"Graveyard of Memories"
Beyond the Berbil Village on the Hunting Plains, the ThunderCats are hunting Rumpas, an animal native to Third Earth. Lion-O complains that they have been hunting all day and have yet to sight a Rumpa, but Panthro complains that he is sick of Snarf's vegetable stew, and pledges to keep hunting. Just then, the ThunderCat engineer spots a Rumpa bouncing off – Panthro tells the others that he intends to catch the Rumpa, and the others leave him to it, heading back to Cats Lair. The ThunderCats haven't gotten very far when, from out of the treetops and bushes, they are ambushed by the Mutants! The ThunderCats fight back, but Tygra tells Lion-O that he's worried that the Mutants may have followed Panthro, and that, with Panthro so intent on capturing the Rumpa, he may not spot the Mutants' approach.
Meanwhile, Panthro has tracked the Rumpa to a remote area of Third Earth, occupied by a structure reminiscent of a graveyard. This area causes Panthro to feel uneasy, a feeling reinforced when he becomes enveloped by mist, a mist that speaks to him! The voice reveals itself as belonging to one of the Si-Tare, a race of sinister-looking spirit-like beings. Panthro fears that they are ghosts, but the Si-Tare leader, known as Ashtar, states that they are not ghosts as Panthro understands the term, but former creatures of flesh now "un-alive" – beings of thought rather than form. Ashtar asks Panthro how he wishes to meet his doom, and the Si-Tare attempt to ensnare the ThunderCat. Panthro struggles, and, with a mighty blow from his nun-chucks, smashes in half a massive stone pillar that represents one of the Si-Tare graves. Screams of anger and pain emit from the Si-Tare, who release Panthro. Panthro flees the scene, not noticing a whirling vortex spinning into existence in the Si-Tare graveyard...
Back with the other ThunderCats, the ThunderKittens use dust known as paralysis powder to freeze the Mutants to the spot whilst the ThunderCats flee. Before they can get very far, a cloudlike mist appears from nowhere, almost completely enveloping the ThunderCats and leaving them gasping for air. When it clears, the ThunderCats puzzle over what it could have been. Lion-O urges them to make a move, fearing that the paralysis powder may soon wear off and the Mutants may pursue them, and Panthro, who swings down from the treetops, joins the group. The ThunderCats return to Cats Lair, but Panthro feels uneasy and continually looks over his shoulder throughout the journey home.
Back at Cats Lair, once the others are asleep, Panthro speaks to Lion-O, and asks whether ghosts can cause harm, reasoning that Lion-O is the best person to speak with on the matter because of his communication with Jaga. Lion-O tells Panthro that spirits cannot change, for change is a sign of growth and growth is only possible in life, and that if a spirit was good in life, their ghost will also be good – equally, if it was bad in life, then its spirit shall also be bad. However, Lion-O assures the engineer, a spirit cannot change and cannot touch, therefore it cannot cause harm. Panthro however is unconvinced, and once Lion-O has retired to bed finds it hard to sleep himself. Morning comes, and Panthro wonders if it was all a dream...a hope quickly dispelled when Cheetara walks into the room looking faint. The female ThunderCat collapses, and Panthro discovers the forms of the other ThunderCats all unconscious. A menacing voice appears in the air, telling Panthro that ill has he given, so ill shall he receive by the suffering of his friends. Panthro tends to the other ThunderCats and finds that they are dying, and resolves that only by returning to the Si-Tare graveyard can he win back the lives of his friends. Panthro vows to do so, even if the cost is his own life! So intent is Panthro on his friends' plight that he does not notice a lone Vultureman spying on him through one of Cats Lair’s windows, a spy who flies off to report what he has seen.
Panthro races off to the Si-Tare graveyard, while a party of Mutants lurk unseen in the undergrowth surrounding Cats Lair. The Mutants enter the Lair, the Vultureman assuring their leader, a Reptillian known as Kontos, that apart from Panthro all the ThunderCats are sick. Kontos is eager to destroy the ThunderCats so as to make S-S-Slithe look like a fool and thus usurp his leadership. The Vultureman makes to attack the delirious Cheetara in her bed, but the female ThunderCat comes to her senses in the nick of time, deflecting the Mutant's attack and alerting the others to the danger. Lead by Lion-O, the ThunderCats call on their innermost reserves and fend off the Mutant attack. Still feeling ill, Snarf wonders where Panthro is, and Cheetara remembers Panthro talking about the Si-Tare and how he was going to find them to win back the ThunderCats’ lives.
Meanwhile, Panthro has made his way back to the Si-Tare graveyard, and challenges Ashtar to face him in battle. The Si-Tare leader takes solid form and reveals himself to be many feet taller than Panthro, and wielding a giant blade with which he attempts to smite the ThunderCat. Panthro retaliates and strikes Ashtar with his nun-chuck – having not felt physical pain for many millennia, the shock drives Ashtar momentarily mad, and a glancing blow knocks Panthro down for the count. Panthro despairs of defeating his foe, but vows to find a way for the sake of his friends. Panthro asks Ashtar why, when he had fled the Si-Tare graveyard, did he feel the need to attack his friends. Ashtar states that it is to punish Panthro, not just for trespassing against their graveyard but for the destruction he wreaked upon it whilst trying to free himself. Panthro is knocked back and Ashtar prepares to deliver a killing blow...but, before he can do so, the heavens ring out with the battle cry of Lion-O, wielding the Sword of Omens! Using the Eye of Thundera, Lion-O calls down fearsome lightning from above, which scares Ashtar into retreat. The Si-Tare flee into their graves, leaving the ThunderCats in peace, yet Panthro still feels guilt. The ThunderCats are all surprised that, having felt sick, they now all feel well again, reasoning it must be as a result of the Si-Tare's retreat. Cheetara asks why the Si-Tare attacked them, and Panthro states that they attacked because he attacked them – Panthro explains that this is why he feels bad, because even though the Si-Tare were wrong to do what they did, he also was wrong. Believing that it cannot be over until he at least attempts to make amends, Panthro lifts up the broken half of the pillar he earlier destroyed and places it back atop the other half. Panthro states that, whilst it's not the way it was before, it is the best that he can do and he hopes it's enough. As he walks away from the graveyard, a voice behind him tells him that it is not enough, but that it will do. Panthro smiles, and tells the other ThunderCats that now it is over, as the sun comes out from behind the storm clouds.
* This issue introduces us to the Si-Tare, another race of characters created specifically by Marvel for this comic series. As with the Rockmen in #3, once again it is Panthro who stumbles upon them for the first time!
* This story marks the first appearance of Vultureman in Marvel's ThunderCats comic series. However, whereas in the cartoon Vultureman is shown to be a unique, one-of-a-kind character (unlike the other Mutants, who have Reptillians, Jackalmen and Monkians all serving underneath them), in this issue we see several Vulturemen all attacking the ThunderCats at once. It's also worth noting that the Vulturemen are coloured very much off model from the cartoon, with pink heads and purple bodies!
* Once again in this issue we see a rare instance of a Reptillian answering to a name. This time, the Reptillian is called Kontos. The letter "K" seems to be predominant in the names of Reptillian warriors, the one who appeared in #8 having been named Kreblok.
* In this story we see the ThunderCats actually hunting for food, specifically for Rumpas, a race of creatures specifically created by Marvel for this series and that don't look dissimilar to kangaroos. Seeing the ThunderCats hunting for meat is highly unusual, and in fact in the cartoon their diet normally seems to revolve around Berbil Fruit!
The phrase "curiosity killed the cat" seems to be a very applicable one here, as this is essentially a story about Panthro accidentally stumbling upon a graveyard and the trouble that is caused by not leaving well enough alone. This issue bears what is fast becoming a trademark of Marvel's ThunderCats series in that, like the story in the previous issue where the ThunderCats end up battling the Rockmen, there is a lot of "grey area" in terms of the portrayal of right and wrong in this story.
However, if this story has a weakness, for me it would be that, whilst Panthro feels guilt at destroying one of the Si-Tare graves (and one could argue that this is right, given that the destruction of someone else's property, especially something as hallowed as a grave, is obviously wrong), in many ways he shouldn't – the Si-Tare are clearly an antagonistic race of beings, attempting to ensnare Panthro, and Panthro only destroys the Si-Tare grave in an attempt to free himself. Whilst the Si-Tare's reaction is understandable regardless of Panthro's motives, Panthro's guilt to me is somewhat misplaced given that all he did was take steps to free himself from a hostile race who were attempting to either destroy or enslave him. After all, the alternative would have been for Panthro to meet his doom!
It is also very unusual (although not necessarily bad) to see the ThunderCats out hunting for Rumpas. Normally, if the ThunderCats are seen eating meat it is rather left to the imagination as to how they came to have it – seeing them out hunting adds a sense of realism to their life on Third Earth. That said, I can't help finding it rather out-of-character, given the regard for all life that the ThunderCats seem to hold.
All of which makes it sound like I don't rate this issue. In fact, quite the opposite – this issue is bursting with imaginative ideas, nice character moments, and some gorgeously eloquent prose from writer Gerry Conway. I think one of the biggest compliments I could pay Marvel for the earlier half of their ThunderCats series is that, whilst these are comics aimed to tie-in with a kids' cartoon, all of these earlier stories are told with the same level of maturity as you would expect to find in a regular Marvel title from this period. This issue is a shining example of that – although I'm not intimately familiar with all of Gerry Conway's work I am familiar with a lot of the stories he wrote for Marvel's various Spider-Man titles, and I have to say that for eloquence of writing this story matches or beats pretty much all of them. The captions and dialogue all make for absolutely beautiful reading, and that alone makes this issue a joy to read.
This issue isn't perfect, but overall I would recommend it to any and all ThunderFans just for the beauty of Gerry Conway's words, the originality of the idea and for the maturity of its storytelling.