What's a cultured and persnickety boy to do? Summon the gods to deal with all that growing-up-nerdy angst? and bullies bullying? and annoying aunts not in tune with those outre wavelengths his brain puts out? Why, yes!
Jose Oliver and Bartolo Torres let young Howard Lovecraft do just that. Even if he does bother Santa Claus every Christmas with requests for a copy of the Necronomicon in his stocking, and although he has little experience with his heady conjurations so they don't always work the way he'd like, and, well yes, those aunts are trying at times, but all in all, little Lovecraft gets by with a little help from his odd friends (and assorted demi-gods); and sometimes, even in spite of their help.
With Young Lovecraft's childhood encounters captured in 3-panel comic strips, the humorous zing has to be measured precisely in three beats, and for the most part, it is, aided by the minimalist, manga-styled and off-kilter artwork. With charmining aunties taking him to origami fairs and picking up evil guitar-playing hitchhikers, and with him over-dressing for Halloween as Harun Al-Rachid, the Caliph of Baghdad, the opportunities for his awkward weirdness complicating things geometrically propagates.
Add to this his penchant for rewriting the classics with the same dreadful theme, picking up dog-like ghouls in cemeteries, and sepulchre-partying with people like Edgar Allen Poe, Charles Baudelaire, and Arthur Rimbaud (though those panels don't exactly raise the dead in their zest), Young Lovecraft does manage to keep things infectiously cheeky for fans of the mythic mythos meister.
While this first volume is not quite as squirrely written and wittily acerbic as Roman Dirges's Lenore, the same lightly dark tone and zany mischief can be found in Oliver's characters and situations, and in Torres's wild-eyed, noseless, facial expressions. Of course, being translated from the original Spanish, the words may lose some of their nuances in the translation.
But if you can imagine Charlie Brown partying among the tombstones and summoning ancient gods to handle life's daily challenges facing a not-your-average kid, with his usual bungling innocence not helping, than you will enjoy Young Lovecraft as much as I did.
While I now only read graphic novels and trade paperback compilations of comic books--usually, anyway --this first issue of Ragemoor drew my attention because of Richard Corben's involvement.
Any Eerie, Creepy, and Heavy Metal magazine reader knows the name well. That this issue is also printed in brooding black and white only heightened it's appeal for me. And with writer Jan Strnad (who also wrote for Warren Publishing), the mood is assuredly sinister, the tone Gothically charged, and the foreboding future hinting at ancient monstrosities biding their arcane time until the moment's ripe for terror.
This first issue introduces the blood-drenched history of the rambling edifice as Herbert futilely warns his Uncle and companion to not spend the night at Castle Ragemoor, whose walls are alive with malevolent purpose and mystery. Herbert blames his brother's madness--he wanders the halls naked, peeing on the walls--on the castle's evil influence. His uncle thinks it all poppycock, mostly because he's looking to inherit the place after having Herbert committed.
After being shown to their rooms by Herbert's lone servant, Bodrick, his uncle and companion learn how dangerous the castle can be as parts of it come alive with a vengeance.
Corben's art is vibrant and propels the story's menace. Strnad's words explain only a little, leaving much more to be revealed, and allow Corben to show the dread. With Ragemoor's grinding movement of stones in the dead of night producing new rooms and longer hallways, what else may happen to Herbert and his future guests is uncertain, but certainly will be deliciously deadly.
Hankering for an old-styled, light-hearted, comic book classic monster fest? Livingston, Tinnell, and Vokes may have one for you in The Black Forest graphic novel.
The story takes place in 1916 during the Great War, and the German army, through an especially evil scientist, is trying to find a way to revive dead soldiers (yes, zombies!). Holed up in the Black Forest in Graf Orlock’s castle no less, the especially evil mad scientist feverishly toils away using Dr. Frankenstein’s crib notes of life and death for his experiments, and the Monster to aid him.
Enter our valiant but foolhardy American hero, Jack (not sure why every valiant but foolhardy American hero is always named Jack or has a monosyllabic name), and Archibald Caldwell, magician and occultist, who, like real-life magician Jasper Maskelyne during World War Two, uses his special skills to assist British Intelligence in the war effort.
The black and white panels are reminiscent of Harvey Kurtzman's comical characters combined with a dash of Gene Colon's fluid and dynamic panels. This is another graphic novel that cries out for a magazine-sized format to fully appreciate the artwork. It needs a few more pages, too, especially the monster battle royale toward the end between the Frankenstein monster, the werewolves, and the vampire Graf Orlock.
There are Alan Moorish bits throughout, like Caldwell’s ability to regurgitate lock picks he has swallowed, a skill Houdini put to good use, and Caldwell’s dead wife is pickled upright under glass, in a panel very similar to the scene in The Black Cat, where Vitas Werdegast’s wife is preserved by his arch nemesis, Hjalmar Poelzig, the evil cult leader. Boy, these evil guys all think alike, don't they?
The adventure is written in a pulp-style and is fast and furious. I highly recommend it to anyone who likes a ripping good yarn with classic monsters, evil scientists, and heroines in need of rescue.
Kyle Hotz shows the freak in Billy the Kid's Old Timey Oddities while Eric Powell puts in the odd with a pyschotic Dr. Frankenstein--who looks a little like Peter Cushing--and a Billy whose kid-side abuse leaves him one claustrophobic and ornery character you wouldn't want to tangle with.
Billy joins the Tattooed Woman, the Wolf-Boy, the Alligator Man, Watta the Wild Man, and the diminutive Jeffrey Tinsle (who's as tall as his name is long) in Fineas Sproule's Biological Curiousities and Wild West Extravaganza Show. His quick draw and deadly aim will be needed as Sproule journeys to find the Golem's Heart Jewel, now in the possession of one flesh-tinkering mad scientist protected by his surgical monstrosities.
The four-issues collected here never dull the tone or sashay around. With this fictional Billy's sweaty flashbacks of being locked in tight places, his lecherous proclivities stymied by a chaste Tattooed Woman, and both Sproule's and Frankenstein's oddities amply envisioned, each page provides enough reading and oggling to keep the momentum going, maybe a little too quickly, but never too slowly. Their arrival in the mysterious mountain town, overshadowed by Frankenstein's foreboding castle, is met with rot and foul smells, trepidation, Billy's creative wall piss-signing, and monstrous, wall-clinging, inhabitants. The "dinner" party with Frankenstein and his malformed minions provides the anticipated clash of egos, heightens the mania, and springs the action to suitably potboiler intensity.
Hotz's use of coloration is odd in itself, with yellow, buttery hues butting up against the Western browns and reds in the beginning, but settling down to more shadowy, darker hues as they journey further into trouble. His gamboling art provides character depth and nuance, allowing Powell's dialog and situations to reach their full breath. Humor, pathos, and weirdness mix it up dime novel strong, making this matchup, between artist and writer, Billy the Kid and monsters, and Wild West and horror, one that I'd certainly like to see again.
That walking pill box, Band-Aid strip, and Phillip Morris cigarette pack rolled into one, Cal McDonald, once again gets beat up bad, smokes more than a few, and tangles with impossible odds that scare the dead enough to steer way clear of him. Only this time, after all this doom and gloom build-up, the odds even up pretty quick, and surprisingly easily, in the last few pages of this four issue graphic novel.
You'd think Nosferatu, after demolishing the Santa Monica Pier upon his arrival, would do more than gloat as he and McDonald duke it out. No way. Instead, Steve Niles let's the vampire manhandle McDonald, and his loyal ghoulfriend MoLock, only just enough to stretch their necks to the breaking point, then pulls out the too simple gimmick of third-party intervention to save their smoked butts. Perhaps Nosferatu was too badass even for Niles to figure out a more McDonald-involved solution?
At least it's quite a build-up to that takedown letdown. Kyle Hotz makes Nosferatu glow with menace and us hurt just looking at McDonald's bruises. The police are out to get McDonald, we know why, and Nosferatu is out to get him, not quite sure why since McDonald's small fry in comparison, and the lycanthropes make a play to get him while he's busy puking past his withdrawal and nicotine starvation in the hospital. A text message from McDonald's girlfriend's phone sparks his recovery. Who'd have thought old Nosferatu could type with those claws on such a small phone?
You'd think four issues wouldn't be enough to hold all this menace and you'd be right. The easy-breezy showdown takes place at the Hollywood sign, no idea why. Maybe Niles is trying to tell us something with those big white letters.
There's an irresponsible, commercially driven abandon, tawdriness, and pandering to prurience seen in many of the comic book covers of the 1930s, '40s, and '50s. How wonderful!
From the crowded magazine racks of the time, these covers must have screamed "Buy Me!" to those young boys holding onto their slippery dimes as they rummaged among the pulp pages to find the baddest issues to spend them on, and share with their friends. (I'm sure girls spent their dimes, too, but I doubt it would have been for any of these testosterone-building wonders.)
Action! Mystery! Thrills! Comic Book Covers aof the Golden Age 1933-1945 boasts, in lurid colors and terrifying situations, long-haired dames in distress and undress, fiendish scientists armed with sharp instruments and drooling ghouls, dashing and brawny heroes rushing to the rescue, and evil villains with guns and hooded figures with sharp knives, and enough sensationalism to fill a book, which in this case would be the whole comic.
The best artists condensed all this action, thrill, and mystery into a one-page visual story that told you everything you needed to know about that issue from it's cover, give or take a little accuracy or so. Looking at these covers you'll see the beginnings of the horror tropes we see to this day.
Greg Sadowski provides capsule comments on each of the covers shown in this collection, citing their artists, but unless you're a diehard golden age comic book fan, the information isn't very satisfying because it assumes you know who he's talking about.
But these covers are completey satisfying. In this less golden age of false propriety and parroting of values without substance, it's refreshing to just go with the flow of all this innocent naughtiness.
Now, if I can just get them in poster size... please?
On and around that laboratory table were strewn other things, and it did not take long for us to guess that those things were the carefully though oddly and inexpertly dissected parts of one man and one dog. (H. P. Lovecraft in At the Mountains of Madness)
In a clear mismatch of artist with storyline, At the Mountains of Madness, the graphic novel adaptation illustrated and written by I. N. J. Culbard and published by Sterling Publishing for the U.S., fails to convey H. P. Lovecraft's tone and mood entirely. Culbard's cartoony style is good for a newspaper comic strip, but it supplants the cosmic undertones of finding an ancient alien race by its minimalist panels and inadequate coloration. Culbard's coverage of the novella's highlights is good, but also conveys as much dread and suspenseful buildup as a Boy's Life magazine article, especially when it's most needed during the encounter with a Shoggoth in the subterranean passages beneath the ancient city in Antarctica: the bubbling mass of chaos is drawn in an uninspiring way that holds as much otherworldly creepiness as a Scooby Doo monster. The revelatory and bizarre dissection scene, which should have been on a scale similar to a sublimely messy melange as seen in John Carpenter's The Thing, becomes a perfunctory half-page panel that loses all shock value.
As an introduction to the underpinnings of Lovecraft's pantheon of Elder Things and their biologically-induced mistakes, Culbard manages to cover the first person narrative of Professor Dyer effectively for new readers of Lovecraft. However, the unfolding of Miskatonic University's tragic expedition to find deep-level rock and soil samples from various areas of the antarctic continent is done in a digest-sized format more suited to an adaptation of the slicker 1951 The Thing From Another World, where the implications of finding proof of an alien creature from space is not so philosophically or religiously troubling. The nuances of Lovecraft's total disdain for the spiritual are not adequately reflected here: the cosmic joke has no punchline and there is no unraveling of faith beyond all reason.
More reliance on Lovecraft's prose in key panels, with a sprinking of style like Bernie Wrightson's grim swirls or Neil Adam's electrifying, kinetic angles would have pleased the eye-nerves more. Along with a larger page format to expand the panels into the heinous acts of visual insanity that Lovecraft alludes to, a more experimental color palette to fluctuate the mood would have been a better choice than the standard one used here.
For readers newly exploring Lovecraft's dark universe, Culbard's graphic novel may, hopefully, wet their appetite for delving more deeply into this ancient Cyclopean city and the nature of its past and present inhabitants by reading Lovecraft's work directly.
There are times I scratch my head wondering if I'm not getting something; you know, in the sense of not understanding the story because I'm either missing important information I should have known before reading, or maybe I'm just lazy-eyeing it and I'm overlooking the obvious.
Then there are those times I read comics like Deadlands: Black Water and opine the sad fate often befalling the One Shot: not enough space to tell the story fully, no followup issues to spell out the obtuse into clarity. That irks me a lot, especially when the artwork is appealing, and the ghost of a story's there to haunt you just a little bit, but not enough to warrant the effort of turning a page.
I get the fact this is a one shot comic based on an RPG adventure. So what? I shouldn't have to know the game's intricacies to enjoy the story, although it would've probably helped me fill in some gaps in getting from the first to last pages. What Mariotte, Turner, and Sellner fail to accomplish is fortifying their story with enough sensible motivations and character actions beyond the perfunctory. I like weird westerns. I also like getting more explanation and better rationale for the weirdness. I know, it's a pet peeve I can't shake.
A portly man driven by a mysterious vision of a woman forces him to travel into dangerous territory with his bodyguard. They hook up with Lyle Crumbfine, tour guide through the dangers they need to circumvent to reach their destination. Expendable victims are provided; roll the dice.
The gun blast that blows a man's brains out at the end doesn't have a plausible explanation and it isn't rational given the story's context leading up to it (however, possibly plausible if you allow for Crumbfine's game hindrance, which is Grim Servant o'Death). And I'll reckon the fast walk-through, of we-don't-have-the-pages-to-show-you-this-stuff-so-just-take-our-word-for-it, kills whatever death at every page turn suspense those Deadlands should be providing. Black Water is shallow as weird western mayhem goes, and disappointing when you consider the artwork provides the only supernatural energy, of which the cover's the most exciting page in the whole book because it implies all the intrigue you won't find inside.
Not helping is the secondary 5-pager, The Kid in "Outlaw," which falls under Dime Store Backup: Part 4 of 4. Okay, I'll bite: tell me how it makes commercial and artistic sense to take much needed, flesh-out, pages away from the main story in a ONE SHOT?
Zombie wars are hell, but there are worse ones. Teddy's still fighting the Viet Cong in Hitchcock County, Nebraska, only it's not 1968 anymore and zombies, and a twister, are gearing up to stress him out even more. He can't tell the good guys from the bad guys, living or dead, so the potential for messing up his chances at survival is high, and the pressure keeps mounting.
I remember the Vietnam War and how I was a stone's throw away from being drafted and shipped out. I remember how close I was to peeing in my pants when I sat down in front of a big, noisy typewriter, answering questions asked by a disinterested administrative type who typed the answers onto my draft card. I remember holding the 4A draft card and thinking I'm so f*cked. Even my dad, who fought in World War II, said we'd move to Canada before he saw me fight Charlie and company. It wasn't a good time for anyone. The guys I knew who came back from Nam never stopped fighting it in their nightmares or their memories.
Teddy fought that war, got a Section 8, and wound up still fighting the war years after. Not a good thing when you need all your wits to combat the walking dead. Mark Kidwell, Jeff Zornow, and Jay Fotos provide the essential spilled entrails and bloody gore, but it's not only the zombies messing up the landscape, and that's where '68 Hardship moves to higher ground. It's vivid, it's sadly realistic, it's never dull. If you like seeing zombies sliced and diced by a threshing machine, this is for you. If you like zombie stories with more bite beyond the usual us against them, this one's for you, too. For Teddy, it's all about us against them, only he can't pinpoint exactly who "them" should be.
There was a television series in the 1960's called Combat! starring Vic Morrow. Although it was about soldiers in World War II, Image Comics captures a lot of the show's grim and gritty and realistic face of war in their '68 series. The more realism in zombie stories, the better they are for it by bringing the zombies closer to home, even if they, like wars, don't seem to change much.
Noir and Lovecraft seem to go together like Victorian and Gothic; all dark tones and hardboiled moods that lead to bruised knuckles and bloodied bodies dumped in greasy alleys or sprawled across attic stairs or gasping out last breadths while some hellspawn squishes close by.
Ed Brubaker's direct, terse words and indirect, terse characters capture crime noir's rythm of lightly brushed cymbals and pensive bass strumming, and Sean Phillips panels his landscape morosely, filling it with dark places and brooding recesses, hiding mystery in every corner. Colors provide faint contrast, but Dave Stewart knows to leave well enough alone and highlights the shadows by ignoring the light. This is crime noir. There's little light in crime noir, even during the day. Which works just dandy because there's little light in horror, too.
No creeping tentacles here. Yet. But the sense that something nasty and lugubrious and mucousy wet, sliding and sloshing around the next corner, is always on high. First issues are so hard to nail down tight; either they're too bland with lengthy exposition leading nowhere and no revelations, or too ham-fisted with constant rote motion and not enough exposition to build suspense. Good crime and horror needs that suspense, but they also need enough action, uncertainty, and characters having lousy luck at the worst possible moments to make you turn the page or read the next issue. Brubaker, Phillips, and Stewart hit the jackpot here. Words are as important as imagery for the noir aesthetic and on both counts this first issue provides the right mix of textual and visual narrative in its pages, which run from 5 to 8 panels deep each page in a traditional layout.
The story starts with a funeral and loose ends needing to be tied up before they strangle somebody. There's the obligatory old dark mansion, papers to go through, the handsome and rugged in-over-his-head guy who's made all warm and masculine inside by the mysterious woman who holds the answers to the questions he's about to have his face rubbed in by sinister big henchmen with dark glasses and impatient demeanors. The backstory goes back a world war or two, and there's a few splattered cultists who probably shouldn't have done what they did. But now it's too late.
At 24 pages, this is a fine read. You know fine reads, don't you? They're the type we used to get before comic books went on a diet and cover prices fattened up. So kick back that two fingers of scotch, puff on that Camel until the smoke makes you teary-eyed and your throat hoarse, and pucker up for that big, wet one. Only don't be surprised if it's slimy and cool on the lips and smells like yesterday's catch.
Three survivors...one hundred ninety-eight dead...(Flight 753 from Berlin)
"I don't know what to tell them, Jim. We've got something brand new here as far as I can see. I might as well say they were all hypnotized by the Amazing Kreskin." (Everett Barnes, JFK Hazmat Team)
It's Romania, 1927; it's New York City, present day; it's vampirism wreaking the usual apocalyptic havoc, or soon will, in this adaptation of Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan's The Strain. Scripter David Lapham and artist Mike Huddleston keep it tense, fast-moving, and engaging for this first issue. Huddleston's terse strokes are greatly aided by Dan Jackson's colors, especially for sustaining the dark tone and ominous mood.
In 1927, Abraham listens to his Bubbeh (grandmother) as she relates the story of Sardu the nobleman, who carried a wolf-head's cane and was a giant in stature. He loved children until the day he entered a mysterious cave after finding everyone in his hunting party dead. After that, the children began to disappear, one by one.
In present day JFK, a plane lands, but then silence falls, and all the shutters are drawn. JFK's hazmat unit, headed by Everett Barnes, and the CDC are alerted to a possible situation. What they find is the beginning. Abraham, now grown up and owner of a pawn shop, watches the news on television, and steels himself for what he seems to have been waiting for all his life as he reaches for the same wolf's head cane his Bubbeh described in 1927. How did he get it? Why is almost everyone on that plane dead?
This issue makes you want to find out, and I don't say that too often where first issues are concerned.
The problem I have with Vertigo's The Unexpected anthology of 9 stories is its cover: the illustration has nothing to do with any of them.
I'm not sure if it's the high-heeled pumps, the knife in the head (at least I think it's a head), or the bloody mace provocatively poised, but how can you not write a story about this? The cheeky titillation, the schizophrenic weirdness, and the outright sleeziness is nowhere to be found inside. Bummer. You'd think a better approach would have been to use this illustration as a springboard, to see what stories might percolate from it.
The Great Karlini by Dave Gibbons leads off The Unexpected's stories--that have nothing to do with such an inspiring cover--but Gibbons ends his story in a familiar way, making it one of the weakest stories included here. G. Willow Wilson and Robbi Rodriguez's Dogs, and Alex Grecian and Jill Thompson's Look Alive pick up the pace by merging their visual styles to the familiarity-skewing plots involving a lot of fed up man's best friends, and a feed-in-need zombie's creativity in finding her next meal ticket.
The Land by Josh Dysart and Farel Dalrymple is quietly compelling. It's tilt toward more narration, less dialog, and it's picture-book style of illustration create a mood that unfolds the story unemotionally, but it's undertone is meaningfully familiar about ancient monsters and prejudice.
I don't get the point of A Most Delicate Monster by Jeffrey Rotter and Lelio Bonaccorso, and Brian Wood and Emily Carroll's Americana left me bewildered. Neanderthals created from fossil DNA cause cultural consternation in Monster. A scientist takes a sizable brute to a water theme park to prove his point that Neanderthals and more recent humans shouldn't mix, but mixed results lead to a quick termination of the experiment. It's funny to a point, but whatever that point is, I can't say. Ditto with Americana, which also reads the most indie-prone of the bunch in story and art.
Family First from Matt Johnson and David Lapham provides an unexpected twist ending and sufficient gore that comes closest to the cover's potential. A brother and sister do indeed put their family first when an apocalypse presents those annoying live or die hunter and gatherer challenges we're all familiar with. They also keep the BBQ smokin' hot for guests. I don't quite know why, but I felt this story could have gruesome-twosome series potential.
The last story, Blink...Le Prelude a La Mort is more confusing than entertaining. This prelude from Selwyn Hinds and Denys Cowan brings us into the middle of an ongoing story continued in Voodoo Child No. 1. Promotional gimmicks like this waste precious space in comics; space I'd rather see filled with stories pertinent to the issue at hand.
A courtesy copy for this review was provided by DC Comics.
Everything has rules, Batman. Even Halloween. -- Zatanna
In Trick or Treat, Batman and Zatanna investigate a break-in at the House of Mystery on Halloween night. With only a few rolls of toilet tissue left behind, and Abel turned into deadwood, they don't have much to go on. Cain isn't much help, either, since the house's comings and goings make it impossible to determine if anything is missing.
In this tale for the younger reader, the mystery is who would dare treat Cain and Abel this way, and what nefarious purpose is behind it? Sholly Fisch and Ethen Beavers keep the colorful action simple and fast-moving toward the solution as Zatanna resorts to magic and Batman resorts to more practical methods of investigation, with both approaches necessary.
After a couple of dead ends involving Dr. Destiny putting the moves on Zatanna, and Mr. Mxyzptlk tying the strings on both of them, the investigation forces a resolution involving a lot of good and bad supers squaring off to reveal the true villain.
My only regret is the cover price: I wish it were a lot cheaper. I'd have loved to give this to the many trick or treaters coming to my own house of mystery on Halloween. Now, if only I could get Zatanna to show up, too.
To be accurate, this is not H.P. Lovecraft's The Dunwich Horror, it's an adaptation of it by Joe R. Lansdale and Pete Bergting. To be querulous, this first issue doesn't do a good job of making me want to read more.
In 15 pages, past the opening brief other-worldly encounter, Lansdale gives us a lot of dialog from a small group of young people worrying about the future, some half-hearted denials that anything's wrong, and a final conclusion that there's no denying It is testing It's boundaries, and will find a way in--completely--before too long. They're part of a paranormal club doing it all for a lark, and somehow the lark's gotten bigger than they expected; more deadly, too.
This is the de rigueur impetus for nearly every Lovecraftian pastiche, cosmic apocalypse-cooking recipe, botched adapation, and mythos melodrama.
And yes, it's getting long in the tooth.
What keeps it still compelling is a suspenseful narrative delivered through a gothically-charged atmosphere. This first issue has neither. Bergting can't generate a visual sense of brooding and dooming in his minimal strokes, and Lansdale bores with unnecessary exposition, freezing the story with pretty talking heads and no movement. Sure, if this were a graphic novel I might be more lenient, but it's not. Dare to use H.P. Lovecraft's name to sell the comic and I'll double-dare you to justify using it.
It's not much of an entertaining comic book, either. The title story is supplanted by a second one, the first part of The Hound, comprised of a few full-page illustrations by Menton3 and scripted by Robert Weinberg. The narrative appears as handwritten, in flourishy white script, and the illustrations are similar to the cover's charcoal-like hazy obscurity and ominous moroseness. The static nature of the presentation--it's like reading a children's picture book in format--is not what I expect or want to read here. This is my personal preference because it amounts to a cop-out from the more demanding panel and narrative structure a comic book demands.
The remaining pages are filled by IDW's promotions, including an 11 page preview of Memorial by Chris Roberson, and the first part of Weinberg's essay, Who Was H.P. Lovecaft? My answer would be, Why Not Google It?