Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Chronic Flashback: Marvel Age # 44

This is the story of how one incredible dork became immortal in the letters page of a Marvel comic. Like most stories, it begins, ends, and in the middle is steeped in love. I was in love with Ka-Zar.

To be more accurate, I was in love with the stories of Kevin Plunder, Shanna, and Zabu as told by Bruce Jones. It wasn't like it was a gay thing. Matter of fact, it may have had more than a little to do with the saucy, sophisticated, able-to-trade-witty-barbs-with-you-while-still-able-to-gut-you-with-her-Bowie-knife woman running around in a leopard print bikini.

This was the same Bruce Jones who ended up breathing life into the Hulk a few years back. Ka-Zar was a weird comic, but a damn good one. Marvel was experimenting with "direct only" comics, and this was one of them. All that means is that it was only available in comic shops, not newstands. These days that's called "every comic book". Back then it seemed novel.

They fidgeted with higher price points, put the books on better paper, let the writers cut loose juuuuuuust a little with some more adult content. It wasn't like porn or anything. More like "Moonlighting" in the jungle. Instead of a detective agency, Ka-Zar's home was the Savage Land, where there were dinosaurs, volcanos, and more deadly technology than one would expect to find in a primitive patch of forestation.

But mostly the book was about Kevin and Shanna's relationship. Some femme fatale or hunky stranger was always showing up to make one or the other viciously jealous. It was 1985, I was 13, and it was delicious. Was it a soap opera? Oh, I suppose, but one that had "real" people on stage. I read them over and over back then, and I re-read them occasionally now. The stories hold up darned well.

I used to find these books in the quarter bin at Shinders, reading them out of order, and it didn't matter, really. Ka-Zar was my favorite comic, not that I would have admitted it in public. If you were to interview me at the time, I would have told you it was the Uncanny X-Men. Bullshit. Give me Kevin, Shanna, and Zabu every time.

And then it ended. Except they said it didn't. At the conclusion of Ka-Zar # 34, they made a solemn promise that the book was taking a tiny sabbatical, but that it would be back very, very soon in a different format. And that sucked, but at least it wasn't over. So I waited. And waited. And waited some more.

And then some SERIOUS bullshit happened.

Avengers # 257 hit the stands and pissed me straight off. Roger Stern wrote a story where Terminus, for reasons that were never particularly clear to me, (it might have been properly explained in the story, but I was too blinded by rage to absorb it) decided he was going to take his fat metallic ass into the Savage Land and just stomp it out until not one stone lay on top of another. Just levelled the whole goddamn thing.

So not only were these pricks at Marvel NOT fulfilling their solemn promise to revive my favorite exercise in sexual politics and adventure, but they were literally stomping out whatever was left of my figural fantasy. And that, folks, I would not abide.

So what to do? I couldn't write to Ka-Zar, because there wasn't one. I could write to the Avengers, but why would they care about the damage? It wasn't the Avengers that got jacked into oblivion, it was the Savage Land, and it was Stern's idea, for crying out loud. There would be no sympathy there.

So I decided to write into Marvel Age, which was like a comic book commercial for just about everything Marvel. It was the only place I could think of that might give me a forum.

I did what any self-respecting person would do in my position: I wrote a very angry letter from the perspective of a giant sabre-toothed tiger.

I didn't write the letter on lined paper. I used to draw a lot, so I took out some drawing paper, found a good reference for a roaring Zabu, and did it up nice and big. Obviously that didn't make it into the letters page, but it might have been part of what got my letter printed - it was a good likeness, I recall. Then I printed the text beneath in slanted script. And this is what I sent:

You'll probably have to click on that and view it full size to be able to read it. It's so strong. I was really flexing the creative muscles on that one, although I'm pretty sure in retrospect that only coyotes say "Aaaaaaaoooooowwwww!" What's also super strong is the fact that the "letter" from Zabu appears to be a phonetic transcribing of some oral roaring, yet at the end I take credit for translating some paw prints and not a tiger's dictation. There's a major inconsistency there, unless the paw prints actually spelled out some roaring. I don't know. I was 13. Sue me.

The point is that I put the bastards on notice that somebody out there remembered The Promise, and my name would live on forever - I was now a published writer in a Marvel comic. Sure I had to strip off every last vestige of dignity I was clinging to at the time. It was worth it. It was bloody well worth it.

- Ryan

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