Monday, August 17, 2015

Tragg and the Sky Gods [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

I want to read all the old Gold Key original comics. Titles like Tales of Sword and Sorcery, Solar, Man of the Atom, and Magnus, Robot Fighter conjure up feelings inside me that are hard for anyone born before 1960 and after 1980 to understand.  Unless you grew up in the '70s and remember all those comic book covers by Jessie Santos, Richard Powers, and others calling to you, you just won't get it. I never got to read many of them until now. Sure, they were twenty-five cents, sitting there in the wire rack, but I was a kid and a quarter wasn't easy to find. (And Marvel and DC always came first.) Later I saw copies in bags, two a piece, in stores like Woolco and Woolworths (two establishments as dead and gone as Gold Key). I have no idea what they sold for, but I didn't buy any of those either. But occasionally, I came across a copy somewhere. Just a taste...

The contents were never as good as those covers, but it still remains a dream of mine to read all the old titles, especially those written by Donald F Glut. His books were always the best because he genuinely liked the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres. I'm starting my journey with Tragg and the Sky Gods. This is a very appropriate title to begin with since the idea that inspired it could only have come from that decade. Erich von Daniken's Chariot of the Gods? (1968) inspired a good part of the '70s love of Bigfoot, the occult, UFOs, and other fringe beliefs. It was in to be out. Far out!

Whether you believe the truth is out there or not, you can't deny that von Daniken had an impact on fantastic publishing. Tragg and the Sky-Gods (June 1975-May 1982) is only one example. DAW Books published John Jakes' Conan-parody-with-UFOs called Mention My Name in Atlantis (1972) as well as Kenneth Bulmer's more serious version in Dream Chariots (1977 with two sequels) to name only two. Marvel tried to cash in with Marvel Preview #1 (February 1975) featuring Doug Moench and Alex Nino's "Man-God from Beyond the Stars," as well as an 11-page article on von Daniken's book. Carl Sagan and other scientists have debunked von Daniken's ideas in later years but it didn't stop him from selling 63 million copies of his books and flavoring the '70s with unsolved mysteries and alien visitors.

Also popular in that decade was a hold-over from previous decades: cavemen and dinosaurs. Still hot in 1975, despite One Million Years BC appearing in 1966, the ideas that Conan Doyle started in 1913, Edgar Rice Burroughs expanded upon until 1950, and Frazetta painted in the '50s and '60s, eventually brought us Rachel Welch in a prehistoric bikini. When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth appeared in 1970, Land of the Lost was 1974, The Land That Time Forgot showed up in 1975, and At the Earth's Core arrived in 1976. You get the idea. Sexy cave chicks and pterodons were as prevalent as Hostess Fruit Pie ads! Gold Key used a lot of dinosaurs in comics like Turok, Son of Stone and Tarzan, so another one wasn't going to be a problem.

Tragg and the Sky Gods features Tragg and his lover Lorn (not a guy, but a hot red-head in a fur bikini), two advanced cavemen who, as children, were genetically manipulated by aliens from Yagorn with an evolvo-ray. The only problem is that the aliens left Earth and returned twenty-five years later. During that time, the benevolent scientists have been replaced by conquerors. No longer is the mission to help man evolve, but the enslavement of the human race! Tragg and Lorn have to leave their people but stay close to guard them against Zorek (a true Ming-wannabe, moustache and all) and the Sky Gods' nefarious schemes. There's only one problem for the dictator: his fiancée Keera has fallen for Tragg with his burly cave muscles. And despite having jet packs, ray guns, evolvo-rays, and - one would think - highly developed scientific knowledge, the baddies fail. Armed only with spears, dinosaurs, and Keera's treachery, Tragg and his friends set the invaders back, crippling their ship, destroying their volcano base, and stemming the coming invasion from Yagorn.

The comic ran for eight issues, with a reprint at the end, plus three additional stories in other Gold Key comics. In just eleven stories, Don Glut, Dan Speigle, and Jessie Santos presented an entertaining struggle between earthmen and aliens that unfortunately remains unfinished. But Glut did manage a couple of nice things in that short time. First off, I have to applaud his use of dinosaurs. Yes, they don't belong in an age of cavemen, but if you're going to have them, use them well. Glut identifies each major dinosaur that appears, making them as accurate as possible. (He does ignore time periods, with an allosaurus and a T-Rex existing at the same time. He also shows a saber tooth eating a dimetrodon, so what the hell?) It is apparent that the writer is a real dinosaur fan and not just throwing vaguely dino-shaped monsters at us. Looking at Glut's later career, I see he has written several volumes on dinosaurs including the award-winning Dinosaur Dictionary (1972) and The Dinosaur Encyclopedia (1997). He has also written for TV shows like Land of the Lost and Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle. He also maintains an interesting cave-girl and dinosaur website (not for the kids).

The other thing Glut does is connect all his Gold Key series together in a mythos of sorts. In issue #8 (February 1977) he goes in a sword-and-sorcery direction, bringing the sorcerer Ostellon to Earth in a meteorite. The evil mage is serving the Dark Gods from Glut's Dagar comics. The dark ones show Ostellon the descendants of Tragg, namely Dagar and Doctor Spektor. They charge the magician with killing the caveman so these other men never exist. Of course he fails, but Ostellon is the only other big villain in the series. Later, when I get to those other two series, I will keep an eye out for the white-skinned, green-cowled mage and his masters.

My Gold Key journey has only begun. Was I disappointed with Tragg? Not at all. My appetite is only whetted. The journey continues in chronological order (of history, not publication date) with Tales of Sword and Sorcery: Dagar the Invincible...

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is gwthomas.org. He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.
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