|Cover Art: Nick Cardy|
Original Price: $0.25
Title: "There's a Mountain on Sunset Boulevard!"
Writer: Bill Mantlo
Artist: Frank Robbins
Inker: Steve Gan
Letterer: Karen Mantlo
Colorist: Janice Cohen
Editor: Marv Wolfman
An earthquake strikes Los Angeles, causing a large mountain to emerge from the ground in the heart of the city. Johnny Blaze witnesses the event and goes to investigate the mountain, transforming into Ghost Rider due to the imminent danger he senses. Meanwhile, Morbius flies through the night looking for a victim and finds the Werewolf by Night, causing a brief fight between the two monsters. Finally, in the Florida Everglades, the mindless Man-Thing sees a vision of the mountain and walks toward it only to find itself transported to the actual mountain a continent away. Morbius sees the mountain and flies to investigate, followed by the enraged Werewolf by Night. They find Blaze's abandoned motorcycle and the Man-Thing, then they and the Ghost Rider see a large golden man astride a similarly golden horse, an alien being called the Starseed. The alien tells them his origin, that he was part of an evolved tribe of humanity millions of years ago that was kidnapped by an alien race, along with their mountain home. Eventually the Starseed's people defeated their abductors and took control of their spaceship to return home, but now Starseed is the only one of his people still alive.
Driven by rage and bloodlust, the Werewolf and Morbius attack Starseed and drive him to the ground, condemning him for his perfection while they remain monsters. Ghost Rider attempts to stop them, but is chased by the Man-Thing, who is spurred on by Blaze's emotional state. Ghost Rider again attempts to stop the monsters, but is attacked by Morbius while the Werewolf claws at the Starseed. The alien drives the Werewolf away, but the fear caused by his pain attracts the Man-Thing, and the swamp monster's touch burns the Starseed. Ghost Rider manages to drive away the other three monsters, but it comes too late, the alien is dying. In his last breaths he is able to free each of the four monsters from their respective curses, turning all of them human again. But the spell doesn't last, and they all revert back to their monstrous forms. Morbius flees, in tears from the realization that he helped kill his best chance to be a normal man, and Man-Thing and the Werewolf wander away. Only Johnny Blaze remains as the Starseed dies, and as he pushes his damaged motorcycle into the city the mountain behind him disappears.
Ghost Rider last appeared in Ghost Rider (1973) # 16 and appears next in The Champions (1975) # 4.
Johnny Blaze will next encounter Werewolf by Night in Ghost Rider (1973) # 55, Morbius in Morbius: The Living Vampire (1992) # 1, and Man-Thing in Blaze (1994) # 2.
This issue was reprinted in the Ghost Rider Team-Up trade paperback.
The "Legion of Monsters" make their debut, but things don't go so well for our four titular monsters.
This is such a bizarre concept for a story, though it's really just par for the course when it comes to mid-1970s Marvel Comics. Bill Mantlo seems to be channeling his inner Steve Gerber, what with the outlandish origin story of the Starseed. It's all very counter-culture, peacenik sentimentality, with the Starseed referring to everyone as "brother" and his talk of being from a tribe of evolved cavemen with names like "Jaard" and "Lilra". The moral of the story seems to be that mankind are monsters that will destroy anything different from themselves, regardless of the personal consequences that come with such actions. The Starseed is swarmed and murdered by these monsters, with Morbius being the worst of the bunch, because his enlightenment was actually just extreme naivete.
The Starseed is really just a plot mechanism, though, because the real selling point of the comic is the team-up of Mavel's most prominent monster characters. All of these characters were byproducts of Marvel's heavy lean toward horror based superhero characters, which were finally allowed due to the relaxation of the Comics Code Authority and their restrictions on monsters. Once Marvel was allowed to play with those toys, out came books like Tomb of Dracula and Monster of Frankenstein, which led the wave of horror comics. Werewolf by Night, Man-Thing, Ghost Rider, and Morbius (by way of Adventure Into Fear) were all star characters, so seeing them brought together as a "team" was a naturally obvious idea. It worked for the Defenders a few years before, and I imagine that had this issue been successful then we would have seen a lot more Legion of Monsters comics. Since we didn't, and believe it or not this was the ONLY appearance these four characters made under the "Legion of Monsters" banner, I can only surmise that this must not have been the hit they were expecting.
It doesn't help, though, that even more so than the Defenders, these were characters defined by their outcast and lonely existences. Only Ghost Rider, who at this time was a member of the Champions, was able to play well with others, and that was a tenuous relationship at best. These weren't superheroes, they were monsters and were written accordingly to type by Mantlo. Werewolf by Night and Man-Thing were nearly mindless, reacting like wild animals to the events around them, so that led the decision making to fall to Morbius and Blaze. It's the characterization of Morbius that gives me the most trouble, though, because he acts a lot more malicious than I remember him being during his Fear series. He acts heinously in this story and is the driving force behind their murder of the Starseed. He also feels the most regret when he gets his fleeting glimpse of being human again, and he has an appropriate reaction. So, with Morbius as the de facto villain and both Werewolf and Man-Thing being reactionary characters only, that means Ghost Rider had to step up as the hero of the story. That makes sense, considering Johnny Blaze was full swing into his superhero status quo in the Champions, and it's such a marked contrast to how his character will evolve later in the 1980s.
The artwork is by Frank Robbins, who was no stranger to either Ghost Rider or Morbius, having spent time as artist on both characters around this same time. I enjoy Robbins renditions of the monsters, his work having this bizarre off-kilter look that lends itself well to these characters. They all look appropriately horrific, and his Ghost Rider is the one most obviously identified as a superhero. His flaming skull is there, but so are his eyeballs, making the character look goofy more than menacing. His design for the Starseed is remarkably wild, a giant golden man dressed in Roman-esque robes, and the art sells the somewhat condescending attitude the alien displays in his dialogue.
I can understand that this comic should have worked in theory, but in reality it just didn't click the way you think it would. The "Legion of Monsters" were too individualized to work as a team, with all of them acting as antagonists to the others at various points. Still, this is a pretty accurate assessment of Marvel storytelling in 1976, and it's a natural fit alongside the Ghost Rider and Champions comics that were coming out alongside it. Like those other two comics, this one wasn't half bad, but it certainly wasn't great either. Memorable, though, definitely memorable.