A Long Box BehindSkull the Slayer Summer Reading Club
Three guys take a trip into a world of the far-flung past
By Wooly Toots, Joel Ballard and Camarillo Brillo

Sometime last year, my friend Joel made the decision to build a full run of the classic Marvel series, Marvel Two-In-One. When he acquired issue #35 and read it, he called me immediately and asked if I knew who Skull the Slayer was. I didn’t and he followed up his question by saying, “this guy seems right up your alley.”After a quick interwebs search I agreed. A handful of months following, a solicit for the trade paperback collection of the series appeared. We were ecstatic and both committed to acquiring it and having our own geeky little book club discussion over it. Fling forward in time and enter Camarillo Brillo. Fresh off our joint Omnibro read of Marvel’s 1970’s John Carter series, Brillo was hungry to know what was the follow-up read. When he learned of the planned Skull book club, he ordered a copy too. Little did we know what we were in for. Nor did we have any clue that Skull would be rising from the forgotten pages of time to be a player in the current Weird World comic. So, to replicate the feel of a book club we decided to each write questions about the series to simulate a discussion we might have had we met on a summer afternoon in a living room. Join us now as we journey into a world of bizarre pre-history!

Wooly Toots’ questions for the club:

Why do you think the series didn’t make it past eight issues?

Joel: Probably lack of interest. It was a pretty wacky story, and I think it would have been really confusing if you weren’t reading it from the first issue. It was fun to read collected, but I might not have stuck with it if I was reading it month to month. It’s hard for me to compare it with other comics from the mid 70’s, but maybe it was too off beat for the time.

Camarillo: I feel like there were two reasons. One, Skull himself was so unlikeable. Two, it was half-assed in execution. They seemed to have a bunch of ideas and some characters, but no real narrative plotted out. It reminded me a lot of the earlier image books that focused on character design and sameness to other properties, but didn’t have a story to tell. It was only 8 issues but it felt like a long 8 issues thanks to the numerous setting and tone changes.

What was your favorite issue or moment from the series?

Joel: Marvel Two in One #35 is my favorite issue. That was my introduction to the character and it made me want to find out more about Skull. It is also the reason I bought the collection. I still think it’s a great issue re-reading it in context of the collection. It’s the triumphant return of Skull and his team, and I love that the Thing got to help save Team Skull.

Camarillo: The first issue was by far my favorite, and I enjoyed the fight with the T-Rex immensely. Hand to hand with a dinosaur… with nothing but a bad attitude and a death wish. That is when I though Skull would be a great character to write. An unapologetic, powerless Wolverine.

Which of the three writers on the series do you think handled it the best?

Joel: Bill Mantlo was my favorite writer, especially after reading his essay in the back of the book. He took over the story and brought Skull back to basics. I think Wolfman was making some crazy choices with that book. It was all over the place. Mantlo brought back Skull’s supporting characters and brought back the dinosaurs.

Camarillo: Wolfman. Before the time tower nonsense.

What do you think of Skull’s origin story, his background before he got the belt?

Joel: Skull had a lot going on with his backstory. There was a lot to process in that first issue. I thought it was a strange and dark origin. Wolfman was definitely going for edgy. I feel it was kind of goofy, but it might have read as more of a serious story when it was read in the 70s.

Camarillo: I think it was mishandled/underwritten a bit but I think as a plot device it was great. They should’ve played it up as a mystery longer, as to whether or not Skull killed his brother intentionally or not. You don’t have to love the man character of a story, and that mystery may have helped him be a great heel.

How would you have handled the end of Skull’s series?

Joel: I would have ended the story with Skull still in the Bermuda Triangle. Skull sacrifices himself to save his team and send them back home. Leave the story open with Skull finally a hero and ready for more high adventure!

Camarillo: I think it would have been rad to leave it as it was at the end of issue 8, then later have heroes happen across the kingdom, now ruled by jaded and twisted Skull. He had to fight for survival with no hope of return to home that battle is all he knows, and now sits on the throne over desolation. I think reintroducing him back into the real world would have made for a lot of fun post-series, with him being a scrapper and an anti-hero. Not quite Avengers material, he would’ve been a great cornerstone for a Marvel answer to suicide squad.

Bonus Question for Joel:

What were you hoping to see in the Skull guest appearance in X-Men 16-19 (Vol. 3, 2011)?

Joel: I think Skull was really under used in that story. I wanted Skull and Thing to reference their last adventure more. At the very least a line from Thing like “Hey Skully, how many times do I have to pull you out of the Bermuda Triangle?!” But what I really wanted to see was a Skull and Wolverine fastball special.

Camarillo’s questions for the club:

Do you think Skull is a hero, anti-hero, or just the story’s narrator/protagonist?

Joel: I think skull was just the protagonist. I wouldn’t say he was a hero or anti-hero. He was almost like a Ash Williams or Jack Burton type character. A tough talking blow-hard, but without any of the charisma or charm. There really wasn’t anything likeable about the character. At the end of day, he was kind of a bad person.

Toots: Protagonist, all the way. Although I’m not sure where Wolfman was planning to head with Skull’s development before he left writing the book. Skull is a total asshole and his supporting cast, well they’re all jerks too.

Was it necessary for him to have found the belt?

Joel: I do think the belt was necessary.  It gave Skull the edge he needed to get out of some tight spots. I think they could have done more with his powers or at least quantified them more. It reminded me of the running gag in The Tick, Skull was nigh- invulnerable and had powers as the plot called for them.

Toots: It was just a device to give the dudes some super-powers, so yes. Plus it has a totally rad name, “Scorpion Belt.” When I did my initial investigations into the character and read about the belt I was thrilled by the prospect. It made me want to create a magic item of the same name for my role-playing game. But I do feel they could have defined the powers of the belt more clearly.

Of the melting pot of styles, which genre do you think best suited the story (sci-fi, prehistoric, medieval, etc)?

Joel: I think the prehistoric setting suited the story best. I like Skull slaying dinosaurs and roughing up cave men. I really liked the prehistoric setting with a mix of aliens and sci fi. I kind of lost interest with the medieval stuff.

Toots: Pre-historic. I’m a big fan of lost worlds and forgotten pre-historic valleys secreted away in misty mountains. It’s classic pulp. The Sci-fi stuff broadened story opportunities but man, that Time Tower … too much going on there.

What would you have liked to seen done with the death/abandonment of Skull’s fellow castaways?

Joel: I don’t think they should have killed the team off then magically brought them back. I think that was one of the weirder parts of the story. I think Skull should have had a change of heart and went back for his team after he abandoned them. That would have gave the reader something to like about Skull.  I’m glad Mantlo brought them back. I think a team dynamic was needed for that book.

Toots: It seemed rather forced in both regards. But it was two separate writers too. Steve Engleheart wipes out team Skull in a matter of pages, then in the very next issue Bill Mantlo brings them all back?!? So crazy. Having Skull change due to his companion’s deaths would have been great. They could have skipped the whole death thing too. Have them get captured while Skull does his selfish thing and gets away. Skull then has second thoughts and goes back to rescue them. It was a missed opportunity to grow Skull into a likeable hero.

Looking at a current book like Where Monsters Dwell, made possible by Secret Wars, do you think Skull could be reintroduced as a permanent fixture in the MCU?

Joel: Skull could totally be reintroduced to the MCU. I have a theory that Skull is going to show up in the new Secret Wars Weirdworld book. Aside from that, Skull would definitely fit in the Savage Land. Maybe he makes it back from the Bermuda Triangle, but he can’t adjust to modern society. He’s been away too long and can’t function like a normal person. He is aware of the Savage Land, and decides to make a new life for himself there. There would be a lot of opportunities to interact with other characters and have some further prehistoric adventures.

Toots: I’m not sure. Maybe if they spun things around with the dude and instead of having him lost in a pre-historic time have him lost in space. Thrown through worm-holes, interacting with Marvel’s galactic U.  Either that or have him buddy up with Ka-zar in the Savage Land. A place he would feel more at home.

Joel’s Questions for the club:

What is your main thought of Skull as a character?

Camarillo: I think he showed no character growth. He could’ve gone from unlikeable loner to hero, or made a decision to be ahell and find moments of regret. He just seems to be a smart-ass in the book. Fighting dino’s barehanded one minute and helping his friends escape, then abandoning them for dead the next.

Toots: Asshole.

Did you prefer Skull as a Dino-slayer or exploring the Time Tower? What time would like to see Skull in?

Camarillo: I’m a sucker for the dino slayer world. But since they didn’t nail down the tone of his character, he seemed ripe for time-hopping. BUT the tower was such a poorly executed idea. And robots?! That had to be to appease the code about violent content or something.

Toots: Hey, didn’t I already answer this for Camarillo?

How do you think this series would have read in the 70’s? Do you think the story would have a different tone then when it is read today?

Camarillo: I think a lot of the stuff may have felt more fresh. A lot of tropes aren’t bad ideas, its just that by the time to have read a comic using a similar idea a dozen times it gets wearisome. This was all pre-Star Wars so the aliens/robots were pretty exotic for the time. But it was likely influenced by The Chariots of the Gods and 2001 as much as it was John Carter and Flash Gordon.

Toots: It’s such a product of its time. The world events elements, the lingo and pop-culture references … it was all so wild to me as a modern reader. Reading it then, it was probably super edgy and in the now. I’m kinda surprised parts of it passed the Comics Code.

How do you think the story would have played out with Jeff’s dad, The Senator, and Skull’s kind of arch nemesis Lancer?

Camarillo: Oh man, I don’t even know. I think those are elements a modern writer would use to make the story heavy and faceted. It didn’t interest me but having some real world drama would ground the series in realism. Which everyone is concerned with lately to one degree or another.

Toots: Sending Lancer into the Bermuda Triangle with planes and a squad of hired men could have been another great opportunity to have Skull grow as a character. It would have given him an opportunity to face down a demon of his past. Help his companions get back to the modern world and finally find some peace and a place for himself. He could stay behind to make sure the others crossed back over, becoming a myth and his fate a mystery to them. I’m actually very disappointed all that set up was dropped when his series ended and wasn’t even referenced when his story was picked up in Marvel-Two-In-One.

How would you fit Skull into the Marvel Universe today and what is your dream Skull team-up?

Camarillo: I think Skull would likely benefit from a quick reboot. I don’t think they would need to start from scratch, but just clean up the introduction. The world he is transported to would be a nice change from the usual alternate Earth… a world that exists in the shadow of this Earth. I also think with the right writer, they could reintroduce the time tower and make it a new underlying threat to Marvel Universe proper. Much like SHIELD by Hickman retold history, I think Skull would work as a reluctant jackass saving a world that has no idea. Stepping up where the big heroes cannot/aren’t aware. He’d be a great leader for an A-Team style hero fantasy. My dream team up would be Skull and Justice from New U. They could be tasked with fighting a secret war in the time tower

Toots: Again, Camarillo had a similar question about him in the modern Marvel U, so I’ll expand on that a bit with my dream team-up. Skull is far flung (I love saying that) into the future. The future of another 70’s comic, Amazing Adventures. There he would team-up with Killraven and join him in the war of the worlds. Bringing Skulls sense of ass-kickery to that sci-fantasy environment would be a hoot. Skull, having dealt with the Time Tower, aliens and dinosaurs in his series would probably fit right in.

Final reflection on the series by Camarillo:
This was a fun experiment, with that first issue really setting expectations high for what never really came. The characters were all so unlikeable, and the set-up/era made for some awkward interaction. The story as a whole never felt like it found a groove, like they were building the bridge across a chasm as Skull ran across blindly ahead. I couldn’t ever decide if I liked it or if it was like watching a bad movie. A bad, Nic Cage movie.