FOR PART ONE OF BALLADEER’S BLOG’S EXAMINATION OF THIS OLD, OLD MARVEL COMICS STORYLINE CLICK HERE The revisions I would make are scattered throughout the synopsis below.
AMAZING ADVENTURES Vol 2 #36 (May 1976)
Title: Red Dust Legacy
Synopsis: Windsor Forest, GA. December, 43 years in the future. Killraven and his Freemen continue their guerilla war against Earth’s alien conquerors – Zetans in my revisions, Martians in the original, just because of the tenuous War of the Worlds connection.
NOTE: The cover reaches DC levels of deception with its depiction of Carmilla Frost, the scientist of the Freemen, trying to slay Killraven while he is restrained by the tentacles of some of the aliens. You’ll see what really happens below.
Synopsis: IN THIS STORY KILLRAVEN AND HIS REBELS INFLICT THEIR GREATEST BLOW AGAINST THE ALIENS SINCE DEATH-BIRTH. December, 43 years in the future. Killraven kneels in the red dust of the alien homeworld of Earth’s conquerors. Craig Russell’s art is incredible, and Don McGregor’s narration starts us off with:
“He had touched the blade of grass … and it turned into red dust beneath his hands. The sand sifts through his fingers now, and Killraven knows for a certainty that the desert he kneels upon is located on the homeworld of his alien foes. He is alone with that truth, and the truth is staggering! But not as staggering as the events yet to occur.”
“Killraven stands. The wasteland is alien yet familiar. He strides across its vermillion vastness as if he has done so all his life. His eyes are those of a stranger … bewildered by his own reactions to such bizarre surroundings.”
And so it goes, as our hero continues exploring the terrain. To avoid confusion I’ll mention that this is one of Killraven’s visions as he inadvertently invades the mind of one of the alien overlords. That (as yet) uncontrolled ability to invade their minds is part of Killraven’s possession of The Power, sort of a pre-Star Wars version of The Force.
At length Killraven contemplates the sight of a sun in a black sky above him, until he notices that approaching on both sides of him are aliens astride huge creatures which look slightly like turtles. The aliens wield primitive weaponry because this is one of the martial contests the beings held on their homeworld before transferring their race to Earth.
Since conquering our planet the Martians/ Zetans force humans to perform in these gladiatorial spectacles instead, which is where Killraven, M’Shulla and Old Skull got their first combat experience. KR sees the two squads charge at each other with him in the middle, but it’s as if they don’t even see him, only each other.
Our main character tries to attack them but his weapons go through them as they begin to fade away. The vision is ending and McGregor’s very well-done narration now tells us “Killraven touches the red dust … and it turns into a blade of grass in his hands.”
As KR emerges from the vision we see that he and his Freemen are camped in Windsor Forest, GA, December – 43 years in the future.
REVISION: I would have Windsor Forest be part of the mutated jungle that the Freemen have been lost in for months now. I use the jungle to help explain why they wind up going south all the time when they are trying to go west toward Yellowstone Park, where Killraven’s brother is being held. It’s better than McGregor’s explanation, which is that “Carmilla, guiding them, is lost.”
Back to the unrevised story: M’Shulla, the African-American Freeman who is KR’s closest friend on the team, is sitting nearby, cavalierly drinking from a cup of some of his home-made alcoholic brew. He toasts Killraven and says “Mud-brother, I don’t know where you were off to this time, but that’s the longest mind-swap you’ve ever had. I take it that exhibition you put on, thrashing in the grass, was part of a mind-trans … uh, whatever it is Carmilla says you take off on.”
KR replies: “You can make light of it, M’Shulla. You weren’t there.” M’Shulla asks “Weren’t where?” and Killraven says “On Mars.” (“On Zeta” in my revisions.)
Their conversation continues and KR once again expresses his fear that he may never learn to control this aspect of The Power which Keeper Whitman brought out in him. “But I do know the source of these particular thoughts” he adds, and indicates he will lead his Freemen there to launch another assault on a Martian/ Zetan stronghold.
M’Shulla says “You look like you could use some color back in your cheeks. Try some of this, mud-brother.” and he offers KR a drink. Killraven slams it down, then shows a DEFINITE negative reaction to it. He disgustedly asks “Where do you get this wretched mead, M’Shulla?” and M’Shulla replies “The same place you keep finding to replace those explosive throwing-stars of yours.”
KR: “As a humorist, M’Shulla, you leave something to be desired.” M’Shulla retorts “Carmilla says I’m desirable all the time.” Killraven rolls his eyes and, by coincidence, one of the chimeric beasts which the Freemen use as their mounts makes with a hissing sound. KR says “I like your reaction, creature. It matches my own.”
NOTE: M’Shulla and Carmilla had an interracial romance that was bold for a comic book story of its time period. In fact the pair had exchanged the very first interracial kiss in full-color comic books.
While M’Shulla continues drinking, Killraven walks over to Old Skull, the big, bald, brawny Freeman, who is roasting an animal on a spit for their evening meal. “Good evening, old friend,” he says to him “Has Carmilla Frost been supervising your preparation of the evening meal?” Old Skull says “She’s been no bother, Mister Killraven. None at all. Old Skull doesn’t mind.”
KR: “But there IS something that bothers you. You stare grimly into the fire, and its light darkens in your eyes. Your hand holds the flute but there is no music. Most curious. Have yourself a chunk of that beef, my friend. It will liven your spirits more than M’Shulla’s mead would.”
Old Skull replies “Not right now, Mister Killraven” and our main character says “Not eating? And not in the mood to make music? Old friend, as long as I’ve known you, you have done one or the other when we were not in the midst of battle. I’d hazard my guess that something is bothering you is correct.”
Old Skull explains that he is morose over thoughts of Hawk and Grok, the two team members who were killed back in Chattanooga, TN months earlier. He and Killraven poignantly discuss their grief.
REVISION: In my revisions Grok was instead Deathlok, but was still Carmilla’s father, like Grok was. Carmilla revived him as an undead cyborg while she was serving as a human quisling scientist for the aliens. Also in my revisions only Hawk was killed back at Chattanooga, since Deathlok would still have untapped potential, unlike the wasted Grok. Deathlok would still be serving with the Freemen.
Back to the unrevised story: Cut to Yellowstone Park, where the aliens have another of their fortresses. The High Overlord (Abraxas the High Overlord in my revisions) luxuriates in the scalding spray of the geyser Old Faithful, which is contained now in a glass dome so that – among other reasons not known yet – the High Overlord can enjoy it.
The High Overlord, as always, wears his gray biochemical armor complete with a Japanese feudal helmet like the kind Darth Vader would later wear. (REMINDER: This was BEFORE Star Wars, and the High Overlord was introduced wearing this armor in 1974).
That armor protects the overlord’s prototype of a potential new body for Earth’s alien conquerors, since they are trying to develop bodies that will be immune to Earth germs and will let them move more easily in Earth’s greater gravity. At this point, he alone has such a body, making him alone among the squidlike and tentacular Martians/ Zetans a bipedal humanoid figure.
Abraxas looks at the quisling human mercenaries guarding him as he indulges himself in Old Faithful’s spray, like he used to in the lava baths back on his homeworld. The narration tells us:
“Behind the metallic masque, passionless dark eyes scrutinize the Mercenary Elite that await his command … Docile killer servants. One day, when they are no longer needed, perhaps the Mercenary Elite will comprise a banquet for the alien elite. Certainly there is no human elite.” (Yes the aliens eat human flesh, years before V: The Miniseries.)
The High Overlord’s eyes turn toward a prism tower that thrusts upward in the middle of the fortress. A figure – tantalizingly not glimpsed in full – appears there and via the intercom announcer says “We welcome you, High Overlord, to the Yellowstone Sector Mercenary Training Grounds. I hope our efforts meet with your approval.”
The High Overlord replies with displeasure “You timed your dramatic appearance for my benefit, did you not? Is this a display of human arrogance, Deathraven?” (This is our first-ever, but incomplete, glimpse at our hero’s long-lost brother Joshua.)
Deathraven replies “High Overlord, I have been … stripped … of such abhorrent traits as human arrogance.” Abraxas says “That is a reassurance, Deathraven. We have word of your brother.”
“My brother?” Deathraven says, but we cannot see his face so we have no idea what – if any – emotional reaction he may be having to this news. The High Overlord goes on “Yes … Killraven. I have calculated that he is endeavoring to find you, his long-lost brother.” (In reality, the High Overlord hoped to lure KR into a trap at the Yellowstone Park fortress by letting him know that’s where his brother was located when Abraxas fought KR in Washington D.C.)
The High Overlord continues: “A quest” he says with a sneer, “You humans love quests and epics. Romantic notions, absurdities which clutter your lives and distort your base realities. Killraven’s latest activities occurred in the southeast, yet that is far-removed from the supposed goal of his quest. It seems your brother is somewhat off-course. We named you after your brother. Deathraven is a name which fits you these days, isn’t it? I trust you will live up to such a title if or when your brother reaches this place.”
NOTE: In keeping with the star-crossed nature of the Killraven saga, we never get to see how all this was originally supposed to play out. The series got canceled a few issues after this, and Don McGregor transferred a lot of his ideas for Killraven over to his own creation, Sabre, in his own independent comic book outside of Marvel.
Clearly, the red-haired Blackstar Blood, leader of the Elite Mercenaries in Sabre, is what Deathraven was originally supposed to look like, maybe without the eye patch, though.
And as for Yellowstone Park and Old Faithful, McGregor used those elements in his Sabre series as well. In An Exploitation of Everything Dear, the tyrants Sabre was rebelling against strapped him across Old Faithful and held a party to celebrate his execution when the next eruption would kill him.
McGregor titled that chapter The Myth Killers, and, like I pointed out back in Killraven Part Seven, titled The Legend Assassins, he even cannibalized narrational sentiments from when the High Overlord was broadcasting Killraven’s supposed execution around the world over the Mural Phonics System. Sabre, like Killraven, turned the tables on his foes and escaped.
Back to the story: We cut back to the alien fortress on the Georgia coastline, the one Killraven’s visions have been leading him toward. It turns out that a large, miles-long portion of the stronghold has been scientifically altered in gravity, atmosphere, etc in order to approximate the aliens’ homeworld.
That is why Killraven seemed to be on that homeworld when he was invading an alien mind at the beginning of the story – that alien was enjoying a recreational visit to that simulated Mars/ Zeta.
We readers now see that the simulation of the homeworld is not just a recreational spot for the aliens but also a spot where they can let younger Zetans/ Martians, who have never known life on their homeworld, see what it was like. An adult alien accompanies a much younger alien in a tour of the simulation.
REVISION: I would include expository dialogue making it clear that the aliens’ scout spaceships took decades to find a suitable planet to relocate to from their dying one. Those scout craft were the UFOs sighted by various humans.
Finally it was decided that Earth was the only inhabitable planet close enough in gravity and breathable atmosphere to their own world, so we were designated for their war of conquest, which took place eighteen years ago in series time.
Back to the unrevised story: The older and younger Martian/ Zetan are engaged in a telepathic argument with each other. We learn that there is a Generation Gap brewing between the older aliens and the younger ones born AFTER the move to Earth. The younger ones have a tendency toward emotion, something the aliens have tried to banish over the course of centuries.
The youngsters even tend to fall into what the older alien considers “human failings” like thinking of time as a concept with meaning. (The aliens can literally relive any past moment they wish to)
We readers also learn there are growing divisions in the alien rulers’ society. Among the issues under dispute is whether or not to continue using humans as a food source. They may be delicious, but their continued existence may be more trouble than it’s worth, given the rebellion Killraven is fomenting and the way exposure to the emotional human race is having a negative effect on “the younger generation.”
The argument breaks off for a time so that the younger alien can perform one of the functions he is being taught. In an operating theater observed by many other aliens, the youngster (I’ll call him “Dusty” since this chapter is titled Red Dust Legacy) is operating on another member of his race.
The operation is a surgery to remove an alien “baby” from the body of another alien. The Zetans/ Martians reproduce asexually. The surgery goes off as planned. Dusty has passed his latest test.
Narration revealing Dusty’s impression of the procedure compares the loveless event to “A pear plucked from a tree. The tree does not celebrate. The tree does not mourn. A simple transaction has taken place. That is all.”
Next the “baby” is taken for an immunization process in an ENORMOUS incubation chamber containing thousands of similar alien babies undergoing the treatment which will give them limited immunity to Earth germs until the day when replacement bodies are available for all of their kind.
Cut back to Killraven and the Freemen, all of them seated on chimeric horse-hybrids. (KR’s is his usual reddish-pink scaled stallion) They are observing the alien fortress/ hospital center from a distance. Killraven stirs in his saddle, and, to let us readers know that Dusty was the alien whose mind he’s been invading, says “A pear plucked from a tree.”
I would have had M’Shulla say “Nice punchline, K.R. but what’s the setup?”
Carmilla, astride her cougar-horse with a unicorn horn notes “There is the alien stronghold you’ve been seeing in your visions these past few days, Killraven, but to what is this pear comment in reference?”
KR points to the futuristic structure, the largest fortress they’ve seen since Death-Birth in Chicago. “Inside that fortress” he says “I have seen the alien homeworld and more. I have even watched the process by which they bear their children. The infants grow on the bodies of their elders like fruit on a branch and the severing of parent and child is nothing more than that to them. The tree does not celebrate. The tree does not mourn.”
M’Shulla notes “So this is their hideaway nursery. Got to admit, it had me puzzled as to why we’d never come across a pregnant alien.” Carmilla replies “They are genderless, M’Shulla, and reproduce asexually.” And M’Shulla says “Yeah, well, they always DID strike me as being kind of dull.”
In one of his inspiring little speeches before the Freemen launch their attack, Killraven holds aloft his sword and says “There are more of the alien overlords residing within that domain than we have seen since our days in the Arena, where we fought for their amusement.”
“But hear me well, these past months have been of great event. We have met and banded together other humans besides ourselves, ragged as they might be, and left them to defend their own territories against alien aggression. We suffered a terrible loss when Hawk was killed, but we HAVE advanced. One day those ragged bands will join into ONE army and overthrow Earth’s invaders. But for today … We STRIKE! And today we let them know that fear is an emotion we will teach them!”
Killraven then leads the Freemen in a mounted charge toward the alien fortress, and presumably uses his usual ability – via The Power – to cloak himself and the Freemen from the aliens’ sensors and alarms. KR has his sword, photo-nuclear pistol and exploding throwing-stars, M’Shulla his crossbow with bolts made of alien metal, Carmilla Frost her radium pistols, and Old Skull his massive strength.
REVISION: I would still have Old Skull wielding his two-handled, wishbone-shaped plasma-ray blaster. Deathlok is there in my revisions, using his cyborg strength and his laser pistol.
Since they don’t have Volcana Ash with them this time to burn a way through the fortress walls, Killraven throws a specially concocted throwing-star, primed with a much higher than normal explosive charge, at the wall and blows a hole in it.
In a callback to an earlier joke, M’Shulla asks Killraven what he primed that one with and KR jokes back “The mead that you pour in your gullet, mud-brother.”
While our heroes fight their way through the facility, killing aliens as they go, we cut back to Dusty and the older alien mentoring him, now inside the simulated homeworld again. Dusty, like many of his generation, sides with the faction which does not want all humans killed.
The older alien is on the other side of the issue and argues that the reliance on humans as food must be eliminated so that the human race, with all their dangers, can be utterly annihilated, ending any potential threat to the alien dominance of the Earth.
Below Dusty and his mentor and the other watching aliens, another tournament is unfolding, with armed Martians/ Zetans atop elephant-sized turtle creatures getting ready to charge each other. (No, I don’t know why the supposedly “emotionless” aliens like watching such spectacles.)
Back to Killraven and the others, who have fought their way to the incubation center of the fortress. In a fairly weak conjuration of a conflict among team members, for some reason Carmilla Frost objects to the plan to kill the thousands of incubating aliens like they kill adults. (Especially odd since at Fortress Death-Birth we saw that the aliens scoop out human babies from their mothers to eat them as fine delicacies while the mothers are forced to watch.)
Killraven reminds Carmilla that within a year these newborns will be feasting on human flesh, but she still ridiculously wants to stop Killraven and the others from killing them. She draws a never-before seen short-sword and lunges at Killraven to try stopping him. (The event distorted on this issue’s cover.)
M’Shulla, who months ago sided with Carmilla in an argument against KR when he felt KR was in the wrong, THIS TIME sides with Killraven because he thinks Carmilla is in the wrong. He stops her from interfering with KR.
Meanwhile, additional aliens have surrounded the group and in the resulting battle the incubators are damaged enough to kill all the young aliens inside. Our heroes fight their way out of the surrounding aliens and Killraven’s memories from when he invaded Dusty’s mind lead them to the area of the fortress which is a simulated homeworld.
Inside it they have greater than normal strength and leaping abilities since the gravity is much lower in there. They are caught between the charging tournament participants on their turtle-like beasts, but successfully fight past them, too.
Dusty left the side of his mentor and approached the battle, intent on arguing on behalf of the human interlopers. Killraven, not knowing this, sliced off part of one of Dusty’s tentacles.
The Freemen escape and return to their mounts outside the fortress. Meanwhile, the Mentor leads the injured Dusty out of the simulated homeworld. He does not console him over his injury, the narration tells us.
The mentor shows him the dead infants in the incubator and says “You want mercy for these humans? Then gaze upon what they have wrought.” Dusty, prompted by his maimed tentacle and the sight of the dead young, obviously switches to the faction in favor of wiping out all human life on Earth.
Cut to the Freemen, with Carmilla, calmed down now, resuming her usual joking banter with Killraven. KR tells the Freemen, “I have just been back inside there, inside the mind of the alien who rushed at us.” And he clarifies the tragic situation for the Freemen.
He goes on to say “We have lost more than we have won tonight. A defeat in victory.” Back with Dusty, whose reflections close out this issue and underline the title. “Red Dust Legacy … written on the wind. We bequeath our descendants with the ability to hate. It is a heritage you will perpetuate with little difficulty at all.” +++
FOR PART TWENTY-TWO CLICK HERE
FOR MY LOOK AT HOMBRE, SPAIN’S POST-APOCALYPTIC COMIC BOOK FROM THE 1980s, CLICK HERE
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