Young Bill Mantlo, Young Keith Giffen and Young Klaus Janson bring you the very nude debut of WOODGOD – Marvel Premiere #31
That’s one of the few character mastheads that looks like it could use some Murphy’s Oil Soap.
It’s a ridiculous feature of comic books that superbeings, godly creatures with powers far beyond mortal ken, wear undies. The Silver Surfer had two things back in the day: the Power Cosmic and tighty whities. Fin Fang Foom — a dragon, of all things – wore his Fruit of the Foom’s. Preposterous. But it was, and is, a welcome addition. None of us wants to get any more familiar with these characters’ packages.
We’re not as fortunate here. At no point in this comic do we get acquainted with Woodgod’s little Woodgod. Throughout the book it’s either shrouded in shadow or covered by his satyr body’s hair, which extends Tony Shalhoub-like over much of his body. But he is very, very nude. Man-Bat nude.
Not to get hung up on that, though. Moving on.
Woodgod. It’s hard to write that with lower cases. WOODGOD. Bill Mantlo would go on to dash off scripts for Rom, Micronauts and countless other characters. Keith Giffen would become, among other things, one of the foremost chroniclers of the Legion of Super-Heroes. Klaus Janson would one day form a great byline with Frank Miller, whose famous pencils he made his own. But for one brief, goofy moment early in their careers, these guys teamed together to create one of the strangest minor characters in the Marvel Universe, Marvel’s Pan. And Jack Kirby even did the cover for this moment, as if to further drive home that this character would surely enter the august pantheon in the MIGHTY MARVEL MANNER. Fantastic Four –> Thor –> Woodgod.
Well, Woodgod didn’t. But his debut is still worth a gander, if for no other reason than to see three comics veterans at the formative stages of their working lives. Not at their peaks, mind you. Far from it. But feeling their way around, much like their fictional chimera.
Strap yourself in.
What a way to begin — we open with this odd-looking dude wandering down an abandoned street. FULL FRONTAL wandering:
Woodgod, in a dull, absent-minded search for his pops, meets only two other living things here on this dusty lane, a man and a dog. Both attack him. He kills them both, as he goes into a red-eyed kill mode. Not much else to say besides that, but remember that Woodgod met a living man. That’ll be important in a sec. For now, though, it’s enough to note that both encounters touch off flashbacks, including one to some of his very first moments on Earth:
Yeah, doc. I’m sure he’s never going to pick up on the cloven hooves.
Woodgod is the product of some Frankenstein/Dr. Moreau/tampering-in-God’s-domain experiments by David Pace (a scientist, obviously) and his wife. It’s not clear what the motivation was for Woodgod’s creation, whether the Pace’s are a childless couple taking matters into their own crazy hands. But when do mad scientist’s ever need a reason? I’m harkening back to Dr. Mephesto in South Park, who once spliced Swiss cheese with chalk and a beard. Just because.
It isn’t long before rumors of what’s going on up in the forest filters back to the nearby townspeople. Or, more precisely, the townspeople in a bar. And what happens when liquored-up hillbillies get an inkling that there’s something unnatural happening in their neighborhood? You guessed it — METAPHORICAL PITCHFORKS AND TORCHES. Rifles in this case.
They march up, bombard Dave with some “We come fer the creecher” threats, and, well, you can probably guess what goes down:
The drunk yokels then bust into the lab, where they spot giant jars of pink/purple mist (you can see the jars behind the ”proud parents” in the second interior scan — and in the lower left panel above). Not understanding what they’re seeing, confused drunken yokels do what confused drunken yokels have been doing for millenia, and bust things up. This releases poisonous gas — apparently the good doctor and his wife were also weaponizing Pepto-Bismol – which kills everyone except the head-shot Woodgod.
And that brings us up to date.
Back in the present, there’s a shady organization, who sponsored Pace’s work, that’s checking up on what’s going on, and they’re more than a little curious about how the town got wiped out and what the hell that thing is that’s roaming up and down the streets like a naked tumbleweed. They decide to investigate, donning hazmat suits and mounting up on their stupid looking flying contraptions:
“Floater.” Somehow appropriate.
They move in to attack the genetically-enhanced Woodgod, who fights back and hits them with everything at his disposal, including the U.S. mail:
The men and their dopey contraptions are shot down in rapid succession, and one man dies instantly when Woodgod busts open his faceplate and exposes him to the toxic air. Yes, the deadly air that killed every man and beast for miles and miles around, but not that the dog and the man were traipsing about in a few pages and a few moments before. IT DOES NOT SEEM THAT THIS WAS A WELL THOUGHT OUT PART OF THE PLOT.
We end with some ambiguity, as the head g-man is spared Woodgod’s wrath:
It really makes you think. About what, I don’t know. But it sure makes you think.
And what are we to make of this? First, let’s deal with the art. It’s stiff. You can see hints of the future styles of the two artists, especially Janson’s aggressive — and some would say overwhelming – strokes, but here it just feels cramped. I’M NOT BITCHING. Just observing. It takes time for people to get their groove. Even in something as simple and dopey as writing a blog, and takes some time to get your feet. I cringe when I read some of my earliest posts, that are — wait for it — incredibly stiff. I empathize, and this blog here can by no means be considered art, much less commercial art flung out to the teeming multitudes. And you can tell that Giffen and Janson put work into this comic. Young. Hungry.
Same with Mantlo. He’s trying so hard here, maybe too hard. Take Woodgod’s ”scream” verbalization, which I think is supposed to be a simple mind’s symbol for man’s inhumanity to man. Violence, that sort of thing. I think. I don’t know. The point is, Mantlo’s trying so hard to make this little comic deep, into some Rod Serling meditation on the folly of man, when really all it should be about is the silly FrankenPan that gets grown and grafted and inadvertently unleashed on the world without any pants. Like Giffen and Janson, he’s young and hungry, and probably a little over-eager. This outpaced ambition detracts from the comic’s objective quality, but it’s endearing, and that latter point matters more than the rest.
Quibbles aside, this is still a decent read. Mantlo’s Rom stories are some of the foundation cement of my comic life, and I’m always happy to see his name in the credits. I was here. And it’s fun to read him macheteing his way through an early script with Giffen and Janson at his side, even with the glaring error (or what appears to be one, I might have missed something) of the toxic, deadly, inescapable poisonous gas that kills everyone except for the man and the dog. All is forgiven.
And I could be way off-base with my observations here. Just inklings I guess, but it really seems that the exuberance of youth permeates the newsprint.
Woodgod. WOODGOD. He is what he is. FrankenPan has made a splattering of subsequent appearances over the years, including one in Marvel Team-Up that followed up on the events in this origin story. Track it down — along with this one — if you’re desperate for more of his godly wood. I’m shocked — SHOCKED — that Woodgod has never received the Omnibus/Archives/Masterworks/Absolute treatment. Who wouldn’t want to see his hairy shoulders and exposed yet shadowy crotch in a lush, oversized volume?