SPACE CRUSADERS, ISSUE ONE

(Christopher Mills/Peter Grau/Nick Poliwko; 44 pages; ATOMIC ACTION COMICS/ATOMIC PULP MEDIA; 2019)

Like a lot of people of a certain age, I sometimes pine for the “good old days,” a nostalgia trip down memory lane of all the things that I loved (or missed) over the first (REDACTED) decades of my life. Writer/letterer/publisher Christopher Mills is one of us, too. And, thankfully, he has put his money where his mouth is and done something to sate his desire for a return to a time when comic books weren’t so dark and serious. In this case, the 1970s. The books back then had a certain look and style that you just don’t see anymore. Mills’ Atomic Action Comics has mined the field of minor (VERY minor) Golden Age characters from some low level publishers, put a Silver Age shine on ‘em and reintroduced ‘em in the Modern Era to people who didn’t even know they existed. And therein lies the fun.

SPACE CRUSADERS (Rex Dexter of Mars, page 9) (written by CHRISTPHER MILLS, art by PETER GRAU and MATT WEBB)

The first issue of SPACE CRUSADERS stars a dude named Rex Dexter of Mars, a hero in the mold of Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers, with this updated version exhibiting the dark humor and rather glib repartee of Han Solo. The character was created by Dick Briefer, debuting in the first issue of MYSTERY MEN COMICS, published by Fox Feature Syndicate and cover-dated August, 1939. The series inhabited the back-pages of the first 24 issues of the book, as well as a 1940 single issue of his own title, the only time Rex appeared on a cover. In “Menace of the Saurian Sphere!,” Mills’ story is fun and exciting, an adventure that sees Rex and his traveling companion aboard the Blue Comet, Cynde, pick up a tiny Kooba Cola-drinking space octopus that Captain Dexter calls a “goblin,” are attacked by robot antibodies inside the massive sphere that gives the story its name before escaping through a hatch that leads to… a prehistoric land populated with cavemen and dinosaurs; when the duo come face-to-face with an angry T Rex, Cynde exclaims, “Amazing! A living Tyrannosaurus Rex!” To which the nimble-brained Dexter says, “Wait! HIS name is Rex, too?” Brilliant! The cavemen save Rex and Cynde from the dinosaur, only to be saved by the Captain when the injured beast turns his attention toward the tribesmen. Aaand… then things get interesting. This story is a total 1970s throwback, a freewheeling, wild and woolly 28 pages that leaves you wanting more! And, I haven’t even told you about the art yet.

SPACE CRUSADERS (Rex Dexter of Mars, page 12) (written by CHRISTPHER MILLS, art by PETER GRAU and MATT WEBB)

The pencil and ink work by Peter Grau reminds me of a looser version of Dick Giordano (I always thought that Dick’s solo work had a rather wooden feel), while Matt Webb’s colors add to the Silver Age feel of the book; it’s brighter and as close to those old comics as anything I’ve seen outside of stuff like the MY LITTLE PONY books or the ones starring ancient Harvey characters like CASPER, THE FRIENDLY GHOST and BABY HUEY. The Grau/Webb combination is certainly a thing of beauty… futuristic settings, robotic adversaries, beautiful women, raging dinosaurs, cute alien pets, a hapless hero, these guys can do it all! The same creative team returns for SPACE CRUSADERS 2, but Rex Dexter doesn’t. As Mills discusses in this first issue, his vision for this book is to feature a different Golden Age character/strip in each issue. The featured character in number two, as alluded to in Rex’s story, is Basil Wolverton’s Spacehawk, the Lone Wolf of the Void. The cool thing about Mister Grau’s work is that he modifies his style to evoke the source material; with Spacehawk, he recalls Wolverton’s off-the-wall aliens and monsters, while the main characters bring to mind late-’60s and early-’70s Jack Kirby. Understand, though… his pages are not straight copies of the old masters; just think of them as more of an homage.

SPACE CRUSADERS (Lance Lewis, Space Detective, page 1 uncolored) (Written by CHRISTOPHER MILLS, art by NIK POLIWKO)

Apparently, the only constant here (aside from the fun stories and great artwork) is the back-up feature, Lance Lewis, Space Detective, an oddly appealing concept that debuted in MYSTERY COMICS #3 from Nedor Comics in 1944. While there’s no information about the creators behind the series, at various points in the its four year run, Graham Ingels and Bob Oksner was responsible for the art. “The Voltese Icon” is the first of what will be at least a three-part saga, by Mills and Webb with art by Nik Poliwko. Like Grau, Poliwko’s work is a throwback to the Silver-Age greats… in this case, it’s kinda somewhere between Al Williamson, Grey Morrow, Wally Wood and Berni Wrightson. In other words… Awesome! The name and the plot are obviously take-offs of Dashiell Hammett’s novel, THE MALTESE FALCON, but with mind transference. Like all good multi-part comic stories, the cliff-hanger ending has you counting the days until the next installment.

SPACE CRUSADERS 1, cover C (art by GABRIELE REARTE and MATT WEBB)

SPACE CRUSADERS and all Atomic Action comics are only available from atomicactioncomics.com, printed on demand and shipped by IndyPlanet. They’re a bit more expensive than regular books, but the detail to quality is well worth it.


THE CLOCK, ISSUE ONE

(Matt Hawkins/Colleen Doran; 32 pages; TOP COW PRODUCTIONS/IMAGE COMICS, 2020)

Writer Matt Hawkins’ new series, THE CLOCK, continues his string of hard science fiction books. Like the others (STAIRWAY, WILDFIRE and THINK TANK among them), this story is based on hard science facts covering genetics, world populations and weaponized diseases, rather than the speculative realms of time travel, robot uprisings and the like. THE CLOCK in the book’s title is the World Population Clock, with the over-reaching plot of the story being delivered in the last page of the first issue. On a school field trip to the Smithsonian Museum, a teacher is explaining that the clock keeps track of the ever-increasing overpopulation of the world and how some fear that it is becoming a serious problem with predictions of dire consequences if something isn’t done to slow the growth. The final panel is a close up of a young man asking, “Then why’s it going backwards?”

THE CLOCK, page 19 (written by MATT HAWKINS, art by COLLEEN DORAN and BRYAN VALENZA)

The answer is sobering: A new, virulent form of cancer has reached epidemic proportions in an amazingly short period of time, with no apparent cause and no cure on the horizon. In that span, hundreds of millions of healthy people have contracted and succumbed to various forms of this aggressive new cancer. The first issue of this limited series starts with an ambassador and his son, Jack (no last name that I could find), in Nigeria, where pockets of the populace seem to be immune to this quick-metastasizing strain of the disease. With a caravan full of food and much-needed supplies in tow, Jack, a leading cancer research scientist, is hoping to discover what physical or environmental factors are protecting these people from becoming infected. In trade for the supplies, the tribal leaders agree to various blood tests and environmental studies. As the samples are gathered and the people celebrate their unexpected windfall, the encampment is attacked by a rebel militia. And then things get scary!

THE CLOCK, page 20 (written by MATT HAWKINS, art by COLLEEN DORAN and BRYAN VALENZA)

Jack’s wife, Evelyn, dies, another victim of the viral outbreak. In a devastating scene at the cemetery, Jack’s nine year old daughter says, “At least Mommy won’t be lonely, Daddy. Lots of people are going to Heaven today.” Colleen Doran’s full page splash shows Jack and daughter Kimmie at the center of no fewer than nineteen funerals. As Jack tries to juggle the intense feelings of loss and guilt, the suddenness of becoming a single father and the strain of trying to find a cure for the disease that took his wife, he is called before a Senate committee to explain the massive expenses he has accrued on various trips in search of, not only causation but, ANY possible cure for what has very quickly become a worldwide epidemic. Grilled by one of the Senate’s bulldogs, Jack stuns the committee with a proclamation that, unabated, the virus will cause the deaths of half of the world’s population in a year’s time. Leaving the hearing, Jack is, seemingly, bumped into by a commuter in a hurry. However, picking himself up from the floor, Jack notices a piece of paper with his name on it. The paper holds one cryptic sentence, “Your wife was murdered.” Suddenly, the research scientist is faced with the realization that the cancer for which he is seeking a cure has become… weaponized! As the clock is, literally, running down for the human race, can Jack find the cure and the government or governments behind the conspiracy?

THE CLOCK, page 21 (written by MATT HAWKINS, art by COLLEEN DORAN and BRYAN VALENZA)

Doran’s artwork (ably assisted by colorist Bryan Valenza and Troy Peteri’s unobtrusive lettering), like Hawkins script, is not overbearing and allows the reader to digest the story, while maintaining an artistic flow that keeps those readers involved. While a lot of comic book stories feature an inevitable “happy ending,” THE CLOCK seems to be moving in another direction, with a plot that may end up as another cautionary tale, highlighting the truth that most of the world’s governments could not care less for their constituents as long as the leaders have everything they could possibly want or need. A harsh truth that most of us learn far too late. While this first issue of THE CLOCK is not infused with a lot of action, it does promise an exciting ride. Bring on issue two!


ALBERT EINSTEIN, TIME MASON, ISSUE ONE

(Tony Donley/Marcus Perry; 31 pages; ACTION LAB COMICS, 2018)

I’d always heard that famed theoretical physicist Albert Einstein was the kind of guy that you’d like to hang out with. You know, a wicked sense of humor, a definite hit with the ladies and, of course, a time-traveling super spy with a mean right-cross. Wait… what? That’s right, folks, Professor Einstein was/is/will be a member of a secret group – the Time Masons – who have vowed to fight those pesky time anomalies that tend to mess with everybody’s past, present and potential future; simply put, Einstein is one of a team of agents charged with keeping the time-line straight for all humanity. If that means he’s gotta kick a little megalomaniacal butt in the process, so be it. ALBERT EINSTEIN, TIME MASON is a wicked cool take on one of the most famous minds this world has ever known. In Tony Donley’s concept, Einstein is a quick-witted quipster, dealing out scientific barbs that sting nearly as much as his fists. With Marcus Perry fleshing out the script, the action and the acerbic wit comes at the reader in a fast and furious manner, punctuating Donley’s own stellar artwork. And, while we’re talking art… how about that amazing cover by Dave Johnson, huh? Donley also provides an equally cool variant

ALBERT EINSTEIN, TIME MASON issue 1, page 1 (Written by TONY DONLEY and MARCUS PERRY, art by TONY DONLEY)

This first offering, “Brain Game,” finds ol’ Al traveling to the year 2214 to recover his brain, which was stolen shortly after his death in 1955. Did I mention the time anomaly thing? The professor’s grey matter has been heisted by a group of anti-socials calling themselves “Sci-Oscalists,” ostensibly to power a time robot which will enable their leader to enslave all existence. There are stereotypes a-plenty, but with everybody (including the characters) in on the joke, they are not hurtful or objectionable in the least. There’s a miniature mad scientist, suitably disorganized and bumbling henchmen and, of course, a large (as in tall, muscular and buxom) female, possibly of Aryan or Russian descent, acting as the madman’s personal body guard and second in command. Being outgunned, Albert does the only thing he can do: He surrenders… but, only until he can formulate a plan out of this weighty predicament. That plan is action-packed in a far-out Jim Steranko NICK FURY, AGENT OF SHIELD kinda way, but with more jokes. No sexist, Albert is not hesitant to mix it up with the bigger-than-life woman and, if need be, to deliver a few cheap shots. Most ongoing series (as I believe this one to be) will build to such a confrontation over a few issues in a grand story arc, but not here. I’m not sure how Donley and Perry can continue such a furious pace for our erstwhile hero, but I’m certainly up for the ride!

ALBERT EINSTEIN, TIME MASON issue 1, page 6 (Written by TONY DONLEY and MARCUS PERRY, art by TONY DONLEY)

Now, about the art: Tony’s angular style is reminiscent of Steve Ditko at his best, with nods to Mike Zeck and the great Gil Kane along the way. The futuristic machinery borrows from both Ditko and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Jack Kirby. His colors are very old-school, flashy and bright, a style which lends itself well to the feel of the book. The lead character’s look is borrowed from – varyingly – Tom Selleck as MAGNUM, PI, Bruce Campbell, Ditko’s Doctor Stephen Strange and Bob Larson’s Tony Stark. The intricacy of the design and the artwork itself are actually more implied than fully realized; a stylistic choice that, again, works in the favor of the material. I certainly wouldn’t want to get lost in an overly busy panel to the extent that I lose the narrative and, therefore, the pure joy derived from taking this creation as a whole. By the time I arrived at the bottom of the last page and saw the “To be continued” line, I was salivating for the next installment. Very few books have ever made me feel that way. C’mon already, guys, with issue number two!


ZAGOR VERSUS SUPERMIKE

(Guido Nolitta/Gallieno Ferri; EPICENTER COMICS/SERGIO BONELLI EDITORE; 2017)
cover

What a magnificently bizarre book! The setting is kind of a Western thing (more on that later)… it’s sort of a tale of fantasy and magic… it’s basically your standard super-hero versus super-villain comic yarn (in a rather twisted Italian, anti-hero way). Call it what you will, from the beautiful Michele Rubini cover to the final panel, it is a wildly fun read! Even though I was totally unaware of the heroic exploits of the lead character, he’s been around since (depending on which website you’re checking out) either 1961 or 1965… I gather that he appeared in a regular comic STRIP in Italy until he was introduced into the comic BOOK world four years later. Whether it was ‘61 or ‘65, it makes Zagor a contemporary of Stan Lee’s Marvel universe (characters like Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man and Doctor Strange) and the tail-end of DC’s super-hero universe rebirth (with updated versions of the Atom, Hawkman and Green Lantern… pretty much everyone outside the publisher’s holy Trinity). For reference points within those two publisher’s Western books, the character most closely resembles the long-running (1947-1972) DC hero, TOMAHAWK, as well as later creations like Marvel’s Red Wolf and DC’s mystical hero, the original El Diablo, both of which debuted in the early 1970s. That, however, is a rather short-sighted summation of the heroic Zagor; there are also elements of the Batman, Tarzan (or maybe Ka-Zar, Marvel’s ruler of the Savage Land), Francis of Assisi (the patron Saint of ecology, among other things) and Captain America. In other words, Zagor is sort of an amalgam of every heroic figure (both real and fictional) that came before or after… I wonder just how many American comic book heroes of the late ‘60s and beyond can trace their ancestry back to the Italian comics that spawned Zagor.

Poster included with ZAGOR VERSUS SUPERMIKE (art by GALLIENO FERRI and WELL-BEE)

Poster included with ZAGOR VERSUS SUPERMIKE (art by GALLIENO FERRI and WELL-BEE)

The massive – nearly 300 pages – ZAGOR VERSUS SUPERMIKE saga originally appeared in issues 122-125 of the hero’s book, published between September and December, 1975 and it features all of the hallmarks of every title published by Marvel, DC, Charlton and Gold Key from the mid-1960s through the early 1980s, including the artwork. Without getting into too many specifics, I can identify stylistic reference points to the highly underrated Herb Trimpe (who spent seven years drawing THE INCREDIBLE HULK), Sal Buscema (who followed Trimpe with a remarkable ten year run on the same book and is also known for long stints on THE DEFENDERS and THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN, among others), Buscema’s big brother, John, DC workhorse Bob Brown, the legendary John Romita, famed SUPERMAN artist Curt Swan and Dell and Gold Key stalwart Tom Gill. That, my friends, puts artist (and Zagor co-creator) Gallieno Ferri in pretty heady company. The unidentified colorist is masterful, as well, in a retro-’70s kinda way; the original Italian books were published in black and white and this particular edition utilizes the solid bright colors of American comics of the time (as in, none of the major shading or gradation effects that have become the norm in this age of – admittedly superior – computer-generated color).

ZAGOR VERSUS SUPERMIKE, page 48 (written by GUIDO NOLITTA, art by GALLIENO FERRI)

ZAGOR VERSUS SUPERMIKE, page 48 (written by GUIDO NOLITTA, art by GALLIENO FERRI)

Guido Nolitta’s (the pseudonym of co-creator and publisher Sergio Bonelli) story is as rollicking and freewheeling as you would expect from any American-style Western comic (or movie) from the period immediately prior to such fare taking on much darker tones in story and character. In fact, the tale may have been a bit ahead of the curve, as the figure of Supermike isn’t really evil so much as he is conceited, boastful and arrogant regarding his abilities. Toss in Zagor’s frustrations and a willingness to cross boundaries he said he would never cross, committing several dubious acts that belie his humble, benevolent and utterly trustworthy nature and, suddenly, the heroic lead is thrust into the unenviable role of anti-hero; likewise, the villain of the piece takes on a more sympathetic role. These are things that I’m sure Nolitta and Ferri discussed and grappled with before (and probably, even after the story was published) going ahead with the concept. From what I’ve gathered from checking out reviews and comments online and from reading the three superb – though the translations may leave a bit to be desired – essays at the front of this edition (“Zagor Versus Supermachine,” “The Immortality of an Idea!” and, especially, Darko Mrgan’s “The Clash of Vanity”), this near-seismic shift in character for Zagor was not well-embraced at the time and continues to be debated to this day amongst longtime fans of the series. As a newcomer to the character, the shift was nearly imperceptible… or maybe it was a wholly American thought process that had me thinking, “Dude, it’s about time! I woulda plowed the guy right in his perfect mouth about 250 pages ago!” It does make for good drama, though, as Zagor and his companion, Chico (who acts as comedic foil and occasional whipping boy, much like Pancho, the Kid’s loyal sidekick in the uncompromisingly upbeat stories of THE CISCO KID), struggle with how to handle a man intent on destroying the reputation and good name of Zagor among his loyal friends and legion of protectorates. As our hero trails his nemesis, he is beaten and humiliated at every turn, losing the trust of the many Native American tribes he has vowed to protect, as well as losing face with the town folk in and around his “kingdom,” known as Darkwood Forest. His close alliance with the United States Army is also stretched to the breaking point.

ZAGOR VERSUS SUPERMIKE, page 53 (written by GUIDO NOLITTA, art by GALLIENO FERRI)

ZAGOR VERSUS SUPERMIKE, page 53 (written by GUIDO NOLITTA, art by GALLIENO FERRI)

Before delving into this particular saga, let’s take a quick look at the hero of the piece, Zagor. Born Patrick Wilding, the son of a retired Army officer, the youngster was witness to the slaughter of his parents (a plot device which also played into the development of Batman and so many other characters from the historic halls of fiction) by a rogue band of Indians; taken in by a trapper called Wandering Fitzy, young Patrick learns to wield a common hatchet as a deadly weapon. Fueled by a lust for revenge and curious to learn more about his parents, the boy soon discovers that his father’s hands were not clean of the blood of the innocent. Conflicted, the young man who would become Zagor vowed to set things right as the friend and protector of the downtrodden and misunderstood, regardless of the color of their skin. Many of his impressive athletic skills, as well as his great physical stamina, were developed through an association with an acrobatic family named the Sullivans (a nod to a certain Boy Wonder’s family, the Flying Graysons?). As the Native American tribes came to accept Wilding’s friendship and staunch support of their human rights, they gave him the Indian name “Za-Gor Te-Nay,” which translates into “the Spirit With the Hatchet.” All of this takes place, quite naturally, in the wild and wooly American west of the late 1800s, right? Well… not quite. While Zagor is considered a hero of the “Wild West,” that “west” is actually the Northeastern Woodlands of the early nineteenth century (around 1830 or so), specifically, an unsettled region of Pennsylvania. But, then, I suppose Pennsylvania is quite a bit to the west of Italy, so I’m not gonna dwell on that one too much.

ZAGOR VERSUS SUPERMIKE, page 136 (written by GUIDO NOLITTA, art by GALLIENO FERRI)

ZAGOR VERSUS SUPERMIKE, page 136 (written by GUIDO NOLITTA, art by GALLIENO FERRI)

So… anyway, here’s the basic plot of ZAGOR VERSUS SUPERMIKE: Things start off, as most good Westerns generally do, with a stagecoach barreling through a barren expanse of desert (in the Appalachian Plateau region!), our hero comfortably ensconced in the carriage. Atop the coach is an irascible driver intent on making his next stop on schedule. So laser-focused on maintaining his schedule is Buddy, the driver, that he refuses to stop even when a sharp-dressed dandy in a bowler hat (something that wasn’t even around until at least fifteen years later, but… I digress) appears in the middle of the vehicles’ path; this dandy is none other than Mike Gordon, who has dubbed himself “Supermike,” a true legend in his own mind. As Zagor, Chico and the other passengers question the driver’s motivation for refusing to stop, a very surprised Buddy comes flying past the window. The athletically gifted Mister Gordon, taking umbrage with the driver, had caught up with and climbed aboard the stagecoach, heaving the hapless Buddy over the side and, reigning in the team, begins to pummel the man before Zagor can step in and stop him. The boastful New Yorker regales his fellow passengers with tales of his expertise in many different areas, proving his point by playing a rare and expensive flute perfectly and schooling an elderly woman on the finer points of crocheting. Upon reaching their destination, Supermike makes short work of a local whose prime source of income is menial labor utilizing his exceptional strength. By that evening, Zagor has had quite enough of this Mike Gordon’s superiority complex, as he bests a table of local card sharps before returning their money and buying the entire saloon drinks. When a notorious gunfighter draws down on the town’s sheriff, Zagor is drawn further into Gordon’s web of conceit as the man makes no effort to stop the outlaw; wounding the sheriff, the miscreant is taken out rather handily by Zagor. Later, on the stage out of town, Supermike’s reason for not interfering with the gunman is made obvious: Gordon was merely setting up a confrontation for later to prove his mastery of guns by beating the unbeatable “Flash” Cadigan to the draw. For the King of Darkwood Forest, this is a step too far, leading to a confrontation with the braggadocious Gordon; a confrontation that sees Zagor losing his temper and having to be restrained, leaving Supermike battered, bloody and swearing revenge. That revenge – a total dismantling of Zagor’s life and world – takes up the remainder of the action-filled story. Without giving away any more of the story’s twists and turns, I’ll just say that ZAGOR VERSUS SUPERMIKE gives the reader everything they could hope for in a nostalgic look back at a simpler time in comic book storytelling. This digest-sized presentation is Epicenter Comics’ fourth omnibus offering of some of Zagor’s more epic adventures from this period, with more to come. I, for one, can’t wait.


HANK STEINER, MONSTER DETECTIVE, ISSUE ONE

(Scott R Schmidt/Tyler Sowles/Sara Sowles; 32 pages; SOURCE POINT PRESS; 2014)

Hank_Steiner_Monster_Detective-1

Hard boiled film noir detective meets things that go bump in the night in the premiere issue of HANK STEINER, MONSTER DETECTIVE; or, maybe a more apt description for the minions of the monster underworld would be “things that get bumped off in the night.”

HANK STEINER, MONSTER DETECTIVE Page 5 (Written by SCOTT R SCHMIDT, art by TYLER SOWLES and SARA SOWLES)

HANK STEINER, MONSTER DETECTIVE Page 5 (Written by SCOTT R SCHMIDT, art by TYLER SOWLES and SARA SOWLES)

Hank’s Tower City mirrors a world divided; there’s the Human Side and the Monster Side. Both communities would like nothing better than that the twain never should meet. This first issue begins with – as all great detective stories should – a body. The desecrated body of something… not human has been pulled out of the river that separates the two sides of the city. The police on the Human Side grouse and grumble about having to handle a suspicious death from the other side, especially during the playoffs; the detective in charge is not about to miss the playoffs, so he’s called in back-up from the Monster Side: “Stand down, fellas, that’s a pal of mine, Frank.” Well, close… “It’s Hank.” In true noir fashion, our hero delivers a running inner-monologue-as-therapy, beginning here: “I hate humans. Comedians, every one.” Detective Steiner quickly identifies the putrid remains: “Looks like you fellas got yourselves what used to be an imp.” Equally as quick, the human cops dump the case on Hank, telling him to “Take him with you when you’re done.”

HANK STEINER, MONSTER DETECTIVE Page 9 (Written by SCOTT R SCHMIDT, art by TYLER SOWLES and SARA SOWLES)

HANK STEINER, MONSTER DETECTIVE Page 9 (Written by SCOTT R SCHMIDT, art by TYLER SOWLES and SARA SOWLES)

Back across the bridge, we meet Hank’s operatives, including his secretary, Iris, and a human informant (and garbage man) named Gus. The garbage man’s trash talk (literally) leads the big guy to some underhanded dealings coming from the goblin underworld boss, a fat, cigar-chomping Mafioso called Madtooth. Action comes fast and furious, as Steiner confronts some of Madtooth’s underlings and a trio of vampiric babes in a pool room dive that serves as a front for the mob’s business activities. Of course, Madtooth’s intervention leaves more questions than answers, as he tells Hank that they’re merely the middle men for something far more nefarious than his boys’ illegal shenanigans. Like many of the finest films of the genre, things take a rather unexpected turn, leading to an apt justice being meted out to the criminal element; also mirroring those classic movies, that justice comes in the form of a too-quick resolution. This plot could very easily have been delivered as a multi-issue storyline, fleshing out the characters (recurring and otherwise), the historical background regarding the animosity of the two districts of Tower City and the origins of Hank Steiner’s world.

HANK STEINER, MONSTER DETECTIVE Pages 14-15 (Written by SCOTT R SCHMIDT, art by TYLER SOWLES and SARA SOWLES)

HANK STEINER, MONSTER DETECTIVE Pages 14-15 (Written by SCOTT R SCHMIDT, art by TYLER SOWLES and SARA SOWLES)

But… that’s a trifling complaint. Scott R Schmidt’s story and dialogue is fast-paced and quick-witted. One could almost envision Humphrey Bogart (well… maybe Raymond Massey) in the role of the Monster Detective. Tyler Sowles’ artwork is powerful and uncluttered, with his wife, Sara’s muted colors adding to the overall noir feel of the book (by the way, she is responsible for page layouts and lettering, as well). If Schmidt and the Sowles can deliver high quality stories like this in a consistent manner, the future certainly looks bright for the denizens of Tower City… or, at least as bright as things ever get in Hank Steiner’s world. I personally cannot wait for future installments, hopefully ones that will answer some of my questions about the whos, the hows and the whys of just what is happening in Tower City. HANK STEINER, MONSTER DETECTIVE is available at your favorite comics shop or, you can secure it digitally from DriveThruComics  or Comixology. Now… go ye forth and consume, comics lovers. The fun part of your brain will love you for it.


CHRONICLES OF TERROR: THE MONTHLY HORROR ANTHOLOGY, ISSUE FOUR

(Kim Roberts/Various Writers and Artists; 80 pages; WP COMICS; 2016)

cot-xmas-1

The English people are a weird lot. They have a very dry, wicked sense of humor. They have also given us some of THE most frightening tales of horror… ever! Their views on Christmas are… let’s go with “skewed,” shall we? It goes well beyond the fact that they maintain a stubborn habit of saying “Happy” rather than “Merry” when wishing one well during the season of goodwill. Many of those views have been engrained for centuries; well before, I’m sure, the Church usurped the holy days, celebrations and traditions surrounding the winter solstice. All of this is my wholly American way of introducing you to a relatively new comic from the UK called CHRONICLES OF TERROR and, in particular, the fourth issue, a collection of Christmas themed stories sub-titled “Santa’s Twisted Tales.” Now, to be certain, all of the pieces here do not come from the minds and hands of our stalwart British friends; in point of fact, a “Creator of the Month” feature highlights Ohio comics writer and publisher of Disposable Fiction Comics, Jack Wallace.

CHRONICLES OF TERROR, Issue 4: "Snowvenge" (written by KIM ROBERTS, art by HARALDO)

CHRONICLES OF TERROR, Issue 4: “Snowvenge” (written by KIM ROBERTS, art by HARALDO)

Starting with the magnificent, delightfully gruesome cover image by Haraldo (like Cher, I suppose, this artistic genius only needs the one name), this book takes on every traditional concept – both religious and secular – regarding Christmas, as well as the so-called “pagan” rites and rituals of more ancient (some would say “arcane”) holy days. Haraldo’s stunning artwork is back in an imaginative take on the old “revenge is a dish best served cold” proverb; with a brilliant story and script by anthology editor, Kim Roberts, “Snowvenge” is certainly setting the bar high as an opening salvo, as it hits on all cylinders, from concept to finished art. “The Never” is a cautionary tale from the twisted brain of writer Eric Gahagan… a warning from the Anti-Santa for children everywhere about peeking at their presents. Pietro Vaughan’s hard angular lines and thick black shadows are akin to the fever-dream sets used in the brilliant, century old German expressionist horror film, THE CABINET OF DOCTOR CALIGARI. Ever wonder what the Jolly Elf’s reindeer eat to keep their energy up on those long Christmas Eve journey? Paul Bradford and artist Allen Byrns paint a very vivid picture in “Reindeer: Oh, Deer – Oh, Dear.”

CHRONICLES OF TERROR, Issue 4: "Charles 'Chucky' Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol'" (written by GABE OSTLEY, art by GABE OSTLEY and CHRIS ALLEN)

CHRONICLES OF TERROR, Issue 4: “Charles ‘Chucky’ Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol'” (written by GABE OSTLEY, art by GABE OSTLEY and CHRIS ALLEN)

Gabe Ostley’s obscenely off-kilter “Charles ‘Chucky’ Dickens’ A Christmas Carol” is eight pages of wildly gratuitous violence featuring the obligatory firefight between Death and Satan and his goat-minions, as well as Cthulhu, the festering corpse of the famed author of THE STORY OF THE GOBLINS WHO STOLE A SEXTON (if I’m not mistaken, he may have written some other fairly famous pieces, as well) and, of course, the totally unlikeable (anti-)hero of the story, a rooster named Cluck, appearing here as Scrooge McCluck; as Cluck is so repellant, I cannot wait for another installment of his adventures. Chris Allen’s vivid palette adds to the already surreal Hellscape. “The Ancestors” delves into some of the “pagan” beliefs and rituals that have become a part of traditional Christmas celebrations. MC Carper’s art has an old-world quality that fits Hunter Eden’s story perfectly, just as Chris Allen’s colors suit Carper’s line-work. As people of varying cultures and religions have migrated farther and farther from the homes of their fathers, the desire to break away from those familial and cultural bonds has grown, even as the need to remain grounded in those cultures and religions is instilled by the ancestral ways invariably follow (and, sometimes, haunt) the immigrant; this story follows one such tortured soul to his own inevitable conclusion. Though only three pages in length, “The Book of Eden Z: Come Gentle Christmas Angels” is… beautiful. The story is simple, elegant and sentimental; I’m not ashamed to say that it brought a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye. What do the spirits of children who are the victims of some unexpected violence wish for on Christmas? J Christopher Greulich’s story is both heart-warming and heartbreaking and his magnificent black and white art is among the best in this volume.

CHRONICLES OF TERROR, Issue 4: "Bad Santa" (written by KIM ROBERTS and CHRIS ALLEN, art by BRADEN HALLETT); "Unwanted Gifts" (written by JAMES JOHNSON, art by JAMES JOHNSON)

CHRONICLES OF TERROR, Issue 4: “Bad Santa” (written by KIM ROBERTS and CHRIS ALLEN, art by BRADEN HALLETT); “Unwanted Gifts” (written by JAMES JOHNSON, art by JAMES JOHNSON)

Bad Santa,” from writers Kim Roberts and Chris Allen and artist Braden Hallett is a cautionary tale of greed and the importance of inspecting each and every package, making sure to read any and all warning notices… even hand-written ones from in-house quality-control engineers. James Johnson’s “Unwanted Gifts” holds the least appeal, story-wise, for me. I don’t know why… it has so many horror linchpins: Loving family set upon by demon spores/spirits/whatevers living in the limbs of the family’s chosen fir tree, each possession driving the inhabited family member over the edge and, as they succumb to their inhabitants, further into the world of ancient Solstice religious beliefs and secular Christmas traditions. Maybe that’s the problem: Johnson’s plot is just too chock full of thoughts and ideas and visions to be coherent enough for a numbskull like me. The blood and the guts (yards and yards of guts!) and the extreme mayhem are cool, though. A drunken stepfather, an uncaring mother and an alien monster all impact poor little Sidney as she awaits a visit from Santa Claus on “Christmas Eve,” though, maybe not in the way that you would imagine. Jojo King’s story does a fine job of exploring the young girl’s hopes and wishes, while the artwork of Alister Lee aptly relates the horror of the season. The ending is much more graphic but is still very reminiscent of this issue’s earlier “Reindeer: Oh, Deer – Oh, Dear.”

CHRONICLES OF TERROR, Issue 4: "The 512th Day of Christmas" (written by JACK WALLACE, art by REINALDO LAY CONTRERAS and CHRIS ALLEN

CHRONICLES OF TERROR, Issue 4: “The 512th Day of Christmas” (written by JACK WALLACE, art by REINALDO LAY CONTRERAS and CHRIS ALLEN

The remainder of this fourth issue of CHRONICLES OF TERROR is comprised of special features and pin-ups, including a killer pin-up by Gabe Ostley (with suitably bright colors from Chris Allen) called “Christmas Turkey.” As mentioned earlier, a “Creator of the Month” feature focuses on Jack Wallace, writer and co-publisher (with the by-now ubiquitous Chris Allen) at Disposable Fiction Comics, who discusses his entrance into the comics industry, working with a wide variety of artistic talents and the pitfalls of self-publishing. Following this in-depth profile is a five page preview of Wallace’s latest graphic novel, THE 512TH DAY OF CHRISTMAS, with magnificent art from Reinaldo Lay Contreras (better known as Rei Lay) and colors from… you guessed it: Chris Allen. More info about and ordering info for the book is available at Disposable Fiction Comics; plus, you can order your own copy (physical or digital) of this Yule-themed CHRONICLES OF TERROR (as well as the first three issues of the incredible anthology) here. Enjoy! And… Merry Christmas, one and all.


TOKYO TRIBE

(XLRATOR MEDIA/NIKKATSU/FROM FIRST PRODUCTION COMPANY/DJANGO FILM (117 minutes; Unrated); 2015)

TOKYO TRIBE

It is an absolutely inexplicable concept that I would even remotely enjoy a musical movie version of a violent piece of Manga (TOKYO TRIBE 2 by Santa Inoue) about rival gangs on the mean streets of Tokyo, especially one that involves reading… a lot of reading. Buuut… the music is a very appealing mish-mash of Hip-Hop grooves and rock heaviness; the characters are SO over the top that you are allowed to suspend all belief and just let the kaleidoscopic visuals – including some amazingly choreographed fight scenes, including near-comedic levels of ultra-violent acts – assault your optic nerves… in the best way possible. Yeah, sure the whole reading thing is there but, once you get into a groove with that, TOKYO TRIBE isn’t too bad.

TOKYO TRIBE (Makoto Sakaguchi, Nana Seino) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

TOKYO TRIBE (Makoto Sakaguchi, Nana Seino) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

Actually, aside from trying to figure out who was who, the flick, written and directed by the legendary Sion Sono, was pretty cool. The whole thing kicks off in a claustrophobic Bukuro Street on a hot Tokyo night that threatens not only rain, but an earthquake, as well. The narrator (played by Shota Sometani, who delivers all of his lines through raps) moves ghost-like through the throngs, introducing us to the various factions and their leaders, all the while giving us a glimpse into a very grim future. In one telling scene early in the movie, a rookie police officer is told by her partner not to get involved in what is very obviously a drug dealer dispensing his wares; when she confronts the dealer, he tears her clothes off, belittles her and, eventually, kills her. Her partner tells the police dispatcher that everything is okay… nothing going on. According to the raps, there are 23 separate tribes in the city, each working their own territory in an effort to maintain a tenuous treaty; that treaty is threatened by the Buppa gang, a violent and blood-thirsty tribe who want it all.

TOKYO TRIBE (Riki Takeuchi) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

TOKYO TRIBE (Riki Takeuchi) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

The Buppa leader, played by Riki Takeuchi, is cartoonish, a demented and crazy-eyed Wayne Newton look-alike. Bubba’s lusts and desires are fueled by the promise of total power from the High Priest Denden (played by Sion Sono mainstay Denden, the High Priest is either a guiding spirit or one of Bubba’s drug-induced hallucinations); all he has to do is return the High Priest’s daughter, Ericka. One of Bubba’s sons, Nkoi (Yosuke Kubozuka), is a sexual deviant who delights in using his victims as furniture… after, of course, they have outlived their usefulness as prostitutes; he sends a van of thugs to procure a few new chairs and end tables into another tribe’s territory, either convincing them to come to a wild party or flat-out kidnapping them. The other son, Merra (Ryohei Suzuki), is more into inflicting as pain on as many people as possible; he has some unstated beef with the leader of Musashiro Tribe, Kai Deguchi (Young Dais), who practices and preaches love, peace and understanding. Basically, all of the ensuing carnage is due to whatever problem Merra has with Kai (don’t worry… we do find out what has him so upset during the climactic battle and, if I may be so bold, it perfectly personifies the gangsta rap culture and gangs, in general). Oh, plus, Nkoi snatches the High Priest’s daughter (Nana Seino) off the street and tosses her into the Buppa brothel, setting off a completely different type of mayhem: When her picture is posted on the brothel’s website, a particularly horny member of Musashiro is off to partake, with Tera (Ryuta Sato), who is respected by all factions, attempting to stop him and, as that has failed, to keep him out of any serious trouble.

TOKYO TRIBE (Denden) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

TOKYO TRIBE (Denden) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

Unbeknownst to either, a trap has been set and, when Kai and the others learn of it, love and peace are out the window. Unfortunately, with 21 other tribes mobilizing, the path is neither easy nor safe. Eventually – because everybody knew it was going to happen – all of the rival gangs come together against Bubba and his hired guns, the Waru, the most vicious gang in all of Japan. The fights are wickedly fun, the choreography and staging wildly imaginative; there are tanks, cannibals, gold-plated pistols, human reading lamps, samurais, earthquakes, giant exhaust fans and… well, you get the idea. There’s even a wizened old waitress, called DJ Grandma (Hisako Ooka), spinning and rapping her doomsday commentary: “Comin’ to ya from the ass-end of Hell/Listen up. This is Hip-Hop!” There is so much that I want to tell you about TOKYO TRIBE, but if I give you any more, I’ll spoil all the fun you have in store when you watch it.

TOKYO TRIBE (Ryohei Suzuki, Young Dais) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

TOKYO TRIBE (Ryohei Suzuki, Young Dais) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

Even though there are going to be plenty of kids sixteen and younger that are gonna wanna see this movie, be advised that it – like all of Sono’s previous films – is ultra-violent (generally, in a cartoon fashion but, there are still some fairly brutal scenes) and features quite a few scenes glorifying drug use and even more that objectify young women (though there are also several instances of those young women taking control of their situations and kicking major amounts of butt). Parents, even the trailer is too wild for us to post here so, at the very least, check that out before you decide to let your kids watch.


PUPPET MASTER, VOLUME 1: THE OFFERING

(Shawn Gabborin/Michela Da Sacco/Yann Perrelet; 67 pages; ACTION LAB: DANGER ZONE; 2015)

PUPPET MASTER VOLUME 1

I’ve never been a huge fan of Charles Band’s PUPPET MASTER movie franchise. Ever since my first viewing at age seven (yes, I watched rated R films as a seven year old child… thanks, Mom), I’ve always found the series to be overtly desperate without providing much quality to back up the undeniably ambitious plot. So, naturally when Unka D asked me to review the recent continuation of the PUPPET MASTER mythos from Action Lab’s Danger Zone mature readers imprint, my expectations were thoroughly embedded beneath the soles of my Vans sneakers. Luckily for me, I was pleasantly surprised.

PUPPET MASTER Issue 1 cover, page 3 (Written by SHAWN GABBORIN, cover and art by MICHELA DA SACCO and YANN PERRELET)

PUPPET MASTER Issue 1 cover, page 3 (Written by SHAWN GABBORIN, cover and art by MICHELA DA SACCO and YANN PERRELET)

Familiarity settles in quickly as the story kicks off at the well known Bodega Bay Inn. For newbies to the series, the aforementioned lodge has become a staple setting in the ten film (yes, ten film!) franchise. After a quick intro sequence involving an unlucky vagrant who meets his untimely demise, we’re introduced to the protagonists of the tale, a group of horny college students who, in typical ’80s horror fashion, have decided to get hammered and spend the weekend at the abandoned inn.

PUPPET MASTER Issue 2 (Cover by MICHELA DA SACCO and YANN PERRELET)

PUPPET MASTER Issue 2 (Cover by MICHELA DA SACCO and YANN PERRELET)

Script-wise, these books are topnotch. All the recognizable puppets make their triumphant returns (Blade being my personal favorite.). The narrative is paced like a horror film, which really keeps you immersed in the overall linearity of the story. Ladened with genuinely creepy moments, the tone of the miniseries-within-a-series (this collection features the first three-issue story arc of the current ongoing series) walks the line between black humor and horror very well. The artwork, courtesy of Michela De Sacco, really captures the dark, yet kitschy vibe that is so identifiable with the franchise. Chock-full of brutal death scenes, there is more than enough blood and guts here to please the gore hounds, as well.

PUPPET MASTER Issue 3 cover, page 3 (Written by SHAWN GABBORIN, cover and art by MICHELA DA SACCO and YANN PERRELET)

PUPPET MASTER Issue 3 cover, page 3 (Written by SHAWN GABBORIN, cover and art by MICHELA DA SACCO and YANN PERRELET)

Shawn Gabborin has done an admirable job of taking a brand that has been contrived (at best) for the better part of the last decade and breathing new life into it. This reviewer looks forward to seeing where the story goes from here. PUPPET MASTER, VOLUME 1: THE OFFERING is available at comic shops everywhere, as well as the usual on-line places, including digital download outlets such as ComiXology. For more on the PUPPET MASTER movie franchise, as well as signed, limited edition comics and more visit: Full Moon Direct.


BEHEMOTH, NUMBERS 1 AND 2

(Chris Kipiniak/JK Woodward; 24 pages each issue, digital; MONKEYBRAIN COMICS, 2015)

BEHEMOTH

My new addiction is BEHEMOTH. In a nutshell, BEHEMOTH follows a young girl named Theresa, who is gradually transforming into a beast. She is sent to a government facility and is led to believe there is no hope; nor is there a cure. Thank you, Chris Kipiniak, for writing something so intriguing, but also that hits me right in my heart strings.

BEHEMOTH, issue 1, page 2 (Written by CHRIS KIPINIAK, art by JK WOODWARD)

BEHEMOTH, issue 1, page 2 (Written by CHRIS KIPINIAK, art by JK WOODWARD)

I would like to begin by saying kudos to series co-creator JK Woodward for the beautiful artwork done in this comic. The characters are very well done and wonderfully random; mildly terrifying but, I’m willing to look past that. There is also enough gore for a mature reader but, not so much where it is grody. Also, the layout of each page made it easy to follow and the lettering – by Jesse Post – is easy to read. This makes each comic fast paced, with no frustration.

BEHEMOTH, issue 1, page 3 (Written by CHRIS KIPINIAK, art by JK WOODWARD)

BEHEMOTH, issue 1, page 3 (Written by CHRIS KIPINIAK, art by JK WOODWARD)

My only issue with the comic is a certain lack of character development and “real” feels. It appeared as though the protagonist accepted her new life as a beast too quickly. Also, a relationship is formed within the first two issues making me somewhat not want them to be together at all; I would have preferred to see more small, flirtatious interactions hinting at a relationship in the future instead of one right off the bat.

BEHEMOTH, issue 2, page 3 (Written by CHRIS KIPINIAK, art by JK WOODWARD)

BEHEMOTH, issue 2, page 3 (Written by CHRIS KIPINIAK, art by JK WOODWARD)

I cannot wait for new additions to this story and am pumped to see what happens next. Already, I have been given the conflict (actually on the very first page of the first book) and I have been introduced to some crazy, but strangely lovable characters. Also, the action is intense and oh so suspenseful and was able to capture and hold my attention. And trust me that is not easy to do… I have the attention span of a two year old. I may or may not have a heart attack from all this suspense. Jeez! I highly recommend this comic to any reader who enjoys monsters and fight scenes. Both issues of BEHEMOTH are available digitally for an insanely cheap price at the Monkeybrain site or at ComiXology.


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 easy 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!