Thursday, February 15, 2018

Drawn from the Cosmic Log

Secrets of Haunted House #31 (DC, December 1980, 50 cents)
Mr. E serves on the faculty of Mystik U, and I had never read about the character before, so I pulled out some back issues of this horror anthology title. It's an interesting read. For one, 1980 is pretty late for a horror comic published by one of the majors. And two, Mr. E might—or might not—be an interesting character. (I'm not sure yet whether he was worth reviving.)

The comic opens with a one-page bookend featuring a host of sorts, Destiny, who suggests that the stories within are drawn from the Cosmic Log, which documents the fates and destinies of mankind.



"The Short-Road to Damnation" Story: Arnold Drake, Art: Tenny Henson.

In this seven-page story—opened and closed by the cloaked Destiny—a diminutive French businessman makes off with boots worn by Napoleon from a museum. Wearing the boots gives him new bravery and daring, allowing him to succeed more in work and life. They also drive him to madness and violence, resulting in a couple of deaths. A police inspector suspects him.

Henson's art is stylish, reminding me of fashion advertising clip art, which lends an interesting formality to the story.

"The Wish"

A one-page gag by Dave Manak, this suggests that you should be careful what you wish for, especially if you're a fisherman.



"The Morbidity Factor!" Story: George Kashdan, Pencils: J.J. Brozowski, Inks: Kim DeMulder, Letters: Shel Leferman, Editor: Jack C. Harris.

Sam Harker is in flight from the law, when he comes upon a hiding place, an occupied house—and perhaps a hostage. Dr. Walter Trent, professor of biochemistry, has developed an antidote to the Death Factor, a unique chemical catalyst that can prolong a living being's life. Despite a warning from Destiny itself, Harker downs the doctor and drinks the antidote... before being arrested.

Now immortal, Harker doesn't fall to gunshots. He doesn't die, electrocuted. In fact, he lives into "the far-distant future," suggesting that immortality might not be all it's cracked up to be.

"The Twice-Cursed Man!" Writer/Creator: Bon Rozakis, Artist: Dan Spiegle, Letterer: Ben Oda, Colorist: Bob LeRose, Editor/Co-Creator: Jack C. Harris.

Irish immigrant Kelly O'Toole bumps into Destiny upon arriving in Boston before meeting an injured or ill man, Judge Kobold, who soon hires her as a housekeeper. Mr. E—in his first appearance—is investigating a series of bizarre murders, taking him to Kobold's home. Though blind, Mr. E is about to drive a wooden stake into Kobold's chest when O'Toole hits him in the head with a gavel.

Turns out Kobold is a vampire. She succeeds in stopping Kobold from killing Mr. E, but despite the vampire's injuries, he escapes. O'Toole tends to Mr. E.

Unfortunately, we don't learn a lot about Mr. E in this first appearance. Why is he blind? How does he know so much? How did he track Kobold to his home? Perhaps future issues will tell. For now, he remains a mystery.

The issue closes with a one-page letter column, "The Haunted Mailbox."

Availability: This issue has not been reprinted. We recommend Haunted Horror: The Screaming Skulls! and Much More and The Weird World of Eerie Publications: Comic Gore That Warped Millions of Young Minds.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Thick of the Action

John Carter, Warlord of Mars #1 (Marvel, June 1977, 30 cents)
"The Air-Pirates of Mars Chapter 1" Writer/Editor: Marv Wolfman, Artists: Gil Kane and Dave Cockrum, Letterer: Joe Rosen, Colorist: Glynis Wein.

This is not a mere adaptation of a novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, also creator of Tarzan. Instead, according to the two-page text piece "Welcome Back, Carter," the creators found an empty spot in the existing narrative—a nine-year gap between paragraphs three and four in chapter 27 of A Princess of Mars (!!!)—and proceeded to fill it with their own stories. That is so very cool. Wolfman also writes about how he first became a fan of the character, how the licensed series came to be, and how he connected with Kane during his "halcyon days as a far-out fanzine editor."



While I haven't read A Princess of Mars, I look forward to seeing how this 28-issue series fits in. This issue, the first, starts in the thick of the action, as Carter hunts for Dejah Thoris, kidnaped from her castle in Helium. While fighting several Warhoon desperately using radium bullets, Carter recalls his origin—and how he came to Barsoom. He also remembers how he first met—and fell in love with Thoris—before defeating the Warhoon and reaching the heart of Zodanga, where she is held prisoner.

John Carter, Warlord of Mars #2 (Marvel, July 1977, 30 cents)
"From the Shadows... Stara-Kan!" Writer/Editor: Marv Wolfman, Pencils: Gil Kane, Inks: Rudy Nebres, Letters: John Costanza, Colors: Janice Cohen.



After rescuing Dejah Thoris and his friend Tars Tarkas, Carter sets out to investigate the city of Zodanga. He soon encounters a red man equipped with an equilibri-motor and brings him to ground, then taking him to Helium. The prisoner remains silent on the Pedestal of Truth in the Temple of Reward and soon handily escapes from his cell. "The replacement of my arm with this mechanical one was well worth it." Carter and Tars Tharkas go in search of the escapee but are accosted by the White Apes, who snag Thoris and down our heroes.

This is an excellent adventure series, well written and drawn, and drawn on some of the best source material possible. Well worth exploring!

Availability: These issues were collected in John Carter, Warlord of Mars Omnibus. We also recommend John Carter: Barsoom Series, which compiles all seven John Carter novels.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A Nostalgic Journey

Fantasy Masterpieces #1 (Marvel, February 1966, 12 cents)
"Beware!! The Ghosts Surround Me!!" Plot: Stan Lee, Script: Larry Lieber, Pencils and inks: Don Heck, Letters: Artie Simek.

Originally published in Strange Tales #76, this six-page story tells the tale of an escaping thief in Transylvania who runs into aliens. They meet "at certain points along the dimensional barrier, [where] our would and yours meet!" The criminal takes cover in an old house and is captured by the police—or is he?



"I Found the Things from Nowhere" Plot: Stan Lee, Script Larry Lieber, Pencils and inks: Jack Kirby, Letters: Artie Simek.

This five-page piece originally appeared in Journey Into Mystery #60. A man watching baseball on TV experiences a technical glitch that accidentally tunes into not a science-fiction program but "something that's really happening!": some kind of alien battle. However, the scene he sees unfolding is not on another planet, but much closer to home than he realizes. Kirby's artwork is excellent, especially the first page and the first panel on p. 4.



"I Became a Human Robot!" Pencils and inks: Joe Sinnott.

A five pager that originally ran in Suspense #5, this story details the risks of implanting your alien brain in a robot's metallic frame. Sure, you'd enjoy the ability to "think and move and use its mechanical abilities" at first. But once you'd avoided "impending disaster," "saved the Earthling," and been deactivated for installation in a museum, what then?



"I Saw the Other World!" Script: Stan Lee, Pencils and inks: Dick Ayers, Letters: Dick Ayers.

Originally from Tales to Astonish #7, this four-page story—the shortest in the issue—focuses on a camera that seems to take pictures of "another dimension that exists side by side with ours!!" The photographer tries to make his case to passersby outside his home, but nobody believes him. Ayers artwork, while not depicting superheroes or action per se is still quite lively and dynamic. P. 3 is particularly strong.



"Those Who Change" Script: Stan Lee, Pencils and inks: Steve Ditko, Letters: Artie Simek.

This five-page story from Amazing Fantasy #10 is a compelling cautionary tale about the danger of time travel. To whit: Don't mess. Ditko's art is stellar, with too many highlights to list, and the punchline at the end is a laugh. A fun piece.

This is a beauty of a reprint book, "taking you on a nostalgic journey to yesterday's fantasy wonderland." The text-heavy introduction featuring Stan Lee on the inside front cover, while "cornball," draws straight lines between the older fantasy stories and then-current Marvel titles such as the Avengers, Fantastic Four, Captain America, Spider-Man, and Dr. Strange.

Availability: "I Found the Things from Nowhere" was reprinted in Monsters Vol. 1: The Marvel Monsterbus. "I Became a Human Robot" appeared in Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Era Tales of Suspense Volume 1. "I Saw the Other World!" was collected in Atlas Era Tales To Astonish Masterworks Vol. 1. "Those Who Change" ended up in Amazing Fantasy Omnibus.

Friday, February 09, 2018

EC-Like Dynamism

Chamber of Darkness #2 (Marvel, December 1969, 15 cents)
"Forewarned Is Four-Armed!" Editor: Stan Lee, Script: Neal Adams and Roy Thomas, Art: Marie Severin, Inks: Herb Trimpe and Tom Sutton.

Hosted by Headstone P. Gravely, this horror anthology comic has never been collected. The opening seven-page story features the classic "insane man tells his story to the authorities" structure, with an expected—though still fun—twist. There are several art highlights, including the second panel on p. 1, the EC-like dynamism of p. 2's final panel, pp. 4-5 in their entirety, and the hands on the last panel of p. 6.



"The Face of Fear" Story by: Stan Lee, Script by: Archie Goodwin, Art by: Syd Shores, and Lettering by: Jean Izzo.

Long-haired Freddy Garricks sees a creepy face in the mirror while shaving and flees his parents' apartment, only to avoid a disastrous elevator mishap. Will he see the face again? Will he ever shave? Did the vision almost cause the accident, or avert it? Who dares speculate?



"The Day of the Red Death" Editor: Stan Lee, Scripter: Roy Thomas, Artist: Don Heck, Lettered by: Sam Rosen.

Hosted by none other than Smilin' Stan, who name drops Saki, Lovecraft, and Ambrose Bierce, this story updates an Edgar Allen Poe classic. Weaponized poison gas has "devastated the globe," and eight wealthy people—including the arms manufacturer responsible—play cards to determine who will be "king of a newborn planet." Six men vie for the affection of two surviving women until one of the men is overcome by guilt. The ending is fine comeuppance.

The stories are decent enough, and the art is fine—but this anthology comic falls a little flat. Regardless, I'm glad it existed. I wish there were more like it today.

Availability: This series has not been collected. Though dealing primarily with pre-Code horror comics, we recommend the books The Horror! The Horror!: Comic Books the Government Didn't Want You to Read! and Four Color Fear: Forgotten Horror Comics of the 1950s.

In Search of a Phantom Submarine

Capt. Savage and His Leatherneck Raiders #2 (Marvel, March 1968, 12 cents)
"The Return of Baron Strucker!" Edited by: Stan Lee, Written by: Gary Friedrich, Drawn by: Dick Ayers, Inked by: Syd Shores, Lettered by: L.P. Gregory, Was here: Forbush.

This title, a Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos spinoff, lasted 19 issues—and might be one of my favorite comic series discovered in the last year. Friedrich and Ayers also helmed an even-shorter later spinoff, Combat Kelly and the Deadly Dozen, which lasted only nine issues. (I've yet to read that title.)

The issue opens with Capt. Savage watching his fellow marines during a training exercise: grizzled veteran Yaketty Yates, the French-accented and mustachioed Jacques La Rocque, former teacher Lee Baker, Native American wrestler Chief Jay Little Bear, and second in command Blarney Stone. Once done, they go in search of a phantom submarine sinking ships.



A Japanese team of soldiers, the Samurai Squadron, also searches for that mysterious sub, which turns out to be controlled by one Baron Strucker, the Supreme Hydra. As the marines and Japanese encounter a series of traps landing on the beach of a small island—"This place's got more dangers than Dracula's castle!"—Strucker remembers what brought him here. (This issue contains the origin of Hydra.)

Strucker's traps eventually bring the two landing forces face to face, each thinking the other country controls the threatening submarine. They fight for the rest of the issue, punctuated by relatively racist dialogue, before realizing that they share a common enemy in Strucker on the last page of the comic.

Friedrich's writing—though no longer appropriate in terms of racial sensitivity—is natural and smooth. And Ayers art is excellent. He might even be my favorite artist in recent months. I found the pacing and page balance even more impressive, with only two pages featuring more than six panels.

Read Also: Sgt. Fury and His Leatherneck Raiders #29.

Availability: Capt. Savage has not been collected. We recommend Essential Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Age-Appropriate Adventures

Spidey Super Stories #2 (Marvel, November 1974, 35 cents)
"In the Hands of the Hunter" Writer: Jean Thomas; Artists: Winslow Mortimer, Don Heck, and Mike Esposito; Editor: Roy Thomas; Art Director: John Romita. (13 pages)

Presented by Marvel Comics and The Electric Company, a production of the Children's Television Workshop, this ad-free (!!!) comic book aimed at readers age 6-10 was based on the recurring live-action skit featured on the TV show. It ran 57 issues between 1974 and 1982, living beyond the skit on TV—which ended in 1976-1977.



Written by Jean Thomas, who also wrote Night Nurse, the comic book was thoroughly vetted by the CTW to be sure it was true to the TV show, was age appropriate in terms of content and reading level, and featured female characters. In early issues, a story adapted one of the TV segments, and in many issues, Spider-Man was paired with a well-known Marvel hero or villain to introduce that character to younger readers and viewers. (Similar to the Marvel Heroes and Marvel Ultimate Spider-Man magazines published by Redan today.)

In this issue, Spidey and Jennifer of the Jungle encounter Kraven the Hunter after a film shoot. Kraven takes the web slinger prisoner, and Jennifer—with her friend Paul the Gorilla—go to rescue him. The writing is very simple, and the artwork larger-paneled (most pages with fewer than six panels)—but not quite coloring-book basic.

In the five-page "very short comic book ... as seen on The Electric Company" story "Spidey Vs. Mr. Measles," Spider-Man "meets the meanest menace of all," a man plans to throw spots at people so they get the measles. "Then everybody will have to stay in bed... in the dark, where they can't read!"

"The Long Arms of the Law-Breaker" (12 pages) pits Spidey against Doctor Octopus. The issue also features several one-page items: "The Secrets of Spider-Man's Costume," "Let's Pay a Visit to Peter Parker's Place," "Let's See Some More of Peter Parker's Place," and "Reader Vs. Speeder," which features Electric Company character Easy Reader.