Time for another retro-review, where I grab a comic at random from my collection and read it, blogging away all the while!
This time around, I'm looking at Gold Key Spotlight #8, which featured "The Occult Tales of Dr. Spektor." This issue featured a gorgeous painted color by Jesse Santos, featuring Dr. Spektor being menaced by Simbar, a were-lion, while Spektor's current romantic interest Lu-Sai looks on. Inside, we have "A Lion In The Streets," written by Spektor's creator, Don Glut, with art by Santos, plus a full-page text feature on Simbar, Lord of the Lions, and Spektor's previous encounter with him.
The story opens with a group of three hunters driving a Jeep in Africa, pursuing a woman with the head, paws and tail of a lioness, with strange pale skin, wearing a fur bikini not too dissimilar to what Raquel Welch wore in One Million B.C.. One of the hunters, Gaston, is standing by with a net to capture this lion-woman, while Morgan is the driver. Gaston throws the net, capturing her, and then Gaston hits her on the head with the butt of his rifle to knock her out.
Just minutes later, Simbar, sort of a jungle lord type, is following the lion-woman's tracks. We learn her name is Joan, and she is his mate. But he's too late to stop the hunters from putting her on the plane. As it's rolling on a field ready to take off, Simbar, stressed by the capture of his made, turns into a lion-man, and chases the plane! He's able to leap onto the wing, but can't hold on, and as the plane takes to the air, he falls back to ground.
Unconscious, Simbar returns to human form, and is awakened by the licking of a lion friend of his. He stumbles upon a clue to where Joan might be, a poster for the Morelli Circus, apparently dropped by the hunters, and Simbar vows to find his mate.
Half a world away, at the Riverside Amusement Park, Dr. Spektor is introducing his current girlfriend, Lu-Sai, to some American foods, of which she prefers hot dogs over cotton candy. When Spektor gets cotton candy in his beard, he considers shaving it off, but Lu-Sai talks him out of it. Then she asks Spektor if he's still in love with Dakota, his previous romantic interest. He's not sure, and Lu-Sai says if Dakota comes back, and he still loves her, she'll understand.
This bit of romance comics in the occult book is interrupted by the sound of calliope music, as a circus parade is going past the amusement park. Since Lu-Sai's never been, Spektor takes her. The main draw of the sideshow is "Madame Lioness," who reminds Spektor of Simbar. Spektor tells Lu-Sai that Simbar was once a scientist named Sam Barr, whose greed drove him to become a victim of a jungle curse, becoming a were-lion. While he suspects Madame Lioness is a fake, they decide to pay for tickets and see her anyway.
The show begins, and Spektor and Lu-Sai are enjoying the performances, until Gaston's lion and tiger training act brings out Madame Lioness, being controlled through judicious use of whip and chair. Spektor has a feeling that she's not a phony, and after the show, he goes backstage with Lu-Sai to investigate and get a better look at her. A carny stops them from going too far, and they leave to return to Spektor Manor.
Three days later, in one of the circus wagons, Gaston's told that the customers don't believe Madame Lioness is real, and Gaston decides to add some spectacle to the act, like the ring of fire. Morgan suggests they should've captured the male as well, and another of the men says they should've gone back for his corpse, and stuff it for exhibit. What they don't know is that Simbar, dressed in street clothes, is lurking about, and he's caught Joan's scent! He gets to her cage, and tells her that it's his fault she's become a lion-woman and can't change back, and also that she's a prisoner.
He can't bend the bars with his human strength, and he's about to go search for the key to her cage when he's discovered by Morgan and his men! Morgan tries to shoot him, but Simbar dodges the bullets and flees.
At Spektor Manor, Spektor and Lu-Sai are enjoying a moonlight swim, but as Lu-Sai emerges from the pool, she sees Simbar standing atop the brick wall surrounding the manor. Spektor realizes that Simbar's presence only confirms his suspicions about Madame Lioness. Since Simbar had helped Spektor before when he was afflicted with the werewolf curse (no helpful footnotes here to tell us in which issue of Spektor's own book this happened in!), he expects Spektor to help him cure Joan. Spektor, unfortunately, knows of no cure, and Simbar runs off, angry. Spektor and Lu-Sai decide to get dressed and return to the circus.
During the night's show, they are unable to spot Simbar in the crowd, but when the show gets to the final act, Madame Lioness performing and whipped into a frenzy, but refusing to leap into the ring of fire, she finally leaps to the attack, pushing Morgan towards the fire.
Backstage, the elephants are also being driven to a frenzy, smelling the fire and hearing the growls of the jungle cats, and start stampeding! In the confusion, some of the tent falls onto the ring of fire, becoming set ablaze. Morgan cowardly flees as the tires start to go wild, assuming Joan will be blamed for it. Two of the tigers attack Joan, but then Simbar reveals himself in the crowd, throwing off his outer clothes and changing into his lion-man form to fight the tigers and save his mate. Sadly, a pillar holding up the tent falls and hits Joan, killing her instantly, and changing her back to human form. Simbar picks up Joan in his arms, as rage and hatred boil up within him. He spots the men responsible for Joan's fate, and starts pursuing them, but then he stops and calls out to the lions of the circus, ordering them to surround the men.
Spektor and Lu-Sai approach, and Spektor begs Simbar not to kill the men, but this causes Simbar to attack Spektor! Tackling him to the ground, Simbar puts his hands around Spektor's neck! Spektor says, "Simbar... you're a man... do you understand? Killing us will never... bring back... Joan!" Changing his tactics, he tells Simbar that if the lions harm those men, the police will destroy them!
This finally gets Simbar's attention, and he changes back to human form. The police arrive, and Spektor fills them in on what happened, and they arrest the three responsible. Simbar leads his lions back to their cages, and later, tells Spektor he blames himself for Joan's death. Spektor says he's not to blame, and that perhaps after he returns to Africa... but no, Simbar will not return to Africa, not now, because it holds too many memories of Joan, and that he will stay in America for a while to plan the next stage of his life.
This is followed by the aforementioned text page, which tells the tale of Simbar and how he met Joan, and how Spektor learned how Simbar was cursed. Samuel Barr and his partner were archaeologists who came upon an ancient temple in Africa, looking for a potion which would control the lions in the area, but the lion god idol proved more attractive to Barr, and he stole the idol. However, the witch-doctor of the temple caused a lion to attack Barr, and then he administered the potion, which changed Barr into Simbar, the were-lion.
I've always enjoyed every Dr. Spektor tale I've read, and this one was certainly no exception! Don Gut was probably the best of Gold Key's adventure writers, and this was a good example of the kind of stories he told... well-plotted, good characterization throughout... my only complaint at all is that it would've been nice to know what issue the previous Simbar story had appeared in. Fortunately, these days we have the Grand Comics Database, which helpfully tells us that Simbar first appeared in a story narrated by the good doctor in The Occult Files of Dr. Spektor #6, and again in another narrated story in issue #9. It was issue #13 in which Simbar helped Dr. Spektor with his werewolf curse problem.