Monday, October 31, 2011

The Kirby Horrors!

When Jack Kirby was winding down his career at Marvel in the late 60's, he made an effort to withhold many of his larger concepts for later use. But he and Stan did create a few new characters at the end of their Fantastic Four run, specifically a few new horror characters.

The first was Agatha Harkness in Fantastic Four #94. The Fab 4 need a nanny for the baby Franklin Richards, and given that they are who they are, just anyone won't do. So they end up finding Agatha, who it turns out is a witch.

The issue is a hoot as the Frightful Four show up to cause trouble and find more of that than they can handle. Despite their name, the villains get frightened themselves. The FF get a sense that there is more to Agatha than meets the eye, so they think they've got a winner. As it turns out they did.

A few issues later in Fantastic Four #97, the FF take a break and check out a remote "Lost Lagoon".

In that lagoon they find a Creature who seems very hostile to their explorations, but whose motives come clear when Reed and crew realize this Monster from a Lost Lagoon is a visitor from the stars and is just trying to protect his burgeoning family.

Kirby then left Marvel for the greener pastures of DC. He took over Jimmy Olsen and transformed that somewhat moribund comic into a startlingly creative thrill ride. One place the cub reporter and his best pal Superman venture is into the mysterious world of Transilvane, an artificial planet which is inhabited by creatures fashioned after the classic Universal monsters.

Count Dragorin, Lupek, and the rest of these wannabe creeps are visually intriguing homages to some movies that have utterly infused themselves into the popular consciousness.

Jack Kirby clearly loved monsters, especially the classics, and he was not afraid to give us his own offbeat spin on them, creating his own brand of "Kirby Horrors"!

Happy Halloween!

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Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Mole People!

This is the one! This is my favorite of Universal's 1950's monster flicks. It's as bizarre as movies of this era get. I can remember seeing this one on Saturdays or on Halloween Eve marathons and being pretty dang frightened of the Mole People.

The story is told in elaborate and brilliant detail here, but in brief, four archeologists find evidence of a lost Sumerian society high atop a forbidding mountain and seek it out, only to find themselves and the society itself lost in the depths of the Earth. The people have become albinos and live in extremely limited circumstances. They enslave the native Mole People, and see the surviving archeologists as gods. This lasts a while, but the High Priest wants power and plots to burn the men in the fire of Ishtar. But the Mole People revolt and the society crumbles. The surviving men find themselves with an opening to the sky and escape in the nick of time.

John Agar is ideal in the role of Dr.Roger Bentley, an idealistic man who is not afraid to stand up for what he believes to be right even at the cost of his own life. His friend Dr.Jud Bellamin played by Hugh Beaumont stands by him through all the trouble. Nestor Paiva is Professor Etinne LaFarge, a man who lets his fear tear away at him. Paiva's struggles really add an element of emotion to a story that unfolds pretty straightforwardly. Without LaFarge we'd have little to care about as our heroes seem to face trouble unabashed.

Cynthia Patrick plays Adad, a throwback in the Sumerian society who is taken in by our heroes after they release her from punishment. Her story almost becomes the center of this tragic saga toward the end. Alan Napier as the High Priest Elinu is delightfully conniving and gets his quite handily.

The movie though also has a peculiar prologue provided by Dr.Frank Baxter, an English professor who waxes on for many minutes about different theories of Earth and how it might be hollow. This is an odd way for the movie to begin, especially since it goes on so long, but it does seem to work for me. I note that the Warren Magazine fumetti of the movie dispenses with this prologue and gets right into the action.

The Mole People has lots of great touches. The way the opening titles seem to rise out of the Earth is fantastic. The great lair of the Mole People looks like something out of Dante's inferno. Get a glimpse in the trailer.

The movie has a relentless progression that takes you from the relatively mundane into the utterly fantastic, slowly raising the ante step by step. This is a well constructed story with a highly capable cast and crew, a truly professional effort all the way around.

I give this classic my highest recommendation!

If you want to read the great fumetti from Warren Publishing, check out this link.

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The Many Ghosts Of Joe Staton!

Joe Staton is probably my favorite artist in comics. His work is always vivid and lively and attractive. He knows how to tell stories, and now he has done so for decades working for DC primarily, but also working on his own here and there. He's currently the artist on the comic strip Dick Tracy, bringing a great look to a strip which has languished artistically for too long.

I first became a fan of Staton's when he was a workhorse for Charlton Comics, doing E-Man, Space 1999, Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch, and other projects. He created many an inviting and evocative cover for the company too, some of them gracing the ghost books. Here's a gallery of his creepy covers.

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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Monster On The Campus!

This is the story of a respected scientist who by dint of an accident involving Gamma radiation becomes an uncontrollable monster.

No, it's not this guy.

This is the story of a man named Donald Blake who finds an ancient secret which gives him access to more power than a normal man and a peculiar proficiency with ancient weapons.

No, it's not this guy.

This is the story a professor wishing to unlock the secrets of evolution who gets bitten by a dead fish and changes into a prehistoric killing machine.

Yeah, it's this guy.

The tale begins on a bucolic college campus when a Coelocanth is delivered to one Professor Donald Blake. The fish, treated with Gamma rays to keep it fresh, is delivered in a partially unfrozen state and its blood seeps onto the street where a German Shepherd laps up a few drops and changes into a ferocious sabre-toothed wolf. The dog gets better. Blake (Arthur Franz) and his girlfriend Madeliene (Joanna Moore) along with BMOC Jimmy (Troy Donahue) miss the critical clues but later Blake in a freak accident gets bitten by the dead fish and transforms into a Neanderthal who kills Molly Riordan, a nurse who wanted to befriend him in various ways. The police suspect Blake, but bizarre hand prints convince them another person must be the killer. Blake despite his blackout and misadventure is in class the next day where he again encounters a prehistoric dragonfly two feet in length. Blood again becomes mixed with his pipe tobacco and before you can "Trog" he's changed again and kills again. At last Blake begins to suspect the truth and goes to a remote cabin to intentionally bring out his inner caveman, but his girlfriend turns up as do the police and circumstances get hairy, to say the least.

This is fun little shocker with a ton of coincidence to explain away a slim plot, but it does offer up some very evocative scenes. The image of Nurse Riordan dangling from a tree by her hair after having died of shock is a keeper. Likewise the scenes on the campus streets featuring long shadows work pretty well. The action is pretty evenly paced, and the acting is pretty good, as this one is filled with veteran character actors who know how to keep it interesting. Whit Bissel is on board too as a skeptical colleague of Blake's, and he's always a blast on screen.

Franz as the dim-witted Professor is just unlikeable enough that you don't really care about his ultimate fate. The movie does do a good job of getting you to care about his victims though. There is very little actually seen in this lower budget affair, but a great deal is very effectively suggested.

I very much recommend this one. If you haven't seen it, it's a hoot.

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Eleven Faces Of The Beast!

I love this "Marvel Masterwork Pin-Up" of the Incredible Hulk from Hulk King-Size Special #1. It features most all the artists and art combinations who had tackled the Jade Giant. Featured artists are Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers, Steve Ditko, Mike "Mickey Demeo" Esposito, Joe Sinnott, Marie Severin, John Romita, Herb Trimpe, John Buscema, John Verpoorten, and Gil Kane. I deserve a No-Prize!

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Friday, October 28, 2011

The Many Ghosts Of Rich Larson!

Sometimes forgotten is the work done for Charlton Comic by Rich Larson. He did several highly kinetic pieces for the company along with some very dynamic covers. Here are those covers. For more on what Larson and his partner Steve Fastner are doing these days, check out this link.

And here's a Larson original.

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