I’m gonna be honest with ya, Faithful Spoilerites. While this is the book I intended to share this week, it’s not the book I thought I remembered… Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Marvel Premiere #28 awaits!
MARVEL PREMIERE #28
Writer: Bill Mantlo
Penciler: Frank Robbins
Inker: Steve Gan
Colorist: Janice Cohen
Letterer: Artie Simek
Editor: Marv Wolfman
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: 25 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $20.00
Previously in Marvel Premiere: The advent of the Comics Code Authority in the 1950s led to many changes in comic books. The primary effect was to hamstring genres other than supers (“crime” and “horror” books were specifically prohibited, targeting the success of EC Comics, but putting many comic outfits out of the game), leaving the biggest publishers (Archie, National Periodical Publications/DC Comics and others) unscathed. The success of upstart Marvel Comics in the late 1960s led to a relaxing of the Code’s doctrine, thanks in part to the fearlessness of Stan Lee and his squadron of writers, even leading to a resurgence of horror books. Still, even Marvel’s bread was buttered on the superhero side, and naturally the House Of Ideas was ready to cash in on the new trend by hybridizing it with their superhero line, creating a number of ‘Monster Heroes’ whose adventures skirted the lines of the increasingly defanged CCA. Who were those heroes, you ask?
Ahhh, the wonders of Bill Mantlo’s second-person narration… Those four represent the core of Marvel’s (non-licensed) monster heroes, each borne of a nexus of mysticism and magic, none of whom actually breaks the rules. (Though the code prohibited vampires, Morbius’ status as “living vampire” was apparently acceptable, and nothing in the rules books said that you couldn’t
have a dog play football sell your soul to the devil.) As an aside, when I decided I was going to review the first appearance of the Legion Of Monsters, what my mind remembered was this:
That book, one of Marvel’s oversized black-and-white magazines, came out a year or so before this issue of Premiere, and featured lovely pencil art by Dave Cockrum, as well as Pablo Marcos, Val Mayerik and others. Because of the title, I swore that I remembered the events of THIS story in B&W by Cockrum. Instead, it’s Frank Robbins of ‘Johnny Hazard’ fame drawing, as Johnny Blaze finds the earth beneath Los Angeles ripping itself apart beneath his wheels…
I admit it: I’m not always a big fan of Robbins’ Marvel work, as somehow it always feels sketchy and incomplete, as opposed to the cleaner lines of his ‘Hazard’ work. Ghost Rider, for his part, is used to earth tremors, but is startled to see a mountain tearing itself free of the moorings of Sunset Boulevard. Elsewhere in LA, living vampire Michael Morbius is having his own angsty second-person issues, as he sweeps down to drain the blood from an unsuspecting victim, only to find himself face-to-face with Jack Russell, the Werewolf! The fanged ones tussle for a moment before they, too, are shocked by ‘quakes…
Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, the shambling muck-encrusted mockery of man known as the Man-Thing (tee hee!) is greeted with a strange prophetic vision in the middle of his swamp…
As the guardian of the Nexus Of All Reality, Manny’s sudden teleportation all the way across the continent is unusual, but not unexpected, and all four tormented anti-heroes find themselves atop the same peak, where they are greeted with a hearty “Welcome to paradise!”
The strange creature before them seems familiar, and Johnny Blaze realizes that he used to dream of such creatures, of “angels, all in gold!” His feral, vampiric and plant-based comrades-in-arms are likewise awestruck, as the Starseed begins to explain the hows and whys of his back story: A member of a cloistered group of high-thinking humans, he and his people hid atop a mountain when normal men were still crushing one another’s skulls with rocks, only to find themselves visited by beings from beyond the stars!
Hiding in the stolen peak, Starseed and his ilk used pilfered alien technology to evolve past petty humanity, and have now taken command of their mountain home, returning it to its place of origin…
Ghost Rider’s attempts to understand what he’s seeing are undermined somewhat when the Werewolf, still enraged from his brief tussle with Morbius, leaps at their new golden friend with blood in his eye. The ravenous living vampire, a slave to his terrible thirst for blood, follows quickly, ripping into Starseed without restraint…
Utter chaos is quickly achieved, as Man-Thing attempts to communicate with Ghost Rider, only to have Mister Blaze lash out with his hellfire. Ghost Rider manages to draw Morbius away, but the Werewolf continues slashing away at Starseed, knowing only that he hates this perfect being with all his monster-being. Starseed swats away the lycanthrope, only to find himself wounded, and suddenly fearful of these strange monsters. This is especially ill-timed, as Man-Thing approaches him, and (Say it with me, kids!) “Whoever knows fear BURNS at the touch of the Man-Thing!” Starseed collapses, his wounds fatal, before revealing the terrible truth to the Legion Of Monsters: He wanted to help them all along…
The terrible reality hits them all, and they shamble/glide/skulk away down the mountain, leaving only the world’s greatest stunt rider to minister to Starseed’s dying moments. Jonathan Blaze wishes he could somehow help, but the golden man passes away, a single tear on his cheek, thanking Ghost Rider for at least TRYING to understand and help him. The alien dies, leaving Ghost Rider to push his skull cycle home, presumably to the sad piano tinkling of the ‘Incredible Hulk’ closing theme…
It’s a weirdly existential, totally downer ending for a story, even one that features the heroes descending upon a stranger in a blood-rage, but it’s pure Bill Mantlo in the execution. That said, it suffers greatly from the reduced page-count of 1976 Marvel (brought on by a paper shortage and inflation), with a few key story elements not well-delivered. Johnny’s lack of fuel isn’t really shown until that final panel, the coincidence of Russell and Morbius clashing seconds before the plot hooks kick in feels arbitrary, and Man-Thing’s sudden teleportation isn’t even given so much as a cursory explanation. Add to that the wild and wooly Robbins art, and Marvel Premiere #28 is a strange, bull moose gonzo whopper of a mixed bag, with the high points of Mantlo’s script pulling off a surprising 2.5 out of 5 stars overall. With a little more room to breathe, this could have cemented the Legion Of Monsters as another Defenders or X-Men, rather than a footnote in Johnny Blaze’s history. (And at the risk of sounding mean, I still wish this had the Dave Cockrum pencils my brain wanted to remember…)