RETRO REVIEW: Red Circle Sorcery #8 (August 1974)

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One of the biggest advantages of my weekend comic store job is exposure to comics that most fans have only vaguely heard of, but are brilliant nonetheless.  When I was growing up, Archie Comics were mostly known for their digest-sized collections, available at grocery counters everywhere.  These days, Archie is in a period of expansion, changing their characters, trying different genres and even reviving their once-proud super-hero line.  Of course, if you know your obscure comics history, you might recall that this isn’t the first time Archie has diversified their offerings for a new comic audience.  Your Major Spoilers (retro) review awaits!

SUMMARY

Pros
Amazing art all the way through.
A nice old-school anthology.


Cons

Slightly predictable.
New-school page counts make it feel a bit cramped.

Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆

READER RATING!

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Sorcery8CoverRED CIRCLE SORCERY #8
Writer: Don Karr/Marv Channing/Don Glut
Artist: Frank Thorne/Gray Morrow/Carlos Pino/Alex Toth
Inker: Frank Thorne/Gray Morrow/Carlos Pino/Alex Toth
Colorist: Uncredited
Letterer: Uncredited
Editor: Grey Morrow
Publisher: Archie Comics
Cover Price: 25 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $12.00

Previously in Red Circle Sorcery: A long time ago, I bumped into a used copy of Jeff Rovin’s ‘Encyclopedia Of Superheroes’, a phenomenally useful tome for those who fancy themselves amateur comic historians.  Though occasionally not-so-objective, the information within is invaluable, and the amount of work involved in assembling the entries was staggering to consider.  Best of all were the indexes, filled with minor super-types, one-shot heroes and heroes who might stump even the finest comic minds, one of which was a one-trick pseudo-pulp hero known as The Cobra.  Though I hadn’t yet fallen over my current internet alias, the name still held much power for me, and this comic (along with a few others we’ve already seen in Retro Review form) became a curiosity that I wanted to read.

Nearly 30 years later, I had been unsuccessful in my quest for this issue, to the point where I had nearly forgotten I ever wanted to read it in the first place.  When a copy showed up in a recent longbox of purchases at the store (Gatekeeper Hobbies, Huntoon & Gage, Topeka!  Ask us about our Hulk #182!), I knew it was serendipity.  The anthology festivities open with a pirate’s tale… Sorcery81

I was a little bit surprised to find this first story rendered by fantasy artist extraordinaire Frank Thorne, making for an impressive set of visuals to open things up.  The story follows dread pirate Jack Duggs, as he stabs an old man for his horse, then takes off through the forest for the coast, hoping to escape.  On his travels, he encounters strange woods that he’s never seen before, filled with horrible creatures.  Making his way to the coast, he leaps into the ocean, swimming for the freedom of a waiting ship…

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…only to find, ‘An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge’-style, that he never escaped in the first place.  The ending is a bit confusing, to be honest, and it’s never quite clear at what point Duggs actually dies within the tale, only that his Outer Limits ending leaves him forever damned to row for the shades of his own victims.  Amazing art, though.  That particular refrain recurs in our second tale, the one featuring the cover-featured Green Hornet-styled vigilante.  Jerry Burton, artist and avid collector of pulp magazines, ends up working with one of his idols, the man behind the pulp adventures of his favorite character, The Cobra…

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The now-elderly writer explains that he holds no fond memories of The Cobra himself, and is relieved that the character has disappeared from public view, as he often felt that he was somehow possessed by the spirit of The Cobra in writing the tales.  That night, Jerry witnesses a mugging on his way home…

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Night after night, Jerry finds himself haunted by the voice of The Cobra in his head, a voice urging him to follow its commands, leading him to take a drastic, unthinkable step…

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Aaand, Jerry has gone bye-bye.  It’s an interesting premise for our tale, taking the pulp iconography and adding a layer of disbelief.  Is The Cobra real?  Or has Jerry just had a final break from reality?  And will it matter in the end?

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No.  No, it will not.  As short-stories go, it’s a successful one, mostly due to the superior art by underrated workhorse Grey Morrow, and the grisly ending leaves enough questions unanswered to keep this one rolling around in the back of your head for a while.  Though the dialogue is a bit clunky, it has a nice bite and an ending that surprises, unlike the next chapter, wherein an avaricious musician kills another out of jealousy, and steals away his magnum opus.  But, on the night of his big debut…

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I’m unfamiliar with the work of Carlos Pino, but his contribution to the issue fits well alongside Morrow and Thorne’s stuff.  Oh, and bringing up the cleanup slot?

Alex.  Freakin’.  Toth.

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The story is pretty pedestrian stuff (a deal with the Grim Reaper allows a sick young man to rise from his bed, pledging his sword to the service of Death, only to find himself dueling Death himself), but the art helps to elevate it past the paint-by-numbers ghost story being told.  Even knowing the title of the book, I was surprised by the fact that this was a horror/ghost story anthology, expecting that the Cobra’s adventure would be a superhero tale.  Still and all, this is a pretty well-drawn issue on all fronts, marred only by indifferent coloring and inconsistent stories.  Red Circle Sorcery #8 was totally worth the two bucks it cost me, but perhaps not up to three decades of expectation that my mind built up for it, still earning 3 out of 5 stars overall.  I’m thinking of picking up the rest of the run as well, if only to see if there’s more hidden artistic gems floating around…

Rating: ★★★☆☆