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.
It’s no secret that when the original 1973-1976 run of the Killraven series was canceled, writer Don McGregor transferred many of the story elements he had set up for Killraven over to his independent post-apocalypse comic book Sabre.
The original, self-contained Sabre volume came out in 1978, the same year as Will Eisner’s pioneering graphic novel A Contract With God. That format would find expanded life in recent years as independent comic book geniuses like Ethan Van Sciver, Richard C Meyer and Jon Malin would use it to pursue their creative vision outside the toxic corporate environment of the Big Two comic book publishers.
Sabre was hyped under the description “It’s the kind of comic novel you’d choose … If they GAVE you a choice.” That is definitely in the spirit of maverick publications like Jawbreakers, Cyber Frog and Graveyard Shift, the amazing creations of Van Sciver, Meyer and Malin. (NOT a law firm.)
The original Sabre graphic novel was in black & white to accommodate its graphic violence, sexual themes and its female toplessness. When McGregor brought back the character Sabre in a continuing, full-color comic book series at Eclipse Comics in late 1982 the original Sabre tale became more popularly known by its subtitle Slow Fade of an Endangered Species. Human beings were that endangered species, of course.
Before I review McGregor’s Killraven graphic novel from 1983 I must first examine the 1978 Sabre story since – in altered form – it continued and in some cases resolved assorted subplots set up in the 1973-1976 run of Killraven stories.
Let’s have fun with it:
*** Killraven wielded a sword, a photo-nuclear pistol and explosive throwing-stars along with his possession of The Power, a pre-Star Wars (as in 1973) version of The Force.
*** Sabre wielded a sword and a “flintlock laser” – a futuristic example of a trend toward exploiting nostalgia by packaging high-tech weaponry in old-fashioned, even historical, casings.
*** Killraven’s 1973-1976 series saw him leading his Freemen in a guerilla war against Earth’s alien conquerors. That series ended with KR and company in Florida in the year 2020 (which was 44 years in the future at the time).
*** Sabre’s 1978 graphic novel began in Florida in the year 2020. He was rebelling against an authoritarian regime which had risen to power in the aftermath of a global apocalypse caused by poverty, famine, disease, nuclear accidents and periodic terrorist attacks.
*** Killraven’s original series ended just as the Freemen were on the verge of an adventure in what was left of Disney World in 2020.
*** Sabre’s 1978 story began in what was left of Disney World in 2020.
Sabre himself was a composite of Killraven the charismatic, eloquent rebel leader AND his friend M’Shulla, an African-American. Just as M’Shulla was involved in a bold – for comic books of the time – interracial romance with Carmilla Frost, the scientist of the Freemen, Sabre was involved in an interracial romance with the blonde Melissa Siren, an artificially created test-tube baby.
Sabre and Melissa fought alone against their foes, with no substitute Freemen. However, that would change when McGregor wrote the full-color Sabre series at Eclipse Comics. (The original black & white story was reprinted in serialized form in the first few issues of the color series.) Rebels like Whippoorwhill Zack (a sort of Old Skull substitute) and the gay guys Deuces Wild & Summer Ice (substitutes for Huey and Louie) joined Sabre and Melissa Siren.
*** On the Killraven series, writer Don McGregor had worked with artist Craig Russell.
*** On Sabre, McGregor worked with artist Paul Gulacy, known for his work on Marvel’s Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu series. Just as Gulacy often drew Shang Chi to resemble the late Bruce Lee, he drew Sabre to resemble the late Jimi Hendrix. (That had to be changed in the 1980s continuing series. The resemblance to Hendrix was downplayed.)
*** In the Killraven stories the leader of the tyrannical alien forces was the armored High Overlord.
*** In the Sabre graphic novel the leader of the tyrannical human forces was the armored Overseer. (Comically enough, in the 1983 Killraven graphic novel McGregor and the proofreaders accidentally left in multiple erroneous references to the High Overlord as “the Overseer.”)
*** In Killraven’s tales the High Overlord’s form was encased in armor to protect it, since it was the most advanced prototype for the new bodies that Earth’s alien conquerors needed in order to function in our planet’s greater gravity and in order to be immune to Earth germs.
*** Over at Sabre’s adventure, the Overseer wore armor to keep his slowly decomposing body together in between prosthetic surgeries and injected preservatives as needed. The deranged figure was so dedicated to his perverse scientific “research” that he was glorying in getting to clinically chronicle his body’s sensations as each part of him died and was replaced.
*** In the Killraven series, the red-haired KR’s brother Joshua was rechristened Deathraven by the alien rulers he served. In the story Red Dust Legacy, Don McGregor established that Deathraven was the leader of the Mercenary Elite. Though we only ever saw him at a great distance, the narrative was setting up a battle between him and Killraven.
*** In Sabre, the red-haired Blackstar Blood, leader of the villains’ elite mercenaries, was presumably what Deathraven was originally supposed to look like. (Probably without the eyepatch, though. Maybe a bionic eye instead, or a third eye added to his forehead or something.)
The dynamic between Sabre and Blackstar Blood in the 1978 Sabre story seemed to hint at what the relationship between Killraven and Deathraven would have been like. The dashing and idealistic rebel on one side and the amoral mercenary on the other, with a mutual, grudging respect for each other’s combat abilities.
*** The final two Killraven stories in 1976 saw the Freemen being sheltered and aided by a Florida rebel colony led by Brother Axe.
*** In Sabre we learn that the tyrannical villains have slaughtered half the members of a Florida rebel colony for sheltering Sabre and are holding the other half as hostages in what’s left of Disney World to help lure Sabre and Melissa Siren into attacking the place. It’s possible that Don McGregor planned for Brother Axe’s rebel colony to suffer that fate if the Killraven series had continued.
While I give McGregor credit for the adult themes and his defense of individuality in the 1978 work, the actual story is disappointing and its reputation is incredibly overblown, presumably due to the daring (at the time) toplessness and open sexuality.
Unfortunately, the original Sabre story and the subsequent series represented Don McGregor’s writing at its worst. On Killraven, Marvel Comics’ editors clearly kept McGregor focused and reined in his tendency toward stilted, pretentious rambling. With much less restraint on him over at Sabre, Don too often lapsed into boring scenarios in which Sabre and/or Melissa Siren delivered sanctimonious lectures to the villains or to supporting characters.
McGregor’s cringeworthy way of having even the villains openly compliment Sabre all the time was eye-rolling, making him seem like a Gary Stu.
Worst of all was the way Don violated the concept of “show, don’t tell” in the 1978 graphic novel. Sabre and Melissa walk along for what feels like forever just TALKING ABOUT battles and action scenes which set up the reasons behind their break-in at the Disney World headquarters of the Overseer and his troops.
In an especially absurd bit, just to flaunt the “adult” nature of the original black & white publication, Sabre and Melissa stop to have sex near the topless mermaid display in 2020 Disney World … while the villains simply watch via their security cameras rather than attack the pair at their most vulnerable.
I think an opening battle scene, followed by a sex scene IN SAFE TERRITORY and then the assault on Disney World would have worked better overall in terms of pacing.
As you would imagine, Sabre and Melissa Siren (Killraven & co) defeat the Overseer (High Overlord) and his villainous female assistant, scientist Misty Visions (NOT a porn starlet). Blackstar Blood (Deathraven) survives to tangle with our hero another day and in the end we learn that Sabre has gotten Melissa pregnant.
At any rate, after this story’s stand-ins for Killraven and company it’s back to the real thing next time around in the Killraven graphic novel. The story resumes in February of 2020, still in Florida and with Carmilla Frost discovering she is pregnant with M’Shulla’s child. +++
I’LL COVER THE NEXT STORY SOON. KEEP CHECKING BACK FOR UPDATES.
FOR MY LOOK AT HOMBRE, SPAIN’S POST-APOCALYPTIC COMIC BOOK FROM THE 1980s, CLICK HERE
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