Thursday, September 16, 2021

Beware The Heroes Of... The Dream Dome!


It's September of 1976, and here's how things were shaping up in the Marvel Universe:
  • The incredible Hulk, once again on the sub-atomic world of Jarella, was finally dishing out some hurt on Psyklop when this agent of the Dark Gods faced the brute mano a... uh, whatever you'd call Psyklop;
  • The Fantastic Four, along with the High Evolutionary, were compelled to search the galaxy for a world which would willingly give itself over to the hunger of Galactus in place of the devourer's first choice, Counter-Earth (and if you were among those readers anticipating a battle between the Evolutionary and Galactus, well...);
  • Iron Man is trying to get the Controller under control;
  • Thor investigates the possibility that the missing Odin is in the dimension of Death;
  • The Avengers finally settle on their new lineup, only to have the walking-dead Wonder Man crash the public announcement;
  • The new X-Men, their title still being published bimonthly, are in the midst of battling their way out of Steven Lang's Project Armageddon;
  • The amazing Spider-Man is running for his life from his more amazing Spider-mobile, which has no driver at the wheel (a fate that probably awaits some of us from today's self-driving cars, folks);
  • Captain America and the Falcon are trying to solve the mystery of Jack Kirby's Night People; and, last but not least...
  • Dr. Strange faces a new enemy in Stygyro, while his disciple Clea is seduced by Ben Franklin. (Come on, you may say "ewwww!" and insist you won't click that link, but we both know otherwise.)

Meanwhile, Amazing Adventures, with its "War Of The Worlds" adaptation, is one issue away from cancellation--which is usually the time when Marvel pulls out all the stops in an effort to benefit from a sales spike before the axe falls.

Whether this tale might have been an inventory story is a fair question, under the circumstances, though you would think a bimonthly title would have adequate leeway to make its deadline. That said, it's a diverting and provocative enough story, produced by "guest" writer Bill Mantlo and "guest" artist Keith Giffen (in addition to, you "gues"sed it, "guest" inker Al Milgrom) who have Killraven, de facto leader of his Martian resistance group, breaking off from his ensemble cast to investigate a potential trap lying in wait for himself and his comrades. But trap or not, it definitely takes Killraven by surprise--and in one sense, he is indeed being watched.

The phenomenon, however, halts at the doorway he rushes through at the end of the causeway, which takes him inside the dome itself--at which point an audio-taped "tour guide" informs him that he is in the Miami Museum of Cultural Development, the "voice of tomorrow" guiding him past displays of prior decades and toward the "Man In Space" exhibit. However, now linked to the mysterious figure who has been monitoring his progress, Killraven mentally "stops" instead at one decade in particular, as his dreams and those of the dome's resident "dreamer" begin to coalesce beyond the latter's control.

From here, the various images of figures from Earth's past which greet Killraven, though recognizable to the reader, have been twisted in both appearance and intent--a nightmare for the dreamer who naturally remembers them much differently, and to Killraven a mad mixture of confusing and unpredictable figures who finally spur him to action when they viciously turn on him, to the shock and consternation of the one who strains to regain some measure of control. "How can a sleeper wake the living?" he wonders.

Whatever is going on here, it's certainly a visual feast for any Giffen fan, and not far removed for any reader expecting the work of regular artist Craig Russell--while Mantlo is more than capable of investing a fill-in story with a plot which is satisfactorily consistent with a book's character(s) and overall theme. With the chaos we've seen thus far, however, it remains to be seen whether he can justify the meshing of both past and future here and deliver an ending that gives reasonable credence to what we're witnessing.

Finally, Killraven is rescued by the figure calling himself Iron Man, the one who had hurled him into this mad scenario and who unfortunately continues to show little sign of reason or sanity. But the dreamer has at least been able to use the projection to guide Killraven's movements to his own chamber, where Killraven's frustration reaches its limit and has him lashing out at one last figure who also appears to be part of the dream--but is, instead, our helmeted dreamer, awakened by the forceful impact of Killraven's fist.

And at last, Killraven learns what is behind all of this, and why and how he became a part of it. But what happens now?

Mantlo's ending for our "astronaut," though sufficient to end the story, seems unclear as far as the fate of this man. Presumably, certain equipment has been destroyed that will prevent further projection of these dreams of his--while Killraven has unseated him, which has until now kept him awake enough to dream on a conscious level, if that makes sense.  If those conclusions are accurate (though frankly it's mostly conjecture on my part), it seems like a lot of dots to connect, only to leave questions yet lingering. The other conclusion to draw is that Killraven has instead slain the dreamer in order to prevent others from being subjected to the same danger. It would be consistent with the character of Killraven, a man who has no compunction against killing to end a threat, potential or otherwise--though resulting in a hasty and rather convenient end to Mantlo's story.


Big Murr said...

It seemed whenever curiosity had me pick an issue with Killraven, it always featured this sort of phantasmagorical head-trippy story. Might just have been bad luck on my part. I wanted the more...pragmatic tone of the premiere issues, with a taste of Neal Adams art and the rise of a resistance against the Martians.

Which Alan Davis supplied in fine style with the mini-series of a decade ago.

Anonymous said...

Yes, for someone who was supposed to be fighting a resistance war to free Earth from the Martians, Killraven spent a lot of time wandering around encountering weird mutants and hanging out in abandoned virtual reality complexes.

But I loved the McGregor/Russell era of the series anyway.
Rest assured Comicsfan, despite my comment last time noting that some might have found Killraven a bit of a hard slog - which Murray seems to back me up on - it was probably my favourite Marvel comic of the mid-70s.
Its easier to take dauntless Don McGregor seriously when you're 11 (;

The Bill Mantlo fill-in issues were annoying though imo. Especially this one, which relied heavily on the ah... lets be polite, and say influence of the excellent AA #32, "Only The Computer Shows Me Any Respect". And seemed a bit of an excuse to put vaguely familiar Marvel characters on the cover and boost sales.

Also, I am not a Keith Giffen fan at the best of times, and he was no Craig Russell. Yet strangely it was nice to be reminded of even this issue anyway, so thanks CF.


Comicsfan said...

Murray, if you thought Don McGregor's WOTW take was a little too trippy, you'll want to stay clear of the 1983 Killraven graphic novel, where McGregor is in textbook form and Russell's imagery is off the hook. (In fact, on some pages you'll think Steranko stepped in.)

sean, it's been awhile since I've revisited the McGregor run on WOTW, so thanks for mentioning the story which profiles Hawk, one of the group's lesser-known characters who at that point had only a couple of issues to live before he buys it (along with Skar, one of the series' more memorable villains). It's a group of issues I'll be curious to re-read when time permits.

Anonymous said...

Finally fleshing out Hawk was the one aspect of the otherwise great AA #32 that didn't quite hit the mark for me Comicsfan, as he turned out to be something of a standard issue bitter native American (see also: Thunderbird, of the then all-new, all-different X-Men, who didn't last long either).
Which was a little disappointing, because Dauntless Don was usually better than that - his 70s work was ahead of the curve when it came to what would now be called diversity, and he was pretty good at avoiding those kind of obvious stereotypes.

Hawk would have bought it in the next issue if it hadn't been for another Mantlo fill-in, and if you ask me (which you didn't, but I'm not going to let that get in my way) AA #34, "Death In The Family", is the highlight of the series.
I guess you must rate that group of issues too or you wouldn't be planning a re-read, so... er, I should wait til then to go on about them more here (;


Comicsfan said...

I wouldn't say "planning" a re-read, sean--more of a mental note to tug those issues off the shelf on a rainy day. Regardless, your input is always welcome, buddy. :)