Wednesday, June 09, 2010

By Request: Challengers of the Unknown #5

A longtime commenter sent me an email requesting a review of this issue, so I thought I'd tackle it. For starters, the pencils are by Jack Kirby, with inks by Wally Wood, so we're talking two legends of the medium here. Although I am not a huge fan of Kirby's artwork personally, I do think he was the absolute master of page construction. His pages demand that you read them, drawing you through the story like nobody before or since.

I do not classify the Challengers as superheroes, but as an adventure team, much like Sea Devils or Rip Hunter, Time Master. But this issue shows that the line between the two can be rather blurry indeed. As the story begins, a South American train is attacked by a super-powered being. When the guards try to intervene:

Throwing balls of fire would be the hallmark of a character that Kirby would assist in resurrecting a couple years later: the Human Torch of the Fantastic Four.

The Challengers hear about this from June Robbins, who is down in South America on an archaeological dig. It turns out that Vreedl, another member of that party, had stolen a "Star-Stone" from the dig:

So the Challenge in this issue is to prevent Vreedl from getting all four stones (he's already collected one, which accounts for his flame power. But when they pursue him in the jungle, they run into problems. Vreedl starts a fire:

He also starts a stampede, but Red saves them by using an old circus trick. Still Vreedl gets the next gem, and then it's off to India to save a rajah from losing his special diamond. Vreedl's new power from the second gem is that of flight:

But his flying ability is only temporary, and when the Challs close in, he's not above using the superstition of the natives to get away:

The crowd quickly subdues the Challengers and imprisons them. It looks as though they will be unable to get word to the rajah that they are there in time to prevent Vreedl from obtaining the last gem. But, in an amazing coincidence:

She diverts the guards' attention and the Challengers are able to escape. They chase Vreedl to the final gem:

But he escapes with the pearl needed and so (after a battle with some sharks) they chase him onto the land, where he demonstrates his new powers (as shown on the cover). But Ace points out a flaw:

So Vreedl destroys the star stone, and unfortunately for him:

Is Ace making an observation about villains in general, or about comic-book villains?

Comments: Solid, entertaining story with lots of exotic locales and perilous situations. I wouldn't put it down as a classic, but it clearly deserves note as an above-average yarn with way, way above-average art. I like that June plays a fairly prominent role in the story, even if it does seem just a little too convenient for plot purposes.

The GCD does not have a guess for the writer. One thing I noted was the use of the word "fellers". It's not the correct spelling (fellows) or the usual vernacular (fellas). I know I've seen that in other comics but a specific citation is escaping me right now.


Jonathan L. Miller said...

Well, John Stanley used to use "fellers" a lot in his Little Lulu comics, but I somehow doubt he wrote this comic. :-)

Pat said...

Oh, snap, that's probably where I remember reading it. Tubby called his pals fellers.

Anonymous said...

Up to what CHALLENGERS... issue did Kirby draw?

Anonymous said...

Up to what issue of CHALLENGERS... were drawn by Kirby?

Pat said...

Challengers #8 was Kirby's final issue of that title. IIRC he and editor Jack Schiff had a quarrel related to a comic strip they were working on together and so Kirby jumped ship.

Anonymous said...

IIRC, Hoss Cartwright on "Bonanza" sometimes called men or boys "fellers."