tom Cruise was set to star as Killraven but eventually all K.R. elements were dropped from the project and Cruise starred in simply another remake of War of the Worlds instead. You have to wonder if the Marvel name would have motivated the filmmakers to keep the Killraven angle if the movie had been done AFTER Marvel became the dominant source for cinematic blockbusters that it is now.
At any rate, let’s dive into the very first appearance of Killraven in 1973:
AMAZING ADVENTURES Vol 2 #18 (May 1973)
Title: WAR OF THE WORLDS
Synopsis: Gerry Conway and Neal Adams did writing and art chores on this first Killraven story. Be prepared, because quick turnover of creative teams helped sabotage this series’ chances of consistency and of finding an audience.
The story is set in 2018 A.D. but to avoid laughing like hell at that just think of it instead as “Forty-five years from now” as it was to 1973 readers. Killraven is leading some of his Freemen in an armed assault on a subterranean Martian installation in what used to be New York City.
Killraven is intent on revenge against Keeper Whitman, one of the human Quislings helping Earth’s alien conquerors. This subterranean installation is where Keeper Whitman raised K.R. as a child and subjected him to assorted painful experiments before Killraven was turned over to be fodder in the gladiatorial arenas when he grew older.
Our red-haired hero has, in his fighting fury, left his troops far behind him as he has used his sword and photo-nuclear pistol to reach Whitman in his bunker laboratory. Killraven and the Keeper exchange “hero and enemy” dialogue as K.R. slays some monstrous mutant creations sicced upon him by his old tormentor. (Think of the various monsters in the Resident Evil movies.)
Just when it looks like Keeper Whitman has the upper hand and will use his scientific weaponry to kill our hero, Killraven turns the tables and mortally wounds the Quisling. The dying scientist actually thanks K.R. and tells him that, with his life ebbing away, he is free from the Martians’ mental conditioning and can speak his mind.
Exposition flows from Keeper Whitman even more swiftly than his life’s blood as he sets out the premise of this series: One hundred years after their 1901 invasion of Earth failed, the Martians attacked again in 2001. (Or “17 years ago” to the characters, if you want to avoid laughing.) The aliens had developed a short-term immunity to the Earth germs that killed them last time around and their superior technology let them kick our world’s butt.
The world suffered devastation not only from the invaders’ weapons but from our own unleashed nukes, which failed to stop the aliens. Earth’s nations even tried assorted biological weapons against the extraterrestrials but their air-tight biohazard suits and armored tripods kept them safe while the bio-weapons wreaked havoc on Earth’s people, animals and plant life, leaving certain regions distorted and uninhabitable.
With much of the planet left in ruins the Martians finished off all organized military resistance. They set themselves up as rulers of scattered, sprawling megalopolises where the world’s great metropolises had once stood. The conquerors even FED UPON human beings like cattle.
The alien overlords were at the top of the new social pyramid. Below them were the human quislings who traitorously helped the ET’s run what was left of the planet in an absolute dictatorship. “Keepers” – scientists who sold out the human race to pursue their work with the help of the aliens’ advanced technology, were another privileged group.
Among the many projects pursued by the Keepers were attempts at bioengineering new bodies for the Martians – bodies that would be immune to Earth’s germs. Once those new bodies were developed, the squidlike, tentacular aliens could have their brains or minds transferred into those immune bodies, thus cementing their rule of the Earth forever.
Keeper Whitman at last expires, but not before making it clear to Killraven that his experiments on our hero during his childhood were not mere sadism. He endowed Killraven with “the Power” before the aliens took the growing boy away from him and sent him to fight in the gladiatorial arenas.
Whitman tells our hero that “the Power” is the means through which he mentally makes himself undetectable by the aliens’ alarm sensors. He also says it can let Killraven do much more and is the means through which he alone can bring down Earth’s conquerors.
Keeper Whitman dies and K.R.’s surviving Freemen catch up with him to exchange more exposition. We learn that Jonathan Raven’s (Killraven’s) mother Maureen was killed by the aliens and their quislings right in front of him when Jon was a child, and his older brother Joshua was taken off to an unknown fate.
After our main character was taken away from Keeper Whitman as he reached his teen years, he wound up thriving on the gladiatorial circuit set up by the decadent overlords for the amusement of themselves and their human quisling nobles. Human warriors fought alien creatures, science-spawned mutant beasts and EACH OTHER. Jonathan and his fellow gladiators were given colorful names to fit the spectacle and “bread & circuses” atmosphere of these gladiatorial events.
Rechristened “Killraven” our hero eventually revolted, Spartacus-style. He escaped and went on to help other gladiators escape, forming the nucleus of his band of Freemen. There were other, scattered bands of human rebels at first but the Keepers had modified many female humans as “Sirens” and were using them to lure out most of the Freemen to be recaptured and killed.
NOTE: There are hints in this issue’s artwork that, to make do without the presence of women since none could be trusted NOT to be Sirens, some Freemen turned to transvestism and homosexuality for release. The dialogue even includes a reference to a man that Killraven slays in a drunken brawl being “the favorite” of the man who leads that rival group of Freemen. If Marvel’s adult MAX line of comic book titles was around back in 1973 K.R.’s adventures might have been more like something from Heavy Metal magazine.
Anyway, further flashbacks show us that Killraven and his band are like Robin Hood and his Merry Men to the quisling Human Mayor’s Sheriff of Nottingham in the New York/ New Jersey area. In addition to swashbuckling defiance K.R. has also made salvaging info about humanity’s history a priority since the Martians and their underlings make a point of raising most humans in ignorance.
We’re also shown that by New Year’s Eve, Killraven had mastered his ability to “cloak” himself to the aliens’ mechanical security sensors. He broke into the Mayor’s Palace, let in his Freemen and then welcomed in the New Year with the food and booze of the quislings while holding the Mayor and his staff hostage.
To tie into the fact that it’s New Year’s Eve, I would have had Killraven toss the quisling Mayor to his death from the top of his palace, serving as a human Times Square Balloon Drop, splatting to his death just as Midnight arrives. But again, it would have taken the darker Marvel MAX approach to get away with something like that.
As the weeks went by, K.R. felt more and more confident of his ability to make himself undetected by the security sensors and so led his Freemen in this assault to avenge himself on Keeper Whitman.
All flashbacks done now, our main character is horrified to find that his escape route has been cut off by a trio of the supposedly irresistable Sirens, bringing this opening story to a cliffhanger ending.
COMMENT: Where to begin? The wonderful potential of this series was done more harm than good – in my opinion – by tying itself to a premise in which the conquering aliens had to forever be referred to as Martians. Young adults, presumably already insecure about jibes that they were “still” reading comic books might have been even further put off by stories in which “Martians” are fighting Earthlings.
Younger readers would not have been able to fully grasp the heavier and darker themes of the stories, so they would be driven away, too.
MY REVISION: Instead of Martians, just make it be regular aliens who have conquered the world. Hell, take advantage of the fact that the storyline refers to the aliens keeping Earth people uneducated about their own history and make it so that the aliens CLAIM to be Martians, with the uneducated human slaves having no reason to disbelieve it.
I would make the overlords be from the area of Zeta Reticuli to tie into 1970s UFO lore. Years later Marvel edited early Killraven tales to fit into their U.K. Planet of the Apes series and turned Killraven into “Apeslayer,” a human leading a revolt against apes and their human quislings. From there it’s just one easy step to jettisoning the entire lame Martian idea completely.
COMMENT: Any launch of, say, an “Ultimate Killraven” series could give us readers FULL story versions of Killraven and his Freemens’ seizure of the Mayor’s Palace. Not to mention a few other early escapades dismissed with casual references in this issue.
FOR KILLRAVEN TWO CLICK HERE
I’LL EXAMINE THE NEXT ISSUE SOON. KEEP CHECKING BACK FOR UPDATES.
FOR MY EXAMINATION OF THE 13-PART BLACK PANTHER STORY TITLED PANTHER’S RAGE CLICK HERE
FOR THE AUSTRALIAN SUPERHERO PANTHEON CLICK HERE
FOR MORE SUPERHEROES CLICK HERE: Superheroes
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