Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery

Like their Star Trek comic, Gold Key's Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery is another TV show adaptation that far outlived not only its source material, but its star as well.  The series began life as Boris Karloff Thriller, and was based on Thriller, the short lived horror anthology hosted by Karloff, that aired on NBC from 1960 to 1962.  Gold Key was a little late to the game with their adaptation, which debuted with an issue sporting an October 1962 cover date, which means it probably hit the spinner racks in either July or August, when the final episode of the TV show had been televised the previous April.  Nonetheless, the comic continued, becoming Tales of Mystery with #3 and lasting until 1980, publishing a grand total of 97 issues.  
Each issue featured four short stories, with Karloff, as he had on TV, appearing at the beginning of each tale to give a short introduction.  However, unlike the TV show, he reappeared at the end of the stories to deliver a punchline, in the tradition of such comic book horror hosts as The Crypt Keeper and his many imitators.  Like some of those other horror comic hosts, Karloff would often be drawn in a costume reflecting the story he was introducing, such as a sombrero for a story set in Mexico or ancient Egyptian headgear for a story about a pharaoh's tomb or a caveman's loincloth for a story involving dinosaurs, whereas on TV he basically wore the same drab black suit every week. Even though Karloff died in 1969, the Gold Key series still bore his name and his avatar continued his hosting duties for the entirety of the comics' run. 
A little while ago, I came across a quartet of issues from relatively late in the run in one of the clearance boxes at the North High branch of Half-Price Books priced at a quarter apiece and promptly scooped them up.  
The stories are pretty tame, even by the standards of Bronze age horror.  At that time, even though the Comics Code had been somewhat relaxed at the beginning of the 1970's to allow depictions of "classic" monsters such as vampires, mummies and werewolves, bringing about a wave of horror titles that included Tomb of Dracula and Swamp Thing, it was still restrictive enough to prevent any so-called horror comic from being truly horrible.  Despite the fact that Gold Key comics did not carry the Code's stamp of approval, they still adhered to its tenets.  Thus, there is nothing in any of these comics that would give any but the most sensitive of children any sleepless nights.
Since I recently posted about the exhibit at Wild Goose Creative of art from the Sunday Comix anthology A Bowl Full of Happiness, which featured comics inspired by the ads for Sea Monkeys that used to run in comics from the Silver and Bronze Ages, I'm going to spotlight an issue from late 1975, #65, which cover featured a tale entitled "The Mail-Order Monster," also clearly inspired by those same ads.
"The Mail-Order Monster" is the third story in the issue.  The lead story is "The Pharaoh's Zoo" in which two archeologists uncover the long buried site of Pthager, the "summer residence of the Pharoahs" and the eponymous Pharoah's zoo, which houses a collection of mythological beasts such as Cerberus and the Phoenix who are held in suspended animation until awakened by the modern day interlopers.  
The second story is "No Thing Is My Enemy."  A young boy plants mysterious seeds borne to Earth by a meteorite that crashes near his isolated farm that quickly grow into an intelligent creature that the boy mistakenly takes to be hostile.
At last we come to the cover story, "The Mail-Order Monster." Young Bobby Ryder sends away for "Sea Monster" eggs, which he attempts to conceal from his parents, who have commanded him to stop ordering so much crap through the mail.  However, it soon becomes impossible to keep his purchase a secret when one of the eggs, apparently planted among the others by aliens as an "experiment", grows into a gigantic silly looking lobster monster. 
While there are no credits on any of the stories in this issue, the Comic Book Data Base lists Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez as one of the pencillers.  Garcia-Lopez is one of my favorite artists and, based on my familiarity with his style, its rather obvious to me that his contribution is to the issues final story, "Don't Put It On Paper," though it is obviously some of his earliest work. The story tells the tale of  Professor Mendez, who travels to the remote village of the Xota Indians in Mexico to create an alphabet for their previously unwritten language.  However, when he writes down the natives' word for the devil, he inadvertently summons forth the demon.
While the stories are by no means great, or even all that good, for that matter, Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery still provides a healthy dose of decidedly campy fun.  Much of that comes from seeing the cartoon Karloff cavorting costumed as the Sphinx or in a space helmut or as a stereotypical Mexican peasant.  (The caveman outfit I alluded to earlier is in a later issue.)  A good chunk of the series has recently been collected in hardcover by Dark Horse as the Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery Archives.  However, these reprints only go as far as #41, and do not include the issue discussed above. Still, I'll bet there's plenty of similarly fun and silly stories contained in those six volumes.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Newest Disney Princess: Princess Leia

You might have heard this already, but it seems that the Walt Disney Company has purchased Lucasfilm.  You know, when I first saw links to this start popping up on my Facebook wall, I initially thought it was some sort of Halloween prank.  But when trusted old media news outlets like The Washington Post (via The Associated Press) are reporting it, then I suppose its got to be true.  Even better, or worse, depending on your point of view, the House of Mouse is promising that there will be a new Star Wars film coming to a theater near you in 2015, with further adventures to follow every couple of years thereafter.  
Marvel's final Star Wars Comic--for now at least.
Except for the first movie (that's the first first movie, not the second first movie), I'm not that big of a fan of the Star Wars franchise.  Thus, I'm neither thrilled nor overly chagrined by this news.  However, I can't help but wonder, being a comics blogger, how this is going to affect the industry I'm unhealthily obsessed with, specifically Dark Horse Comics, current publisher of Star Wars adventures in sequential form.  After all, it seems only logical that as proud owner of its own comics company, Disney would want to produce Star Wars comics in-house, and thus bring the license back to original home at Marvel Comics.  
I just now as I type this heard some economic expert on the International Public Radio program Marketplace say that Disney is "pursuing a strategy of buying big entertainment companies and monetizing that content across all divisions of the company."  That little bit of financial double speak would seem to argue for the Star Wars franchise returning to Marvel once Dark Horse's license expires.
As with all things, only time will tell and when there are any more newsworthy developments, I'll let you know.

Saga of the Swamp Thing #13

With all due deference to Mr. Timothy Callahan, an on-line columnist whose work I have often cited and linked to on this blog and with whose opinions I generally concur, I must, on this one occasion, respectfully disagree with his assertion, put forth in a column earlier this year at Comic Book Resources examining the last issue of The Saga of the Swamp Thing prior to Alan Moore's historic run, that Martin Pasko is a bad writer.
On the contrary, in my eyes, at least, Pasko is quite a good writer of certain types of stories, his forte being super-heroes.  Many of my all time favorite Superman tales, including "Race/Chase To The End of Time" (DC Comics Presents #'s 1 & 2), "Backward Battle for the Bizarro World" (Superman #306), and "A Million Dollars A Minute" (Superman #326) all carry his writer's credit.  He also turned out some pretty decent Star Trek comics for Marvel, including "All The Infinite Ways" in issue 13, which is one of my favorite Trek stories and which I may get around to writing about here someday.
Horror, on the other hand, based on the evidence of Swamp Thing, seems to be a bit outside of his wheelhouse.  
The first handful of issues are alright.  The stories have some nice premises and good ideas in them, but Pasko, though he tries mightily, never succeeds in recreating the atmosphere of Gothic creepiness that pervaded Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson's run on the original series from a decade earlier.
By the thirteenth issue, however, the book had gone seriously off the rails.  This issue is, to be blunt, a mess. "Lambs to the Slaughter" is the conclusion of a multi-part storyline that wraps up some of the plot threads that Pasko had been dangling from issue #1.  It seems as if he's trying to pack too much into too short a story and the effect is that the story ends up making not one damn bit of sense.  I have never read any other story that was so heavily laden with expository captions and dialogue yet, paradoxically, utterly failed to satisfactorily explain what the bloody hell was supposed to be going on.  
Though this may be a very bad comic, and, judging from Mr. Callahan's review of #19, the series may have failed to get any better, at least until Moore took over, its rather unfair to dismiss Pasko's entire body of work based on one misstep.  After all, even Alan Moore didn't create an enduring classic of sequential literature every time he sat down at the typewriter.  If I were to show his Green Arrow story to someone who had never read any of Moore's work, this mythical straw man reader would, I'm sure, no doubt be confused as to what all the fuss over Moore is about. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Superman #13 Reviewed (With Accompanying Rant)

DC's PR department certainly earned its pay last week, as they managed to generate a fair amount of unwarranted hype over Clark Kent's leaving the employ of the Daily Planet in Superman #13.
Tuesday must have been what we in the journalism biz call a "slow news day".  (Not to be confused with Andi Watson's charming graphic novel Slow News Day, which I highly recommend, by the way.)  How else would you explain ostensibly serious news outlets such as NPR and the BBC devoting any airtime at all to a relatively minor plot point in a comic book?
It's hardly that big a deal, after all.  This isn't the first time Clark's left the Planet.  He spent most of the 70's and the first half of the 80's working in TV as the anchor of the WGBS Evening News, and in the mid-90's he briefly left his newspaper job to become an editor at newsmagazine Newstime.  Besides, this dramatic  development will probably be undone by the next writer anyway, and, judging from the turnover on this book so far in its New 52 incarnation, that next writer will be along in about three or four months. 
However, all cynicism aside, the publicity was sufficient to induce me to purchase a copy of the issue just to see if the actual story, if there was one, was actually worth reading.  
Truthfully, there really isn't much of a story here.  The meat of the issue is your basic Superman versus giant alien monster story.  I've never been a huge fan of Scott Lobdell, the Superman writer of the moment.  His stories aren't bad, but neither are they all that especially good, either.  This issue is squarely in that area.  It's an entertaining, but not that impressive or especially memorable, few minutes read.  That's  pretty much what I've come to expect from Superman stories, and this issue delivers.
To me, the most interesting aspect of this issue is the confirmation that the  ridiculously powerful Superman of the late Silver and Bronze Ages who could push planets around with his pinky is officially back.  The issue opens with the Man of Steel in some sort of secret underground research facility attempting to discover the upper limit of his super-strength and being told, essentially, that there isn't one.  Further, Lobdell goes so far in this issue as to introduce a new super-power, or rather, perhaps more accurately, a heretofore unseen application of one his long time powers.  Apparently, his super-hearing is able to act like sonar to form an image in his head of distant objects.  
Also back in the New 52 is the proliferation of survivors of Krypton.  This issue features a guest appearance by Supergirl and (obligatory but half-hearted SPOILER WARNING) the aforementioned giant alien monster turns out to be of Kryptonian origin.  This issue also serves as a prelude to an upcoming crossover in all the Superman related titles, except for Action Comics, which takes place five years in the past, called "H'El on Earth," which seems like it will introduce yet another Kryptonian refugee who, from all indications I've seen, looks like he'll turn out to be related to Kal-El in some way.   I'm not sufficiently impressed with this issue, however, to follow the story any further to get the full details.  
Meanwhile, over in Action, Grant Morrison reintroduced the Bottle City of Kandor some months ago and in the latest issue he brings back both the Phantom Zone and Krypto.   Honestly, as my all time favorite Superman stories are from the Bronze Age, especially, as I've stated one or two times  before, Martin Pasko's run on Superman in the mid-70's, these are not, to me, totally unwelcome developments.
Going back to Clark's decision to quit his day job, it seems to me that Kent's actually got a valid point in his condemnation of the state of modern mainstream news coverage in which he laments that news has been totally supplanted by entertainment.   The last time I watched one of the three original broadcast network's evening newscast, I found it as devoid of anything resembling actual news as Monty Python's cheese shop was uncontaminated by cheese.  I tuned into the NBC Nightly News the night before the Olympics began to find that the broadcast was less a newscast than an extended promo for the network's upcoming coverage of the Games.   Later that evening, starved for some real information, I checked out BBC World News America on one of the digital sub-channels of the local PBS station.  There was, as you might expect since the Olympics were held in London this year and the first B in BBC does stand for "British", a fair amount of Olympic boosterism, but it didn't dominate the half hour.  They actually found some time to report on events of actual significance.  
Thankfully, there are still a few outlets, such as the BBC, NPR and PBS, that still believe in actually delivering real news, even if they do ocassionally give into the impulse to report on a fictional character leaving his fictional job at a fictional newspaper as if it actually mattered to anyone besides me and my fellow middle-aged fanboys.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

"Bowl Full of Happiness" Exhibit at Wild Goose Creative Part 2

Here are some more photos from the exhibition of pages from the Sunday Comix benefit anthology A Bowl Full of Happiness at Wild Goose Creative taken by niece Tamara Marshall.   This batch spotlights a few of the individual pages.   
Here are Tamara's and my contributions:
Sea "Monkees" by Sue Olcott
Kira Keck's Kontribution
(Sorry.  I kouldn't kontrol myself)
A beautiful piece by Maryanne Rose Papke 
This one is by Ron Hill and frequent American Splendor artist Gary Dumm.
Here's a piece of hard-boiled detective fiction--with Sea Monkeys--by Bob Corby
Parody and puns from Matt Wyatt
Mike Carroll's full color back cover mash-up of two fondly remembered perrennial comic book ads
Here are a couple of extreme close ups highlighting Mike's unique sense of humor
(It is highly recommended that you click on these to enlarge them so that you may read and appreciate them properly.  Or, even better, buy a copy of the book.)
This is only a sampling of the art on display.   These represent the ones that Tamara saw fit to record.  I can not account for her choices, anymore than I can explain her somewhat mystifying decision to photograph a plate of cheese and crackers, as seen in my previous post.  Also on display were pieces by Max Ink, Michael Neno, Canada Keck, Sheldon Glaser and Jonathon Riddle, Steve Peterson, Frank Cvetkovic, Dan Taylor and more.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

"Bowl Full of Happiness" Exhibit at Wild Goose Creative Part 1

About a week and a half ago (Thursday, October 18, to be exact),  Columbus arts space Wild Goose Creative hosted the artists reception for an exhibit of artwork from  A Bowl Full of Happiness, the Sunday Comix cartoonists group recent anthology to benefit The Hero Initiative, a charity which provides aid to comics professional in need.   The art may still be on display, though I would probably contact Wild Goose to make sure before heading over there.  
Anyway, as one of the artists represented in the exhibit,  I attended the event with my niece Tamara Marshall, who also contributed to ABFoH and thus had a piece on display.  Tamara had the foresight to bring along a camera and below are a few of the photos she took.  
The Sunday Comix Banner
 The cover of A Bowl Full of Happiness
 Comics as "fine art"
Courtesy of Sunday Comix member Canada Keck
As always at Sunday Comix events, there were the inevitable Jam Comics:
Bob Corby starts one off...
...Tamara follows up...
...then Michael Neno puts his spin on it.
That's enough for one post, I think.  Next time, Tamara and I will spotlight some of the individual pages from A Bowl Full of Happiness.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Star Trek #7 (Gold Key)

Oddly enough, I happen to own every Star Trek #7 ever published.  That is, every seventh issue of a comic series entitled simply Star Trek and featuring the exploits of a character named James Tiberius Kirk.  Since I reviewed the most recent one not too long ago, I thought I'd take a look back at the others, starting with the very first, from the first Star Trek comic book series, published by Gold Key.  I also have seventh issues of  some of the comics based on later iterations of Trek, and I may get to them as well.
Back in the mid-to-late 1960's, Gold Key seems to have been the go-to comics publisher for TV and movie adaptations.  They churned out four color versions of everything from well known classic series such as The Munsters to short-lived obscurities like The Governor & J.J.  For the most part, the books lasted less than a handful of issues; more often than not only one.  However, like Trek fandom itself, the Star Trek comic far out-lived the series. 61 issues were produced between 1967 and 1978, after which the license shifted to Marvel, which produced comics set after the first movie.
Gold Key's Star Trek appears to have been one of the first comic series to be collected in trade paperback form, as the four volumes of The Enterprise Logs.  In fact, Gold Key seems to have been a pioneer in placing comics in book stores and other non-traditional venues, such as the bagged three packs of Gold Key  and other publishers' books rebranded with the Whitman Comics ensignia which where sold to toystores. These innovations seem motivated mainly by desperation, as newstand sales steadily declined throughout the 70's. 
Enough history, then, let's get to the issue at hand.
Among Star Trek fans who've read any of it, myself included, there is a decided lack of love for the Gold Key comic series.  The few I've slogged through have been utter failures on every conceivable level.  They don't work as Star Trek, as science fiction, or even simply as stories.  I've heard that some of the later issues were written by Len Wein.  It's possible that those might be worth reading, as Wein wrote some excellent stories for DC's first Trek series.  I have no idea who wrote issue #7, as there are no credits, but he sure as hell is no Len Wein.  The story, "The Voodoo Planet," does have one saving grace, however.  It is, in places, absolutely hilarious.
Out in deep space, the Enterprise encounters an exact duplicate of Earth.  Kirk and Spock beam down to a city that looks like Paris, except that it is deserted and all the buildings, including a scaled down replica of the Eiffel Tower, are made of papier-mache.  A laser beam from out of nowhere destroys the papier-mache Eiffel Tower.  At the same time on Earth, the real Eiffel Tower collapses.  After the Roman Coliseum is destroyed in a similar manner, Kirk realizes that they are dealing with VOODOO.  Tracing the destructive beam to its source, the Enterprise comes to a planet surrounded by space debris.  Hiding the ship amongst the debris to escape detection, Kirk, Spock and McCoy beam down to the planet.  There they see primitive natives tossing spears at man shaped wooden cutouts and, in the distance, a building resembling an Earthly observatory which they conclude is the source of the voodoo beam.  Taking out the native guards, they enter the structure to discover a robed and hooded figure just as he presses the firing button on his laser, destroying the papier-mache Sphinx and its Earthly counterpart.
As Kirk and Spock move to apprehend the figure, two of the natives produce Kirk and Spock voodoo dolls into which they plunge huge pins, causing the captain and the vulcan to double over in pain. The robed man removes his hood and Kirk recognizes him as Count Dressler, a rogue dictator from Earth who eluded capture by escaping to the stars.
Strangely, in the flashback  panels accompanying Dressler's tale of how he came to be on the Voodoo Planet, the debris surrounding the planet isn't seen as his ship is shown approaching.  By the way, if the natives of this world are so primitive, where'd all that space junk come from, anyway?  Inconsistencies such as these appear throughout the issue.
Getting back to the story, such as it is, Dressler conquered the natives, learned their voodoo ways and set out to get his revenge on Earth.  He demonstrates for the caged Kirk and Spock (oh, I forgot to mention that they left McCoy standing guard outside) his voodoo ritual, which consists of chanting some nonsense syllables and drinking some strange green liquid, before destroying the Leaning Tower of Piza. McCoy sneaks in and frees Kirk and Spock and the three beam out.  Oddly, Dressler, an Earthman of Kirk's era, seems never to have seen or heard of a transporter, gasping, "Vanishing...before my very eyes! Incredible!" as the trio escape.
Back on the ship, Spock performs a ritual that gives him and Kirk ancient Vulcan voodoo powers to counter Dressler's.  They then beam back down to the planet and capture the mad dictator.  Instead of taking him back to Earth to face justice, however, Kirk takes it upon himself to sentence Dressler to exile on a deserted planet.
It is well known that the artist, Alberto Giolitti, who lived in Italy, had never seen Star Trek.  Giolitti apparently was provided with some reference photos, which he seems to have glanced at once or twice.  Some of the likenesses are just barely acceptable.  Spock and McCoy look like themselves in most panels, though Spock's ears are drawn way too big.  The character claiming to be Kirk, however, bears no resemblance whatsoever to William Shatner.  Giolitti doesn't get the uniforms quite right, either.  The collars are too high, the gold braids on the sleeves are missing in many panels, and the Starfleet insignia are absent throughout.  The outside of the ship is pretty much on model.  It appears, however, that Giolitti didn't get any photos of the inside of the ship, as absolutely nothing appears as it does on the show. Of course the most serious art mistake is that he draws flame and smoke coming out of the back of the warp nacelles as if they were rocket engines. 
It seems that the unknown writer of this issue hadn't seen the show either. I have referred to the characters in this story as Kirk, Spock and McCoy, but they aren't really.  They neither speak nor act at all like their TV counterparts.  Spock, for example, repeatedly displays emotions, or at least as close to emotion as this writers limited skill allows him to convey.
He also doesn't seem to realize that Trek is set in the future.  Dressler seems more a product of the late 20th century geopolitical scene than that of the 23rd as seen in Trek. Also, noting how deserted the replica Paris is, Kirk mentions the absence of cars and buses,but I believe that it was established in some episode that internal combustion powered vehicles no longer existed in the time of Trek.
Further evidence that our uncredited author may never have actually seen Star Trek is provided by the many continuity errors in the issue.  Dressler's tale directly contradicts much of the future history of Earth as established in the show.  The reference to cars and buses, furthermore, is just one of the many errors in Trek technology.  At one point, Kirk refers to using an old fashioned radio, not a communicator, to  contact the ship.
I realize that my laundry list of errors may read like the nitpicking of an obsessive Trekkie, and it is true that I can be a little obsessive when it comes to Star Trek, especially the original series.  However, it is perfectly reasonable, and not at all obsessive, to expect any adaptation to bear at least a passing resemblance to the source material.
Normally, I'd end this post with a paragraph summing up my thoughts on the issue.  However, there's really no need to restate just how awful Gold Key's Star Trek #7 is.  It should be pretty self evident from everything I've written above.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Ugli Studios Presents #1 Reviewed

Submitting your self-published small press comic to a 'zine or website for review is always a tricky proposition.  You want the world to greet your brainchild with universal acclaim, but you know that's not always going to be the case.  I guess that I ultimately don't have the stomach for it. When I was actively publishing my own comics, I stopped sending out review copies after a  couple of write ups that weren't exactly glowing.  One of them even led to me eventually abandoning a particular comic book series altogether.
So, I was sensitive to the potential for offense and hurt feelings when I got a message through the Gutter Talk Facebook page from an artist named Jason Lenox asking me to review his initial self published effort.   At the same time, I was honored that anyone would seek out my opinion in that way.  Therefore, I feel that I owe it to Jason to respect the trust he's placed in me by giving my honest opinion, for good or ill.
The good news is that I don't hate Ugli Studios Presents #1. It's nothing that would have me tossing the book against the nearest wall if Jason had sent me a physical copy rather than a PDF file. However, neither can I say that I loved it, or even really liked it all that strongly, either.
The thirty page comic consists of two separate sci-fi/fantasy short stories written by Lenox and David Paul and illustrated by Lenox as well as selection of pin-ups from various guest artists.  Jason's art in both stories is quite nice.  He has a good sense of design and storytelling and can draw a mean looking monster or alien as well as some pretty nice looking human beings.  The coloring job by Dani Kaulakis is particularly effective.  I hope that the actual book is printed on paper stock of sufficient quality to show it off to its full effect.  Kaulakis can also draw pretty well, as one of the pin-ups demonstrates.
On the other hand, the stories themselves don't quite work for me.  In each case, Lenox and Paul seem to be going for a Twilight Zone/Outer Limits--or maybe EC Comics would be a better comparison--style twist ending, but in neither instance do they quite pull it off.
The lead story, "Through The Eyes of Griselda," takes place in the mythical realm of Xendria, an ancient kingdom under the thumb of an evil sorcerer, and tells of an uprising against the wizard's oppressive rule as told from the perspective of his familiar, a cat named Griselda.  Unfortunately, the attempted twist is telegraphed in the art several pages before the actual revelation.
The second tale, "The Great Vermin," tells the story of an interstellar expeditionary force sent to a devastated planet to exterminate the last remnants of a vicious predator species.  Lenox and Paul pull off the twist ending a little better here, but I can't say that I was exactly shocked by it.  The big reveal left me with a strong feeling of having seen it before and done much better.  In fact, the final panel reminded me very much of a story called brief encounter from the fifth issue of a short lived science fiction anthology from DC Comics back in the early 80's called Time Warp.  The tone of that story, however, wasn't quite as grim as Lenox and Paul's.
Overrall, though, Ugli Studios Presents #1 is a good first effort.  There's definitely potential for improvement, but I certainly seeing more from these creators.