Monday, October 31, 2011

Celebrate Halloween with OTR!

As a fan of old-time radio, one of my favourite ways to observe Halloween is through listening to great OTR shows. As a young teenager when I first became a fan, there were some programs which gave me a few thrills and scares, listening to them late at night in the dark, my mind half-asleep. Below are the best scary shows I've ever heard; the links lead to and you can download them by right-clicking the link and choosing to save the file.

Happy Halloween!

Dimension X: There Will Come Soft Rains/Zero Hour; Mars is Heaven

Escape: A Shipment of Mute Fate; Pollack and the Porrah Man; Evening Primrose; Casting the Runes; Taboo; An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge; Confession; Papa Benjamin; Snake Doctor; Ancient Sorceries; The Grove of Ashtaroth; The Log of the Evening Star; Three Skeleton Key; Present Tense

Inner Sanctum: The Judas Clock; The Devil's Workshop; Terror by Night

Lights Out: Spider; Little Old Lady; Murder Castle

Mystery in the Air: The Horla

Quiet, Please: Whence Came You?; The Thing on the Fourble Board; My Son John

Suspense: The Hitchhiker; Fugue in C Minor; Drive-In; To Find Help; August Heat; The Furnished Floor; The Pasteboard Box; The House in Cypress Canyon; Hitchhike Poker; The Ten Years; The Lunch Kit; Mission Completed; Never Steal a Butcher's Wife; Too Hot to Live; On a Country Road; Track of the Cat; The Death of Me; The Whole Town's Sleeping; The Waxwork

Weird Circle: A Terrible Night; The Curse of the Mantle; The Trial for Murder

Sunday, October 30, 2011

I Love Atlas Comics#16: "The Dinner Guest!"

From the mixed-up files of artist Don Perlin comes Astonishing#35 (1954)'s "the Dinner Guest!" Sounds elegant!

Somewhere in the USSR, poor old Sasha welcomes a Soviet commissar into his home and insists he take the best chair in his shack.

The commissar has come to review Sasha's claim that he needs more money to live on. Sasha quickly explains why: his son Ivan is a zombie! On the evening after Ivan's funeral, Sasha was shocked to find Ivan at his door, now a zombie!

Sasha explains how his son was a criminal and murderer in life, much to the disinterest of the commissar. Sasha says since Ivan's return he's been cold and rotting. This is why he needs more money - to afford more food and clothing for Ivan. Since Ivan is legally dead, however, the commissar doesn't believe anything can be done and suspects he's being fed a pack of lies.

Sasha reacts violently, pulling a knife on the commissar and forcing him into the chair as manacles are placed over his arms and legs.

You see, Ivan has a special diet since becoming a zombie...and that's what they really need the commissar for!

I hope you've enjoyed these seven days of "I Love Atlas Comics;" I may return to the feature again from time to time, likely to visit the other Atlas genres like crime, war and western. Enjoy your Halloween tomorrow!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

I Love Atlas Comics#15: "Out of My Life!"

Today we head back to 1953 and Bob Fujitani's "Out of My Life!" from Adventures into Weird Worlds#22, a tale well calculated to keep you in...confusion!

We open on a young woman meeting an older man at a restaurant. The woman, Lise, has just told the man about her lover, Ralph. He's having an oddly muted reaction to hte news.

As she asks him how he feels about her and Ralph he acts like nothing is trouble him, but she suspects he's planning something. Sure enough, the man has something on his mind.

Still, he doesn't give away his secret, offering a creepy toast.

Lise asks what he'll do with himself now; he says he'll travel to Europe, while thinking he needs to take care of Ralph first.

Lise seems upset by the idea of the man being alone and it pleases him to think she'll miss him. Just then, Ralph arrives and the man's horrible secret is revealed!

Wait a minute. WHAT? The surprise ending is the older man is the woman's father? That's...that's not a twist! At least, not a twist worthy of a comic called Adventures Into Weird Worlds. This would have been acceptable fare in Young Love or Love Romances.

It's only a three-page story, but that's about four pages too many. The writer probably thought he was being very clever, hinting toward some dark secret where none actually exists. The author is uncredited, but if he's still alive, he'd be at home with today's dozens of comics-which-hint-towards-things-happening-but-nothing-ever-does. "Out of My Life" fascinates me for being so absolutely out of place.

Friday, October 28, 2011

I Love Atlas Comics#14: "Double Feature"

From 1954's Mystic#30 we have a single feature called "Double Feature," courtesy of Al Eadeh.

We look in on one Warren Koster, museum employee.

He's very upset with his boss Mr. Blackton and assumes the quickest way to the top is to murder his superior. However, before bringing down the axe he realizes he'd be easily caught and convicted. That evening, Koster goes to see a double feature at the theatre: "Marked for Murder" and "Trapped."

The movies give him an idea. He memorizes the plot, then the following evening he goes to the same show again, but walks away from the theatre with his ticket stubs.

This is a pretty familiar alibi in fiction of the time - the murderer claims to be at the theatre while a movie he'd seen earlier is playing. The stubs will hopefully clinch his alibi, leaving him free to murder Mr. Blackton...and that's exactly what Koster does.

He's done it! The perfect crime! ...Uh, assuming the police don't try to match his fingerprints to the axe. Early the next morning the police come to see Koster and ask for his alibi when Blackton was killed. He produces the ticket stubs and starts to describe the double feature, only to be handcuffed. Koster slipped up in a way he couldn't have foreseen:

Minutes after he bought his second ticket! Extremely lucky and yet unlucky at the same time!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

I Love Atlas Comics#13: "Burton's Blood"

Lucky#13 of "I Love Atlas Comics" brings us a tale by Stan Lee and Wild Bill Everett; "Burton's Blood" from Menace#2, 1953; but don't get too cozy in the 50s, we're traveling to that far flung future world of...1998!

During the worldwide atomic war of 1998 (remember that?), John Burton is one of the few beings on Earth to prosper; that's because he's a vampire!

While humanity suffers and dies, Burton feasts on the corpses and easily evades efforts by humans to destroy him. Having eaten to his full, he decides to sleep in a vacant crypt. His sleep is so sound he winds up napping for an untold number of years. When Burton awakens, the world looks quite different to him.

Clearly, humanity has rebuilt itself from the ruins of atomic war so he can't rely upon corpses littering the streets; he'll have to hunt for his food again, so out come the fangs!

Burton soon finds a suitable victim - a man who appears quite corpulent. Burton stalks him until he can isolate him on his own. Burton attacks the large man, but the intended victim shows no fear in the face of the vampire. Burton sinks his fangs into the man's neck, to no effect. It seems Burton slept far, far too long. The atomic war wound up eliminating all human life on the planet:

Robots:1 Vampires: 0

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Vampires: the Marvel Undead#1 is in stores today

Vampires: the Marvel Undead is the most recent entry in the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe and I know what you're thinking, "Vampires? In the week before Halloween? Must be a coincidence." Maybe you're also wondering why there's a stripper on the cover (it's Lilith, daughter of Dracula).

I was pleasantly surprised to find myself credited as a writer (under "with") for this issue. I mean...obviously I knew I had contributed to the comic. Still, I didn't know if I'd be with the writers or the special thanks. Both, as it turns out.

Anyway, with more than any sane human being should want to know about Marvel Comics' vampires...I approve this publication. Buy a copy.

I Love Atlas Comics#12: "Hammer Horror"

Today's "I Love Atlas Comics" takes up to the realm of crime comics with 1951's Justice Comics#19. Our story is "Hammer Horror," not to be confused with the British filmmakers. Sadly, the artist of this tale isn't identified.

Now, I said this series was going to cover horror comics, yet here I am looking at a crime comic, one purportedly drawn from a real life case. Although this story appeared in Justice Comics, it could have easily been printed in Mystery Tales or Suspense.

A string of murders committed by a man wielding a hammer unnerve the city; police detective John Murray notes the killer only strikes on night when rain is falling and makes this information public, upsetting the public when another rainfall occurs; however, no hammer murders follow the rain. It's only while looking at his son's book on mythology that Murray realizes what's really going on:

Murray missed a vital piece of information about the killings: they occur on nights with thunder & lightning. The killer has modeled himself after the Norse god of thunder, Thor! On the next storm night, Murray manages to save a policeman from being the next victim!

Murray shoots the hammer from "Thor's" hand, but the killer escapes. Finally, Murray has some concrete evidence and studies the murder weapon:

These leads Murray to a barrel-making factory, where there just happens to be a red-bearded barrel maker called...Thorson! Murray waits for another storm to burst out before he makes his move; sure enough, Thorson is the man they're looking for; he believes Thor is his father!

In fact, Thorson's strength is rather prodigious and he escapes Murray.

When the police catch up to Thorson, he's atop a skyscraper, trying to summon his father's help and command the thunder & lightning.

And that's just what happens - his hammer-waving antics draw the lightning to him.

Thorson is dead, bringing an end to the hammer murders. Murray is left to wonder whether the lightning strike was a coincidence or godly intervention.

Like most crime comics, "Hammer Horror" claims to be based on a real life case. I've tried to ascertain if this is true, but I haven't had any luck; supposedly, this is from the casebook of "John Murray" of the "Black Daisy" case. These seem to be references to famed serial killer-catcher John St. John and the Black Dahlia case, but I haven't found any internet sources connecting St. John to this case; if you can identify the real world case, please let me know.

On the other hand, there's an old-time radio program which follows this same story! It's the October 11, 1949 episode of Casey, Crime Photographer dubbed "Thunderbolt." Just like "Hammer Horror," a man named Thorson kills men with a hammer on stormy evenings. This suggests that either the 1949 radio play and 1951 comic script both drew from the same historical sources, or the comic swiped the radio story and tried to pass it off as a "real case" to conceal the matter (50s comics are full of swipes from radio and short stories). Anyway, you can download "Thunderbolt" from the Internet Archive here (right-click to save the file); the surviving copy of this episode is missing the commercial and music bridges (being an AFRS broadcast), which makes it seem more intense than the typical episode of Casey. Also of interest, up until 1950 Atlas had been publishing a Casey, Crime Photographer comic book.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

I Love Atlas Comics#11: "Dance of Death"

Today's Atlas tale is 1951's "Dance of Death" from Suspense#10, drawn by Russ Heath...which means beautiful, utterly gorgeous artwork!

Our protagonist is one Eddie Baxter, an ambitious competitive dancer who hopes to win a contest on Broadway which would kickstart his Hollywood career. Unfortunately, he can't find a female dancer partner who meets his exacting standards. Finally, he notices an advertisement in the newspaper:

Thus, Eddie seeks out Marla and she proves to be quite the looker.

In fact, Marla has more than looks - she has moves too! But she seems to be hiding some sort of mysterious secret...

Eddie feels he's found more than just a winning dance partner - as days of rehearsing commence he tries to strike up social encounters with Marla as well. However, while Marla is happy to spend the day with him, she always parts ways before evening.

Eddie happens to notice Marla doesn't sunburn; she claims she has a very good skin lotion.

As the day of the contest nears, another dancer suggests Marla has a boyfriend and she'll stand him up. However, Marla comes through for Eddie, arriving on time for the contest, marking the first time Eddie has seen Marla in the evening. They go on to win the contest, just as Eddie hoped. However, Marla won't stop dancing! She dances Eddie right out of the theater and into the darkness. Her secret finally comes out...

Marla finally explains she was killed by Ando, who claimed she was full of "intrigue." Marla doesn't believe this, maintaining she's an innocent woman who just wants a dance partner...someone she can dance with for an eternity. She's chosen Eddie as that partner.

It's interesting to note Marla moves about during daylight hours with no ill effects, which is contrary to most vampire stories, but wasn't exactly "codified" back in '51. Protagonists in early Atlas horror stories usually possess a flaw which causes them to "earn" their deaths (because the protagonists nearly always die); in Eddie's case, his being picky about dance partners is the flaw...otherwise, he's an innocent victim. Or, despite his declaration of "doomed!" perhaps he made out all right by becoming a dancing vampire. In which's a happy ending!

Monday, October 24, 2011

I Love Atlas Comics#10: The Man Who Steals Gravestones!

In the spirit of Halloween, I've dug up an old blog feature and jolt it back to life; for the week leading up to the holiday, I'll be writing up new entries in my old "I Love Atlas Comics" series!

Today, let's look at 1953's Adventures into Weird Worlds#14 (reprinted from Crypt of Shadows#5) and Sol Brodsky's story "The Man Who Steals Gravestones!"

He's actually using a modest winch, but when I first saw this splash page years ago I thought the gravestone-nabber had an elaborate removal device.

We open in a cemetery with Josiah Creech, the man who steals gravestones. After loading the old gravestone into his wheelbarrow, then into his truck, Creech brings the stone back to his shop and chisels the names off the slab, then places it in his display window; you see, Josiah is in the business of gravestone sales.

One day an older gentleman purchases a gravestone from Josiah for $100 and Josiah carries the stone to the cemetary himself, intending to plant it lightly in the ground so it will be easier to re-steal. However, once the gravestone is planted the purchaser disappears without having paid Josiah. Josiah wonders what's going on, when suddenly he's pulled through the ground itself!

Josiah finds himself within a coffin beside the man who purchased the gravestone. He believes since Josiah seems to want his gravestone so badly...

Creech already has such a look of death about him (the tight skin on his skull, the sunken eyes), he actually looks less lively than the dead man.

Be back tomorrow for another "I Love Atlas Comics!"

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The perils of reading Michael Kupperman

I'm really getting into Michael Kupperman's work, I enjoy how his comics present absurd situations which characters underplay for humourous effect. As I worked my way through my stack of new comics last week, I began reading Tales Designed to Thrizzle#6:




Then I picked up a copy of Jay Faerber & Simone Guglielmini's Near Death#2, the new series about a hitman who tries to turn his life around and save lives:


Ha-ha- wait a minute, that's not funny.

I had to set Near Death#2 down for about 5 minutes then start reading again. It seems that after a little bit of Kupperman, you start seeing jokes everywhere.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I meant to post this...about two years ago...

I only just stumbled upon an interview at Comixtreme from 2009 where I was sitting next to Riley Rossmo at the Another Dimension signing table as he was being interviewed; because it was being taped, after I interjected one line, I suddenly found myself being asked for my credentials and found the subject matter shifting over to my work. You can read it here.

Looking at it now, I'm surprised at how well I come across; I felt a bit cheap for intruding on Riley's spotlight with what was supposed to be a single off-the-record remark (about Riley's work, no less). I especially love this:

RR: He was buying $20 worth of Force Works and I asked him, “Are you sure?”

MH: It’s research.

RR: I think only half the time, it’s actually research - I think most of them are just guilty pleasures.

Oh, the things I own from years of handbook writing; I had to pay through the nose to get a set of Terry Kavanagh's Marc Spector: Moon Knight.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Unearthed: Steve Ditko's Static

Until now, I've been using Unearthed to look back on comic books I read in my youth. Today's example does dip back into 1983, but I didn't acquire my copies until a couple of years ago. The subject is the Static serial which ran in issues #1-3 of Eclipse Monthly.

Eclipse Monthly was an anthology title run by editor/publisher Dean Mullaney and featuring work by notable creators like Doug Wildey, Marshall Rogers and Gene Colan. It had been preceded by Eclipse, a black & white magazine-format series. I collected Eclipse and the first three of Eclipse Monthly because they contained a serialized adaptation of Sax Rohmer's Dope by Trina Robbins. I started thinking about these two series again while I was reading Dave Sim's Cerebus Archive#6, wherein he discussed the mistakes Orb made, noting:

"Changing the format is a bad idea -- going from magazine size to comic book and then back again was just confusing."


"Continued stories don't work in erratically published titles or anthology titles. 5- and 6- page installments are too short to "hook" the average reader. A continued story has to be book-length and anthologized stories have to be self-contained.

I don't know the full story behind Ditko's Static, but one senses editor Mullaney wanted to give Ditko a free hand in developing his own super heroes, a way of setting right the assumed indignity of being scripted by Stan Lee in the 1960s. Static was plotted, scripted, penciled and inked by Ditko, much like his Mr. A. In fact, it is very much like Mr. A...

We meet our cast in Eclipse Monthly#1; they consist of scientist Ed Serch, his assistant Mac Rey and Serch's daughter Fera (unusual names are a trademark of the series). While Rey is testing Serch's new experimental space environmental suit within a special environmental simulator, two men break in and steal the Enego device from Serch, attempting to kill Rey in the process. Instead, Rey's suit absorbs electricity and they soon discover he can use the suit's power to increase his strength.

As Serch, Rey and Fera discuss the theft of the Enego device, the series demonstrates its fatal flaw; Serch recalls how rival doctors Pety, Ems and Rale were all interested in the Enego and he's convinced Ems is behind the theft. Rey, learning quickly how to control his suit's unexpected powers, believes he can pursue the Enego thieves and stop Ems. Fera is upset with Serch and Rey, saying it isn't their responsbility, they should notify the police.

By the fourth page of Static, a lot of speechifying has set in and it's quite deflating. Arguments loop around the same issues again and again but worse, aren't even logical. Serch and Rey's decision to pursue Ems for the missing Enego is based on Serch's belief Ems is the thief. Because Fera is the series' straw (wo)man, she fails to point this out when she argues for contacting the police. I mean, there's been a theft at the laboratory and an attempt on Rey's life. Serch and Rey, how ever responsible they feel, are not qualified to solve crimes. Shouldn't they at least bring the facts to the police, even their suspicions? Serch and Rey act as though their suspicions are both a) correct and b) unpresentable to the authorities, thus justifying vigilante behaviour. Static and Fera follow the criminals in a van, because apparently the thieves didn't have enough time to get out of visual range while Rey was discovering his powers, exhibiting his powers, arguing about using his powers and convincing Fera to help him pursue the criminals. It's weak storytelling.

This isn't the first time in the series a criminal announces hearing "static" while Static sneaks around. It really doesn't work because no one talks like that. An exclamation like "hey, what's that weird static-y noise?" might pass muster, but remarking "I hear static" as though it's something you occasionally notice on the highway draws too much attention to the contrived effort at inserting the hero's name into the villains' mouths.

So, Rey goes into battle as Static to retrieve the Enego, much to Fera's dismay. As it turns out, Dr. Ems didn't steal the Enego, the other two scientists - Dr. Pety and Dr. Rale were behind the theft. Static fights Rale, who dons a nifty-looking suit with giant fists and finally electrocutes Rale by using himself as a conduit through a light socket. Static reclaims the Enego and returns to Fera, who hopes Rey "learned a lesson" from all of this, but he clearly intends to keep being Static (or we'd have no story).

Eclipse Monthly#2 continues the tale as the villain Boron tries to kidnap Dr. Otto Cern, only to accidentally kill him. Serch, Rey and Fera attend Cern's funeral and get into a two-page argument on the matter, with Serch and Rey jumping to the conclusion Cern was murdered and Fera wailing at them to let the police do their jobs. The argument runs through 14 very crowded panels, one so badly mangled that Rey is all but obscured. It was over this panel that editor Dean Mullaney argued with Ditko, ultimately driving him away from Eclipse when Ditko refused to accept Mullaney's criticism.

So, Static investigates Cern's murder and luckily Boron returns to the scene of the crime, enabling Static to defeat him and his master. However, Fera steals the Static costume and refuses to let Rey wear it again.

The third and final Static story run by Eclipse appeared in Eclipse Monthly#3. Here, Dr. Serch is kidnapped by the General to build a super weapon for him and Static has to rescue him, forcing Fera to give the suit back (strangely, this happens off-panel! Fera is seen resisting his demands for the suit, then he's Static again on the following page). Serch becomes most upset at how he agreed to build the weapon for the General, trusting in Static to rescue him; he feels he let himself down by pretending to assist the General.

It seems as though Ditko intended for the arguments between Serch, Rey and Fera to be the core of this series, given how much time he devotes to them. The problem is he runs over the same material every story, the characters unchanging in their viewpoint (although it's suggested in the third story that Serch may be reconsidering allowing Rey to use the Static suit; Rey, a true objectivist, simply notes that's Serch's right). The conflict between Serch, Rey and Fera is one note, played again and again. The series would have been stronger as a whole if Ditko had run part of his screed in each story, rather than the full argument each time. If the argument in the first story had been restricted to "is it right to become a vigilante?" it might have been readable. Instead, that argument is played in each story, along with digressions on personal responsibility, not trusting the authorities and whether power corrupts.

Through it all, I never get a good sense of who Static is. I have a pretty good understanding of Fera from the arguments she loses. Static wins every argument and every fight, taking it with the ease of shopping for groceries. I never felt Static was challenged by anything - he masters his powers, he talks circles around Fera and he beats the bad guys. And so, despite having a fight scene and at least one argument in every story, Static feels like a strip devoid of conflict; the villains and Fera are the only ones being put at risk - the hero is up on a pedestal. Ditko's Spider-Man is one of the all-time greatest super heroes in part because of how the hero would react to failure; Static's seeming inability to fail makes him rather bland.

Ditko eventually self-published the rest of Static. His Static work in Eclipse Monthly is absolutely gorgeous, so far as the artwork is concerned. Unfortunately, the unrelatable characters drag the concept down.