Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Classics - Savage Tales #1

I always smile when I look at this comic magazine.

Savage Tales was Marvel's first attempt at the black-and-white "adult" magazine format that Warren Publishing had mastered.

It was published in 1971, and from the grisly John Buscema cover (who knew he could paint?) to the more adult content, it was obvious this was something different.

It makes me smile because I so clearly remember the day I found the issue at the newsstand. I wanted to buy it, but I was nervous.

I was only 15 years old, and there on the cover was a huge warning that the magazine was "Rated M for the Mature Reader!"

At the time, stores were strict about such things. Kids couldn't buy pornographic materials (which were available behind the "adults only" curtain), we couldn't get into "R" rated movies - and I was certain the little old lady behind the counter was going to refuse to sell the magazine to me.

I finally worked up the courage to give it a try, hoping no one I knew happened by as I took my purchase up to the counter. I stacked several comics on top of the magazine, covering the giant "M" while leaving the price (50 cents) clearly visible.

The clerk picked up each comic, ringing up the cost, and finished by placing this magazine on top of the stack, with that huge "M" blaring away. She told me the total, took my money, placed the magazines in a bag and I walked out, amazed I had "gotten away with it."

What I had was a pretty amazing book, including: a Conan story ("The Frost Giant's Daughter") by Roy Thomas and Barry Smith; a Femizons story by Stan Lee and John Romita; the first Man-Thing story by Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas and Gray Morrow; a "Black Brother" story by Sergius O'Shaghnessy (Dennis O'Neil) and Gene Colan; and a Ka-Zar story by Stan and John Buscema.

The artists went all-out on this effort, turning in some of their best work to date. Morrow's work on Man-Thing may be the best work of his career - simply stunning. Smith was really starting to bloom as an artist, Romita seemed to relish the opportunities of working in black and white, and Colan and Buscema also seemed to enjoy the new format.

The stories aren't quite as impressive, mostly because of the limited page count. The Conan story is the only standout, although the Man-Thing story is a solid bit of work, and Stan has some fun with the Ka-Zar and the Femizons story. The "Black Brother" story is the only one that doesn't really fit - it's more of a sleazy political tale, here for its mature story and surprising twists, but it feels like an accident - a story that was intended for a different magazine.

Of course, the magazine was only "adult" by comparison to the regular comics - there was no nudity and most of the violence happened off-camera.

Savage Tales led the way for Marvel's magazine line, which included the long-running Savage Sword of Conan, Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, Doc Savage and assorted monster mags.

Some were a great success (those Doc Savage mags are vastly underrated), and some were just OK, but they were a (mostly) welcome addition to the Marvel lineup.

And thank goodness, the later issues didn't carry a rating, so I never had to worry about having to deal with a puritanical clerk!

Grade: B+



Joe Jusko said...

I owned the Buscema cover painting at one time, along with his Savage Tales #2 and SSOC #40. Long story but I had to let them go. REALLY wish I still had them.

Chuck said...

Joe, I remember being shocked when I realized that Buscema had painted that Savage Tales cover - the guy could pencil AND paint? (Obviously I knew nothing about art at 15 - I had the same reaction when Steranko started painting paperback covers.)
Awesome that you had the originals! Heck, I just wish I still had all the comics I've bought over the years...