IN SEARCH OF THE COSMIC SNAUSAGE: THE GREG MCCRARY INTERVIEW

PART ONE: AN INTRODUCTION (OR, HOW THIS THING ACTUALLY CAME ABOUT)

Greg McCrary creates a unique piece for a fan (uncredited photo)

Greg McCrary creates a unique piece for a fan (uncredited photo)

Sometime after Jeremy and I launched the Mule, we wandered into Star Clipper, a great little comics shop in the Delmar Loop in the University City area of Saint Louis. As fate would have it, there were several members of the creative consortium called Ink and Drink plying their wares out front, as was their wont at least one Saturday a month. We left them our contact info and… didn’t hear anything from them. Fast forward to late December, 2014 and another visit to the Clipper. This time, the sole representative of the comics guys was Greg McCrary, creator, writer and artist of the wildly insane LASER DOG. I cornered him (actually, I walked up to his table and introduced myself) and told him that we were interested in doing a piece on the local scene. He was stoked… I was stoked and, after a couple of small bumps in the road (from both of us), we decided that e-mailing our questions and answers would be the quickest, most efficient way to introduce you to the creative side of the Saint Louis comic book scene. Somewhere in there, Greg mentions that he’ll sell you a copy of LASER DOG if you see him on the street; that’s true. In fact, he’ll draw an entire LASER DOG strip on your arm if you ask him to… that’s how much he loves to draw and create. Ya gotta like a guy like that. Oh, and in case you were wondering, the other guys of Ink and Drink are insanely talented, too. You can check ’em out here: inkanddrinkcomics.com.

PART TWO: THE INTERVIEW (OR, THE RESULTS OF PART ONE)

An original Laser Dog piece (art by GREG MCCRARY)

An original Laser Dog piece (art by GREG MCCRARY)

THE MULE: LASER DOG is like a sci-fi free for all – a little loopy, with a bizarre sense of humor, and yet, there’s plenty there to make you think… little social commentaries rolled into the story and art. Where did the idea for LASER DOG come from?

GREG: The very idea of Laser Dog manifested itself while I was at work. I used to work at Six Flags, drawing caricatures and, during the later years, my time there was quite mind numbing, boring. On one particular day, my co-worker, a very talented artist, Harrison Weathers, was requested by a patron of the park to draw a caricature of her dog from her phone. So, Harry does so and when he was finished, the lady very much enjoyed the picture and paid and left happily. When she left, I turned to Harry and told him, “that drawing was terrible… ” Which he replied, “Yeah, I know. I’m going to try that again.” As he was beginning to draw his second attempt of a caricature dog, it was pretty much turning out to look exactly the same as the first drawing. Harry noticed this as well and gave up prematurely before filling in the eyes. When I saw the empty void in the drawing of that dog’s eyes, it hit me like a kick in the nuts. “It looks like lasers should be coming out of those eyes,” I proclaimed out loud. And, from there, my body took over and colored what has come to be known as LASER DOG. The other co-workers and I were instantly obsessed and we all relentlessly began to draw and write our very own stories of Laser Dog. However, I was the only one out of all of us who was dedicated/insane enough to follow through and make a comic about our obsession, created out of our maddening boredom. (That was very long… sorry.)

THE MULE: Were you one of those kids in school? The one that was always getting in trouble for doodling and drawing and making fart noises to make the other kids laugh?

GREG: I actually don’t recall being that disruptive or getting in that much trouble during my elementary and high school years. Although, I don’t think my teachers were entertained by the idea of me doodling during their lectures. But, I felt that I actually focused more while I was drawing and I listen better, believe it or not. But, I was definitely the wise cracking rascal out of the group and I still do make a fool of myself and love to hear people laugh at my expense.

LASER DOG, ISSUE ONE (cover art by GREG MCCRARY)

LASER DOG, ISSUE ONE (cover art by GREG MCCRARY)

THE MULE: Okay… here’s the major question: What breed of pooch is the cosmic hound? I’m getting the scent of a pekingese or, maybe, a bichon frise.

GREG: Well, Laser Dog is Everything. And yet, he is Nothing. So, I always say that he is Every Breed of Dog. And yet, he is No Breed of Dog (pretty much any question about Laser Dog can be answered through this motto).

THE MULE: You self-publish LASER DOG. What types of obstacles have you encountered with that DIY approach, if any? Conversely, what advantages are there to publishing the book yourself?

GREG: I think the biggest obstacle you face as an indie comic is the budget. I’m responsible for paying for everything so, unfortunately, I can’t print as many as I or the consumer may want. But as far as the benefits, there’s not much pressure. No “real” deadlines and I get the final say. Although, not putting deadlines on your project could also leave you to some serious procrastination.

LASER DOG, ISSUE ONE (page 7, by GREG MCCRARY)

LASER DOG, ISSUE ONE (page 7, by GREG MCCRARY)

THE MULE: There is so much happening in your layouts and art. I was concerned that the digest size may not do your work justice. However, after seeing the first issue digitally at webtoons.com, those scenes just seem to jump off the page… uh… the screen. In a perfect world, what medium does Greg McCrary feels best suits the free-wheeling style of LASER DOG?

GREG: I always imagined it as a comic, but honestly Laser Dog is very versatile. I can see it in any medium: web comic, animation, live action movie/TV show, whatever. And I encourage anyone who wants to see that happen to go ahead and do it. Laser Dog is a free marked; anyone is encouraged to make their own comic, oil painting or marble bust for Lasy-D. Laser Dog is like life, you can’t own it or take possession of him. You can only participate with Laser Dog and I welcome anyone to do so.

LASER DOG, ISSUE ONE (page 14, by GREG MCCRARY)

LASER DOG, ISSUE ONE (page 14, by GREG MCCRARY)

THE MULE: The covers are amazing pieces of art, as well. How do you feel about coloring the inner pages? Do you prefer leaving the inside of the books black and white?

GREG: Well, once again, this goes with budgeting mainly. It just makes more sense that I do black and white because it’s the cheapest and most affordable. I can see LASER DOG benefiting in color; however, black and white is all I can afford. But I love gray-scaling and working with black and white, so it doesn’t bother me too much. But, I can totally understand some people wanting some more visceral stimulation.

LASER DOG, ISSUE TWO (cover art by GREG MCCRARY)

LASER DOG, ISSUE TWO (cover art by GREG MCCRARY)

THE MULE: You’ve published two issues of LASER DOG and a third issue (the conclusion to the heart-stopping two-parter, “The Legion of Mullets”) is imminent. So, where does a fella pick up his very own copy of LASER DOG?

GREG: Well, you could have picked it up at Star Clipper. But, unfortunately, they’re going out of business, so you can only get a copy there before February 7th. I’ll find several locations to sell out of later this month, but you can order issue one or two on indyplanet.com and if you see me on the street, just holler at me and I’m sure I’ll have a copy for you.

LASER DOG, ISSUE ONE (page 22, by GREG MCCRARY)

LASER DOG, ISSUE ONE (page 22, by GREG MCCRARY)

THE MULE: Tell us a bit about your background and other projects. What drives Greg McCrary to do the things he does?

GREG: I graduated from Meramec Community College with an associate degree in Graphic Communications. I drew caricatures out at Six Flags for six years. I really honed my skills working out there, learning the art of exaggeration from a lot of great artists. So, a lot of my influences come from caricature artists: Joe Bluhm, Jeremy Townsend (aka Jert), Tomokazu Tabata. My earliest influence is Genndy Tartakovsky; DEXTER’S LAB definitely was a big deal in my childhood. But, later comic influence goes to SCUD; I love the character designs and the flow of the story and the paneling. But, as far as what drives me to draw, it’s nothing I can pin point. It’s almost as natural as breathing, I just need to do it (it’s more bordering on a curse or a compulsion). But I love drawing. I would die without my art.

LASER DOG, ISSUE ONE (page 23, by GREG MCCRARY)

LASER DOG, ISSUE ONE (page 23, by GREG MCCRARY)

THE MULE: There’s a small cadre of comic book creators in the Saint Louis area. Do you get together, like a support group, to work out ideas and collaborate on projects?

GREG: I’m a part of the group Ink and Drink. We get together and try to produce a comic twice a year. I sometimes get with friends and try to collaborate on a comic, either coloring or doing a cover or helping on backgrounds.

THE MULE: Aside from LASER DOG 3, what can we expect to see from you in the next few months?

GREG: I’m not sure if it will come in the months soon to come but, I’m working on two projects with a couple of friends that will hopefully be printed within the not too distant future. Marie Enger will be helping me out on a comic I’m making called SKITZO. It’s a POKE’MON clone type story, but it’s centered around schizophrenics who battle their illusions instead of creatures. And, I’m writing a story for my buddy, Michael Minter (aka Makuto) to draw. It’s called “Into the Dark.” It’s about a world of magic and three sorcerers that try to master the science that makes up the magic of that world.

LASER DOG, ISSUE ONE (page 24, by GREG MCCRARY)

LASER DOG, ISSUE ONE (page 24, by GREG MCCRARY)

THE MULE: Finally… what, exactly, is LASER DOG LIVE and where can one catch a performance of the same?

GREG: LASER DOG LIVE was an interpretive dance/show, based on the first issue of LASER DOG that my friend, Caitlin Hafer, put on in San Francisco. It was quite a show. Unfortunately, it was only a two night event. There are no plans for a World Wide Tour (at least, not yet). You can take a look at the performance on YouTube if you type in “Laser Dog Live” or, you can look it up on the Laser Dog Facebook page. I have it posted on the wall.

THE MULE: Thanks, Greg, for the peak inside your vast cranial cavity and for the insight into the world of LASER DOG.

GREG: Thanks for your interest in LASER DOG and… never forget: Laser Dog is everything. And yet, he is nothing…

LASER DOG, ISSUE ONE in-house ad (by GREG MCCRARY)

LASER DOG, ISSUE ONE in-house ad (by GREG MCCRARY)


EHMM THEORY, BOOK ONE

(Brockton McKinney/Larkin Ford/Jason Strutz; 129 pages; ACTION LAB COMICS, 2014 – collecting EHMM THEORY, issues 1-4, 2013)

EHMM THEORY, BOOK ONE

EHMM THEORY, BOOK ONE (from Action Lab’s Danger Zone imprint) collects the first story arc starring the recently murdered Gabriel Ehmm and his pet, a kitten named Mister Whispers, which died from starvation after Gabriel’s death. “Cat, Quantum and Contrition” starts, fittingly enough, in a cemetery filled with killer midget clowns, three days after Ehmm is shot by his jealous girlfriend. From there, the story starts to get weird. Gabriel – and by extension, Whispers – finds himself on a kinda existential journey of self-discovery involving talking animals (including the ball of gray fur sitting on Ehmm’s shoulder), murderous senior citizens, Saint Peter and his gas chamber teleportation device (except not really), deadly cyborg crustaceans, a team of oddball super heroes (who really aren’t), multiple realities and, of course, those knee-gnawing zombie midgets! In other words… What’s not to like?

EHMM THEORY, BOOK ONE: Issue 1 cover, page 18 (Written by BROCKTON MCKINNEY, art by LARKIN FORD and JASON STRUTZ)

EHMM THEORY, BOOK ONE: Issue 1 cover, page 18 (Written by BROCKTON MCKINNEY, art by LARKIN FORD and JASON STRUTZ)

After the brief introduction (which comes back around), writer Brockton McKinney brings things into focus where the whole thing started – Gabriel Ehmm’s origin story, if you like – as our intrepid hero returns home with a surprise for his girlfriend, Stacy; she, of course, has a surprise for him, too. Soon, Gabriel wakes up dead, with the adorable Mister Whispers sitting on his chest, asking “You okay, dude?” The befuddled pair are soon joined by a cigar-chomping Mafioso-looking guy, nattily dressed in white and sporting a well-trimmed white beard and perfectly quaffed and ponytailed white hair. Why would they question such a being when he introduces himself as God’s gatekeeper, Peter? Which brings us back to the beginning and the graveyard of tiny terrors. Gabe and Whispers are overpowered by the zombie horde and saved by an ax-wielding senior citizen, a woman named Alyona Tarasov who knew Gabe’s birth father and, so… the ride of Gabriel Ehmm’s young unlife is about to begin. A quick note about Larkin Ford’s artwork (and the besutiful color work by Jason Strutz) is necessary here: It is absolutely mesmerizing, especially the cemetery sequences and the murder sequence. This initial chapter (the first issue of the series) can be a bit confusing, with enough twists and turns to make your head spin but, with a promise that all eventually will be made clear, we move forward.

EHMM THEORY, BOOK ONE: Issue 2 cover, page 11 (Written by BROCKTON MCKINNEY, art by LARKIN FORD and JASON STRUTZ)

EHMM THEORY, BOOK ONE: Issue 2 cover, page 11 (Written by BROCKTON MCKINNEY, art by LARKIN FORD and JASON STRUTZ)

And, indeed, as chapter two opens, we find Gabe, Whispers and Alyona on the road, seeking the father he never knew, as the old Russian explains her relationship with Aaron Ehmm and why she didn’t bat an eye at the dead talking cat. It seems that she and her sister, Dominika, first met Aaron at college in 1982, where the brilliant young Ehmm was turning the heads of students and faculty, alike. A professor’s tale of a talking rabbit he encountered at the South Pole began to consume the elder Ehmm. Before Alyona could continue her story, the car is set upon by a giant, cybernetically-enhanced crab in another well-drawn sequence. The action comes fast and furious as, with the Russian being poorly over-matched, GODD shows up. Wait… who? The Guardians of Dimensional Defense, three super-powered beings and a pair of intelligent robots: Mindwolf, the team leader, who introduces GODD as “the good guys; the Thermal Ghost, a being of blue flame; Alchemist, who looks like a shabby, shaggy mummy; the Emp, a foul-mouthed, smart-aleck little robot, who’s kind of a cross between HERBIE (from those crappy old FANTASTIC FOUR cartoons) and Skeets (from the not-crappy BOOSTER GOLD comics), who has a serious problem with Mister Whispers (there’s a wicked funny exchange between the two); and an impressive looking female ‘bot called TAMMI (which stands for Technologically Advanced Mechanized Military Instrument). While Gabe and Whispers are dutifully impressed and more than ready to accept the team’s help, Alyona isn’t so easily swayed and pretty much tells ’em to take a hike. The final two pages of this chapter reintroduces “Saint Peter” and the true villain of the piece… ah, but that would be telling, wouldn’t it? McKinney, aside from writing a really great fight scene, has begun to unravel the plot twists with more answers promised for the third installment.

EHMM THEORY, BOOK ONE: Issue 3 cover, page 12 (Written by BROCKTON MCKINNEY, art by LARKIN FORD and JASON STRUTZ)

EHMM THEORY, BOOK ONE: Issue 3 cover, page 12 (Written by BROCKTON MCKINNEY, art by LARKIN FORD and JASON STRUTZ)

That third installment starts with another beautifully rendered sequence, as Alyona relates more of the story: Aaron, Professor Lanny Crowell (who had seen the rabbit at the South Pole), Dominika and she had traveled to the Pole in search of a possible reason for the talking bunny. What they found was a dimensional anomaly… a portal to other worlds and other realities. Again, the story is interrupted, though not in a fashion as dramatic as a cyborg crab and a super-powered dust-up. The trio has arrived at their destination: Jon Kaye Town Hospital, where an old friend of Ehmm the elder currently resides. Spoiler alert: Tym isn’t the drooling husk in the wheelchair. So, Tym joins the group on their journey and relates more of the story, with more talking critters and the introduction of Gabe’s mother, the Princess Emera, from an alternate dimension… the very dimension the portal chose to spit Aaron into. Tym’s story ended, the four arrive at the last known residence of Aaron Ehmm, where Gabe has a total meltdown at the prospect of seeing his father for the first time. From here, things are brought into clearer focus as the good guys begin to separate themselves from the bad guys, with the unexpected return of Gabe’s girlfriend, Stacy (who has, by this time, gained an “e” to become Stacey), and another wicked fight sequence between GODD and Alyona and Tym, ending in what, I suppose, would be called a “double betrayal.” Another well-written, beautifully rendered installment ends with an exploding door, an injured Alyona and a shotgun wielding Aaron Ehmm.

EHMM THEORY, BOOK ONE: Issue 4 cover, page 12 (Written by BROCKTON MCKINNEY, art by LARKIN FORD and JASON STRUTZ)

EHMM THEORY, BOOK ONE: Issue 4 cover, page 12 (Written by BROCKTON MCKINNEY, art by LARKIN FORD and JASON STRUTZ)

So, the fourth and final installment (issue four, if you’re counting) isn’t the action-packed throw down that you would expect… not to say that there isn’t an action-packed throw down, there is and, all you really need to know is this: “Robeartopus!” It is every bit as mammoth and weird as it sounds. There is plenty of exposition, explaining the whys and how-fors of everything that has happened and is happening. But, even so, you will find yourself so engrossed in the story and art that you’re really not even aware that every third panel isn’t some scene of carnage and mayhem. This issue is so densely written, with everything explained (while also setting up the next story arc), that I really can’t reveal much without spoiling the end of one of the most adventurous story-lines in comics history. Yeah, yeah, yeah… I know… hyperbole much? Well, boys and girls, I suggest you pick up this collection and decide for yourselves. Now… here’s the one problem with EHMM THEORY, BOOK ONE: The story and art are exemplary but, for some reason that eludes me, EVERY page from the original single issues is included here. That means that at the end of each installment, there are pages of in-house advertisements for then-upcoming Action Lab releases, including the next issue of EHMM THEORY (a total of at least 12 pages over-all). A minor complaint, but one that really seems to annoy me with all of the company’s collections. Both physical and digital copies are available at the Action Lab site, at ComiXology or, even cooler yet, visit your local comic shop.


BOO! 2014 HOLIDAY SPECIAL

(Various Writers and Artists; 41 pages, digital; MONKEYBRAIN COMICS, 2014)

BOO! 2014 HOLIDAY SPECIAL

The goofy anthology BOO! premiered in October 2013 as a four issue limited series, featuring stories populated by the usual monsters, zombies, vampires, ghosts and ghouls in classic EC Comics horror twist ending fashion… well, more like a MAD! magazine version of its bigger, scarier EC brothers. The title returned this past Halloween, as a one-shot and, now, because that Claus dude is so scary, BOO! is back with seven new Christmas-themed tales of the ookey, hidden behind a R Crumb worthy cover by Jon Morris.

BOO! 2014 HOLIDAY SPECIAL: "Humbug" (by KELLY TINDALL); "The Case of the Curious Claus" (written by DYLAN TODD, art by MATT DIGGES and PETE TOMS)

BOO! 2014 HOLIDAY SPECIAL: “Humbug” (by KELLY TINDALL); “The Case of the Curious Claus” (written by DYLAN TODD, art by MATT DIGGES and PETE TOMS)

Kelly Tindall’s “Humbug,” as the name implies, is a modern day version, a cynical update of “A Christmas Carol,” one of the most loved Christmas redemption stories of all time. The artwork’s a bit rough around the edges, but the story and the “shock” ending more than make up for any shortcomings in the art department. “The Case of the Curious Claus” is a take-off on SCOOBY DOO, WHERE ARE YOU? featuring a group of youngsters called the Creep Crew. The lighthearted script (by Dylan Todd) has an underlying message about the loneliness that many people (in this case, a young girl at a childrens home) experience during the holiday season and the predators who prey on the lonely. As one would expect, the jolly elf ain’t so jolly and… well… he ain’t so elfy either. Matthew Digges and Pete Toms team up for a passable job on the art.

BOO! 2014 HOLIDAY SPECIAL: "Up On the Housetop" (by JORDAN WITT); "Claus" (by MATT SMIGEL); "Secret Santa" (written by RJ WHITE, art by MANNING KRULL)

BOO! 2014 HOLIDAY SPECIAL: “Up On the Housetop” (by JORDAN WITT); “Claus” (by MATT SMIGEL); “Secret Santa” (written by RJ WHITE, art by MANNING KRULL)

Jordan Witt’s story and art blend nicely to deliver a tale about a Bear in the woods and a young woman alone on Christmas Eve when, “Up On the Housetop,” click, click, click! Which, of course, could mean only one thing: There’s something evil up on the roof! This story is probably my favorite of the seven on display here. “Claus,” by Matt Smigel, is a weird, wonderful ode to a dark lord and a woman scorned. Smigel’s art has a tripped out, REN AND STIMPY quality that is not unappealing in its own way; the story mixes the same whacked-out kinda cartoon vibe with just the right touch of Lovecraftian lore. After reading this one, you can’t help but feel the holiday love and cheer. “Secret Santa” (story and art by RJ White and Manning Krull, respectively) takes the classic Universal Monsters and turns them on their heads. The ultimately heartwarming tale also features cameos by Jack Skellington from THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS and ol’ Kris Kringle himself.

BOO! 2014 HOLIDAY SPECIAL: "The Yule Log" (written by KARLA PACHECO, art by SEAN POPPE); "Forget Me Not" (by SCOTT FAULKNER)

BOO! 2014 HOLIDAY SPECIAL: “The Yule Log” (written by KARLA PACHECO, art by SEAN POPPE); “Forget Me Not” (by SCOTT FAULKNER)

Karla Pacheco’s “The Yule Log” explores the pagan celebration of the winter solstice and how we good Christians commandeered the festival to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior. The manic artwork of Sean Poppe definitely conveys the brutality and the excesses of the early church. The story is absolutely the most horrifying of the lot because… it’s history; it forces each of us to look within ourselves and not allow our zealousness (for whatever) to override the real message: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” “Forget Me Not” is a disturbing science fiction story of an all-consuming space virus. Scott Faulkner’s story is well-paced, his simple pen and ink art (embellished with cool green washes) moves the narrative along nicely. Even though the ending isn’t necessarily unexpected, it is disturbing nonetheless. Okay, after Halloween and Christmas editions of this thoroughly enjoyable anthology book, what’s next? I mean, I wouldn’t mind a Groundhog Day special… April Fool’s Day… Arbor Day… hey, who says you gotta wait for a special holiday at all? I would seriously love to see what sort of non-holiday stories these people can come up with.


AFTERMATH

(IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT/EASTLAKE FILMS/LIGHTWAVE ENTERTAINMENT (92 minutes/Unrated); produced 2012, released 2014)

AFTERMATH

While not perfect, AFTERMATH is still a brilliant examination of the human condition, a world teetering on the brink of elimination. This is more than just another apocalyptic zombie movie, it’s a character study of nine disparate souls, brought together after a well-orchestrated terrorist attack levels every major city, military installation and government facility in the United States; the attacks also target the USA’s allies and, of course, there are retaliatory strikes, leaving the entire planet a cesspool of nuclear destruction and fallout. As with any good tale of the apocalypse, things start as they should… at the end. Things very quickly move to “One month earlier,” where we meet a doctor named Hunter (played by CJ Thomason, we never really know if it’s his first or last name), on a walking tour somewhere in Texas. The first blast hits just as he meets a vehicle with a young woman (Christine Kelly) and her young charge (brother, student, baby-sittee?).

AFTERMATH (Edward Furlong; CJ Thomason; Ross Britz) (photo credit: SCOTT WINIG)

AFTERMATH (Edward Furlong; CJ Thomason; Ross Britz) (photo credit: SCOTT WINIG)

There’s plenty of science to go along with the (very realistic) fiction, as the car dies because all of the electronic components are fried and, as the second blast occurs, the boy turns toward it and basically burns out his retinas. Hunter quickly rallies the troops as the search begins for, first, a vehicle with a diesel engine, then, supplies and a place to wait out the radiation and nuclear fallout; the doctor says that the refugees have approximately ten hours before the radiation settles. Along the way, they pick up another traveler (Monica Keena) and, four hours in, are greeted by a frightened youth with a very big gun. Hunter is shot before he can convey the urgency of the situation.

AFTERMATH (Monica Keena and Andre Royo) (photo credit: SCOTT WINIG)

AFTERMATH (Monica Keena and Andre Royo) (photo credit: SCOTT WINIG)

Just at the ten hour mark, the quartet comes upon a house, knowing that this must be the place they wait out the devastation. Again, Hunter is met with resistance, another gun in his face. The outcome involvesfar less blood, as the doc disarms the would-be killer. We soon find that Brad (Edward Furlong in a brilliantly unhinged role) and his pregnant wife (Jessie Rusu) are at the house of their neighbor, Jonathan (Ross Britz) and his diabetic uncle, for the same reason that Hunter and the others stopped: It’s the only house for miles around with a cellar. More science as Hunter tells the others what they need in the cellar and what they can expect to happen before they can leave the shelter of their new home, a period of at least 30 days.

AFTERMATH (Christine Kelly) (photo credit: SCOTT WINIG)

AFTERMATH (Christine Kelly) (photo credit: SCOTT WINIG)

As the characters wait for the fallout to dissipate, a very real sense of claustrophobia sets in (for the characters and audience, alike) and we – to paraphrase THE REAL WORLD – find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real. By this time, the film has taken on a cinema verite aspect, a la THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, to great effect. The final member of the “family,” a friend of Jonathan named Rob (Andre Royo) makes his way to the house to check on his comic-reading and role-playingbuddy, only to be shot in the wrist. The pair share a few moments that are quite poignant, including Rob volunteering to go outside to bury the uncle and, later, the two discussing which Green Lantern is the best, ending the discussion with the Lantern’s oath. Jonathan and Rob aren’t the only ones with those emotional, human moments, though. Everyone is devastated by the death of the uncle, the first of their group to go; Brad, in particular, is riding a roller coaster of emotions, worrying about his wife and unborn child.

AFTERMATH: infected (photo credit: SCOTT WINIG)

AFTERMATH: infected (photo credit: SCOTT WINIG)

Having never been in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, I can’t say for sure, but the emotions and circumstances seem impressively real… which, of course, was the intent of writer Christian McDonald and director Peter Engert. AFTERMATH (which was originally titled REMNANTS) may not be a primer to prepare you for a nuclear holocaust, but it does make you think about how close we are on any given day to this kind of annihilation. Obviously, not everyone in the cellar survives and, the final BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID fight-to-freedom scenario against what appears to be an infectedfamily of homicidal lunatics (or, maybe, they’re a motorcycle gang who are only interested in how much damage they can inflict on others) really tells the story of man’s desire for survival against any odds. There aren’t a lot of zombies here (in fact, Hunter refers to them as being “infected” by the radiation and fallout), just nuclear-charged emotions. And, for me, that’s more than enough to recommend this flick.


COMIC BOOK FIRSTS: VAMPIRELLA

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

Vampirella 1 cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


FROM A DARK PLACE: THE PAUL HOUGH INTERVIEW

PART 1: AN INTRODUCTION

The Human Race

The son of director John Hough, Paul Hough, like his father, has a rather dark palette from which he works. This rather frightening visionary focus has given life to some of the most depressing (and bloodiest) world views in the past decade plus. From the plight of a suicidal amputee in the music video, “The Enemy,” by Fozzy to the brutal reality of extreme backyard wrestling in THE BACKYARD to the new movie, THE HUMAN RACE, Paul has taken the universal themes of suffering and man’s inhumanity to man to new heights. Yet, in all of this pain and misery (and exploding heads), there is a subtle beauty that focuses on some of the more enjoyable aspects of the human condition. These aspects – unquestioning friendship, love, hope, belief in a higher calling, religion in all of its varying forms (Muslim, Christian, et cetera) – tend to make the grotesquerie more palatable… even enjoyable.

The school, the house, and the prison are safe. Follow the arrows, or you will die. Stay on the path, or you will die. If you are lapped twice, you will die. Do not touch the grass, or you will die. Race… or die.” That is the startlingly simple premise of THE HUMAN RACE. Eighty people, all who were unlucky enough to be occupying the same city block, are struck by a blinding white light (was it God? A priest, who is seen offering comfort to a homeless – junkie? – woman believes that they are in Purgatory) and transported to an undisclosed area and given the instructions above. Through two flashback vignettes, we meet three of the 80, survivors of their own personal hells: Veronica (Brianna Lauren Jackson), a young woman who has lost her family to a particularly aggressive form of cancer only to find out that she, too, has been stricken. She curses God for his cruelty. Flash forward to her doctor’s office where Veronica is told that her cancer is in total remission. She looks to the heavens and gives thanks, only to find herself a part of this macabre race; Eddie and Justin (Eddie McGee and Paul McCarthy-Boyington), two soldiers who meet for the first time on an Afghan field of battle. Eddie has, basically, been blown apart, his left leg is gone and Justin is determined to save him. Justin drags Eddie into a cave and using his own body, covers him to keep him warm until they can be rescued. Back in civilian life, they both work with underprivileged or disabled youth. Other “racers” include a pair of deaf friends (Trista Robinson and T Arthur Cottam), a Tour de France bicyclist (played by Cinderella drummer Fred Coury), a pregnant woman, the priest and homeless woman mentioned earlier, a Korean War (?) Marine vet with a walker, three vicious BEAVIS AND BUTTHEAD types, a self-absorbed, Better-Than-Thou yuppie type, a young girl and her little brother… in other words, people from every walk of life, representing every facet of the social, racial, political and religious spectrum. Any more information than what I’ve already given would ruin the movie for you; let’s just say that, “THE HUMAN RACE takes more twists and turns than I thought possible for a film of this kind, especially one that runs less than 90 minutes.” The plot, script, acting and visuals all work together perfectly to present a stunningly moving look at the foibles and fallacies that make up the human condition. The following interview with writer/director/producer Paul Hough offers insights into his career, his journey to make this movie and the film itself.

PART 2: AN INTERVIEW

Director Paul Hough (uncredited photo)

Director Paul Hough (uncredited photo)

THE MULE: Hey, Paul, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions about your new project.

PAUL: You’re welcome, Darren, it’s a pleasure.

THE MULE: So, let’s start at the beginning. Your father is famed director, John Hough, who had a penchant for the gruesomely horrible… maybe the only person to ever work for both the legendary Hammer Studios and Disney. How has his work influenced you, particularly in the making of this brutal new film, THE HUMAN RACE?

PAUL: My dad has a career that doesn’t focus on one particular genre but got those Disney films because of the horror movies he made. Disney wanted someone who could bring something dark to Disney. He taught me early on to make sure I said something when making a film, to have a point of view. Not necessarily overtly but to bring something that was me to it. He taught me also to try and make everything as interesting as possible when shooting and taught me how to cover things from the best and most unique angles.

THE MULE: This isn’t – so to speak – your first rodeo, but it is your first feature length, scripted endeavor. Can you give us the breakdown of your short films and the extreme wrestling documentary, THE BACKYARD?

PAUL: I did a short called THE ANGEL, which can be found on YouTube with Eddie McGee and Celine Tien (both from THE HUMAN RACE) and did a music video, also with Eddie, for Chris Jericho’s band, Fozzy (called “Enemy” – also online). In that, you can see quick glimpses of Fred Coury and Luke Y Thompson, who also appear in THE HUMAN RACE. I met Luke after he wrote a good review of THE BACKYARD (he is a film critic, currently working for THE VILLAGE VOICE). THE BACKYARD was about kids who wrestle in their backyards, using weapons such as barbed-wire baseball bats, staple guns and nails. The documentary focused also on their parents, who were more than often supportive and were high school teachers, principals, doctors and nurses.

THE BACKYARD poster

THE BACKYARD poster

THE MULE: THE BACKYARD is every bit as violent and as bloody as THE HUMAN RACE, but everything was real. Did that make things harder for you, knowing that these guys were really hurting themselves and each other? Did their brutality, in any way, affect the way you approached THE HUMAN RACE?

PAUL: It didn’t really make it hard because I wasn’t the one getting hurt. And they were going to be doing this whether I was there or not. While I was shocked at a lot of what I saw, I found it an amazing sub-culture which I enjoyed being immersed in. There was an incident in Modesto which was scary because these really tough guys (presumably from a gang) had seen some of the kids fighting in the street and lighting each other on fire – and were super unhappy about it. It was very unexpected and there was a lot of tension. I thought it could have got really ugly – but, luckily didn’t. And there was another incident in England, where a 15 year old blades and cuts himself with a razor blade. He wouldn’t stop bleeding as I’m doing the interview and it was hard then, as to whether I should keep filming – but I did, since there were other adults off-camera who attended to the situation. It’s funny – in THE HUMAN RACE, there is a lot of blood. And in THE BACKYARD there was a lot of blood. And the reality is, when I see someone bleed, it makes me ill. I hate the sight of blood in real life. But I was comfortable with the blood in THE HUMAN RACE because I knew it was movie blood, and comfortable with the blood in THE BACKYARD because it, too, seemed like movie blood to me because I was watching it from behind a camera.

THE MULE: You wear many hats for this project: Producer, director, writer… I understand that you even had a hand in the visual effects end of things. Do you have a favorite part of the creative process? How does writing for yourself differ from writing a script for another producer or director?

PAUL: I wore many hats out of necessity – not out of desire. If I had my choice, I would only direct. Maybe write and direct – but my main focus is on taking a compelling story and making it happen on camera. Unfortunately, due to circumstances, I had to produce this, edit this, do FX for this. I had to write something that was practical enough for me to shoot. When writing for someone else or for a budget, I think you have more freedom.

THE HUMAN RACE (Brianna Lauren Jackson) (publicity still)

THE HUMAN RACE (Brianna Lauren Jackson) (publicity still)

THE MULE: The title of the movie works on – at least – three different levels. The first two are quite obvious from the beginning; the third is revealed in the final 15 or 20 minutes of the film, with a twist ending that kicked the whole thing up a notch for me. Without giving anything away, when you came up with the idea, did you start with one level and find that the others played well into what you wanted to say, or was it a simple case of coming up with a great play on words for the title and working from there?

PAUL: I started with the ending of the movie before anything else – and the knowledge that I wanted Eddie McGee in it. I think the idea of running then came next since I love to torture Eddie in everything we do together – and what better than to put him (a guy with one leg) into a marathon-type race. The title of the movie came then, as I was writing other aspects of the movie and just fit perfectly.

THE MULE: Aside from the obvious horror/sci-fi aspects of the film, there are also several underlying themes that are woven into the fabric of THE HUMAN RACE: Religion is a big one; racial and economic divides; sex, I guess, is unavoidable in any circumstance. Was the purpose of introducing these themes to draw the audience away from the larger theme, allowing for a greater impact at the end of the movie?

PAUL: A lot of the movie is from the characters’ points of views and you don’t really know where you are – along with them. They are people from all walks of life who express their different views. Certainly, because of the blinding white light it gave a path to introduce Christianity. Once I had that in – I wanted somewhat balance by introducing a Muslim. Overall, however, all of these themes and the conflict of these themes is both a reflection and representation of the human race and the struggles it has with itself.

Side note: one of my favorite critical reviews of the movie is this one: www.myhorribleidea.com/the-human-race-2013

THE HUMAN RACE (Gabriel Cullen) (publicity still)

THE HUMAN RACE (Gabriel Cullen) (publicity still)

THE MULE: Making this movie was a very slow process. Can you take us through the various stages and give us a little insight into why it took so long to complete?

PAUL: It took over four years to make. We started to shoot for seven days, then stopped due to lack of money. A few months later, I saved up some more money, so we could shoot for two more days. Then we’d shut down again until I could raise more money – so months would go by until we could shoot for a few more days. I’d never recommend to someone they shoot a movie this way but… it was the only way I could get this movie done.

THE MULE: Given the time lapses between shooting, was it hard for you to maintain continuity? Most of the cast are adults, which may cause some small problems (weight change and the like), but there are two children who play small but important roles. How did you handle those growth spurts and physical changes that kids go through?

PAUL: The kids’ stuff wasn’t a problem at all – all of their stuff was shot at the same time. But otherwise, it was difficult, but I made all the actors responsible for their own continuity. There is one scene, however, that I had to shoot before I lost a location and Eddie’s hair was super short compared to the rest of the movie, so I had to shoot it from a super low angle just to disguise his haircut. It’s weird having to make choices like that – but when you’re making a movie you can’t anticipate or plan everything and have to adapt as you go along.

THE MULE: The set-up for the first death was ingenious. It was one of many unexpected swerves throughout the movie. It was so unexpected that I have to ask: Was it planned from the start or did other factors – scheduling and budget issues, perhaps – cause a change in direction?

PAUL: No, this was planned. I wanted a character that you really like – and then kill her off – in the same way Hitchcock killed off Janet Leigh in PSYCHO.

THE MULE: Obviously, with 80 people forced to participate in this “event,” you couldn’t possibly flesh out the character of each and every one but, the several that were more than just extras all seemingly had a back story, allowing the audience to identify each with a label: Hero, Villain, Victim. How did your vision of each main character play into the casting? Did any one audition cause you to rethink any of those roles and adjust the script accordingly?

PAUL: One of my favorite characters in the original script was a huge guy called the Blob. I just couldn’t find someone large enough for this role – and then when I did find an actor who was close – right before filming, he (inexplicably for the movie) went on a diet and… didn’t look like a Blob anymore. His part then got cut from the movie when he no showed on a particular day. That was incredibly frustrating but, again, is something I just had to deal with. I wrote the movie around a lot of actors I actually already knew and some were friends who started off as extras and then got promoted into bigger roles as the movie went along.

THE HUMAN RACE (Fred Coury and Paul McCarthy-Boyington) (publicity still)

THE HUMAN RACE (Fred Coury and Paul McCarthy-Boyington) (publicity still)

THE MULE: One of the primary characters is played by Fred Coury. Even though you’ve worked with musicians before, on videos by the bands Pitbull Daycare and Fozzy (the latter also featured Eddie McGee), Fred is more out-front in an acting capacity here. How was he to work with? Was this his first acting gig?

PAUL: He was actually fantastic to work with – and a really amazing actor. Being a rock star, he has a great confidence that shows through on screen. After the shoot, he told me he had quit acting but I hope one day he’ll return to it.

THE MULE: You worked with Eddie McGee and Celine Tien, one of the youngsters, previously on the short, THE ANGEL. Were their parts for this movie written with them in mind or was it just a lucky coincidence that they both ended up in the cast?

PAUL: Both written with them in mind. In THE ANGEL, the Grandma was Celine’s real Grandma. In THE HUMAN RACE, her brother character is actually her real brother. I hadn’t seen her for a few years s,o while I wrote the role for her in mind – I still needed to audition her. Originally, there was only one kid in the script – but when she came to the audition, she turned up with her brother – who I thought was fantastic – so I made the role two kids rather than one.

THE MULE: Honestly, I wasn’t familiar with Eddie McGee, but when I found out that he was a cast member of the game show BIG BROTHER during its first season, I didn’t hold out much hope for this movie. I’m happy to say that I was wrong. The guy’s got chops… leading actor, action/adventure/sci-fi/horror chops. How did you become acquainted with Eddie and, based on a few things that I’ve read elsewhere, how did he become the “go-to” guy on your projects?

PAUL: Yeah, his being on BIG BROTHER has not been a good thing for his acting career. The only good thing is that he didn’t become a “reality star” per se – since his season happened before the whole reality boom. I’m hoping, going forward, that he’ll become Eddie McGee from THE HUMAN RACE and that his BIG BROTHER past will become that – a thing of the past. I met him while I was looking for a double-leg amputee for the Fozzy video. I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to do the role – since most people found the character I wanted (ie: a disabled suicidal person) not suited for them. Eddie shared the same philosophy and beliefs of myself and taped an audition for me. He got the role and… I hope to work with him now on everything I do. He is an amazing actor and we’ve gone through a lot together. When you find someone as good and as brilliant as he – then he does certainly become your “go-to” guy.

THE HUMAN RACE (Trista Robinson) (publicity still)

THE HUMAN RACE (Trista Robinson) (publicity still)

THE MULE: Speaking of projects, what’s next up for Paul Hough? In a bit of a spoiler, THE HUMAN RACE left itself open for a sequel. Will there be one?

PAUL: I’d love to do a follow up to THE HUMAN RACE and already have a script written – but it will depend on how successful this film is first. I’m off to Korea in a month, working on a new dark thriller which I hope will be my next project…

The film debuts in limited theatrical release and on Video-On-Demand and iTunes on June 13, 2014. Comparisons to the apocalyptic Japanese bloodbath, BATTLE ROYALE and the Young Adult book/film series, THE HUNGER GAMES (among others) are unavoidable but, THE HUMAN RACE is, in my humble opinion, not to be missed.


POSEIDON REX

(DVD and Digital; ANDERSON DIGITAL/ITN DISTRIBUTION/TITAN GLOBAL ENTERTAINMENT (79 minutes/Unrated); 2014)

Poseidon Rex Key Art

Okay… let’s get this out of the way right now: POSEIDON REX is no SHARKNADO or SHARKTOPUS. Personally, I found those “SyFy Originals” unwatchable, at best. Here, while the acting (particularly by the leads, Brian Krause, Anne McDaniels and Steven Helmkamp) is histrionically over the top (as is the dialogue, which may account for the acting), you can at least conceive of some of this stuff actually happening… well… maybe not. But, still…

POSEIDON REX (publicity still)

POSEIDON REX (publicity still)

The special effects are hit and miss: The CGI gunfire is bad… really bad; the creature – a sea-dwelling cousin of the Tyrannosaurus Rex, though bigger and meaner, with tiny flippers for arms – is, alternately, awesomely believable in the underwater sequences or appears to be a cartoon overlay that never quite matches up with the surrounding terrain when it’s out of the water. And, even though the characters seem to contradict themselves from one line to the next, it’s still better than those horrid movie remakes of STARSKY AND HUTCH, GET SMART and THE DUKES OF HAZZARD. By the way, if the military represented here (some unidentified branch of the United States Armed Forces and the Belize Coast Guard) is the best and brightest, we are all doomed to be eaten by gigantic beasts of some variety. This movie is kinda like a train wreck or watching the Chicago Cubs… as devastating and horrible as it is, you just can’t look away.

POSEIDON REX (Brian Krause and Anne McDaniels put the pinch on a newly hatched P-Rex) (publicity still)

POSEIDON REX (Brian Krause and Anne McDaniels put the pinch on a newly hatched P-Rex) (publicity still)

POSEIDON REX is a great movie to put on when you and your friends are just hanging out, looking for something mind-numbingly incoherent to fill an hour-and-a-half. Like all of those cheesy 1950s monster and science fiction movies, this is the good kind of bad, a bizarre mish-mash of THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (the template for director Mark L Kester), GODZILLA (GOJIRA, the original), KING KONG (the one from 1976, with Charles Grodin in the title role… or was it Jessica Lange? Oh, wait… never mind), JURASSIC PARK, GREMLINS, THE DEEP and CAPTAIN PHILLIPS. There’s even a hint of A-TEAM (the original television series with Mister T) in there as, with plenty of firepower on display, no one is seemingly capable of hitting the broadside of a barn (or a forty foot tall sea behemoth). So… suspend belief (in good acting and dialogue), disengage those brain cells and give POSEIDON REX a try, but… be warned: THERE WILL BE A SEQUEL!


BATMAN – THE COMPLETE 1943 MOVIE SERIAL COLLECTION

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

BATMAN 1943 cover

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

Lewis Wilson as Batman (publicity still)

Lewis Wilson as Batman (publicity still)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BATMAN Serial Poster

BATMAN Serial Poster

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

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


MASTERS OF THE GALAXY

(Mike Resnick; 216 pages: PS PUBLISHING, 2012)

Masters of the Galaxy cover

MASTERS OF THE GALAXY is Masters… Jake Masters. Okay… that was lame. Jake Masters is a hard-boiled private dick with a heart of gold and a not-too-well-hidden soft spot for the underdog, much in the vein of Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade or Mike Hammer. The difference here is that Jake works on an out-planet of a galaxy-wide Democracy and his clients tend to be alien governments, alien crime lords, or just your average everyday alien. This book collects all four Jake Masters novellas (roughly 50 pages each) and a brand new short story to sweeten the pot.

Guardian Angel” introduces us to former cop turned detective Masters, as he’s hired by a distraught mother to bring back a wayward son. The father, the head of a criminal empire exiled on another planet, is the most logical place for Jake to start his search. Once our hero figures out that the son has very good reason to hide (in an interplanetary circus, no less) from both Mommy and Daddy, he takes the young man under his protective wing. It is, as they say, all down hill from there. “Guardian Angel” is an excellent way to kick things off as the detective work is believable, the action exciting and the outcome… not even close to what I was expecting!

Some of the detective and mystery genre’s best tales come from stories called “locked-room mysteries.” Even though “A Locked-Planet Mystery” works on a much larger scale, the feel is the same. A retiring corporate head has been murdered at his solitary retreat on an otherwise uninhabited planet. The solar system’s sole police force is located on the only inhabitable planet, four worlds away and they don’t even know what a murder is. The head of the police force, a being characterized by the detective as “a purple beachball with legs” comes to Jake for help. Everyone at the retreat has good reason to want to see the murdered being dead and, with the help of the beachball (who has an unpronounceable name that Jake shortens to “Max”), ferrets out the murderer in the best “locked-door” manner. Max is a fairly likeable character and since, as mentioned above, Jake Masters is really a softy, he takes the alien under his wing and makes him his partner. The fact that he was kind of a blank slate and an entertaining sidekick makes the third story, “Honorable Enemies,” a bit of a let down, as the case sends Jake to the “Alien Quarter” of his home planet, Odysseus, to search for Max’s killer. Along the way, he meets an alien crime lord and a potential rival kingpin, a human from a planet called New Warsaw. As both vie to have Masters as an integral piece of their empire, Jake only cares about avenging the death of his friend. There are plenty of twists and turns in “Honorable Enemies,” as alliances are made and broken on almost every page.

If the Frame Fits… “ is a very entertaining piece of political intrigue, as a primary peace negotiator of a planet outside of the Democracy is murdered at a Democracy embassy on a planet nicknamed “Purplehaze.” Security issues and a general distrust by and of the three distinct life-forms at the embassy make Jake’s job even harder than the close-mouthed bureaucrats who hired him. As he is wont to do, Masters enlists the aid of a being from each of the alien races involved in the peace negotiations. The story is rather fast paced and, like the rest, is one fun read.

Mike Resnick (uncredited photo)

Mike Resnick (uncredited photo)

Author Mike Resnick has truly captured the feel of those old mystery books and film noir movies, as well as the essence of a really great science fiction yarn with this series. As such, I really wish that he’d fleshed out the new short story, “Real Jake,” more. As you can probably guess from the title, there’s a Jake Masters imposter leaving a trail of upset life-forms in our hero’s home base of Homer. The story’s good, I just wish there was more! For a fast-paced mash-up of sci-fi and detective mystery genres, you absolutely cannot go wrong with MASTERS OF THE GALAXY.


LAND OF THE GIANTS – THE COMPLETE SERIES

(Tom Gill and others; 175 pages; HERMES PRESS, 2010)

landofthegiants_large

Before he became the Cecil B DeMille of disaster movies (THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, THE TOWERING INFERNO and many more), Irwin Allen was the Sherwood Schwartz of television sci-fi and fantasy adventure. Allen was the producer and creative force behind such TV fare as VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, THE TIME TUNNEL and what was probably the crowning achievement (it was definitely the most fun to watch!) of his small-screen output, LOST IN SPACE. For two seasons (1968-1970), one of the most ambitious series to date, ABC’s LAND OF THE GIANTS, battled LASSIE and THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY (perennial powerhouses for, respectively, CBS and NBC) for early Sunday evening television supremacy. It was, at the time, the most expensively produced program on TV, costing a whopping $250,000 per episode. With it costing so much to produce and considering the formidable competition, it is a wonder that it lasted as long as it did!

LAND OF THE GIANTS #5 cover

LAND OF THE GIANTS #5 cover

As with Allen’s other shows (and some of his films, as well), Gold Key Comics published a tie-in book for LAND OF THE GIANTS. Unlike the TV show, the comic version was only around for 10 months – long enough to produce five issues of ultra-sanitized (Gold Key was probably the most family-friendly comics publisher on the market) stories. Now, Hermes Press has digitally spruced up those old pages (with a few extras to flesh out the page count) and put them in a nice looking hardcover collection for all of us nostalgia lovers.

So… here’s the premise: It’s the future (1983) and a passenger ship (Allen’s version of the SS Minnow), with seven people on-board, end up on a world where they are only six inches tall. Whether they were shrunk to that size or if they remained regular-sized and the inhabitants of the planet truly are giants, I was never really sure of. Anyway, you’ve got the crew of the Spindrift (there’s a name that elicits confidence, huh?) – pilot, co-pilot and a stewardess prone to hysterics – a self-absorbed society girl, a super-smart-guy type, a sniveling, unscrupulous type (think LOST IN SPACE’s Doctor Smith… only less) and, naturally, a boy and his dog. They’re confronted by the usual misguided guest stars (you know… well-meaning or merely curious folk, lonely kids, big-brain scientists who see them as an experiment) and down-right mean guest stars (you know… criminals who want to use them in some get rich scheme, lonely kids, big-brain scientists who see them as an experiment). Of course, the dangers weren’t always what you’d expect. Sometimes, just surviving in a well-manicured park lawn could be as dangerous and terrifying as traversing on foot and unarmed a jungle filled with wild beaties; a mud puddle would seem like an ocean when you’ve got to cross it to get home. You get the idea.

LAND OF THE GIANTS #5, page 15 (Art by Tom Gill)

LAND OF THE GIANTS #5, page 15 (Art by Tom Gill)

The stories collected here follow suit and aren’t brain-achingly difficult to decipher. Nor are they intensely stooge-like in their simplicity. Yeah… the scripts (most likely written by Paul S Newman) may be overly predictable, but they still manage to be engaging in fun way. Likewise, the artwork isn’t spectacular in a Neal Adams or Gil Kane way, but it is servicable. Tom Gill’s style is clean and very much to-the-point. Gill was a mainstay at Dell and Gold Key for years and years. He and Newman had a 107-issue run of Dell’s LONE RANGER book and Tom illustrated stories for BONANZA, THE TWILIGHT ZONE and many others for Gold Key. He once said that he would only produce two pages of comic art per day, which isn’t a lot. That is indicative of how seriously he took his craft. My sole complaint with his LAND OF THE GIANTS work is that – virtually from panel to panel – the main characters’ appearance change from resembling the actors portraying them in the TV series to something almost unrecognizable. While it is annoying, it certainly didn’t keep me from enjoying this book as a whole. I’m sure you’ll agree.