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 #39 (November 1976)
Title: The Morning After Mourning Prey
NOTE: I’m using the title that writer Don McGregor said would be used in the letters page of the previous issue, rather than the shortened title Mourning Prey that was actually used. The Morning After Mourning Prey has more of a Don McGregorish feel to it so I wish he and artist Craig Russell had stuck to it.
It is now January 2020, but we can just call it “44 years from now” as it would have been to 1976 readers. The setting is the Okefenokee Swamp, an unknown number of days after the previous issue’s New Year’s Eve celebration between Killraven and his Freemen and Brother Axe and his military-uniformed rebel colony.
Synopsis: Our heroes continue their guerilla uprising against Earth’s alien conquerors. Killraven, M’Shulla, Old Skull, Carmilla Frost (and her father Deathlok in my revisions) are being guided through the swamp toward “an enchanted village” which is obviously intended to be Disney World as surely as the Golden Arch several issues back was intended to be from a futuristic McDonald’s.
The figures guiding the Freemen are their two newest members, Huey and Louie (groan), two members of Brother Axe’s rebel colony who have joined up with our heroes as new members. The pair wield one battle axe each and speak in an annoying tag-team way, in fragments of sentences that eventually add up to a whole.
(See the previous installment where I explained why I think they might have been meant to be gay like Deuces Wild and Summer Ice in McGregor’s Sabre comic book series. Remember, when Killraven got canceled after this issue McGregor transferred many of the story elements to Sabre, set on a whole different post-apocalypse Earth.)
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 revision 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/ it 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 head and Andy for the male head.
Back to the unrevised story, where for all I know we’d have met Huey and Louie’s missing member Dewey since Disney World was the painfully obvious destination of this swampland odyssey which will never be completed.
NOTE: Yes, as I indicated above, this is the very last issue of the regular Killraven series. I will also review the character’s 1983 Graphic Novel by Don McGregor and other Killraven tales but this story concludes the initial 1973-1976 run.
This is the last of the “pure” Killraven saga, before bits of his tale got cannibalized for Sabre (The 2020 setting, the Disney World connection, red-haired “Blackstar Blood” obviously being what KR’s brother Deathraven was originally supposed to look like, the interracial romance and pregnancy, Yellowstone Park and the Old Faithful death-trap.)
… Before Star Wars would use The Force the way Killraven used The Power and before V: The Miniseries would have its aliens eating human flesh just like the aliens in Killraven. And before Darth Vader would become popular as an armored badass in a Japanese feudal helmet – just like the High Overlord in Killraven’s series.
Sorry, back to the unrevised story: Huey and Louie were guiding the Freemen and the chimeric, mutated animals they’ve been using as mounts and pack animals since July.
The tale opens literally “the morning after” our heroes’ deadly encounter with the female butterfly/ human hybrid called Mourning Prey. Yes, it’s one of those stories which are told in non-linear fashion with flashbacks filling in the blanks.
Killraven stalks through the Okefenokee Swamp, sword in one hand and photo-nuclear pistol in the other. The narration says “Killraven … a warrior of worlds. The world is an endless marsh, night-dark and bitter, and it is ALL the world there is. Morning Grey touches the cypress. Finally.
“For a time the night seemed as endless as this world of mangrove and vine. The morning future seems empty and dead. Killraven searches the dawn with eyes that remember the night … and Mourning Prey.”
Eventually Killraven risks a few shouts to his missing Freemen. He even adds to M’Shulla, his closest friend on the team, the line “We have TRULY turned mud-brothers this time, haven’t we?”
Presently KR arrives back where his circular search began and his pinkish-red scaled horse hisses in surprise at this approach. Our hero good-naturedly says “NOW you sound a warning, you pathetic excuse for a serpent or stallion. BOTH would deny your heritage. Where are the rest of your kind?”
Killraven spots Carmilla’s cougar/ rhinoceros/ unicorn hybrid lying dead. (I’d have revised it to have M’Shulla’s bland ostrich/ camel hybrid be dead) As KR crouches over the poor creature he remembers Carmilla Frost, the scientist of the Freemen, calling out the name of the animal’s killer: Mourning Prey.
He recalls the woman-sized butterfly siccing a swarm of normal-sized but mutated butterflies on the Freemen, smothering them and spitting formic acid on them. The dead hybrid animal received a fatal dose.
Killraven’s sharp ears detect something and he runs off through the swamp in the direction of the sound. At length he finds M’Shulla lying before him. Though at first terrified that his old friend might be dead, KR is relieved when he realizes the African-American is just unconscious.
Our main character shakes him, saying “Come ON, mud-brother, AWAKEN! No doubt you will curse my waking tactics but it is better than allowing you the chance to accuse me of sentiment.”
M’Shulla groggily comes to, and jokes “K.R? … Well, if I’m dead I didn’t end up in Heaven if you’re here, that’s for sure.” Killraven replies “Then it is a woman who rules Hell, and she is a clever adversary.”
“Who is?” M’Shulla asks and KR replies “Mourning Prey. She is still near. Her presence is a part of the atmosphere of the Okefenokee. One breathes it.”
M’Shulla shoots back “Old Skull would have loved that line, K.R. Deep meaning, very deep, but you need to work on your delivery, mud-brother … Where ARE the others? Where’s Carmilla?” (Carmilla is M’Shulla’s romantic partner)
Killraven – “They won’t answer when I call. The whole marshland has gone silent, mud-brother. The campsite is empty and Carmilla’s steed is slain by the acid from one of Mourning Prey’s winged regiment. When I came upon the camp I feared it was July again … and Skar (Warscar) had found us again … would always find us, and death was a recurring reality.” (A reference to when the android Warscar killed the Native American Freeman called Hawk)
The anxiety-stricken M’Shulla says “This is not the time for meaningful dialogue, K.R. We’ve got to find her … rescue the others.”
“Find Mourning Prey?” Killraven says, “Where does the search commence? The guides Brother Axe supplied to guide us through this confusion of nature called the Okefenokee are her prisoners. Or worse. And what do we know of Mourning Prey herself? Nothing, save that she stalked us through the swamp, and that Carmilla gave her a name so that we might label a mystique we could scarcely understand.”
KR thinks back to the night before. The flashback shows us Huey and Louie guiding Killraven, M’Shulla, Old Skull, Carmilla Frost (Deathlok, too, for me) and their chimeric mounts through the swamp.
REVISION: I would have Huey and Louie – actually the two-in-one being Didymus Androgynous in my revisions – riding through the swamp by standing on a larger than normal mutated alligator with reins through its mouth. Think of the Riders of the River Crocodiles in an old Marvel Conan story.)
The duo speak – LOUIE: Huey, how did we – HUEY: … let Brother Axe talk us into – LOUIE: … guiding these vagabonds – HUEY: … to the seer in the wondrous enchanted village, Louie?”
Killraven had asked “Which of them asked that question, M’Shulla?” And M’Shulla replied “Both, I would think, K.R.”
The Freemen suddenly found their way blocked by webbing at swamp level culminating in thick cocoons in the low-hanging branches overhead. Killraven drew his photo-nuclear pistol and began blasting a pathway through the webs and cocoons, only to be surprised by large, cat-sized caterpillars falling from them.
The large caterpillars begin to cling to them all, attacking them, and the Freemen fight back: KR with his pistol and sword, M’Shulla with his crossbow and bolts made of alien metal, Carmilla Frost with her radium pistol and Old Skull with his massive strength, while Huey and Louie use their battle axes.
REVISION: Deathlok would be fighting back with his laser pistol and Didymus would be using his/ her/ their axes, sword and pistol.
In the aftermath Old Skull helps Huey and Louie (Didymus) peel the dead, clinging creatures off their bodies. Suddenly the mysterious, beautiful woman-sized butterfly-being swoops down upon the Freemen. While she dances on the air above them, judging them with her grim gaze, she and Killraven eventually lock eyes for a time. KR mercifully decides not to shoot her, though his finger tightens around his pistol’s trigger.
Noting that Killraven refrained from further violence, the winged, antennaed woman flew off. Carmilla Frost says to KR “I almost thought you were going to kill her.”
Killraven asks scientist Carmilla what the being was and she replies that she has no idea. McGregor and Russell now give us a one-page bit titled Interim One: Creation –
We see the mysterious winged woman perched in a swamp tree while narration says “Look at it out there in the night-dark marsh/ You see it/ You’ve seen it before/ Seen it and denied it/ Denied its existence a thousand times/ All the while knowing/ Knowing it is there/ Caterpillars in the mind/ Devouring reason/ Deny it, deny it again/ And it will be there come morning light/ One of these days you’ll just have to face it
Back to the morning after the battle with Mourning Prey – Killraven is helping the still-woozy M’Shulla trudge through the marsh with him. KR says “This might be the best time to jest, mud-brother. Would you agree that banter is a suitable defense under the circumstances?” “I just can’t summon the spirit for it, K.R.” M’Shulla replies, “Sorry.”
Sensing that his “mud-brother” needs some reassurance, Killraven tells him “We WILL find Carmilla. We will find all of them.” But then he weakens “But there are so MANY wars left to fight, mud-brother. The important wars never end, and I am tired of the battle. Sometimes I would rather gaze into crackling fires and eat and laugh and listen to daring stories than continue this fight.”
Cut to another flashback from the night before. Our heroes have eaten and are gathered around their campfire before going to sleep (while standing guard in shifts).
Killraven observes aloud “She followed us. I felt her eyes on my back the whole day.” Carmilla, cuddling with M’Shulla, adds “I caught glimpses of her, briefly. The scientific part of my personality finds it intriguing. I’ve considered hormone extracts … dna transplants … cell cultures … embryo hybrids … mutations … and combinations of the above named. A new life-form. She’s fascinating, yet repulsive, just by being alive.”
After a period of silence the former Keeper Frost continues: “Remember Emmanuel, the 24-Hour Man? He was like her, appearing all the more perverse because of his human traits. What they have in common with us emphasizes their differences.”
Killraven, pondering the 24-Hour Man and all the other alien and hybrid creatures the Freemen have encountered, muses aloud “Even if we win our war against the aliens the Earth will never be the same as it was before their invasion.”
Carmilla returns the conversation to the winged woman: “We should give her a name, even if she doesn’t speak.” “A name?” Killraven asks, “What purpose would it serve?” Carmilla replies “Because … because IDENTITY! She has identity, that’s why.”
KR asks “You know that, even though she has not spoken?” And Carmilla says “You know it, also, Killraven. It was evident from the way you reacted earlier, when you refrained from killing her. Her face has sentient identity. It is imprisoned in her eyes, whispered in her movements … Wouldn’t you agree, Killraven?”
“Perhaps” the rebel leader says non-committedly, “What would you name her?” “You will laugh” Carmilla answers. “That has never stopped you before” KR replies.
“I would call her Mourning Prey … Mourning after the fact that her face has a sad-eyed, melancholy quality locked within its beauty, and Prey because she stalks us like a vengeful predator.”
Without warning Mourning Prey swoops down on the Freemen out of the darkness, wordlessly directing her hand-sized butterfly children to swarm over our heroes, suffocating them and spitting formic acid at them.
Cut back to the morning after the battle: Killraven and M’Shulla come across the wounded but still-living Huey or Louie. (In my revision they would have encountered Deathlok. Like them he’s been wandering the marsh for awhile, searching for the others. )
While our heroes continue their search for the rest of the Freemen, KR again flashes back to the previous night’s battle. While the Freemen, shooting and slicing at their attackers, continued fighting, Killraven and Mourning Prey again locked eyes and, via her odd, undefined psychic powers, shared an epiphany.
McGregor shares that epiphany with us under the title “Interim Two: Metamorphosis … “Look at it out there in the sun-splashed trees/ You see it/ You’ve seen it before/ Though you have never really seen it/ You acknowledge its existence and reluctantly grant it its beauty/ And pretend to care that you know it is there/ Rather butterflies than caterpillars/ Banish the caterpillars/ Replace them with delicate butterflies/ And delude yourself into believing you’ll never have to face it”
Mourning Prey continued mentally sharing image after image with Killraven while they grappled and she carried him high above the swamp with her in her flight. At length she dropped him and his fall stunned him but did not seriously hurt him.
Cut back to the morning after. Killraven, M’Shulla and Huey or Louie (but Deathlok in my revisions) hear Old Skull’s flute playing. “Wait up a second, K.R.” M’Shulla says, “Do you hear that?” Killraven replies “I will ignore the insult … and you said you had no spirit for jest.”
As the three race toward the source of the flute playing, M’Shulla jokes “I rise to the face of adversity. Just my innate nature I guess!” Killraven zings back “Is that before or AFTER you’ve finished weeping?” “During.” M’Shulla retorts.
KR, M’Shulla and their companion reach an idyllic part of the marsh and in the dawn light they see that Old Skull’s flute-playing has charmed and calmed down Mourning Prey and her butterfly offspring. Carmilla Frost and the other member of the Huey/ Louie dyad (but Didymus in my revisions) are relaxing and admiring the sight of Mourning Prey and her children flying/ dancing around Old Skull as he plays.
M’Shulla sarcastically says “Well K.R. I’m glad they’ve been having themselves a good time while we ran ourselves ragged through the muck and slime. Aren’t YOU glad about that, K.R?
“Overjoyed, M’Shulla” Killraven tersely answers, “You cannot IMAGINE how overjoyed.”
Old Skull stops playing his flute to say “Hello, Mister Killraven, and no need to sound so nasty, M’Shulla. Old Skull knows when you’re being nasty.”
M’Shulla wryly says “Isn’t that cute, K.R, he took time out to stop playing his flute and talk to us.” Killraven approaches Old Skull and says “Old Skull … old friend … please … what is going on?”
Old Skull answers “The butterflies are dancing, Mister Killraven, butterflies always dance to Old Skull’s music … But they’re gonna leave shortly.”
Killraven – “I hardly know what to say. Are you and Mourning Prey … good friends now?”
Old Skull replies “Old Skull figures she’ll forgive you, Mister Killraven.” “HER forgive ME?” KR incredulously shoots back. “Old Skull told Miss Prey you didn’t mean no harm.” “WHO harmed WHO?” Killraven asks.
“Her children, Mister Killraven. That was their nest you shot a hole in. Killed a lot of her young’uns. Miss Prey, she knows now we didn’t have any idea. That we’re real sorry that it happened.”
A skeptical Killraven asks “You talked to the butterflies?” and Old Skull answers “Butterflies can’t talk, Mister Killraven … Everyone knows that. Miss Prey, she does it with pictures inside the head, that’s what she does.”
At that, Mourning Prey lands before Killraven, whom she clearly recognizes as her counterpart, and takes his hands in hers. They obviously commune while the narration says “An embrace by sight … A communion of hands.”
McGregor relays their shared thoughts in a bit titled Interim Three: Migration:
Mourning Prey’s children fly off to seek their own individual destinies and as she and Killraven watch them go she psychically tells him “Ask the question, Killraven.” “No.” our reluctant hero replies. “Are you afraid to ask the question?” Mourning Prey asks him.
“Yes” he answers and she follows up with “What do you fear?” His reply is “The pain that comes when the question is asked … Also, the answer.” “But you will ask it, despite that?” “Yes.”
“Then ask.” And Killraven asks “Where do they go? And why?” Mourning Prey answers “They do not know, save that it is meant for them. They do not need a reason. They are individual fliers hearing the same call.”
“And you let them go?” KR asks. “There is no other choice” comes the proud but melancholy answer. “Look at it out there in the sunsets and dawns/ You see it/ You have seen it before/ The truth unaltered/ And one day you will have to face it.”
And for a cutesy bit, McGregor and Russell lower the curtain on these first three years of Killraven stories with a shot of Old Skull telling the reader “Th- tha- that’s ALL, folks!” in vintage Warner Brothers fashion.
COMMENT: Hopefully Balladeer’s Blog reader Cara of Cara Has Angels fame can shed some light on this Mourning Prey metaphor. I don’t have any children so I may not comprehend the entire message, but as far as I can make out a parallel is being drawn between Mourning Prey’s children and the way Killraven regards oppressed, suffering humanity as HIS “children.”
KR seems to have a fear that if or when he succeeds in leading his children to freedom/ “guiding them to adulthood” and it is time for them to go off on their own, he will not know how to handle it. What if liberated humanity reverts to its pre-invasion form and inflicts tyranny and atrocities on each other? What if all he has done is – as he reflected in an earlier chapter – “won back humanity’s right to destroy itself?”
Mourning Prey’s message for him seems to be that no matter how much it hurts to let one’s “young” go, it is inevitable and necessary. Once they figuratively let go of our hero’s fingers to take their first tentative steps on their own they will never truly come back. What follows is beyond his control.
Or maybe I’m full of it. Anyway, we have a few more Killraven installments to go, including another battle with the High Overlord and KR facing his long-lost brother in a confrontation only one of them can survive. +++
FOR PART TWENTY-FOUR CLICK HERE
FOR MY LOOK AT HOMBRE, SPAIN’S POST-APOCALYPTIC COMIC BOOK FROM THE 1980s, CLICK HERE
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