Tuesday, December 7, 2021

#IReadsYou Review: MARVEL GRAPHIC NOVEL No. 9: The Futurians


STORY: Dave Cockrum
ART: Dave Cockrum
LETTERS: Jim Novack
EDITOR: Al Milgrom
80pp, Color, $6.95 U.S., $7.95 CAN (1983)

The Futurians created by Dave Cockrum

“Marvel Graphic Novel” (MGN) was a line of paperback original graphic novels published from 1982 to 1993 by Marvel Comics.  The books were published in an oversize format, 8.5" x 11", similar to French comic book “albums,” which generally had cardboard covers, full-color interiors, and slick pages.  [In response, DC Comics would also establish a competitor line known as “DC Graphic Novel.”]

Dave Cockrum (1943-2006) was an American comic book artist, who made significant contributions to both Marvel and DC Comics.  Cockrum is best known as the artist who helped Marvel Comics and writer, the late Len Wein (1948-2017), relaunch the X-Men comic book series with a new team of X-Men, first in Giant-Size X-Men #1 (cover dated: May 1975) and then, in X-Men #94 (cover dated: August 1975).  Cockrum co-created and designed the new X-Men:  Storm, Colossus, and Nightcrawler.  Cockrum was also known as one of the best designers of comic book character costumes in the 1970s and 1980s.  He updated the costumes for DC's Legion of Super-Heroes when he began drawing the series in 1972.

Dave Cockrum entered the realm of creator-owned comic books with his unusual superhero team, “The Futurians.”  The team made its debut as the ninth entry in the Marvel Graphic Novel line.  Cockrum wrote and drew the debut story of the Futurians.  His wife, Paty Cockrum, colored the story, and the great Jim Novak lettered the story, with Al Milgrom editing.

Marvel Graphic Novel No. 9: The Futurians opens in the distant future of the planet Earth.  Hundreds of empires have risen and fallen, and at its zenith, human civilization was a melange of human, alien, and robotic cultures.  Mankind conquered and colonized the stars dozens of times before finally returning to Earth and forgetting the stars.

As the story opens, Earth is dominated by two city-states, Terminus and Ghron.  Terminus is a city-state of “scientist-generals,” and Ghron is ruled by the “Inheritors” and their mutant army.  After nearly destroying the entire Earth, the Inheritors travel into Earth's past in a bid to conquer the Earth.

In response, the “Terminus Grand Council” sends “genetic time bombs” into the past.  These “bombs” will increase human potential in select bloodlines.  Scientist-General Callistrax, via “discorporeal transmission,” sends his mind three million years into the past to the year 1940 AD.  Callistrax's mind takes over the body of a homeless man known only as “Vandervecken” or “The Dutchman.”

By 1962, Vandervecken has built an advanced technology corporation called “Future Dynamics,” and its motto is “Tomorrow is Now.”  Vandervecken then begins gathering up those who have been empowered by the genetic time bombs.  They are the seven humans that he begins to prepare for a series of historic battles against the Inheritors and their leader, Lord Temujin.  Vandervecken activates these seven humans' powers with the help of Sunswift.  She is an immortal fire elemental who lives in the sun and travels back in time as an ally of Vandervecken.

The first of the seven is Avatar, an immortal (unbeknownst to Vandervecken) who gains the powers of flight, super strength, and invulnerability.  African-American geologist Harry Robins becomes “Terrayne” a living mud-man who can manipulate rock and earth.  Marine biologist Tracy Winters becomes “Silkie,” a green-skinned amphibian with the ability to breathe underwater at great depths, fire bio-electrical blasts, control and shape water, and transform into a humanoid manta ray-like form, which allows her to fly or swim at great speeds.

Matthew Blackfeather, an Native American of the Dakota tribe, becomes “Werehawk,” a clawed, flying hawk-like humanoid.  Former spy Jonathan Darknyte becomes “Silver Shadow,” a living shadow that can merge with, animate, or teleport through shadows and darkness.  Dana Morgan becomes “Mosquito,” who can fly and generate ultrasonic energy.  Walter Bonner becomes the lion-like “Blackmane,” who has razor-sharp talons and superhuman strength and agility.

The Futurians are immediately sent into action when the Inheritors strike four locations in a bid to obtain the technology that Lord Temujin will use to complete a doomsday device.  However, the Futurians cannot stop the Inheritors if they cannot learn to work together.  Plus, only two of the Futurians realize that Vandervecken has a strange power over them.

THE LOWDOWN:  One thing that Marvel Graphic Novel No. 9: The Futurians certainly confirms is that Dave Cockrum was perhaps the most inventive and imaginative designer of comic book superheroes of his time.  The Futurians are a beautiful collection of superheroes, and it is a shame that these characters have largely been kept dormant in the nearly four decades since their debuted.

Here, as a writer, Cockrum did not have the smooth storytelling chops of the elite writers of superhero comic books of that time, such as Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Frank Miller, Marv Wolfman, Gerry Conway, and Jim Starlin, to name a few.  Still, in The Futurians, Cockrum created an intriguing universe that was as much science fiction as it was superhero, and what his script lacked in “mature audience” theatrics, it made up for in imagination and pure, old-fashioned superhero fun.  This story is dialogue and exposition heavy, but every bit of it serves the story by establishing the setting, defining the characters, or advancing the plot.  I have to admit that I really enjoyed reading Cockrum's dialogue, which gets even better in The Futurians, the short-lived ongoing comic book series that followed the graphic novel.

The Futurians actually reads like a comic book from the 1960s.  It is filled with a sense of mystery, a touch of magic, and a streak of cosmic wonder and imagination.  The Futurians is like a crazy blend of elements from the X-Men, the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, and the Fantastic Four.  The Earth of the Futurians has a complex “future-history,” and Cockrum also teased an intriguing deep history that recalls the kind of science fiction to which Cockrum may have been exposed as a teenager and as a young man.

In retrospect, Dave Cockrum made an unfortunate decision in moving The Futurians from Marvel Comics to Lodestone Publishing, Inc., an independent publisher that ultimately could maintain neither its promises nor its business model.  Lodestone published three issues of The Futurians ongoing series from 1985 to 1986.  Cockrum produced a fourth issue that Lodestone could not publish, so it was later included in the collection, The Futurians Volume 2.  Published by Eternity, this trade paperback also collected the Lodestone published, The Futurians #1 to #3.  That unpublished fourth issue was published again, this time as The Futurians #0, which also included a character profile section and a new Futurians story drawn by Cockrum and written by his associate, Clifford Meth.

In 2010, writer-artist David Miller published a three-issue miniseries, Avatar of the Futurians, which Miller wrote and drew, through his company, David Miller Studios.  In 2011, Miller collected the miniseries in the trade paperback, Dave Cockrum's Futurians: Avatar.

What could have been?  How long could Dave Cockrum have produced an ongoing comic book featuring The Futurians?  How long would Marvel have published it?  Would Cockrum and his characters been welcomed into the fold by Image Comics?  It's all speculation, but we have Marvel Graphic Novel No. 9: The Futurians, and it was part of a line that, for a few years, delivered some very interesting and memorable comics.  Here is to hoping that The Futurians indeed have a future.

I READS YOU RECOMMENDS:  Fans of Dave Cockrum will want to read Marvel Graphic Novel No. 9: The Futurians.

8 out of 10

Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux a.k.a. "I Reads You"


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