etragedy's Savage Tales #1 - Savage Tales review

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A Cultural Relic

Savage Tales was Marvel's attempt to break into the lucrative magazine market, dominated by Warren Publishing - this market, unrestricted by the Comics Code Authority attracted an older demographic. The first issue demonstrates this featuring a cover painting featuring Conan holding a blood dripping sword, and a severed head, as well as the prominent (and un-required) "Mature Reader!" logo.
All of that, notwithstanding, the issue is pretty tame by modern standards; before the decade was even out, the envelope would be pushed much farther by the likes of Heavy Metal among others. Still, the suggestive sexuality and implied nudity (and perhaps slightly more graphic violence) was quite an eyebrow raiser at the time.
More shocking to modern audiences is probably the portrayal of women here. There is not a sympathetic female character in the entire magazine. The female characters are not shrinking violets clinging to men for protection (as you might guess from the cover), but rather, conniving and manipulative. Every single story here features at least one evil temptress. Nowhere is the feminist backlash more apparent than in the Stan Lee penned "The Fury of the Femizons" (illustrated by John Romita, Sr. - Stan's go-to guy for voluptuous females) which takes place in a future where women rule and all men are slaves - although to it's credit, it also introduces the one character, Lyra, who begins to question the status quo, and is set up to become a heroine protagonist in future issues.
Other timely issues appear in both the final story where Ka-zar condemns civilization for, among other things, protesters who speak of brotherhood yet resort to violence, and "Black Brother!", a blaxploitation piece that references numerous social ills. This latter story is perhaps the most controversial, so much so that writer Dennis O'Neil chose to use a pseudonym.
Of course the magazine will always be remembered for introducing Conan the Barbarian, and The Man-Thing, as well as helping to resurrect the golden age hero Ka-Zar. Of them, the Conan story, 'The Frost Giant's Daughter', is perhaps the best of the bunch - and the definitive comic version of Conan... until the same story was tackled more than 30 years later by Kurt Busiek and Cary Nord. The Man-Thing story hints at the pathos filled series to come, and is the only story shaded by watercolors - a technique that adds to the gloominess quite nicely. And finally, the Ka-zar story is packed off toward the back, which is probably intentional, as it's by far the weakest and most generic story in the issue.
It's definitely an entertaining look into an era that was embracing fantasy fiction to a far greater extent than ever before. More than one thirteen year old probably managed to get his mitts on it, and was blown away by these "adult" non-superhero comics.

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