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Thursday, January 14, 2021

7 From the 70s - Comic Book Memories


Comic Book Memories with Gold Key Adventure Titles, Charlton’s Phantom, and Marvel Monsters - by Joseph Perry

Gold Key was my favorite comic book publisher growing up. I was a big fan of the underdog publishing companies at that age, so I was big on Dell — a former powerhouse that was on its final legs — King, and Charlton, too. Make no mistake about it — I loved Marvel and DC stuff, as well, but for whatever reasons, I tended to gravitate toward the smaller publishers. This time, I’ll discuss some more Gold Key offerings that hooked me as a six-year-old, and then dive into a Charlton title and some Marvel monster comics.

Tarzan was a fairly hot property among young kids in the mid-to-late 1960s, with the NBC Tarzan television series running from 1996-1968 and again in reruns during the summer of 1969. This momentum carried on with Gold Key’s Tarzan of the Apes series, which ran for nearly 10 years until February 1972. (DC Comics took over the series in April 1972, with stellar artwork from Joe Kubert.)

Gold Key’s Tarzan of the Apes comics were usually adapted from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan novels, with original stories presented, as well. Scripts were often written by Gaylord DuBois and artwork was provided by Russ Manning, Jesse Marsh, and Doug Wildey. At the time, heroic pre-superhero figures like Tarzan, Flash Gordon, and The Lone Ranger were still popular with young audiences, and the Gold Key Tarzan series captured my imagination while increasing my vocabulary. I remember when I was six years old that I first read the word “gloated” in a Tarzan comic, looked up the definition, and then used it in a first-grade report. I got a gold star on my paper and proved to parents and teachers that reading comic books wasn’t the waste of time some thought it was. Gold Key also published the fun series Korak, Son of Tarzan, with Manning, Warren Tufts, Dan Spiegle, and others providing the artwork. 

Turok, Son of Stone
Gold Key’s Turok, Son of Stone appealed to me because it combined Tarzan-like man-against-nature aspects with dinosaurs. The titular character was a pre-Columbian Native American who, along with his younger brother Andar, becomes trapped in the Lost Valley, a network of canyons in the Carlsbad, New Mexico area populated by prehistoric creatures. Primitive peoples of both the evil and kindly sort dwell there, as well. When not trying to outrun the “honkers” —  one of the words that Turok and Andar use for dinosaurs — our heroes are usually trying to outwit fierce, brutish clans or helping more peaceful tribes better their ways of life. I have always been a fan of stories about lost worlds wherein dinosaurs still roam, and Turok, Son of Stone pressed all the right buttons for me as a kid with its colorful, exciting artwork and thrilling stories.   

Space Family Robinson
Another Gold Key title that I followed eagerly was Space Family Robinson (titled for a time as Space Family Robinson: Lost In Space [the controversy surrounding this comic book series and the Lost in Space TV series is well documented] and also sometimes subtitled on Space Station One). This series portrayed the adventures of married scientists Craig and June Robinson and their teenaged children, son Tim and daughter Tam. They were all selected by computer to be the best candidates to survive in Space Station One, a large spacecraft designed for space exploration. Leaving Earth in 2001, the Robinsons encountered a cosmic storm that left them far from Earth and quite on their own. The family encountered all manner of alien beings, some benevolent and some bent on war, subjugation, or destruction. They battled their share of weird monsters, as well. You will notice a pattern in my comic book fare of the 1970s: if there are monsters involved, I was in.

Grimm’s Ghost Stories
Supernatural tales were a personal weakness, too, and Gold Key’s Grimm’s Ghost Stories was one of my go-to titles in that vein. As I mentioned in my previous Seven from the Seventies column about Gold Key comics, Leo Dorfman, who created the Ghosts series for DC, also wrote many of the scripts for Grimm’s Ghost Stories, along with other Gold Key horror and mystery titles The Twilight Zone, Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery, and the various Ripley’s Believe It or Not comic books. Of these offerings, Grimm’s Ghost Stories was my least favorite, not because the quality of the stories was subpar compared with the others, but because I was already familiar with the famous faces of Rod Serling and Boris Karloff from my television, and Robert Ripley’s daily newspaper comic, too, well before I discovered comic books. Grimm’s Ghost Stories featured traditional ghost tales, sometimes described as being based on true events, along with original stories. I mentioned earlier in this column how Tarzan sent me to the dictionary to look up the definition of “gloated”; I fondly remember that Ripley’s Believe It or Not covers promised “Weird! Eerie! Authentic!” yarns, with “authentic” being another of the Gold Key words that expanded my vocabulary.

The Phantom
The Phantom, the jungle-dwelling costumed superhero nicknamed “The Ghost Who Walks,” started a comic book run with Gold Key in 1962, then transferring to King Comics in 1966 and 1967; it was during the latter run that I first discovered the purple-clad hero. I first saw The Phantom giving a bad guy his due on a cover included in one of the “King Paks,” a plastic bag that also contained one issue each of Mandrake the Magician and Flash Gordon. The Phantom’s Charlton run began in 1969 and I continued following his adventures through that company’s comic books. Already being a Tarzan and Korak fan, as well as a huge superhero buff, a costumed crusader in a jungle setting was the perfect recipe for me. 

Based on the creation that Lee Falk debuted in a daily newspaper strip in 1936, the Oath of the Skull that each new Phantom must take when he assumes the responsibilities from his father sums up what to expect from the comic’s stories: “I swear to devote my life to the destruction of piracy, greed, cruelty, and injustice in all their forms, and my sons and their sons shall follow me.” Though there were actually several generations of Phantoms, natives and criminals alike thought that the titular hero was a man who could not die. Each issue was jam-packed with adventure, and because The Phantoms had no superpowers, they used their intelligence, flying fists, weapons, and fearful reputation to put the bad guys in their places.

Where Monsters Dwell and Where Creatures Roam
In the early 1970s, Marvel unleashed a series of anthology titles collecting reprints of monster stories from the company’s Golden Age, occasionally adding new stories to the mix, depending on the book. Where Monsters Dwell and Where Creatures Roam were purely monster titles, whereas Creatures on the Loose and Monsters on the Prowl sometimes featured some new sword and sorcery tales, so I will focus on the former two titles. These comics feature a bevy of amazing artwork from the likes of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and other renowned comic book illustrators.

If you have been reading this column and my previous one carefully, you need no further exploration as to why these Marvel monster titles struck my fancy. Although the tales often told of scientists toying with nature and being punished for it — usually returning to human form and making amends for their wrongdoings — the beasts that headlined the stories came in almost every conceivable size, shape, appearance, and with differing powers. Their usual goal was to rule the world or destroy mankind. As you might guess, they were thwarted before realizing their diabolical dreams.

The comic books I have discussed in this and the previous installment of my Seven from the Seventies column are just a few of the fun titles I enjoyed as a kid. It would be a blast to hear what comics you grew up on!

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