Astonishing Tales, Barry Smith, Black Panther, collection, Dr. Doom, Gene Colan, Gerry Conway, Herb Trimpe, Jack Kirby, Ka-zar, Kraven, Larry Lieber, Marvel Comics, nazis, Red Skull, Roy Thomas, Stan Lee, Wally Wood
Of all the glorious splash pages in Astonishing Tales #1-8, this one of the Red Skull turning Latveria into Nazi Nation cracks me up the most. It’s so wrong in so many ways. Red Skull, what were you thinking? Do you have ANY idea what Dr. Doom is going to do to you when he gets home? And why does the decor look like a high-school assembly?
But let’s start at the beginning. Long before I used the controversial picture above to sell the set on eBay, Jack Kirby kicked off Astonishing Tales #1 in 1970 with a Ka-Zar story.
Ka-zar versus Kraven sounds like a manly jungle free-for-all, but the tale lacks substance. Each issue, however, provided two stories, and the second one features Dr. Doom. Roy Thomas teams up with artist Wally Wood for several issues of unique stories in the Dr. Doom archives.
After Stan & Jack wrap up the Kraven story, Gerry Conway and Barry Smith tell what may be the greatest Ka-zar story of all time. X-men fans may recall Garokk the Sun God from the days of Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s run. Byrne & Claremont’s tale, one of my favorites, has its roots in the pages of Astonishing Tales. Barry Smith renders the Savage Land and its inhabitants like never before or since. Conway’s tale is so awesome I could almost forgive him for killing Gwen Stacy — but I won’t.
Stan’s brother Larry Lieber takes the reins from Roy Thomas to continue Doom’s adventures, which include revolution, androids, and bringing a mummy back to life. It’s a whacky mix of themes that Wally Wood renders like it’s still the golden age at EC Comics. And did I mention the Red Skull shows up while Doom is on vacation? Guess what — he turns Latveria into Nazi Nation! What an idiot.
Just when you are thinking that you might subscribe to a monthly title featuring Dr. Doom drawn by Wally Wood, the creative team begins changing. Gene Colan joins Gerry Conway for a pretty awesome Black Panther story, the goofy gimmick of drilling underground in Wakanda serving as an excuse for a fine character study of the opposing monarchs, Doom and T’Challa.
Colan’s pencils seem to become more flowing and abstract in his next few issues of Doom. Inker Tom Palmer certainly deserves some credit for that effect, and if you’d like to see how different inkers have interpreted Colan, Comic Tropes has a great short video that will show you.
Doom’s mystic battle is one of my favorite examples of Colan’s style, rendered in bold flowing areas of black ink.
Herb Trimpe steps in with what seems a Frazetta-inspired pose for Ka-zar.
But despite the creative high points in these little-known and underrated stories, they might have been too odd for the market at that time. Doom got the axe, and the book became Ka-zar’s title for more than a year beginning with the ninth issue.
Later, it would become a sort of proving ground for potential characters. Tony Isabella and Dick Ayers would give us “It!” for a few issues, and then Deathlok by Rich Buckler and Doug Moench. The Guardians of the Galaxy also make an appearance, but Marvel axed the whole title after issue #36, six years after it began.
I recently sold my ‘reader’s copies’ set of the first eight issues, but you can usually find Astonishing Tales (Marvel, 1970) in stock. Many well-worn copies exist, so prices on VG+ Marvels from this era remain relatively cheap. Just try finding VF/NM copies, though, and you will have yourself a collecting challenge!