Saturday, October 31, 2020

Four Color Fear!

The Fantagraphics pre-code batch of horror tales titled Four Color Fear - Forgotten Horror Comics of the 1950's is very entertaining. There's no Ditko in this volume, and I assume that because they figure they have that covered with their archives volumes and there are no EC Comics stories. But still there's an absolute nest of weird dark tales from a time when comics were potent juice indeed. This is a tome loaded with vampires, zombies, witches, and monsters of all kinds, the most deadly of which as always being man himself. 

The art in this book is really really good, showing that not everything not published by EC Comics was dross by any means. The artists in this volume are legendary -- Joe Kubert, Frank Frazetta, Wally Wood, Jack Cole, Al Williamson, Warren Kremer, George Evans, Bob Powell, Howard Nostrand, Reed Crandall, Rudy Palais, and Basil Wolverton among others. Many of these such as Nostrand, Cole, Wolverton, and Powell are represented by several offerings. These are weird, dark and often gory tales of horror and of the supernatural. Sometimes the innocent fall victim to the powers of darkness, but more often than not the victims are brought to some sort of cosmic justice.

Happy Halloween!

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Friday, October 30, 2020

Ditko - Outer Limits!

The Steve Ditko Archives Volume 6 is titled Outer Limits and it showcases Ditko's work for Charlton in the years 1958 and 1959. The stories in these volumes have been arranged according to the order in which Ditko produced them and not in the order they were published. The science fiction and fantasy stories have hit a formula at this point of a disenchanted protagonist must confront the weird and unusual in order to be punished or find enlightenment. As the years have gone by and comics under the Code have drifted further and further from the EC Comics mode, enlightenment is more common than cruel cosmic justice. 

There's a lot of space opera and oddly as a counterpoint quite a few western tales. These stories are from issues of Charlton's Black Fury and Rocky Lane's Black Jack series, both of which starred coal-black stallions as they main character. In these simple days of Roy Rogers and Trigger, such comics were not uncommon at all, a somewhat bizarre mini-genre of its very own. While he did not interior work for Cheyenne Kid, Ditko doe supply a cover for the series. 

Of the covers produced in this time are some of my very favorite Ditko images. The lyrical and delicate image of an undersea realm for Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds is astounding in so many ways. It's at once beautiful and compelling as we see our own civilization stumbling across this weird and strangely lit undersea world filled with creatures new to our experience., 

I've remarked elsewhere about this Out of this World cover, my all-time favorite Ditko cover image, so tender and so elegantly composed. You'd never think this showcased a battle, a battle I imagine fought in complete silence. 

A little more rooted in the pulps is this Outer Space cover. Some folks really hate the practice at Charlton to mar their cover art with blurbs for contests and such. I find these ads all part of the cover experience and clearly Ditko has left room for these announcements. Covers were meant to get you to buy the book and not just a piece of art for its own sake. 

This sidewalk creature on this Unusual Tales cover is one of Ditko's weirdest concoctions and an urban nightmare for certain. I wonder if folks adrift inside the digital worlds of their cellphones think of the landscape like this when they inevitable crash into some of their surroundings. 

The Steve Ditko Archives from Fantagraphics were lovingly put together by Blake Bell, a man dedicated for many years to achieving a clearer understanding of the elusive Ditko and his art. These tomes are a wonderful gateway into the earliest years of one of comic's greatest talents. 

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Thursday, October 29, 2020

The A-Z Of Marvel Monsters!

Marvel Comics, now part of the galaxy-spanning evil empire called Disney is quick to mine the riches from its illustrious past, especially the work of Steve Ditko who gave visual birth to the Amazing Spider-Man among others, and of course Jack Kirby who more than any other single person aside from possibly Stan Lee, is responsible for the success of the company in its heyday and even beyond. Kirby's work is used and reused time and again to  scrape another nickle or two from its carcass. And I confess that I have supplied more than a few of those nickles. I did so again when I picked up (second hand mind you for small money) a copy of The A-Z of Marvel Monsters, a book which as all things in comics these days was part of some largely forgettable larger project attempting to reinvigorate those Atlas behemoths. That project is already mostly forgotten but the artwork that inspired it is well and truly not. Here is the line-up. 

The Awesome Android from the pages of the Fab 4 gets the "A" spot in the rotation. This silent synthetic creation is jointly the work of Reed Richards and the Mad Thinker and has always stood resolute on the boundary between good and evil. Inscrutable don't begin to get at it. 

"B" is for Blip a blistering behemoth from the stars come to Earth to shock and amaze the population. Blip has had something of a career in the actual Marvel era as well, battling the Hulk among others.  

The Crawling Creature of course is "C". There's  little to recommend this somewhat ho-hum Kirby monster, though as this cover shows its a dangerous beast indeed if you met on a cliff  with its caveman buddies. 

"D" for Devil Dinosaur seems utterly logical. This Bronze Age concoction of Kirby's during his ballyhooed return was at once charming and gonzo in a good way. The blue-furred Moon-Boy was around for the exposition but Devil handled the raucous Kirby action. 

Elektro is "E" and this giant robot later gave his name to the more famous Spider-Man villain. I always think of the The Iron Giant when I see this cover. 

Fin Fang Foom! Let me say it again - FIN FANG FOOM! "Triple F" is my favorite Marvel monster ever since he rose from his drowsy sleep in the pages of the reprint mag Fantasy Masterpieces number two. He was orange when I met him, but that didn't matter. His relentless pursuit of the man who awakened him was super scary. 

Groot is in for "G" and is likely the most famous of the monsters in this comic collection now thanks to his transformative portrayal in Guardians of the Galaxy. As you can see there was a time when Groot was more loquacious than when he was portrayed by Vin Diesel. 

Hidden within the pages of Tales of Suspense the Hypno-Creature is "H". He's a little fellow from another dimension who gets bigger and bigger and more threatening. 

It's back to the Fantastic Four for "I" and the Infant Terrible. He causes much trouble here on this Blue Marble, but he can't help it, he's just a tot. 

"J' if for Jinni as in the Evil Jinni variety from the back pages of Thor in those delightful Tales of Asgard romps. Thor and his mates travel into the mythic lands of The Arabian Nights and find all sorts of trouble when a tyrant named Mogul acts out with the aid of his two-toed ally. 

"K" stands for Kraa, a monster that started out as a statue worshipped until he came to life and ripped up life in the jungles of Africa. Later apparently he reformed and joined SHIELD. Take that Dum Dum. 

Lo-Karr steps into the "L" slot and comes from outer space loaded for trouble. He's a robot monster of the most dangerous kind. Now that's a movie!

Mangog is the result of the fusion of a billion alien souls and gets the nod at "M". He's among the very first Marvel monsters I encountered when this issue of Thor was the first I bought for my own self, and my little comic reading soul did tremble a bit as he lumbered toward the destruction of Asgard itself.  

There are lots and lots of Celestials, beings who come form space evaluate and judge mankind. They all mighty and mighty big, but "N" is for Nezzar the Calculator who like his brethren once stood implacable on this planet of ours in the pages of the The Eternals. He debuted in issue seven but gets cover checked in issue eleven. 

"O" represents Oorgo, another hypnotizing creature from the depths of space who has big plans to enslave all of mankind with those giant peepers of his. Strange Tales indeed. 

Poker Face is tucked away within the pages of Strange Tales of the Unusual. He's a different kind of alien menace, not a looming building-smashing giant, but a prospector who ultimately cannot find what he wants and promptly skedaddles. 

"The Monster from the Lost Lagoon" is actually an alien of the Quonian race and he debuted in one of my favorite Fantastic Four yarns. Getting the "Q" position he's just trying to look out for his family. 

"R" features Rommbu, a monster who runs up against a criminal Earthman who values this planet more than his life in the pages of Tales to Astonish.  

Ant-Man fought the Scarlet Beetle in the pages of Tales to Astonish. Getting the "S" slot, the Scarlet Beetle is a gabby tyrant who wants to rule the world and who doesn't. 

Tales to Astonish again is tapped and hosts the alien Thorr (no not that one) who fits this roster to a "T". Those giant stone heads on in the South Pacific have more punch than we all imagined. 

"U" is for Ulvar and he's the tricky concoction of a movie special effects man who turns away the invasion of the Goliath "the Monster that walked like a man" and  who thought he was the big "man" on this here Earth. All things are relative it just goes to show. Check out those lush Ditko inks over Kirby's might pencils on this page of original art. 

Vandoom's Monster offers up a "V" for victory when this creation of wax is given life by a scientist in the Frankenstein mold and sends his creature to stop a Martian wave. He's misunderstood by mankind nonetheless. 

Returning to the Fantastic Four one final time, the Fab 4 head out to the desert and Hulk country when they hear he's creating trouble. But they find it's not Jadejaws but a robot created by an enemy agent dubbed the Wrecker. That fills the "W' position. 

And speaking of Hulks, "X" marks the spot when Xemnu is dubbed a "Hulk" and tries to use his mental powers to conquer Earth. When he makes his debut in the Marvel Universe proper his title is changed to Titan but his name is still Xemnu. 

The mythical Yeti is "Y" the Black Panther has so much trouble finding a lost land in the Himalayas. Created during Kirby's zany stint on the Panther, the Yeti serves as a guard dog of sorts. 

"Z" is for Zetora, the proper name of the Martian who steals a man's body to hide from the alien cops of his own world. That's a real Journey into Mystery and a properly confusing way to wrap up one of the most peculiar and fascinating alphabets of this or any era. 

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