Blackmark is the creation of masterful artist-storyteller, Gil Kane. It’s a rare beast, and you won’t find it in many top SF and Fantasy lists. However, for me it brings together so many genres (Sword and Sorcery, SF, Wild West), and expresses the mix with great power: in a post apocalyptic world, brought to its knees by the banished forces of science an unlikely hero rises from the brutality of a miserable life, to conquer all and become King. Hardly an archetype, but utterly compelling.
That said, the story is rather less important than the manner of its telling. It’s one of the earliest attempts at the first graphic novel form, with a courageous mix of prose blocks and comic frame narrative, all black and white with Letraset tones for shadows, like a mad newspaper strip. Re-reading it now the details of the birth in poverty of hero-to-be-King, the rediscovery of a rocket ship buried in the middle of the land, and the string of desperate battles bring the book into the realms of Game of Thrones, ERB’s John Carter of Mars, Star Wars and Robert E. Howard’s enduring creation, Conan. For today’s cinematic-reared audience, fed on a diet of streaming video Blackmark will seem thin gruel but emerging in the early 1970s, when paperback fiction was the engine room of SF and fantasy (Frazetta covers, Michael Moorcock’s Elric, and Marvel’s upmarket magazine-comic Epic) Gil Kane’s experiment in crossover fantasy was thrilling.
Marvel, DC & Beyond
For many Gil Kane was a direct successor to Jack Kirby, with his bold, direct lines, and pacy sense of story-telling. His Spiderman, Iron Fist and others for Marvel, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and Superman for DC brought him to the zenith of the superhero market during a golden period of comics, now long supplanted by the mobile and movie technology of today.
The story was re-issued years later in true comic and graphic novel style (by Fantagraphics I think), with the unpublished second book in the series, but I bought mine second-hand in the 1970s, along with various Robert E. Howard paperbacks, and still treasure its gracefully yellowed pages. Definitely in my top 100 SF and Fantasy books.
- Top 100 SF & F Books. Stranger in a Strange Land.
- Top 100 SF & F Books. The Rebel Worlds (Poul Anderson)
- Top 100 SF & F Books. The Subtle Knife.
- The Avengers: A Back Story
- H.P. Lovecraft created some incredible monsters in space and time.
Front cover photograph by Elise Wells, 2016