Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Marvel Horror - The Golem!

Ernie Chan and Company
One of Marvel's most overlooked monster comics is The Golem which appeared briefly in three issues of Strange Tales. A creature of Jewish mythology the Golem is a creature of clay come to life through the magic of  mystic Jewish symbols carved into its forehead and a scroll which calls it to life.

This particular Golem is first mentioned in a story in Incredible Hulk #134 but never makes an appearance directly in that story.

Herb Trimpe
In a story by Len Wein and drawn very skillfully by John Buscema with Jim Mooney inks, the Golem here is found in the desert of the Middle East by an archeologist and rabbi named Professor Abraham Adamson who is forced to revive the Golem when he himself is fatally shot by mercenaries led by the charismatic but deadly Colonel Omar, and his niece Rebecca and nephew Jason and colleague Wayne Logan are under threat.

John Romita
This trio make for America but come under attack by Kaballa a demon who activates elemental demons to do his will. The Golem seems inert until danger strikes and then rises to fend off the threat. The second issue was written by Mike Friedrich and drawn by Tony DeZuniga.

Frank Brunner
The same team stays around for the third and final issue but are joined by inker Steve Austin. This issue sees the trio and the Golem reach the United States, specifically San Pedro Florida where they seek the help of academics Professor Saudia Yamal and Professor Yeats. But the Kaballa attacks again and again falls short of his goal to get the Golem under his control.

And that's a wrap as the three issues are all that ever appear. The character is consigned not the wastes of the desert but the void which is cancellation.  

Gil Kane
Until Marvel Two-In-One #11 when The Thing, another rocky hero heads to Florida and gets involved with the Kaballa and his demons. In a story by Bill Mantlo and Bob Brown, the demon threat is defeated but the Golem himself becomes inert in the center of a small Florida town, a statuary reminder of the bravery of one man named Abraham.

On one level the story of the Golem seems a limited one, but the dour speechless creature is a visually arresting figure and it's a shame it wasn't given more time to find its way. The shifting talent on the short-lived series didn't help matters but it did guarantee a broader sense of what the character might become. 

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Monday, October 5, 2015

Vampire Tales #2 - Blood Sacrifices!

Vampire Tales #2 is dated October 1972 and features a evocative cover by Jose Antonio Domingo which as far as I can tell doesn't relate to any of the stories in the magazine.

The lead story features Morbius the Living Vampire. Written by Don McGregor and drawn by Rich Buckler in a very muscular style with inks by Pablo Marcos, this story shows the tormented nature of Morbius as hunts for victims to slake his bloody thirst while at the same time trying to stop a demonic cult who seek to capture and sacrifice a beautiful and painfully naive young woman named Amanda Saint.

"V Is for Vampire" is a one-pager from the editors laying out what is in this issue of Vampire Tales

"Witch Hunt" is a terribly effective little four-page offering reprinted from the Atlas days. Mannie Banks is the artist as we learn the terrible secret of a seemingly nice girl.

This one first appeared under the title of "Bewitched" in Journey into Mystery #15.

"A Vampire by Any Other Name - A Look at Lugosi's Non-Dracula Roles" by Dough Moench does just what the title suggests. Movies mentioned are Mark of the Vampire, Return of the Vampire, and Plan 9 From Outer Space among others. 

"Five Claws of Typhon" is a new and rather compelling story by Gardner Fox with some lush artwork by Jesus Blasco. But Blasco must not have been able to complete this epic or the pages were lost as ace bullpen artist John Romita steps in to finish up the last few pages.

"A Generation of Vampires" is part two of Chris Claremont's extended review of The Vampire - His Kith and Kin by Montague Summers

And speaking of John Romita (as I was a paragraph ago), he gives us one of his absolute best efforts ever when we finally get to meet the ravishing Satana Hellstrom, the Devil's Daughter. Written by Roy Thomas, this stunningly effective four-pager shows remarkable restraint on the writer's part as the story unfolds. Here are those outstanding pages in their entirety.

Arguably the the best story ever to appear in Marvel's black and white magazines, this four page opus really shows how horror can be done. Magnificent!

And speaking of magnificent next up is a reprint from Marvel's own recent past, the stellar Jim Steranko story "At the Stroke of Midnight".

This story originally appeared in Tower of Shadows #1 under a cover by John Romita. This alas was the story which caused Steranko to depart from Marvel for a time. He vigorously objected to attempted changes in the story by editor Stan Lee.

To wrap up this issue we have another dandy story titled "The Praying Mantis Principle" by Don McGregor and Rich Buckler, this time with inks by Klaus Janson and Carlos Garzon which introduces Hodiah Twist and his partner Jeavons. Twist is a man living through the tragedy of 1930's depression-era New York City and he has in an effort to deal with that retreated into a fantasy of sorts where he is a Sherlock  Holmes like detective and Jeavons is his Watson. They find themselves dealing with a brothel full of vampires in this frothy and very atmospheric yarn.

The Vampire Tales "Feature Page" showcases small reviews of two then-current horror flicks -- The Vault of Horror and the Daughters of Satan. Neither gets a very rosy review.

And with that the second issue of Vampire Tales comes to a close.It was one of the best and much stronger overall than the first issue. The Morbius series gets a real injection of atmosphere and the stellar story debuting Satanna is most excellent as I've said. Hodiah Twist is a fun character, who as far as I can discover only appears one more time.

More to come.

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Sunday, October 4, 2015

Ditko Monsters - Gorgo!

Ditko Monsters - Gorgo was released from Yoe Books a few years ago. It's a handsome volume featuring the misadventures of the movie monster Gorgo (here is my review from several years ago)  and his mother as they attempt to live life and co-exist with modern man, who often seems to want to kill them both, though lacks any real means to do so.

Of course the comic series by Joe Gill and Steve Ditko is based on the movie Gorgo by director Eugene Lourie, a fabulous romp about giant monsters tramping through London. In the comic Gorgo goes to New York. The initial adventures of Gorgo find him in situations similar to what is found in London, but soon the stories get a broader feel and humor is injected into the series.

To read the stories contained within the Yoe Book collection follow the links below. Although other artists than Ditko drew Gorgo stories over time, only those stories are of interest here.

Go here to read this issue. 

Go here to read this issue. 

Go here to read this issue. 

Go here to read this issue. 

Go here to read this issue.

Go here to read this issue.

Go here to read this issue.

Go here to read this issue.

Go here to read this issue.

Go here to read this issue.

Go here to read this issue.

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Saturday, October 3, 2015

Godzilla - Coming To America!

It's startling to think that when Marvel finally unleashed its Godzilla comic book in 1977 that no other American comic to that time had done so. The remarkable success of the film series was at something of a nadir with the films having changed in tone many times over the decades and after 1975's lackluster release of Terror of Mechagodilla was on something of a hiatus (this movie was released in the U.S. in 1978). So it's curious just how serious certain aspects of this series were considering how wacky some of the movies could be. No hint here of the gleeful Godzilla, no glimmer of the comedic shenanigans which sometimes leavened the big screen battles. In some ways this series pointed to the much later 1984 reboot of the movie franchise which sought to revitalize the monster by making him more of a powerhouse and much less of a playmate.

At about this same time Godzilla would be licensed for an above average cartoon 1978 show, though even there under the rigorous scrutiny of Doug Wildey, the humor emerged, especially in the woeful form of the mascot like "Godzooky".

The Godzilla imagined by writer Doug Moench and artist Herb Trimpe in 1977 is utterly inscrutable and his eyes are rendered as those of an animal not a sentient being. There is a ferociousness to this Godzilla which hearkens back to the heyday of the great monster. That doesn't mean there wasn't wonkiness in the stories as we'll see as we rampage alongside the great beast as he takes his brazen tour of the American continent.

The story begins in Alaska as the monster eventually identified as Godzilla arrives in all his green destructive glory. He tears into the then infamous Alaskan pipeline, snapping it like a whip. The people of Alaska don't seem to aware of Godzilla when he first appears, only that a mighty monster has arrived among them. What, if anything he did in Japan before coming to America, is unspoken and seemingly unknown by most.

Relatively quickly Godzilla heads to the lower forty-eight and arrives in Seattle. The second issue features a classic cover with the "King of Monsters" dramatically framed in the spotlights below him as he chews up the Space Needle.

Heading down the coast Godzilla is confronted by the Champions, the short-lived superteam who set up shop briefly in Los Angeles, but head to San Francisco to take on the menace of the King of Monsters. Their impact on Godzilla is minimal to be honest, even given the enormous strength of the Olympian Hercules.

Godzilla then battles monsters of his own kind, created by Doctor Demonicus thanks to the radiation of a meteor dubbed the "Lifestone" which lies buried in a volcano. Herb Trimpe steps away from the series for two issues while Tom Sutton steps in and does a great job imagining such monstrous types as Batragon, Centripoor, and Ghilaron.

Demonicus plan is to create his own monsters and he unleash them on the world in an effort to control it. Godzilla unknowingly becomes the target of these beasts, but is able to repel them with his ferocious might.

Following these tremendous bouts, Godzilla finally is brought to heel by SHIELD agent Dum Dum Dugan who has been chasing the monster relentlessly since he first landed. Along with others he is able to capture Godzilla at long last and bring him aboard a specially designed heli-carrier dubbed "The Behemoth".

A number of times reading these stories I was put in mind of the recent Godzilla movie which showcased the King of Monsters coming to the American west coast. But that's hardly the end of the "King of Monsters" and his tour of America.

More to come next week.

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Friday, October 2, 2015

Vampire Tales #1 - First Bloodletting!

Vampire Tales Volume 1 Number 1 is dated August 1973. This title along with Dracula Lives, Tales of the Zombie, and Monsters Unleashed formed a wave of magazines Marvel produced in the early 70's to tap the somewhat more adult market for comics outside the confines of the four-color world still ruled by the Comics Code. It was a chance to extend some horror characters and create others which challenged the status quo of what a Marvel character had long been. The first issue featured a very atmospheric cover by Esteban Maroto.

First among equals in Vampire Tales is Morbius the Living Vampire created by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane in the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man a few years before. In the debut story by Steve Gerber and Pablo Marcos Morbius is operating in Los Angeles and falls in with a group of hippie satanists who take him to see an alluring psychic who causes him all manner of trouble when her spells unleash a demon.

In an article titled "Blood Is Thicker..." the editors set up the premise of the magazine and state its mission to follow the exploits of life suckers of all sorts.

Next up is a reprint story from 1954's Menace #9 with art by Bill Everett titled "To Kill a Werewolf" and it's pretty much what you'd expect. Marvel made use of vintage 50's material quite a bit early on in these hefty magazines to fill out the page counts.

"The Vampire - His Kith and Kin" by Chris Claremont is a five-part look at the history and lore of vampires from a 1928 book by Montague Summers. This initial installment discusses general tropes of the monstrous undead bloodsuckers.

"The Vampyre" by writers Roy Thomas and Ron Goulart and artist Winslow Mortimer adapts what is arguably the first vampire story by John Polidori, a tale concocted at the same party which gave the world Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. It's a journeyman effort which records the events of the yarn without much damage and sadly with little excitement.

Next up is another 1954 tale from Journey Into Mystery #15 titled "Satan Can Wait" with Paul Reinman artwork. All the 50's material in this issue is very handsome to look at, though the stories themselves are pretty tame.

"The Worst (No Kidding) Vampire Films Ever Made" mocks some of Hollywood's lesser cinematic efforts. I'm not sure I agree with all the movies included on the list as the vampire western Curse of the Undead is included and I rather like that genre-blending effort. Others mentioned are Billy the Kid Meets Dracula, Blood of Dracula, and Atomic Vampire, all deserving I suppose, but to my mind many still fun in their own hapless ways.

The magazine closes with a story by Gardner Fox titled "Revenge of the Unliving" featuring very handsome and moody art by Bernet. The story of an ancient vampire who rises once more to find her treacherous lover has some classic twists and turns.

The debut issue of Vampire Tales feels a little bit like what it is, a somewhat rushed effort to get something under two covers and onto the stands for the little bloodsucking audience to gobble up. The lead Morbius story feels like it was done very swiftly and lacks much of the atmosphere that Marcos often brought to his best work. Likewise the Polidori adaptation seems rather staid and lackluster, not the least of which is owing to Mortimer's tried and true but very humdrum artwork. Gardner Fox was fresh to the Marvel Bullpen at the time and he cranked out a lot of these horror yarns, this one of the better ones for sure.

There is a breeziness to the text articles which frankly reminds me of the relaxed and conversational tone often used in blogs like this one. Clearly the writers felt they were talking shop to a close-knit group who would get many of the offbeat references.

The series will really connect, fulfill more of its undead promise in the second issue. More on that next time.

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