Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Eyes of Sauron

OR: "Lord Of The Wings!"

It might be interesting to come across a book which compiled the thoughts of Marvel writers and artists on just how they came up with brand-new villains for our heroes to contend with. Because I can't easily imagine what was involved in pulling together a villain like Sauron--a man-like pteranodon that was such an odd mixture of powers, you'd think his creative team drew them randomly from a hat. "A pteranodon?" you ask. "Why a pteranodon of all things? I can't even spell 'pteranodon.'" Now you're beginning to see a little of the confusion involved with Sauron. It's obvious from Sauron's origin in X-Men #60 that writer Roy Thomas and artist Neal Adams took pains to create a believable backstory for this new X-Men villain--but I think that part of that pain was transferred to the reading experience.

Let's take a look at some of the odd pieces which make up our taloned evil-doer. We might as well start with his origin, which is strange enough--a young boy named Karl Lykos rushes into a cave to save a girl, Tanya, from the attack of a group of mutant, mythical pteranodons:

This kid manages to beat them all to a pulp, so you know that whatever you've heard about how dangerous and fierce a pteranodon must have been is just a lot of bunk if they can be whipped by a boy armed with a makeshift club. But Lykos has sustained lacerations on his skin, and so later he begins to manifest the power to drain the life energy from someone just by touching them. Now why do you scoff at that? Naturally that ability would be connected with an attack by a pteranodon. You may be picking up on some of my own skepticism here.

Time passes, and Lykos factors this ability of his into his life--not so much as a need, but more like an addiction. Professionally, he specializes in hypnotic therapy, which of course provides him with a steady number of docile subjects who feel unusually weak when their sessions end.

So. A hypnotist with a childhood history with mutant pteranodons, who now targets patients for their life energy and who, by the way, is bitter at Tanya's father for snubbing him as possible husband material for his daughter. You can almost hear the pressure cooker rattling, can't you. But why stop there? Let's make this man an old colleague of Charles Xavier. And then let's have Scott Summers' insanely powerful brother, Alex, fall into his hands for treatment:

Lykos must be looking forward to quite the meal here. What better time to make this convoluted origin even more so, and make mutant life energy the catalyst for a startling transformation.  A transformation into--oh, please, do I have to tell you?

Yes, you guessed it--a pteranodon, of course. And not just any pteranodon--an evil pteranodon.  With a fondness for Tolkien.

I don't know about you--but in every installment of the Lord Of The Rings films, almost every mention of Sauron brought to mind a pteranodon with pants. Undoubtedly Marvel's Sauron turned out to be equally memorable for... for... well, loads of you, I'm sure.

Now, I'm looking out at all of you, and you seem a little dazed at trying to assemble all of these elements into a credible super-villain. I'm sorry, but I have one more item about Sauron to throw your way. I've already mentioned that Lykos was a skilled hypnotist, remember? Well, then, doesn't it make sense that, in his Sauron form, he becomes a super-hypnotist?

This ability of Sauron's gives him some control of a person's thoughts--but the main *ahem* focus of Sauron's hypnotic power is his ability to make his subject see even those closest to him as malevolent, nightmarish foes. Which, if you're being attacked by the X-Men, is a pretty good power to have:

Finally, I should also mention that Sauron's continued existence is dependent on finding fresh mutant victims to drain--which is why Sauron is more concerned with his self-preservation, than, say, flying off to Washington to demand the seat of power. So the X-Men can eventually wear him down to the point where he reverts back to Lykos, as long as they keep out of his grip.

Now--without glancing at anything just mentioned here, stop shaking your poor head long enough to describe everything you can recall about a villain named Sauron.

And you can start by spelling "pteranodon."


Anonymous said...

When I was a kid I'd never heard of Tolkein's Sauron so for me the most terrifying name in the annals of literature would have been Dracula I suppose. An evil pteranadon called Dracula would have been interesting !

Murray said...

I cannot dispute your scoffing tone at all. Sauron is as goofy as any of the whackadoodle villains you've discussed here. The character does have a singular benefit over his loser peers. His first appearances are portrayed by the top a-list art teams. Those Adams-Palmer and Byrne-Austin images look great.

(I thought those were his only two appearances, but a quick look at the googles show I am in error. Not that I'm going to rush out and assess the art in those stories)

Phil said...

I know I'm bring pedantic but Suaron can't have hands and wings evolved from digits at the same time unless he had ten fingers to start with.

Comicsfan said...

Colin, that's an excellent point. We can probably assume that it was actually Thomas, rather than Lykos, who was so taken with Tolkien--after all, there's no shortage of evil, infamous characters throughout "the annals of literature," and Thomas could have made just about any other choice for a villain name in order to establish this character with readers. (Though I honestly think "Dracula" was a bit too established with the good Count already to attempt to associate the name with a pteranodon!)

Phil, very good observation! Still, pteranodons had talons as functioning "hands" in addition to their great wings--though it seems the artists are clearly taking a few liberties regarding the larger size of them on Sauron, eh?

B Smith said...

I seem to recall Roy saying in an old issue of Comic Book Artist that he and Neal had wanted to do a vampire story, but that vampires at the time were forbidden by the Comic Code Authority, so they tried going with the next best thing: a sort-of bat-looking creature who drained life-type stuff out of people, without using fangs.

And Roy was definitely a Tolkien fan - remember the Black Knight's horse Aragorn?

(Apparently Tolkien's estate gave marvel some grief about it both times, but to no avail)