Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Sword Of The She-Devil!

If you were in the mood in 1979 for a comics tale that would just be an enjoyable, entertaining read that left you feeling satisfied, you probably thought that Marvel Team-Up #79 was a good deal for your hard-earned 35¢. Featuring the unlikely meeting between the amazing Spider-Man and the swordswoman from the fictional Hyborian Age known as Red Sonja, the story by Chris Claremont, John Byrne, and Terry Austin hits the mark on all levels--taking itself seriously but not too seriously, while simply focusing on circumstances that are free of unnecessary complications. In layman's terms, "Sword of the She-Devil," while a tale of danger that threatens to release the deadly N'Garai into our dimension, is a great ride.

And all the pieces begin to fall in place almost immediately:

  • A security guard at the city's Metropolitan Museum of Art is suddenly possessed by emanations from an ancient amulet and frees it from its display casing;
  • Peter Parker, along with a "Daily Bugle" reporter, is assigned to investigate reports of trouble at said museum, while also finding that Mary Jane Watson has decided to tag along;
  • Peter slips inside the barricaded museum and investigates as Spider-Man, while MJ decides to follow;
  • Spider-Man runs into trouble;
  • MJ is distracted by another artifact that has a talent for possession;
  • Our villain is revealed; and
  • All hell breaks loose, in a very real sense.

And voilĂ , we have ourselves a party.

Taking into account the characters mentioned and all the possessions going on, you probably have a fair idea of how Sonja and the story's villain make their appearance; and given the time period that Sonja hails from, as well as the mention of the N'Garai, you may have guessed the villain's identity. But we'll cover all the bases one by one and see if you're on the right track.

First, the arrival at the museum, where it seems our villain--now using our hapless guard as his host body--has already been busy wreaking havoc and general chaos.

Next, Spider-Man runs into trouble, and ends up fighting for his life.

MJ, spotting Spidey from the shadows, wants to help but is unsure of what to do--when she's beckoned by a glowing sword that once belonged to you-know-who.

And suddenly, Spider-Man receives some savage assistance that helps him literally cut through his opposition.

(Say what you will about Byrne being a disappointing fit for Spider-Man in terms of not being able to give the character a sense of the dynamic, a failing he shared with Jack Kirby--no one's likely to have a problem with his portrayal of Red Sonja.)

With Sonja's entry into the fray, the story's villain is soon revealed--Kulan Gath, High Priest of the N'Garai, a sadistic, nasty piece of work who is utterly merciless with his foes. And thanks to Sonja herself, she and Spider-Man fall into his clutches.

Kulan Gath's goal is to open a Sa'arpool, a mystic gateway to the dimension of the N'Garai--elder gods whom Gath considers mankind's rightful rulers. To that end, he plans on sacrificing Spider-Man and Sonja, whose lives will open the Sa'arpool completely (at least I'm guessing that's how it's supposed to play out--Gath looks like he's already cracked open the gateway to an extent).

But Spider-Man breaks free of his bonds and manages to bring part of the ceiling down around Gath, allowing the wall-crawler to free Sonja. Gath, it goes without saying, is fit to be tied.

Eventually, Spider-Man is able to move the battle outside, where both Gath and Sonja finally realize that they're well past their own time--and in the confusion, Spider-Man brings the battle to an end. Though to Sonja's surprise, her ally has also brought an end to Gath.

When the dust settles, Spider-Man discovers that the security guard, now unconscious, has taken Gath's place--then turns and is astonished to see Sonja transform before his eyes to Mary Jane. All in all, a tidy wrap-up to a well-paced story that contained all the ingredients needed for a memorable comics tale.

What's Dracula's beef with the N'Garai?

Marvel Team-Up #79

Script: Chris Claremont
Pencils: John Byrne
Inks: Terry Austin
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski


Anonymous said...

I was pretty stunned when I visited Manhattan too, about ten years ago.


B Smith said...

Nice to see how faithfully Byrne stays to Thorne's version of Sonja, especially in the face and hair.

Anonymous said...

I think this issue of Marvel Team-Up came out in the same month as the final issue of Red Sonja - which was the only one I owned of that short run. Marvel no longer has the rights to Conan but they invented Red Sonja so come on, Marvel, bring back some Hyborian sword-and-sorcery.

Anonymous said...

On the subject of copyright - apparently all work published in the United States from 1923-1977 is in copyright for 95 years which means the first Conan stories, published in 1933, go out of copyright in 2028 and by 2031 Conan will be in the public domain.

Comicsfan said...

Colin, that Red Sonja series might be an interesting title to explore at some point. In its waning days, it seems heavy hitter John Buscema was brought on board to stem the tide and turn it around. (And here's a question: if Sonja had been a blonde, would the title of her mag have been "Blond Sonja"?)

BTW, from your mouth to Dynamite's ear--it looks like a new Red Sonja series began this year.

-3- said...

Colin - it would be nice to think that the copyright would expire, but you reckon without Disney. Every time it gets close to Micky Mouse entering the public domain, they buy new laws to extend the limits. It used to be 60 years, but they keep adding on long past the productive purpose of copyright laws.