Marvel Premiere #28
“There’s a Mountain on Sunset Boulevard!”
Writer: Bill Mantlo
Pencils: Frank Robbins
Inks: Steve Gan
Colors: Janice Cohen
Letters: Karen Mantlo
Cover artist: Unknown
Editor: Marv Wolfman
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: 25 cents
As I noted earlier this week, I was lucky enough to happen upon a treasure trove of 1970s and ’80s comics at a recent flea market, and this one — cover dated February 1976 — was among the 100 comics I picked up from that vendor. As I thumbed through the box of old, tattered comics, this one jumped out as being the perfect fodder for another review in my Halloweek series. Mind you, despite the lineup of characters, this really isn’t a horror comic. On the surface, it has the trappings of a super-hero team story, but the plot doesn’t play out that way either. Instead, Mantlo’s weird plot about a space-faring, prehistoric human’s return home evolves into a tragedy about four cursed men whose failures to see beyond themselves doom them all over again. It’s always a pleasure to find unconventional and novel storytelling in comics such as this one, crafted about 35 years ago.
As the title of the story suggests, a mountain appears from out of nowhere in the middle of Los Angeles, sending the population scattering as they initially fear that a California earthquake has erupted once again. The mountain is covered in strangely familiar but unknown flora, and the bizarre occurrence draws the attention of four bizarre individuals. Stuntman Johnny Blaze, AKA the Ghost Rider, happens to be in L.A. at that moment, as are Michael Morbius the living vampire and Jack Russell, out of control in his werewolf form. Furthermore, the strange creature known as Man-Thing sense the disturbance from his home in a Florida swamp, and he’s drawn to the mountain as well. They soon discover the mountain is a prehistoric formation that had been plucked from the planet by aliens, and the last surviving prehistoric — now empowered as the Starseed — has finally returned home after eons.
There’s no mistaking Frank Robbins’ distinct style as soon as one flips over the cover of this comic book. In some ways, his style is well suited to these characters. He gives them craggy faces, and the rougher edges of his linework works for these characters, especially Man-Thing and Werewolf by Night. One can see a Gil Kane riff in his work, especially in his depictions of Morbius (which makes sense, given how many Morbius stories Kane illustrated through the 70s). Robbins’ take on Ghost Rider is far too super-hero-y in tone, though, and the backgrounds are often sorely lacking. I do think he captures the cosmic nature and presence of the Starseed adeptly, but overall, the art seems to work against the story rather than with it. The panels are quite cramped. The reader has no sense of place, of where these characters are in relation to one another, so the action sequences are quite confusing.
Mantlo’s plot is an awkward thing, sometimes a bit charming in how off the wall it can be, but the overall aim of this tragic story is to achieve some gravitas. It’s not meant to be cute, but the clumsiness of the assembly of these disparate elements brings a little bit of color to what’s supposed to be a brooding, dark creation. Still, there are a number of elements that are impressive. The Starseed concept is thoroughly weird, almost psychedelic, but the Prodigal Son quality of the concept is actually kind of appealing. Now that I think of it, Mantlo has really crafted a Messiah figure here, and I suppose one of the points of his story is that mankind is prone to destroying its saviors rather than doing what it can to avail itself of them. If you really wanted to get cerebral about it, one could extend the analogy to the political realm. More than three decades removed from the original creation of this story, though, I think I’d best not make the stretch.
I think what most impressed me about the story and what I enjoyed the most about the book is that it surprised me. I expected these monsters to band together to fight a threat; the cover led me down that path, after all. Instead, the conflict is among them. The Starseed is not only benign but potentially benevolent, but these monsters, unable to control themselves (save for Ghost Rider), turn out to be the both the heroes and the villains in their own stories. These monsters are pitiable, and that they unwittingly allow their salvations to slip through their fingers because they give into the monstrous natures they want to cast off is, in an odd way, tragic and a little touching. 5/10
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