For Your Consideration: Marvel Masterworks: Killraven Vol. 1

Robert Greenberger

Robert Greenberger


by Robert Greenberger

Marvel Masterworks: Killraven Vol. 1

Marvel Masterworks: Killraven Vol. 1


It’s getting so you can’t tell the Marvel Masterworks from their Omnibuses. Coming this year is a done-in-one Masterwork collecting one of the usually overlooked gems of the 1970s. Marvel Masterworks: Killraven Vol. 1 will be collecting Amazing Adventures #18-39 and Marvel Graphic Novel #7.

These days the series is synonymous with Don McGregor and P. Craig Russell but it all started with Editor-in-Chief Roy Thomas. He was exploring new genres indulging in his interest in science fiction by crafting a follow-up to H.G, Wells’ (public domain) War of the Worlds. Plastering the familiar title under the tiny Amazing Adventures, and replacing The Beast series, Thomas posited that the Martians spent a century licking their wounds and plotting revenge. By 2017, they had returned and won, turning the surviving humans into chattel or gladiators. He gave us Jonathan Rave, nicknamed Killraven, a champion in the Spartacus mold, who escaped and became the leader of a rebellion to take back Earth.

Amazing Adventures #21, the first McGregor/Trimpe issue

Amazing Adventures #21, the first McGregor/Trimpe issue


Thomas plotted the story, handed it to Gerry Conway to dialogue over gorgeous art from Neal Adams and Howard Chakyin. The second installment was all Conway and Chakyin, and had they remained in place, this could have been a great pulp series. However, as happened all too often during those energetic and chaotic years, they were replaced by Marv Wolfman and Herb Trimpe for all of one issue. By issue #21, McGregor, proofreader turned writer, had stepped in and never let go. Under his guidance, the series went from sci-fi pulp to something loftier, more intricate, and grandiose.

Amazing Adventures #27. Under a Jim Starlin cover, artist P.Craig Russell joins the team.

Amazing Adventures #27. Under a Jim Starlin cover, artist P.Craig Russell joins the team.


Trimpe remained in place, spelled occasionally by Rich Buckler and Gene Colan, until Russell arrived with #27. Bill Mantlo and Trimpe would provide the occasional fill-in as the dreaded deadline doom claimed another victim. Mantlo even wrote a Marvel Team-Up as Spidey found his way to the future, but that story is wisely not in this 488-page collection.

McGregor wisely moved the action around America as Killraven and his Freemen — including his best bud M’Shulla Scott, Old Skull, Carmilla Frost, and Grok — sought his brother, allowing us to see how everyone was faring under the alien boot heels. There are misshapen mutants, human/plant hybrids, a serpent horse, and so on. When Jonathan finds his brother, he is stunned to learn he has taken the name Deathraven and become a Martian collaborator. The freedom fighters are constantly pursued by the cyborg Skar, who is always showing up at the worst possible moment.

Amazing Adventures #34. Skar steps into the spotlight

Amazing Adventures #34. Skar steps into the spotlight


McGregor took a Conway hint of power and turned it into something called “clairsentience”, the ability to see things happening far from his position. A gift from his oppressors, it is a constant reminder of what they have done to humanity.

Gene Phillips, writing in Back Issue! noted, “Russell gives WOTW an elegant linework that complements the febrile romanticism of McGregor’s prose, and gives the characters both greater humanity and a physical dynamism.” While editors talked McGregor out of telling the tale entirely through captions, when he was allowed to do so, it proved evocative and effective.

Amazing Adventures #28, Russell's first cover for the series

Amazing Adventures #28, Russell’s first cover for the series


McGregor took on all the issues of the 1970s and explored them through a science fiction lens. This includes the noteworthy kiss between Carmilla Frost and M’Shulla Scott, mainstream comics’ first interracial lip lock.

“It was writer Don McGregor who transformed the Killraven saga … into a classic. Of all of Marvel’s writers, McGregor has the most romantic view of heroism. Killraven and his warrior band were also a community of friends and lovers motivated by a poetic vision of freedom and of humanity’s potential greatness. McGregor’s finest artistic collaborator on the series was P. Craig Russell, whose sensitive, elaborate artwork, evocative of Art Nouveau illustration, gave the landscape of Killraven’s America a nostalgic, pastoral feel, and the Martian architecture the look of futuristic castles,” Peter Sanderson wrote in Marvel Universe.

Amazing Adventures #39

Amazing Adventures #39


Although the series was cancelled with little warning with issue #39, following a fill-in from Mantlo and Keith Giffen, there was enough of a conclusion that readers could be satisfied. McGregor took leftover ideas and applied them to his Sabre series at Eclipse Comics before being invited back in the 1980s. He and Russell were given a chance to tie things up with a 48-page story in the company’s graphic novel line. It was well-received and the duo intended on producing more but work stopped when the company wouldn’t guarantee Russell the best possible format to present his elegant art.

Marvel Graphic Novel #7

Marvel Graphic Novel #7


Therefore, what you can read this fall is the saga as it stands. Sure, others have used the character, but that’s tying him to the Marvel Universe. This collection presents a work of science fiction that deserves rereading.

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  1. Norman Says:

    Great review Bob! And Don says he has more to tell, so if you have any influence with Marvel……but hurry! Despite him thinking he’s immortal, he’s not!