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 #37 (July 1976)
Title: Arena Kill
Synopsis: NEW YEAR’S EVE, 2019 into 2020, which is why I held off the extra day or two to post this review, since I wanted it to actually appear on the REAL December 31st, 2019.
Northern Florida, in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge along the Suwanee River. Killraven and his Freemen continue their guerilla uprising against Earth’s alien conquerors. They have encountered another of the pitifully few bands of humans who also defy the aliens.
We jump right into the middle of some action, as Killraven is pitting his sword against the two battle axes wielded by Brother Axe, the leader of this rebel colony. Brother Axe’s dozens of followers and Killraven’s own Freemen stand in a large circle around the combatants, watching the battle.
The cause of the conflict soon becomes clear – Brother Axe is skeptical that Killraven really is THE Killraven, the world-famous scourge of Earth’s alien conquerors. He suspects KR and his band may be fakers trying to bamboozle him or – even worse – undercover human quislings trying to pinpoint the location of Brother Axe’s rebel band so they can betray the band to their alien masters.
REVISION: As always, I would have it be “43 years from now” as it would have been to 1976 readers. Plus the Freemen have at last emerged from the biologically mutated jungle I’ve had them in. They are, however, a bit irked that they finally left that jungle behind them only to find themselves in a swamp. And no Pogo the Possum anywhere to be found. (I’m kidding!)
Back to the unrevised story: As Killraven and Brother Axe continue their fight, Brother Axe says “You claim to be some legendary rebel, vagabond tramp! Then if you ARE this Killraven, I say your reputation has been exaggerated … And before I would let you and your ragged followers run roughshod over my people I would have you prove your prowess – against BROTHER AXE!”
Killraven shows restraint, like he did against the humans back in West Virginia to avoid killing potential allies against the aliens (Martians in the original, but Zetans in my revisions).
KR starts to gain the upper hand in the battle and says “You shout defensive challenges before you are attacked and it is evident you hear nothing but your own dying echoes. We have not staggered for three days through fetid marsh while fending off infernal insects that feast on our blood only to be felled by your blades. Though I will grant you your skill with your chosen weapon.”
Killraven by now has Brother Axe on the ground with a boot on one of his shoulders and his sword poised to kill him. The fallen man says “I’ll not allow my people to kneel before vagabond tramps who hold only scorn for the swampland and cypress! I’ll -”
KR cuts him short by saying “You will NOT MOVE. I trust I have made myself clear? Let us forget the legends about me, Brother Axe. I AM Killraven and my eyes burn with the color of death, yet I dare not close them. My Freemen and I have not come here to usurp your fortress, and I would agree you are a good leader for your people.”
Killraven continues addressing the fallen Brother Axe – “Now, can we discuss this in a more civilized manner? Preferably over wine than blood. If you desire that it be blood – and that IS a decision I leave to you – it could well be your blood that is spilled … Much, of course, to my regret.”
Before Brother Axe can reply, two of his followers, groaningly named Huey and Louie, try to come to their fallen leader’s aid. They wield one axe each, and, in a moment of creative imbecility, writer Don McGregor gave them the annoying trait of speaking as a tag team, taking turns completing fragments of sentences that add up to a whole.
IMPORTANT NOTE: As one-off characters that would make them irritating enough, but it becomes clear next issue that they join Killraven’s Freemen as new regulars to replace the slain Hawk and Grok. I have no idea if this “shared speaking habit” was meant to imply they were twins with some kind of shared mind, or what.
It’s also possible that Huey and Louie were going to be implied to be very bonded gay lovers, like the two gay men Don McGregor would introduce in his Sabre comic after Killraven’s series was canceled. Just as McGregor carried over many other ideas he had prepared for Killraven into the Sabre comic books, Huey and Louie may have been carried over to that series in the form of the gay lovers Deuces Wild and Summer Ice. (Which may sound like stage names for strippers but aren’t.)
In his independent Sabre series Don McGregor had the freedom to do such adult concepts so the pair were openly gay. However, at Marvel, McGregor would NOT have been allowed (In 1976) to have two openly gay characters. Point being that this odd psychic affinity that let Huey and Louie start and/or finish each others’ sentences might have been used to subtly imply a deeper than usual bond between them. Children would miss the meaning but adults would get it.
Anyway, back to the story, as Huey and Louie rush to the aid of the fallen Brother Axe. (Presumably Dewey was busy “defeating Truman” and therefore wasn’t on hand for this battle) Here is their annoying way of speaking:
HUEY: Don’t worry, Brother Axe – LOUIE: Huey and I will dispatch – HUEY: this wandering warrior – LOUIE: and hasten his fellows – HUEY: on their way.
As they approach Killraven with their axes, they continue speaking – HUEY: Louie, you hit him – LOUIE: hard and high – HUEY: while I grab his ankles – LOUIE: and yank! (Aren’t you fed up with them already for talking this way?)
Old Skull intercepts the pair, saying “Old Skull was just gonna stand here and watch. He really was. You believe Old Skull, don’t you? … Don’t you?” But by this time Huey and Louie are lying unconscious at Old Skull’s feet and can’t answer.
Cut to M’Shulla and Carmilla Frost, this book’s interracial couple. Carmilla, the scientist of the Freemen, observes to M’Shulla “I can’t believe it. We’ve traveled a year to get here.” M’Shulla replies “Wherever here is, Carm.”
Carmilla laughingly shoots back “Don’t bring THAT point up to Killraven, M’Shulla, he’s in a bad enough humor as it is. I think it was spending last night sleeping in the marsh that chilled his usual happiness and light personality.”
M’Shulla laughs himself, amused by that description of the Freemen’s intense leader: “Killraven? Happiness and light?” He then cuts off the conversation to pull his crossbow with a bolt made of alien metal at the ready, aiming it at five of Brother Axe’s men rushing to his aid.
“Heading somewhere?” M’Shulla wryly asks them. The men freeze in their tracks, with the one in the lead apologetically saying “I hope we weren’t out of line.” But M’Shulla keeps them covered, saying “Oh, you were … you WERE!”
Another uniformed member of Brother Axe’s rebels is closing in on Killraven. Carmilla Frost cuts him off, outfighting him and leaving him in a heap in the bushes while saying “Forgive me, please, but Killraven hates to be interrupted when he’s giving one of his object lessons.”
REVISION: My only change would be to have Deathlok subdue one or two of Brother Axe’s men to prevent them, too, from attacking KR from behind, since I have always had Deathlok as a Freeman instead of Grok, and had Deathlok survive when Hawk was killed by Skar.
Back to the unrevised story: Cut to later, as peace has been made and Brother Axe gives Killraven, M’Shulla, Old Skull and Carmilla Frost (and her father Deathlok in my revisions) a guided tour of his and his people’s headquarters. Killraven thanks the rebel leader for deciding to discuss their differences under more amiable conditions.
Brother Axe apologizes, saying “I guess I did act hastily. Still, we live in isolation here, and many strangers are opportunists or traitors working for the aliens. This post was a wildlife preserve. The alien attack 18 years ago bypassed this sector. Since then the Okefenokee Swamp’s impenetrable interior has spared much of this region.” (and presumably made it an ideal place to retreat to after guerilla strikes at the aliens.)
“But come,” Brother Axe says at last, “We have prepared a feast for all of you. Your companion, the one called Old Skull, is presiding over the kitchen. Please join us. It would help make amends, and I wish to thank you for not humiliating me before my followers during our battle. Very tactfully handled, Killraven.”
Carmilla Frost puts in “That’s the first time Killraven has ever been accused of TACT” and KR smiles, before telling Brother Axe “I had wished for a less violent way to settle our confrontation but your imperative to protect your domain is important.”
By now the Freemen are sitting at one of a few long banquet tables for Brother Axe’s men and women, with a spectacular view of the Okefenokee through the floor-to-ceiling windows of the former wildlife sanctuary.
Huey and Louie, among the diners awaiting the feast, speak again – HUEY: Louie, Brother Axe seems – LOUIE: to have accepted the vagabonds.” (Kill me now.)
With KR, Carmilla and M’Shulla seated beside Brother Axe, Carmilla tells him “We must depart shortly, Brother Axe, but perhaps you can help us.” and he replies “In whatever manner I may.”
Carmilla resumes “I was directing our group toward a place called Yellowstone. Navigation is not my greatest talent, and flight from an alien stronghold called Death-Birth -” Brother Axe, unable to help himself, interjects “I have heard rumors that such a place existed.”
“Existed is right, “Carmilla goes on “It doesn’t exist anymore and neither do the human traitors who ran it. But now we are hopelessly off-course.” Killraven says “Treasure this moment, Brother Axe, it is not often that Miss Frost admits to a mistake.”
As Old Skull and the servers bring in trays of food for the tables, Brother Axe says “I wish I COULD be of help. But, as I informed you during our battle I am not a vagabond. Though I mean no insult at this moment to those who may be.”
“Understood” Killraven replies, “Miss Frost HAS managed to keep track of the time, however. I would inquire as to how she manages such calculations, but then again, I am not sure it is an answer I would want to hear.”
Old Skull settles into his seat and begins wolfing down the meal, saying “These marsh folk know how to make a right fine meal, Mister Killraven.” Our main character smiles at Old Skull’s gluttonous indulgence and tells Brother Axe “I think you can take that as a compliment to the cooking, Brother Axe.”
The Brother replies “Yes, his appetite does seem a bit … ravenous is the word.”
As the meal continues Br Axe says “You know, Killraven, our talk has centered around legends, and legends permeate the Okefenokee. There is one of a woman with wings, a changeling from caterpillar form to butterfly form. Mysteriously beautiful.” (Yes, this is a setup for next issue’s antagonist)
“And then there are the tales from outside the Okefenokee,” Brother Axe continues, “about you and your Freemen. Remarkable tales. It is inspiring, I tell you truly, that a handful of humans can have so devastating an effect on the alien forces. At times I fear the people are apathetic.”
Killraven answers “Even at a banquet such as this, despair waits to silently conquer us, to destroy any sense of purpose … By the way, try that roast, it’s delicious.” (Meanwhile, the tender-hearted Old Skull begins to feed scraps to a racoon which is down on the floor beside him.) “Hello, little bandit” he says to the creature. “Where’d you come from? The river, Old Skull figures.”
Continuing on from his remark about apathy, Killraven says “Carmilla informs me that a New Year arrives tonight. Let us celebrate it, not with apathy, for then why should we fight for freedom? It would become a useless luxury. You cannot enter the arena without believing there is a reason you should exit it alive. Right, Old Skull?”
(Killraven is referring to the days when he, Old Skull and M’Shulla fought as gladiators in the arena circuit run by Earth’s conquerors for their own amusement and for the amusement of their human quisling aristocracy.)
NOTE: It’s nice how New Year’s Eve into the New Year has been noted each step of the way in the Killraven stories. We know that two New Year’s Eves ago Killraven and his original Freemen from Staten Island (including Old Skull, M’Shulla and the slain Hawk, Dagger and Arrow) seized the mansion of New York’s human quisling Mayor. One New Year’s Eve ago the Freemen celebrated with Mint Julep and her band of rebels in the Washington DC area.
At any rate, Killraven goes on, regaling Brother Axe with a tale of his own. Picking up from his line to Old Skull about not entering the Arena without believing there is a reason you should exit alive, KR remarks “Else you and I would have died the first time we ever stood together in the center of an Arena, at the place called Madison Square Garden, and the aliens’ favorite gladiator Warr (I would make his name “Spidorr” as a Joel Hodgson joke AND a more appropriate name) entered as if our deaths at his hands were already a fact.”
Old Skull interrupts “Sorry, Mister Killraven, Old Skull hates to interrupt, he surely does, but one thing Old Skull knows is a story’s gotta start at the beginning. Can’t go starting in the middle.” KR replies “Old friend, they don’t want to hear a history lesson -” Old Skull butts in again, saying “Gotta have background, Mister Killraven. Sets a story up real nice, y’know?”
Old Skull goes on to lay out his sad past, before the alien invasion. He was a little boy with some odd problem that prevented hair from growing on his head, so even then he was bald. This made him a target of cruel ridicule by the other children at school, who also mocked his mentally challenged nature by calling him numbskull.
Old Skull goes on “The kids, they called Old Skull, he ain’t ever gonna forget this word, they called Old Skull retarded. That was a bad word. (He addresses the racoon, which has climbed on the table) Hey, there, little bandit, don’t be so frisky while Old Skull is helping Mister Killraven tell his story.”
“Helping?” the exasperated but patient Killraven puts in. Anyway, Old Skull goes on to relate his heart-breaking youth, with his nasty rancher father who also called him Numbskull and insulted him for growing attached to a heifer that Old Skull had named Randy.
I’ll skip over all the other sadness, and mention that Old Skull moves on to relate his teenage years, when the family ranch was in danger of going under and his father longed for the days when cowboying and ranching were big.
“Fine, old friend” Killraven jumps in, “Now that you have supplied the background I will tell them about Madison Square Garden years ago. We stood in the Arena, Old Skull and I, and a shadow fell over us, like a suffocating nightmare that blankets you. Warr (Spidorr) had arrived, and not alone, but alongside two horse-sized spiders mutated by alien science.”
Old Skull interrupts again, saying “You can’t tell them YET, Mr Killraven.” (The racoon continues trying to drink wine from the diners’ cups, meanwhile) “Why not?” our main character asks.
And Old Skull picks up where he left off, telling everyone that by then he was 14 and it was the day the aliens invaded, making it 18 years ago. Old Skull and his father were riding on a futuristic monorail/ train during the initial assault. His father was among the dead, and Old Skull was captured.
Killraven says “That day was a scourge that scarred our world, old friend.” And he recalls how he and his brother Joshua were separated while they were small children. “I look forward to our reunion when we set ourselves back on course to this place the High Overlord called Yellowstone Park.” (We readers know that KR’s brother Joshua – now called Deathraven – is working for the aliens at their Yellowstone fortress and the High Overlord wants him to slay Killraven.)
KR tries to start his tale of him and Old Skull fighting Warr (Spidorr) and his enormous spiders, but again Old Skull interrupts him. “Wait up, Mister Killraven, you can’t tell them that part yet.” “Why not” our main character asks and Old Skull replies “You didn’t tell them how we met, Mister Killraven. See, Old Skull told you, you keep forgetting important parts of the story.”
We resume Old Skull’s flashback to the night he and Killraven first met. They were among the gladiators eating gruel in the cages, waiting their turn to be sent into this latest round of Arena battles. As Killraven soon sees, the other gladiators treat Old Skull horribly, like he’s a geek and they’re jocks.
Three of them are taunting him and have obviously browbeaten the gentle giant into fighting under the nom de guerre “Numbskull” all these years no matter how much he hates the name. The most obnoxious of the tormentors fights under the name Artemus, and he now knocks “Numbskull’s” bowl of gruel in his lap, then pretends it was an accident.
Thinking Artemus is being sincere, “Numbskull” says “That’s all right.” Artemus further amuses his two cronies by removing the bowl from Old Skull’s lap and putting it upside down on his head. “How about THIS, Numbskull? Is this ‘all right?’ You keep that bowl on your head, now. It’ll make your hair grow.”
Suddenly Artemus is seized from behind by a figure we now see is Killraven. KR grips Artemus by the throat and says “Your apology lacks sincerity. Perhaps you’d care to try your brand of scorn on ME, and then you can die without even having set foot in the Arena tonight.”
Artemus’ two cronies rush to attack Killraven to help their friend, but our hero defeats them both without even having to release Artemus’ throat from his grip.
“Hold on, Artemus” they said as they approached KR “We’re all for one and OOF” Killraven completes his foe’s thought by saying “And you are all hapless children who have fallen on bad days … not to mention your faces.”
With the cronies by now beaten, Killraven puts Artemus in a headlock and presents him to Old Skull, who now removes the bowl from his head. KR says “Now, Artemus, tell him you are sorry that you ever tormented him.” Artemus struggles to speak through Killraven’s grip on his head and throat, but says he’s sorry.
Killraven milks it by saying “You’re sorry, what?” and Artemus must say “I’m sorry … sir.” to his former victim. KR releases the subdued Artemus and tells the hulking, tenderhearted goliath before him “Artemus wll clean the mess he has caused and will mind his tongue in the future. Is that a fair enough promise?”
The gentle giant, obviously happy to at last meet someone who does not ridicule him or call him names, cheerfully says “It surely is.”
Killraven tells his new friend “We’ll face the horrors of the Arena together this night. I am called Killraven, and you are …” The mentally challenged man poignantly says “Not … NOT Numbskull.”
“Of course not, you have wisdom these others will never comprehend. Shall we instead say … OLD Skull?” To signal his agreement the newly rechristened Old Skull shakes Killraven’s hand in a tight grip that shows he is too moved to control his own strength and accidentally squeezes KR’s hand too hard. The obviously pained KR patiently says “Old Skull it IS, then.”
Cut back to the present, at the banquet table. Old Skull says “Come on, Mister Killraven, now you can tell them the story about Warr and his creepy-crawlies.” KR sardonically says “I think I’ve forgotten it.” Old Skull replies “Well, Old Skull remembers it, he …”
“It comes back to me, old friend” Killraven rapidly puts in, “It all comes back to me” and he begins his own flashback tale, picking up as he and Old Skull stand back-to back in the Arena, facing Warr and his mutated arachnids.
Warr is armed with a burning sword of “nuclear fire” and shoots strings of webbing from devices on top of his wrists. He sics his two mammoth spiders on Killraven and Old Skull while he watches their fighting techniques, studying them for weaknesses.
While the pair use their swords to fight the huge spiders, Warr addresses our main character “You are new on the New York circuit, Killraven.” KR replies “That is true, Warr, but I am only traveling this way once.”
Warr retorts “Unfortunately for you, you are correct. One of us must die and it will NOT be myself. You have caused some sensation in the lower circuits I hear. Enough to impress our alien masters and thus arrange our meeting.”
Seeing that Old Skull is now hard-pressed by his spider opponent Warr continues to Killraven “Your companion is already in trouble. Your back to back tactic has failed.”
KR continues his own battle and shoots back “Your concern is touching, Warr, but let it be our blades that clash. You want to perform to expectations for your alien masters, don’t you?” And Killraven and Old Skull go on to kill each of their giant spider foes with the latter referring to himself as Old Skull at every opportunity.
KR says “I would say Warr was in error. Our back-to-back tactic DOES seem effective.” “Maybe so, Mister Killraven, but those creepy crawlies still give Old Skull the willies!”
Noting how often Old Skull has been using his new nom de guerre Killraven says “I take it you like that name.” His comrade says “Old Skull likes it just fine, Mister Killraven.” Our hero replies “Just Killraven will do.” “Right, Mister Killraven” Old Skull replies in a nice humorous touch.
Warr taunts KR for fighting with such passion while berating HIM for “performing” for the aliens, then adds “Since it is a performance they desire, let us give it to them.”
Killraven tells Old Skull to stay out of the fight now, that this is between him and Warr alone. The two match swords with each other for awhile, and Old Skull notices that Warr has a third giant spider entering the arena to kill KR from behind.
The gentle giant says “You can’t do that to Mr Killraven” and he grabs Warr and tosses him and his “nuclear fire-sword” at the approaching spider, which burns alive from the nuclear flame.
KR tersely says “Old Skull, I told you this was between he and I.” “Old Skull knows that, Mister Killraven.”
“Then why did you interfere? And you can drop the mister.” “Old Skull just wanted to help, Mister Killraven.”
Meanwhile, across the arena, Warr emerges from behind his burning spider and says “Death is the only end that will satisfy the aliens. Come, Killraven, perform for our masters.”
KR, clearly having arrived at a turning point, defiantly replies “Not today and not in the future. Let them gorge themselves on the taste of frustration.” Old Skull pats his new friend on the back and says “That sounds real pretty, Mister Killraven.”
And THAT serves as our segueway back to the present day, New Year’s Eve in Brother Axe’s banquet hall, as present day Old Skull likewise pats KR on the back while saying “You don’t tell a story bad, Mister Killraven, once you get the proper setting.”
Brother Axe rises from his chair, invites all the attendees to raise their wine goblets like he has, and says “Let us have a toast, then, that is NOT apathetic. To Killraven, and ALL his Freemen!”
The Freemen and Brother Axe are now surprised to discover their goblets are empty since the comic relief racoon has drunk their wine. The racoon hiccups and teeters off, giving us an uncharacteristically light-hearted end to a Killraven story.
REVISION: Obviously Huey and Louie get on my nerves, from their names to their pointless and irritating way of speaking as a tag team. My alteration would be to make them another of the genetically altered figures that abound in this post-invasion world.
I would have them be one larger than normal (but not larger than Old Skull), humanoid form with both male and female physical traits including two heads – one male, one female – who could speak as a tag team if McGregor was really married to that concept. They would also have four arms, two wielding axes, one wielding a sword and the fourth wielding a pistol, either photo-nuclear or radium or plasma-ray.
Though in one body they would insist upon being treated as two distinct individuals to at least add an underlying sci-fi concept to it all that could have been used seriously sometimes and for laughs at other times.
Getting rid of the idiotic “Huey and Louie” names I’d have channeled Don McGregor at his most pretentious and called the being(s) “Didymus Androgynous,” usually shortened to just Didymus. Or, if you insist, for short they would be called Didi for the female and Andy for the male.
Next issue I’ll explain how I would use this combo-being to tie into the larger themes in the painfully few Killraven stories that lie ahead. +++
FOR PART TWENTY-THREE CLICK HERE
FOR MY LOOK AT HOMBRE, SPAIN’S POST-APOCALYPTIC COMIC BOOK FROM THE 1980s, CLICK HERE
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