Saturday, November 16, 2013

365 Comics...319: Morlock 2001: The World's Strangest Super-Hero #1 (1975)

In the 1990's many new superhero universes failed under the weight of their own output.  With so many new heroes and universes cropping up (even DC and Marvel were creating new ones) a new one would make a barrier for entry by starting with too many titles or characters.  Back in the 1970's there weren't many other superhero options to DC and Marvel, so a new publisher entering the fray, and doing so with 16 new titles and five black and white magazines would make a huge splash.  The problem is, if the product is not very good, then you're sunk from the get-go.
Atlas Comics emerged from Seaboard Publishing, a new entity founded by Martin Goodman, fresh off of selling Marvel Comics (and their parent publishing company) and making piles of cash.  Goodman had negotiated in good faith that his son, Chip, would be installed as editorial director after the sale, but Stanley Lieber made a play and force Chip out.  Though wholly unconfirmed, many believe Goodman was out for Marvel blood, and the purpose of Atlas was largely a vendetta against Marvel. 

Goodman wanted his books to be as much like Marvel books as possible to cannibalize their market share, and the poaching of artists (as mentioned last post) with high page rates and other sweeteners was targeted even more directly at Marvel than DC (apparently a young Howard Chaykin, employed by Atlas/Seaboard) once stood out front of Marvel's Manhattan offices and started directing artists around the corner to Goodman's new publishing headquarters.

Morlock 2001 is sub-titled "The World's Strangest Super-Hero" which it was trying very hard to be, but it's also terribly derivative, obviously Atlas' take on the Swamp Thing/Man-Thing plant-based anti-hero.  The script comes from Michael Fleisher, and is taking inspiration from -- or rather, liberally stealing concepts from sci-fi stories past.  The thought police from 1984 make an appearance, as are elements of Fahrenheit 451, and even the name is referenced within the book as being taken from the Time Machine.  It's 2001 (another sci-fi homage), with a totalitarian government keeping civilization under its thumb.  A botanist is growing strange pods amidst the typical plants in his greenhouse, and is gunned down by the police for his troubles.  His pods are transported to government laboratories where only one of them appears to survive.  Weeks later it cracks open, revealing a human-looking male inside.  He's extracted, incubated, educated and brainwashed.  His strength and abilities are assessed -- he's very strong and his touch causes a rapid-growing fungus to expand and consume any human -- and he's put to use as a state assassin.  

But as he considers rebelling against his controllers he meets a kindly, shapely female who convinces him that his job is a just one and sympathizes with his reservations.  But when Morlock learns that she is a state agent sent to placate him and keep him on the job, his anger causes him to rage (not unlike the Hulk) and turn into a hideous plant-freak (somehow on the cover, Morlock and the hot girl seem to be facing the monster Morlock himself becomes).  Calming down after his rampage, Morlock instinctively returned to the destroyed greenhouse where he was created, where he discovers the meaning behind his creation (to combat the oppressive government naturally).  He takes up the cause of his creator just as he's broadcast as a fujitive.

 With art from Al Milgrom (credited as "Allen Milgrom") with inks by Jack Abel, like Phoenix before it, it looks really good.  It's derivative as hell but it pulls in so many different influence that it could easily forge its own path in a few short issues, were it given half a chance.  But then none of these Atlas books were given half a chance.  Morlock 2001 would last only 2 more issues.

No comments: