Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Now on Comixology: Wolverine: Weapon X Files!

Back in 2009 we were younger, more innocent, more inclined to believe X-Men Origins: Wolverine would be a winning motion picture. In this environment we of the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe wrote up Wolverine: Weapon X Files, a Marvel handbook tied to the film. It's now available at Comixology for $1.99 right here.

An all-inclusive handbook for Hollywood's favorite mutant, spotlighting a complete biography of Wolverine! He may be in an acre of comics each month, but this is the only place to get the real score! Also featuring some of the Canucklehead's best allies -- including Gambit, Maverick, Tyger Tiger and X-Force! And along for the ride are villains -- the likes of Blob, Daken, Deadpool, Mastermind, Orphan Maker, Donald Pierce, the Purifiers, Sabretooth and S'ym! And more than four dozen other stars linked to our man Logan from Amiko to Silver Fox!

The cover artist originally sent in a plain image of Wolverine just standing there - it could have graced the cover of any ol' Wolverine comic book and Marvel was certainly printing them like it was going out of style! The clip art of Wolverine's friends & foes down the sides of the cover were added to get across the idea that this was a Handbook. Still not sure why we called it "Files" though. We usually used the term "files" to refer to non-Handbook formatted books but this one was pure OHOTMU format.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Thoughts on Being the Rare Person Who Admits to Liking Avatar

I don't like to see movies by myself. I make exceptions, as when I discovered I had a narrow window to see Shin Godzilla and no time to alert any friends - but typically I go to the movies when I have a friend who wants to join me. On rare occasions, I've seen a film with my friends then later that month seen the film a second time with members of my family. I very seldom see a film 3 times in the theater.

One exception is James Cameron's Avatar. The first time I saw it a friend had invited me. The next two times I was the one inviting people to see it with me. I truly liked this movie and I continue to enjoy it. I delayed purchasing the DVD of the film because I wanted to wait for the limited collector's edition so that I could be sure I was getting the most complete version of the film for my library. I watch it at least once each year.

Don't get me wrong, the longest version of Avatar is not better than the theatrical cut - in fact, the longer cut serves as proof of Cameron's instincts in terms of what to leave out of his film. The theatrical cut is tighter and less flabby - the collector's edition cut exists just for the sake of Avatar fans who wanted more footage - people such as me.

I came onboard with the film without seeing any of the promotion (which is easy to do when you don't watch television). I didn't see the trailer until the day after I first saw the movie - I became convinced I should see the picture after hearing Cameron speak about it at San Diego Comic-Con. Hearing him talk about the work which went into making the picture left me impressed and certain that, as a fan of films, it would be of some interest to me.

Yes, I have heard the nitpicks. Yes, I have heard all the "Dances with Smurfs" jokes. Despite the film being the all-time box office grosser, there are many corners of the internet which despise this film. Nathan Rabin featured Avatar in his Forgotbusters column at the Dissolve, in spite of the fact that the stated purpose of 'Forgotbusters' was to explore top-grossing films which had been 'forgotten.' Avatar, as a film with planned sequels, continued merchandising and a still-active theme park, can't be said to be 'forgotten' in the way other entries in his series were - he bent the rules of his column because of his own distaste for the film. Likewise Forbes posted a well-circulated editorial titled "Five Year Ago, 'Avatar' Grossed $2.7 Billion But Left No Pop Culture Footprint". Many were and are skeptical of the sequels and remain incredulous that the film was the successful production it ended up being. As those sequels come nearer, I imagine there will be more articles such as those two.

And yet, Cameron seems to be 100% aware of these criticisms as he goes forward with the sequels: "Let’s face it, if Avatar 2 and 3 don’t make enough money, there’s not going to be a 4 and 5" he told Vanity Fair recently, also casting this shade:

"Basically, if you loved the first movie, you’re gonna love these movies, and if you hated it, you’re probably gonna hate these. If you loved it at the time, and you said later you hated it, you’re probably gonna love these."

Now taking all of this into account, here's how I feel about the sequels:

  • I will go see the 2nd film in the theater BUT
  • I'm not particularly engaged with the idea of a sequel either.

Again, I like Avatar enough to watch it once per year, but I don't want to see the film remade - that is, I don't want the sequel to replay the same narrative; if it's about the company trying to exploit Pandora and Jake having to band the Na'vi together again, I can't promise I'll enjoy it. Revisiting the same plot as the first film would be the easy path to a sequel - that's why sequels are so very often underwhelming. I suppose my hope is that - as Avatar was inspired by the John Carter* novels - that like John Carter there will be something else fascinating and adventurous to discover over the next hill on the planet.

So yeah, I'm part of the 'silent majority' who enjoyed Avatar. Yet even I'm uncertain about these sequels.




*=By the way, I liked the John Carter film too. Yeah, I don't really have a place at film fansites, do I?

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Now at Comixology: Marvel Monsters: From the Files of Ulysses Bloodstone!

Comixology is now selling copies of Marvel Monters: From the Files of Ulysses Bloodstone and the Monster Hunters, a 'files' format book which I created as head writer back in 2005 as a participation in Marvel's "Marvel Monsters" month-long event. It sported a nifty cover by Eric Powell and its conceit is that it compiles a variety of profiles on giant monsters in the voices of Ulysses Bloodstone and his fellow Monster Hunters.

The solicitation:

Creatures on the loose! This volume contains in-depth bios on a cadre of classic creatures, from Blip to Zzutak, as catalogued by the famed Monster Hunters themselves – including Ulysses Bloodstone, Dr. Druid, Makkari the Eternal, Namora of Atlantis and Zawadi of Wakanda! With updates by Elsa Bloodstone, modern-day monster hunter and daughter of Ulysses! Highlights include Devil Dinosaur, Fin Fang Foom, Goom, It the Living Colossus, Krakoa, Orrgo, Red Ronin, Scarlet Beetle, Spragg the Living Hill, Tim Boo Ba, Van Doom’s monster and Xemnu the Titan.

I remain very proud of this book. Go buy a copy from Comixology! Only $1.99 USD! Cheap! Tell 'em Gomdulla sent ya!

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Thinking back on Planet Hulk

Thanks to the new film Thor: Ragnarok borrowing a few ideas from the comic book storyline "Planet Hulk", that story is hopefully acquiring a few new fans. As a fan of that story, I was a little disappointed that such a rich tale was barely tapped into at all for the film, as it could have anchored a motion picture of its own. Let's take a moment to look back on Planet Hulk together.

When the storyline "Planet Hulk" began running in Incredible Hulk #92 (2006), I was at the time a freelance employee of Marvel Comics working on the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe and related projects. At the time, Marvel didn't supply me with comps of all their titles so I had to spend my own money on their new products. Usually I only purchased books which I needed for research and as our staff of writers had each eaked out particular corners of the Marvel Universe, the Hulk was one such character I could safely set aside. My friend Anthony Flamini had the Hulk material under control at the time as he wrote the book Planet Hulk: Gladiator's Guidebook.

I hadn't been reading the Hulk for a very long time - this was just after a brief, unlamented 2nd run by Peter David, but I hadn't followed the book regularly since that author's 1st run had ended the previous decade. Then and now, the Hulk was a character who I could enjoy, but it depended on the creators. The creative team for Planet Hulk of writer Greg Pak & artist Carlo Pagulayan made almost no impact on me. I knew Pak only for a revamp of Adam Warlock which I hadn't liked at all and Pagulayan I wasn't familiar with. The concept which was being promoted - that the Hulk goes into space and becomes a gladiator - didn't thrill me.

Fortunately for me, one of my areas of expertise in the Marvel Universe were the alien race the Kronans and I came into Planet Hulk when Kronans appeared in the 2nd chapter (I wrote an entry on the Kronans for the Marvel Appendix). I had previously thought Planet Hulk was using only new alien races and was pleasantly surprised to discover that although Sakaar was a new environment with its own history it had ties to familiar Marvel aliens like the Kronans and Brood. The trappings of the Marvel Universe can at times feel like they've been so set in stone that no new significant corners of said universe can be revealed without seeming out-of-place. Sakaar not only proved to have a very well-thought-out and interesting history which was slowly expanded on throughout Pak's stories, but also a unique mythos (everything to do with the stone priests and repeated mantras such as "Sakaarson, hear my cry..." or "May he who dies, die well.") and weight within the larger Marvel Universe via the use of the Brood, Kronans and Silver Surfer.

Pak was coming to the Incredible Hulk at a time when Marvel's comics were largely segregated from each other (although Civil War was primed to change all that). There was not a great sense of continuity from one creator to another as popular writers like Brian Michael Bendis didn't particularly care about whether their characterizations of Marvel characters held with prior interpretations. This is one way in which Pak's characterization of the Hulk was a nice surprise as Pak invoked continuity within Planet Hulk's first four-parter, noting how when the Hulk first met the Silver Surfer he had asked the Surfer to bring him to another world. This was some incredible continuity-fu Pak employed, giving added weight to the idea of the Hulk making an alien world his new home.

Pak has said at various times that his take on the Hulk's theme is "the price of anger" -- that however cathartic it might feel to see the Hulk tear down a deserving foe (namely the Red King in Planet Hulk), eventually there is a price for that violence. In the case of Planet Hulk, the Hulk's own decisions and actions set into motion the climax in which his queen Caiera is murdered, thus setting up Pak's World War Hulk and Skaar: Son of Hulk. Planet Hulk is a tragedy.

...And yet, it is a tale of many tones. There are spectacular action scenes of the Hulk and his Warbound surfing across a bed of lava and battling hordes of zombiefied Spike; there's the gentle humour of Miek in the early chapters, or the sardonic robot ARCH-E-5912; the fire-forged bond of friendship between the Warbound which helps the reader care for the Hulk's allies Korg, Miek, Elloe Kaifi, Hiroim and No-Name.

But yes, ultimately it's a tragedy. There are haunting images of Caiera holding a child which is burned until it crumbles in her arms; Miek's own tale is a tragedy run in parallel to the Hulk's as the Hulk doesn't see how Miek is adopting his values for himself and Miek's inability to cope without an enemy to fight leads to the greatest tragedy in the story's conclusion.

Then and now I give Planet Hulk high marks for the emotions it provokes in me. I enjoy the high adventure of seeing the Hulk as a gladiator, rebel and king; I love the Warbound, particularly Korg and Hiroim; the Silver Surfer's farewell to the Hulk is a heart-warming occasion; so is the Hulk choosing to become Banner for Caiera. Planet Hulk is ultimately my favourite Marvel super hero comic of the 21st century so far. If you still haven't checked it out, please do.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Creator credits for the Punisher (season 1)

Netflix has another of those Marvel programs up; this time, it's the Punisher's turn. Although my name has appeared in proximity to the character (as googling will bear out) I've never been particularly fond of the character. Even so, man, the Netflix version is almost unrecognizable. Short list of comic book material this time, fellas.

All the same, contact me if I forgot something and check my complete Marvel Cinematic Universe list here.

Ross Andru: co-creator of the Punisher, a war veteran who becomes a vigilante, wearing a black costume with white skull design on his chest and wielding vast arsenal of firearms and explosives in a one-man war on crime (Amazing Spider-Man #129, 1974); of Jigsaw, the Punisher's greatest enemy, a criminal who survived a near-fatal encounter with the Punisher but had his face slashed apart by glass, disfiguring him (Amazing Spider-Man #162, 1976); of the Punisher maintaining safehouses; the Punisher carrying his arsenal within a custom van (Giant-Size Spider-Man #4, 1975)

Gerry Conway: co-creator of the Punisher, a war veteran who becomes a vigilante, wearing a black costume with white skull design on his chest and wielding vast arsenal of firearms and explosives in a one-man war on crime (Amazing Spider-Man #129, 1974); of Frank Castle becoming the Punisher after happening upon criminals in a park who set off a gunfight which killed his wife Maria, daughter Lisa and son Frank Jr. (Marvel Preview #2, 1975); of the Punisher maintaining safehouses; the Punisher carrying his arsenal within a custom van (Giant-Size Spider-Man #4, 1975)

Mike Baron: co-creator of the Punisher wearing a trenchcoat overtop his costume; of Curtis Hoyle, a one-time member of Frank Castle's unit who became used in recruiting former soldiers for a non-army operation (Punisher #1, 1987); of Micro, David Lieberman, a reclusive, tech-savvy ally of the Punisher who supplies him with weapons and information (Punisher #4, 1987); of Senator Stan Ori, a government official opposed to the Punisher; of Frank Castle related to Sicilians; of Frank Castle using the name "Castiglione" (Punisher War Journal #25, 1990)

Klaus Janson: co-creator of the Punisher wearing a trenchcoat overtop his costume; of Curtis Hoyle, a one-time member of Frank Castle's unit who became used in recruiting former soldiers for a non-army operation (Punisher #1, 1987); of Micro, David Lieberman, a reclusive, tech-savvy ally of the Punisher who supplies him with weapons and information (Punisher #4, 1987)

Garth Ennis: co-creator of Frank Castle preferring warfare to a civilian life (Born #1, 2003); of the phrase "welcome back, Frank" (Punisher #1, 2000); of William Rawlins, a one-eyed operative of the U.S. government who used his resources to falsify data and combat the Punisher (Punisher #14, 2005); of the Punisher murdering Rawlins (Punisher #42, 2007)

John Romita: co-creator of the Punisher, a war veteran who becomes a vigilante, wearing a black costume with white skull design on his chest and wielding vast arsenal of firearms and explosives in a one-man war on crime (Amazing Spider-Man #129, 1974); of the Kingpin of Crime, a New York mob boss (Amazing Spider-Man #50, 1967)

Len Wein: co-creator of Jigsaw, the Punisher's greatest enemy, a criminal who survived a near-fatal encounter with the Punisher but had his face slashed apart by glass, disfiguring him (Amazing Spider-Man #162, 1976)

Mark Texeira: co-creator of Senator Stan Ori, a government official opposed to the Punisher; of Frank Castle related to Sicilians; of Frank Castle using the name "Castiglione" (Punisher War Journal #25, 1990)

Tony DeZuniga: co-creator of Frank Castle becoming the Punisher after happening upon criminals in a park who set off a gunfight which killed his wife Maria, daughter Lisa and son Frank Jr. (Marvel Preview #2, 1975)

John Wellington: co-creator of Colonel Ray Schoonover, Frank Castle's superior officer during his military service; Schoonover becoming a drug dealer, killed by the Punisher (Punisher War Journal #4, 1989)

Carl Potts: co-creator of Colonel Ray Schoonover, Frank Castle's superior officer during his military service; Schoonover becoming a drug dealer, killed by the Punisher (Punisher War Journal #4, 1989)

Jim Lee: co-creator of Colonel Ray Schoonover, Frank Castle's superior officer during his military service; Schoonover becoming a drug dealer, killed by the Punisher (Punisher War Journal #4, 1989)

Dougie Braithwaite: co-creator of William Rawlins, a one-eyed operative of the U.S. government who used his resources to falsify data and combat the Punisher (Punisher #14, 2005)

Stan Lee: co-creator of Karen Page, a blonde legal secretary (Daredevil #1, 1964); of the Kingpin of Crime, a New York mob boss (Amazing Spider-Man #50, 1967)

Marc Guggenheim: co-creator of Brett Mahoney, a police detective (Marvel Comics Presents #1, 2007)

Marco Checchetto: co-creator of Frank Castle as a veteran of Middle Eastern conflicts (Punisher #4, 2011)

John Ostrander: co-creator of Frank Castle growing a beard while living anonymously (Punisher #17, 1997)

Bil Mantlo: co-creator of Frank Castle suffering from mental problems (Spectacular Spider-Man #81, 1983)

Al Milgrom: co-creator of Frank Castle suffering from mental problems (Spectacular Spider-Man #81, 1983)

Dave Wilkins: co-creator of Brett Mahoney, a police detective (Marvel Comics Presents #1, 2007)

Gene Colan: co-creator of Turk Barrett, a gangster who fights Daredevil (Daredevil #69, 1970)

Roy Thomas: co-creator of Turk Barrett, a gangster who fights Daredevil (Daredevil #69, 1970)

Greg Rucka: co-creator of Frank Castle as a veteran of Middle Eastern conflicts (Punisher #4, 2011)

Darick Robertson: co-creator of Frank Castle preferring warfare to a civilian life (Born #1, 2003)

Tom Lyle: co-creator of Frank Castle growing a beard while living anonymously (Punisher #17, 1997)

Bill Everett: co-creator of Karen Page, a blonde legal secretary (Daredevil #1, 1964)

Dale Eaglesham: co-creator of Billy Russo, Jigsaw's true name (Punisher: Year One #3, 1995)

Andy Lanning: co-creator of Billy Russo, Jigsaw's true name (Punisher: Year One #3, 1995)

Dan Abnett: co-creator of Billy Russo, Jigsaw's true name (Punisher: Year One #3, 1995)

Leandro Fernandez: co-creator of the Punisher murdering Rawlins (Punisher #42, 2007)

Steve Dillon: co-creator of the phrase "welcome back, Frank" (Punisher #1, 2000)

Frank Miller: creator of Wilson Fisk's name (Daredevil #170, 1981)

Monday, November 13, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok creator credits

Once again, here's a list of where all the comic book elements in a Marvel Cinematic Universe originated from. Corrections & additions are always welcome! My master list is kept here.

Jason Aaron: co-creator of Doctor Strange wearing a buttoned-down version of his blue shirt (Doctor Strange #1, 2015); of Thor having a sister he didn't know of (Original Sin #5.1, 2014); of Thor with his hair cut short (The Unworthy Thor #2, 2017)

Chris Bachalo: co-creator of Doctor Strange wearing a buttoned-down version of his blue shirt (Doctor Strange #1, 2015)

Daniel Berman: co-creator of Fandral and Hogun perishing in the events of Ragnarok (Thor #82, 2004); of Thor losing an eye during the events of Ragnarok (Thor #84, 2004); of Thor permitting Surtur to destroy Asgard so that he could vanquish a greater threat; of Volstagg perishing in Ragnarok (Thor #85, 2004)

Robert Bernstein: co-creator of Frigga, queen of Asgard, mother to Thor & Loki; of the Valkyrie, an order of Asgardian warrior woman who ride flying horses (Journey into Mystery #92, 1963); of Thor's ability to channel lightning through his body even when separated from Mjolnir (Journey into Mystery #93, 1963); of Loki trying to usurp Odin's throne (Journey into Mystery #94, 1963)

John Buscema: co-creator of Ultron, the Avengers' enemy (Avengers #54, 1968); of Quinjets, the personal aircraft of the Avengers (Avengers #61, 1969); of Odin having only one eye (Thor #274, 1978); of Gungnir, Odin's great spear (Thor#275, 1978)

Sal Buscema: co-creator of Grandmaster, a cosmic being dressed in yellow clothes with pointed white hair and blue colouring; Grandmaster's obsession with games, often pitting superhuman people against each other (Avengers #69, 1969); of Valkyrie and the Hulk as allies (Defenders #4, 1973); of Valkyrie's enchanted sword Dragonfang (Defenders #12, 1974)

John Byrne: creator of Thor called "Odinson" (Namor the Sub-Mariner#13, 1991)

Olivier Coipel: co-creator of Thor with his hair cut short (The Unworthy Thor #2, 2017)

Gene Colan: co-creator of Doctor Strange's Sanctum being located at 177A Bleecker Street (Doctor Strange #182, 1969)

Gerry Conway: co-creator of the Man-Thing, a monstrous character (Savage Tales #1, 1971)

Tom DeFalco: co-creator of the Revengers, a team named in reaction to the Avengers (A-Next #12, 1998); of Mjolnir being shattered by an immensely powerful foe (Thor #388, 1988)

Steve Ditko: co-creator of Doctor Strange, a sorcerer based out of a sanctum in Greenwich Village who wages war against mystical forces of evil; Strange wearing a blue shirt and orange gloves; the Sanctum's window bearing a symbol with two curved lines pierced by a third line; of Doctor Strange's golden amulet (Strange Tales #110, 1963); of Doctor Strange wearing a magical cape (Strange Tales #114, 1963); of Doctor Strange opposing Loki (Strange Tales #123, 1964); of Doctor Strange's red Cloak of Levitation and round amulet (Strange Tales #127, 1964); of Banner transforming into the Hulk during periods of high emotional stress; of the Hulk having a savage or childlike disposition (Tales to Astonish #60, 1964)

Andrea DiVito: co-creator of Fandral and Hogun perishing in the events of Ragnarok (Thor #82, 2004); of Thor losing an eye during the events of Ragnarok (Thor #84, 2004); of Thor permitting Surtur to destroy Asgard so that he could vanquish a greater threat; of Volstagg perishing in Ragnarok (Thor #85, 2004)

Steve Englehart: co-creator of the Black Widow as an Avenger (Avengers #111, 1973); of Valkyrie and the Hulk as allies (Defenders #4, 1973); of the Bi-Beast, a two-headed creature (Incredible Hulk #169, 1973)

Al Ewing: co-creator of Thor having a sister he didn't know of (Original Sin #5.1, 2014); of Loki's headband with horns (Loki: Agent of Asgard #1, 2014)

Ron Frenz: co-creator of the Revengers, a team named in reaction to the Avengers (A-Next #12, 1998); of Mjolnir being shattered by an immensely powerful foe (Thor #388, 1988)

Gary Friedrich: co-creator of Hulk's stated desire to be left alone (Incredible Hulk #102, 1968)

Lee Garbett: co-creator of Thor having a sister he didn't know of (Original Sin #5.1, 2014); of Loki's headband with horns (Loki: Agent of Asgard #1, 2014)

Keith Giffen: co-creator of Valkyrie wearing silver armor (Defenders #47, 1977)

Steven Grant: co-creator of the Grandmaster holding a "Contest of Champions" in which superhumans are pit against each other for the sake of his games; Thor and Hulk as contestants in the Grandmaster's game (Marvel Super-Hero Contest of Champions #1, 1982)

Mark Gruenwald: co-creator of the Grandmaster holding a "Contest of Champions" in which superhumans are pit against each other for the sake of his games; Thor and Hulk as contestants in the Grandmaster's game (Marvel Super-Hero Contest of Champions #1, 1982); of the name for the Kronans, an extraterrestrial race of rock-like creatures (Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe #5, 1983)

Don Heck: co-creator of the Black Widow as an Avenger (Avengers #111, 1973); of Tony Stark, a wealthy industrialist who became a hero (Tales of Suspense #39, 1963); of the Black Widow, alias Natasha Romanoff (Tales of Suspense #52, 1964)

Dan Jurgens: co-creator of Loki impersonating Odin to claim the throne of Asgard (Thor #16, 1999)

Gil Kane: co-creator of the Soul Gem, from which the Infinty Gems were derived (Marvel Premiere#1, 1970)

Jack Kirby: co-creator of the Avengers, a team of super heroes including Thor, Hulk & Tony Stark, Loki battling the Avengers (Avengers #1, 1963); of Hulk battling Thor (Avengers #3, 1964); of the Hulk, Bruce Banner, a physicist who transforms into a massive, brutish creature with superhuman strength; the Hulk describing others as "puny" (Incredible Hulk #1, 1962); of the Hulk having green skin (Incredible Hulk #2, 1962); of the Hulk traveling vast distances by leaping (Incredible Hulk #3, 1962); of Thor, Asgardian god of thunder whose hammer Mjolnir can control weather and has a worthiness enchantment which prevents others from lifting it; Thor's silver helmet, red cape and blue bodysuit; Thor encountering extraterrestrials made of stone (Journey into Mystery #83, 1962); of Jane Foster, Thor's mortal love interest (Journey into Mystery #84, 1962); of Loki, Thor's evil brother who possesses the power to cast illusions and wears green/yellow; Loki's horned helmet; Asgard, home of the Norse Gods which connects to Earth via the rainbow bridge Bifrost; Heimdall, guardian of Bifrost; Odin, father of Loki & Thor (Journey into Mystery #85, 1962); of Thor's ability to channel lightning through his body even when separated from Mjolnir (Journey into Mystery #93, 1963); of the Frost Giants, creatures from the Nine Worlds; of Surtur, the immense fire demon who an enemy to all of Asgard (Journey into Mystery #97, 1963); of Sif, female Asgardian warrior, love interest to Thor; of Hela, Asgardian goddess of death; Hela's green costume, cape and large black headdress (Journey into Mystery #102, 1964); of Asgardians piloting sky ships; of Skurge the Executioner, an Asgardian warrior who wields an axe, wears blue armour and opposes Thor; Skurge's black beard and tattoos (Journey into Mystery #103, 1964); of Laufey, Loki's father, a giant; of Odin adopting Loki as Thor's foster brother; of the Hulk's fans waving banners and signs in a Hulk vs. Thor contest (Journey into Mystery #112, 1965); of Thor and Loki being friends in their youth (Journey into Mystery #113, 1965); of the Fenris Wolf, an immense Asgardian wolf (Journey into Mystery #114, 1965); of Volstagg, a red-haired, overweight and jovial Asgardian warrior; Hogun, a mostly-silent grim-faced and dark-haired Asgardian; and Fandral, a blond-haired dashing, adventurous Asgardian clad in green (Journey into Mystery #119, 1965); of Loki seeking to rule Asgard; Asgard possessing advanced technology (Journey into Mystery #120, 1965); of Tony Stark, a wealthy industrialist who became a hero (Tales of Suspense #39, 1963); of the Black Widow, Natasha Romanoff (Tales of Suspense #52, 1964); of the Cosmic Cube, a massively powerful artifact (Tales of Suspense #79, 1966); of Earth referred to as Midgard by Asgardians (Thor #126, 1966); of the prophecies of Ragnarok in which Asgard will be destroyed (Thor #127, 1966); of Surtur being the one to finally destroy Asgard at Ragnarok (Thor #128, 1966); of Ares, god of war (Thor #129, 1966)

David Anthony Kraft: co-creator of Valkyrie wearing silver armor (Defenders #47, 1977)

Stan Lee: co-creator of the Black Widow's red hair (Amazing Spider-Man #86, 1970); of the Avengers, a team of super heroes including Thor, Hulk & Tony Stark, Loki battling the Avengers (Avengers #1, 1963); of Hulk battling Thor (Avengers #3, 1964); of the Hulk, Bruce Banner, a physicist who transforms into a massive, brutish creature with superhuman strength; the Hulk describing others as "puny" (Incredible Hulk #1, 1962); of the Hulk colored green (Incredible Hulk #2, 1962); of the Hulk traveling vast distances by leaping (Incredible Hulk #3, 1962); of Thor, Norse god of thunder, defender of Earth, wields hammer Mjolnir which can control storms, always returns to his hand and can only be lifted by those who are worthy of its power; Thor's silver helmet, blue costume, bare arms and red cape; Thor encountering extraterrestrials made of stone (Journey into Mystery #83, 1962); of Jane Foster, Thor's mortal love interest (Journey into Mystery #84, 1962); of Loki, Thor's evil brother who possesses the power to cast illusions and wears green/yellow; Loki's horned helmet; Asgard, home of the Norse Gods which connects to Earth via the rainbow bridge Bifrost; Heimdall, guardian of Bifrost; Odin, father of Loki & Thor (Journey into Mystery#85, 1962); of Frigga, queen of Asgard, mother to Thor & Loki; of the Valkyrie, an order of Asgardian warrior woman who ride flying horses (Journey into Mystery #92, 1963); of Thor's ability to channel lightning through his body even when separated from Mjolnir (Journey into Mystery #93, 1963); of Loki trying to usurp Odin's throne (Journey into Mystery #94, 1963); of the Frost Giants, creatures from the Nine Worlds; of Surtur, the immense fire demon who an enemy to all of Asgard (Journey into Mystery #97, 1963); of Sif, female Asgardian warrior, love interest to Thor; of Hela, Asgardian goddess of death; Hela's green costume, cape and large black headdress (Journey into Mystery #102, 1964); of Asgardians piloting sky ships; of Skurge the Executioner, an Asgardian warrior who wields an axe, wears blue armour and opposes Thor; Skurge's black beard and tattoos (Journey into Mystery #103, 1964); of Laufey, Loki's father, a giant; of Odin adopting Loki to be Thor's foster brother; of the Hulk's fans waving banners and signs in a Hulk vs. Thor contest (Journey into Mystery #112, 1965); of Thor and Loki being friends in their youth (Journey into Mystery #113, 1965); of the Fenris Wolf, an immense Asgardian wolf (Journey into Mystery #114, 1965); of Volstagg, a red-haired, overweight and jovial Asgardian warrior with a wife and several children; Hogun, a mostly-silent grim-faced and dark-haired Asgardian; and Fandral, a blond, green-clad, dashing, adventurous Asgardian (Journey into Mystery #119, 1965); of Loki seeking to rule Asgard; Asgard possessing advanced technology (Journey into Mystery #120, 1965); of Doctor Strange, a sorcerer based out of a sanctum in Greenwich Village who wages war against mystical forces of evil; Strange wearing a blue shirt and orange gloves; the Sanctum's window bearing a symbol with two curved lines pierced by a third line; of Doctor Strange's golden amulet (Strange Tales #110, 1963); of Doctor Strange wearing a magical cape (Strange Tales #114, 1963); of Doctor Strange opposing Loki (Strange Tales #123, 1964); of Doctor Strange's red Cloak of Levitation and round amulet (Strange Tales #127, 1964); of Tony Stark, a wealthy industrialist who became a hero (Tales of Suspense #39, 1963); of the Black Widow, Natasha Romanoff (Tales of Suspense #52, 1964); of the Cosmic Cube, a massively powerful artifact (Tales of Suspense #79, 1966); of Banner transforming into the Hulk during periods of high emotional stress; of the Hulk having a savage or childlike disposition (Tales to Astonish #60, 1964); of Earth referred to as Midgard by Asgardians (Thor #126, 1966); of the prophecies of Ragnarok in which Asgard will be destroyed (Thor #127, 1966); of Surtur being the one to finally destroy Asgard at Ragnarok (Thor #128, 1966); of Ares, god of war (Thor #129, 1966)

Larry Lieber: co-creator of Thor, Norse god of thunder, defender of Earth, wields hammer Mjolnir which can control storms, can only be lifted by those who are worthy and always returns to his hand; Thor's silver helmet, blue costume, bare arms and red cape; Thor encountering extraterrestrials made of stone (Journey into Mystery #83, 1962); of Jane Foster, Thor's mortal love interest (Journey into Mystery #84, 1962); of Loki, Thor's wicked brother who has the power to cast illusions; Loki's green & yellow clothing, horned helmet; of Asgard, the realm where Thor lives; Bifrost, the rainbow bridge which connects Asgard to other worlds; Odin, lord of Asgard, father of Thor and Loki; Heimdall, guardian of Bifrost (Journey into Mystery #85, 1962); of Tony Stark, a wealthy industrialist who became a hero (Tales of Suspense #39, 1963)

Ron Lim: co-creator of the Infinity Gems, six all-powerful stones wielded together as the Infinity Gauntlet (Thanos Quest #1, 1990)

William Messner-Loebs: co-creator of Odin being temporarily stranded on Earth in a mortal identity (Thor #497, 1996)

Bill Mantlo: co-creator of the Grandmaster holding a "Contest of Champions" in which superhumans are pit against each other for the sake of his games; Thor and Hulk as contestants in the Grandmaster's game (Marvel Super-Hero Contest of Champions #1, 1982)

Gray Morrow: co-creator of the Man-Thing, a monstrous character (Savage Tales #1, 1971)

Michael Avon Oeming: co-creator of Fandral and Hogun perishing in the events of Ragnarok (Thor #82, 2004); of Thor losing an eye during the events of Ragnarok (Thor #84, 2004); of Thor permitting Surtur to destroy Asgard so that he could vanquish a greater threat; of Volstagg perishing in Ragnarok (Thor #85, 2004)

Carlo Pagulayan: co-creator of Sakaar, an alien world which has a portal that has drawn various people from across the universe to the planet; the Hulk brought to Sakaar; Miek, an insectoid gladiator warrior on Sakaar; slaves on Sakaar controlled with discs pinned to their skin (Incredible Hulk #92, 2006); of Korg, a Kronan serve as a gladiator on Sakaar; Korg encountering Thor, Hulk and Miek (Incredible Hulk #93, 2006); of the Hulk donning full gladiator regalia including a feathered helm (Incredible Hulk #94, 2006); of Korg and Miek becoming revolutionaries; of the Hulk encountering an old ally from Earth in Sakaar's gladiator arena (Incredible Hulk #95, 2006)

Greg Pak: co-creator of Sakaar, an alien world which has a portal that has drawn various people from across the universe to the planet; the Hulk brought to Sakaar; Miek, an insectoid gladiator warrior on Sakaar; slaves on Sakaar controlled with discs pinned to their skin (Incredible Hulk #92, 2006); of Korg, a Kronan serve as a gladiator on Sakaar; Korg encountering Thor, Hulk and Miek (Incredible Hulk #93, 2006); of the Hulk donning full gladiator regalia including a feathered helm (Incredible Hulk #94, 2006); of Korg and Miek becoming revolutionaries; of the Hulk encountering an old ally from Earth in Sakaar's gladiator arena (Incredible Hulk #95, 2006)

Keith Pollard: co-creator of the planet Xandar (Fantastic Four #205, 1979)

Don Rico: co-creator of the Black Widow, Natasha Romanoff (Tales of Suspense #52, 1964)

John Romita: co-creator of the Black Widow's red hair (Amazing Spider-Man #86, 1970)

John Romita Jr.: co-creator of the Grandmaster holding a "Contest of Champions" in which superhumans are pit against each other for the sake of his games; Thor and Hulk as contestants in the Grandmaster's game (Marvel Super-Hero Contest of Champions #1, 1982); of Loki impersonating Odin to claim the throne of Asgard (Thor #16, 1999)

Luke Ross: co-creator of Odin being temporarily stranded on Earth in a mortal identity (Thor #497, 1996)

Marie Severin: co-creator of Hulk's stated desire to be left alone (Incredible Hulk #102, 1968)

Walter Simonson: creator of Beta Ray Bill, an extraterrestrial warrior whose skull is shaped like a horse (Thor #337, 1983); of the Eternal Flame, a mystical flame in Odin's custody; of Surtur needing to forge his sword in the Eternal Flame in order to destroy Asgard (Thor #349, 1984); of Odin dying before Loki and Thor's eyes (Thor #353, 1985); of Hela reclaiming her power without Odin to oppose her (Thor #354, 1985); of Thor forcing Loki to undo one of his spells by holding Loki by the neck while summoning Mjolnir to return to his hand (Thor #359, 1985); of Skurge the Executioner having a change of heart and giving his life to hold a bridge against Hela's army of the dead, dual-wielding two machine guns to destroy the dead soldiers, then wielding them as clubs when his ammunition runs out; of Skurge seen clubbing the dead from atop an immense pile of soldiers (Thor #362, 1985); of Loki's magic transforming Thor into a frog (Thor #363, 1986); of Thor wearing a beard (Thor #367, 1986)

Joe Sinnott: co-creator of Frigga, queen of Asgard, mother to Thor & Loki; of the Valkyrie, an order of Asgardian warrior woman who ride flying horses (Journey into Mystery #92, 1963); of Loki trying to usurp Odin's throne (Journey into Mystery #94, 1963)

Jim Starlin: co-creator of the Infinity Gems, six all-powerful stones wielded together as the Infinity Gauntlet (Thanos Quest #1, 1990)

Roy Thomas: co-creator of Ultron, the Avengers' enemy (Avengers #54, 1968); of Grandmaster, a cosmic being dressed in yellow clothes with pointed white hair and blue colouring; Grandmaster's obsession with games, often pitting superhuman people against each other (Avengers #69, 1969); of Doctor Strange's Sanctum being located at 177A Bleecker Street (Doctor Strange #182, 1969); of the Night-Crawler, an otherworldly creature (Incredible Hulk #126, 1970); of Valkyrie, an Asgardian warrior woman who encounters the Hulk (Incredible Hulk #142, 1971); of the Soul Gem, from which the Infinty Gems were derived (Marvel Premiere #1, 1970); of the Man-Thing, a monstrous character (Savage Tales #1, 1971); Odin having only one eye (Thor #274, 1978); of Gungnir, Odin's great spear (Thor #275, 1978); of Thor and Hulk joining forces to battle Hela (Thor #489, 1995)

Herb Trimpe: co-creator of the Night-Crawler, an otherworldly creature (Incredible Hulk #126, 1970); of Valkyrie, an Asgardian warrior woman who encounters the Hulk (Incredible Hulk #142, 1971); of the Bi-Beast, a two-headed creature (Incredible Hulk #169, 1973)

Len Wein: co-creator of Valkyrie's enchanted sword Dragonfang (Defenders #12, 1974)

Marv Wolfman: co-creator of the planet Xandar (Fantastic Four #205, 1979)

M. C. Wyman: co-creator of Thor and Hulk joining forces to battle Hela (Thor #489, 1995)

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Remembering Bert Christman

Today being Remembrance Day, as a comic book scholar the most appropriate person to think of must be Bert Christman. Many comic book creators entered the military during World War 2, some even saw combat - but Christman is the only one I know of who lost his life.

Christman's career in comics was a brief one as the medium was only in its infancy when he left it. In 1936 he created a feature titled "The Spinner" in which a police detective would relate unusual cases from his career to listeners. The Spinner spun about into various magazines under the Centaur imprint and others.

The big development for Christman's career in 1936 came when the famous photorealist artist Noel Sickles left his newspaper strip Scorchy Smith, an adventure series featuring the titular maverick pilot Scorchy. Christman replaced Sickles.

While still creating Scorchy, in 1938 Christman created an adventure hero of his own for DC Comics: The Sandman, a figure garbed in a gas mask who would put his enemies to sleep by use of a gas gun. It proved to be a popular enough feature during the war and the character would become a permanent part of the developing DC Universe through his membership in the Justice Society of America, but Christman would never know Sandman was his artistic legacy; in 1938 he left Scorchy Smith & Sandman behind and joined the US Navy's American Volunteer Group. Like Scorchy, he became a pilot, serving in the group known as "The Flying Tigers."

On January 23, 1942, Christman's squadron went into battle over Rangoon, Burma against a much-larger attack group of Japanese fighter planes. During the combat, Christman's plane was hit in its engine. It wasn't the first time Christman had lost a plane to combat and been forced to bail out. Once again, Christman bailed out and opened his parachute, but a Japanese pilot strafed him mid-air; one of the bullets went through his neck and killed him before he reached the ground.

Here's to you, Mr. Christman.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Do Not Panic! Steve Ditko is 90!

This week Steve Ditko celebrated his 90th birthday! Ditko is one of the few living comic book creators who can unequivocally be termed "living legend." Although best-known for being the creator of Doctor Strange and co-creator of Spider-Man, Ditko's unique artistic styles have keep him a perpetually devoted (albeit shrinking) fanbase. He still publishes comic books to this day, as I have occasionally pointed out on this blog. Ditko's unique perspectives, his way of depicting alien realms, his lightness of touch matched with grotesqueries and, of course, those expressive fingers he draws have made their mark upon my mind. If Jack Kirby was not the greatest comic book artist of all-time, then surely Steve Ditko is.

One of my early favourites is the story "Do Not Panic!" which first appeared in Strange Tales #95 (1962), although I first encountered it as a reprint in Curse of the Weird #1 (1994). Stan Lee was scripter and signed his name, as he often did on Ditko tales.

From a worm's eye perspective we see people panicking as an otherworldly craft descends from the skies. From there the perspective moves to people indoors listening intently to radio broadcasts of the craft's descent; people lock their doors. A squad of tanks arrive to encircle the craft at its landing sight. It's very much in the spirit of The Day the Earth Stood Still.

A lone astronaut emerges from the craft, clad from head to toe in a spacesuit. The wary soldiers demand he drop his gun belt; the astronaut politely complies. Offering friendship, the astronaut removes his helmet to reveal he is a normal-looking human man. The soldiers are Martians and the setting has, from the start, been upon Mars rather than Earth.

"Do Not Panic!" is only four pages and it's the right length. The story has a very simple premise and the tale gets in and out right on cue. Ditko was very careful to avoid depicting the Martians' faces until the last panel, but he did so in ways which would not tip the readers off to the twist - the lack of faces simply adds to the sense of paranoia gripping the populace. This tale is representative of many of those which Ditko produced for Atlas (nearly all of them scripted by Lee). These tales were almost all based around a very simple twist ending, but sometimes that twist could be unclear or require too much explanation at the climax. Here, the twist is told entirely through visuals, not text and that makes this a particularly special thing in comic books, a medium where all-too-often emphasis is placed on text instead of image.

Do enjoy your ninetieth year, Mr. Ditko.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Imagination and Action

I haven't written much on this blog about my most recent trip to Angola, but I have been giving a few talks in and about Calgary. Last Sunday I was the guest speaker at my church, Holy Trinity, and you can hear a recording of my talk here. I hope to compose something for the blog eventually.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

"...As of a person in strong excitement." Ghost Stories of an Antiquary Vol. 2 review

The fine folks at SelfMadeHero have released a new collection in their series Ghost Stories of an Antiquity. Like the first volume (reviewed here) volume 2 features four adaptations of stories by M. R. James, adapted by writers Leah Moore & John Reppion with a different artist on each tale. This time they chose four stories which I think are four of the absolute best: "Number 13," "Count Magnus," "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad," & "The Treasure of Abbot Thomas."

Beginning with the last entry, "The Treasure of Abbot Thomas" was my high school introduction to the works of M. R. James, although I didn't note the author or title of the story at the time and for years afterward would wonder where I could find that story. In this comic book adaptation, artist Meghan Hetrick renders the story with lush, bright colours which almost look like a child's storybook; then, of course, the terrible creature lurking in the well puts in its appearance and the visuals are quite a bit more ghastly!

"Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad" is drawn by Al Davison with very crisp, clear lines well-suited to the material. However, the adaptation lacks much of the whimsy in the original story, as the original was written in a very breezy narrative style, while the adaptation leans more heavily into dramatics. It looks fantastic, but I was disappointed each time I realized a favourite passage of mine had been adapted out.

"Count Magnus" is drawn by Abigail Larson and while the colours (by Al Davison) are vibrant, the story yet manages to appear appropriately gloomy. It's sometimes called a "vampire story" as it involves a man returning from his coffin. This adaptation captures the suspense of those scenes - the slow build-up to the eventual opening of the coffin. Very well done.

Saving the best for last, "Number 13" is drawn by George Kambadais. This too features crisp art and colours and breaks down the original story in such an elegant, faithful manner that every beat of the story is well-preserved here. This is the story of a man staying in a hotel where sometimes there's a room numbered '13' and sometimes there isn't. All the scenes where the occupant of 13 is glimpsed are simply perfect, giving away enough to provide horror while holding back to leave suspense. "Number 13" opens the book and has my highest recommendation of the four.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Thing about barf bag movies

When I was young I placed a great deal of stock in what film critics had to say. My family's copy of the Roger Ebert film guide was a massive doorstopper, but I read it cover-to-cover - more than once! I would quote from it to my family! One review of Ebert's which made an impression upon me was his review of the 1982 film the Thing by director John Carpenter. Ebert summed up the film as a "great barf-bag movie."
"'The Thing' is basically, then, just a geek show, a gross-out movie in which teenagers can dare one another to watch the screen."

I trusted in Ebert's opinion and that persuaded me to avoid this picture. I mean, I felt I had a pretty weak constitution where horror films were concerned to begin with. I liked horror films a lot, but ever since seeing The Wolf Man as a child and being freaked out by the transformation scenes, I had realized how easily my imagination could be set off by horror films. Further, I grew up in the age of the gross-out slasher flicks, a genre which Ebert had great disdain for. In fact, although Ebert tried to from time to time to present himself as a film buff who enjoyed a good crass & exploitative film, nearly every horror film in his guide received a withering review. I bought a copy of the Howard Hawks version of The Thing (which Ebert deemed "better") and decided that was about the level of horror that I wanted - don't give me any of that blood & gore!

I was that kid who read the newspaper every morning and flipped straight to the entertainment section to read film reviews. I was that kid who watched Siskel and Ebert every week. But over time I began to realize I didn't always agree with the authorities and there were certainly times where Ebert would display a level of ignorance in his reviews which stunned me - I thought he was infallible within his career! But eventually I had to admit, he wasn't always well-informed and his tastes weren't necessarily my own.

When I received a subscription to the horror channel Scream I found myself flipping there quite often. Many of their films were pure trash. However, from time to time movies I had always been curious about would appear. So too would pictures I had assumed I would never watch because they were surely too disturbing for my imagination. And yet, one day I caught the last half of Day of the Dead, watched the cast get eaten alive in the climax and went, "Huh. That was disgusting, but not scary." Then Scream aired The Thing and I went, "Wow. That was disgusting and scary."

I've since realized my constitution is actually pretty strong. My imagination tells me I can't handle certain visuals, but then I encounter them and manage just fine. Reality is always so much easier to digest. Just this last summer I spent a few weeks helping in an operating room and was startled to realize that nothing actually startled me - I could sick my hands inside people bodies and take it just fine. I could be bathed in blood from mask to shoes and not be fazed. What I'm saying then, is that I'm not a good person to advise others as to what is or isn't disgusting - 'cause it turns out I have very high tolerance. But what's scary? That's a little harder to define.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Dracula Month Day 31: Unearthed: Fright #1!

Happy Halloween!

Welcome to the end of Dracula Month and another installment of my occasional series Unearthed wherein I delve into forgotten comic books of the past. Once again I'm going back into the archives of the 1970s Atlas comics; before I begin, here's what I've previously featured:
The Destructor #1
The Destructor #2
The Destructor #3
The Destructor #4
The Hands of the Dragon #1
Morlock 2001 and the Midnight Men #3
Tigerman #1
Tigerman #2
Tigerman #3

Today it is Atlas' one-and-only Dracula comic, natch. Said comic book is Fright #1 with the feature 'Son of Dracula'! This was the only issue of Fright, printed in June, 1975. By the time it came out Marvel Comics' Tomb of Dracula was well underway and had proven there was an audience for a monthly dose of the ol' count. Let's get started!

The cover depicts Dracula's image looming over that of his son while said son is trying to neck with a lady. "Spwaned in Hell to stalk the night! The strangest vampire of all!" Note the chalk-white skin on the son, which is also how Marvel initially coloured Dracula in their comics before granting him fleshy tones. The story is entitled "And Unto Dracula Was Born a Son" by writer Gary Friedrich and artist Frank Thorne. Friedrich is no stranger to Atlas or this feature, having also written Morlock 2001 and the Midnight Men. Frank Thorne remains best-known for his lovely renderings of Red Sonja. This is another Atlas book with a perfectly fine creative team; again, this publisher had all the resources they needed to succeed.

We open in rural Transylvania as some villagers who look like they came straight from Universal casting are trying to burn a supposed witch to death upon a brier. Dracula sees and judges them "Fools! Such a waste of young beauty -- of fresh blood!" Dracula swoops in and easily frightens the villagers then carries the woman back to his castle in the form of an immense bat. Some spectacular horror art from Thorne ensues as his giant bat is rendered as something perfectly monstrous.

As Dracula examines the woman he discovers a mark upon her breast which he identifies as "the mark of my family." He determines the woman is his only living relative and decides to spare her life (the mark is not depicted on-panel). When she awakens Dracula greets her as his cousin, identifying her as his fourth cousin. However, the woman knows what Dracula is and is afraid of him. Dracula offers to transform her into a vampire but she offers him something better: "A son, cousin!" Yes, inbreeding is popular amongst hillbilles, royalty and vampires. The woman's only condition is that Dracula not transform her into a vampire, then he can have their son to raise as his heir. The duo are seen "hours later" in what is supposed to be a post-lovemaking session (but although this is Thorne it's tasteful).

Nine months later the woman shows off her newborn son to Dracula but informs him: "As soon as I'm able, you'll not see him again! He must never become one of your kind!" That wasn't part of the bargain she made which makes one wonder why she made the proposal to begin with - sure, it saved her life in the short-term, but why didn't she escape during those nine months when she knew what would happen at the end? Anyway, threatening a vampire never goes well and when she claims she'll smother the child if Dracula draws too close he determines "You are of no further use to me!" and lunges in to drink her blood to transform her into a vampire. However, although she's weakened from the assault she slips out of the castle with her baby the next morning and rides to the sea, entrusting her child to someone else for safekeeping. She places a charm around her son's neck and claims if anything happens to the charm, "the boy might die!"

Dracula catches up to the woman at the docks, noting that in one more night she'll be a vampire like him and he wants their son to join them (this is some odd vampire lore - usually vampire victims are dead while transforming into vampires whereas here they can apparently remain alive and human during the interval). The woman refuses to become a vampire and throws herself upon a sharp piece of wood, dying. Dracula vows to find his son.

Seven years later in Appalachia... because again, hillbillies, royalty and vampires have much in common... we see the woman who was charged with protecting Dracula's son (now called 'Derek') has kept the charm around Derek's neck and has him sleep with a cross in his arms each night. As Derek wonders why he must do these strange things, Dracula bursts in to explain. The adopted mother drives Dracula off with a cross but Dracula vows to return and claim Derek. Or rather 'Adam' because the adopted mother suddenly begun calling him that. Anyway, she seals Adam up inside a wine cellar then blows up the entrance with gunpowder so that Dracula won't be able to find him... so instead he'll suffocate inside the buried wine cellar? And how is it helping Adam to deprive him of his only caregiver and sole person who understood his condition as the son of Dracula? Pay no attention to those questions because once the explosion clears we jump ahead to Adam's adulthood.

It's now 1975 (present-day) and Adam Lucard (because the Dracula family has that terrible knack for choosing obvious aliases) is a teacher at Columbia University, New York City. Adam lectures his students abothe the occult and shows off his charm to the class as an example of supernatural belief. Adam's student Debbie Porter is quite hot for teacher and reveals she's a practising witch, but Adam is brooding for that evening he must seal himself up in his home with his cross to abate his thrist for human blood. Hold up, what? It seems even though Dracula didn't convert Adam into vampirism he has basically inherited it and must be eternally vigilant against it. A flashback reveals Adam only recently learned all of this when his 2nd adopted mother was on her deathbed and gave him a book which the 1st adopted mother had left with him, containing details of the occult powers of vampires.

While Adam is trying to sleep Debbie breaks into his apartment because she doesn't understand 'personal space.' Debbie sees Adam asleep with the cross on his chest and decides to awaken him with a kiss - but first removes the cross. The joke's on her as he awakens to kiss her - as a vampire! Yes, despite all the long decades of work done by Adam's mother, adopted mother and 2nd adopted mother it's all for naught - he's become a vampire and he bites Debbie in the neck for her blood. In his vampire form Adam doesn't even recognize Debbie.

Adam leaves his apartment to go hunting for more blood. It turns out Debbie brought a friend with her who was waiting down in the street and he attacks her as well. Adam returns to his apartment and falls asleep. He awakens in the morning as a human but at the sight of Debbie's body Adam realizes he must have lost control and claimed other people's lives. Adam drives a stake into Debbie's heart to prevent her becoming a vampire then ponders whether he should destroy himself to keep him from killing again. And on this somber note, the book ends.

Thoughts: This premise suggests not only that Atlas was looking to Marvel Comics' Tomb of Dracula but also to their hero Morbius, the Living Vampire, a similarly human who transformed into a vampire. It also reminds one of heroes who transformed into monsters at night such as Werewolf by Night and Gary Friedrich's own Ghost Rider.

There are glitches in the story - as noted, there is confusion about the Son of Dracula's name as it appears he was supposed to be 'Derek' with the 1st adopted mother and 'Adam' with the 2nd, but through a slip-up he was called 'Adam' before the 1st adopted mother's death. Frankly, I'm not sure why the entire scene of the 1st mother killing herself and burying Adam alive is even in the story - it necessitates the creation of a 2nd adopted mother who then dies herself in flashback and I have no idea how burying Adam alive was supposed to deter Dracula.

Still, as noted, this could have worked out in the same way other reluctant monsters such as Morbius, Ghost Rider and the Werewolf. This is a decent Atlas comic with great Frank Thorne artwork.

(Scans in this post from The Horrors of It All blog)

Monday, October 30, 2017

Dracula Month Day 30: Adventures into the Unknown #29

I'm nearing the end of Dracula Month so let's have a little fun; turning to comic book publisher ACQ I'm going to examine Adventures into the Unknown #29 (1952) and the story "Invasion of the Ghost-Monsters" by artist Ken Bald (writer unknown).

In this tale the wealthy eccentric Silas Inwood has died and in his will charged his nephew Barry with writing his biography. Barry and his fiancee Fay follow the instructions and after adding a copy of Silas' biography to Silas' library they have to perform an incantation to complete the will's conditions. The spell causes Silas' ghost to appear, his spirit having lived on through the pages of his biography. Silas intends to conquer the world with an army of ghosts conjured from his library, including the likes of Captain Kidd, Jack the Ripper and Dracula. Dracula is given the job of guarding Barry & Fay while the other ghosts rampage through the city. Barry defeats Dracula by forming a cross to drive him away, then he conjures up literary heroes such as Paul Bunyan and Robin Hood to defeat the evil ghost monsters and Silas' wife Martha emerges from the biography to force Silas back into his rest.

This is an utterly ridiculous story. This is a story where a ghost delivers a ransom demand to the mayor over a telephone. It's the kind of glorious stupidity which gave comic books their reputation as trash. But how does Dracula fare? Although he makes a poor showing against Barry, he receives more attention than any of the other ghosts. That 'Dracula' name gets you respect, my friends.

The concept of literary characters having life because of people's belief in them would later be mined for a good seven years in comic book form via Mike Carey & Peter Gross' The Unwritten. You can read "Invasion of the Ghost-Monsters" for yourself at the Digital Comic Museum.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Dracula Month Day 29: Count Dracula

As I think has come clear in many of my musings on Dracula, I'm a man who values fidelity to source material. Unfortunately, Stoker's original novel has only seldom received film adaptations which were in anyway faithful to the novel, this in despite of the dozens of pictures which have been made. My pick for the most authentic adaptation is the 1977 BBC TV mini-series Count Dracula, directed by Philip Saville and featuring Louis Jourdan as the titular count.

Now, I should be up front, this is not a truly faithful adaptation. As per usual, the most obvious telltale sign is the presence of Quincey Morris; this time, he almost made it, instead merged with Arthur Holmwood into one character. It's appropriate as Holmwood is the second-most frequently omitted character.

The little bits and pieces from the novel which don't normally turn up in film adaptations - such as Van Helsing pressing a communion wafer into Mina's forehead - caught my eye. This may not be the best adaptation of Dracula production-wise, but it is quite faithful and that goes a long way towards satisfying me.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Dracula Month Day 28: Quiet, Please - "My Son, John."

Many of the legends and lores surrounding vampires were only ever codified by A) Bram Stoker's Dracula novel and B) Hollywood adaptations of said novel. As such, it's always interesting to me to look at horror tales from the 1940s or earlier, before it was decided that Bram Stoker & Bela Lugosi were the be-all end-all of vampires. For instance, check out the 1948 episode of the radio program Quiet, Please entitled "My Son, John".

This is the tale of a father who wants so desperately to be reunited with his lost son that he turns to black magic to restore his son to life. However, the father believed his son died in battle as a war hero; upon his revival, the son reveals he was a deserter and that while in Europe he met a certain gent named Dracula; now that he's been brought home to the USA, John is free to spread vampirism stateside.

Where this tale may strike some fans as odd is that the vampires have the power to turn into just about anything - not only a bat or a wolf but a cat, a dog, a gorilla... it may not sound quite right, but hey, there's no such thing as vampires; you can change the rules on a whim.

You can listen to this episode on the excellent Quiet, Please fan website.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Dracula Month Day 27: The House of Hammer #6

It's a little strange how in the dying days of the Hammer films studio they seemed to be expanding, rather than dying - what with the short-lived 1980 TV show Hammer House of Horror and the late 70s authorized magazine The House of Hammer from legendary UK comics editor Dez Skinn. The House of Hammer offered a number of black & white comic book stories in their pages, some of them original tales, others truncated adaptations of popular Hammer film titles. Many of the adaptations were drawn by John Bolton and that's the case with my subject today, Dracula: Prince of Darkness from The House of Hammer #6 (1977), based on the 1966 horror film and adapted by Bolton with writer Donne Avenell.

John Bolton is certainly an artist in the tradition of photorealism, but I find his adaptation of Dracula: Prince of Darkness to be a little too stiff. Still, there are beautiful shadows throughout this story and Dracula's eventual destruction as he falls into a frozen lake looks beautiful with Bolton's black & white storytelling. Several other Hammer Dracula pictures were adapted into these magazines and they're not terribly well-known; check 'em out if you can.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Dracula Month Day 26: Journey into Unknown Worlds #29

I didn't want to let Dracula Month slip by without getting into another side of Marvel Comics' depictions of Dracula - their usage of him in their 1950s Atlas comics. He made various appearances of a limited sort across their titles and perhaps the best-known is "Of Royal Blood" a story which appeared in Journey into Unknown Worlds #29 (1954) shortly before the Comics Code Authority tore the medium apart.

"Of Royal Blood" reappeared in 1974 when Marvel printed it in the black & white magazine Dracula Lives. Throughout the history of their black & white horror magazines there were many Atlas horror tales placed back into print, but "Of Royal Blood" is one of the few to actually tie into the magazine's stated theme (ie, Dracula). The story was drawn by Tony Mortellaro (writer unknown) and features a man named Kroner who is determined to find a suitable husband for his daughter Maria. However, Maria is quite picky and when she rejects the suitors each time the father kills them. Kroner despairs of ever finding a husband for Maria who meets her demand "of royal blood," until he finds a very willing nobleman by the name of... Dracula.

"Of Royal Blood" is an effective four-pager with a simple twist upon which the entire story is constructed. The use of Dracula simply brings a little more attention to this work than what it would have otherwise obtained.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Dracula Month Day 25: Uncanny X-Men #159

I think my first encounter with the character of Dracula may have been Uncanny X-Men #159 (1982) and the story "Night Screams!" by writer Chris Claremont and artists Bill Sienkiewicz & Bob Wiacek. It came to me in the same batch of comic books which included Uncanny X-Men #161, which you may recall I blogged about how it frightened me as a child. Well, "Night Screams" certainly did as well. The story pits Dracula against the X-Men and includes scenes of him attempting to convert Storm into one of his brides (because it's a Chris Claremont comic - of course there's a theme of attempted corruption and of course the intended victim is Storm).

At the time of this story's publication Marv Wolfman & Gene Colan's Tomb of Dracula had wrapped up - indeed, both men had left Marvel for greener pastures at DC Comics. This appearance of Dracula was one of several he made around that period in various Marvel super hero titles (ie, Thor), but like virtually all of Marvel 1970s horror leads he would soon be put to rest (until the horror characters returned in the 1990s). Claremont had dabbled a little in the black & white Dracula Lives magazine earlier in his career so he had some legitimacy in picking up the character, but Dracula can't help but suffer when pit against a Marvel super hero. Claremont demonstrated some interesting ideas in this issue with regards to the cast members' faith (notably, Wolverine's atheism, Nightcrawler's Catholicism & Kitty Pryde's Judaism) but scenes of Dracula turning into a man-bat feel tonally wrong for the character Wolfman & Colan portrayed.

As the story was drawn by Bill Sienkiewicz, you'd think it's pretty chilling material, right? Um, think again. This is still early in Sienkiewicz's career back in his Neal Adams phase and the rough edges of his art were considerably softened by Wiacek's inks. Claremont & Sienkiewicz would later prove they could combine super heroes and horror effectively in New Mutants, but this story lacks a little in atmosphere. As a tiny tot scenes of Dracula looming over Storm's throat were almost too much for me to bear; as a grown man it's simply 'all right.'

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Dracula Month Day 24: Marvel Classics Comics #9

In 1973 Pendulum Press began adapting famous works of literature into slim volumes which retold their stories in comic book format for an intended younger audience, much like Classics Illustrated. These works were produced primarily by Filipino art teams and unknowns and they've been reprinted by other publishers many times over the years. Strangely, one such place is at Marvel Comics where they reprinted many of the Pendulum books in their series Marvel Classics Comics. So it was that in 1976, Marvel Classics Comics #9 reprinted the Pendulum adaptation of Dracula.

The cover above was the only new addition to the Pendulum copy. The art is by Gil Kane & Tom Palmer and depicts a Dracula who is fairly recognizable as being the same person appearing in their Tomb of Dracula comics and Dracula Lives magazines. Within, however, Dracula was depicted with a full beard and a thin face. The adaptation was written by Naunerie Farr and drawn by the Philippines' Nestor Redondo, who would later work directly for Marvel in their Conan books.

This is the second-best adaptation of Dracula which Marvel has published. Yesterday's Stoker's Dracula had much more space to delve into the details of the novel, where as the Marvel Classics version runs at a lean 48 pages. The typewritten lettering gives the book a cheap, amateurish feel, but while the story races by quickly virtually all the details are kept intact - except for poor Quincey Morris, who is omitted from this adaptation. Considering Quincey makes such a great heroic sacrifice in the climax of the novel, isn't a shame how seldom he appears in the adapted versions of that work?

Monday, October 23, 2017

Dracula Month Day 23: Stoker's Dracula #1-4

While Marv Wolfman & Gene Colan busied themselves with the full-colour Tomb of Dracula series for Marvel Comics, the wicked count also haunted the pages of the black & white magazine Dracula Lives in a variety of serials and one-offs set at various points in his history. Easily the best of the lot was the ongoing effort at adapting Bram Stoker's novel by the hands of writer Roy Thomas and artist Dick Giordano. Unfortunately the magazine ended before they could finish the adaptation (the last chapter they completed appeared in the magazine Legion of Monsters). It remained incomplete until 2004 when Marvel republished the chapters and finished the story in the four-issue limited series Stoker's Dracula.

I was working for Marvel Comics at the time this book came out and I was so pleased to see them wrapping this up, complete with Roy Thomas & Dick Giordano and printed in black & white so that the new pages would sit well with the previous. Giordano's style had changed somewhat in the 30 year interval but he was game and it's easily my favourite project of his latter days. Giordano passsed away within 5 years of this project's completion, proving Marvel got in just in time. Now the full story is available in trade paperback as Stoker's Dracula.

Of all the comic book adaptations of Stoker's novel, this is my favourite version. Some of that is down to the moody atmosphere in Giordano's black & white pages, particularly in the ink washes adding a sense of fogginess. This is a neat project and I'm so happy it was brought to completion.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Dracula Month Day 22: The Satanic Rites of Dracula

Christopher Lee's tenure as Dracula in the Hammer horror films officially came to an end in 1973's The Satanic Rites of Dracula. The film is set in contemporary times with Dracula operating mostly behind-the-scenes as the master of a Satanic cult and Peter Cushing as another member of the Van Helsing clan sworn to destroy the vampire.

Beyond the fashion and hairstyles there is something appealingly 70s about this film, what with the 1970s kitschy interest in the occult. However, much of this film is taken up with uninteresting police drama as the Secret Service cautiously and politely investigate the cult of killer vampires. The henchmen of the cult are motorcyclists which causes one to perk up - vampire bikers? - but they don't do much and it would take 1998's Blade to mine that territory. There's also a cellar full of chained-up vampire brides which is briefly thrilling.

Dracula's ultimate plan is to spread the bubonic plague. Dracula's first confrontation with Van Helsing - wherein Dracula is behind a desk, his face hidden in shadows - is the most effective in the film. The climax features Dracula being caught in a hawthorn bush, which I suppose the filmmakers employed because they wanted to exploit a different vampiric weakness than those previously employed, but Dracula has to seriously cooperate with Van Helsing in order to wind up in that predicament. It's not his finest hour, nor is this picture as a whole.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Dracula Month Day 21: Horror of Dracula

There's no way I could let my Dracula Month theme slip by without delving into at least a couple of the Hammer horror films. Depending on who you talk to, people's definitive Dracula on film could be Bela Lugosi, Gary Oldman or Hammer's Christopher Lee; Lee certainly played the role more times than anyone. The one which began it all was 1958's Horror of Dracula (the original UK title was simply Dracula).

This film is the most truncated film adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel that I have seen. Considerable departures were made from the novel so as to amp up the action and violence, while at the same time keeping the cast trimmed down (no Renfield, no Quincey Morris) and the locations kept relatively few. It's interesting that like the 1931 film, Jonathan Harker & Renfield are somewhat merged, only this time instead of Renfield going to Castle Dracula the change is that Harker becomes Dracula's servant.

The film is very breezy and easy to watch - not particulary faithful if that troubles you, but the action holds one's interest. Christopher Lee has virtually no dialogue in this film but he has a commanding presence, while Peter Cushing's Van Helsing was reimagined into an action hero, leading to a particularly show-stopping finale where Van Helsing pins Dracula back with a makeshift cross while waiting for the sunlight to destroy the vampire. This is my pick as best of the Hammer Dracula flicks.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Dracula Month Day 20: Planetary #13

For one bright and shining moment, Warren Ellis was the creator with his finger on the pulse of 21st century comic books; then his hard drive crashed and nothing was ever the same.

Throughout Ellis and artist John Cassaday's series Planetary they made interesting observations about the tropes and traditions of comic book series. Sometimes it was affectionate, sometimes it was acidic. In 2001's Planetary #13 and the story "Century", Ellis & Cassaday delivered a riff on Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, revealing Planetary's chief protagonist Elijah Snow had at one time encountered the likes of Frankenstein's Monster, Sherlock Holmes and Dracula.

I bring up the story "Century" because of all the appearances Dracula has made in comic book form this is probably the least respectful; Ellis & Cassaday didn't seem to find Dracula particularly menacing or tragic, but rather played out and tiresome. Thus, Dracula's encounter with Elijah Snow ends with the vampire being turned into ice then having his crotch kicked off. As Snow himself observes, Dracula truly did have that kind of humiliation coming to him.