Mike Carlin

Ka-Zar the Savage 34 (October 1984)

The cover proclaims this final issue as a “collectors’ item.” Until the epilogue, it’s unclear why. In an amazing turn, Ka-Zar and Shanna end up in the League of Cancelled Marvel comics, or something along those lines. It’s pretty funny.

Too bad Neary’s art is awful.

Otherwise, it’s a silly sci-fi issue with Ka-Zar being the savior of these human hostages in an interstellar prison camp. They’re being drained of adrenaline, which makes them unlikely to revolt. But, of course, Ka-Zar does.

Oh, and Shanna’s pregnant. Not sure if she ever gave birth… it’d be awesome if it was Peter Parker’s kid.

Anyway, the series comes to a lousy end. For these Carlin, Neary and Fingeroth issues, one could never guess the series was once good, much less sublime.

Oddly, Carlin’s explanation of the aliens is decent. Or, at least, unpredictable.

But unpredictability doesn’t make up for the rest..

Ka-Zar the Savage 33 (August 1984)

Carlin’s destruction of the series seems to be complete now. In this issue, he reduces Shanna to a helpless damsel. He’s got Ka-Zar running around thinking about how he’s going to save after she falls victim to an absurdly drawn out incident.

But this moronic event occurs halfway through the issue, until then it’s just Shanna being a stupid female, ignoring her obviously smarter man.

For the first couple pages, it almost looked like Neary’s art was improving. It doesn’t, however. I’m just trying to think of good things about the comic. This issue ends with a note from the editor announcing its cancellation. Strangely, the editor, Danny Fingeroth, takes no responsibility… and he really should. The series has gone, albeit slowly, to pot since he took it over.

There’s one nearly good moment, with Ka-Zar and Shanna watching “television.” The punchline’s cute. It saves the comic from being entirely worthless.

Ka-Zar the Savage 32 (June 1984)

Reading Carlin’s Ka-Zar is watching a series collapse on itself. This issue does have Marie Severin doing these wonderful imaginings of Ka-Zar and Shanna as a sitcom married couple. Those scenes, totally pointless and unbelievable, are awesome.

Otherwise… it’s awful.

Carlin turns Shanna into a ninny and a little of a harpy. She doesn’t trust Ka-Zar’s judgement because Ka-Zar’s dumb, remember? Carlin just amplifies all the textures of her personality (under Bruce Jones’s writing) until she becomes unbelievable.

The major incident with this unbelievable behavior regards Ka-Zar’s brother, who’s a villain and has a goofy mustache and dumb name. But he’s got an accent so Shanna’s going to believe him? It doesn’t seem likely.

But the plot also requires Ka-Zar to be really stupid and unobservant.

Carlin’s whole approach seems to be making the protagonists morons so they’ll fall for his bad plot ideas.

Neary’s bad art doesn’t help anything.

Ka-Zar the Savage 31 (April 1984)

With this issue, from the opening page actually, Ka-Zar the Savage has devolved into complete nonsense. Carlin even manages to make the strong supporting cast useless against his Machiavellian pterodactyl man. Except the pterodactyl man is an inept idiot too, so it’s kind of a comedy.

Paul Neary and John Beatty take over the art. I feel like I’ve liked Neary, but I’m not sure… Ka-Zar doesn’t suggest he’s any good. His figures are stiff and blocky and his faces are worse.

Again, good art isn’t going to help Carlin’s script. He keeps with the series’s high level of conversation, but he can’t come up with a decent reason for the characters to be saying their lines. Shanna probably calls Ka-Zar stubborn seven times in the issue. It’s about all she has to say to him.

Apparently, now married, their other character traits have disappeared.

It’s terrible.

Ka-Zar the Savage 30 (February 1984)

Well, after a couple good issues, Carlin’s Ka-Zar is starting to unravel.

The issue also has major art problems; some of these problems might even make Carlin’s script worse, but he still makes some awful choices.

He tries to keep up the high level of content, sending Ka-Zar and Shanna through a battle, imprisonment, another battle, an escape, another imprisonment… You get the idea.

Carlin loses track of characters a couple major times, with the character conveniently popping in to save the day, and he also makes a terrible antagonist decision. The bad guy this issue is a pterodactyl man. He thinks to himself a lot and he’s a big meanie. It’s a goofy villain, made goofier by Mary Wilshire and Ricardo Villamonte’s questionable pencils, and the issue sinks thanks to it.

The art looks dated, like a bland sixties comic.

Luckily, the strong cast still makes it throughly readable.

Ka-Zar the Savage 29 (December 1983)

Carlin’s not doing much to make Ka-Zar his own. He follows the existing template well–down to Shanna’s step-daughter being emotionally affecting from her first panel–and it feels like a good impression of Bruce Jones.

Except Carlin doesn’t spend a lot of time on his protagonists’ emotions. He doesn’t keep their self-reflections going throughout the issue, instead using them episodically. It’s not a bad approach, it just gives the narrative a staggered feel.

To be fair, Carlin does get a lot done. He probably has enough content in the issue it’d run six “decompressed.” Ka-Zar and Shanna have a wedding and even get married, along with fighting a demonic bad guy and saving some people. Throw in another five or six pages of villain scenes and you’ve got a packed issue.

Frenz does fine fitting it all in. Even if his pencils aren’t beautiful or even ambitious.

Ka-Zar the Savage 28 (October 1983)

Mike Carlin takes over the writing reins and does a fine job. He handles Shanna’s personal crisis well, though he doesn’t stick with it as long as Jones would have. And Carlin’s Ka-Zar is a far more assured protagonist than Jones’s. It might help this issue’s Ka-Zar has been maturing the last twenty-seven issues.

Another Mike–Mignola–inks Gil this issue and the result is mixed. Mignola sharpens Gil’s pencils, giving them a good amount of shadow, but he also removes some of the life. Ka-Zar looks boring, even though it’s full of action.

Carlin’s big problem is tying everything together, something Jones had to leave the Savage Land to avoid. This issue seems to kick off a longer arc where the entire Savage Land cast reunites, including the bad guys.

It’s a good comic book, but I’m a little wary without Jones at the helm.

The Thing 30 (December 1985)

Where to start? The Beyonder is suicidal this issue, which is pretty stupid. The Thing is some kind of pro-superhero wrestler, which is also pretty stupid. What else….

No, those two pretty much cover the big stupid parts. Then there’s the wrestling politics, the promotors trying to make it in that hard world, which isn’t so much stupid as dated.

But, I suppose an issue about the Thing becoming a homicidal maniac is probably going to have a lot of problems.

I was a little surprised when the issue didn’t waver at that issue. The Thing does beat the Beyonder to death (only to discover the Beyonder can’t die). The love interest tries to stop the Thing but she doesn’t. Instead, he “murders” someone and still gets the girl.

The moral of the story appears to be to use your fists whenever possible. And to drink lots of Heineken.


Above and Beyond; writer, Mike Carlin; penciller, Ron Wilson; inker, Dennis Janke; colorist, Bob Sharen; letterer, Jack Morelli; editor, Mark Gruenwald; publisher, Marvel Comics.

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