I just returned from my weekly trip to the comic book store with an assortment of rare horror masterpieces. It seems that someone sold their collection of horror comics and now they are available for purchase. I spent many hours digging through the boxes of Creepy and Eerie magazines. Single issues of House of Secrets and House of Mystery. Even those suspenseful stories starring The Phantom Stranger. But it was a black-and-white magazine, published by Marvel Comics that caught my eye. It was called Tales of the Zombie.
I’d been searching for Tales of the Zombie #6 because its backup story was the continuation of a story that began in another Marvel comic: Strange Tales featuring Brother Voodoo (issues 169-173), which I obtained earlier in the year. For those of you not familiar with Brother Voodoo, have no shame. He’s a third-or-fourth-string character in the Marvel universe that first appeared in 1973 and has only appeared a handful of other times. Brother Voodoo is one of those unusual supernatural characters that Marvel explored in the 1970’s, when an interest in horror and voodoo stories was expanding into entertainment. He’s a beloved character by some, but unknown by many others.
However, the most haunting (and strangely absurd) story of Tales of the Zombie #6 is the head-liner. The one that stars Simon Garth, Marvel’s first and only zombie hero. You might think that Simon Garth fights crime in the Louisiana bayou, but no, the character’s not that absurd. Instead, the character is masterfully handled by comic book writer and creator, Steve Gerber. For those of you who do not know Steve Gerber, for shame! Gerber is the creator and writer of Marvel’s most absurd and uncanny heroes: Man-Thing and Howard the Duck. Gerber takes his readers to new heights with stories that are so bizarre, and so strange, that they cannot possibly make any sense. But his stories are masterfully plotted and told so that they connect with readers at the basest of levels. The tale of the zombie, Simon Garth, is that of a man searching for his humanity, angered that it was taken from him and unable to express his deep-rooted emotions because of his zombie-like state. Now isn’t that a brilliant, yet off-beat character, that’s perfect for a comic book setting?
Tales of the Zombie lasted only ten issues (1973-1975) and was meant for those more “mature” readers. The title was part of a number of other black-and-white magazines that focused on more gritty storytelling, featuring new or unusable characters in the regular Marvel universe. Dracula from Dracula Lives, or Shang-Chi from The Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu, among a few other characters, would sometimes cross-over into Marvel Comics titles, but for the most part they remained in a separate world that was unique and all their own. These magazines are becoming more rare, so if there’s ever a time and place that you see one, I encourage you to stop, stare, and even pull it open and read the stories within, because they present to us a short-lived and experimental time in Marvel’s publishing history.