Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Unusual Heroes: The Heap #1 (Skywald, 1971)

Skywald was a New York based publisher that released mainly black and white titles such as Nightmare and Psycho magazines in the seventies. One of the recurring characters in Psycho was a creature called The Heap. Muck monsters were pretty popular during the bronze age, with DC selling lots of Swamp Thing and Marvel selling plenty of Man-Thing...there was something about men transformed into muck that appealed to teens. Skywald tried to cash in also, and released this one-shot origin story in 1971.

The issue kicks off with a woman running away from a giant Lion in a flower field. Now why the hell a Lion is running around in a flower field, I have no idea. The woman trips and falls, and lands on...The Heap! He saves the woman and kills the Lion. Still retaining the thoughts of the man he used to be, The Heap worries that he will frighten the girl as she opens her eyes. But to his surprise, she is blind. Hunters start shooting at Heap and he takes them all out with ease...then abandons the girl and walks away.

We then learn how Heap got himself into this mess as he recounts what happened. He was a pilot flying a plane when he got stuck in turbulence, and crash lands into a "USA Chemical Warfare Depot X-G" vat of toxic waste in a top secret military base. The dangerous chemicals turn him into a monster, and he breaks out of the base and seeks refuge in an abandoned graveyard nearby.

There he meets several other monsters who call themselves "The Freaks", led by a grim reaper look-alike named Sinister Scythe. The Freaks want Heap to join their merry band of monsters, but he refuses, and a battle ensues.

 The Freaks take off and Heap heads to a mansion where he encounters the blind girl and Dr. Frankenstein (of all people). He persuades the Doc to help the girl regain her sight...and once she does, she screams at the sight of the Heap which causes him to go into a berserker rage and thrashes the lab apart.

The story ends as the Heap runs off into the night...and gets zapped by a blazing bolt of lightning! He is left ranting about his curse and how nothing seems to be able to end his misery. The story was written by Robert Kanigher, who wrote the first Silver Age comic story "Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt" in Showcase #4. There isn't anything outstanding about the writing in The Heap #1, as the story is very ho-hum and is full of cookie-cutter monster cliches. Still, I like Kanigher's writing, and he describes things in a unique way. Take for instance the Lion chase scene: "A satanic snarl slashes at the naked heart of the defenseless blond beauty...".

Artist Tom Sutton, better known for his work in Warren magazines (as well as Werewolf By Night and Ghost Rider) steals the show here, with some beautiful pencils for the story. I enjoy looking at his artwork and he does a great job on The Heap even though some panels look a bit rushed. The rest of the book contains the following reprints: "When The Sea Goes Dry", "The Curse of the Broken Balcony", "Death on the Earth-Mars Run!", and "Ballast of Gold".

Not much was heard from The Heap after this issue, and the book is semi-rare so pick it up if you can find it.


Skywald was Marvel's production manager Sol BrodSKY (who briefly left Marvel to try his luck as a publisher) teaming up with Israel WALDman (famous in the late 1950s/early 1960s for his IW reprint series). Waldman had bought up an bunch of old printing plates from a printer, and issued a bunch of unauthorized reprints (mostly from defunct companies like Quality) -- which explains why the 25 cent books were padded out with reprints.

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