Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Where Monsters Dwell #13

Where Monsters Dwell #13, with a publication date of January 1972, reprints the cover story, "I Dared to Battle the Crawling Creature," which first appeared in Tales to Astonish #22 (August 1961). Gil Kane provided the cover for the reprint, making the nerdy high-school hero of the story distinctly early-'70s hip. The original cover maintains the boyishness of the protagonist.

"I Dared to Battle the Crawling Creature" is yet another Lee-Kirby monster story, Marvel's staple before its superhero books took off (Fantastic Four #1 was published a few months later). 

As we've explored in the past, these Lee-Kirby monster stories were usually metaphors for the Cold War. An extraterrestrial or subterranean behemoth bent on world domination threatens the safety of a homogeneous, guileless society but is ultimately foiled by the pluck and quick-thinking of an average American (usually a teenager).

What is absent from "I Dared to Battle the Crawling Creature" is any hint of world domination, other than the drilling machine that the government is testing to plumb the Earth's unexplored depths. Everything else is much the same. 

A belittled --"Walter Carter -- the only joker in school who can't catch a football!" -- book-reading high-school student signs up to be a subject in a government experiment that sends a boring machine deep underground. 

Once Walter's capsule comes to a stop "dozens of miles" below the surface, he discovers a strangely luminescent world of cavemen who live in fear of a huge reptile, "the Crawling Creature." 

The Crawling Creature follows Walter back up the bore hole, which happens to be near the Grand Canyon; Walter lures the monster over the canyon's edge, and then he is rescued by a passing helicopter dangling a rope ladder. (Kirby has used the rope ladder dropped from a helicopter more than once.)

Both Marvel and DC are celebrating the centennial of Jack Kirby's birth this month. DC's effort has been much more noticeable on the shelves of my local comic shop, which is strange given that Marvel is synonymous with Kirby. Just as there would be no Marvel without Stan Lee, there would be no Marvel without Jack Kirby.

I asserted last week that the NFL is the only thing that constitutes a U.S. national cultural nowadays. I should amend that to include the big comic-book publishers, Marvel and DC, as well as Hollywood.

Jack Kirby's characters -- Black Panther, Captain America, Silver Surfer, the Inhumans, the X-Men, et al. -- have more impact on the youth of the nation than a diminishing Christianity. It is far more common to walk down the street and see someone wearing a Captain America shield t-shirt than almost any other non-sports logo.

Before Marvel's superhero revolution of the 1960s were its monster stories. It is interesting that now Marvel (and DC) superheroes are really all that keep us from realizing our monstrosity.

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