By GW Thomas
A couple of things changed Wolfman's original idea. First was the popularity of von Daniken's The Chariot of the Gods (1969) and Charles Berlitz's The Bermuda Triangle (1974). The second was Gold Key's Tragg and the Sky Gods, beginning April 1972, which featured cavemen and dinosaurs with aliens. Thirdly, Stan Lee liked the idea, but insisted on dropping the anthology part for a central character. Wolfman accepted the challenge and created Jim Scully or "Skull," an ex-Viet Nam hero who has been branded a murderer. Encountering the left overs of a UFO, Scully finds an alien belt that gives him super strength.
That's up to Issue 4 (March 1976) when suddenly Marv's no longer writing this strip, but acting as editor. Steve Engelhart takes over and changes everything. First he kills off the supporting cast in a scene that cuts counter to everything that has gone before. Jim Scully, who has dived in feet first in every other fight, suddenly abandons his friends to death. From hero to zero in one page! Also, Engelhart turns the storyline from ancient Egypt to the days of King Arthur, bringing in Marvel's former character the Black Knight.
For the last two issues (September and November 1976), the revolving door took Marv from the editing post and replaced him with Archie Goodwin. Mantlo's writing improves things with the team back together and finding an Incan city of gold run by another person from outside. The back-biting polemic is gone, with Skull and Dr. Corey co-existing under a truce. Mantlo heats things up by having Senator Turner send Scully's arch enemy from Nam, a Southern boy named Lancer, into the Bermuda Triangle after them. Despite the improvements, the flip-flopping took its toll. Issue #8 was the last. Skull and his friends remained in the power of a new villain, The Children of the Night, introduced via pterodactyl riders.
In the art department, the lead on Skull the Slayer had been Steve Gan; sometimes inking his own work, sometimes with Pablo Marcos. The look was good, feeling a little like Joe Kubert and a little like Alfred Alcala. With Issue #4 Sal Buscema took over, having his work inked by Mike Esposito, Steve Gan or Sonny Trinidad. The inconsistency on the inking made some issues better than others and hurt the over-all feel the book.
And so the saga of Jim "Skull" Scully ends on a landing strip in Miami. Marvel could have resurrected him, given him a new comic set in the regular Marvel world but this never happened. And it isn't surprising. Skull the Slayer still had his magic alien belt that gave him super strength but so what? Marvel had plenty of strong men on their backlist: Luke Cage (Power Man) and the orange gorilla himself, Ben Grimm, for example. One more muscle man with no dinosaurs to fight just didn't scream out as a bestseller. A slayer with nothing left to slay. He quietly went into comics oblivion, facing a self defence trial, with his girl Ann Reynolds declaring she'd wait for him and his two friends Dr. Corey and Jeff Turner ready to stand up and testify in court to his character. The polemic was long gone. No arguments were left.
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.