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Monday, August 18, 2008


As comics go on to gain more and more respectability in the mainstream thanks to highbrow graphic novels like AGE OF OF BRONZE, BERLIN, EPILEPTIC and others, I find myself looking back on the days before the 1980's revolution of "comics as art," the days when comics had no such lofty ambitions in mind and could wallow shamelessly in the fact that they were, well, crap.

During that blessed time I devoured any and all such comics I could get my grubby little mitts on, and one company in particular seemed to crank out derivative dreck by the boatload, namely the short-lived Atlas Comics line. Lasting a scant ten months from 1974 through mid-1975, Atlas came up with a few new characters, but mostly bald-facedly ripped off other properties and only slightly retooled them into "original" post-Marvel Age headliners whose adventures were seasoned with a sense of gloom and doom that would have been quite at home in the undergrounds: the 1970 Joan Crawford film TROG was gene-spliced with Marvel's INCREDIBLE HULK to come up with THE BRUTE, KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER met Evel Knievel-style stuntman stuff as THE COUGAR, THE OMEGA MAN kinda/sorta became PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES (a series that amazingly managed to change premise in each of its three issues!), and so on.

But the most blatant swipe of them all was Iron Jaw, a flagrant ripoff of CONAN THE BARBARIAN set in a far-flung future that had regressed into outright barbarism. Other than the setting the only real difference between Conan and Iron Jaw was that Iron Jaw had — you guessed it — a lower jaw fashioned from iron, but just a mere two issues after his debut his jaw would come to resemble a bear trap, providing the anti-hero with an upper and lower jaw with serrated teeth, a move which would have logically led him to be re-christened Iron Mouth, but I guess that didn't sound as cool as Iron Jaw. Issue #1 of this unintentionally (?) humorous sword & sorcery non-landmark was cover dated January 1975, but since comics are released a couple of months before their cover dates that means it found its way into my hands toward the start of my fourth grade year (Fall of 1974).

IRON JAW #1 (January 1975): cover by Neal Adams, interior art by...Mike Sekowsky? Talk about "bait and switch!"

Upon reading IRON JAW #1, even at that tender age I knew it was utter trash and I enjoyed how it tried to get away with as much unabashed sex and violence as possible, including many stabbings and swordplay-related injuries, a scene where the hero gets it on with a topless chick whose tits are unfortunately covered by strategically-placed shadows and whatnot, and a jaw-dropping (no pun intended) sequence in which the imprisoned hero tries to rape the princess of the kingdom, unaware that she's actually his sister (he's the long-lost heir to the throne and even becomes king by the end of the second issue). This material felt like it was cribbed from some of the issues of THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN that I kept in a secret stash — that stuff was slightly too risque for me to get away with having in those days, much like my beloved and well-hidden issues of CREEPY, EERIE and VAMPIRELLA — so I of course enjoyed it, but after the first issue I was unable to snag another issue of IRON JAW until #4, by which time the Atlas line was barely on life support.

The creative team behind IRON JAW was Michael Fleischer handling the scripting chores — he'd made a well-deserved name for himself by writing JONAH HEX and an infamously gruesome and creatively sadistic run on THE SPECTRE — with art provided by comics veterans Mike Sekowsky and Jack Abel (a fun and much loved colleague during my Marvel Bullpen days whose latter years were hampered by strokes). Sekowsky is well-known to fans of Silver Age comics, especially those bearing the DC imprint, such as JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA and the unfairly reviled Denny O'Neil WONDER WOMAN run (where the badassed Amazon Princess had no superpowers and was kind of a poor man's Emma Peel), but I have to confess his work was never a favorite of mine thanks to his famously stiff figures that resembled spastic marionette attempting to disco dance when they were supposed to be fighting. That stylistic bent only added to the joys of IRON JAW #1, however, and whenever Iron Jaw killed someone the victim's body looked like one of those bogus shots from MONTY PYTHON'S FLYING CIRCUS where they'd lob a dummy done up to look like Nelson of Trafalgar or whomever off the top of a high-rise building ("Kiss me, Hardyyyy!!!"), and it's just so goddamned funny-looking that I couldn't help but crack up.

But while over the years I've obtained a large chunk of the Atlas line's output — including all four issues of IRON JAW — , it never occurred to me that I might someday own a page from the legendary IRON JAW #1, but my buddy Jared clued me in on just such a page up for bid on eBay. I leapt at the opportunity and ended up with the page seen below, in such good condition that I would have sworn it was maybe two or three years old rather than thirty-four, for a mere $81.00 including shipping.

Page 18 from IRON JAW #1.

As I said, IRON JAW #1 is a flagrant piece of crap, but it's a cherished piece of crap and I'm damned glad to have a page from it. Now all I've gotta do is frame the sumbitch!

The text page found in IRON JAW #1. You'd think it was an info piece on the barbarian's actual world, a la such pieces in any given Conan mag, but no dice; instead it's mostly about the creators and the planned awesomeness to be explored in future issues, but so much for that...


Jared said...

Ahhh... Ironjaw, the hero of the book has to be persuaded not to cut a small boy's throat. Great stuff.

Anonymous said...

Wow - I remember that one... twice. Once from an article about Atlas Comics in Dynamite magazine (which hilariously claimed "Ironjaw bites for what's right!") and once from actually reading the book in college and being convulsed with laughter by the sheer ghastly awfulness of it.

Michael Fleischer, huh? The same Michael Fleischer who wrote "Chasing Hairy" and tried to sue Harlan Ellison for calling him a "sick fuck" - as a compliment! - and inadvertantly getting Jim Shooter kicked out of Marvel? Wow, ol' Mike got around back then, didn't he?