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spotty writing
skilled art
historical bonus 3
total score 6
The Skull Killer
Back Cover
Back Cover
(click for larger image)

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Only Printing / July 1975 / 48 pages / Pulp Mania
Skull Killer is an interesting comic book that's not quite an underground but is always listed as one, so in traditional Comixjoint fashion we are reviewing it so you know what the hell it is and if it's any good. The fact that Simon Deitch (Kim Deitch's brother) edited this publication is reason enough to include it in our archives.

The book was written by Brendan Faulkner and illustrated by Gary Terry. Neither of these two dudes has any cache in underground comix circles, but Faulkner is known for a few cheesy horror/splatter movies he made in the '80s, which he often wrote, produced and directed, so he must have made an impression on somebody at some time, right?
_The Octopus pulp fiction book
Skull Killer has the subtitle of "Curse of the Octopus," and the Octopus in that subtitle is actually a genuine pulp fiction villain from way back in 1939 (I'm not sure if Skull Killer was also a genuine pulp fiction character). So this book presents a new adventure (still based in 1939) in which the Octopus attempts to take over the city of New York and Skull Killer must thwart his evil ambitions. Skull Killer is kind of a superhero (or antihero), even though in real life he's actually a benevolent doctor who only changes his persona whenever evil villains pose a threat to society (sort of like Batman).

Bear in mind that I have no real expertise in pulp fiction, even though I do own a couple anthologies about the genre.

So the crux of this comic book is the battle between the Octopus, who wants to take over New York, and the Skull Killer, who wants to protect the city. The Skull Killer is aided by his sidekick, Syn, and a handful of periphery characters, none of whom I have any idea of what they're doing. The reason I have no idea is because the entire script is loaded with disjointed narration and dialogue that demands rapt attention to have any chance of making sense of it all. Even if you made this book the basis of your master's thesis in college, I'm not sure you could convey the plot and character relations with absolute clarity.

The characters also speak in melodramatic clichés, but despite all this tortured scripting, Skull Killer is a fun comic book to page through. Gary Terry has fun with the ink illustrations and they are often bold and dynamic, with stark slashing and loose caricatures of evil-looking characters (even though many of the characters have similar physical traits). There's also some random color pages inside that are a nice surprise, as well as a couple panels of chaste nudity. But except for a couple pairs of boobs and some cartoon violence, this is hardly an underground comic.

Skull Killer may be an abysmal heroic figure, but he's ultimately such a throwback to noir thriller comics that he's kind of a kick. I can imagine Tim Burton or Quentin Tarantino adapting this mediocre potboiler into an Oscar-winning film (and I want my cut for the suggestion).
Pulp Mania, which was apparently based in White Plains, New York, printed 11,400 copies of this comic book. It has not been reprinted. During the print run, the publisher also produced 50 copies of a limited edition that features a glossy, heavy-stock cover. From what I've heard, about 30 of these were sold to one dealer (hey, doctor!), which were then disseminated amongst that dealer's customers. The limited edition somehow gave the the standard print run an illusion of rarity, but this book is really not that hard to find on auction sites, so don't be fooled and pay $100 for a copy of the standard edition! You should be able to pick one up for about $15-20.
Simon Deitch - editor, 1 (color collaboration), 4-5 (color collaboration), 8 (color collaboration), 41 (color collaboration), 44-45 (color collaboration), 48 (color collaboration)
Gary Terry - 1, 2-47 (art), 48
Seth Deitch - 1 (color collaboration), 4-5 (color collaboration), 8 (color collaboration), 41 (color collaboration), 44-45 (color collaboration), 48 (color collaboration)
Brendan Faukner - 2-47 (script)