Friday, 5 May 2017

The Evil Sorcerer

Thousands of years before the dawn of civilisation, evil magicians fought for supremacy... and Ko-Tep was the most aggressive. 
Ko-Tep: "The world was mine this morning, the battle was won. All that stands im my way is Razman." 
Razman: "OOOH Ko-Tep! you have defeated my hosts. But in order to win this world, you must defeat my magic, or your own demons will destroy you!". 

And so begins the climatic magical dual of Ko-Tep and Razman....

Ko-Tep and his Demon Army
Ko-Teps Demonic Evil Humanoid

Behold! Ko-Teps demon army, a wretched band of scum and villains. A spike-helmed hobgoblin, a Nazgûl re-imagined by Jack Kirby from the neck up,  an armoured vampire Bugbear, a lesser-spotted cycloptic orc, a Barbed Devil (more on him in a moment) a Chaos Broo and some odd fellow in latex fetish gear.  A line-up of strange humanoids that could have been generated by an Encounter Table  out of back of Gary Gygax 1977 Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual.

The Hosts of Razman
Opposing Ko-Teps demonic hordes stands the Hosts of Razman who display a little more orderliness, with their Centurian / Cuirassier / Firefighter helmets, heater shields and pole arms. Not a million miles away from the Legion of Sérqu from Armies of Tekumel (1978) and I wouldn't be surprised if Razman turned up in any 70s TSR product. We don't see much of these armoured warriors, but the prospect of arraying Razman and Koteps armies against each other across a tabletop is an awesome prospect for fantasy wargaming.

But hold on a second, what is this thing we're talking about Zhu? Obviously some kind of cartoon. Thundarr the Barbarian, or the Herculoids? Maybe Space Ghost or Space Sentinels?

No, dear reader, it is Spider-Man.

Spider-Man 1967 Title Card.

Spider-Man?

Spider-Man 1967 Intro. Don't count the legs.
Yes. Your Friendly-Neighbourhood Spider-Man.

The original Spider-Man cartoon was  first broadcast between 1967 and 1970. The first series, produced by Grantray-Lawrence Animation, consisted of reasonably lightweight advetnures of Spider-Man battling his well recognised comic book foes, Scorpion, Green Goblin, Sandman, Mysterio, Rhino, whilst eye-rolling at desk-thumping, cigar chomping newspaper boss J Jonah Jameson and flirting with Betty Brant.

With Series 2 production was moved to Krantz Films, and it gets off to a solid start with the Spider-Man origin story in Episode 21 - the first time in the animations run that the story is told and the series settles into a comfortable mirror of the 1960s comic book, teen romance, looking after Aunt May, battling villains, struggling with studies - all pretty much what one would expect. But then it all starts to unravel, and go a bit weird. Strange otherworldy Swords & Sorcery motifs and freaky psychedelic vibes unexpectedly emerge as the spiders web spins off into unfamiliar territory.

Whilst there are both earlier examples fantasy-genre themes and later near-legendary trips into psychedelic weirdness in Spider-Man, it's Episode 29: The Evil Sorcerer  that stands out as the most clearly Swords & Sorcery influenced episode, in which Peter Parker learns of the prehistoric battle for supremacy between the evil wizards Ko-Tep and Razman.

So we return to our story a thousand years or so after Ko-Teps defeat by the spells of Razman, he is accidentally reanimated from his petrified form to harass museum-going hipsters and beatniks in swinging sixties Manhattan and summons, once again, his mighty fire-breathing Barbed Devil minion. It's not long before Ko-teps evil plans are stopped by Peter Parkers arachnoid alter-ego, but not before he ruins the troubled teenagers date with archeology student and Mary-Jane Watson look-a-like competitor, Susan.


Barbed Devil  | Spider-Man Episode 29: The Evil Sorcerer

Trampier | Barbed Devil | AD&D Monster Manual

The similarities between the demon from Spider-Man and Trampier's Barbed Devil are clear, the cone-head, horns protruding from the middle of the forehead, elongated ears, and although not shown in the screen-cap above, a long tail. Tusks, which are viewable in the group shot, but not in the solo one, are entirely optional. While we're talking about Trampier and Spider-Man, in Episode 30: Vine, we see our Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man doing his Mad Caeru impression...


 Spider-Man Episode 30: Vine
...stealing jewels from the eye sockets of a gargantuan tiki demon idol statue in order to use them as a weapon against giant dimension-hopping Triffids destroying New York City. I kid you not, that is the actual plot. One can only speculate regarding the relationship this scene has with Trampiers cover to the iconic AD&D Players Handbook (1978) which features the theft of jewels a left eye from the eye sockets of a gargantuan demon idol statue. There are burning braziers either side of the idol in the cartoon as well. It's always the left eye that gets stolen first isn't it?

Trampiers Players Handbook 1978

So how did we get here? How did our Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man go from the troubled teen costumed crime-fighter with super-science spider-powers to gonzo science-fantasy dimension hopping adventurer?

The first thing any animation fan will tell you is that Spider-Man Series 2 was overseen by Ralph Bakshi, and much of the strangeness is attributed to his influence and Bakshi's love of the fantasy genre is evidenced throughout his career. There is the whole war-of-the-wizards plot in The Evil Sorcerer that characterises both Wizards (1977) and Bakshis adaptation of The Lord of the Ring(1978).  Then there are specific design elements, like the angry green barbarian hobbit goblins that Spider-man calls "Elves" in Episode 27 Spider-Man vs. the Molemen who appear to be direct predecessors of Weehawk and the other denizens of the land of Montagar in Wizards.

Spiderman vs the Moleman "Elves"

Armies of Montagar | Bakshi's Wizards

Then there are also thematic uses of cyclopean architecture, and the sketchy watercolour psychedelic black, cyan and magenta background  colours of Spider-Man that reappear in Wizards and the more adventurous impressionistic scenes in Bakshi's adaptation of Lord of the Rings both by John Vita, I think.

Ian Miller | Scortch | Baskhi Wizards (1977)

Writing credits on Series 2 & 3 of Spider-Man also go to Lin Carter whose Worlds End series is listed by Gary Gygax in Appendix N of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (1979). Whilst obviously later than Carters contributions to Spider-Man, The Warrior of World's End (1974) bears some strong parallels...

Warrior of World's End via
The Warrior of World's End has no discernable plot and instead throws its protagonists into a sequence of increasingly bizarre unplanned events and accidents. The book displays no pretence of character development arcs or other paint-by-numbers literary formula. The muscle-bound dolt of a genetically engineered Hero remains such from beginning to end. The world-building makes no sense whatsoever, there are Tiger-men, Death Dwarves (a kind of poison-eating Niblog), powerful magic using evil queens who are set up as antagonists and then completely abandoned.

Map of Gondwane via

The other characters are a menagerie of Gamma World (1978) random generation proportions - there's a teleporting psychic ghost lobster, a sentient giant golden eagle robot airplane, an illusionist who masks himself constantly in purple vapours, a buxom teenage female warrior knight clone of Red Sonja. Each page reveals some new invention or novel weirdness, yet never seems to form a coherent whole. It's brilliant, wacky fun and maybe where Carter really shines, in the gonzo-funhouse literary equivalent of a saturday morning cartoon.

Carter has more tangible connections into the gaming world as well. Being the co-author of two fantasy games published by FGU - Flash Gordon and the Warriors of Mongo (1977) an RPG sourcebook for the Flash Gordon comics by all accounts,  and the miniatures wargame  Royal Armies of the Hyborean Age (1975) with Carter doing the background and force composition and FGU founder Scott Bizar doing the rules. Carter also corresponded with MAR Barker on Barkers Tékumel prior to the publication of The Empire of the Petal Throne (1975)  - and for the petalheads out there, Carter briefly borrows the name "Yán Kor" - an Empire to the north of the lands of the Petal Throne for the name of an immense desert in Warrior of Worlds End . This is amusing not least because  Barker and Carters world-building strategies seem so at odds, Barker containing much that is strange and unusual brings his vision into a coherent and richly detailed whole, whereas Carter seems more enamoured with the joys of invention and poaching from pop-culture for its own sake. In this way both Spider-Man and World's End are very much like Gary Gygaxs default setting in AD&D, where quasi-folkloric and fairy-tale figures rub shoulders with dinosaurs and creatures cribbed from a myriad sci-fi novels, comic books a no-holds barred, anything goes attitude.

Cyclopean Underworld Architecture

Both Carter and Bakshi come into a fair amount of negative criticism, some of it quite undeserved. Bakshi's heavy reliance on both rotoscoping (tracing drawings from film), most notable in Fire and Ice (1983) co-produced with fantasy art demi-god Frank Frazetta, and his heavily stylised cartooning which conservative fantasy fans tend to dislike, draw a lot of flack. Then there are persistant accusations of plagiarism, especially regards Vaughn Bodés character Cobalt 60 and Peace / Necron 99 in Wizards, for which I'm inclined to believe Bakshi's intention to pay tribute. Many Tolkien fans despair at his Lord of the Rings (1977) adaptation for it's style, forays into expressionist psychedelia, editing and lack of an ending. Even Spider-man despite it's occasionally glorious delving into Swords & Sorcery and the bizarre, due to pressing budget, recycles animation sequences, plots, and on more than one occasion is just plain shonky.

Carter is probably best known for his pastches of Howard, Lovecraft and Burroughs and alongside his role in the de Sprage / Conan controversy, these have somewhat coloured his reputation.   Thongor and the Wizard of Lemuria (1965)  and the sequels which Carter was working on during his Spider-Man period, itself adapted by Marvel Comics in the 1970s, is more coherent than either Spider-Man or Warrior of World's End, but is ultimately pretty dull barbarian fantasy fare, although it has more air-cars and fantastical creatures than the average Conan story. Nontheless, in my potted and unthorough research on Carter, his genre contributions to Spider-Man seems to be almost totally overlooked in fannish retrospectives and biographies. I can't help think without that missing strand of 1960s New York saturday-morning cartoon surf-jazz, it may be too easy to miss the genius that lurks within Carters work and the strange web of influence it has on the wider genre.

10 comments:

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    1. Ha! Cheers Linneman, glad you liked it.

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  2. Fascinating from beginning to end. I love the way you kept us in suspense about the origins of Ko-Tep and Razman - the reveal was worth it.
    I've learned from you never to underestimate Bakshi influence on the visual style of D&D. And now you've lit a fire beneath me about Lin Carter...

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    1. Ah the benefits and pitfalls of last minute editing, somehow Spidey just didn't want it played straight. Gratified the plot-twist paid off in some way!

      I've found Lin great fun, and would be intrigued to hear your thoughts on his work. I'll say I found the Warrior of Worlds End heady stuff, and potentially quite sickening if taken in too large a dose, so have avoided picking up any of the sequels for several months to ensure the palette is kept fresh, and one doesn't tire of the constant rambling novelty.

      One word of caution, I have the Wildside Press edition, but cannot recommend it as a book, it seems to be a POD production based on quite rough scans of the original DAW printing, and on modern smooth paper. It's still quite readable, but I'm irksome and sensitive to such things. I'll definitely be replacing it with a 1970s DAW edition and if I do track down the rest of the series it will be in vintage editions as the Wildside editions do not have the original cover art, Michael Whelans Enchantress of World's End being a particular loss.

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  3. Very interesting. I've always loved the Bakshi Lord of the Rings but never really got into Wizards et al. For me I liked the art and rotoscoping much better than the Rankin Bass Hobbit or Return of the King. I think I hated the signing most.

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    1. The Rankin Bass adaptations didn't make it across the pond until quite recently, so didn't have the impact they seem to have had in the US.

      Wizards is wacky stuff, a stoner countercultural Gamma World and 40k. If you prefer the more traditional Fantasy / Swords & Sorcery, the art and rotoscoping, definitely look up the Bakshi/Frazetta Fire and Ice if you haven't already.

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  4. I loved Bakshi's The Lord of the Rings as a child. It was my "gateway drug" into swords and sorcery, myths and monsters. I remember particularly liking the 'Viking' depiction of Boromir and all the gory deaths!

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    1. Bakshi's visualisation of Gondor would have been something to behold!

      I too first encountered the adaptation as a child (although I had already read the books) and was enthralled. The intro sequence and Peter Woodthorpe's Monkey performance as Gollum particularly stuck.

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  5. Totally agree about Bakshi's Lord of the Rings being a gateway drug - I distinctly remember watching it for the first time as a young child after an autumn walk along the canal path in none other than Buckland, the village where I grew up and where Tolkien's family lived when he was at Oxford writing and sending chapters home - hence the appearance of the name of the village in the first book. It was also a valuable early introduction into pyschedelia and the idea of editing, not needing to tell the whole story. Really quite pivotal in my early creative development and I still love it's dark atmosphere now. It captured some of the brooding menace of the books that the film versions (for all their other successes) somehow failed to.

    Another fascinating post by the way, and answers the question that has been brewing over the last few posts about why Spider Man in particular had such a string S&S vibe.

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    1. I first saw Bakshi's LotR on holiday on VHS. Should track down a vintage copy for my shelf. It is a broader, fuller cinematic experience than other adaptations, but falls foul of the increasingly conservative aesthetic tastes that later adaptations confirm to.

      Some Tékumel fans have pointed out the Lin Carter papers held at Duke University which I mention, because the archive seems to have nothing on his work with Krantz Films or Spider-Man - yet again this contribution seems to have been overlooked.

      Regarding the previous journey into Spider-man territory, Serpents & Sorcery, the writer Don Glut talks a bit about why he wanted to do a Black Knight story in an interview on Spider-friends.com, along with other stuff. Fascinating guy.

      And seeing as we've almost caught up to present day - thank very much for dropping your comments on all the old posts as you've gone through them, glad you've enjoyed and it's been great fun for me revisiting them. Chars!

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