The cover story in this issue is “Lone Shark”, a brilliant 7-page story about a shark who, as a result of undersea atomic explosions, grows a tumor that serves as a second brain, giving it human level intelligence. What really makes the story special is that it’s told from the perspective of the shark.
I fell in love with this story based on the splash page when it was covered in a “Kirby Obscura” column a few issues back in THE JACK KIRBY COLLECTOR. I couldn’t not buy it when I saw a copy for sale. It doesn’t disappoint. From the punny title on, it’s a masterpiece, with a nice sense of humour in the shark’s “voice”, complaining about the scavenger fish that follow him around, expressing curiousity, complaining about those damn headaches. He becomes almost sympathetic by the end. And the artwork looks great, following his undersea roamings.
The Kirby Checklist also credits him with the one page “The Strangest Facts” feature, a sort of “Ripley’s” collection of stories. It’s printed kind of dark in my copy, but the half-page of a “Juoslavian Amazon” soldier from 1915 is really nice, as is the odd drawing of a swearing parrot.
Kirby also draws the cover to this issue.
This was the final issue of BLACK MAGIC produced by Simon&Kirby, though the book would be revived by Prize a few years later, and then eventually resurrected by Simon as a reprint vehicle for DC in the 1970s.
There’s an untrustworthy guy if I ever saw one. A nice dramatic cover to contrast with the more explicit horror that’s more common on these BLACK MAGIC covers, showing the variety of fantasy stories the book held, and a good showcase for the inking on the S&K covers. A bit heavy on the text, though.
Three Kirby reprints in this issue. “Grottu, King Of The Insects” leads off the book, 6-pager by Kirby/Everett reprinted from STRANGE TALES #73 (1960), part of the giant-insect series. This time the beast is an African army ant, exposed to atomic radiation from a Russian test and quickly growing and gaining intelligence.
Rumours of the creature spread to America, where one of those generic Kirby adventurers hears about it and goes to check it out, just in time for Grottu to make his move on a port city where he’ll lead his ant army on a cruise of world conquest. He ends up getting one of the most embarrassing deaths of his species, as he’s buried in sugar and crushed by his own army.
I think this is the only giant monster story Everett inked over Kirby, although he also did a few westerns and later worked over some Kirby layouts for the Hulk and had a very impressive run as inker on Thor. Looks really good on this short story.
STRANGE TALES #72 (1959) is the source for the 5-page “I Fought The Colossus” by Kirby/Ditko. Posted about it from another reprint here, I’ll just add that I really like the futuristic architecture.
Finally from STRANGE TALES #78 (1960) is “A Martian Walks Among Us”, a Kirby/Ayers 7-page story. Great splash page (and remember you can always find out more about these stories, including the splash pages, over at the MonsterBlog), one of the creepiest of Kirby’s splash pages for the monster stories. The story is about a man who is attacked by a Martian invader who steals his form, and then pursues the alien for the rest of the story, somehow knowing how to make an infra-red detector to see through the disguise abilities. He’s able to stop the impending invasion, and it turns out the “human” was actually a Venusian, sworn to protect the Earth from invasion.
The cover can just barely be called a reprint of the ST #73 cover, with the original Kirby/Everett Grottu figure preserved but the entire background redrawn by Marie Severin and Bill Everett.
Klarion the Witchboy, along with his pet cat Teekl return to make Jason Blood’s life miserable in this first of a two-part story. First they invade his dreams, making him have a horrific vision of Etrigan in Hell, including a great two page spread of Gargora, a Medusa-like demon of a thousand heads. After Blood awakens, Klarion gathers together six undead witnesses for his spell which creates a doppelganger of Blood, who plans to take his place.
The rest of the issue has Blood, changed to Etrigan, going out and saving his friends from attacks by the false Blood, while slowly fading away from existence, until finally he’s no more than a phantom.
Mike Royer inks the 20-page story and cover, with some uncredited assistance from Bill Stout that Royer mentioned in a few interviews.
One 6-page S&K reprint in this issue, “Girl Who Walked on Water” from BLACK MAGIC #11[v2n5] (1952). Two guys in a mail order firm discover a young girl who is able to walk on water or up walls, simply because she doesn’t believe there’s any reason she shouldn’t be able to.
They see the money-making possibilities in this immediately, but unfortunately before they’re able to arrange a demonstration for the press a young neighbour of the girl sees her walking down a wall and attempts the same thing, getting badly injured. This shakes her confidence so the next time she tried water-walking she has, for the first time, the idea in her mind that she might sink, and so of course does.
A clever little story, with a lot of nice visual touches, including a really great panel where one of the men has to rescue the drowning girl at the end, plus the little details in the girl’s cramped little apartment. Some funny captions, as well, like “my thoughts ran wild and merged and frothed and hissed like soapsuds lurching from one side to the other of my reeling brain”.
The first issue of this series, taking over the numbering from CHAMBER OF DARKNESS, features two Kirby reprints, both 7-pagers inked by Steve Ditko. Up first is “I Discovered Gorgilla”, from TALES TO ASTONISH #12 (1960).
Giant apes battling dinosaurs, gee, where else have we seen that?
Anyway, this story involves a group of scientists tracking down rumours of the missing link between apes and men in the mountains of Borneo. The succeed beyond all expectations when they find a living example in Gorgilla, but decide to leave him there when he saves them from a dinosaur also on the island, seemingly sensing his distant kinship with the humans. Y’know, the dinosaur would seem to be an even greater find than the missing link, and is just lying there dead for the taking, but I guess these guys specialize and have trouble seeing beyond their field (and I just realized that’s a bit of a flaw in KING KONG. You find an island with a large ape and with dinosaurs, and you make a big fuss about the ape?).
Also this issue, “Kraggoom”, from JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #78 (1962). It seems there’s a sort of shapeless creature waiting out in space, where he was exiled centuries ago by his people after trying to conquer the Earth. He waits for the day that mankind goes out in space and he can possess and control the first astronaut and continue his interrupted conquest. Fortunately for the Earth, the first astronaut turns out to be a spoiled rich guy who buys his way into the astronaut program, faking his test scores, so at the same time he’s possessed by Kraggoom he panics and loses all memory, repressing Kraggoom in the process.
Two pretty decent examples of some of the shorter monster stories that Kirby did, one big and loud and the other a quiet, moodier, more psychological story a clever twist ending. Ditko’s inks look good on both, although they suit the second one more (I always prefer Ayers on the rampaging monster type stories).
The cover is a slightly modified version of the Kirby/Ayers cover to TtA #12.
Two Simon&Kirby reprints in this issue, both from STRANGE WORLD OF YOUR DREAMS #2 (1952). “The Girl in the Grave” is a 5-page story, starting with dream analyst Richard Temple encountering a nervous woman who it turns out was going to see him about a series of nightmares she’s been having that threaten her performance in her upcoming new job. She’s been having dreams about seeing her own grave, leading to an underground office where she’s overwhelmed by work and then facing rising water.
Of course Temple easily figures this out as symbolic of her doubts and fear of failure. Which even I could have figured out, but it seems to ease her mind.
Some great moody bits of artwork in the dream sequences, especially the graveyard on the opening page.
The other story is a 2-pager from the regular “Send Us Your Dreams” series from the book, with a man describing a dream of trying to race through a storm to a peaceful garden, being blocked by a fence, a horde of dwarves and a highway of futuristic cars. Temple explains that these kinds of dreams are common, and a reaction to tensions raised by the uncertain new world of atom bombs. I’m really not sure how Temple ever actually helps anyone, but man, a Kirby-drawn attack of misshapen dwarves is always fun.
Kirby’s riff off Frankenstein continues in “Rebirth of Evil”. First there’s a flashback to Etrigan’s old encounter with the original Baron Von Rakenstein and his creatures years in the past. Great double page spread of the assorted beasties. Back in the modern day, we see that the Demon didn’t quite manage to wipe out the Rakenstein evil, as the modern Baron has inherited his ancestor’s instruments and has Jason Blood prisoner and plans to put his head on the creature’s body.
Fortunately Blood transforms before the cut can be made, and frees the creature, who also has a telepathic link to a psychic girl who Harry and Randu went for help in finding Jason.
Mike Royer inks the cover and 20-page story.
More reprints repackaged by Joe Simon from the 1950s Prize series, two 6-pagers by Simon&Kirby, plus one by Mort Meskin.
“Strange Old Bird” from BLACK MAGIC v4#1[#25] (1953) is told by the old caretaker of an apartment building, about an old woman who lived in the building and took care of birds. She tells him the story of the immortal firebird the Phoenix, which turns up in the form of a sick bird she takes care of.
A nice short story, and I like the way Kirby drew the Phoenix (especially compared to the odd non-Kirby new cover where the bird looks like a man in a bird suit).
“Up There” from BLACK MAGIC v2#7[#13] (1952) is a story about a series of test pilots who die in a series of crashes. One of the pilots waiting for his turn sees his wife die of a lingering illness, and then goes up and crashes, with the recording equipment on his plane recording him imagining the ghost of his dead wife, which is then backed up by a photo found in the crash. Not quite sure I got the point of this story, and I’ve seen the basic theme done better, but the splash page is really nice.
A new Captain America image by Kirby/Giacoia is on the cover of this book, which contains three Kirby reprints.
Two stories from CAPTAIN AMERICA #3 (1941) begin and end the book. First is “The Hunchback of Hollywood and the Movie Murder” (17-pages), which has a movie producer making an historical epic with clear anti-Nazi overtones. He gets himself killed, but the film production goes on, with Steve Rogers and Bucky being hired as extras. They take advantage of the movie stage setting for a lot of fun scenes, including a horseback duel, a swordfighting scene and the storming of a castle…
…before finally revealing the true villain behind the hunchback.
Ending the book is the awkwardly titled “The Queer Case Of The Murdering Butterfly And The Ancient Mummies”, retitled for this reprint as the no less awkward “The Weird Case Of The Plundering Butterfly And The Ancient Mummies” (11-pages). This time there’s a criminal gang operating out of a museum, which Bucky discovers on a class trip (Cap wanted to him to go to West Point some day. Poor Bucky…). Again, the setting allows for a lot of nice background touches which make the story much more interesting than its simple plotline.
Various hands were inking Cap in those days. The Kirby Checklist has the first as Joe Simon, the second as Reed Crandall, and Al Avison and Crandall doing general assists on the issue. Lots of minor art alterations in both those stories, making the hunchback less scary, changing a scene where Cap stabs a guy, as well as generally mediocre art reconstruction. Fortunately later reprints are more faithful to the originals.
Among the monster/suspense stories between the Cap reprints is the 13-page Kirby/Ayers “Beware of Bruttu” from TALES OF SUSPENSE #22 (1961). An interesting twist on the standard monster story of the era, as this time the story is about a scientist who is accidentally transformed into a monster (based on one in a comic book, too), so the story is actually narrated by the monster, as he’s hunted and unable to communicate, and finds out a few things about life on the way. Definitely one of the better of these stories, and much more of a pre-cursor to Marvel hero concepts like the Hulk than those stories that just happen to use the name “Hulk” that are often passed off as “prototypes”.