Markley’s Fevered Brain: Monsters!

Wayne Markley

Wayne Markley


by Wayne Markley

This blog I am going to discuss the subject of monsters. Marvel’s history of monsters can be broken down into two periods really; the pre-1970s and the post-1970s. Here I am going to focus on mostly the post 1970s with three collections from Marvel and one hardcover collection from England reprinting a classic story from the pages of Scream! The pre 1970s Marvel monsters were the traditional short story (6-12 pages) about some poor human having to confront some monster or creature. The most famous of these were by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and were reprinted for years throughout the ‘70s.

In the early 1970s, the Comics Code of America (CCA) was becoming more lax, and Marvel saw the success that Warren, Skywald, Eerie Publications, and others were having with their monster/horror magazines and wanted in on the trend. They launched a number of horror magazines with such titles as Dracula Lives, Vampire Tales, Tales of the Zombie, Monsters Unleashed, Savage Tales, and more. Being magazines they were able to avoid the CCA and could be a little more risqué in the stories (the CCA wouldn’t allow zombie or vampires for years). In the late ‘60s and leading into the ‘70s, Marvel also brought back the horror comic with all-new stories, with titles such as Tower of Shadows and Creature on the Loose. These stories were less monsters driven and more horror and crime driven. They were followed by a number of titles, many reprinting the 1950s monster stories. Then they dove full bore into the monster genre with their new comics with such titles as The Tomb of Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, Werewolf by Night, and many others. Over the next forty years Marvel’s horror and monsters would evolve into a vast tapestry of mythology tying many of the books together and firmly planting all of them in the Marvel Universe. Recently, Marvel has taken to reprinting a number of these stories and they are the subject of the first three collections I am going to review.

Decades: Marvel in the ‘70s- Legion of Monsters

Decades: Marvel in the ‘70s- Legion of Monsters


As part of their anniversary, Marvel has been doing a trade a month called Decades, and each volume is devoted to a specific decade (‘40s, ‘50s, etc) and reprints a number of comics from that decade. The 1940s volume reprinted a number of Sub-Mariner vs. Human Torch stories (and this was great, by the way). When they got to the 1970s, the volume was devoted to the wave of monster books. It was called Decades: Marvel in the ‘70s- Legion of Monsters. This book is a nice 248 pages and features work by Doug Moench, Marv Wolfman, Gerry Conway, Mike Ploog, Frank Robbins, Gene Colan, and many others. Within this collection there are stories featuring Werewolf by Night, Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, Man-Thing, Ghost Rider, and the Legion of Monsters. These were stories where a number of the Marvel monsters teamed up to confront some sort of menace. Three of these stories are included in this book as well as the first appearances of Ghost Rider (Marvel Spotlight #5), Werewolf by Night (Marvel Spotlight #2), Blade the Vampire Slayer (Tomb of Dracula #10), and much more. This is a great sampler of the monster books of the 1970s that still holds up today, almost 50 years later! Some great stories in a nice package.

Avengers/Doctor Strange: Rise of the Darkhold

Avengers/Doctor Strange: Rise of the Darkhold


As the ‘70s passed, the monster books also faded away. Until the early 1990s when Marvel returned to the dark and mysterious world of monsters. Truth be told, these stories were always in the background and a creepy would pop up from time to time in the mainstream Marvel books, but in the early ‘90s they devoted whole books and events to the world of horror and supernatural, which these stories tend to be more than traditional monsters. The first collection of these stories is called Avengers/Dr. Strange: Rise of the Darkhold. This is a collection of all of the stories about the Darkhold which was the driving force behind the Darkhold comics and the supernatural revival. I really enjoyed how this collection pulled stories from all over the place, many I would not have thought of. The Darkhold, a book of immense supernatural power (as seen on TV in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), is as ancient as time has power that rivals the gods. I first came across the book in the early Werewolf by Night stories, as the Darkhold is an instrumental part of why Jack Russell is a werewolf. But this collection also has stories from The Tomb of Dracula, Marvel Chillers, Dracula Lives, and Dr. Strange, all of which you might expect, but also stories from the pages of Avengers, Spider-Man Annual, Thor, and more. I love that the collection editors were able to pull stories from all over the MU to flesh out this prelude to the next book. In the almost 500 pages in this book you will find stories and art by Gerry Conway, Marv Wolfman, Mark Gruenwald, Mike Ploog, John Romita, Gene Colan, John Byrne, and so many others. Just so you know, there is a little crossover (i.e.: the same stories) as in the Decades: The ‘70s collection.

Darkhold: Pages from the Book of Sins-The Complete Collection

Darkhold: Pages from the Book of Sins-The Complete Collection


Darkhold: Pages from the Book of Sins-The Complete Collection picks up where the pervious book left off. This is another massive collection, with over 450 pages collecting the complete Darkhold comic series, and material from Doctor Strange, Midnight Sons, and Marvel Comics Presents. Some of the talents in this collection are J.M. DeMatteis, Tony Harris, Mark Buckingham, and others. The long lost pages of the Darkhold are once again coming to the surface after being hidden for years and a handful of people must try and stop the spread of the evil the book is trying to unleash. Along the way, Doctor Strange, Ghost Rider, and the Midnight Sons lend a hand to try and stop Hell from coming to Earth. Overall, between these two books it is a nice, and at times chilling, story about a long lost source of evil. The influences of H.P. Lovecraft are obvious in these stories and sadly at times some of these stories suffer from the 1990s comic styling. So to some people the art and storytelling style might be a bit offputting, particularly in this second volume which is all material from the ‘90s.

Dracula File HC

Dracula File HC


Finally we have the Dracula File HC, a 96 page hardcover reprinting the classic strip The Dracula File from the pages of Scream, a British horror comic from the ‘80s. This series was written by Gerry Finey-Day and Simon Furman and drawn by Eric Bradbury, Keith Page and Geoff Serior. This take on Dracula is a little different as here Count Dracula is fleeing vampire hunters from behind the Iron Curtain (once again, see the current Avengers storyline for a similar story) and he returns to Great Britain to cause all kinds of havoc. Not only is this strip on the graphic side, the storytelling is quick and crisp, due to the British comic method of serializing comics in weekly three page installments. This looks a lot like a story you would find in the pages of 2000AD except it is more graphically violent and it has Dracula. While Scream did not last that long, 15 issues, and was cancelled due to a printers strike, this story did manage to cover a lot of ground. Overall I thought this was a well done and creative take on the Lord of the Undead and was different enough so as not to swipe from previous versions of Dracula. Plus there are a number of extras included in this collection such as covers, articles, and background material. Worth seeking out.

Monsters Vol. 1: The Marvel Monsterbus by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby

Monsters Vol. 1: The Marvel Monsterbus by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby


I would also be remiss if I did not mention the two Jack Kirby Omnibuses called Monsters: The Marvel Monsterbus by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby. These two oversized hardcover books are filled with the classic monsters stories that appeared for years in the pages of such Marvel titles as Tales of Suspense, Tales to Astonish, Strange Tales, Journey into Mystery, World of Fantasy, and others. Each book is over 800 pages of full color monster stories, all drawn by the one and only Jack Kirby. These two heavy tomes will keep you entertained for weeks. And after all, who was the king of the monsters, but King Kirby? Plus you see the first appearances of such classic characters as Groot, Xemu, Groog, Fin Fang Foom, and so many more!

This wraps up this blog. I know when you traditionally think of Marvel monsters you probably go to the classic short stories that Stan, Jack and Steve (Ditko) did, but in the 1970s there was a renaissance of monsters in the Marvel Universe and they still remain today with the Avengers just wrapping up a story where they confronted Dracula and hordes of vampires, which led to Blade joining the team. Have you read any of this more “modern” monster stories? Do you only like the most classic material? I would like to hear either way. I can be reached at MFBWAY@AOL.COM or on Facebook at Wayne Markley. Personally I enjoy both the classic monsters and the more modern takes for different reasons as the two very different time periods and styles of storytelling. All of the opinions expressed here are mine and do not reflect the thoughts or opinions of Westfield Comics or their employees. As always…

Thank you.

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  1. Jim Burdo Says:

    The dwarf in the Darkhold series was possibly inspired by the one Clark Ashton Smith’s story, “Slaves of the Black Pillar”.