Friday, October 24, 2014

Big Book Of Monsters!

The Baen's Big Book of Monsters is an absolute hoot. I snatched it off the racks when I first clapped eyes on it. It's full of vintage stories of giant monsters with new material sandwiched between. The new stuff I can take or leave, but the old stories, many from Weird Tales are some I've long wanted to read.

Highest on that list was "Ooze" by Anthony Rud, which appeared in the very first issue of Weird Tales. This yarn which slowly reveals its menace is well crafted though any monster fan will see it coming a mile off.

Many of the stories in this collection seem to have been written to order because of an evocative cover. That's certainly the case with Curt Siodmak's "The Eggs from Lake Tanganyika".

That seems to be the case with Murray Leinster's "Planet of Doom" also.

Henry Kuttner's "Beauty and the Beast" works hard to create a story which will justify this cover of a dinosaur crashing into the Captiol. What I didn't realize is that this story almost certainly inspired Ray Harryhausen's 20 Million Miles to Earth, though there is no mention made of that here.

Lovecraft's "The Dunwich Horror" is included and I'm always ready for another go at this seminal and potent monster story. Likewise "The Valley of the Worm" by Robert E. Howard which is on hand.

Also included are "The Shining Ones" by Arthur C. Clarke, "The Island of the Ud" by William Hope Hodgson, "The Monster God of Mammurth" by Edmond Hamilton (his first published tale), and "Greenface" by James Schmitz.

Highly recommended.

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Universally Mad!

Alfred E. Neuman has worn many guises over the decades, but always his mischievous idiocy shines through. Even putting the instantly recognizable of Universal monsters Dracula, Wolfman, and Frankenstein's Monster don't hide the potency of the fundamentally goofy visage.

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Demonology #13 - The Monster!

The thirteenth issue of Jack Kirby's The Demon is the last of three issues which presents Kirby's take on Universal's classic Frankenstein movies and this one is a whopper.

The action picks up when Baron Von Rakenstein (dubbed "Von Evilstein) and his aide Igor attack the Demon who they had plans to operate on. But his demonic flames put them on the run and they have to flee their own lab.

The Demon then heads into the streets of Gotham City by way of the sewer system.

Meanwhile Janie Welles and Alan Hunter have come into the city to find Baron Von Evilstein "Monster", a creature Janie has established psychic contact with. She is attacked by some hoods but the arrival of the "The Monster" sends them fleeing. She pleads with the creature who only wants his pain to stop but the arrival of the police creates a dilemma. Alan Hunter, Harry Matthews and Randu Singh rush onto the scene as the stand off continues.

Out of the sewers the Demon emerges just in time to try and stop Baron Von Evilstein and his henchman who appear in a roof,  from killing the "Monster" who sacrifices himself to save Janie by absorbing a terrible blast from Von Evilstein's weapon. The Demon causes the energy from the weapon to engulf Von Evilstein and Igor and confronts them with the Philosopher's Stone in hand promising them an experiment of his own.

The "Monster" dies sadly and the police find Jason Blood unconscious on the rooftop. Along with him they find two vultures, a big one and a little one all that remain of Von Evilstein and Igor. The story ends as the scavengers fly away.

This one is a dandy tale, full of true emotional impact. The pacing, aside from a tiny sense of too little happening in the second chapter is wonderful. The punishment meted out by the Demon has real poetic qualities to it and is much more interesting than merely more demonic fire.

The Philosopher's Stone showed up half way through the series and seems to playing a larger and larger role as the series proceeds.

More next time.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Demonology #12 - Rebirth Of Evil!

The twelth issue of Jack Kirby's The Demon is the second installment of a trilogy which pays homage to the classic Universal Frankenstein movies.

The action begins with a flashback as the Demon busts into Castle Rakenstein, but this time centuries before where an ancestor of the current Baron Von Rakenstein is engaged in some grotesque experiments of his own.

The Demon burns down the castle and the poor creatures escape giving rise to many wild stories of monstes and such.

Back in the present Jason  Blood is in real danger of decapitation as the 20th century Baron Von Rakenstein (dubbed "Von Evilstein) seeks to use his head to improve his earlier manlike creation. But that "Monster" has other ideas and interrupts the operation, but he is subdued at last.

Meanwhile at a Para-psychology Institute Harry Matthews and Randu Singh are consulting with Alan Hunter about using E.S.P. to find the missing Jason. They are introduced to Janie Welles who Hunter thinks might be able to help. Unknown to them, Welles is already in contact with Von Evilstein "Monster".

Von Evilstein and his aide Igor are about to cut off Jason Blood's head and use it to improve the "Monster". But Jason is able to get a grip on the Philosopher's Stone and that changes him into the Demon again.

As the Demon he is able to free himself and free the "Monster" as well. Von Evilstein and Igor try once again to use the Electric Lash but the "Monster" flees through the wall and the Demon takes the brunt of the burst.
The "Monster" crashes into the streets of Gotham City and almost immediately creates a near riot as people flee. At that moment Welles realizes she has made contact with a "Monster".

The second chapter moves the plot a little, and is full of furious Kirby action, but it does feel a little skimpy. Nonetheless this story feels better as a trilogy and the finale is just around the corner.

More to come.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Demonology #11 - Baron Von Evilstein!

The eleventh issue of Jack Kirby's The Demon begins a fascinating trilogy, my personal favorite story from the series and a real shout out to the Universal classics which Kirby clearly was much impressed by.

The action beings when the Demon encounters people fleeing a park in Gotham City. He quickly finds the reason, a giant humanoid who promptly attacks him. But the battle is cut short when a short hunchbacked bearded man named Igor appears uses a sonic device to subdue the creature. When the Demon seeks to interfere the man uses gas to subdue him and he changes into Jason Blood.

The scene shifts to a hidden lab of a scientist named Baron Von Rakenstein but who seems to appreciate his nickname of "Von Evilstein". He and his crooked aide Igor strap Jason to a lab table and suspend him vertically, as now he seems to be part of their plans.

The scene shifts to Harry Mathews and Randu Singh who are waiting at a hospital to see the recovering Glenda Mark. They make excuses for the missing Jason but are worried.

Back at the lab the giant creature finds Jason and frees him from his bonds. But Von Evilstein and Igor appear a weapon called an "Electric Lash" to force the "Monster" to stop. The plan proceeds with Jason as he's has his head encased in a metal helmet while  Von Evilstein subjects him to fire and other torments. But his demonic nature spares him. We get a glimpse of Von Evilstein's lab filled with unfortunate animals who have been his test subjects.

Harry and Randu seeking some sign of Jason go to a Para-psychology Institute seeking Alan Hunter who oversees many practioners of E.S.P. They meet there a girl named Carver who is in contact with a tormented soul. That soul is the "Monster" created by Von Evilstein.

Meanwhile Von Evilstein makes preparations to take off Jason's head and attach it to his humanoid.

It's a real cliff-hanger as Jason seems in legitimate danger. The story is clearly inspired by the Frankenstein saga and the "Monster" seems to be a Kirby-ized rendition of the classic creature look with lots of additional studs and electrodes. Baron Von Evilstein reminds me of Lionel Atwill as he looked in Son of Frankenstein and of course Igor is the spitting image of the classic Bela Lugosi creation.

There's seem to really be a rhythm now to the Demon tales, and this is one of the best yarns yet.

More to come.

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Modred The Mystic!

Marvel's attempt to extract some supernatural horror from the Arthurian saga was somewhat less successful than Jack Kirby's The Demon for DC. Modred the Mystic debuted in the first issue of Marvel Chillers, one of the many short-lived titles Marvel launched onto the stands in the Bronze Age. Marvel Chillers is most famous for the debut of Tigra's series which kicked off in the third installment, but the first two issues featured a time-lost magician who seemed to have some trouble figuring out his motivation.

Modred was an apprentice magician who gets orders to attend Merlin in Camelot. But since this means he'll have to forever renounce the girl he loves, he defies King Arthur's order and instead seeks out the Darkhold, a dangerous tower filled with deadly magic. The Darkhold seizes him and he spends centuries in a trance until he is released by two 20th Century archaeologists.

The trio head to London where Modred seems somewhat delusional and attacks the local police who seeks to corral him. It seems he is under the influence the dark powers of the Darkhold and despite his efforts to defeat them, by the end of the second issue his destiny seems really unsettled.

Created by Marv Wolfman and scripted by Bill Mantlo, this series lacks the punch of most Marvel efforts of the time. The first issue was drawn by Yong Montano and the second by Sonny Trinidad, both highly skilled professionals in Marvel's Filipino Bullpen. But  both issues have that unfinished look which afflicted so many of Marvel's efforts in the Bronze Age as the professionalism in the New York offices was suspect as editorial control shifted from hand to hand.

The story gets picked up a few years later, as did so many, in an issue of Marvel Two-In-One but this too is an exceedingly weak outing. Part of a four-issue tour of England, this story co-stars the newly minted Spider-Woman who by the story's end has formed a partnership with Modred.

That seemed largely forgotten by the time his next appearance in the pages of The Avengers where his connection to the Darkhold makes him more of a villain than a hero. He will suffer mightily in these pages and becomes just one more of Marvel's vast array of mostly forgotten background characters.

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Demonology #10 - Soul Snatcher!

The tenth issue of Jack Kirby's The Demon is an action fest finishing the three-part saga of the Phantom of the Sewers.

The story begins when the Demon ascends onto the dilapidated stage to which the Phantom has brought Glenda Mark, falsely believing her to be a sorceress named Galatea who he blames for disfiguring his face many years before. The Demon casts a spell which calls back time and we see the stage new as it was the night a handsome Farley Fairfax was on it before an appreciative audience and Galatea is casting the spell which summons a creature called the Soul Snatcher which attacks Farley and takes the thing most precious to him.

Farley Fairfax's face is awful to behold. As the modern world reasserts itself the Demon calls forth the "Satan's own steward" Asmoden and defeats him to gain the power to find Galatea. It turns out Galatea is dead, so the Demon uses magic words to bring her spirit to the stage where it enters the body of Glenda.

Glenda, now inhabited by the vile spirit of Galatea rushes to concoct the spell and offers up to Farley Fairfax the thing he most wanted. He falls for it and is given back his face but then the years catch up to him and he dies of old age in mere moments. Galatea's spirit has left the body of Glenda and disappeared. The police arrive and the Demon escapes.

Meanwhile Randu Singh and Harry Mathews search for Glenda and Jason Blood, but find the hidden lair of the Phantom of the Sewers. There they find the wax manikin of Galatea, now inhabited by her ghost. The maniken moves uncovering a hidden bomb. The duo rush out to escape the blast which demolishes the lair and melts the manikin. The Demon appears to wish Galatea a proper rest.

Though clearly inspired by the classic Phantom of the Opera, this story has enough spins and turns to keep it fresh. The addition of Asmoden this issue was particularly interesting as the contentious relationship with the Demon really shows how he fits into the larger demonic universe, and that's not very well.

Clearly Farley Fairfax is called out for his vanity, which seems to be equated with his soul through the story. His madness is a clear result of his having lost his looks and his inability to move beyond that surface loss.

I'm not sure if we're to see any connection between Fairfax's situation and Blood's dilemma with the Demon,  where he too seems not to want to accept what has happened to him, but I suppose the parallel can be drawn.

I'm not sure three issues were needed to tell this story, maybe two would've sufficed, but it's a typically bouncy and fun ride as most Kirby stories of this era are.

More to come.

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