Monday, September 21, 2020

Stalker the Soulless

The 1970s were a time of both great instability and great creativity at DC Comics, with new characters being created at a rapid pace and then discarded just as swiftly. This was particularly true of those characters created to capitalize on the growing popularity of sword-and-sorcery themes and concepts, few of whom lasted more than a handful of issues.

A very good example of this is Stalker, premiering in June 1975. Created by Paul Levitz (perhaps best known for his work on The Legion of Super-Heroes) and Steve Ditko (of Spider-Man and Dr Strange fame), Stalker only lasted four issues before being unceremoniously canceled. It's a pity, because there are some clever ideas in the comic that, given time, might have developed into something of lasting interest. As it is, Stalker is, at best, a curiosity for those of us chronicling the history of fantasy themes in pop culture.

Stalker takes its title from its protagonist, who begins as a nameless urchin from the streets of Geranth near the Cold Wastes. Dreaming of one day becoming a great warrior, he seeks out the temple of the god of evil and war, Dgrth – try pronouncing that – and offers the deity his soul in exchange for his martial blessing. Dgrth not only agrees but appears before the young man to give him the power and skills he desires – as well as the moniker of Stalker.

Dgrth is true to his word: Stalker is now a potent warrior of unmatched skill. Unfortunately, he soon finds that he takes no pleasure in his blessing. Dgrth, it seems, has already taken his soul and, with it, his emotions and everything that made him a human being. 

Enraged, Stalker decides to storm Dgrth's hell to force another audience with the god and there to demand his soul be returned to him. After many trials, he succeeds in facing the god of war once more, who explains to him that what he seeks is impossible, for Stalker's soul has already been absorbed into his very being. So long as evil and war existed, he was invincible and there was thus no way for Stalker to reclaim his soul. Rather give up, Stalker instead takes Dgrth's words as a challenge.
It's actually a pretty good setup for a sword-and-sorcery comic, as Stalker travels across the world, attempting to find a way to stop wars and defeat evil without in the process strengthening them – quite a task for a soulless man whose only powers are of a violent nature. The whole thing has a vaguely Moorcockian vibe, which is helped somewhat by Ditko's signature style. Stalker the Soulless is no Elric, to be sure, but, as heroic anti-heroes go, he's much more interesting than Kane

Like many of these discarded fantasy heroes from the 1970s, Stalker has apparently made small appearances in DC comics over the years, though I know little of their contents. If anyone knows more about the subsequent history of the character, I'd be interested in knowing about it.

3 comments:

  1. The Justice Society fought him. From Wikipedia: Stalker appeared in All-Star Comics (vol. 2) #1, and as a recurring theme in a retroactive story featuring the Justice Society of America at the end of World War II, the so-called "JSA Returns" event. Here, the soulless Stalker had evolved into an insane demon/supervillain, looking a lot like Dgrth, and bent on destroying dimension after dimension in his quest to end all conflict by ending all life.[4] He was defeated and seemingly destroyed in a time warp generated by the Hourman android.[volume & issue needed]

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  2. Hard to go wrong with Ditko and Wood.

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  3. I always really dug Stalker. It was quite a departure from the other Conan rip-offs around at the time. I treasure those four little issues.

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