Friday, October 23, 2015

Horror Comics Cavalcade: Marvel Chillers (1975)

Two panels from page 30 of  Marvel Chillers #2 (1975)
words by Bill Mantlo and art by Sonny Trinidad.
Most horror comic books can fit into one of three categories: those titled using traditional horror keywords such as "ghost," or "haunted," those based on traditional literary characters that inspire dread (whether true to the literary source material or not) such as Frankenstein and Dracula, while still others feature protagonists that utilize supernatural power sources such as magic. Today's Horror Comic Cavalcade selection actually fits into all three, though one requires a literary background to make the round peg fit into the square hole.

Issue #2 of Marvel Chillers (1975) is both the second, and final, appearance of one-time newbie Marvel Comics magic-based anti-hero Mordred the Mystic. Despite two issues ably scripted by industry stalwart Bill Mantlo, Mordred the Mystic's comic book career as a lead character lasted only two issues.

Mordred's origin is a simple one: he is found sleeping(!) on a throne beneath an ancient cairn on the Isle of Wight by two explorers. Through a series of events, Modred is awakened from his lengthy slumber and after mistaking one of the explorers for his long lost "milady," he (with the explorers as escort and potential romantic interest) set off to explore the modern world. As so often happens, an evil referred to only as "The Unknown" awakens at the same time intent on destroying him. Utilizing a supernatural energy source called "the darkhold," our mystical hero battles to both clear the cobwebs from his memory and end the threat of the Unknown. So much of this issue is presented as it relates to Modred's origin, it makes one wonder what issue #1 was about.

Modred certainly has
a way with words!
Due to very familiar similarities with other more popular characters, most notably Thor and Marvel's Sorcerer Supreme, Dr. Strange, Morded's quest ends abruptly at the the issue's conclusion. Though he does not speak thusly in more frequent iterations, in the past, Marvel's Thor has also spoken in a pseudo Medieval/Norse tongue. Mordred's dialogue is phrased in a very similar manner, and  lines such as "Is not the powers of the darkhold mine own?" and "Aye, milady, tis God's truth thou dost speak!" cannot be easy to write without inducing a smile. Also like the comic-book Thor (very different from the cinematic character), Mordred is found in a subterranean cavern much in the same way that the transmogrified Mjolnir was--an event that would lead to Dr. Donald Blake becoming the God of Thunder.

Now about that round peg: most readers are likely very familiar with King Arthur and the Knights of the Round-table, but lesser fans may not fully appreciate the connection between those stories and this "hero." In Arthurian legend, Modred is the illegitimate son of Arthur conceived as a result of his relations with his half-sister, Morgan le Fay. Not necessarily the stuff of popular film adaptations (which may be why the character hasn't be seen from much since), this Modred the Mystic's connection to Camelot is only hinted at. The British setting, medieval attire and references to a past golden age strongly infer a connection between Mordred and Arthurian legend, a relationship that might have been explored had the character's run lasted.

Both issue #2 of Marvel Chillers, as well as its immediate predecessor, were both written by Bill Mantlo, art by Sonny Trinidad. Rich Buckler cover pencils.The copy of Marvel Chillers #2 in my possession was just one of a pile of yellowed comic books a friend from work gave me. They had been sitting in a shopping bag in his garage for many years, though I suspect a copy can be had for only a few pennies online or even in a very deep back issue bin at your local comic shop.

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