BLOKE’S TERRIBLE TOMB OF TERROR, NUMBER 11

(Mike Hoffman, Jason Crawley and various writers and artists; SELF-PUBLISHED; 2014)

TOMB OF TERROR #11

I came to the Bloke’s tomb late in the game… didn’t know the throwback horror title even existed until I saw something on another site about it. After contacting co-creator (and the Bloke himself) Jason Crawley, he was kind enough to send me issues 9-11 for review. As sometimes happens, I fell behind for a variety of reasons that will only be meaningful to me and, I am finally – late to the game again – getting the chance to tell you about one of the best genre titles today, rivaling even Warren’s CREEPY, EERIE and VAMPIRELLA for both storytelling and artistic excellence; the magazine-sized tome is blessed with the brilliant cover art of Mike Hoffman… sure, he ain’t Frazetta but, then, who is? The classic werewolf in mortal combat with what I’m guessing is an extra-large serpent (it has no perceptable beginning or end that I can identify) certainly sets the tone for the frights found inside.

TOMB OF TERROR #11 “PK's Family Diner” (written by ROGER MCKENZIE, art by RON MORAN)

TOMB OF TERROR #11 “PK’s Family Diner” (written by ROGER MCKENZIE, art by RON MORAN)

The first story, “The Ice Shaman,” is a tale of mysticism, enfolding the Inuit’s reverence for the essence and being of the animals they hunt for food, clothing and basic survival. When an evil spirit inhabits a member of the Inuit community, he tears their belief system to shreds but, as is often the case in such tales, revenge comes from a rather unexpected source. Mike Hoffman’s story is very much in the vein of the classic Warren Magazines style, while his artwork is reminiscent of the work of EC Comics horror legend, Jack Davis. It’s a pretty good start to a very promising issue. Former Marvel, DC and Warren scripter, Roger McKenzie submits “PK’s Family Diner” for your consideration. It’s a short story of eternal love in a post-apocalyptic world where an anniversary visit to the diner includes a very special gift from the Johnstone family. Ron Moran’s line work is an odd, though not unpleasant, amalgam of the styles of both Reed Crandall and Basil Wolverton… if you can possibly wrap your head around that concept!

TOMB OF TERROR #11 “Set the Controls” (by TREVOR DENHAM)

TOMB OF TERROR #11 “Set the Controls” (by TREVOR DENHAM)

Blind dates, on a scale of “just kill me… kill me now” to “a pox upon you and your family for this set up,” generally tend to fall somewhere just this side of the zombie apocalypse. And then, there’s the “Date Night” set up by one of Belinda’s friends; apprehension turns to dread of being stood up turns to a pleasurable interaction turns to fear and pain and, then… David meets the kids. A wicked – if predictable – tale of an ill-conceived hook-up, “Date Night” is written by the Bloke his own self, Jason Crawley, and illustrated by Juan Carlos Abraldes Rendo, whose work is a bit pedestrian, though serviceable. “Set the Controls” is a descendant to one of those beautifully rendered (in a Paul Neary kind of way) science-fiction space travel stories that used to crop up occasionally in the pages of Warren books, particularly EERIE. The concept and story are almost always secondary because the art is just so incredible. In this instance, story and art are by the same person, Trevor Denham, with a basic premise that has a ship from Earth heading to another (presumably uninhabited) planet with an eye toward colonization. The locals, as usual, have a little something to say on the subject. The actual story may be a mite hard to follow but – Great Googley-Moogley! – that artwork is worth the price of admission alone… by far the best in what’s really a pretty good field.

TOMB OF TERROR #11 “Beware the Ripper” (by SAM ARGO)

TOMB OF TERROR #11 “Beware the Ripper” (by SAM ARGO)

The final story, Sam Argo’s “Beware the Ripper,” offers a new theory regarding the Whitechapel murders, as Constable Murdock comes face-to-face with ol’ Jack. Argo’s short piece is well illustrated and, believe it or not, features a definite sense of humorous whimsy. Aside from the 44 pages of story, there’s an update on the Bloke’s activities since the last issue, another amazing painting from Mike Hoffman on the back cover (this one featuring the Bloke) and two pin-ups from artist Nik Poliwko. This is a great jumping on point (there really isn’t a bad jumping on point, since there are no regular series) for BLOKE’S TERRIBLE TOMB OF TERROR and, after digesting this issue, you’re gonna want to check out the entire run. Crawley and Hoffman have made collecting all eleven (and counting) issues as tripping over a corpse in a foggy graveyard – they’re all available here, along with other gory goodies galore; you can also check out ComiXology, Amazon and the usual suspects for your horror fix. All issues are available in either physical or digital copies. Enjoy!


THE ADVENTURES OF POLLY AND HANDGRAVES: A SINISTER AURA

(Bret M Herholz/Rori Shapiro/Peter Simeti; 74 pages; ALTERNA COMICS; 2008) A REVIEW FROM THE VAULT

cover

In younger days, my parents and I would gather around the television on Sunday evenings to enjoy a PBS program called MYSTERY!, an anthology of murderous delights hosted by Vincent Price and, later, Diana Rigg. That sentence is relevant to this review on a few levels: First, this story is a murder mystery; second, it features artwork inspired, no doubt, by Edward Gorey, the creator of the original opening animation for the show; third, though the story takes place in Massachusetts, there is something very British – like most of the tales presented on MYSTERY! – about the style of storytelling used here. And, finally, of course, is the fact that the convergence of those first three, added to my already professed enjoyment of the MYSTERY! series, means that I really like A SINISTER AURA and would certainly like to see more of THE ADVENTURES OF POLLY AND HANDGRAVES.

THE ADVENTURES OF POLLY AND HANDGRAVES, page 1 (written by BRET M HERHOLZ, art by BRET M HERHOLZ and RORI SHAPIRO)

THE ADVENTURES OF POLLY AND HANDGRAVES, page 1 (written by BRET M HERHOLZ, art by BRET M HERHOLZ and RORI SHAPIRO)

The story itself is “loosely based on real events” that occurred in 1899, updated here to 1929 and featuring the fictional amateur sleuths Polly Plum and her very prim, very proper, very British valet, Montgolfier Handgraves. As befits such a tale, it is a dark and stormy night as the pair seek refuge from the inclement weather in a small town just outside Worcester. The intrigue is well underway upon their arrival, as the police have arrived at the Hampstead mansion across from the inn. It would seem that the Hampstead’s only son, Lionel, on the virtual doorstep of matrimony to Ivy Proust, the eldest daughter of the town’s other leading family, has committed suicide because, according to newspaper headlines, he was “to timid to marry.” Miss Plum is, apparently, much more than an amateur sleuth, as she begins to have visions of two men, one with a wound amazingly like the one suffered by the younger Hampstead. The visitors find the police to be vague, tight-lipped and just a bit shady. With minor subterfuge from Handgraves, Polly sneaks past the local constabulary and into the Hampstead home to investigate the scene of Lionel’s demise. Unfortunately for Polly, the one police officer who senses that all is not right, Detective Fiske, catches her moments before the man of the house walks into the room. Outraged, Mister Hampstead demands Polly’s removal. As the case moves into a second night, Polly has another dream of another supposed suicide, this time Ivy Proust’s mother; Fiske contacts her to join him at the cemetery, the scene of the… incident. Things begin to fall into place after Handgraves interviews a person close to both victims and Polly and Fiske confront Hampstead once more. The wrap up is quite satisfying without cutting any corners.

THE ADVENTURES OF POLLY AND HANDGRAVES, page 2 (written by BRET M HERHOLZ, art by BRET M HERHOLZ and RORI SHAPIRO)

THE ADVENTURES OF POLLY AND HANDGRAVES, page 2 (written by BRET M HERHOLZ, art by BRET M HERHOLZ and RORI SHAPIRO)

Herholz’ home town history and his imaginative retelling of the story goes a long way toward proving that much of the best comics and graphic novel material is coming from independent sources like the phenomenal Alterna Comics. Likewise, Bret’s art (ably aided by Rori Shapiro’s gray tones and the unique lettering style of publisher Peter Simeti) offers something beyond the Manga and drawn-by-a-five-year-old styles that are prevalent in some of the majors’ books (uh… cough, cough… Marvel!… cough). As mentioned above, his style reminds me very much of the masterful Edward Gorey; but, I also see elements of another master of the understated macabre… Charles Aadams himself (something about the eyes and the mouths and, of course, those creepy mansions). At first glance, the art doesn’t seem all that elaborate or complex but, dig a bit deeper and check out those odd perspectives and the minute details hiding in the background ink lines and cross-hatching. Miss Shapiro’s work on the original pen and ink adds a certain eerie depth to Herholz’ stark black and white art, a real plus on this particular story. Bret’s (and Rori’s) work is also on display in several other graphic novel titles from Alterna, including a Sherlock Holmes mystery and an anthology called CONFESSIONS OF A PECULIAR BOY.

THE ADVENTURES OF POLLY AND HANDGRAVES, page 3 (written by BRET M HERHOLZ, art by BRET M HERHOLZ and RORI SHAPIRO)

THE ADVENTURES OF POLLY AND HANDGRAVES, page 3 (written by BRET M HERHOLZ, art by BRET M HERHOLZ and RORI SHAPIRO)

As for this book, it does come with some “bonus material.” A message from Herholz regarding his desire to do something based around the 1899 murders in his hometown of Spencer, Massachusetts that became the focal point of A SINISTER AURA, in which he takes us through the creative process. Of note is the creation of the fictional members of the story, particularly Polly and Handgraves. It was always Bret‘s intent to make Polly the defacto leader of the pair, with Handgraves becoming, as he puts it, “the and… ” of the team. There’s also a bonus short piece called THE AUSTEREFIELD FAMILY REUNION, another bleak look into family dynamics. This time around, the story reads like a fairy tale and Herholz’ art is unadorned by the gray tones of the title feature, which seems to work best for this peek into the morally corrupt Austerefield clan. Unfortunately, the print version of THE ADVENTURES OF POLLY AND HANDGRAVES: A SINISTER AURA is no longer available but, you can still pick up a digital copy from ComiXology. Do it now… your eyes will thank you (and, by extension, me, so… you’re welcome).


COMIC BOOK FIRSTS: VAMPIRELLA

(Edited by Bill Parente; Don Glut, Forrest J Ackerman, Tom Sutton, Frank Frazetta, Billy Graham, and others; WARREN PUBLISHING; September, 1969)

Vampirella 1 cover

In 1969, the world was in flux; it seemed that every day saw some type of major change. Comic books, reflecting those changes, were trying new things just to keep pace. Warren Publishing, the home of horror anthology black and white magazine sized comics CREEPY and EERIE, decided that the sexual revolution was the perfect time and backdrop to introduce a sexy new character, an inhabitant of a planet called Draculon, where blood flows like water… in short, a planet of vampires. I was just short of my eleventh birthday when VAMPIRELLA #1 hit the magazine racks. I was big into comic books and horror stuff and… well… I mean… look at that cover! Of course, I was gonna buy the thing! But, was the rest of the world really ready for a sci-fi vampiric BARBARELLA knock-off? Again, I say, “Look at that cover!” The original series ran for 112 issues, so… yeah, I think that the world was ready for VAMPIRELLA. So, aside from the amazing Frank Frazetta painting on the cover (have I mentioned that cover?), was this thing worth my hard-earned (well, hard-begged for, actually) four bits? Uh… yeah!

VAMPIRELLA #1 ("Vampirella of Draculon" written by FORREST J ACKERMAN, art by TOM SUTTON)

VAMPIRELLA #1 (“Vampirella of Draculon” written by FORREST J ACKERMAN, art by TOM SUTTON)

From front to back, you’ve got some fun horror/thriller/sci-fi type stories, in the same anthology fashion as CREEPY and EERIE – the title character only appears in one actual story and as hostess for the rest of the book. Editor Bill Parente joins Frank Frazetta (who contributes a pen and ink Vampirella… “Vampi” to her friends… that’s every bit as cool as his cover painting) with a welcome from our hostess: “Hi, there! Welcome to the coolest girl-meets-ghoul mag on the market!” Vampi creator (with Trina Robbins) Forrest J Ackerman writes the first tale, “Vampirella of Draculon,” which ostensibly works as an origin for the girl from Draculon. The story is rather short, as such things go – a mere seven pages. The art is provided by Tom Sutton, who’s work is… an acquired taste, to say the least. Actually, to be fair, Sutton became a favorite in the early ’70s with his work on GHOST RIDER, DOCTOR STRANGE, Morbius, the Living Vampire in VAMPIRE TALES and more at Marvel. There’s a whole lot of story and exposition in these seven pages, trying to jam (maybe) too much set-up for Vampi’s arrival on Earth in the next issue.

VAMPIRELLA #1 ("Death Boat" written by DON GLUT, art by BILLY GRAHAM)

VAMPIRELLA #1 (“Death Boat” written by DON GLUT, art by BILLY GRAHAM)

Death Boat” is the first of five (!) stories scripted by Don Glut. It’s a vampire story with a twist, illustrated by the wildly talented Billy Graham (who had a hand in creating LUKE CAGE, HERO FOR HIRE for Marvel Comics). The “shock” ending is a little contrived, but I did mention that Billy Graham drew the thing, right? The next two tales (also by Glut and also featuring twist endings) feature two more of my all-time favorite comics artists: Reed Crandall and Neal Adams.

VAMPIRELLA #1 ("Two Silver Bullets" written by DON GLUT, art by REED CRANDALL)

VAMPIRELLA #1 (“Two Silver Bullets” written by DON GLUT, art by REED CRANDALL)

Two Silver Bullets” is a different take on the “loupe garou” legend. The premise is set in the first panel of the story, as a Canadian trapper’s daughter is attacked by a wolf… a werewolf. Crandall’s artwork has a great woodcut style that was tailor-made for the black and white medium of Warren’s magazines. Throughout his Warren career, some of his best works were those based on the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. By the time VAMPIRELLA #1 hit the stands, Reed had been drawing comics for almost 30 years. That experience definitely shows through the pages of “Two Silver Bullets.”

VAMPIRELLA #1 ("Goddess From the Sea" written by DON GLUT, art by NEAL ADAMS)

VAMPIRELLA #1 (“Goddess From the Sea” written by DON GLUT, art by NEAL ADAMS)

The breadth and power of Neal Adams’ art is certainly on display with “Goddess From the Sea,” more so as the pencil-work is unadorned by the usual India ink “finishes” that comic book readers are accustomed to seeing. The morals to this odd little mermaid story are simple: “Beauty’s only skin deep.” and “You should watch what you wish for… you may just get it!”

VAMPIRELLA #1 ("Last Act: October" written by DON GLUT, art by MIKE ROYER)

VAMPIRELLA #1 (“Last Act: October” written by DON GLUT, art by MIKE ROYER)

Before he became THE inker for Jack Kirby at DC, Mike Royer produced some very nice pages for Warren, including “Last Act: October” in this issue. It’s a tale of revenge, a witch’s curse and the supernatural powers that are unleashed on All Hallow’s Eve. There’s another trick ending here, but it actually works fairly well this time around. “Spaced Out Girls” is a rather bland science-fiction story with artwork by Tony Tallarico (though some sites I’ve visited credit penciller Bill Fraccio with Tallarico inking). The results are… interesting. Writer Nicola Cuti bookends Don Glut’s five scripts with “Room Full of Changes.” The story is strangely confusing… something about a murderous room or some such… but I’ve always liked the unique style of artist Ernie Colon. So there you have it. The stories work better than half the time and the art, for the most part, is off the chart good.

VAMPIRELLA ARCHIVES VOLUME ONE utilizes the original VAMPIRELLA #1 cover painting by FRANK FRAZETTA

VAMPIRELLA ARCHIVES VOLUME ONE utilizes the original VAMPIRELLA #1 cover painting by FRANK FRAZETTA

VAMPIRELLA #1 has been reprinted – in part or in whole – several times over the ensuing 45 years, the most recent as part of Dynamite Entertainment’s VAMPIRELLA ARCHIVES VOLUME ONE in 2010. The huge (380 pages plus) hardcover features the first seven issues of the original Warren magazine, with additional stories by the likes of: writers Doug Moench and the legendary Gardner F Fox and artists Jeff Jones, Jack Sparling, Dan Adkins and Frank Bolle, among others. For more info on the VAMPIRELLA ARCHIVES series and other Vampi related books, check out www.dynamite.com.


BATMAN – THE COMPLETE 1943 MOVIE SERIAL COLLECTION

(SONY PICTURES HOME ENTERTAINMENT/COLUMBIA PICTURES; 2005) A REVIEW FROM THE VAULT

BATMAN 1943 cover

The 1943 Columbia Serial Release of BATMAN is given the DVD treatment in celebration of the DVD release of the highly successful Christopher Nolan reboot, BATMAN BEGINS. Actually, it’s more like a monetary feeding frenzy, with every company with anything even remotely related to Batman throwing it against the commercial wall to see what sticks. Thus, the tag-line for this two-disc set is, “See how Batman really began.” Which, I suppose, is an accurate assertion if you’re speaking about filmed versions. While the character debuted in DETECTIVE COMICS in 1939, this cheaply made serial was the first film to feature the Batman and his young protoge, Robin.

Lewis Wilson as Batman (publicity still)

Lewis Wilson as Batman (publicity still)

Cheaply made,” did you say? So, we should probably avoid it like the plague, right? Nope… not at all! Cheap doesn’t always mean bad. In the case of BATMAN, while there are some dubious directorial decisions and some cringe-worthy dialogue that definitely wouldn’t pass any kind of censor in this day and age, overall it is a fun ride and a look back at a movie Batman that’s more in line with what creator Bob Kane had envisioned in his early comic book appearances. If you’re far too politically correct to take it as a piece with some historical significance, realizing that it is very much of a different time, you may want to give BATMAN a pass. If you look at it as a period piece, the racial references may not sting as much… doesn’t make ’em any more right then than it does now, but it was quite a different world 60 years ago. The most blatantly egregious comment comes from the narrator beginning at about the halfway mark of Episode 1: “This was part of a foreign land transplanted bodily to America and known as ‘Little Tokyo.’ Since a wise government rounded up the shifty-eyed Japs, it has become virtually a ghost street… “ There is so much wrong with those lines but, again, we have to remember that Japan was one of the Axis powers that the United States and its allies were fighting then. The “rounding up” that is referred to is our government’s solution to the hysteria that gripped most of the country: They forced approximately 110,000 American citizens and immigrants of Japanese descent (mostly on the West Coast) into “War Relocation Camps,” as possible saboteurs or enemy combatants. Anyway… history lesson over. We all understand how bad this stuff was.

Douglas Croft and Lewis Wilson as Robin and Batman (publicity still)

Douglas Croft and Lewis Wilson as Robin and Batman (publicity still)

Aside from the obvious “rah-rah, we’re the good guys” war mentality, the 15-part BATMAN serial did feature some cool sci-fi elements, some over-the-top action sequences and the first appearance anywhere of the Batcave (herein called the “Bat’s Cave”). Batman is working for the government as a secret agent while, as Bruce Wayne, he affects the lazy, disinterested attitude of the filthy rich. Lewis Wilson looks the part, rather it be Bruce or alter ego, Batman. The costume is pretty good, even if the cape and cowl are a bit problematic, particularly in the fight scenes. Likewise, 17-year old Douglas Croft is solid as Wayne’s ward, Dick Grayson, and his masked crime-fighting persona, Robin. The two work off each other quite well, the odd changing in and out of costume together in the back seat of a car aside. Shirley Patterson, her high hair and big hats play Bruce’s love interest, Linda Page. She’s pretty hot except for the fact that she’s something like 85 years old and has been dead for 10 years. But, I digress, as is my wont regarding such things.

Gus Gillmore (in helmet) and J Carroll Naish as Doctor Daka (publicity still)

Gus Gillmore (in helmet) and J Carroll Naish as Doctor Daka (publicity still)

J Carroll Naish, as the evil Doctor (or Prince, depending on the episode) Daka, is as inscrutable as most “occidentals” seem to think all Asian master criminals or detectives are. Of course, you couldn’t use a real-live Japanese actor for the role, seeing as how they couldn’t be trusted. Before I start getting hate mail from the humorless politically correct among you, that was sarcasm! Anyway, the one remaining business in “Little Tokyo” is a “Japanese Cave of Horrors,” which purports to show scenes of Japanese atrocities heaped upon the world and their own people. It’s really a front for the good… uh… the not-so-good doctor’s spy organization, his “League of the New Order.” This League is populated by a bunch of felons and wrongly accused parolees (’cause they’re mad at the justice system for putting them in prison, naturally) to undermine several key US industries. If the innocent (or a patriotic crook) refuses to join the cause, Daka turns them into electronically controlled living zombies (and everybody knows that those are the best kind). Except in the case of interchangeable stooge number three who, after one screw-up too many, decides that patriotism is the way to go and stands up to the mad doctor. After a couple of racial slurs and a guarantee that the good ol’ US of… will prevail, he turns his back on the evil… well, maybe ornery is more apt… cabal and ends up alligator food. Such is life (or death)! Speaking of “interchangeable,” that’s as apt a term as any, because I couldn’t tell them apart if my life depended on it: dark hair under a hat, thin little Erroll Flynn moustache, the standard hood-speak of every crime movie of the time. If so many of them didn’t have to be in one room at the same time, I’d swear that they were all played by the same guy. By the way, the maniacal little giggle that emanates from from Daka when the guy drops in on the ‘gators is awesome!

So, we’ve got radium-powered ray guns, remote control zombies, a trap door with alligators on the other side, a self-painting car and a public phone booth with a secret door and a poison gas nozzle. Those are the least of the Batman’s worries, though, as he’s tossed off a skyscraper, dropped down an elevator shaft, has a mine collapse on his head, is trapped in a burning building, sealed alive in a casket and is generally ill-treated at the end of every cliff-hanging episode. This ain’t rocket surgery, kids, but it is fun!

BATMAN Serial Poster

BATMAN Serial Poster

Now, a couple of oddities that you may enjoy watching out for: Wilson and Croft use the other’s character names rather randomly. In the span of less than a minute, Batman calls Robin, “Dick” and Bruce calls Dick, “Robin”; Robin hardly ever uses “Batman,” it’s almost always “Bruce.” Alfred is a putz, used for comic relief. He is, nonetheless, very involved in the Dynamic Duo’s escapades, usually as chauffeur (the Batman uses the same ride that Bruce Wayne does, so I guess it just makes sense that they should also have the same driver, huh?), but occasionally as bait. Batman loses his cape more than once in the fight scenes, only to have it reappear when the camera angle changes; it also causes him trouble by wrapping around his arm or head while he’s throwing a punch. That’s probably why there are so few Marvel super-heroes who actually wear capes (I can think of Thor, the Scarlet Witch, the Vision, Storm of the X-Men and, occasionally, the Black Panther). Also, while the costume is really fairly accurate and looks good (most of the time), it isn’t exactly form fitting and tends to droop and sag in areas. Probably the weirdest thing about the Batman suit is the Underoos – they start right under the bat insignia, making our hero look like a 90 year old with his pants hiked up to his chest. The entrance (and exit) of the “Bat’s Cave” is a grandfather clock. Bruce and Dick use it often to sneak up on Alfred and make his life miserable. Bruce appears to be not only lazy, but shiftless,as well. Even so, his attractive, hard-working girlfriend sticks around and seems to generally like the guy. Must be the money (or whatever he’s packing in them giant-size Underoos). You’ll also notice that a lot of the stunts (I’m assuming they used actual stuntmen) look awfully painful! Remember, kids, they didn’t have CGI back then – that wall that Robin slammed into was a real, solid wall. I bet they had a gopher on set just to pass out aspirin after a fight scene.

Like I said before, this ain’t rocket surgery, so disengage your brain for a little while and enjoy a trip back to a simpler (if less tolerant) time with BATMAN – THE COMPLETE 1943 MOVIE SERIAL COLLECTION.


SHOWCASE PRESENTS DOC SAVAGE

(Doug Moench and Various; 448 pages; DC COMICS, 2011)

Showcase Doc Savage

Publisher Henry W Ralston with an assist from editor John L Nanovic (they of publishing house Street and Smith) created what was, for all intents and purpose, the first “super” hero, Doc Savage. Lester Dent brought the character to life in the pages of DOC SAVAGE MAGAZINE beginning in 1933. Since then, Doc and his aides (later to be dubbed the Fabulous Five) have appeared in just about every medium imaginable: radio, film, several reprint series in book form (Bantam Books began publishing paperback versions in 1966) and, of course, comic books (there were even two attempts to launch daily newspaper comic strips, the first written by Dent).

DOC SAVAGE #1 (intro page by JOHN ROMITA and TONY DEZUNIGA)

DOC SAVAGE #1 (intro page by JOHN ROMITA and TONY DEZUNIGA)

From 1975 through 1977, Marvel Comics printed an out-size black and white magazine version of their moderately successful color book. Both the books were canceled in 1977, Marvel having lost the comic book publishing rights to the character. DC Comics obtained the comic book rights in 2010, no doubt smelling the same kind of money that Marvel sniffed in the ’70s: a movie tie-in! Though the movie is still in production, DC went ahead with several titles starring Doc (a one-shot with Batman, a mini-series called FIRST WAVE and his own title, which lasted ’til mid-2012). Apparently, the publishing rights included previous comic book versions, including the ’70s Marvel books. And so, here we are, examining this SHOWCASE PRESENTS… collection of the eight-issue black and white series.

I remember buying these mags (and the color book, too) back in the day when I bought everything with a Marvel or DC logo on it. I bought, but very rarely read. Sure, I gave a cursory look at the innards of the books, perusing the art and scanning the word balloons for the mere basic plot, but I almost never read an entire issue of anything outside THE AVENGERS or TOMB OF DRACULA. Okay… that was a long-winded way of me telling you that though I’m familiar with the material, this is the first time I’ve actually read the things from front to back. I gotta say that, for the most part, I like what I’m reading. The artwork is all over the place, with most of it tied together by the inks of Tony DeZuniga, whose guazy, thin-lined approach was much in demand at DC (where, as both penciller and inker, he co-created Jonah Hex with writer John Albano) through-out the 1970s. He, obviously, also did a smattering of work for Marvel.

DOC SAVAGE #5, page 14, panel 3 (script by DOUG MOENCH, artwork by TONY DEZUNIGA)

DOC SAVAGE #5, page 14, panel 3 (script by DOUG MOENCH, artwork by TONY DEZUNIGA)

Doug Moench, who got his start in the 1960s at Warren Publishing (doing horror for CREEPY, EERIE and VAMPIRELLA) and created the Deathlok and Moon Knight characters while at Marvel, wrote the stories. They were all originals featuring Doc and other characters created in the ’30s and ’40s by Lester Dent or his surrogates. Moench’s work is faithful to the pulp adventures and are generally fun to read. He was given the chance to develop character and plot a little bit more than a standard 20 page comic, as most of the stories are over 50 pages in length. My favorite of the nine yarns presented here is the second, “Hell-Reapers At the Heart of Paradise.” Featuring Vikings, pirates, a mysterious blond and a cavern at the center of the Earth inhabited by ticked-off lizard people, and great art with pencils and inks by DeZuniga, what’s not to love? Other highlights include the John Buscema-drawn (except for, oddly, one page penciled by John Romita) first issue feature, “ The Doom On Thunder Isle”; “A Most Singular Writ of Habeas Corpus,” a solo tale from issue #3 featuring Doc’s specialist in chemistry, Andrew Blodgett Mayfair (Monk, as the others call him), with art by Rico Rival; and “The Mayan Mutations,” again featuring the art of Tony DeZuniga, from issue #7. While DeZuniga is responsible for most of the artwork, there are others who contribute, some more admirably than others. Buscema returns for the lead story in #3, the wonderful Marie Severin pencils the first eight pages of “Ghost-Pirates From the Beyond” for the fourth issue, and the usually solid Ernie Chan offers a less-than-stellar job on the final issue’s tale, “The Crimson Plague.” Chan’s art isn’t offensive enough to totally wreck the story, though, as it holds up as well as the others.

I am a huge fan of DC’s SHOWCASE PRESENTS… archival reprint series. The books, while all are printed in black and white, are almost all over 500 pages and offer a chronological look at most of the strips from the Silver (and a few from the Bronze) Age of DC Comics. They are a great way to collect some old favorites or familiarize yourself with titles and characters you may not recognize. Reprint agreements between DC and the writers and artists in later years has, unfortunately, rendered some titles unavailable but – I’ll take what I can get… they are that good! This one, though, is a bit odd since they were originally published by Marvel, is no exception.


KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER AND DOCTOR MOREAU

(Mike Kelly/Mark Grammel/Eric Stanway/Nik Poliwko/Valarie Jones; MOONSTONE PUBLISHING, 2013)

KolchakMoreauCoverSM

From the opening panels – which are amazingly drawn – the reader is drawn into a mystery just as is LA reporter Carl Kolchak. Originally a Chicagoan, Carl is back on home turf, wrapping up work on another story. But before he can get back on a plane to LA, there are some gruesome murders with a strange twist. They seem to be the work of some kind of powerful and mysterious beasts. And, of course, Carl (as usual) has to stick his nose – along with the rest of his anatomy, which includes his continuously-in-operation brain – where it is least welcome. HG Wells’ Doctor Moreau seems to have modern counterparts busy in the animal research labs of greater Chicagoland. And their creatures have run the proverbial “amok.”

The Mark Grammel panels really flow and move the action along well. Mike Kelly’s story has his usual lean and direct – yet true and thorough character development – with action and mystery aplenty and an ending you will not see coming! Mike knows the Kolchak character, hero of the 1974-75 ABC-TV series, THE NIGHT STALKER, better than anyone on the planet. Mike was the character’s biggest fan then and he shows his continuing devotion and understanding of Carl Kolchak in this book.

Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak, the Night Stalker (publicity photo)

Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak, the Night Stalker (publicity photo)

So, now to reveal one mystery: I have known Mike Kelly since we were best friends at high school in a (more or less) peaceful Chicago suburb. We watched the Kolchak TV series when it originally aired, as did our other fellow movie/comic/science fiction friends. Mike never forgot about THE NIGHT STALKER and has been working to promote it and it’s main character ever since it was “not on ABC’s announced fall schedule” in 1975. So Mike is in very familiar digs, with the story set in Chicago and the small towns in northern Illinois which are his ancestral turf. But the ‘burbs of Mike’sMOREAUare quite a bit less peaceful than the ones I remember.

In addition to this being a good time to (re)read the HG Wells novel, THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU, it is a good time to renew your acquaintance with Kolchak. If you haven’t seen the TV series in a while (or not seen it at all? Shameful!), now is a good time to catch it on Netflix Instant Watch. I am sure it is available elsewhere, as well. Be sure to check it out… you will be surprised how a vintage series can still play so well! Darren McGavin brought the Kolchak character to life as detective-reporter-supernatural investigator and it is still a great series to watch. THE NIGHT STALKER was a series truly unique for it’s time and the forerunner of many series since. You would have never seen a BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, X-FILES or many others without Kolchak. And, check out this new book and the others in the Kolchak series from Moonstone (at www.moonstonebooks.com). It is not only a good, but a great time to pick up KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER AND DOCTOR MOREAU where you will find a compelling book with vibrant characters and a story that leaves you anticipating another mystery with the persistently annoying – but always on the right track – Carl Kolchak. (XB)