Thursday, October 2, 2014

Grave Tales!

Joe Staton
Way back in the early 90's I stumbled across the Hamilton Comics magazine line which gave me, an incurable Charlton ghost comic fan, a real thrill. Here were a trio of comic magazines which evoked at once the classic but by then defunct Warren Magazines as well as the vintage Charlton ghostly line. It was a black and white presentation using some pretty mainstream talent (Joe Staton, Gray Morrow, Pat Boyette) as well as some really impressive indy artists (Batton Lash, John Heebink). These were fun stories with a slightly lurid twist.

What I didn't realize then, and only learned recently was that Grave Tales was a title with a specific history.

The title first rose up in the middle 70's as an Independent comic, then likely referred to as "Underground". The cover, see above, was very striking.

L.B. Cole
So striking that L.B. Cole did a knock-off of it for the debut issue of Hamilton's Dread of Night. For the record the third Hamilton horror title was Maggots. For more Hamilton cover magic, see the gallery below.

Gray Morrow
Joe Staton
Gray Morrow
Gray Morrow
Gray Morrow
Gray Morrow

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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Demonology #0 - Dark Origins!

The Demon was one of the titles Jack Kirby commenced when it became sadly clear that his Fourth World saga (New Gods and Forever People in particular) had not found a sufficient audience, at least according to the DC powers-that-were. According to Mark Evanier the head honcho at DC, Carmine Infantino urged Kirby to create a "weird hero" comic, a type of story which DC was having some success with. Kirby wasn't eager to do it, but wanted to edit a book of that type with others supplying the art. DC said no, and after the demise of two titles in the Fourth World, it was necessary for Kirby to draw some more stuff to fulfill his contract.

Mister Miracle continued, though altered substantially by extracting much of the Fourth World mythology from the tales, and Kirby initiated two new series, Kamandi The Last Boy on Earth (inspired by the success of the Planet of the Apes franchise) and the supernatural The Demon.

The Demon was a mystical yarn set in the modern world, but having its roots in the vintage mythology of the King Arthur tales. To that end the Demon's very look was derived from the finest comic strip ever to mine the Arthurian Cycle, Hal Foster's legendary Prince Valiant. Early in the stories, Val assumes a terrifying disguise to effectively wage a battle inside a castle. He manufactures a mask which will throw a scare into his foes.

Swooping down into their midst, his plan largely works. This comic strip, removed by decades must have made quite an impression on a young Jack Kirby as he doubtless used it either consciously or unconsciously as the inspiration for the ghastly yellow face of The Demon Etrigan.

Recently I've learned that Foster's inspiration might well have been a 1922 Swedish movie titled Haxan by director Benjamin Christensen. The still above is highly suggestive, though hardly conclusive, just as we have no direct evidence that I am aware of that Kirby borrowed his design from Foster. To see this movie in all its truly weird glory see this link. The scene above occurs at about the fifty-four minute mark.

Whatever the case, off and one over the next several weeks I will be taking a close issue by issue look at Kirby's mystical classic. For a host of reasons, I did not follow The Demon as it came out in the early 70's, rather I discovered late in its run and had to gather back issues to fully appreciate what Kirby had created. I hope that this reading will unlock some of the majesty of this series for me after so many years obscured by Kirby's masterpiece the Fourth World.

I'll be using the handsome and highly readable 2008 omnibus collection of the stories. So throughout the demonic month of October look for my well-spoiled reviews of the comic. 

"Gone! Gone! --the form of man--Rise the Demon, Etrigan!"

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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Millennium In Four Colors!

Here for your viewing pleasure are the DC Millennium Comics which have been featured this past month, plus a few others that didn't make the cut. These were charming additions to the collection and real windows into the Golden Age. At a time when getting full-fledged archives was out of reach, these single issues were exceedingly entertaining.

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Monday, September 29, 2014

Seduction Of The Innocent!

Seduction of the Innocent is the third book in the Jack and Maggie Starr mystery trilogy by Max Allan Collins. This book was published by Hard Case Crime in 2013. The series first two installments had been published in 2007 and 2008 by Berkley Prime Crime, a division of Penguin Books, but that publisher had decided against doing the third and at this time final volume. So  it's real pleasure to see this final book, perhaps the best of the three. The Glen Orbik cover is a real stunner, echoing the most memorable of vintage 50's comics covers.

Dr.Frederic Wertham
The story is set in 1954 and concerns itself with a notorious psychologist cum social crusader named "Dr.Werner Frederick" whose book Ravage the Lambs sets out to reveal the lascivious nature of comic books and create a public furor about same. Of course the Starr Syndicate, headed by former stripper Maggie Starr and her stepson Jack Starr care a great deal about this effort as it will directly impact their business.

Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
So when  E.F. (Educational Funnies) Comics honchos "Bob Price" and "Hal Feldman" seek to face down the critic, it becomes a real problem for comics when Price's testimony before a Congressional commission becomes a debacle. Price ends up embarrassed and threatens to kill Dr.Frederic.

Al Williamson
Also invested in countering Frederic is hot-headed artist "Will Allsion" who also threatens the pop pyschologist on television. That becomes a particularly dicey problem when Frederic actually does end up dead under very mysterous circumstances.

Charles Biro (the one with the monkey)
Maggie asks Jack to investigate and he does. Among the many folks he interviews are Price and Feldman, but also editor of Levinson Comics "Charley Bardwell" who is a tough mug famous for his pranks and drinking as well as his pet monkey, which even gets into the comics he published. 

Bob Wood
Bardwell's partner "Pete Pine" is an even more notorious drunk, a man who becomes quite violent when he's had too much booze.

Tarpe Mills
Jack runs into a great deal of trouble when he finds Pine at the apartment of "Lyla Lamont", a darkly beautiful comic artist who has a wild reputation for enjoying life in all its many forms.

The chase around NYC in search of a killer is a snappy and finely paced affair. Because this story centered around a group of comics folks already close to the criminality in some instances, it seem to have a more noir atmosphere than the previous volumes, or maybe the lurid details are just naturally part of this at times most pungent tale. The action is rousing in this one, both of the amorous and  pugilistic variety.

 As always Terry Beatty supplies some beautiful illustrations for this story, his style very reminiscent of the great Johhny Craig, is especially apt in this volume.

This was a great send off for the series. It seems to me there are a goodly number of stories which could be yet told from the shadowy world of comics, but Collins said that this volume concluded his plans for Jack and Maggie.

If you can find them, I highly recommend these three books. They are filled with wonderful ambience and details from 1950's New York City. Any comics fan will find them fascinating and any mystery fan will find them fulfilling.

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