Friday, October 31, 2014

October is Spookey Month: Happy Halloween from the Twilight Zone!

Well, Dell Four Color #1288's version of The Twilight Zone (April 1962).  It lacks the social conscience, deep insight into the darker elements of human nature and frequent ironic twist endings we all know and love the TV show for.  It has none of Serling's poetic introductions and closings so fondly parodied over the years.  The Serling voice is hardly present at all, save for a faint echo in one story.  Instead, this book is more reminiscent of DC's anthology horror books from a decade later with a comic book version of the brilliant (and much needed these days) Rod Serling as host instead of Cain or Abel or the Three Witches.  The stories themselves play out like very mild DC horror stories, too, like some of the post-Comics Code 1950s reprints they salted among the Bernie Wrightson or Alex Nino gems.

The best thing about it is George Wilson's painted cover, a fairly accurate rendition of "The Joiner," which is also the book's strongest tale.  And that's saying a lot when one of the stories is about a renegade Nazi who's used his shrinking gas to turn Hitler and his cronies into suspended animation figurines waiting in a glass case for their time to come around again.  In "The Joiner," we meet Alvah Petty, a harassed and pathetic bookkeeper by day and all-powerful Grand Poobah of any number of men's organizations by night.  The crazier the headgear and more esoteric rituals the more he likes it, all the better to keep him away from home where his wife and middle-aged beatnik son treat him like dirt.  They conspire to humiliate Petty so he'll stay home nights and they can abuse him more but it backfires on them when the fake club the son comes up with-- "Knights of the Galaxy"-- improbably turns out to be the real thing and its alien members spirit a not very reluctant Petty away for a 200 year club meeting in another solar system.

 The lead story is a yawner of a ghost story about a conman and his partner (who looks amazingly like great character actor Edward Andrews, who co-starred in The Twilight Zone episode "Third From the Sun") hiding out in a small town.  The conman ends up engaged to a woman who may or may not be from the Other Side.  You know, where the poltergeists live.

The second tale, "Secret Weapon," otherwise known as "The One with Doll Hitler," features a protagonist who might have been worthy of his own book, one Jess Mallard.  Don't let his stupid, duck-like name fool you.  The guy is a dogged Nazi hunter who will stop at nothing to capture his prey including offering to pay an exorbitant amount for strangely heavy carved figurines of Adolf Hitler, Martin Bormann and some joker known only as "Muller."  Muller, the generic top Nazi.  They should have given Mallard a better name then spun him off into his own book.  Something like Duke Stone, Nazi-Hunter.  It's appropriate because Serling occasionally set up Nazi characters for deserved comeuppances, as in The Twilight Zone episode "Death's-Head Revisited" and in the November 1969 Night Gallery pilot segment "Escape Route."  Oh, and don't forget "He's Alive," a The Twilight Zone episode where Dennis Hopper plays a neo-Nazi would-be Hitler who runs afoul of the ghost of the real one with tragic consequences.  That episode is kind of muddled and turns campy with its big reveal (don't put your pseudo-Hitler in front of a photo of the actual one, please), but it's still more gripping than the tepid "Secret Weapon," Jess Mallard aside.  Mallard would have kicked Hopper's ass two minutes into his story, though, and saved everyone a lot of trouble later.  Mallard may look like Leslie Howard by way of William Shatner, but he's all Robert Stack.

And then "The Joiner."  The slobby beatnik who appears almost the same age as his dad, friendly green aliens and the final panel with Serling superimposed over what appears to be a highway among the stars are a few more elements that make this one a fun standout.

By now you realize none of these stories will chill you the way Serling's show did at its very best, but the art, which is apparently by EC alums Reed Crandall and/or George Evans solid enough, with caricatures of Serling that look a lot like him.  Except for the one that inexplicably resembles a post-auto accident Montgomery Clift leading off "Secret Weapon."  I don't know if anyone considers this book an example of either artists' A-level material, but it's easy to look at and occasionally-- especially in "The Joiner"-- has a little bit of that ol' EC magic.  I would never begrudge either guy an art job in the lean days between Dr. Wertham and Warren Publications.  For the history buff in me they even manage to work in a short recounting of a story I once heard about Abraham Lincoln possibly having a prescient dream about his assassination and for the skeptic who scoffs at such ridiculous notions in me, a back cover that dabbles in something that's almost science fact.  All in all, Dell Four Color #1288 The Twilight Zone is a neat little package that probably has its origins more in stuff the contributors had lying around in their studios or offices than anything Serling or guys like Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont might have come up with.

And that's it for this year's Spookey Month.  I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

October is Spookey Month: You can't have Halloween without Bernie Wrightson!

Hello, Halloween hellhounds!  Let's enjoy Bernie Wrightson's delightful Creepy magazine frontispieces.  I'm not sure when Creepy started running these, and Wrightson didn't do one for every issue.  Sometimes they'd run a full-color house ad for Vampirella or spotlight another talented artist.  But Wrightson's frontispieces are rich with spooky atmosphere.  And ghoulish good humor.  These are just a few of my fearvorites...

Creepy 66 (November 1974)

Creepy 67 (December 1974)

This next one is a particular joy to behold...

Creepy 70 (April 1975)

Oh wow!  Isn't that beautiful?  Okay, a few more...  This next one I like because it's one of those Wrightson "spooky stuff happens even during the day" images.  Just like in the memorable story "Jenifer" he illustrated.  It starts one magical afternoon.  Imagine hiking in the forest on a gloomy fall day and...

Creepy 71 (May 1975)

Egads!  Dare we continue?  Dare we do!

Creepy 75 (November 1975)

Here's my favorite, though.  It's a collaboration with Walter Simonson, a guy who's best known for Asgardian superheroes but has done a few highly effective fright jobs in his long career, too.  Plus, it's specifically Halloween-related.

Creepy 76 (January 1976)

Love those.  But to be honest, the scariest Creepy frontispiece of all wasn't drawn by Wrightson or Simonson.  It's this one.  Steady on, people.  Steady on...

Creepy 81 (July 1976)


We definitely need something to help us recover our wits after that shriek-inducing moment of terror.  All of these except the last are available in Dark Horse's gorgeous and essential Creepy Presents Bernie Wrightson hardcover.  Now I need to go clean up a little.  So calm yourselves and here's something to soothe your jangled nerves.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

October is Spookey Month: Someone's rockin' list of the "10 Most Frightening Horror Comics Ever!"

I know nothing of this Herald Scotland site, but I salute the good (or foul, depending on your perspective and whether or not you go through life talking like one of EC Comics' horror hosts) taste of Graphic Content writer Teddy Jamieson.  Not only does Jamieson quote Halloween III: Season of the Witch, but he manages to include Junji Ito's horror masterwork Uzumaki on the list.  At Paste Magazine you can read a similar 13 item list called "13 Terrifying Modern Horror Comics," which I saw posted by Fantagraphics on Facebook earlier this week.  That one is very Western comic-centric and the choices more conventional than Jamieson's, but they overlap, too.  I admire Jamieson for having the guts to lead off the list with a most personal choice.  He also puts Jack Chick tracts on his list.  I remember coming across those from time to time when I was a kid and he's right.  They're scary!  At least they were when the threat of hell or running into a hippie mocking my religious beliefs with a dismissive "HAW HAW!" were the worst things I could imagine.

Personal choice is appropriate because our most frightening comic is the one that affects us most regardless of its wider reputation.  I found myself exposed to a great many shitty horror comics when I was a kid and quite a few managed to genuinely frighten me even with crude art and strained writing. 

Sometimes even genre doesn't matter.

Jack Kirby scared the snot and the buggers out of me with his chilling final image in Kamandi #20 of our long-haired hero alone on a ruined pier.  I mean utterly alone, overlooking what I assumed at the time to be a monster-haunted Lake Michigan.  No one to help him, not the indifferent gulls circling overhead, certainly not the angry gorillas ravaging the robotic theme park Kamandi had just escaped.  No humans, just robots going through the motions of 1920s-era Chicago gangland clichés.  Poor lonely Kamandi.  The imagery was bleak, the closing copy promised more horrors to come.  Shudder!

Another story that gave me the willies was "Evolution's Nightmare" in Marvel/Curtis Planet of the Apes #5.  It opens with humans and gorillas fighting El Cid-style in a desert wasteland, then ends with radioactivity-devolved apes and men duking it out with rocks and clubs in a bomb-ruined San Francisco.  They even kill the two main characters (who spent the intervening pages painfully learning tolerance) before grunting and screaming in mindless hate at each other from atop wrecked cars full of skeletons and across piles of shattered asphalt.  Doug Moench's depressing narrative captions inform us everything moves in circles and those circles stink.  Artist Ed Hannigan's (Jim Mooney inks, by the way) double-page spread of piles of dead warriors with their eyes lifelessly open only added to the lingering fear instilled in me by this creepy story.

Obviously, neither of those two are horror stories.  They're both rough-house science-fiction adventures.  You can find horror-like frights anywhere.  In a plot twist in an otherwise innocuous superhero book, gazing at you from a house ad in a humor comic, jumping out at you from behind a brick wall on a sunny street in Riverdale, USA.

Or in an actual horror comic.  Like Uzumaki.  Serialized in Big Comic Spirits (it's a seinen manga, or dude's comic, so be careful opening that link) from 1998 to 1999, Ito's Uzumaki is the greatest horror story ever published in comic book form.  I'm comparing it to everything from Charles Burns' Black Hole, which made Fantagraphics' list (and is a moody, troubling work in its own right) to EC and every horror comic in between.  Out of all the fright fun I've had reading horror comics, only Uzumaki gave me feeling of truly dreading the next development in a story in my life.  Of doom.  Or of being genuinely grossed out by so many drawings in one place.  Uzumaki's dreamlike inevitability remains after you close the book having followed its main characters deep into the heart of ancient fears.

Uzumaki tickles your fright bone the way a cold wind from across the dry grass of graveyard might gooseflesh your arms.  Bruised clouds passing overhead like witches, their shadows falling around like concentrated night, on the move, looking for you.  Dead leaves hissing at you along the curb.  Hurrying you homeward where you face a dark, empty house where the rooms echo only with your voice.

Story and art by Junji Ito

And the soft footsteps of another.  Though nobody else is home.

Here's something that's not frightening.  It's a performance by Hamamatsu's own Spookey!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

October is Spookey Month: Wally Wood brings you a new path to a life of peace and love in Creepy #38 (March 1971)

Behind a lurid and appealing Ken Kelly ax-maniac cover (Kelly's Creepy debut), you'll find a late career gem in the EC Comics mode written and illustrated by Wally Wood.  James Warren, who was not only publishing Creepy at this point but also editing it (along with associate editor Archie Goodwin), must have been particularly happy with Wood's "The Cosmic All," because he gives it a cover spotlight and the honor of closing out an issue that also includes work by Rich Buckler, Mike Royer and Ernie Colon.  Warren would also reprint the story just over a year later in Creepy #48, a special, all-reprint issue.

Sometime in earth's future, we've sent an intrepid mixed-gender exploratory mission led by a bearded captain (along with Don!  And Sue!) to Alpha Centauri, which is now, more than 40 years after this story's publication, a popular tourist destination.  In those days, it was the distant frontier of outer space.  After finding bones on their first planetary stop, the explorers anticipate a possible meeting with intelligent life.  Which is kind of ironic.  I mean, they do meet it.  It's just not the kind they were hoping for. 

You know how the hierarchy of space aliens goes—in order from least to most objectionable, it’s generally humanoids, reptilians, insectoids, cephalopods, non-tentacled mollusks, blobs and, finally, slimes.  The further its appearance gets from the human template, the more repulsive the alien.  And usually, the more likely to have philosophies contrary to the kinds we find comforting.  So Wood’s slime terrifies the space explorers by trying to absorb Sue.
Wally Wood

In familiar comic book sci-fi fashion, Don shoots the slime with his phallic laser zapper gun, then everyone flees in their retro-finned rocket ship, only to find the slime on yet another planet.  Having achieved what they believe is their due quota of slime-based encounters, they orbit a comfortably earth-like planet that gives them a very rude greeting in the form of more laser beams.  In response, the human explorers (And Don!  And Sue!) blast through planetary shields and receive a series of puzzling messages.  The civilization below no longer seem angry, but rather depressed and resigned to first contact.  They invite the astronauts to land, then ambush them in a suicidal rush. 
And, ironically enough, they're comfortably humanoid in appearance.  Bulbous, bald heads (like my own) and large black eyes notwithstanding.  A recording reveals this was their deliberate self-extinction and a cleaner death than the one that awaits the astronauts.  Who stand around puzzled, as anyone would be, but the next day all but two of them are skeletons as well.  And those two are Don and Sue!
Wally Wood

Which is probably just as well.  After all, even if it was a case of suicide-by-human-astronaut, these men and women did commit genocide.  Are they any less monstrous than the slime?  Perhaps they're precisely as monstrous, as we soon discover.  Don and Sue make for earth where they suddenly experience a strange elation and crash the rocket into the ocean.
Wally Wood

There Don and Sue slough off their skins and mutate into the now-familiar slime.  Everything becomes clear.  The humanoid aliens chose to die as a group with each individual’s self-awareness intact because the slime infects other beings and absorbs them into the titular cosmic all, a vast collective without individual thought.  The two space travelers become one with the intent of spreading their all-ness to every living thing on earth.  Starting with all sea life, I suppose.  Uncle Creepy appears at the end and tells us the ultimate twist—they’re glad to be this way, so it’s technically a happy ending.  I’m not going to argue with him.  It certainly made me happy!
Wally Wood

The ending is one reason.  The ambiguity of it lingers.  So many deaths, but no escape for Don and Sue, just the loss of humanity both physical and mental, a blending of their minds with the vastness of the alien slime, all-knowing and unstoppable.  Is their joy at the becoming genuine, or simply an effect the slime has on their minds?

 The other is Wood’s artwork.  The splash page is a spectacular image, the kind of Woodian spaceship interior he drew regularly during EC’s heyday.  Round vents, layers of exposed pipes like the veins in a human arm.  Similarly exciting scenes follow, with the explorers trudging across a planetary landscape, the slime attacking like a huge ocean wave and then a space battle followed by an alien-wave attack and the intimate concluding sequence which is equal parts bleak and elating, an uneasy mix that elevates this story to legendary status.  It has the feel of a particularly memorable EC tale, but with an expansiveness the larger page size affords. 
And that ending!  That ending!

Monday, October 27, 2014

October is Spookey Month: Tricks and treats with Creepy #36 (November 1970)

I can't decide which is the treat.  Is it the dinosaur or the cheesecake?  This is the cover to Creepy #36 (November 1970), naturally.  Nature being the operant word here.  This painting is by Kenneth Smith, who contributed a few covers to the magazine around this time.  It's an image that actually appears as a panel in the story "Weird World" inside.

Nicola Cuti wrote "Weird World" and Tom Sutton illustrated it.  It's a story about an astronaut lost on a jungle planet where this woman rides around on a triceratops.  The whole thing has a Richard Corben feel to it, and when I first saw this cover that's who I thought painted it.  But no, Kenneth Smith.  Smith painted a number of science fiction book covers and was one of the artists included in a book that's a particular favorite of mine, Ray Bradbury's Dinosaur Tales along with people like Moebius and William Stout.

Well, here's a dinosaur.  You know, because dinosaurs are such an important part of our Halloween traditions.  The story itself has a downbeat twist ending and this cover image remains popular among Creepy fans to this day.  It was probably pretty popular in 1970, too, but I was only two years old at the time and wouldn't remember anyway.

Friday, October 17, 2014

October is Spookey Month: How EC ruined America's pasttime in Haunt of Fear #19 (May-June 1953)

No, they didn't ruin baseball.  That's just me trying to have a little fun and shake things up a bit.  If anything, they made baseball better!  But EC did get itself into hot water with the government over "Foul Play," a story appearing in Haunt of Fear #19 (May-June 1953).  Dr. Frederic Wertham used it as an example of horror comic nastiness in his book Seduction of the Innocent and then did it again during his afternoon session testimony to the 1954 Senate Subcommittee Hearing on Juvenile Delinquency

The story is about Central City's Herb Satten, an unscrupulous pitcher who wants to help his team win the pennant by murdering the Bayville's star second baseman, Jerry Deegan.  After all, this Deegan slugger led the league in home runs all season and he's up the next inning in a tight game.  It stretches credulity a bit.  Satten kills Deegan by poisoning his spikes, then allowing himself to get hit with an inside pitch so he can get on first, attempt a steal then slide spikes-high and slash his victim.  He's thrown out and it looks like a bonehead play, but it all works out. Satten kills his man and Central City wins.  This leads to the pitcher's grisly comeuppance the night before the next season's opening day.

And one of the all-time great gross-out scenes in horror comics history.  The murdered man's teammates literally rip Satten apart late one night and use his body parts to play a moonlit intrasquad game.  Complete with a complicit umpire.  That also stretches believability, but not so far as the poor pitcher's intestines, which serve as foul lines up the first and third base paths.  The grisliest detail is the catcher's using the Satten's chest as his own chest protector.  You wanna wear part of a human body even if he is a sorry murdering cheat?  What is this, the Ed Gein League?

They also incriminate themselves by burying him under the pitcher's mound and inscribing the rubber there with "Herbert Satten.  Pitcher.  Murderer.  R.I.P."

Rest in pieces, baby.  Rest in pieces.

Writer:  Al Feldstein/Artist: Jack Davis

Well, they were angry ballplayers and probably didn't think through the consequences.  The ironic thing about "Foul Play" is, it may have been notorious at the time but the guy who drew it is one of the nicest, most gentlemanly people you'll ever have the privilege of meeting.  If you're so lucky.  I had a chance to phone interview him way back in 1996 for a class project and I came away in such a good mood because he was so jolly and generous.  He answered even my stupidest questions with patience and good cheer.

Writer:  Al Feldstein/Artist: Jack Davis

I'm talking Jack Davis, the dean of American caricaturists.  This story is right in his wheelhouse, so to speak.  Davis is a master of sports cartooning, able to twist his loose-limbed figures into whatever pose necessary to show the physicality of sports.  Baseball, basketball, football, late night murder, these are things Davis visualizes so well.  Obviously made a huge impact on Dr. Wertham and the guys up on Capitol Hill, huh?

Writer:  Al Feldstein/Artist: Jack Davis

I loved Davis' work before I ever read this story (although I'd heard rumors of it for years and they always chilled me to the bone).  He drew magazine covers, movie posters.  His art came into our house on television in the form of character designs for the Jackson 5ive Saturday morning cartoon.  As a University of Georgia graduate, I've seen dozens, if not hundreds, of Davis-drawn Bulldog athletes in motion, with his characteristic lanky body language and large, articulated hands.  Gorgeously rendered in loose, appealing brushstrokes and then watercolored to pop from the page of whatever book, calendar or postcard they adorn.  His 1950s horror work benefits from the Davis approach, one that exaggerates reality for comic effect.  So when you see a Davis severed head, it's not grotesque no matter how decayed it might be.  It's sick... but in a tasteful way.

Writer:  Al Feldstein/Artist: Jack Davis

The Senate Subcommittee Hearing people must not have felt that way, although I believe William Gaines explained it quite well in his testimony.  This is gore in just the right amount.  There's nothing gratuitous about it, but it has to have impact.  If you'll notice, too, colorist Marie Severin gives those panels a blue-yellow complementary color scheme rather than one that emphasizes its fleshy or bloody qualities.  This makes it explicit without going over the top.  Not for the squeamish, certainly.  But it's right in my wheelhouse, too.  Jack Davis is an American treasure, baby.  And so is Marie Severin.  No doubt about that. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

October is Spookey Month: Batman #319 (January 1980)

Batman #319 (January 1980) sees Batman and Gentleman Ghost battling once again.  This mean we get a Halloween treat in the form of a spectacular Joe Kubert cover with Batman in pulpy danger, suspended over a bubbling vat of wholesome Campbell's Tomato Soup with milk added.  Just like my dad loved to do!  Dick Giordano inks and the result is as rich and creamy as the soup Gentleman Ghost plans to dip Batman into.  Eerie underlighting and a line quality that's recognizably Kubert but somewhat cleaner and not as expressionistic.

The story starts in mid-action, just like the previous Gentleman Ghost appearance.  Batman once again interrupts the Ghost and his henchpeople in mid-heist and ends up hoisted by his own cape.  While starting stories like this instantly ups the energy level and leads us to expect something rapid-fire and thrilling, there's a danger of this approach devolving into formula.  But Batman's dilemma-- which writer Len Wein points out is self-inflicted due to Batman's cape being rip-resistant, a helpful quality in most situations but not when you need it to tear so you can free yourself from a dangling hook-- proves startling and original in its details.  Wein also uses it to show that Batman, while fallibly human, is also resourceful and dangerous even when apparently helpless.  Never count out the Caped Crusader, as Gentleman Ghost finds before cleverly making his own escape.

Script: Len Wein/Pencils: Irv Novick/Inks: Bob Smith

From there we find Batman setting a trap for the Ghost, with a Halloween-appropriate setting.  He plans a costume ball at Wayne Manor with jewels on display as bait.  Gentleman Ghost finds this irresistible, and once again Batman ends up dangling from a hook.  This time over boiling soup.  I mean acid.  It's not tomato soup.  It's a vat of acid, a wicked comic book convention.  This time Wein shows us the mechanics of a Batman escape.  The story has the feel of someone working through all those classic Batman tropes.  The death traps, the fist fights, goofy henchpeople (somehow the very British Gentleman Ghost has found a couple of very British oafs to help him, one named, fittingly enough, Alfie) and another ambiguous ending.

Script: Len Wein/Pencils: Irv Novick/Inks: Bob Smith

We still never learn if Gentleman Ghost is a real ghost or not.  His lackies disguise themselves as the Ghost as a distraction and Wein suggests the headless quality is mere fakery when one of them is revealed to be merely hunching down.  That doesn't explain the floating top hats or monacles.  Later there's a bit with a convenient hologram projector which also seems to tell us the Ghost is more technological trick than supernatural treat, but Wein leaves the truth of the matter hanging, kind of like his Batman this issue.  You can have it either way.  He's a clever illusionist with a creepy gimmick or he's a creepy ghost with a penchant for high-tech chicanery.

Script: Len Wein/Pencils: Irv Novick/Inks: Bob Smith

It's up to you!

Irv Novick once again pencils, but this time Bob Smith inks.  Smith's line is thinner, sharper, more angular than Giordano's.  Well-defined figures and clarity of action make this issue very appealing throughout.  Batman is almost always on the left side of the panels, inciting things in the proper reading order so you get this forward thrust and momentum that carries through all the way to the end.  With Novick and Smith the crowded costume party has focus and detail, with one wide panel that's a treat to linger on.  Batman comes as Henry VIII, Selina Kyle as Catherine of Aragon ("Please... call me Cat," she quips) and Lucius Fox is Abraham Lincoln.  You can make out a plethora of other historical personages surrounding them and even when the Gentleman Ghost and friends gate-crash, Novick and Smith maintain a clear sense of where everyone is relative to each other.  Even when Selina Kyle and Lucius Fox abruptly switch sides so Fox can occupy the foreground with his thoughtful countenance you're not likely to freak out with the change and fall out of the story.  Good, solid stuff.

Script: Len Wein/Pencils: Irv Novick/Inks: Bob Smith

The issues I've read of this Wein run are sleekly enjoyable reads.  He drops exposition into dialogue and gives us meaty narrative captions to chew on while we enjoy the visual banquet Novick and Smith provide.  Very tasty stuff, the kind that satisfies.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

October is Spookey Month: Batman #310 (April 1979)

Batman #310 (April 1979) is a comic I bought solely for its cover.  Even back then I was a big Joe Kubert fan, and I believed the cover artist always did the interior art.  I was wrong.

Choosing Kubert as cover artist makes perfect sense because he and Robert Kanigher co-created Gentleman Ghost as a Hawkman/Hawkgirl adversary.  Gentleman Ghost debuted in Flash Comics #88 (August or October 1947, take your pick) but I’d never heard of him.  Why?  Because I never read any Hawkman comics.  Never had anything against Hawkman, just wasn’t my thing. 

Joe Kubert, on the other hand, certainly was and still is very much my thing.  Being 11 years old when this comic book came out I had no idea he’d ever done anything other than war comics and Tarzan.  A chance to see him draw a Batman story piqued my interest, but I can’t say the Irv Novick-Dick Giordano team that actually did the inside art disappoints.  They do a bang-up job.  Theirs is my ideal visual representation of Batman.  He has human proportions and he's not always gritting and grinding his teeth to the point where his molars must be just about gone.  He's a serious guy, but he has recognizably human emotions!
Here we are 35 years later and I’m still not particularly into Hawkman and my knowledge of Joe Kubert’s long comics career remains spotty at best.  I love his art and still adore this attractive, exciting cover, though.  I just find it odd I’d have an Irv Novick comic and never have it click with me despite coming to appreciate his solid Bat-work from all the reprints I’ve read over the years.  Maybe it’s not so odd.  I once had a Russ Heath Sgt. Rock and didn’t realize it until much later.  Same with a Rich Buckler-Bernie Wrightson Batman book.  I’m kind of an idiot.

Script: Len Wein/Pencils: Irv Novick/Inks: Dick Giordano

The story, titled "The Ghost Who Haunted Batman," is a jaunty, assured effort by all involved.  It would have made an excellent episode of the 1990s Batman: the Animated Adventures TV series.  Len Wein's script sets up a neat double mystery and wraps it all up in a single issue.  One one hand we want to know why is Gentleman Ghost, known for stealing jewels, suddenly after things like antique lanterns and furniture?  And on the other, where did Bruce Wayne's loyal butler Alfred Pennyworth disappear to?  Wein also plays the whole "is Gentleman Ghost a real ghost, or is he just some clever illustionist with a gimmick?" routine to great effect.  Batman remains pretty skeptical of the supernatural throughout, and when his bat-rope falls ineffectively between Gentleman Ghost's cuffs and gloves, he's disturbed.  But not enough to stop scoffing, as when he sneers, "Mister, you're about as supernatural as my shoe."

No doubt like Batman himself, I distinctly remember expecting some kind of prosaic explanation at story's end.  A special effects artist or magician revealed in an unmasking...

What I admire about this book is how every moment moves the story forward or reinforces the then-current Batman status quo.  There's no waste.  Even for a reader like me, who bought books based on whim and might go months between Batman purchases, could pick this issue up and learn all its players and how Batman relates to each of them.  There's a quick bit of Catwoman romance, a Lucius Fox appearance and even a return visit to Wayne Manor, and yet the central plot remains at the fore.  It's a quick read and certainly no gyp for being self-contained and short.

One of my favorite scenes in this book comes when Batman disguises himself as a portly fellow butler to infiltrate a UK-themed bar where Alfred likes to hang out on his nights off and brag to anyone who will listen and buy him a pint about his awesome job with the Waynes.  In the interest of blending in, Batman goes for the old school stereotype complete with bowler and crooked little pipe.  He kind of goes from one panel in his Batman jammies staring down at the pub to the next walking-- the caption tells us it's a mere few minutes later-- in all dressed up with a waistcoat and padded suit.  I'm not sure how Batman pulls this off so quickly when he doesn't even have his Batmobile around to carry things for him, but Wein doesn't let a little detail like this slow the story's pace.

Script: Len Wein/Pencils: Irv Novick/Inks: Dick Giordano

I like to imagine Batman spouting off with a Dick Van Dyke-quality accent and all the ex-pat Brits mocking him after he leaves.  For the story's purposes, Batman probably puts on an accent not only dead-perfect for some particular region of the UK, but also a specific neighborhood.  Came up with a complete biography for this one-off character and everything.  He is a master of disguise, after all.  He's right that it would be odd for Batman to go around asking about Bruce Wayne's butler-- but why doesn't he go in as Wayne?  Because subterfuge is fun!
Novick and Giordano lovingly create a creepy, fog-bound mood throughout, turning Gotham City into a vast haunted house.  The atmosphere compares favorably with that ultimate night-bound comic, Marvel's Tomb of Dracula.  And Gentleman Ghost makes an excellent Batman foil.  I’ve always enjoyed Batman stories where he comes up against the supernatural and he’s left a bit befuddled in the end.  Batman benefits from being depicted as vulnerable and not as hyper-competent.  Nowadays he’d anticipate Gentleman Ghost’s every move and have some kind of pre-built anti-ghost device.  In 1979, a hypnotized Alfred could sneak up behind him and knock him out with a heavy gold lamp and he could be deked by an empty suit, then try and fail to save Gentleman Ghost from a carriage crash.  The final scene certainly lives up to the story's title as Batman is left there with the Ghost’s mocking laughter ringing in his ears in one of those ambiguous “just what the heck was that guy?” endings. 
Batman and Gentleman Ghost would tangle again shortly and we'll talk about that one when I get the time to read it and react to it.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

It's October is Spookey Month time again!

I know, I know, you're excited about this annual tradition here at When Comic Books Ruled the Earth where we take all of October and examine various horror comics.  We're going to take a break from Marvel movies and spend some time chilling with some chillers.  The eccentric spelling of "spookey" is in tribute to a local rock band called SpookeyThey once did a Halloween-themed live show-- a video of which you can find on YouTube-- and I bought one of their albums after watching it.  The album features a fun cover of a fun cover of the Banana Splits Adventure Hour theme song and some other feel-good pop-punk rockers.  They don't seem to be very active at the moment but that doesn't mean we have to stop being fans of cool local music and cool local musicians.

And it has nothing to do with mylove for horror comics, but this is my blog and I can do whatever I want with it.  I haven't decided on an itinerary for this month's journey through the darker realms of four-color fantasy.  I imagine it will lean heavily on Creepy, Eerie and EC once again.  A smattering of Batman, my go-to Halloween superhero.  In fact, I have a certain issue of Batman in mind for my first Spookey Month post.  Or maybe it's an issue of Detective Comics.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

A little bit on the Disney/Marvel-Jack Kirby settlement...

I spent a great deal of time over the weekend on Facebook reading Kurt Busiek's responses to another Jack Kirby fan's skepticism over the Disney/Marvel-Jack Kirby family amicable settlement.  I couldn't read the fan's comments (he earned a block for excessive negativity a while back), only Busiek's replies.  Which were lengthy and not in the least combative.  He just explained-- much more patiently than I ever could, and certainly more cogently-- why the fan was badly mistaken this is somehow a bad thing.  Or at the very least why someone with zero stakes involved would get upset about it when both Disney/Marvel and the Kirby family, with major stakes involved, both seem so pleased with the outcome.

Late in the game another fan added some commentary.  Busiek jousted with him as well and knocked him off his horse more than once.  Each time the game fan remounted and took up his lance, only to have it blunted and knocked aside no matter what attack he chose.  Greedy heirs*.  WHACK.  Stick to a contract, even a lousy one.  WHOMP.  Copyright law was meant to do something else.  KRACK.  If I pay you to build a house...  THUMP.

The last I saw before averting my eyes the fan was hurtling himself down the tilting lane, this time without even a horse.  The horse had long since retired to the clubhouse for some hot toddies and a massage.  I believe the fan had armed himself with the only weapon he had left in his arsenal, a wet noodle, which he was waving around while shouting, "Now we'll never have a New Gods movie!" 

I just couldn't watch any longer.

So I started drawing.  I drew all day and into the night.  I drew that lousy Hulk you see below.  That version is number four of four.  The first three suffered fates more ignominious than the naysaying arguments in the Facebook thread.  When you consider how many outright shitty drawings I've posted here over the last few months or even years, you can imagine just how bad something must be if I don't even try to post it.  Pretty bad.

But what's pretty good is this settlement between Disney/Marvel and Jack Kirby's family.  I can't see anything negative about it for either party, cannot fathom why anyone would naysay it.  I see it as a major win-win situation for both the big corporation and the little family that could.  The Kirbys get to enjoy some of the fruits of Jack Kirby's decades-long labor, Disney/Marvel can add the Kirbys to their marketing plans for all their future movie and multi-media extravaganzas along with Stan Lee. 

After all, Kirby's fantastic creations aren't the only things marketable here.  The man himself is an amazing story of unrelenting creativity and hard work spanning generations.  The guy co-created Captain America with Joe Simon then went off and fought in the last good war, for Thor's sake.  You want to show him off, and Stan, too:  "Look at what these plucky, grandfatherly guys did for all of us.  Enjoy their work and buy a lot of our licensed stuff, which we will produce at a record-breaking pace, relatively guilt-free for a change."

Disney/Marvel may be paying out to his family, but they're going to cash in on this, too.  I've never been opposed to that.  I just wanted the guy who made that possible for them to get a little more than the kick in the pants he got way back when.  Since he's not around anymore, giving it to his children and grandchildren is the best of all possible things.  If you can't grasp that, you are an alien to me.  Or I am to you.  Norin Radd, at your service.

Settling like this makes good business sense.  And it feels good to this fan, too.  Thanks to this and the things I've heard about Marvel's relationship with Bill Mantlo (the guy who made that little Guardians of the Galaxy movie possible in the first place), I have warm, gooshy feelings about Disney/Marvel I've never had before!

*In the interest of accuracy, if not engaging storytelling and myth-making, this point may have come from someone else, in another thread or even on another site entirely.


I did this crappy drawing yesterday to celebrate the best comic book-related news story to come our way in decades.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Remember back in the old days, during the Cold War, when there weren't so many nuclear-armed superpowers?  Things have gotten way out of hand with the proliferation of mass destruction.  I'm pretty sure there's plenty of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium circulating around out there thanks to the Soviet Union's collapse.  But back when they were the other potential driver of human extinction, we Americans had our atomic secrets and people like Colonel Steve Canyon of the USAF to keep them safe.

This was back when we atom-bombed the shit out of the Nevada desert and all those Pacific atolls we had lying around after beating Japan, when all those old school European imperialists were licking their wounds and going soft on the commie menace.  Or else turning Red themselves.  Nothing like a balmy tropical paradise for testing hydrogen bombs.  Or T-bombs, whatever those are.  Canyon could tell you, but he's not talking because you might be a mole or a fellow traveler and a guy can't be too careful.

Looking back, I have no idea what we were thinking.  Sure, you'd find magazine articles on how the domino theory would lead to Southeast Asia becoming a Marxist staging point for invading Japan, then Hawaii and then Boise, Idaho.  But there had to be a better way to protect and preserve our way of life than blasting our obsolete battle fleets with nuclear bombs and polluting the atmosphere with fallout.  I wonder why these damned things had to be tested so often anyway.  Once you have a trigger mechanism that works, why do you need another?  And if it's the fissile material that's in doubt, you can't un-blow a proven sample and use it again.  I think all these Pentagon brass hats and physicist types were more or less like kids with really big firecrackers-- the largest-- and some really super keen model ships they couldn't help blowing up for kicks.

These happy images with their subtext of promised global apocalypse are from Dell Four Color Comics #641 (October 1955), reprinted in Hermes Press' new-to-digital offering Milton Caniff's Steve Canyon: The Complete Series Volume 1.  This one stands out for me because I find myself reading accounts of weapons testing in my downtime.

And who would dare argue with that swanky painted cover, which has a "Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew meets James Bond" charm about it?  I'm not a big proponent of painted interior art because it tends to look more like a collage of pretty still images rather than a sequence of events, but give me painted covers anytime.  One of this book's strengths is its full-page reproduction of these beautiful paintings.  The front cover itself features a dramatic image of Canyon and his enlisted driver gritting out a rocket launchpad fire that's too close for comfort.  You can almost feel the heat and the frenzied background action gives the scene a sense of urgency that's only helped by Canyon's raised arm and grimace-creased face.  The interior art may have a few Caniff touches, but it's largely by Ray Bailey and William Overgard, two names with which I'm not familiar.  I will be getting acquainted as I dig into this book.

The point is, here's some sweet 1950s espionage action that falls right in my wheelhouse.  My dad and I used to follow the daily Steve Canyon strip in its latter years, but I've neglected Caniff and people like Noel Sickles for far too long.  I'm not just a student of comic book art filling in the gaps in my education, I'm a student of this historical era, and comics like these give us a feel for time, when we Americans felt ourselves surrounded by danger and locked in a death struggle with a diametrically opposed ideology.  Our good guys sometimes wore white cowboy hats and sometimes they wore blue service caps with eagles pinned to them.


Friday, September 5, 2014

"Forget it, Kitty! You're not good enough for us 'X-Babies!"

Ah, I remember New Mutants #13 (March 1984) when Kitty Pryde was like, "Oh, guys, can I hang out with you?" and Dani Moonstar was all, "Nuh uh!  You called us 'X-Babies,' so you can take your sorry butt right on out of these woods we're hanging out in and suck an egg!"  I was thinking about that the other day.  I've always loved the cover by Tom Mandrake.  Crying Kitty's in the foreground in her garish green circus costume, phasing sadly through a fallen tree, and the New Mutants are behind her looking fierce.  Especially Dani, who Mandrake places in this pose of haughty dismissal.
The story inside is heavy on Amara, Kitty and Doug Ramsey, none of whom I had the least interest in back in the day.  I briefly gave up reading the series right around this issue because the book seemed moribund.  No more Bob McLeod art, the team's central conflict-- Dani versus a Brood-controlled Professor X-- had long been resolved and the X-Men were back from space, where everyone had believed them dead.  There was really no need for a junior X-Team, unless it was to give Chris Claremont's complex narratives in Uncanny X-Men extra space to play out as a kind of main story footnote.  Hardly a compelling reason for another title, although it's standard operating practice at both Marvel and DC these days.
Rather than establish a distinct identity, New Mutants in its second year tended towards dull, generic super-kid stories. It hooked me again when Bill Sienkiewicz became the regular artist and Chris Claremont re-established his unique authorial voice by taking the kids and their narrative in a darker direction.  Demon bears, slumber parties, shape-shifting cyber-aliens from outer space.  All classic stuff.

But I loved this conflict between Kitty and Dani.  I took Dani's side, of course.  Who wouldn't?  Dani is only Marvel's greatest post-Jack Kirby creation.  Kitty's fine, but there's no competition there.  Mandrake's cover stuck with me for years after I'd forgotten Amara gets her codename in the story, long after I'd given up comic book reading for serious literature only to start in with them again, kind of the same way I did with New Mutants.

Every so often, I want to revisit that cover image, only my brain invariably turns it into something that only slightly resembles the Mandrake original.  Like with this drawing, which I knocked out the other day before work.  I felt like working on a foreshortened pointing pose, because I'd convinced myself Mandrake had drawn Dani that way.  Actually, if you take a look at New Mutants #13, she's just sort of waving her hand at Kitty.  And I really thought since Dani was establishing herself as team leader and spokesperson she was the one who let Kitty have it with the cover dialogue.  How wrong I was!  Well, my little sketch is poor Kitty Pryde to Mandrake's powerful Dani Moonstar.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Things to be excited about: Silver Age Teen Titans, Ghosts and Dark Horse's reprints of Marvel Star Wars...

I dropped some mega-bucks on DC's Silver Age Teen Titans Archives volumes 1 and 2, Showcase Presents Ghosts and Dark Horse's Star Wars Omnibus:  A Long Time Ago... volume 4.  These four massive books are on their way to me as I type this, through wind and rain.  Yeah, it's a dark day here in Japan with changeable weather threatening to wash out any weekend activities people may have planned now that the temperatures are easing off from the sauna range they stayed in all summer long.  Of course, with dengue fever closing Yoyogi Park in Tokyo, it's probably just as well.  Yet within my heart is a bright, warm light and its source is anticipation of some classic comic book reading material.

The Silver Age Teen Titans Archives books particularly delight me, since this is one of those series I've fallen madly in love with.  I just cannot seem to get enough of Bob Haney's socially aware writing or Nick Cardy's art.  Most especially the latter.  I've bought this material both in digital form and in Showcase format.  The digitals, on Comixology, never seem to advance past the five or so comics available in Silver Age Titans Archives volume 1.  The relatively inexpensive Showcase Titans books seem to be going out of print now.  I have copies of both volumes stored back in the US, I only have one here in Japan.  No luck getting the other one for a reasonable price.   So my unreasonable solution was to complete my Haney-Cardy-Neal Adams-and-others Teen Titans collection by paying even more for hardcover full-color stories I already own in multiples.

Teen Titans is no mere comic book series.  It is a way of life.

And since I was on a classic DC kick, what better choice to complement the superheroics than yet another Showcase Presents book featuring a horror anthology?  The artist line-up in DC's old horror books reads like a list of my favorites:  Cardy, Alfredo Alcala, Frank Redondo, Nestor Redondo, Sam Glanzman, Ramona Fradon, Jerry Grandenetti, Wally Wood, George Tuska, Gerry Talaoc and so many more.  And with Halloween coming up, I need some fun and spooky reading material.

Finally, my addiction to Al Williamson inspired my purchase of the Dark Horse Star Wars Omnibus:  A Long Time Ago... book.  I have the first three, which means I have Williamson's The Empire Strikes Back adaptation.  It also means I need his Return of the Jedi work.  And I certainly am not going to complain about having to look at stories by Carmine Infantino, Walter Simonson and Ron Frenz with inks by Tom Palmer.  This book also contains Star Wars #74, "The Iskalon Effect" (August 1983), with art by Frenz and Palmer.  It's one of the few non-Al Williamson Star Wars comics I bought during Marvel's original run of books.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Marvel's Marvelous Movies #9: Conan the Barbarian (Marvel Super Special #21, August 1982)

John Milius and I are probably diametrical opposites politically (and in most other ways), but I have to admit I admire the hell out of him.  The guy simply fascinates me.  He's collaborated with people like George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis and a fella name of Francis Ford Coppola on a little flick called Apocalypse Now.  Lucas based the John Milner character from American Graffiti on Milius, and he served as partial inspiration for Walter Sobchak in the Coen Brothers' Big Lebowski

On his own, Milius has made a number of romantic adventure films laced with a lot of his personal philosophy, which is somewhere to the right of right wing.  He's got kind of a sketchy commercial record, but he's never bored me with his movies.  At its best, his work achieves a kind of powerful macho poetry and beauty, and I find myself exalted by themes and moments I wouldn't ordinarily celebrate.  The Wind and the Lion, Big Wednesday and Rough Riders come to mind. 

Sometimes his movies are just sort of silly.  Red Dawn

Or poetic and silly at the same time.  Which brings us to Conan the Barbarian (Marvel Super Special #21, August 1982). 

Other than the rough outlines of its fantasy setting and few names and incidents here and there, this movie has little  to do with Robert E. Howard's most famous creation.  Milius and co-screenwriter Oliver Stone (yes, THAT Oliver Stone; Milius doesn't seem to let ideology affect his choice in collaborators, which is another reason I respect him) reinvent Conan to suit their revenge story and also because of Arnold Schwarzenegger, in just his second dramatic role (his first being as Hercules in a low-budget comedy with Arnold Stang), didn't have the acting chops to carry the film's narrative.  This reduces the title barbarian himself to kind of a passive meathead thoroughly out-charismaed by his partner-in-crime and lover Valeria, played with scene-stealing verve by Sandahl Bergman.

Script:  Michael Fleisher/Story and art: John Buscema

But Arnold as Conan-- Schwarzenegger, not Stang-- probably contributes the largest portion of the public's perception of the character.  Thick accent, not a lot to say, and most of that borrowed from Genghis Khan.  The rest more than likely comes from Marvel's comic book series starring Conan, which hews closer to Howard's version without quite getting it right, either.  And since Marvel was also in the business of adapting movies, their doing a Conan the Barbarian film comic was inevitable. 

Who better to adapt and draw it than John Buscema, the top Conan comic artist of the day?  As a geek, I tend to associate Buscema with the character almost as much as I do Robert E. Howard himself.  Buscema has Michael Fleisher provide the words for his adaptation, which may or may not have been a smart move.  I say this only because I wish we could have read something even more purely Buscema just to experience what his word choices and tone might have been like.  Together, Buscema and Fleisher reduce the naked sex and sexy naked parts and expurgate most of the gore to produce a newsstand-ready Conan magazine that's Marvel and Milius at the same time.

Script:  Michael Fleisher/Story and art: John Buscema

Buscema draws Conan how he was used to drawing him in the Marvel comics rather than try to depict him as Arnold.  In fact, Buscema makes no attempt to caricature anyone other than James Earl Jones as villainous Thulsa Doom.  And even his Doom is more or less a general likeness, aided by Jones' distinct look as the character. 

Doom is a mean guy with a Bettie Page hairdo and a pack of horseback raiders who follow him around in search of money and murder.  They slaughter everyone in Conan's village and then Doom hypnotizes Conan's mom and chops off her head.  The orphaned Conan spends a number of years pushing a stone wheel around until he's as big as a bodybuilder.  Sold as a gladiator, he learns swordplay and Nietschean philosophy while also providing stud services.  Freed, he sexes up a werewolf witch, meets pro surfer Gerry Lopez and soon learns Doom has reinvented himself as head of a cult that sells snake-worship franchises throughout the land.  Conan also meets Valeria, who doesn't dominate the story in the comic quite as much as she does in the movie.  Buscema draws Valeria as the standard Buscema beauty, with thick eyelashes and high cheekbones.  Like Bergman, she's statuesque and blond, but that's where the resemblance ends.

And that's really enough.  If I wanted the characters to look exactly like the actors, I'd just watch the movie again or look at some photos.  I love when an artist does caricatures or likenesses, but it's not always necessary.  If likeness is an artist's strength, then he or she should focus on that.  If not, then filling the pages with a lot of off-model faces poorly copied from stills and publicity material is simply a distraction.  Some can do both, but either way the storytelling is much more important.  Things like pacing and clarity of sequence.  Vigor.  You don't find many storytellers more vigorous than John Buscema in sword-and-sorcery mode.

Script:  Michael Fleisher/Story and art: John Buscema

And in contrast with the disappointing Raiders of the Lost Ark, Buscema inks himself this time.  He's well within his comfort zone, and, as with Al Williamson on Empire Strikes Back, we've got an artist perfectly matched to the material.  Whoever made the decision to return to the painted color style of some of the earlier Super Specials needs singling out for praise, too.  D. Pedler (sorry, I don't know who this is, but I wish I did) and the legendary Lynn Varley do a sensational job here, giving Buscema's already gorgeous art a luminous quality, giving each location a rich look full of depth and atmosphere.  Snowy woods look cold, the barren wastes look hot and dry.  This Super Special is a visual treat with a richness a few of the preceding issues sorely needed.  The result?  It's classic Buscema Conan guest-starring in the Milius movie

The writing preserves many of the movie's best lines except for my favorite part, which is Conan's prayer, which it truncates to get to more action.  Conan's prayer is probably the most bad-ass prayer ever capture on film next to the ones for George Bailey at the beginning of It's a Wonderful Life

And I must quote the film here:

Crom, I have never prayed to you before. I have no tongue for it. No one, not even you, will remember if we were good men or bad. Why we fought, or why we died. All that matters is that two stood against many. That's what's important! Valor pleases you, Crom... so grant me one request. Grant me revenge! And if you do not listen, then to HELL with you!

Before we toddle off to Crom's mountain where we'll laugh at the four winds, here's a page with a funny panel a Buscema group I'm in on Facebook hashed over recently.  Look at the middle panel of the bottom tier:

Script:  Michael Fleisher/Story and art: John Buscema

"Valeria!  No-- please no!" 

Neither Howard's nor Milius' Conans spend half a second begging like that.  Where the word balloon arrow points is to the rescued princess, but considering her ungrateful characterization the rest of the way (and the fact she didn't know who the hell Valeria even was) make me believe this is Conan speaking.  Hardly the stuff of the guy who tells his own god to grant him revenge or go to hell.

Who gets the blame for this?

Fuck it, Dude.  Let's go bowling.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Happy Jack Kirby Day!

August 28th, Jack Kirby's birthday.  It should be a national holiday.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Marvel's Marvelous Movies #8: For Your Eyes Only (Marvel Super Special #19, June 1981)

For your eyes only, can see me through the night
For your eyes only, I never need to hide
You can see so much in me, so much in me that's new
I never felt until I looked at you 

--Sheena Easton

Bond.  James Bond.  I've read many of Ian Fleming's books, I own Sean Connery's films on Blu-Ray (except the silly Diamonds Are Forever, which has never appealed to me beyond a few moments here or there involving Wint and Kidd) and I even own a 12-inch Connery doll.  He's in a nice black pullover sweater and matching slacks, the way he appeared in Goldfinger, a film many (myself included) consider the series' 1960s apex, although I'm slowly being swayed by the growing From Russia With Love heresy and I get my biggest kick from Thunderball.

Roger Moore was the big screen Bond when I was a kid and teenager, and looking back, I don't remember being as excited about a Bond flick as I was for For Your Eyes Only, which promised to bring James Bond back to earth after his over-the-top space adventure in Moonraker.  It was supposed to mark a return to the series' earlier, glory days when Bond relied on his physicality more than Q's inventions and those of the special effects team.  A more "realistic" Bond. 

Of the two, I still prefer the over-the-top Moonraker.  It was the reason I was so excited about this new Bond, because Moonraker had blown me away when I saw it with my parents one New Year's Eve.  Wow!  Zow!  Moonraker has space!  John Barry!  Shirley Bassey!  Jaws in love!

Script: Larry Hama/Pencils: Howard Chaykin/Inks: Vince Colletta

What does For Your Eyes Only have?  A visual style on par with a particularly well-made episode of Magnum, P.I.  A creepy subplot where an underage ingénue makes moves on a Bond who appears positively grandfatherly by contrast.  Carole Bouquet, a woman I consider the most glacially lovely Bond girl, but completely lacking in chemistry with Moore.  Their low-energy romance comes across as something both actors have to endure rather than the cheerful hedonism we've come to expect from Bond couplings.  Slapstick fights and chase scenes, the former featuring a hockey team, the latter on skis.  The reliance on so much comedy really undermines the supposed return to realism, especially with Moore's increasingly detached portrayal of the famed super spy as a character content merely to stroll onto the set after his stunt double takes a pounding then offer a quip or a pun.  At this point, Moore seems to have settled on the idea Bond's role is to point out for the audience in as placid a manner as possible the absurdity of all these busy little people putting forth so much effort over some preposterous gadget or other.  And then to get a manicure or a relaxing massage.

But it also has Marvel Super Special #19 (June 1981), written by Larry Hama and penciled by Howard Chaykin.

Script: Larry Hama/Pencils: Howard Chaykin/Inks: Vince Colletta

These two make an ideal team for doing James Bond's more "realistic" escapade chasing after a lost code machine wanted by everyone's favorite Cold War enemies, the Soviets.  Remember them?  They're still around, just under a different name. 

Script: Larry Hama/Pencils: Howard Chaykin/Inks: Vince Colletta

Hama largely eschews the caption-heavy approach of previous film adapters for a tighter focus on action and dialogue.  Hama even includes Moore's little quips, with Chaykin emphasizing most of them with inset close-ups that match Moore's tongue-in-cheek Bond portrayal.  This makes for a fast-paced read that provides some much-needed energy to the familiar Bond schtick.  Chaykin draws some mean fight scenes, too, chopping the action into small vertical panels within pages opening and closing with larger establishing shots and you don't have to worry about spotting a stunt-Bond.  This gives them added verisimilitude.  Chaykin's page designs are top-notch throughout.  Bursts of panels that read fast when Bond leaps into action, then large panels that allow us to savor the ritzy locales and beautiful people.  Roger Moore in particular appears made to become a Chaykin hero, and while the artist doesn't spend a lot of time with the bikini girls in the early going, his Carole Bouquet is worth spending time with as you zip along between the chases and underwater fights. 

If ever I wanted a late period Moore Bond transferred from the big screen to the pages of a comic book magazine-- and I did and still do-- I'd pick Hama and Chaykin to do the honors once again.

Script: Larry Hama/Pencils: Howard Chaykin/Inks: Vince Colletta

Ah, and Vince Colletta.  His inks here are adequate, the comic book equivalent of director John Glen's workmanlike take on the movie's James Bond festivities.  Glen's lack of visual panache means there's nothing distinctive about the look of the films in this Bond era (the films are in focus, they're clearly lit and the camera doesn't jitter all over the place, so there's that), and Colletta similarly gives us some clean lines if little else, and still allows some of Chaykin's distinct eyebrows and facial constructions to bleed through.  Without having seen Chaykin's original pencils, I can't tell if Colletta used his eraser more than he did his brushes this time out, but some of the backgrounds remain featureless voids, and others are rendered minimally.  This in itself isn't a necessarily wrong, because simplicity in art can be a virtue, but with the colorist simply leaving so much of it white-- you know, possibly because there's so much ice and snow due to the ski resort setting-- there's something a little skimpy about the finishes.  So, much like director Glen's bland framing of events and the movie's photography, the inks and colors do the job, if not in an especially memorable way.

After reading this, I think it would have been an entertaining book if Marvel had sprung for the license and had Hama pen a monthly Bond.  As it stands, Marvel would take one more crack at Bond and we'll be taking a look at that one as well.  Of course I bought it despite my disappointment with For Your Eyes Only, because, as you now know, I'm a Bond enthusiast.