H.G. Wells' 1897 WAR OF THE WORLDS novel spawned countless "BEM-chases-babes" stories along the lines of this image from INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN:
Despite later uses of Wells' alien invasion concept, though, the novel barely alludes to sex. Marvel's 1970s "War of the Worlds" comic book, however, almost had to delve into such matters, given that it was designed to emulate the success of the company's own CONAN comic. That said, whereas the original "Conan" stories and most sword-and-sorcery stories replaced "BEM-and-babe" with "beast-and-babe," Marvel's take on Wells was not nearly as given to outright usages of sex appeal. "War of the Worlds"-- later retitled "Killraven, Warrior of the Worlds"-- thus kept a foot in both the world of barbarian fantasy and that of the science-fiction invasion-drama. When the Martians return to Earth after their failed attack at the turn of the 20th century, their second invasion proves wildly successful, and one of the few Earth-men capable of mounting a defense is buff, long-haired warrior Killraven, who wields a sword as often as he fires a ray-gun. Killraven is joined by a small coterie of freedom-fighters. though in issue #35, Carmilla Frost, M'Shulla Scott, and the slightly dim stalwart Old Skull are the only ones following the main hero. Hot female characters, good and bad, are frequently seen, but rarely does the hero get rewarded with sexual favors, as did most sword-and-sorcery heroes. Indeed, the only ongoing sexiness was between Carmilla and M'Shulla, one of the first white/black racial hookups in commercial comic books.
Further, Earth under the Martians sometimes resembles Wells' ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU, for almost every issue pits Killraven and his buddies against some perversion of humanity, brought into being by Martian experimental science. Even Killraven himself is a perversion of sorts, since from the first issue by Gerry Conway and Howard Chaykin, he's been given a special psychic affinity with the invading aliens, the better to spy on the Martians and learn their weaknesses.
Not until writer Don McGregor teamed with artist Craig Russell, however, did the series earn plaudits with Bronze Age readers. Thus at the time they worked on "The 24-Hour Man," the creators had been receiving some acclaim, which may have encouraged them to experiment along lines of science-fiction speculation. (I should note here that Russell only supplies layouts to this 1976 story, with Keith Giffen receiving pencil-credits.) As in many science-fiction novels, the apocalyptic devastation of the existing world is an excuse to cast aspects of real history into new shapes. This may be one reason that McGregor chose to set the story in Atlanta, Georgia-- though, as I noted here, he barely references the city's Civil War history, except in relation to the movie "Gone with the Wind." McGregor's allusion to the spousal rape of Scarlett O'Hara has little or nothing to do with Margaret Mitchell's meaning, so it would seem that McGregor largely mentions the Mitchell work simply as a jumping-off point for his own concerns, the evocation of the Gothic theme of the persecuted woman.
Killraven and his friends stumble onto a cemetery outside the no-longer-inhabited Atlanta, and in said graveyard they find a never-named young woman ranting over the body of a withered humanoid figure clad in golden armor. When the apparent madwoman flees the cemetery, the warriors chase her, to keep her from harming herself. Then it becomes apparent that the woman has a guardian, a huge, multi-legged serpent-beast, whom she calls by the name G'Rath, and who prevents her from leaving. Killraven and the others intervene to defend the woman, but unbeknownst to them, G'Rath has a ally named Emmanuel ("God is with us" in Hebrew). human-looking except for possessing green hair and green skin.While the heroes battle the monster, Emmanuel covertly takes the gold armor from the dead humanoid, dons it, and proceeds to steal Carmilla from her allies.
Given the earlier mention of rape on the story's first page, the reader would be justified in assuming that Emmanuel abducts Carmilla in order to rape her-- though the unnamed madwoman's has already raved about having carried "G'Rath's child." In Emmanuel's conversation with Carmilla, it's implied that he does not plan to violate her. He wants feminine understanding from her, but he and G'Rath are symbiotically bound to one another in some way. The previous child of G'Rath perished after nine months in his mother's womb and one day outside it, for he was a "24-hour man"-- and so is Emmanuel. McGregor supplies no details as to how this symbiosis came about, nor does he even attribute this biological anomaly to Martian science. In apocalyptic worlds, of course, "mad science" sometimes just happens on its own, and apparently that's what gives a non-human creature like G'Rath the power to impregnate a human woman with a changeling. Emmanel's role in the symbiosis is never clear, though if he didn't have green hair and flesh, maybe he could pass as a "judas goat," able to move freely among humans long enough to catch a potential mate for his "father/sibling."
At any rate, Killraven's group manages to interrupt G'Rath's impending nuptials, and though both G'Rath and Emmanuel are destroyed, the heroes mourn the passing, since the two of them no more chose their own biological destiny than does a mayfly. One page is particularly strong in evoking Carmilla's fear of having her own biology hijacked by an invader, of possibly going as mad as the unnamed madwoman as a result.
Though I'm not a Freudian, it's hard not to perceive some psychosexual symbolism here. Though in actual mythology serpents can be as readily feminine as masculine-- a point Freud missed in his analysis of the Medusa figure-- it's hard to imagine G'Rath as anything but a "penis-monster." And if G'Rath is a penis, then what could Emmanuel be, but that which transmits male genes, that which is doomed to perish if *it* does not unite with a female egg? As I said, this similitude begs to be acknowledged, though not for a moment do I think that it "explains" the story, which is more concerned with grand tragedy than with Freud's reductive concepts.
McGregor and Russell even manage to tie Emmanuel's tragedy in with that of Killraven, the only member of the group who has been biologically altered. Toward the story's end, Killraven says, "You were right, Carmilla Frost. We could not save him. By our separate natures and needs, we were forged as opponents, for our own survival. He would shattered you, the way his mother was shattered-- but it is more than passing odd-- it is still as if we shared a common curse."
The common curse may be that of all humanity in the Killraven world has been permanently reduced to a state of abjection by the Martian incursion. And yet McGregor adds in the final panel that the heroes "are only vaguely aware of the hint of beauty amid the darkly perverse events." This observation might bring some critics back to the jumping-off point, wherein spousal rape is more "romantic" than vanilla sex-- or it might also say something about the interactions, however unwelcome, of violence and sexuality.
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