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!


SLEEP NO MORE

(RLJE FILMS/INCENDIARY FEATURES/ARCANUM PICTURES (91 minutes; Unrated); 2018)

On paper, SLEEP NO MORE (also known as 200 HOURS, the working title) looks like a cool, ingenious sci-fi thriller; in fact, I was kinda hyped to check it out. I can’t say that the viewing experience made me wanna dig my eyes out (a not-so-veiled reference to an early event in the flick) but… I can tell you that the basic plot, cliched storytelling, unlikable characters and flat, cardboard acting (by some very good actors, by the way) left me feeling that I had just wasted an hour-and-a-half of my life.

SLEEP NO MORE (Stephen Ellis, Keli Price) (publicity still)

So, here’s the premise: The year is 1986 (or thereabouts) and a group of grad students are taking part in a “sleep study” at a prestigious university somewhere (they’re ALWAYS somewhere, aren’t they?). The study theorizes that if one can go 200 hours without sleep, that person will reach “lucidity” and will be free of the constraints of sleep. All of this, of course, is dependent upon an experimental drug called cogniphan. When one of the test subjects (played by Lukas Gage) goes off the deep end, the funding for the project is rescinded and the plug pulled. As this happens right before summer break, the remaining subjects, wont to abandon the study volunteer to remain at the research facility for the two weeks necessary to obtain “lucidity.” Dale (Stephen Ellis), one of the four, is leery of staying on after witnessing the gruesome end of their fellow guinea pig but, having the hots for Holly (Christine Dwyer), decides to stick around and becomes the group’s control subject. The dominant force among the students, Joe (Keli Price), is – to use technical terminology – schtupping Doctor Ella Whatley (Yasmine Aker), the faculty advisor, so he doesn’t fall to the circumstantial evidence that she may have – uh – exaggerated the truth about animal tests that may or may not have been used to further advance the testing into human territory. And, from there, things become a bit murky.

SLEEP NO MORE (Brea Grant, Keli Price) (publicity still)

Seemingly, the only semi-intelligent scientist in the bunch is Frannie (Brea Grant) who lays her cards on the table, folds her hand and gets the heck outta Dodge after Dale accidentally ingests a vial of the no-dose drug. Everything and everyone begins to devolve from that point. Of course, she’s pulled back into the insanity by Joe mere hours before his scheduled “lucidity.” Why? Because the hallucinations that they all experienced turned out to be real manifestations from the dream world, ticked off that they ain’t got nowhere to go what with no one doing any sleeping. Makes sense to me. I mean, I tend to get very cross if I don’t have anybody to play with for a few days. Anyway, without blowing the ending for you if you’re still interested in sitting through SLEEP NO MORE, I’ll just say that there is no happy ending here. That phrase actually has a dual meaning here. Hopefully, the first is rather obvious from my brief descriptions; the second, however, comes from the fact that the ending leaves things wide open for a sequel. I can honestly say that I would have to be severely sleep-deprived to sit through another one of these things. But, I’ll just leave this trailer right here so you can make your own decision about watching (or not watching) SLEEP NO MORE:

The movie is available on DVD, Video On Demand or as a digital download. It does feature some harsh language, several graphic scenes of violence, the usual gratuitous nudity (via a video of an obscure slasher movie from the ‘80s) and equally gratuitous 1980s British pop confectioneries. You have been warned!


PHOENIX FORGOTTEN

PHOENIX FORGOTTEN

I’m a huge BLADE RUNNER fan, so I am excited to tell you about producer Ridley Scotts’s latest project, PHOENIX FORGOTTEN. The film hits theaters across the country this Friday, April 21. Our friends at Katrina Wan PR, in conjunction with Cinelou Films have released a featurette featuring Sir Ridley, alongside co-producers Wes Ball and TS Nowlin and director Justin Barber discussing the March 13, 1997 appearance of what has become known as “The Phoenix Lights,” which was the impetus for PHOENIX FORGOTTEN.

The movie relates the story of a trio of teenagers who, seeking to document the phenomenon, headed into the desert looking for answers. The three disappeared that night, never to be seen again. Much like THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, this new film uses found footage of their final hours, revealing the truth behind the teens’ ultimate fate. Check out the trailer before heading out to catch the flick this weekend:


UNCANNY

(RLJ ENTERTAINMENT/SHORELINE ENTERTAINMENT/EMERGENT BEHAVIOR-ACCELERATED MATTER PRODUCTIONS/AMBUSH ENTERTAINMENT (85 minutes; Unrated); 2015)

UNCANNY_DVD_HIC

As much as I love science fiction movies, I’m not big into the whole Artificial Intelligence (AI) thing; cyborgs, robots, androids are okay (Deathlok, that canned dude from LOST IN SPACE, the Vision) but, a lot of times, the attempt to make these types into a “normal” human-like construct just leaves me cold. With that as background, I wasn’t sure about UNCANNY and where it would fall on the spectrum; the advance publicity and trailer promised a creepy sort of stalker thing with the possibility of a very violent second half. Uh… kinda.

UNCANNY (David Clayton Rogers, Mark Webber) (publicity still)

UNCANNY (David Clayton Rogers, Mark Webber) (publicity still)

The story has a rather claustrophobic feel… it mostly takes place in one location (an apartment/suite/laboratory called Workspace 18) with only three characters for roughly ninety-eight percent of the movie. David Kressen (Mark Webber, who strikes me as a younger version of the brilliant Jeffrey Combs) is a reclusive (and amazingly well-adjusted) boy genius who has been left to his own devices for the past ten years, charged with creating the ultimate robotic AI; his roommate, Adam (David Clayton Rogers), is the result of Kressen’s work and has taken his creator’s last name. The introduction of a third individual, reporter (and failed roboticist) Joy Andrews (Lucy Griffiths), is initially met with trepidation and mild annoyance from David and confusion from Adam. Joy has been sent to conduct a week’s worth of interviews for a feature story on Kressen and his work. She is totally taken aback when David reveals the truth about Adam and, thus, the three embark upon an intellectually stimulating few days; as the continued interaction leads to more intimate feelings between Kressen and Andrews, Adam begins to exhibit some very human reactions: Love, jealousy, confusion and, finally, hate and revenge. By the fourth day, the situation has become a bizarre lovers’ triangle, with Adam infringing upon and, at times, outright sabotaging the others’ time together. Adam also develops some new voyeuristic tendencies, which come to a head when he gives a gift to Joy, in the form of a prototype robotic eye with, naturally (and completely unknown to the receiver), a camera. The better to secretly watch you mediate in your underwear, my dear.

UNCANNY (David Clayton Rogers, Lucy Griffiths, Mark Webber) (publicity still)

UNCANNY (David Clayton Rogers, Lucy Griffiths, Mark Webber) (publicity still)

The whole movie is very quiet and serene, three highly intelligent beings discussing the things that they enjoy most and interacting in the most reasonable fashion imaginable… until the final twenty minutes or so. When Joy discovers what Adam has been up to, she takes Kressen aside to let him know what his creation is capable of; Kressen tells her she shouldn’t worry too much… it’s just Adam adjusting his learning curve and adding new stimuli and knowledge to his matrix. David does, however, confront Adam about his actions; Adam apologizes and – as far as Kressen is concerned – the incident is forgotten. Adam hasn’t forgotten and, when he tries to stick his tongue down Andrews’ throat, she objects and David chastises Adam, sending him to his room like a misbehaving child; a very childlike outburst from Adam stuns creator and reporter alike. That’s really the extent of the violence, though there is a nice (if rather anticipated) twist-ending that delivers the “evil corporate construct” message like a very quiet sucker-punch to the solar-plexus. That message, delivered by Rainn Wilson as the deliciously sinister Simon Castle, Kressen’s benefactor/employer, will send a chill down your spine and have you looking over your shoulder as you conduct your day-to-day life for, at least, a few days. And, that, friends, is what a good piece of science-fiction should do… leave you questioning the reality of the subject matter at hand; first-time screenwriter Shahin Chandrasoma (who is a surgeon specializing in robotic urology) and acclaimed director/editor Matthew Leutwyler have certainly accomplished that.

UNCANNY (Lucy Griffiths, David Clayton Rogers) (publicity still)

UNCANNY (Lucy Griffiths, David Clayton Rogers) (publicity still)

UNCANNY succeeded in holding my attention and stimulating my mind much more than I would have thought possible, given the subject matter and the subtly delicate approach. This kind of story probably isn’t for everybody… teens and young kids will undoubtedly be bored out of their gourds waiting for something, ANYTHING to happen and, by the time it does, will probably have given up on the whole thing. However, if YOU stay with it, I think that you’ll be grateful you didn’t give up on UNCANNY too soon. The movie is available on DVD and as a digital download.


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.


DEBUG

(KETCHUP ENTERTAINMENT/COPPERHEART ENTERTAINMENT (86 minutes; Unrated); 2015)

Debug 2D

When actor David Hewlett decided to write a Sci-Fi movie, I’m sure the concept looked pretty good on paper and – you know what? – even with a couple of black holes in the plot and unspoken back stories (due, no doubt, to time and budgetary constraints), the finished product looks pretty good, too. Hewlett’s script is equal parts 2001: A SPACE ODDYSEY, TRON, WAR GAMES and just about every slasher movie ever made; toss in some nifty KILL BILL style fight scenes and a cast of beautiful – if limited – actors and you have a rollicking good time of a space opera with DEBUG.

DEBUG (Tenika Davis, Jason Mamoa) (publicity still)

DEBUG (Tenika Davis, Jason Mamoa) (publicity still)

The concept is relatively simple: Convicts on a work release derelict spaceship clean-up detail (got that?) are dispatched for one final debugging assignment before returning to lock-up; the debugging is of the computer kind, as long dormant vessels with still-functioning systems tend to become infected with various viruses and need to be cleaned before a reboot and a return to active service. We get a glimpse of just how corrupt the system is in a prologue that sees the sole survivor on-board, one of 1,200 prisoners (a terror-fraught cameo by Tenika Davis), stalked by a physical manifestation of the infected security program (malevolently played by future Aquaman, Jason Momoa). Suffice to say, bad things happen. The cleaners are under the supervision of a no nonsense (though somehow good-natured) guard named Capra (Adrian Holmes), who gets hijacked by the virus, doing its gruesome bidding. Capra’s eventual demise is kind of a side-splitter.

DEBUG (Adrian Holmes) (publicity still)

DEBUG (Adrian Holmes) (publicity still)

Of course, each member of the convict crew has their own little secret: Lara (Sidney Leeder) and team leader Mel (Kerr Hewitt) are – if not romantically – sexually involved; Diondra (Jaydn Wong) is looking for a quick score, but ends up with a splitting headache for her troubles; Samson’s exit (and, by extension, CARRIE’s Kyle Mac) was so quick, I’m not too sure I can even tell you what his secret was or what happened to him; tough-as-nails scarey chick Kaida (who really has a heart of gold, much like – I’m sure – the actress who portrays her, Jeananne Goossen) is all business, as she hacks into the rogue system for a bit of virtual butt kicking; James (played by Adam Butcher, Momoa’s co-star in WOLVES) is a former cadet whose dreams were smashed after pleading guilty to a cyber-crime committed by his younger brother. Each, seemingly working against the others, are given their own little vignette, as they are assigned different sections of the ship to work on; most interact with various “creature comfort” programs, all under the control of the evil “I Am” (Momoa), leading to varying degrees of pain and suffering. The final confrontation with the I Am and the ultimate sacrifice by one team member is right up there with other such selfless gestures for which the genre is so well known (Spock’s final moments in STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN remain untouchable in that area).

DEBUG (Jeananne Goossen) (publicity still)

DEBUG (Jeananne Goossen) (publicity still)

There are a plethora of direct-to-DVD Science-Fiction movies released every week, most of which are totally forgettable and many of those are utterly regrettable; DEBUG rises above the dross with an imaginative script and cold, antiseptic sets that add to the creepy machines-in-control aspect; the small blasts of color (the convicts’ orange jumpsuits and, yeah… a whole lot of blood) tend to be rather jarring against the bright lights and stark white of the spaceship. This is a movie that would have benefited from another 20 to 30 minutes. That’s something that I very rarely say about any movie but, here, the extra time would have definitely made an already strong feature into a great one, allowing the characters to be fleshed out more fully (we don’t really know why most of the crew are in prison or what motivates their actions on this mission), as well as offering a more in-depth examination of just how the ship’s computers became so corrupt.

DEBUG is unrated but, due to some strong language and some fairly brutal scenes of violence and death (a couple of which are quite imaginative), this one probably shouldn’t be viewed by anyone younger than, say, twelve. It’s not really a great date flick or family movie night fare… in fact, it may not be anything that the female of the species will find appealing at all. Having said that, it’ll play really well for a bunch of guys just hanging out in a man cave somewhere.


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!


DEADLANDS, VOLUME ONE: DEAD MAN’S HAND

(Shane Hensley/Various Writers and Artists; IDW PUBLISHING/VISIONARY COMICS/PINNACLE ENTERTAINMENT GROUP; 2015)

Dead-Mans-Hand

What an absolutely beautiful book this is! Anyone familiar with Shane Hensley’s DEADLANDS role playing game will recognize the characters and the concept and will be immediately drawn into this world of gun-play and spiritualism. Likewise, anyone who remembers THE WILD, WILD WEST (the 1960s television series or the updated movie version starring Will Smith) will recognize the science-fiction/steampunk feel present here (especially in the first story, “The Devil’s Six Gun”) or, if you’re familiar with the early ’70s DC comic, WEIRD WESTERN TALES (home of El Diablo, a spooky Zorro knock-off with awesome art from Gray Morrow and, later, Neal Adams; the pages of WWT also saw the debut of Jonah Hex, one of DC’s most endearing western characters), you will definitely want to check out DEAD MAN’S HAND, a book that is filled with demons, spirits, monsters and supernatural happenings aplenty. Of course, these new era stories are more violent, more graphic, with far more blood than those earlier creators could depict. With that in mind, allow me to amend my first sentence to read, “What an absolutely beautifully written and illustrated book this is!”

DEADLANDS, VOLUME ONE: DEAD MAN'S HAND: "The Devil's Six Gun" (Written by DAVID GALLAHER, art by STEVE ELLIS)

DEADLANDS, VOLUME ONE: DEAD MAN’S HAND: “The Devil’s Six Gun” (Written by DAVID GALLAHER, art by STEVE ELLIS)

The majority of the collection compiles the original four issue run of Image Comics one-shots, beginning with “The Devil’s Six Gun” by the award-winning team of David Gallaher and Steve Ellis. The tale follows the life of scientific genius Copernicus Blackburne, a man driven to explore the unexplained. When the sewing machine repair shop he works for is given a military contract to develop new firearms, Copernicus creates and refines the protean pistol, the most accurate and deadliest weapon known to mankind. His efforts draw the attention of an American benefactor, Samuel Tygian, who commissions Copernicus to further refine his pistol, producing the ultimate weapon. As Blackburne immerses himself into his work, a series of unfortunate events robs him of his family, his home and… well, let’s just say that you should always read the fine print before signing any contract. Gallaher’s story is taut as a bowstring, while still adding little bits of personal information that allows the reader to develop an empathy toward the lead character, even as we follow his walk down the path to destruction; Ellis’ artwork is intricate and filled with a life that very few of today’s comic artists are capable of producing. The story sets the tone nicely for what’s still to come.

DEADLANDS, VOLUME ONE: DEAD MAN'S HAND: "Massacre At Red Wing" (Written by JIMMY PALMIOTTI and JUSTIN GRAY, art by LEE MODER and MICHAEL ATIYEH)

DEADLANDS, VOLUME ONE: DEAD MAN’S HAND: “Massacre At Red Wing” (Written by JIMMY PALMIOTTI and JUSTIN GRAY, art by LEE MODER and MICHAEL ATIYEH)

Massacre At Red Wing,” written by long-time Jonah Hex scribes Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, is a story about a girl and her dog. The young woman’s path finds her seeking her past and fulfilling her destiny; Clementime is searching for her mother, an Indian woman, who thinks that her baby daughter was put to death by her rapist, a white man who may have more than a touch of demon blood coursing through his veins. Having gained certain information that may lead her to her mother, Clementime is traveling to a small town called Red Wing. Along the way, she comes across a community beset by demons. She considers leaving demon and human alike to their own fates, but decides to intercede, using her mystical powers to defeat the demons and, with her dog’s help, gain additional knowledge as to the whereabouts of her mother. Once she reaches Red Wing, the story reverts to a rather standard tale of rescue and revenge. In this case, though, “standard” doesn’t mean bad or even particularly predictable… the title pretty much tells you where this story’s going; it’s just a well-used plot in the Western genre, whether in comics, movies, literature or any other medium. For the most part, the story is character driven, with some fairly graphic violence tossed in just to remind the reader what kind of book they’re reading. The art by Lee Moder (with colorist Michael Atiyeh working with a palette that’s far brighter and more inviting than most would use for such a tale) is very much in the style of the great Gil Kane, with beautifully rendered figures and graceful action sequences. “Massacre At Red Wing” is one of the most visually stunning pieces of comics work you’re likely to see.

DEADLANDS, VOLUME ONE: DEAD MAN'S HAND: "Death Was Silent" (Written by RON MARZ, art by BART SEARS and MICHAEL ATIYEH)

DEADLANDS, VOLUME ONE: DEAD MAN’S HAND: “Death Was Silent” (Written by RON MARZ, art by BART SEARS and MICHAEL ATIYEH)

The gritty, atmospheric “Death Was Silent” is an Old West take on the whole INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS scenario. Hoyt Cooper arrives in town on a bleak, rainy day, a body draped over his saddle. Cooper, whose tongue was cut out by “savages,” wears a slate board on his chest. The board has had a spell cast on it, allowing Cooper to “speak”; whatever he thinks, appears on the board. The slate announces that Cooper has shown up to kill everyone in the town, which is completely infected by an alien being. With a little help from an unexpected source, Cooper goes about ridding the earth of the alien mother and her offspring in a brutal display of violence. Series editor, Ron Marz’s story has everything that you could ask for in a western yarn laced with science-fiction elements and just a touch of voodoo; the artwork, by Bart Sears, matches the feel of the script perfectly… dark and moody. Atiyeh is back, using much harsher colors… drab and dreary, evoking the gloomy atmosphere of an inhabited town, as well as the weather conditions the story takes place in. Of all of the stories in DEAD MAN’S HAND, this one comes closest to the feel of those early Jonah Hex tales.

DEADLANDS, VOLUME ONE: DEAD MAN'S HAND: "Black Water" (Written by JEFF MARIOTTE, art by BROOK TURNER and C EDWARD SELLNER)

DEADLANDS, VOLUME ONE: DEAD MAN’S HAND: “Black Water” (Written by JEFF MARIOTTE, art by BROOK TURNER and C EDWARD SELLNER)

Black Water” is a tale of greed, lust and revenge, with equal parts Greek mythology, Scottish lore, ancient Chinese curses, TREASURE ISLAND, THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT and THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE. Harmon Rappaport, a rich and ruthless man, has been on a quest to find a woman he saw only once (and that, after being hit with a musket ball during the Civil War); after a visit to a spiritualist, where he learns that the woman is dead, Rappaport plans a voyage to the mystical maze of Shan Fen, where the seer says the woman can be found. The siren call of the woman leads Rappaport, his body guard Ian Fairfax and a gunslinger and self-professed “guide” named Lyle Crumbfine set out on a paddle steamer heading downstream, in search of the maze; also along for the ride are the vessel’s captain and several other interesting passengers. Three nights into the trip, the boat is destroyed by a waterspout, leaving the passengers to struggle toward the beach and safety. What lies ahead is an exciting journey of sea monsters, ambushes, death and revenge. Jeff Mariotte weaves a suspenseful yarn, exploring the extent and the deprivations that one man will go to acquire the one thing he cannot have; Brook Turner’s intricate art shows the influences of some of the legends of the field, including – most evident – Neal Adams, Joe Kubert and Rich Buckler. Visionary Comics honcho C Edward Sellner’s deft hand and astute eye turns in a brilliant color job.

DEADLANDS, VOLUME ONE: DEAD MAN'S HAND: "What a Man's Got To Do" (Written by MATTHEW CUTTER, art by ULISES ROMAN and DOUG SPENCER); "Vengeful" (Written by SHANE HENSLEY, art by SEAN LEE, MIKE MUNSHAW and C EDWARD SELLNER)

DEADLANDS, VOLUME ONE: DEAD MAN’S HAND: “What a Man’s Got To Do” (Written by MATTHEW CUTTER, art by ULISES ROMAN and DOUG SPENCER); “Vengeful” (Written by SHANE HENSLEY, art by SEAN LEE, MIKE MUNSHAW and C EDWARD SELLNER)

One of two new stories to this edition is called “What a Man’s Got To Do.” Written by DEADLANDS brand manager, Matthew Cutter, and illustrated by Ulises Roman (with colors by Doug Spencer), the short piece delves into Indian mysticism and spirit animals, as Lucas Pitt joins a posse that is, ultimately, massacred by the outlaws they were hunting. With Pitt, the only survivor, on the run from the villains, he and they quickly discover that Lucas is a completely different… animal when he’s sleeping. DEADLANDS creator Shane Hensley supplies the script for the other new story, “Vengeful.” A marshal’s idyllic retirement is shattered by an escaped convict, intent on exacting revenge on the marshal and his wife. As the outlaw and his gang sets fire to the couple’s home, leaving the bodies to rot, we are quickly reminded that, sometimes, even a righteous soul can want vengeance. The art, provided by penciller Sean Lee, inker Mike Munshaw and colorist Sellner, is spacious, befitting the wide-open land it depicts. Other unique bonus features include a roleplaying supplement for the DEADLANDS RELOADED game, character concept sketches from Steve Ellis, Lee Moder and Brook Turner and a preview of the first DEADLANDS novel, GHOSTWALKERS, written by Jonathan Maberry and due from Tor Books this fall. Whether you’re into the RPG or not, whether you’re into weird western comics or not, you are still going to love the storytelling and the magnificent art of DEAD MAN’S HAND… don’t miss out.