Thursday, December 31, 2009

Looking ahead: comics in 2010 and beyond

I'm pleased that over the last decade I investigated a number of comics that were outside my usual sphere, including some of the high-regarded stories/series. On the verge of 2010, there are still a lot of books I haven't got around to yet that I hope to at some point.

Namely:

  • Black Jack
  • Bone
  • Grimjack
  • Heavy Liquid
  • 100%
  • John Ostrander's Spectre
  • Usagi Yojimbo

I'd also like to try something by Joe Sacco (but his works are expensive). I'm curious about DMZ too. I'm curious about From Hell, though I'm told it wouldn't be to my taste.

At some point I'd like to get back into Fables after leaving it five years ago. I keep intending to read more of Hellboy/BPRD too.

I'm hoping there will be more Beasts of Burden in the future. I'd also like to see Gemini wrap-up some day and if Fell could publish at least one issue per year I would be content.

Happy new year!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Michael's favorite comics of 2000-2009

The period of 2000-2009 was very significant for me as a comic book reader. I started out as a Marvel-only reader who could afford maybe four new titles each month and ended it as a mostly-Marvel reader but open to all publishers and formats who buys about 16 new titles each month. Along with that, I became a Marvel freelancer in 2004 and that affected which Marvel titles I could justify purchasing (and my willingness to speak openly about Marvel's creative directions).

From all that I read during 2000-2009, these are my favorite books - ongoing titles, minis, one-shots, collections, OGNs, back issues, super hero or otherwise. Note that word read. They needn't have been brand-new at the time I found them.

MY FAVORITE ONGOING SERIES (SUPER HERO): Incredible Hercules by Greg Pak & Fred Van Lente.

There were a number of ongoing titles I followed this last decade which I would consider great comics (see below), but above them all I've chosen Incredible Hercules. Although it hasn't approached the epic level of Pak's previous work on Incredible Hulk, it makes fine use of the Marvel Universe and Greek mythology while mapping out its own directions. It's often very funny, occasionally poignant. The recent in-story references to Joseph Campbell point to the series as the journey of a modern-day hero and the gradual development of Amadeus Cho from know-it-all novice to responsible hero has been entertaining to watch.

Also of Note: Agents of Atlas, Amazing Spider-Man, Astro City, Atomic Robo, Avengers: The Initiative, Black Panther (by Priest), Blue Beetle (by John Rogers), Cable/Deadpool, Detective Comics (by Paul Dini), Dynamo 5, Fantastic Four (by Mark Waid), Guardians of the Galaxy, Immortal Iron Fist (by Matt Fraction), Incredible Hulk (by Greg Pak), Invincible Iron Man, Nova, Runaways (by Brian K. Vaughn), She-Hulk (by Dan Slott), Spider-Girl, Thunderbolts (by Fabian Nicieza)

MY FAVORITE ONGOING SERIES (NON-SUPER HERO): Rex Libris by James Turner.

Rex Libris was the book for me, merging the world of librarians with action and laughs...mostly laughs. The librarian action hero concept caught my attention, but the consistently fun situations and high-brow jokes held me there.

Also of Note: Comic Book Comics, Fell, Johnny Hiro, North World, Planetary, Proof, Scott Pilgrim, Street Angel, the Unwritten, Warlord of Io

MY FAVORITE MINI-SERIES/ONE-SHOT (SUPER HERO): Agents of Atlas by Jeff Parker and Leonard Kirk.

As much as I loved the old What If story "What if the Avengers Had Been Formed in the 1905s," I wouldn't have guessed that it could make for a brilliant new star in Marvel's universe. Jeff Parker placed his stamp on these mostly-forgotten characters and the combination of espionage, action and laughs in the original mini-series made for a thoroughly excellent super hero story. I would have been entirely pleased with Agents of Atlas even if the mini-series were all that existed, but the succeeding ongoing format was an additional pleasure.

Also of Note: Annihilation, Chamber, Empire, GLA, Gravity, the Hood, Iron Man: Hypervelocity, Livewires, Seaguy, Spider-Man/Human Torch, Suicide Squad: Raise the Flag, Umbrella Academy, War of Kings, Wednesday Comics

MY FAVORITE MINI-SERIES/ONE-SHOT (NON-SUPER HERO): Global Frequency by Warren Ellis.

I felt that the decision to change artists for each installment of this twelve-issue series was little more than a gimmick. Some great artists graced this series and the particular format of rotating stars in each self-contained issue lent itself to that set-up, but what interested me were the stories, not the art. Global Frequency had a great concept and made the most of it; drawing mostly-normal people into mostly sci-fi threats paid off time and again, my favorite being the issue with the bionic man. This was also a turning point for me in terms of learning to appreciate Warren Ellis, a writer I hadn't thought much of previously.

Also of Note: Arrowsmith, Beasts of Burden, BPRD: the Ectoplasmic Man, the Muppet Show, Mysterius the Unfathomable, Potter's Field

MY FAVORITE SERIES WHICH ENDED ALL TOO SOON: Street Angel by Jim Rugg.

Well, I'd like some more Rex Libris too, but I was served 13 helpings of that series; Street Angel only made it to six issues. Street Angel brought me in to the black & white independent books and I was immediately taken with its humourous reworkings of cliches, particularly the running gags about ninjas. It also brought Jim Rugg to my attention and I've enjoyed his work in other places since then. More, please?

Also of Note: Agent X, El Cazador, Johnny Hiro, Sentinel, Storm Shadow

MY FAVORITE MARVEL SERIES THAT WAS MOSTLY IGNORED: Thanos by Keith Giffen.

Giffen did continue some of his ideas for Thanos into the first Annihilation event, but the series itself had a fun take on Thanos similar to Priest's Black Panther in that Thanos' motivations and inner thoughts were hidden from the readers, leading to great payoffs when the pieces fell in place. It seems to me that Thanos the wandering pilgrim of the cosmos is the perfect place to take the character, given that Jim Starlin made him unsuitable as a villain.

Also of Note: the Crew (by Priest), Exiles (by Jeff Parker), Inhumans (by Sean McKeever), Iron Man (by John Jackson Miller), Master of Kung Fu (by Doug Moench), True Believers, X-Factor (by Jeff Jensen)

MY FAVORITE TRADE PAPERBACK/COLLECTION: Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD by Jim Steranko.

My trade paperback collection exploded across 2000-2009, but my absolute favorite is one of the earlier ones I purchased that decade: the collection of Jim Steranko's Nick Fury stories from Strange Tales. Partly this is because I enjoy the stories so much; partly it's because of the reproduction efforts and extras; partly it's to see Steranko's 4-page splashes finally shown the way they were intended. Mostly, it's because this is one trade paperback I go back to read for pleasure again and again.

Also of Note: 300, Action Philosophers!, Agents of Atlas, Al Williamson's Flash Gordon, Batman: Year One, Batman: Year 100, Blazing Combat, Dan Dare, Dr. 13: Architecture & Mortality, Golgo 13, Invincible, Johnny Hiro, Judgment Day, Marvels, Masterpiece Comics, Maus, the Nearly Complete Essential Hembeck Archives Omnibus, Ocean, the Rocketeer: the Complete Collection, Shockrockets, Showcase Presents Bat Lash, Showcase Presents Shazam!, Street Angel, Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, Supreme, V for Vendetta, Watchmen, Zot!: the Complete Black & White Collection

MY FAVORITE ORIGINAL GRAPHIC NOVEL: The Interman by Jeff Parker.

It's good to go into a book without any expectations some times. I knew Parker's abilities as a writer from Agents of Atlas, but I knew nothing about his strengths as an artist. This fast-moving espionage story works because Parker developed an action hero who is simply relatable; superhuman in his abilities but human in his reactions to dangerous situations. The Interman sidesteps so many cliches of the action hero and questions everything from the evil twin to the murderous hero.

Also of Note: Bookhunter, It Rhymes With Lust, Midnight Sun, the New Adventures of Abraham Lincoln, Pride of Baghdad, Understanding Comics, a Wizard's Tale

MY FAVORITE BACK ISSUES: Suicide Squad by John Ostrander.

I've always been very strong on my Marvel back issues, but it wasn't until my income increased that I began digging up older books from other companies which had interested me. The concept of Suicide Squad had always fascinated me; how wonderful to discover that the series itself was so good! From the civilian support crew who kept the Squad ready for field work, to the tarnished heroes, to the unrepentant criminals who made up the Squad, Suicide Squad told interesting tales of the Cold War, drawing on actual events for inspiration. Unbelievable as the DC super hero universe is, Suicide Squad captures a sense of verisimilitude; it's a world where Darkseid can raise the dead, but also a world where a lonely computer technician can be shot in the back and a self-serving lowlife can outlive scores of people better than him.

Also of Note: 1963, Astro City, Deadshot (by John Ostrander), Destroy!, Eclipse Magazine, Firestorm (by John Ostrander), Lobo (by Keith Giffen), Manhunter (by John Ostrander), OMAC (by John Byrne), Quantum & Woody (by Priest), Red Rocket 7, Weirdworld, Youngblood (by Alan Moore)

MY SINGLE FAVORITE ISSUE: Astro City: Samaritan Special#1 by Kurt Busiek & Brent Anderson.

This was the story of the Superman-like hero Samaritan and his nemesis Infidel. The duo are so evenly-matched that neither one can entirely defeat the other. Consequently, they call a truce once each year and share a dinner, but spend that dinner scanning each other, looking for a sign of weakness that might tip the balance to their favour. If anyone doubts that Kurt Busiek's Astro City lacks the punch it had in the 1990s, this is the best antidote to that kind of thinking.

Also of Note: Action Comics#775, Astro City: Local Heroes#2, Atomic Robo & Friends FCBD Edition, Deadpool#67, Fantastic Four#60, Marvel Adventures Avengers#12, Marvel Adventures Fantastic Four#12, Peter Parker: Spider-Man#35, Peter Parker: Spider-Man#37, Solo#11, Young Allies Comics 70th Anniversary Special#1

MY FAVORITE BOOK I CONTRIBUTED TO: Marvel Mystery Comics Handbook 70th Anniversary Special by Michael Hoskin.

I wrote or co-wrote a lot of comics last decade, but this one was particularly important to me. It wasn't as widely-read as I would have liked, but I'm so happy that I was able to bring dozens of Marvel characters from the first year of the company's publication back into the spotlight, ever so briefly. It's also a pleasure to have new artwork whenever possible and Gus Vazquez turned in some sharp work.

Also of Note: All-New Iron Manual, Annihilation: Nova Corps Files, Annihilation Saga, Dark Reign Files, Marvel Atlas, Marvel Monsters: From the Files of Ulysses Bloodstone, Marvel Pets Handbook, Marvel Westerns: Outlaw Files, Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Golden Age 2004, War of Kings Saga

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Iron Man Index on its way!

In March, rev yourself up for Iron Man 2 with this collection of all the Iron Man entries from the Official Index to the Marvel Universe!

IRON MAN: OFFICIAL INDEX TO THE MARVEL UNIVERSE GN-TPB

Get the complete history of Iron Man from his earliest appearances all the way up to the present day. This book comes packed with synopses of every Iron Man comic—including back up strips—introducing you to the characters, teams, places and equipment that appeared within, providing vital information about all things Iron Man! Collecting material from OFFICIAL INDEX TO THE MARVEL UNIVERSE #1-13. 272 PGS./Rated A ...$19.99 ISBN: 978-0-7851-4589-9

Friday, December 25, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Bah, humbug

Sometimes for Christmas you get a playful snowball in the face.

And sometimes, that snowball has rocks in it.

Today is the release day of Fall of Hulks: Gamma. You might recall that I was pretty excited about the previous release, Fall of Hulks: Alpha because I had helped advise on continuity matters and was listed in the main credits while also being credited for a set of back-up biographies I contributed.

I had nothing to do with Gamma's continuity, but I did contribute a few pages of biographies again. The difference is, this time I wasn't credited.

I'd be lying if I said this doesn't bother me; I'd also be lying if I said I wanted anyone to buy this book; you certainly shouldn't buy it for my sake...so far as the credits are concerned, I don't exist.

So...Merry Christmas, won't you?

Marvel Handbook in March

OFFICIAL HANDBOOK OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE A TO Z VOL. 13 PREMIERE HC

Written by JEFF CHRISTIANSEN, STUART VANDAL, RONALD BYRD, MIKE O’SULLIVAN, MICHAEL HOSKIN, MADISON CARTER, SEAN MCQUAID, MIKE FICHERA, MARKUS RAYMOND, ROB LONDON, JACOB ROUGEMONT, CHRIS BIGGS, JEPH YORK, DAVID WILTFONG & KEVIN GARCIA Penciled by VARIOUS Cover by TOM GRUMMETT

Because twelve volumes couldn't possibly be enough, the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe carries on with lucky number thirteen! Featuring more expanded and up-to-date biographies from the likes of the Vision to the Young Avengers! Including a host of X-teams including X-Factor, X-Force, X-Men and X-Statix! Includes heroes such as War Machine, the Hulk's Warbound, Adam Warlock, Warpath, the Wasp(s), Wiccan, the Winter Guard, Pete Wisdom, Wolfsbane, Wolverine, Wonder Man, Jimmy Woo, X-23, Nate Grey the X-Man and Xorn! With villains including Emperor Vulcan, Vulture, Weapon X, Wendigo, Whiplash, Wizard, the Wrecking Crew and the Yellow Claw! Plus: Werewolves! Wild Child! The New Mutants' Warlock! Asgard's own Warriors Three! Mary Jane Watson! Face it tiger, you just hit the mother lode! 240 PGS./Rated T+ ...$24.99ISBN: 978-0-7851-4178-5

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

There are nine Deadpool comics in March; you only need to buy one.

DEADPOOL CORPS: RANK AND FOUL

Written by JEFF CHRISTIANSEN, MICHAEL HOSKIN, RONALD BYRD, MIKE O'SULLIVAN, ERIC J. MOREELS, JACOB ROUGEMONT, MADISON CARTER, MARKUS RAYMOND, KEVIN GARCIA, STUART VANDAL, CHRIS BIGGS, MIKE GAGNON & ROB LONDON Select Character Artwork by GUS VAZQUEZ Cover by HUMBERTO RAMOS

In the Marvel Universe Handbook style, this one-shot has everything you need to make sense of Deadpool! (Is that even
possible?) In this issue, there are more ALL-NEW profiles than 'Pool has voices in his head -- from "allies" (Outlaw, Weasel,
Zombie Deadpool), to enemies (Ajax, Dr. Bong, Madcap), to the hotties (Dr. Betty, Blind Al, Big Bertha) and the sheer
awesomeness of the Sack! How could you pass this up? You know at least one of your personalities will love it! Featuring NEW ART for dozens of characters! More fun than a barrel of gun-wielding monkeys! 64 PGS./Rated T+ ...$3.99

I came up with the title of this book; you're welcome.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Index your classics!

Tomorrow is release day for Official Index to the Marvel Universe#12 (more here) & the softcover edition of Marvel Illustrated: Kidnapped (more here)!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Looking backward: old habits

Having been a comic book reader since I could read, I've developed a long perspective on comic books, with tastes that have changed a fair bit, particularly in the last few years. I've enjoyed Tom Brevoort's blog posts where he's looked back on what titles his office produced a certain number of years ago and John Jackson Miller's columns where he examines historical comic book sales data. Thinking along those lines, I wondered just what it was I was reading five, ten, even fifteen years ago.

FIVE YEARS AGO...

  • Astonishing X-Men#8
  • Cable & Deadpool#10
  • Captain America#2
  • Ex Machina#7
  • Fables#32
  • Fantastic Four#521
  • Invaders#5
  • JSA#68
  • Madrox#4
  • Marvel Knights Spider-Man#9
  • Mystique#22
  • New Thunderbolts#3
  • Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Golden Age 2004
  • She-Hulk#10
  • Spider-Girl#81
  • Stoker's Dracula#2
  • Street Angel#4
  • Tomb of Dracula#3
  • What If General Ross Had Become the Hulk?
  • Y: The Last Man#29

My buying habits really changed after I won my first real job. This is about the least conservative single-month purchase list of mine since I was 13. I had begun writing for Marvel, so I justified a lot of the Marvel purchases as "research." To the rest, now that I had money I was buying DC super heroes for the first time in more than a decade and giving creator-owned/Vertigo titles a try for the first time...ever. Still, within a few months I dropped all of the non-Marvel books on this list (except for Street Angel, which was cancelled).

TEN YEARS AGO...

  • Avengers#25
  • Avengers Forever#12
  • Blaze of Glory#1
  • Blaze of Glory#2
  • Captain Marvel#1
  • Gunslingers#1
  • New Eternals#1
  • Thunderbolts#35

I was in my last year of college and washing dishes to make ends meet. Both during and after college, I kept my comic book buying "rationed" down to four books a month. Unless a title I followed was cancelled (or I lost interest), I didn't add new titles to my monthly purchases so I had to pick the four books I enjoyed the most. However, I made an exception for the bi-weekly mini-series Blaze of Glory and the accompanying Gunslingers reprint book.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO...

  • Captain America#436
  • Generation X#4
  • Marvel Super-Heroes Megazine#5
  • X-Men 2099#17

I was in high school and although I had income from my newspaper route my interest in comics was starting to drift. This was my last month spent reading Generation X; Captain America and X-Men 2099 were the only titles I kept in touch with and I quit both of them within the year; after quitting them, I dropped out of comic book reading for almost an entire year.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

How long, Usagi Yojimbo, how long?

For some time now I've been interested in picking up Stan Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo comic book series. It's one of the most remarkable independent comic book in terms of its longevity, having lasted for more than twenty-five years. My friend Texcap has repeatedly sung the book's praise over on his blog and I've sampled a pair of issues which confirmed it was definitely to my liking.

However, because Usagi has been around for so long I thought I should catch up with his past first. I began looking at the collections of the series, but it was difficult finding a decent set of the volumes printed by Fantagraphics, Usagi's original publisher (I also realized it would be a little pricey, even in trades).

Fortune seemed to smile upon me when Usagi Yojimbo: the Special Edition was announced. This tome would collect all of the Fantagraphics comics. From there, it would be simple to buy all of the Dark Horse (Usagi's current publisher) volumes until I was up to speed. I placed an Amazon order for the Special Edition last spring; the book was due to be published in May.

I'm still waiting.

Around May, Amazon altered its expected publication date, moving it to December. Sigh. All right, so I had to wait. Now December is here...and Amazon has reestimated its publication date as September, 2010???

The forces of the universe seem to be conspiring against me (to say nothing of the rabbit ronin).

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Apparently I have something else in stores today

Well, if you have any money left over after you've purchased Fall of Hulks: Alpha, I guess you could pick up Iron Man: Requiem?

COVER BY: Sean Chen WRITER: Stan Lee, David Michelinie, Matt Fraction PENCILS: Larry Lieber, Joe Brozowski, John Romita JR., Kano

You know him from his blockbuster movie and the hit on-going series, INVINCIBLE IRON MAN; now, take a trip back with this special presentation of Tony Stark’s early adventures as the Golden Avenger. In TALES OF SUSPENSE #39, see how a billionaire playboy is transformed into a super hero after he’s injured in combat and has to invent a life-sustaining suit of armor. Then in INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #144, discover the truth behind Tony Stark’s first adventure in Vietnam! Experience the birth of one of Marvel’s most famous heroes like never before, fully remastered with modern coloring. Plus, an all-new framing sequence by Matt Fraction and Kano! Rated T …$4.99

...And it has my enormous Iron Man biography reprinted from the OHOTMU. I received a credit, but not a head's up. Buy it anyway.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

May I offer you some falling Hulks?

Tomorrow is the release day for Fall of Hulks: Alpha, the kick-off to the Fall of Hulks mini-event. Apparently the way to sell a Hulk event in 2009 is to name check an X-Men event from 1988.

As was mentioned previously, I have a special thanks in this issue for my contributions to the continuity/chronology.

As was not mentioned previously, I have also contributed a bonus feature section with biographies of the Intel, the villains of this event!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

See my name in close proximity to Jeph Loeb's!

A preview for Fall of Hulks: Alpha has been released. You may recall that I blogged about this comic a while ago, but I didn't know if I would have a credit for my assistance in this issue. If you check the preview's credit page, you'll find my name at the end of the special thanks!

More about this book later; a few things have changed since it was first solicited!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Due tomorrow: Handbook volume 11!

Tomorrow is the release day for volume 11 of the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe A to Z hardcover series. I blogged about volume 11 here.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The handbook returns in February!

For most of the past two years there haven't been many all-new Marvel handbooks because of our focus on the hardcover bound collected edition. However, now that the hardcover set is nearly wound up, we're getting back to the old format of all-new content and this time there will be all-new art as well!

OFFICIAL HANDBOOK OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE A TO Z UPDATE #1

Written by JEFF CHRISTANSEN, STUART VANDAL, SEAN MCQUAID, MICHAEL HOSKIN, MIKE O'SULLIVAN, ROB LONDON, KEVIN GARCIA, MADISON CARTER, MARKUS RAYMOND, RONALD BYRD, CHRIS BIGGS, GABRIEL SHECHTER, ERIC J. MOREELS, JACOB ROUGEMONT & MIKE GAGNON Select Character Artwork by GUS VAZQUEZ Cover by KALMAN ANDRASOFSZKY

The most comprehensive guide to the Marvel Universe marches on in 2010! This 64-page handbook features the first handbook of ALL-NEW PROFILES since 2007, and spans the width and depth of the Marvel U: New characters! Never-before profiled characters! Golden Age! Cosmic! Teams! Mutants! Westerns! Dimensions! And because you demanded it: EXCLUSIVE ORIGINAL ART for dozens of profiles! This issue contains everything you need to know about Blue Marvel (Brashear), Cyttorak, Gladiator (Kallark), Googam, K'un-Lun, Midgard Serpent, Nimrod, Percy Pinkerton, Rockman, She-Hulk (Lyra), Western era Tarantula (Riley), Veranke, Xemnu, the Young Gods and dozens more! 64 PGS./Rated T+ ...$3.99

Friday, November 20, 2009

Index in February

We may have run out of issues of Iron Man & Uncanny X-Men to cover, but the Index isn't over yet!

OFFICIAL INDEX TO THE MARVEL UNIVERSE #14

Continuing the chronicle of the Marvel Universe, starting with Spider-Man (from AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #580 on), Iron Man (from WAR MACHINE #15 on) and the X-Men (from CLASSIC X-MEN #20 on). Follow the history of the Marvel universe as it unfolds month by month with the All-New Official Index to the Marvel Universe. Each issue provides synopses for dozens of individual comics, including back-up strips, introducing you to the characters, teams, places and equipment that appeared within, providing vital information about first appearances, where they last showed up and where they appeared next! 64 PGS./Rated A ...$3.99

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Dr. Thor is right - I'm running a fever

Sorry that the blog's been silent lately - between having a feverish workload from Marvel and an actual fever for the past few days, my priorities have been scuttled. I hope to have posts resume shortly.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Great Comic Book Supporting Characters: Rev. Craemer

One of my all-time favorite comic books is Suicide Squad, which ran for 66 issues under the authorship of John Ostrander. It concerned a secret squad comprised mainly of super villains who were sent on suicide missions by the US government in exchange for clemency. The Squad was run by the pragmatic Amanda Waller and based out of Belle Reve, a prison in Louisiana. In issue #10 (1988), we met Belle Reve's new chaplain, Father Richard Craemer:

Although most of the Squad members were unrepentant villains, there were also some heroes on the team and the nature of the Squad's missions often took a toll on them; Craemer was there for everyone on the team:

Although initially the Squad had a psychiatric staff to treat the team's often-warped members, the staff eventually resigned in protest of the way Waller treated the inmates. Craemer stepped up as the team's defacto counselor and issue #31 (1989) followed a day in his life as he looked in on the Squad's members and support staff, a format called "Personal Files" which had been used in previous issues back when the psychiatrists were around:

The highlight of the issue was Craemer's confrontation with Waller, where he serves as her conscience:

This last week, Ostrander returned to Craemer in Secret Six#15, where ex-Squad member Deadshot seeks help in controlling his homicidal urges:

Boy, it was great seeing Craemer again! Ever since 1988 he's been one of the best Christian characters in comics, and as a revisit--

Wait, he's Episcopalian now?!

Huh. Well, if he can't be Anglican, I'll take that. Cool.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Another book splurge

The other day the library held a book sale, offering up discards and duplicates (many of them 100+ year old hardcovers) at bargain prices, nothing more expensive than $1. Now, I was present to help set up, maintain and take down the sale, but that also meant I had fine opportunities to look over the wares and set aside whatever I was interested in. I didn't buy everything I was interested in, out of consideration for my bookshelves. I was interested in a copy of H.G. Wells' autobiography, but doubted that I would ever read it. Restricting myself to books I wanted as reading material, not shelf decorations, I came up with:
  • The Confessions of St. Augustine, 1838.
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, 1891.
  • The Complete Works of O. Henry, 1928.
  • Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll, 1932.
  • The Devil and Daniel Webster by Stephen Vincent Benet, 1937.
  • The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene, 1948.
  • Escape or Die by Paul Brickhill, 1952.
  • Spark of Life by Erich Maria Remarque, 1952.
  • The Flying Inn by G.K. Chesterton, 1958.
  • Eyeless in Gaza by Aldous Huxley, 1961.
  • This Gun for Hire by Graham Greene, 1982.

I'm in good shape in terms of reading material for the next few months!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Anthony Castrillo on Dynamo 5#25!

It was a pleasant surprise to find that one of the back-up stories of Dynamo 5#25 was drawn by Anthony Castrillo, one of my all-time favorite artists. Witness the wonder!

Boy, even though I first saw Castrillo's art in the days of his Fantastic Four run, it was when he became the writer/artist of Superman that I took notice of him; by the age of ten, he was the one artist I knew by name and could usually identify by sight. In the years since then I followed him to Sensational She-Hulk, Namor the Sub-Mariner, Next Men and Superman/Batman: Generations. Even when his run on Spider-Man was being savaged by fandom, I still thrilled to Castrillo's work on Marvel: The Lost Generation. More recently, I loved the black and white treatment his work received in Angel: Blood and Trenches. Now, I will admit that his inking seems rushed, bu--

Hm?

Oh, no, you're quite mistaken. I certainly do know who Anthony Castrillo is. Just look at this gorilla from Dynamo 5#25!

If he's not a twin to Castrillo's Grunt from Doom Patrol, then my eyes need to be examined.

Wait.

You say Anthony Castrillo is simply homaging John Byrne's art?

Wellll...maybe it's a pseudonym! Yeah! Byrne's an anti-Stratfordian, he understands that sometimes creative people have to hide their name...

You say Anthony Castrillo has his own website? But it could be an elaborate hoax! The comics version of Chris Gaines! It just can't...oh, bother...

Well, I suppose congratulations are in order for Mr. Castrillo, who has certainly performed an admirable job of aping Mr. Byrne. It's no small wonder to find an imitator in comics these days, what with Ian Churchill and Dan Panosian having both given up on drawing like Liefeld.

Still, it was once a tradition in the comics that every great artist have an imitator or twelve caught in his wake. Barry Smith started out as a Kirby clone:

But within a few years of Conan he'd sprouted a new name, Barry Windsor-Smith and developed a style worthy of this more pretentious nom de guerre:

Similarly, Bill Sienkiewicz started out looking quite a bit like Neal Adams:

He, uh, hasn't been mistaken for Adams in a very long time:

Today's artists who need a shortcut to honing their style seldom seem to adopt the styles of another artist. In these times, the cool kids seem to prefer Photoshop.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Index#11 tomorrow!

The Official Index to the Marvel Universe#11 comes out tomorrow in all finer comic book stores! More details about it here!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Warlord of Io #2 is out!

Slave Labor Graphics' website has released Warlord of Io#2, the third chapter in James Turner's saga which began in Warlord of Io and Other Stories. As with issue #1, the comic is available as a pdf file you buy and download from the SLG site.

We pick up where issue #1 left off: recently deposed Emperor Zing who ruled Io for approximately one hour is being chased by members of the military coup who ousted him. His only allies are his bodyguard Urk and lady friend Moxy Comet. Zing's only hope is his faith in video game logic and the occasional stupidity of his pursuers.

Highlights in this epic space battle issue include suicide torpedoes who lack the incentive to give their lives; giant aliens who smuggle weapons by pretending they're toys; and instructions on how to defeat a capital starship: send them a space mail with a virus attached.

Warlord of Io#2 costs a measly $1 at Slave Labor Graphics! Buy it here

Sunday, November 1, 2009

How Halloween made me a fan of Jack Benny

I spoke yesterday about my interest in old-time radio horror programs. When I first became a fan (I was about 13) I was primarily interested in the horror, mystery and science fiction anthology shows, programs like Inner Sanctum, Suspense, Escape, Dimension X, X Minus One, Lights Out, the Whistler...the only detective show I liked was the Shadow. Each night when I turned on QR77 I would listen carefully to which programs would be broadcast that night. If nothing interested me (re: no horror shows), I turned the radio off. When I had heard whichever programs I was interested in, I would turn it off.

I had some tolerance for detective shows (Sam Spade) or movie adaptations (Lux Radio Theater), but the one genre I wouldn't touch was comedy. To me, nothing in old-time radio seemed more dated than the comedy shows; many of them even grated on me*.

I would make an exception on certain occasions. In December, the days leading up to Christmas Eve would feature Christmas-themed shows and I would even listen to the comedy shows then. And every October 31st there would be a Halloween-themed lineup. Each year I would make a point of sitting up to listen, hoping for some show I hadn't heard before (the Weird Circle episode "Curse of the Mantel" was one I first heard on a Halloween), or at least the Mercury Theater's War of the Worlds adaptation (although having heard it dozens of times since then, it's lost a little potency for me).

And so, one Halloween I heard an episode of the Jack Benny Program. I don't think I had ever sat through a full episode before, but I considered it worthwhile just to get to the horror shows coming up afterward. The episode (from November 2, 1947) opened with some Halloween-flavored jokes, then went into a sketch where the cast parodied the Humphrey Bogart film Dark Passage.

"Why do they always have such good singers in prisons?"

At the time, I hadn't seen Dark Passage. I considered myself distinguished just for knowing Bogart. This did not matter. There were no real jokes about the film, as the sketch was mostly prison jokes (in the film, Bogart springs prison in the opening scene) and then plastic surgery jokes (which is what Bogart does in the next sequence). There weren't even jokes specifically about Bogart. Complete ignorance of the film had no impact on the sketch's effectiveness, which is certainly a statement when you consider how much of modern comedy relies on unusual pop culture references.

The part of the sketch which won me over to Jack Benny was this:

BENNY: "The guard took me to the warden. I'll never forget that harrowing walk down the long, long corridor. As I passed the condemned cells, the guard said:"

GUARD: "Poor devils; they're doomed."

BENNY: "As I passed the solitary cells, the guard said:"

GUARD: "Poor devils; they'll go crazy."

BENNY: "As I passed the women's cells, the guard said:"

GUARD: *whistles*

BENNY: "As I passed the work cells, I stopped and went back for the guard."

And so, my resistance against old-time radio comedy was broken. For a long time, Jack Benny was the only program I made a point of listening to, but I learned to enjoy other programs of the day like Life of Riley, the Stan Freberg Show and Burns and Allen. I owe it all to having listened to that one episode of Jack Benny. You can hear it here.

(* and many still do; I can only take so much of high-pitched or squeaky voices used on shows like Father Knows Best, Aldrich Family or Portland on Fred Allen. And Lucille Ball? Only in small doses.)

Happy All Saint's Day!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Incidents from years as a horror radio fan

Bill Cosby had a routine where he recalled hearing the Lights Out "Chicken Heart" and was so terrified that when his father tried to come home Cosby lit the sofa on fire for fear that the chicken heart was trying to get in.

Now, I've heard a lot of horror radio programs, almost certainly everything broadcast which still exists up to 1962. I've even heard the Chicken Heart, but I didn't have an experience like that. Here's some programs where I (or others) had a memorable encounter.

* * *

ESCAPE: "Papa Benjamin"

I woke up in the night to hear voices coming from my radio; it was New Orleans and a bandleader was taking the police through a dank back alley, guiding them to the place where he murdered a man. I had fallen asleep with the radio on and happened to draw myself from my slumber near the start of the program, missing little more than the opening theme and introduction. Consequently, I didn't know what exactly I was listening to and in that state my mind was in - still half-asleep - this weird tale of voodoo weaved a spell around me. In my state of partial consciousness, it was as though the story was happening to me, like it was a dream I was having instead of a 50 year old drama being replayed over the wire. Every time I hear it, I recall that first time and the mental pictures I saw then return to me.

* * *

SUSPENSE: "The Dunwich Horror"

Anyone who's heard me speak about H.P. Lovecraft knows that I don't think much of his work. Bluntly, I think he was a poor writer and it mystifies me that he has a tremendous industry based around his works while many of his contemporaries (better or at least no worse) are forgotten.

Still, my first brush with Lovecraft was in the Suspense adaptation of his tale "the Dunwich Horror" and it's an effective broadcast. It helps that Ronald Colman was the lead actor and the sound effects of the whippoorwills generate a strong atmosphere. But what I recall vividly from that first broadcast was the description of the death of Wilbur Whateley, the revelation of his hideous, inhuman body. It was a terrifying moment, brought vividly to life in mind. And that's all that I recall because I dozed off. I didn't hear the rest of the episode until it came up again at least a year later.

* * *

INNER SANCTUM: "Judas Clock"

After getting online in 1998 I quickly learned that Inner Sanctum had a bad reputation among OTR fans. Many look down on Inner Sanctum because of the "cop-out endings." It's true that while many Inner Sanctum stories would hint at the supernatural only to rein it in at the climax, I was never comfortable with that generalization because of one episode. "The Judas Clock."

This story of a clock which performs acts of murder made for some eerie listening the first time through, but I don't really recollect how I felt the first time I heard it. The time I recall was while I was riding in the car with my family (probably back home from a trip to Calgary) and, as I often insisted at such times, we had QR77's programs on. What I recall most vividly from listening to the episode with my family was my mother's utter disgust with the episode because of the amount of gore. Which, of course, is all in your mind - radio is the theater of the mind. So don't tell me Inner Sanctum always copped out!

* * *

You can find "Papa Benjamin" here, "the Dunwich Horror" here (scroll to 45-11-01) and "the Judas Clock" here.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Halloween recommendations IV: Tomb of Dracula

I was reluctant to get involved with horror comics. Super heroes were and are my favorite aspect of the comics and by the early 90s they were a major passion. Somehow, that's when I discovered a comic which hadn't been published since 1979.

I think my enjoyment of Marv Wolfman & Gene Colan's Tomb of Dracula comes from my interest in Bram Stoker's original novel. I know that in modern readings people tend to prefer Dracula to the actual protagonists, but when I read it (I think I was 12?) I liked the good guys; John Seward, Jonathan & Mina Harker, Quincey Morris and Abraham Van Helsing were the point of view characters in the novel and their trials while facing the menace of Dracula was what engaged me as a reader.

Similarly, Wolfman often ran Tomb of Dracula from the perspective of the people hunting him; Frank Drake, Quincy Harker, Rachel Van Helsing, Harold H. Harold, Taj Nital and, of course, Blade. I enjoyed all of these characters but the stories which really stood out were the offbeat tales; Dracula writing an entry in his diary (#15), or a hardboiled detective story where the narrating private eye runs into Dracula (#25); those were gold.

Dracula himself was always a strong figure, usually being followed in hot pursuit by the vampire hunters, but occasionally pit against someone more evil than he was (like Dr. Sun or Satan himself). I really appreciated that Tomb of Dracula didn't over-romanticize Dracula (a problem a lot of contemporary vampire fiction has), notably in issue #50 where he meets a woman who thinks of him as a romantic hero...it ends badly for her (Buffy fans may be reminded of "Lie to Me"). And unlike most comics, Christianity plays a part when God himself takes a dim view of Dracula and when Dracula has a son, a battle plays out for his soul. It's rare to see God utilized in a comic book (for something other than mockery).

Marv Wolfman didn't arrive until issue #7 of Tomb of Dracula but he made it his own; Gene Colan was there from start to finish and he's probably more strongly associated with Tomb of Dracula than anything else in his 60+ year career.

Tomb of Dracula is collected into four black and white Essential volumes; there's also an Omnibus collecting the first thirty-one issues (volume two should have the other thirty nine).

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Halloween recommendations III: Pigeons From Hell

Once again, a recommendation to a title which came up in my Great Short Stories list.

"Pigeons From Hell" is a great 1938 pulp horror tale from Robert E. Howard, best known for his Conan work. It inspired a 1961 episode of Boris Karloff's Thriller and a "sequel" comic book from Dark Horse.

The story concerns two men who spend the night in an old plantation manor. One of the men goes upstairs during the night and is killed; then he comes downstairs to kill his friend! It's a wild tale of voodoo and revenge with a twist ending I didn't see coming. Howard's atmosphere is perfectly rendered, it's a story that stays with you.

Pigeons From Hell was collected in Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard, but you can read it online for free here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Halloween recommendations II: Dead of Night

I like horror the way I like socks: best enjoyed in bulk.

With that in mind, when it comes to selecting a horror film this Halloween, might I suggest a portmanteau? No, not a spork. An anthology! The economical path to a few fervid frights. The best-known portmanteau is 1945's Dead of Night, my recommednation for today.

Dead of Night combines five stories, linked together by a sequence of strangers telling each other stories of the supernatural in that fireside freakout manner the British do best. Four of the stories include a lonesome boy encountered at a Christmas party; a man who avoids a fatal car crash but feels that destiny is catching up with him; a golfer haunted by his best friend's ghost; and a mirror that seems to carry traces of those reflected in it. The fifth segment is the one that made this film legendary: a ventriloquist is haunted by his dummy, who seems to be alive. This was before the idea had been done to death (either in decent productions like William Goldman's Magic or crummy ones like Twilight Zone's "Caesar and Me") and this, the first, still packs a punch.

In fact, Dead of Night was the material adapted to the pilot episode of Escape, although it only adapted the ventriloquist segment. You can hear the episode here.

Dead of Night is rather British, especially the comedic segment with the golfers, so it helps to have an appreciation for dry comedy and ghosts who are decently friendly; the real scares are withheld until the climax.

Dead of Night is a little obscure and apparently out-of-print as a DVD, but I think you can find it broken up into 11 parts on something that rhymes with "too rube."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Halloween recommendations I: Casting the Runes

With Halloween just a few days away, I'll be blogging the next four days with recommendations for something from four different medias: prose, comics, film and old-time radio.

I'll kick this off with an old-time radio program which is itself adapted from the short story medium. Broadcast on the series Escape in 1947, the tale is "Casting the Runes" by M.R. James, which you may recall ranked in my 100 favorite short stories. It also inspired the film Night of the Demon which has a following of its own (and is a good movie at that).

My old-time radio hobby was brought about thanks to local station QR77, which has broadcast old radio shows every evening for many, many years. I became an avid fan of old-time radio in my early teenage years in part because of the horror/mystery shows (although eventually I grew fond of all radio show genres). But after all, QR77's resources were only so great at the time. After a few years I felt that I had heard it all and there were few horror shows remaining that I hadn't heard and even fewer which would seem scary.

Then one night I heard "Casting the Runes." I had no idea what to expect and the show stunned me with its sense of dread. The story's protagonist is visited by a creature which follows him everywhere he goes. He can feel its presence, but never sees it. This fear of the unknown translated itself to the radio perfectly.

You can find a copy of the episode online here.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Only X-Men are Forever

X-MEN FOREVER #15 & 16

Written by CHRIS CLAREMONT Penciled by PETER VALE (#15) & TBA (#16) Cover by TOM GRUMMETT

GREAT JUMPING ON POINT...the fate of PERFECT STORM! The last time we saw Storm, she was fleeing from the X-Men, having blinded Sabretooth and killed Logan. Now, we turn our focus to Wakanda to see what became of the evil clone of the woman that the X-Men loved and trusted. ALSO: new two-part story starting with Issue 16 as CHRIS CLAREMONT continues his landmark run on X-MEN FOREVER! Don’t miss a single panel! Plus, an extra feature detailing a timeline of what other Marvel Universe stories were occurring during the current X-Men Forever saga! #15 - 40 PGS./Rated A ...$3.99 #16 - 32 PGS./Rated A ...$3.99

Yes, that's me as the author of the "extra" in #15!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

My website is back!

With Geocities about to tap the mat, it was surely high time I found a a new home for the rambling lists I kept at my old website. Thanks to Janna & Juniper I have a new site at the Hoskin Centre. At this point it's just the old site.

Wait, did I say "just the old site?" Actually, it's the old site plus several months worth of updates that I kept off Geocities. The Archive section now lists several hundred more synopses of various defunct Marvel genre books. I even opened a new page for romance comics! It's still home to the Mark's Remarks archive too; I hope I'll find time to transcribe more of them over the next year.

Handbook in January

OFFICIAL HANDBOOK OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE A TO Z VOL. 12 PREMIERE HC

Written by JEFF CHRISTIANSEN, STUART VANDAL, SEAN MCQUAID, RONALD BYRD, MICHAEL HOSKIN, MIKE O'SULLIVAN, MIKE FICHERA, MADISON CARTER, ERIC J. MOREELS, ROB LONDON, GABE SHECHTER, MARKUS RAYMOND, DAVID WILTFONG, RICH GREEN, JEPH YORK, CHRIS BIGGS, JACOB ROUGEMONT, MARK O'ENGLISH & DAVID SEXTON Penciled by VARIOUS Cover by TOM GRUMMETT

Who watches the Watcher? The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe does! This latest volume of the handbook series features more up-to-date and expanded biographies of the Marvel characters you love! Thor proclaims this tome "good as Asgardian gold" because it includes the Thing, 3-D Man, Thunderbird, Thundra, Tigra, Toro, the Two-Gun Kid, Ultragirl, Union Jack, the USAgent, Valkyrie and Vindicator! Thanos declares this book "cold as Death's kiss" because of the Titanium Man, Toad, Tyrannus, the U-Foes, Ultron, Umar and Venom! Also: Thunderbolts! Vampires! Flash Thompson! Ben Urich! Thunderstrike! and much, much more! 240 PGS./Rated T+ ...$24.99 ISBN: 978-0-7851-3109-0

This was supposed to be a 12 volume set; well, I think it's clear we aren't done the alphabet yet...

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Index in January

The Marvel Index will be just about caught up to the current comics by January!

OFFICIAL INDEX TO THE MARVEL UNIVERSE #13

Continuing the chronicle of the Marvel Universe, starting with Spider-Man (from AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #523 on), Iron Man (from INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #2 on) and the X-Men (from UNCANNY X-MEN #514 on). Follow the history of the Marvel universe as it unfolds month by month with the all-new Official Index to the Marvel Universe. Each issue provides synopses for dozens of individual comics, including back-up strips, introducing you to the characters, teams, places and equipment that appeared within, providing vital information about first appearances, where they last showed up and where they appeared next! 64 PGS./Rated A ...$3.99

Friday, October 23, 2009

The best sound effects in comics: Incredible Hercules

It seems to have begun back in Greg Pak & John Romita Jr.'s World War Hulk#5 when letterer Chris Eliopoulos included a sound effect called "Grgpakk!" and another entitled "JRJRKJCSSSSS." Since then, Pak & Fred Van Lente's series Incredible Hercules has featured an amusing series of sound effects in the same vein. My favorites of the effects are:

Abomina: sound of the Abomination punching Hercules - Incredible Hercules#130

Aqwooooommm: sound of an underwater explosion - Incredible Hercules#120

Arhisdoree: sound of Hercules being kicked over a surrealist landscape - Incredible Hercules#131

Backatcha: sound of Thor punching Hercules - Incredible Hercules#136

Bichslapp: sound of Hercules backhanding his dead self - Incredible Hercules#131

Blablagwaaaaam sound of the Hulk punching the ground - Hulk vs. Hercules

Brakkaleesh: sound of Hercules breaking Cerebrus' leash - Incredible Hercules#129

Brakkitofff: sound of Thor hitting a troll in the head - Incredible Hercules#134

Capsmak: sound of Athena hitting a Harpy with her shield - Incredible Hercules#132

Clubwakk: sound of Hercules being hit by a troll's club - Incredible Hercules#134

Crackajammatu: sound of Hercules kicking his dead self in the chest - Incredible Hercules#131

Dethtrppp: sound of a suspended axe hitting a torture rack - Incredible Hercules#135

Dubbapow: sound of Hercules punching Venom and Sentry at same time - Incredible Hercules#128

Extngssssshhhhhh: sound of Hercules throwing a water-based opponent at a flame-based opponent - Incredible Hercules#119

Goddathundaaa: sound of Hercules knocking Thor into a wall - Incredible Hercules#136

Gotchagaaain: sound of Hercules punching Thor - Incredible Hercules#136

Granmorr: sound of Hercules punching Marvel Boy - Incredible Hercules#128

Hedcraack: sound of Hercules knocking Venom's head against Sentry's - Incredible Hercules#128

Hwwwwedgie: sound of Thor giving Hercules a wedgie - Incredible Hercules#136

Ixion: sound of Hercules being hit by a fiery table - Incredible Hercules#131

Jawcrack: sound of Hercules being punched in the jaw - Incredible Hercules#131

Joombbackcrackajrummmm: sound of Hercules kicking over a logging truck - Incredible Hercules#117

Jywoym-Jaroom: sound of Ajak's eyebeams hitting Hercules' chest - Incredible Hercules#117

Kallikantzapow: sound of Hercules hitting a Kallikantzaroi - Incredible Hercules#132

Khoiphoom: sound of Ares being hit by three missiles - Incredible Hercules#115

Krackahummmmaa: sound of Hercules hitting a troll with a hummer - Incredible Hercules#132

Krakabaka: sound of Hercules bringing Hulk down with a wrestling move - Hulk vs. Hercules

Malekrunch: sound of Malekith being crushed by Grendell - Incredible Hercules#136

N-Tu-Dasunnn: sound of Sentry being thrown through ceiling by Hercules - Incredible Hercules#128

Na-Cosboom: sound of Hercules punching a Skrull god - Incredible Hercules#120

Nklkrak: sound of Hercules cracking his knuckles - Incredible Hercules#126

Noggn: sound of two Amazons having their heads struck together - Incredible Hercules#124

Nu-krak: sound of Hercules hitting Sentry in the crotch - Incredible Hercules#128

Nuhhkkrack: sound of Thor hitting Hercules in the crotch - Incredible Hercules#136

Nuhkrakk: sound of Namora hitting Atlas in the crotch - Incredible Hercules#124

Nurp: sound of Hercules violently twisting Thor's nipples - Incredible Hercules#136

Panikakakakakakak: sound of Hercules tearing out of Nightmare's realm - Incredible Hercules#118

Papakrak: sound of Zeus punching Hercules - Incredible Hercules#131

Ploorgggg: sound of Hulk being hit into the ground by Hercules - Hulk vs. Hercules

Powdah: sound of Hercules crushing Sisyphus' boulder - Incredible Hercules#131

Quaktashtakrakshtafrakwoym: sound of a dreamtime vessel crashing - Incredible Hercules#119

Shtaaanne: sound of Pluto being struck by Obadiah Stane - Incredible Hercules#131

Sisy-Poof: sound of Sisyphus' boulder being recreated - Incredible Hercules#131

Skrrraatchthatt: sound of Zeus cutting off Hercules' retreat - Incredible Hercules#134

Sphycrankark: sound of Hercules punching Mikaboshi - Incredible Hercules#117

Splintuh: sound of Hercules shattering a wooden table - Incredible Hercules#131

Sukkkapunch: sound of Hercules punching Thor while his head is turned - Incredible Hercules#136

Taw-Prawnnnch sound of Hulk punching Ares into the ground - Hulk vs. Hercules

Thorrrrulz: sound of Thor striking Hercules - Incredible Hercules#136

Whambo: sound of Hercules punching Nightmare in the jaw - Incredible Hercules#118

Whatamannnn: sound of Thor striking the ground - Incredible Hercules#136

Zomboow: sound of Hercules being punched by his dead self - Incredible Hercules#131

Zoozzzaap: sound of Zeus striking Kallikantzaroi with lightning - Incredible Hercules#132

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Great Short Stories Part 10: #91-100

And today I complete the list:

91. "The Whole Town's Sleeping" (1950) by Ray Bradbury. A chilling tale of a woman walking home late at night while a notorious serial killer is on the loose. Very different from Brown's "Don't Look Behind You," but I think both conjure up a terrific fear of the unknown.

"The Whole Town's Sleeping" can be found in Dandelion Wine.

92. "The Fog Horn" (1951) by Ray Bradbury. A wistful story of a fog horn which attracts something from below the ocean - not a monster in search of victims, simply a very lonesome creature.

"The Fog Horn" can be found in The Stories of Ray Bradbury.

93. "Pawley's Peepholes" (1951) by John Wyndham. An amusing time travel story in which time traveling tourists descend upon an English town and become a local nuisance. They have no physical form nor ability to speak, but their appearances become unbearable...until the townsfolk just get used to them.

94. "A Sound of Thunder" (1952) by Ray Bradbury. The be-all end-all of time travel paradox stories! It takes the concept of going back in time to hunt dinosaurs and uses it as a perfect demonstration of paradoxes with simplicity very few science fiction authors have managed.

"A Sound of Thunder" can be found in The Stories of Ray Bradbury.

95. "Over Insurance" (1953) by John Collier. The story of a couple who are terribly in love with each other. So in love are they that they take out insurance on each other, but the premiums are so high that their lives become miserable. The conclusion may be obvious, but Collier gets there with considerable panache and fun dialogue.

"Over Insurance" can be found in Fancies and Goodnights.

96. "The Cold Equations" (1954) by Tom Godwin. A sombre science fiction tale of a woman who stows away aboard a spaceship, not realizing what a grave impact this has on the flight; to set the ship aright, she has to be jettisoned into space!

"The Cold Equations" can be found in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame: The Greatest Science Fiction Stories of All Time.

97. "Lamb to the Slaughter" (1954) by Roald Dahl. The famed Dahl story of a woman who uses a frozen leg of lamb as a murder weapon. The best part? You can eat the evidence.

"Lamb to the Slaughter" can be found in Collected Stories. You can read the text online here.

98. "Long Shot" (1972) by Vernor Vinge. A fantastic story told about a ship piloting from Earth to a distant star. However, the mission takes so long to complete that the ship cannot recall what its purpose is!

"Long Shot" can be found in The Collected Stories of Vernor Vinge.

99. "The Four-Hour Fugue" (1974) by Alfred Bester. The story of a man with an incomparable sense of smell. Unfortunately, it seems as though certain odors can take possession of him; even he seems unaware of what he does while in a fugue and it seems dead bodies have been turning up...

100. "Prince Delightful and the Flameless Dragon" (1991) by Isaac Asimov. And last to my list, an off-kilter Asimov story where he makes fun of fairy tales. Prince Delightful is a young man possessed of all the graces needed in a hero except coordination. He meets a dragon which cannot breathe fire, leading to a moment tailor made for the paleontologists out there.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Why am I making comics for Steve Bennett?

In his latest column for icv2, Steve Bennett notes gleefully:
"Once again Marvel has produced a comic specifically for me; Marvel Mystery Handbook 70th Anniversary Special. Along with some nice entries on neglected Golden Age heroes like Blue Blaze, the one for Marvex actually tries to explain how The Super Robot changed heads in between issues of Marvel Mystery Comics. But the highlight of course just has to be the full page that's devoted to Terry Vance, which makes up for the fact his assistant Dr. Watson only received a minor mention in the Marvel Pet Handbook (any ape that can be trusted with a loaded gun deserves better)."

This following his recent love for Marvel Pets, which I noted previously. It's hard to believe he's the same man who once demanded a boycott on two of my books, including Annihilation Saga.

Great Short Stories Part 9: #81-90

81. "Skeleton" (1943) by Ray Bradbury. Perhaps the most horrible of Bradbury's stories yet told in such a delightful manner; a man fears and hates his skeleton and wages a losing war against it. A bone specialist has an unconventional solution to his dilemma...

"Skeleton" can be found in The Stories of Ray Bradbury.

82. "The Storm" (1944) by McKnight Malmar. While a storm rages outside, a woman comes upon a body in her basement. She waits for her husband's return so that he can help her, but is she just imagining the body?

"The Storm" can be read online here.

83. "The Small Assassin" (1946) by Ray Bradbury. Bradbury's most chilling story, some consider it ridiculous but it has such a perfectly-honed tension that spills out in the final line - I love it. A woman fears that her newborn child is out to kill her. Before long, her husband has reason to agree.

"The Small Assassin" can be found in The Stories of Ray Bradbury.

84. "The Emissary" (1947) by Ray Bradbury. This is like a horror version of Bradbury's Dandelion Wine where his beloved small town atmosphere is invaded by something unearthly. A boy confined to his bed relies upon his dog to keep him in touch with the outside world. From the scents on his dog's coat he imagines the world outside his room and the dog also brings people to visit him. The dog is willing to go to any length to keep its master company...

"The Emissary" can be found in The Stories of Ray Bradbury.

85. "Zero Hour" (1947) by Ray Bradbury. Horror meets science fiction in this one, where children begin playing a game of invasion; the problem is, it's not just a game.

"Zero Hour" can be found in The Illustrated Man.

86. "Don't Look Behind You" (1948) by Fredric Brown. I recall my mother telling me about this story years before I chanced upon it in an anthology. It left a vivid impression on her and I can understand why; two men make a bet about killing a stranger. The victim's identity will startle you.

"Don't Look Behind You" can be found in Daymare and Other Tales From the Pulps.

87. "The Lottery" (1948) by Shirley Jackson. This is the well known story of a small town and its unusual tradition, the lottery which helps maintain balance with the environment.

"The Lottery" can be found in The Lottery. You can read the text online here.

88. "The Girl With the Hungry Eyes" (1949) by Fritz Leiber. A photographer receives an unusual client, a beautiful woman who imposes strict terms upon him regarding her secrecy. He becomes consumed with curiosity about her and begins to learn all he can; this leads him to a trail of bodies...

"The Girl With the Hungry Eyes" can be found in The Penguin Book of Vampire Stories.

89. "Poison" (1950) by Roald Dahl. This story was almost ruined for me by having seen the Alfred Hitchcock Presents adaptation first - it misses the point of Dahl's narrative. A man is trapped in bed by a snake which crawled under his covers. To save his life, he must agree to let the local Indian doctor treat him, despite his prejudices.

"Poison" can be found in Collected Stories. You can read the text online here.

90. "The Veldt" (1950) by Ray Bradbury. For all the romanticism Bradbury brings to childhood, it's important to remember that he doesn't think children are perfect. This is one of his great "children are evil" stories, where two kids engineer the murder of their parents. Their motivation? Simply too spoiled.

"The Veldt" can be found in The Stories of Ray Bradbury.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Lockjaw & the Pet Avengers TPB tomorrow!

If a title like "Lockjaw & the Pet Avengers" wasn't enough to win you over, you should at least heed this: it contains my Marvel Pets Handbook! Solicitation posted here.

Great Short Stories Part 8: #71-80

71. "Little Miss Marker" (1932) by Damon Runyon. One of Runyon's best-known stories, although the original is more bleak than its many adaptations. A bookie accepts a young girl as a marker for a bet; when the gambler doesn't pay, abandoning the child, the bookie finds himself responsible for the child. To everyone's amazement, he becomes a better man as he determines to care for her.

"Little Miss Marker" can be found in Guys and Dolls and Other Writings.

72. "Tobias the Terrible" (1932) by Damon Runyon. In my opinion, this was Runyon's funniest story. Small-towner Tobias comes to New York in the hopes of meeting underworld characters so that he can impress his girl; through circumstances, he winds up being mistaken for a gunsel ("Twelve-Gun Tobias") and decides that being mistaken for a crook is even better than meeting one!

"Tobias the Terrible" can be found in Guys and Dolls and Other Writings. You can read the text online here.

73. "Three Skeleton Key" (1937) by George Toudouze. This story is probably best known for the radio adaptation produced on Escape as Toudouze was seldom translated into English. Three men tending a lighthouse near French Guinea spot a derelict coming toward the rocky reefs; aboard the derelict is a vast army of rats! Toudouze captures the constant tension and gradually descent into madness of his characters beautifully.

"Three Skeleton Key" can be read online here.

74. "Leiningen Versus the Ants" (1938) by Carl Stephenson. This is another story I know from Escape, although some may know it for inspiring the 50s film the Naked Jungle. A plantation owner learns that a swarm of army ants is headed toward his property and is advised to pull out. Leiningen refuses and instead prepares his men to wage war with the ants!

"Leiningen Versus the Ants" can be found in Twenty-One Great Stories. You can read the text online here.

75. "Pigeons From Hell" (1938) by Robert E. Howard. You won't find any Lovecraft on my list of 100 favorite short stories, although here I've selected one of his contemporaries. As far as I'm concerned, Lovecraft was simply not a very good writer. Howard, on the other hand, although best known for Conan, turned out an incredible horror story here, one with a following of its own. Two men spend the night in an abandoned plantation manor; by morning, one is dead and the survivor must clear his name by combatting the forces of voodoo!

"Pigeons From Hell" can be found in The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard. You can read the text online here.

76. "Ah, the University!" (1939) by John Collier. A quick and delightful tale; a father brings up his son with glowing tales of life at a university, but he does not intend to send his son there; rather, he wants his son to become a cardsharp and support him by winning poker games. The son complies and after years of studying cards heads out to win a fortune. It comes down to a beautifully funny double cross.

77. "Bottle Party" (1939) by John Collier. One of Collier's best known stories, this concerns a man who picks up a bottle containing a genie. Given the power to have whatever he desires, the man begins conjuring up palaces and beautiful women, but is rather disconcerted when he learns the genie's previous master wished for the same things he did.

"Bottle Party" can be found in Fancies and Goodnights. You can read the text online here.

78. "Evening Primrose" (1940) by John Collier. And this is single best known Collier story, one which has often been imitated. A poet goes to live inside a department store to escape the world outside; within the store, he finds a much more horrible world, a community of people who live in stores and pose as mannequins!

"Evening Primrose" can be found in Fancies and Goodnights.

79. "The Crowd" (1943) by Ray Bradbury. Bradbury later became known for science fiction tales and stories of forward looking optimism, but early in his career he wrote stories such as "The Crowd" which were nearer to the pulp horror stories of the day. A journalist narrowly survives a car crash; examining other car crash photos he sees faces in the crowd who were present at his crash. Who are they and what draws them to crash sites?

"The Crowd" can be found in The Stories of Ray Bradbury.

80. "The Scythe" (1943) by Ray Bradbury. An impoverished family chance upon a deserted farm where the previous tenant willed all his property to whoever finds his remains. The property includes a scythe used to cut the wheat. But there's something strange about the wheat, the way it decays immediately after being cut; gradually, the man with the scythe realizes that for every blade he cuts down, someone dies!

"The Scythe" can be found in The Stories of Ray Bradbury.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Great Short Stories: #61-70

61. "The Open Window" (1914) by Saki. This is easily Saki's best-known work. A young woman relates the story of her aunt's open window, the belief her aunt has that one day her lost relatives will return to her. This being Saki, it's all about the cruel tricks people play on each other.

"The Open Window" can be found in Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural. You can read the text online here.

62. "The Metamorphosis" (1915) by Franz Kafka. Another novella, this is the story of poor Gregor Samska, the man who awakens one morning to find he has become an insect. For him, this is the beginning of a terrible series of challenges. To his family, this is the start of new opportunities.

"The Metamorphosis" can be found in The Metamorphosis and Other Stories. You can read the text online here.

63. "The Interlopers" (1919) by Saki. An intense story of two men quarreling over their neighboring lands who find themselves pinned by a tree in the woods; suddenly, they are acutely aware of the futility of their feud, but they also realize that neither of them are the real interlopers; it builds to a final line that changes the whole story with just one word.

"The Interlopers" can be found in The Interlopers. You can read the text online here.

64. "Confession" (1921) by Algernon Blackwood. For my money, this is Blackwood's best tale. A shellshocked veteran wanders the foggy streets of London, trying desperately to overcome his terror, uncertain of whether the people he meets and the things he sees are real. When a woman is murdered, he doesn't know whether he's been framed for a crime or imagined the entire affair!

"Confession" can be found in . You can read the text online here.

65. "The Bamboo Trap" (1923) by Robert S. Lemmon. This obscure tale tells of a hunter sent to find a sample of a rare spider for his employers. After falling into an underground pit, he finds the good news: he's discovered the spiders' home. The bad news: he can't climb out.

66. "The Most Dangerous Game" (1924) by Richard Connell. The original and often-imitated story of the hunter who has tired of all normal game and has decided he needs prey which can think; in other words, he wants to hunt humans!

"The Most Dangerous Game" can be found in The Most Dangerous Game. You can read the text online here.

67. "Action" (1928) by Charles E. Montague. A gripping tale of a man who has lost all hope in living and prepared to die. Rather than suicide, he attempts to scale a sheer ice precipice so that he can go out struggling with nature. However, he's not alone on the wall of ice...

68. "When the World Screamed" (1929) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. One of Doyle's shorter tales of Professor Challenger, who debuted in the Lost World. Challenger is convinced that the Earth is itself a living organism and constructs a drill to prove his point. His goal? To awaken the Earth and make it acknowledge his existence! What some men will do for validation...

"When the World Screamed" can be found in The Complete Adventures of Professor Challenger. You can read the text online here.

69. "The Lily of St. Pierre" (1930) by Damon Runyon. Like most of Runyon's works, this is both amusing and tragic. After a bootlegger murders another criminal he relates the reasons why, relating a tale of his time in Canada where he befriended a man and his daughter, came to think of them as his own family and the tragedy that took them away.

"The Lily of St. Pierre" can be found in Guys and Dolls and Other Writings. You can read the text online here.

70. "Green Thoughts" (1932) by John Collier. A just plain odd story in which a botany enthusiast finds that his new plant has the ability to digest any living being, including full-grown humans. The botanist becomes his plant's victim, but that's only the beginning of the story!

"Green Thoughts" can be found in Fancies and Goodnights.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Great Short Stories: #51-60

51. "The Voice in the Night" (1907) by William Hope Hodgson. Two men at sea hear a voice in the night, coming from a rowboat. The voice asks for food, but does not want to be seen. The men comply and some time later the rowboat returns and the voice tells them its tragic story. What is it? Well, I can tell you this: this is the story which inspired Matango ("Attack of the Mushroom People")!

"The Voice in the Night" can be found in The Collected Fiction of William Hope Hodgson Volume 3. You can read the text online here.

52. "The Willows" (1907) by Algernon Blackwood. A disturbing tale in the style Lovecraft would later popularize. Two men on a canoeing trip spent a night on a tiny island. With them is an unearthly presence so terrible that their only hope is to not think about it, because the moment they perceive what is with them will be the moment of their destruction!

"The Willows" can be found in The Willows. You can read the text online here.

53. "Ancient Sorceries" (1908) by Algernon Blackwood. Chilling story about a man who gets off at a small village to make a point to another travler. Although he chose the village at random, the lcoale seems strangely familiar. And the people seem to recognize him, watching him, waiting for something to happen.

"Ancient Sorceries" can be found in Ancient Sorceries and Other Weird Stories. You can read the text online here.

54. "To Build a Fire" (1908) by Jack London. A taut tale about a man in the frozen north whose cruelty gets the best of him when he faces the danger of freezing to death; his only prayer is to build a fire in time.

"To Build a Fire" can be found in To Build a Fire and Other Stories. You can read the text online here.

55. "Tobermory" (1909) by Saki. An amusing story in which a cat obtains the ability to speak; after an initial burst of enthusiasm, the people who the cat knows become terrified of the feline because it knows all of their secrets and has no compunction about sharing them!

"Tobermory" can be found in Great English Short Stories. You can read the text online here.

56. "August Heat" (1910) by William Harvey. Haunting story about an artist who makes a picture of a murderer. Then he meets the man, who turns out to be a tombstone carver; the carver has just inscribed the artist's name on a display stone. The two men gradually realize that they are war with destiny and must somehow prevent the inevitable.

"August Heat" can be found in Masters Choice. You can read the text online here.

57. "The Blue Cross" (1910) by G.K. Chesterton. This might be the best of Chesterton's Father Brown stories. In this one, a man sets about perform seemingly random acts, not unlike the character from Doyle's "Adventure of the Six Napoleons." As in that story, there's more going on than appears on the surface and it takes Father Brown to discern the "madman's" intentions by behaving "mad" just like the criminal!

"The Blue Cross" can be found in Favorite Father Brown Stories. You can read the text online here.

58. "The Grove of Ashtaroth" (1910) by John Buchan. Buchan wrote very few tales of the supernatural and when he did delve into such matters, he often evoked strange compulsions which cling to environments, rather than conventional ghosts and spirits. In this tale set in South Africa, the narrator recounts the tale of his friend who became suddenly invested in a piece of South African land containing a certain grove circled by doves. On evenings he heads into the grove and performs certain acts - acts of worship to the goddess Ashtorah!

"The Grove of Ashtaroth" can be found in The Moon Endureth: Tales and Fancies. You can read the text online here.

59. "Casting the Runes" (1911) by M.R. James. An unforgettable tale of a man who derides the forces of darkness, then finds himself beset by them. Everywhere he goes, something follows upon his footsteps. The haunting is fated to end eventually, but that brings little relief: it can only end in death.

"Casting the Runes" can be found in Complete Ghost Stories. You can read the text online here.

60. "The Adventure of the Dying Detective" (1913) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This was the story which first interested me in Sherlock Holmes. Holmes lies dying in his bed and refuses to let Watson treat him. Watson speeds off to find a specialist, but it seems the specialist is all too aware of Holmes' precarious condition.

"The Adventure of the Dying Detective" can be found in The Complete Sherlock Holmes. You can read the text online here.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Great Short Stories: #41-50

41. "The Monkey's Paw" (1902) by W.W. Jacobs. This is the story Jacobs is remembered for, but as you've seen I've listed a number of his works, there is more to commend in his bibliography than just this one tale. That said, this is one of the all-time great short stories. I'm sure you already know (or think you know?) the story and its moral: be careful what you wish for.

"The Monkey's Paw" can be found in The Lady of the Barge and Other Stories. You can read the text online here.

42. "The Well" (1902) by W.W. Jacobs. Another fine story by Jacobs, this relates the falling out between two brothers, culminating in one's disappearance. When the beloved of the remaining brother loses a ring inside an old well, he suddenly becomes quite perturbed and determined to retrieve the ring alone. Why doesn't he want anyone else looking inside the well?

"The Well" can be found in The Lady of the Barge and Other Stories. You can read the text online here.

43. "The Adventure of the Second Stain" (1904) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Another great Sherlock Holmes story, this involves the titular second stain - one stain lies on the rug, the other on the floor. Why was the rug moved after the murdered man died?

"The Adventure of the Second Stain" can be found in The Complete Sherlock Holmes. You can read the text online here.

44. "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons" (1904) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A great Holmes story where a man goes about smashing busts of Napoleon, seemingly insane. It takes Holmes to realize that there's more going on here.

"The Adventure of the Six Napoleons" can be found in The Complete Sherlock Holmes. You can read the text online here.

45. "The Country of the Blind" (1904) by H.G. Wells. "In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king," so goes the proverb. In this wistful story, a mountain climber discovers the country of the blind, but finds that the proverb does not hold true. He soon discovers that his senses may be superior, but they mean less than nothing in a society which has made to do without.

"The Country of the Blind" can be found in The Country of the Blind and Other Selected Stories. You can read the text online here.

46. "Number 13" (1904) by M.R. James. A frightening James story which slowly builds up to one immensely effective moment. A guest in a hotel notices some odd occurrences. The room seems smaller during the night, larger during the day. At night, he sees a room next to him numbered "13." He can't find number 13 during the day. And someone is in that room.

"Number 13" can be found in Complete Ghost Stories. You can read the text online here.

47. "Oh, Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad" (1904) by M.R. James. Possibly James' finest story, certainly one of his best-known. Between his fun prose, James brings out a terrific ghost story about a man who digs up an unusual whistle, then blows into it. Unfortunately for him, something answers the call.

"Oh, Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad" can be found in Complete Ghost Stories. You can read the text online here.

48. "The Treasure of Abbot Thomas" (1904) by M.R. James. This was my first exposure to James, it was in a filmstrip collection along with Amelia Edward's "Phantom Coach." A researcher solves the riddle of Abbot Thomas' supposed hidden treasure, but when he reaches in to take it...well, it's a moment that lived long in my imagination.

"The Treasure of Abbot Thomas" can be found in Complete Ghost Stories. You can read the text online here.

49. "A Tropical Horror" (1905) by William Hope Hodgson. A ship at sea is visited by a creature from the depths, something apparently prehistoric...something with little love for humans. Told in frantic passages as the narrator tries to conceal himself from the sea creature which tears through his fellow crewmen.

"A Tropical Horror" can be found in The Collected Fiction of William Hope Hodgson Volume 3. You can read the text online here.

50. "A Suspicious Gift" (1906) by Algernon Blackwood. Blackwood is best regarded for his supernatural tales, but this one manages to terrify without bringing in anything otherwordly. A man takes in a strange guest who has a gift of money for him. So what's the catch? And why does the guest walk so strangely?

"A Suspicious Gift" can be found in The Empty House and Other Ghost Stories. You can read the text online here.