My Misspent Youth — Marvel Premiere #28 by Bill Mantlo and Frank Robbins

I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.

The maestros of Marvel knew that The Legion of Monsters was a great name for a comic. In 1975, they published a magazine under that name, part of their fitfully successful effort to expand into fare suitable for slightly more mature readers who might have an aversion to stalking the spinner rack. Despite aspirations for more, that particular publication was a one-and-done affair. One year later, the Legion of Monsters moniker was revived, this time applied to a wild assemblage of characters. Such mishmashes were something of a Marvel specialty in the nineteen-seventies, when the line abounded with teamup books and groups of heroes with rosters seemingly determined by random draw. But the quartet that starred in Marvel Premiere #28 was on a whole other level of odd. As the front cover promised, the issue delivered “THE MOST SPINE-TINGLING TEAM-UP OF ALL!”

In one respect, the group of familiar figures had a logical alignment. Marvel was in the midst of a boom of horror-adjacent stories, and four characters from those terrifying tales were brought together: vampiric Morbius, the lupine star of Werewolf by Night, chopper-topper Ghost Rider, and the shambolic muck monster Man-Thing. In practically no other way did it make sense that this ad hoc crew would convene. Despite the promotional application of the Legion of Monsters name, they hardly operated as a convivial collective. Among other things, there were certain base urges at play that made placing nice with others highly unlikely.

As if conceding the inherent ludicrousness of the conceit, writer Bill Mantlo goes all in on bonkers story elements, and artist Frank Brunner draws it with a commensurate energy of unhinged imagination. The plot is set into motion when a new geographic feature suddenly appears in the middle of Los Angeles, a situation capably summarized by the story’s title: “There’s a Mountain on Sunset Boulevard!” The unlikely new peak captures the attention of all these gruesome gents, even Man-Thing, who needs to teleport in from the Florida swamps to get a closer look. When they gather before the towering turf, our anti-heroes discover its appearance isn’t attributable to mere seismic activity. Instead, they discover the mountain has served for thousands of years as a spaceship, and the most recent steward of that vessel decided it was finally time to return it to its place of origin. The cosmos crosser in question is a glowing figure who calls himself Starseed.

Starseed explains his strange history to the fearsome foursome, but they aren’t a particularly attentive or empathetic audience. Before Starseed can lay our his full plans, all hell breaks loose (almost literally, given the cast). Morbius and the Werewolf go on the attack, and Ghost Rider steps to the shiny one’s defense (Johnny Blaze, the more benevolent alter ego of the flaming-skulled cyclists, was solidly in control during this era). A those three scrap, the constantly curious Man-Thing shuffles over to get a little quality time with Starseed. Unfortunately, the most startling swamp creature of all has a little issue when he tries to get cuddly.

All this mayhem proves to be too much for Starseed. As he collapses and eases toward his final breath, he delivers the cosmic comeuppance of the story, the tragic, Twilight Zone twist of it all. He came to use his godlike powers to free the citizens of Earth of their burdens, an offer that he would have extended to the not-quite-allied legion. With a sweep of his hand, Starseed shows his assailant that he could have easily removed the curse of their fiendish forms.

That was only a glimpse of the future they thwarted, though. As Starseed expires, the fangs, flames, fur, and fetid flora are back in place. Such is the dire fate exacted on unwitting members of the Legion.

Previous entries in this series (and there are a LOT of them) can be found by clicking on the “My Misspent Youth” tag.

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