In the 1970s there was an explosion of pop culture that can best be called “post-psychedelic faux-deep cosmic psycho-babble.” I’m talking about gloriously incomprehensible creations like the movies “Zardoz,” “The Wicker Man,” and “Phantom Of The Paradise,” and comic books like much of the work of Jim Starlin at Marvel, in addition there’s a raft of spectacularly bombastic art rock concept albums that, merely by existing, defy contemporary logic.
These are the relics that make you tilt your head in awe and silently mutter, “WTF?”
Much of the blame for this inexplicible burst of untethered creativity can be placed at the feet of Stanley Kubrick and Timothy Leary. Kubrick unleashed “2001: A Space Odyssey” on a world that was only open to it because almost everybody was high. Drugs made that movie, or at least the mainstream acceptance of that movie, possible.
I mean, you tell me what the hell that last half-hour of the film is about.
However, one of the cool things about this was that it didn’t matter. In a drug-addled world, things didn’t have to make sense, as long as they looked or sounded cool. And DAMN there was a lot of cool-looking stuff in the 1970s!
Which brings us to today’s cool comic. Al Hewetson was the editor-in-chief of Skywald Publications, a company that was sort of the “B Team” to Warren Publishing’s “A Team” when it came to producing magazine-sized black-and-white horror comics. Hewetson had spent time at Warren and Marvel, and brought a style to his comics that echoed both. In his magazines, “Scream” and “Nightmare,” he brought a hipper sense of humor to his stories, that countered the campiness of the Warren Horror hosts.
In 1974, Hewetson began a serial adventure in “Scream,” called “The Saga Of The Victims.” This series took two lovely young ladies, Josey Forster and Anne Adams (one white, one black) and had them abducted and subjected to a series of cruel tortures and surreal adventures.
It’s like a Grindhouse version of “The Perils Of Pauline.” Josey and Anne, fresh out of the Scollard Manse finishing school are captured by mutants and dragged underground, where they are told that they are to be executed for trespassing. (You could make a drinking game out of the logical inconsistencies, but you’d never finish the book)
The girls escape, and are flung into a world where each escape leads them to a worse fate as they face skinless businessmen, robots, pteradactyls, midget Nazis, zombie pirates and other twisted terrors.
Each chapter ended with a cliffhanger, but instead of the cliffhangers of classic film serials, these were just a series of weirder and weirder menaces. “Oh no! We’ve been eaten by a giant octopus! No wait, it’s just an octopus-shaped submarine! Whew!”
Some kind of omnipotent mastermind was manipulating this universe with the sole purpose being to terrorize this very-nicely drawn young ladies.
How could you not love it? The art was quite good, too. Suso Rego was a Warren veteran, based overseas, but there’s so little information on him that I can’t determine if he was Spanish, Phillipino or from some other country. His work recalls that of Warren’s Jose Gonzales and Estaban Maroto. His layouts are imaginative and his rendering is very tight. His tone work is done with a skillful mesh of wash and zip-a-tone.
But the story is the star here. It’s confounding, nonsensical, obtuse, trippy, and entertaining as hell. Readers couldn’t wait to see what sort of menaces awaited Josey and Anne in each issue, and they had no idea how the series could possibly be resolved.
Sadly, they never got a satisfactory answer to any of their questions because Skywald Publications went belly-up in 1975, leaving the loose ends of “The Saga Of The Victims” dangling for nearly thirty years.
The series was reprinted in 1987 by Eternity Comics, but they didn’t bother finishing the story. (Eternity was owned by a guy who secretly owned several publishers and comics distributors, and who stiffed CODA and dozens of other comics publishers for several thousand dollars back in the day. He’s a famous movie producer now, the swine.)
Luckily, in 2003, shortly before Hewetson passed away, Chimera Press and John Gallagher teamed up with UK publisher, Headpress, to collect the series in graphic novel form, complete with the never-before-seen final chapter which reveals who is tormenting the girls and why. This resolution makes almost as much sense as the final episode of “The Prisoner” if you watch it on cough medicine.
This collection is bad in all the right ways. It’s a relic of its time. The idea of a contemporary version of “The Perils Of Pauline” had been done before by Michael O’Donoghue and Frank Springer in “Phoebe Ziet-Giest,” but that was more of a parody, and though it had way more nudity, it wasn’t drawn nearly as well.
“The Complete Saga Of The Victims” works because it takes itself seriously enough to present its maniacal adventure in s very competently-crafted manner. It’s fun. It’s dumb fun. Really dumb fun, the kind where you might want to play an album by Nektar or Refugee in the background while you read it.
You can order this book from Amazon, or you might see if Taylor Books can still get it for you locally, The Complete Saga Of The Victims by Al Hewetson and Suso, ISBN 1900486547.