Sunday, 12 July 2015

COMICS SUCK! - Amazing Adventure #31 (July 1975)

40 YEARS AGO - July 1975
AMAZING ADVENTURES #31 (Marvel Comics)

Review by Tony Maim

"The Day The Monuments Shattered"
By Don McGregor (w); P. Craig Russel (a); Irv Watanabe (l); Petra Goldberg (c) & Len Wein (e)

After being tested with various tryouts, Marvel finally gave Don McGregor his 1st series to script – Jungle Action featuring the Black Panther. No one really expected anything from this but the “kids” kinda dug it. Hey, we have another series that is floundering – Amazing Adventures featuring Killraven. Let’s throw it to McGregor, he might do something with it.

And he did – he took a character that followed the premise of an Martian invasion in 2018 ,which came in a fanfare of Neal Adams artwork (who only completed 8-9 pages) - Amazing Adventures 18 - and the promise of something new and over 3 issues with 3 different writers and 3 different artwork teams, it kinda drifted along and kinda sucked – he kicked the fuck out of it and gave us a vision of the future with experimental plot lines, depth of character, a strong female cast, political overtones and to my hero-worshiping eyes, a real psychedelic feel that still resonates with me now.

After a couple of Gene Colan fill ins, the final part fell into place – P. Craig Russell came aboard and brought his almost art nouveau style into play with an unearthly vision of an apocalyptic world filled with strange visions, unimaginable hardships and mutated beings side by side with landscapes of beauty and peace.

A young Killraven escaped the gladiator pens set up for the amusement of the Martian invaders and with a band of misfits, set themselves up as “Freemen”, dedicated to overthrowing their hated masters. McGregor used his stories to examine an America undergoing a crisis of identity and disillusion with current political leaders, an America which in 1975 was starting to be a consumerist society and where the word individual was frowned upon.

As it is very late and my deadline for getting this to Lucas is steadily looming, I am not going to deliver a blow by blow issue review leading up to Issue 31, even though you will not know what is going on, just believe me when I say that this saga of a dystopian tomorrow is one my highlights of my comic collection.

Amazing Adventures 31 features the end of the Death Breeders saga. Martian breeding pens are filled with couples whose only duty was to provide their new-born children as delectable titbits. Killraven and his band of misfits blew up the warren of misery and rescued a couple – Adam and Eve – so their child could be born free. A running battle ensued but took second place to McGregor’s commentary on the human fascination with paradise, consumerism, racism, love and the hero as a flawed character whose self belief overcomes his many doubts about what he is doing.

Look, I plainly cannot do this series justice – just track these comics down in the black and white collection and enjoy some thought provoking story telling. - Tony Maim


No surprise that we'd feature Sabbath's sixth album here. "Hole in the Sky", "Symptom of the Universe", "Thrill of it All" & "Am I Going Insane (Radio)" can all be found here. What can you even say about any of the first six Sabbath albums? These albums, of which 'Sabotage' was the last are as close to perfection as popular music ever got. "Hole in the Sky" is often imitated, "Symptom of the Universe" laid the foundation for early thrash metal, even the title of the instrumental "Supertzar" has been lifted and used as the name of a very good band out of Finland (their excellent 'Funeral Blues' EP is available for Free Download at this location).

Sabbath recorded this album in a haze of litigation and courtroom battles, to the members of the band the 'Sabotage' era is a blur, the album nothing special. Guitarist Tony Iommi once met a big fan who told him that 'Sabotage' was his favorite album. Iommi's response was, "Really? Why?"



Directed by Norman Jewison
Cast - James Caan, John Houseman, Maud Adams, John Beck, Moses Gunn & Ralph Richardson

Forget the 2002 re-make with LL Cool J, the original Roller Ball is a gritty, unflinching sci-fi picture with a hardcore anti-authoritarian, anti-corporate slant. The world of Roller Ball depicts a future in which major corporations have won all. Nations and wars are things of the past ... as are prosperity and purpose. In their place is the deadly game of Roller Ball, a nod to the Roman gladiator matches which similarly dominated a conquered, listless world. This is such a great film, I can't recommend it enough. Watch it here.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

COMICS SUCK! - Doctor Who #9 (June 1985)

30 YEARS AGO - June 1985
DOCTOR WHO #9 (Marvel Comics)
"The Life Bringer!"
By Steve Moore (w); Dave Gibbons (a); Andy Yanchus (c) & Jim Salicrup (e)

I remember seeing Doctor Who comics on the spinner racks in corner stores as a toddler and they looked powerfully lame. Look at this boring cover with its limited color palette. How could a frumpy white guy with an afro and a scarf compete with the likes of Teen Titans or X-Men?

He couldn't.

But growing up means growing wise and sophisticated. Little did the stupid toddler with a mullet that I once was realize that some of the best stories Marvel Comics ever published were hidden behind these drab covers.

By the mid-80's Doctor Who had invaded American shores after 20 years as a British television staple. Marvel's UK division had produced a weekly, then monthly magazine dedicated to the Time Lord since 1980 and this mid-80s series reprints the best comics from the British magazine. This particular story involving Prometheus taking Doctor Who to the planet Olympus to meet the gods was originally published (in glorious black and white) in early 1981.

There was a surprising amount of writing and artistic talent floating around the U.K. working in relative obscurity at the time, many of whom would bust out in the much larger overseas market: Pat Mills and John Wagner, Jamie Delano, Steve Dillon, John Bolton, Dave Gibbons, Alan Moore, Alan Davis, Paul Neary, David Lloyd, Grant Morrison, Peter Milligan and on and on. One guy who never got his due across the pond was writer Steve Moore.

Today, he's probably best remembered as "Alan Moore's buddy (no relation)" but his writing skills have gone grossly under-appreciated. His stories weren't loud, rude or flashy but resembled great myths: labyrinthine moralistic tales in the long-standing tradition of John Bunyan. He's gone now and his original comics (his Father Shandor series in the legendary British magazine Warrior is one of my favorite comics ever) are incredibly difficult to come by but if you can track them down, rush to do so. This Doctor Who reprint series from the 80's is a good place to start as I'm sure you won't have trouble finding them in the back issue bins of your better comics retailer for dirt cheap.

This particular issue also contains a reprint of an earlier Moore-Dillon tale.


'Infernal Overkill'

I'm no walking encyclopedia metallum but this is one of the best metal albums I've ever heard. It's got a little bit of everything you want in a mid-80's metal album: speed and thrash and a little darker something extra. But don't call them a black metal band, they don't like it. They were a good halfway point between Slayer and Celtic Frost, meaning they had speed at their disposal, but their ideas were a bit more varied and interesting. They could shred with the best of them and they favored a dark, heavy tone. They were one of the most complete bands of the era. The German trio continues to this day with two (of three) original members still in the fold (Mike on guitar and Schmier on bass). I highly recommend this album to any and all metal fans, but especially to those interested in the darker end of metal's early days.



Directed by Larry Cohen
Cast - Michael Moriarty, Garrett Morris, Andrea Marcovicci & Paul Sorvino

I only just found out about this movie in the last couple years on some "best obscure horror" list on one of those clickbait websites. It's not the best of movies but it has that 80's feel in abundance.

The Stuff is like a dry run for the much more popular The Blob, which would follow shortly. Ironically, The Stuff is the better of the two, it gives you all the dangerous goo and melting people you could possibly want with better writing and a superior cast. Just looking at the cast listed above it's hard to get a sense of what kind of movie it will be with that mish-mash, but for your information it has a fairly light tone considering some of the horrific dissolving and child endangerment scenes.

If you had to elevator pitch the film to your movie night galpals you might say it's like The Blob meets They Live and not be far off the mark. The Stuff is recommended for a "fun scares" kind of night, it will probably make your most squeamish friend cringe and cover her eyes while you down another handful of popcorn and grin with sick pleasure.

There is a version you can watch on youtube that's been split up into shorter parts.

Friday, 12 June 2015

COMICS SUCK! - Adventure Comics #439 (June 1975)

40 YEARS AGO - April 1975
"The Voice That Doomed ... The Spectre"
By Michael Fleisher (w); Jim Aparo (a, l) & Joe Orlando (e)

The Spectre was one of the original superstars of the Golden Age of funny book adventurers in the late 1930's and early 1940's. Darker in tone than even Batman, The Spectre was the nearly omnipotent spirit of vengeance, who could manipulate reality to ironically punish and ultimately dispatch criminals. He, alongside such stalwart heroes as The FlashGreen LanternThe Atom and Hawkman were all-star members of the Justice Society of America team. When DC revived the above-listed characters (in their own solo adventures), The Spectre was something of an afterthought, appearing in the company's tryout title Showcase, but only after the others were successfully re-imagined and sales re-invigored, After the brief run on Showcase, the god-like Spectre was given his own title which boasted the talents of future industry super-stars like Neal Adams, Dennis O'Neil and Bernie Wrightson. It wasn't enough and the book was cancelled after 10 issues.

The character was all but forgotten for five years until editor Joe Orlando was mugged and decided the world was ready for another revival of the vengeful Spectre.

Orlando, DC's horror line editor tapped his assistant Michael Fleisher and artist Jim Aparo (whom we've talked about here previously) for the Spectre series to appear in the pages of long-running anthology Adventure Comics. Though he'd been a writer and DC staffer for a couple years up to that point, Fleisher was something of an unknown quantity at the time. He was paired with Russell Carley who was given the unique role of "Script Continuity", providing art breakdowns for Fleisher's raw plots. Interestingly, once Fleisher did finally earn the trust of industry editors one of his more famous jobs was writing for competitor Marvel's original Ghost Rider series for roughly half of its span (Ghost Rider was Marvel's spirit of vengeance).

The Spectre feature in Adventure Comics started with #431 of that title and ran for 10 issues or a year and a half long. Taken in context, the series was shocking in its depiction of violence and gruesome death. Though those deaths were usually bloodless they were disturbing nonetheless: criminals were dissolved or turned into inanimate objects which were then destroyed, innocents were shot, bludgeoned or otherwise murdered onscreen, things that hadn't often been depicted in Comics Code Authority approved books since Orlando was working as an artist at revenge-obsessed E.C. Comics 20 years earlier.

By #439 the series was nearing its completion, and Fleisher no longer needed the help of Carley. The story opens with an obvious Patty Hearst reference as a terrorist "liberation army" breaks into a bank, kills the manager and leaves with Spectre's girlfriend. The Spectre's alter ego is the hard-boiled Jim Corrigan, the ghost of a police detective who is still gainfully employed by Gotham PD despite not having had a pulse since the 1930's. This issue toys around with the subplots of Spectre's love-life and immortality.

The series wrapped up with the very next issue and The Spectre didn't star in his own series again until volume 2 of his own title appeared in 1987 written by the grim and gritty Doug Moench with art by the wispy and ethereal Gene Colan, and a more fitting creative team for the character couldn't possibly be imagined.


'Warrior on the Edge of Time'

Hawkwind's fifth studio album found the Space Rock innovators at their demented hippie best, so of course 'Warrior on the Edge of Time' has its tough critics. By this point the permissive hippie ethic that had followed the band like a dozenth member was beginning to catch up to their own artistic aspirations. The music holds up with the rest of the band's earlier discography, but tensions within the touring entourage were beginning to tip the scales.

By this point the band was a hedonistic commune on wheels. With each release Hawkwind music had become more and more far-out, the vocals were effected, the vibe manic and the lyrics were mostly written by beloved fantasy novelist (and songwriter) Michael Moorcock. Hawkwind founder Dave Brock considers this to be the period during which the band peaked. By the end of it, bassist Lemmy Kilmister was kicked out of the band for partying too hard. It's all fun and games to live that permissive hippie lifestyle until it starts to interfere with business, something which is all but certain to happen.

It's interesting that this, the most trippiest of hippie albums of them all, came out right in the dead middle of the 1970's (May 9, '75). It wasn't long before the hippie flame was reduced to off-campus embers and a new ethos had taken shape: punk rock, individuality, the "me" generation's hippies turned to yippies. The dream of a better world died while the dream of a better "self" seemed attainable. As for Lemmy? He did alright for himself after his ouster from the hippie band.



Directed by Richard Robinson
Cast - Leslie Uggams, Shelley Winters & Michael Christian

Monday, 8 June 2015

COMICS SUCK! - Strange Suspense Stories #75 (June 1965)

50 YEARS AGO - June 1965
"Introducing Captain Atom"

By Joe Gill (w); Steve Ditko (a) & William Anderson & Pat J. Masulli (e)

It's unusual to profile a reprint here, but this issue announced the return of Steve Ditko to Charlton Comics, a getaway vehicle of sorts for the troubled genius artist.

After a dozen years of slaving in the thankless comics industry, Steve Ditko knew who he was. After the success of Spider-Man and discovering the ideas of Ayn Rand he became acutely aware of his own value within his industry, even if his full-time employer Marvel Comics refused to acknowledge it. While working for the burgeoning publishing titan he went back to competitor Charlton looking to scrounge up a little extra work. They didn't pay as much as Marvel, but they allowed him more creative control and would credit his full contributions. A dispute about who got the writing credit on the Spider-Man comic (ultimately it would be Stan Lee) became a sticking point that would eventually end in a sudden split with the company. But Steve Ditko already had his exit strategy in place.

Charlton ran out the clock on the sci-fi anthology Strange Suspense Stories and built up a little buzz for the artist's return to the character Captain Atom by reprinting his old Ditko-drawn adventures while Ditko worked on new tales behind the scenes. The title would be re-branded Captain Atom and feature new Ditko-created adventures by the end of the year. The title ran concurrently with Marvel's Spider-Man for half a year after Ditko had already left Marvel because he'd been so far ahead on the title, a testament to the man's work ethic.

Aside from Captain Atom, Ditko also re-vamped Blue Beetle and created The Question for Charlton. He would later create The Creeper, Hawk & Dove and Shade the Changing Man for DC Comics before returning to Marvel at the tail end of the 1970's. Though Ditko's post-Marvel creations would never enjoy the same level of success as Spider-Man, his Charlton creations helped inspire Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons hugely successful The Watchmen series for DC. Captain Atom is the basis for the character of Dr. Manhattan.


"For Your Love"

This is one of the most important songs in the history of rock music. If it weren't for this song there might never have been a Led Zeppelin. Pissy, heroin-addled, mega-diva Eric Clapton left the group after the release of this song because he saw the slight departure in sound as a "betrayal" of the band's blues roots. Ironically, the change in sound was far less pronounced here than it was on the first single from Clapton's next (and more successful) band Cream, called "Wrapping Paper". Nobody, but nobody expected the brand new British blues supergroup to sound like that! (listen to it here)

But with a pinch of hindsight it isn't too far fetched to see "For Your Love" as a doom metal prototype. The song was relatively dirge-like and though it fit neatly into a pop single structure, it was atypical of radio fare due its dark tone. Ultimately, The Yardbirds had begun to take the same approach to songwriting that Black Sabbath would 5 years later, namely: darkening and messing around with traditional blues structures.

The experimentation wouldn't end there. The very next month the Yardbirds would issue their other signature tune (and first with guitarist Jeff Beck), "Heart Full of Soul". The story goes that Clapton left when the group recorded the original version of "Heart" with a sitar. After the "betrayal" of "For Your Love", there was no redeeming the group in Clapton's eyes after the sitar incident. But if Clapton had never left, they might never have drafted in the talents of Jimmy Page, who might never have cobbled together the New Yardbirds in the wake of the original band's implosion and the New Yardbirds might never have become Led Zeppelin.


(Review by Tony Maim)
Directed by Roman Polanski
Cast - Catherine Deneuve, Ian Hendry, John Fraser, Patrick Wymark and Yvonne Furneaux.

From the opening shot of the credits being projected onto an extreme close up of an eyeball to the stark ending devoid of any real hope, this film delivers a gripping study of obsession and paranoia. Catherine Deneuve plays the lead as a manicurist sleepwalking through life, sharing a London flat with her overpowering sister.

With her radiant beauty stealing scenes throughout, the mystery is why she has such an aversion to any type of male contact. When the sister goes on holiday, Deneuve spends more time numbly going through the motions, spending more and more time locked in the flat. While being pursed by various interested suitors, the flat starts to mirror the state of Deneuves’s fragile mind. Cracks appear in the walls, paint is flaking off surfaces, noises are amplified and OCD seems to be taking over her personality.

All through this, the camera shots linger on her face in long, close-up takes which shows the blank wild stare becoming ever more vacant, yet more desperate at the same time.

A casual visit by an interested admirer brings the paranoia to an all time high, ending with a murderous attack leading to a bloody corpse in the hallway. Deneuve spends more time slowly becoming more zombie-like, sleeping on the floor, staring at plates of rotting food,
only moving when her delusions bring arms punching through walls or clever camera angles make hallways stretch into the horizon.

Her lecherous landlord forces his way into the fetid flat only to be stabbed in a frenzied attack when our heroine/villainess is roused into action. The police are called and as she is lead away, the last shot is of an old family snapshot, showing the two sisters being stared at by a father/uncle/relative in a way that does not bring images of a happy childhood.

Hey stop reading this and watch the whole thing here:

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

COMICS SUCK! - Blood & Gourd #1

You’ve felt it before, that ‘80’s horror movie feeling of attitude and atmosphere. That sense of irreverent fun challenged by vibrant gore and the encroachment of dire fate. Horror fans know that ‘80’s feel, it’s something missing from much of mainstream storytelling in any medium for the past 30 years. Among comics scribes in the intervening years Garth Ennis conjures it, Joe Lansdale taps into it expertly and Joe Hill comes awfully close to recreating it while skipping over the cheesy gore and special effects.

New comic Blood & Gourd has it.

And the creators have not skipped over the cheesy gore and special effects.

Blood & Gourd is the demented vision of writers Jenz Lund and D.H. Shultis. Originally conceived as a 150-page standalone graphic novel, the story has been serialized into three king-size comics and will continue as a regularly sized ongoing title. This is the first issue.

The story is about how to grow a prize winning pumpkin, it’s also about the impact and consequences of corporate takeover of family farms on the community, but mostly it’s about how to survive a man-eating pumpkin attack. Those that do survive do not escape unharmed and some that don’t survive, blaze out gloriously. In fact, it’s easy to consider this the most glorious story I’ve come across that takes place at a pumpkin grower’s fair. It’s also the goriest.

Much of that magical feeling comes out in the dialogue. The story develops slowly through the first couple pages as we meet our cast of quirky characters. We’re introduced to a family, a mother determined to enjoy an outing with her two sons at all costs. We meet a father and daughter team of farmers and their farmhands. We meet the fairgoers, a motley crew of hipsters and bumpkins. But no matter who we meet and how many, every character that appears in panel has dimension and purpose. The stress and humor of the family dynamics ring true and resonate from the films of Steven Spielberg. The storytellers take time and care to build character during this phase but the strength of the dialogue carries that weight. Before you know it, 20 pages has passed and you’re convinced that these are real characters interacting in a real world.

There’s a “rule” in storytelling that one should begin a story at that point when a character’s life drastically changes. When the story finally does kick into high gear, things fall out of joint quickly for the characters and there is no fixing them. What can I say, evil scientists and flying pumpkins conspire to ruin a nice day at the county fair and if that’s not horror, I’ll eat my hat! Don’t believe me, check it for yourself.

But no matter how well the story unfolds it might all be moot without a top notch artistic team. Enter penciler Dave Acosta, inker Juan Albarran and colorist Fran Gamboa. Acosta and Albarran employ a clean, thin line weight in which storytelling clarity reigns. The pumpkin menace of the story might fall flat in fumbling hands but the art team sells it beautifully and horribly. Mini pumpkin heads with evil glowing eyes sprout from the neck of a decapitated man painted with green gore as humanity melts away, it’s a fun story but there’s serious business to attend to. The art team takes care of business. The colors of the book are a highlight as well. Every panel is awash in orange tones. Blood & Gourd is a throwback story and the colors reflect that: the gutters and negative space are even tinted to give that vintage, faded look to the pages.

Typically, the letterer of a comic book is akin to the stay-at-home defenceman in hockey. The rule here is that if you don’t notice them, they’re probably doing a good job. But JC Ruiz and Jessica Jimerson are not slow, plodding stay-at-home letterers, they are all-stars. The casual reader would likely take their lettering job here for granted, which again is a plus, but for the deep nerd their thin tails and perfect positioning are impossible to ignore.

Blood & Gourd is a bizarre story, there’s no doubt about it. Imagine if Alan Moore had written Attack of the Killer Tomatoes instead of Swamp Thing and Spielberg had directed the adaptation and you’re getting there.

I highly recommend Blood & Gourd, the dialogue is superb, the characters are cut from the cloth of reality and the action is chaotic.

The first issue is available to order as of today from Dead Peasant Publishing, you can find it at this location.

Okay, here's the scenario: you've just spent all day keeping the pumpkin-possessed yokels at bay with your pitchfork, you're covered in pumpkin gore, your toupee is out of whack ... basically, it's not going well for you lately. It's time to take a load off and listen to some sounds, am I right? The problem is with a thousand new albums coming out everyday this situation is threatening to drive you back into heavy grunge-era listening phase part 27 or Led Zeppelin freak out #49. I mean, there are worse fates, but you can do better than that, I know you can. So ... what do you do?

You want to take my advice, start here:

Can't go wrong with that lot. April has been top-heavy with excellent new releases, those listed above are my personal favorites. So next time musical choice becomes a paralyzing burden, you can always go back to that golden bygone age that was April 2015 (sniffle). And while we're on the subject you can always check out the Doom Charts featuring the best in underground heaviness publishing on or around the 1st of every month.

As for films ... Another month has passed and still no hints of a The Witch trailer being released. I'll try to keep you updated as the days and years pass by. One day somebody who isn't blessed to have gone to Sundance will have seen it.

The big buzz generating movie of the past month has undoubtedly been It Follows. Like most things these days, the movie is somewhat divisive in the horror community but it seems to have been getting mostly positive reviews from fans. I haven't seen it yet and it doesn't appear to be the kind of thing I'm interested in, but I'll probably break down and watch it eventually. I finally saw Spring, which I discussed briefly last month and it is more than worthy of the hype. Track it down as soon as you can.

The movie that's at the top of my "can't wait to watch it" list (just edging out The Witch) is Headless. Actually, there's two new movies called Headless that I want to watch. The newer of the two is a spin-off of a movie that has quickly wormed its way into my "favorites of all time" which is Found. You've seriously got to see this movie, it's incredible. The spin-off Headless also looks great with over the top gore and is kind of a risky venture to begin with, considering it's a faux 1978 slasher film that inspires one of the characters in Found to do his disgusting thing. It could be a lot of fun with its low budget cheesy effects and it could be bland torture porn. I'll wait and see. If you hear anybody in horror fandom talking about a movie called Headless, this is probably the one they're talking about.

The "other" Headless was directed by Toby Lawrence and was first screened months earlier (August 2014) and looks perhaps less "fun", but more interesting altogether. One look at the 90 second trailer gives you an idea of the tone of the film. A young woman travels to a small rural town to look for a friend(?) who went missing in the same area and ends up in chains and robes at the mercy of an apparent clandestine cult. What's not to love? 

Even more esoteric than secret backwoods cults is the film distribution process. Without a major studio forcing a film down theaters collective throats, it takes time for it to trickle down to "the little people" like you and me. I'll let you know as soon as it does. So ... meet me back here in 2 or 3 years time and we might be able to finally see Headless and The Witch (eeeeeeee!).

Thursday, 16 April 2015

COMICS SUCK! - Nexus #7 (April 1985)

30 YEARS AGO - April 1985
NEXUS #7 (First Comics)
"The Bowl-Shaped World"
By Mike Baron (w); Steve Rude (a); Les Dorscheid (c); Mary Pulliam & Rick Taylor (l) & Richard Bruning & Rick Oliver (e)

Mike Baron. Steve Rude. Nexus the intergalactic assassin and Badger the schizophrenic superhero. How, when and where does it get any better than this?

In 1984 Capital Comics, the original publishing home of Nexus and The Badger, retired its printing press, stranding both titles on the side of the proverbial road. But for the first time,

if there were ever a fortunate time for newer, independent creators with great ideas to look for a publisher, it was the mid-80's. Indy comics hadn't really been a thing before. There were numerous Comics Code Authority circumventing black & white comics magazines cropping up in the 1970's (Skywald, Heavy Metal to go along with the pre-existing Warren), but aside from former Marvel production manager Sol Brodsky's ill-fated Atlas / Seaboard, there wasn't much in the way of independent publishers of costumed adventure heroes until indie distributor Pacific Comics began publishing new material in 1981 and graphic novel specialty publisher Eclipse Comics joined the fray. First Comics was the third indie publisher to survive for more than a few months on comics specialty shop shelves, but with titles like American Flagg, Dreadstar, Jon Sable, Grimjack and the newly acquired Nexus and Badger, they may have been the best ever.

The Badger shakes hands with Nexus as Judah Maccabee
looks on.
But the newly acquired properties got off to a bit of an awkward start. This was the first issue of Nexus to be published in a little over a year. Issue #6, the final one to be published by Capital was cover dated March 1984, though I'm sure buzz was high among those in the know about writer Mike Baron and artist Steve ("The Dude") Rude's Nexus joining a growing publisher, I'm equally sure that the momentum gained by universal critical acclaim was somewhat stifled in the meantime. The most awkward part of the transition between publishers was that this issue, #7 was the middle part of a three-part story teaming Baron's two signature characters, unlikely as the meeting would seem. Here's how they overcame those potential obstacles:

The issue starts with a four-page recap before diving into the adventure. The recap isn't something we see anymore, if we do see it in comics, it's usually rendered as text-only synopsis of previous issues on the inside front cover or title page. As somebody who only just caught the tail end of Marvel's heyday of creativity growing up, I loved the recap pages. It gave one an instant sense of familiarity with the world and the way things are supposed to look, it also gave the reader little bits of trivia and teased old villains and allies who you might have missed and who you might looking forward to reading about in future issues. Something was lost in the comics fan's experience when creators moved away from recap pages ... (LK Ultra steps down from soapbox, bracing himself with weary hand on creaking knee.)

Anyway, as the story unfolds, Nexus and his ally Judah Maccabee have found themselves trapped on a bowl-shaped world with an annoying presence who keeps calling everybody "Larry" (and if you don't know what that means you really need to get some Badger in your brain). They are met by a telepathic, flying manta ray and a robot arms dealer with the personality of a used car-salesman.

It's explained to the trio along the way that to escape this strange planet, they need to cross three thresholds. It turns out each of the three heroes is uniquely suited to handle one of the three ordeals they must face. During the course of the story one page explains that it takes the trio 65 days to reach the threshold of the first barrier. "Their adventures would fill a book". The story has a classic Fairy Tale feel to it. Baron's writing is clear and direct and the themes are intrinsic to the characters, which is the way serial stories should be told. The issue is well structured, too. Immediately before we are told of the 65 day journey, the story cuts to the b-plot involving a Tor Johnson look-alike zombie awakening on Nexus's homeworld of Ylum (pronounced "eye-lum"). The main story isn't interrupted again for the rest of the issue, the b-plot finishes off the last four pages of the issue, leaving us with a cliffhanger.

It's refreshing to read logically structured stories. Today's distracted writer will ping-pong endlessly between multiple plots and subplots so that a 22-page story will have 12 different scenes, none of which are back to back from the main plot. I know, because I'm often guilty of this same kind of ADD-afflicted storytelling in my own scripts.

Nexus continues to this day, having recently been revived in the pages of Dark Horse Presents (Dark Horse Comics). The now classic character is still handled by the original storytellers, in fact Baron and The Dude are hard at work cooking up a new Nexus yarn even as I write this. To date there have been 102 issues released by four different publishers (the three listed above as well as Rude Dude Productions). Steve Rude remains one of the best artists in the long and beautiful history of comics art. Like many of the most brilliant comics artists (Jim Steranko, Paul Smith, Frank Brunner, Gray Morrow, Mike Ploog and Steve Lightle for starters), he doesn't have a prolific portfolio of comics work. He's primarily known as the Nexus artist, but he's done various one-off issues and mini-series for Marvel and DC Comics. Never enough for this greedy fan!

Baron is one of my favorite comics writers, though I discovered him late. When I was 10 years old or so I had an issue of Previews Magazine that I think Nexus was on the cover or maybe it was an inside advert, either way the image resonated with me. It was probably 15 years later that I actually checked Nexus out, but it was always there in the back of my mind to do so. When I did, I found out about The Badger as well, whom I actually remembered seeing on shelves but 10-year old me thought the character looked like a lame knock-off of Wolverine. Obviously, I was too young to appreciate satire. But, when I was in my pre-teens, one of the most popular characters in all of comics was The Punisher. I didn't like him because he wasn't colorful enough, his villains weren't "super" and I preferred characters who shot ray beams from their eyes rather than guns, but everybody else I knew or ever met later in life who had even a passing interest in comics during the early 90's loved the character. It turns out Mike Baron was the guy writing the bulk of those Punisher stories, and he's the one responsible for injecting biting humor into the mix, long before Garth Ennis. Baron also had long-remembered runs on The Flash and Star Wars: Rogue Squadron which will be the subject of a future Comics Suck! coming soon ...

So, if the hepcats of the mid-80's were all about Nexus and The Dude, then what were they listening to? Only the greatest thrash metal album of the year ...

Most VH1 documentaries you'll watch on the subject of heavy metal cite 1986 as thee great year for metal's early days, but they're wrong. It's was a great year for music, but 1985 has it topped. Exodus isn't completely forgotten, but they're not one of the "big four" so they're not exactly well-remembered either. Their first three critically-acclaimed albums, 'Bonded by Blood' being the first, are classics of the subgenre and eventually landed them on a major label. In 1985 they were one of the pioneers of the bay area thrash metal scene, along with Testament and Metallica. Matter of fact, Metallica's lead guitarist Kirk Hammett was a founding member of Exodus. Geoff Andrews, an early member left to form pioneering death metal band Possessed. Hammett's guitar tech Gary Holt eventually joined the fledgling outfit and he's been the linchpin of the band ever since.

The release of the album met with repeated delays after it was recorded in the summer of '84. It's been surmised that had the album been released immediately after it was recorded, it might be considered the equal of Metallica's 'Killl 'em All' in terms of impact and influence. But regardless of the album's potential legacy it stands as a terrific album and an excellent example of the subgenre. The title track and "A Lesson in Violence" approach the brutality of early Slayer and rival any contemporary recordings by the big four in terms of sheer excellence and there isn't a significant drop-off in quality on the rest of the album.

'Bonded by Blood' stands as one of the best, most consistent albums of the 1980's. Also out in April of '85 was Manilla Road's 'Open the Gates' and 'Feel the Fire', the debut album from New Jersey thrash legends, Overkill.

But the middle 80's wasn't just a boom time for heavy metal, it was also a watershed moment for horror films. By April '85, quality horror was being produced all across the world. Re-Animator is one of thee great horror films of the decade and is arguably the strongest of 1985, but Death Warmed Over (or alternately Death Warmed Up) featured the story of a mad scientist re-animating corpses and it was released as much as a year earlier than Re-Animator. But that's about the end of the similarities between the two pictures. Death Warmed Over doesn't feature nearly the same level of unforgettably characterization nor does it share inspiration from H.P. Lovecraft, but it shares similar moods with Running Man, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and even Peter Jackson's Braindead. It's a bit all over the place in tone. I ain't saying it's the worst ever, but I can only recommend this film to 80's horror fanatics looking to dig deeper into the decade's proverbial barrel without having to scrape bottom. But that said, it's available for any and all to viddie below.

Death Warmed Over was directed by New Zealand born filmmaker David Blyth and starred Michael Hurst.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

COMICS SUCK! - The Brave & The Bold #118 (April 1975)

40 YEARS AGO - April 1975
THE BRAVE & THE BOLD #118 (DC Comics)
"May the Best Man Win Die!"
By Bob Haney (w); Jim Aparo (a, l) & Murray Boltinoff (e)

Like Spider-Man in Marvel Team-Up (which was discussed at this location), Batman became the featured character in DC's team-up book The Brave & the Bold with issue #67 in summer 1966. The title became a team-up book with issue #50 which featured a one-off teaming of Green Arrow and Martian Manhunter, two of the lesser lights of the Justice League of America. Before that, the title was a "showcase" book for potential new series, starting with issue #25 (September 1959) starring The Suicide Squad. The Justice League itself was first introduced in the pages of The Brave & the Bold (#28) as was Cave Carson (#31), a newly re-introduced Hawkman with a new origin (#34) and a bizarre concept later picked up on by Warren Publishing's Creepy and Eerie magazines called Strange Sports Stories (#45). The series started as an entirely different thing, however. It was first published in (cover dated) August 1955 featuring stories of gallant knights in gleaming armor, from ancient Rome to medieval England, in the same vein as EC Comics's title Valor, introducing three characters with basically self-explanatory names: The Golden Gladiator, The Viking Prince and The Silent Knight. I plan to feature both Valor and Brave & the Bold #1 in future editions of Comics Suck! later in the year (Fingers crossed!).

Jim Aparo's Batman is gritty and is close to being the
definitive take on the character.
So after all it's iterations, by the time issue #118 rolled around, Brave & the Bold was a Batman book, and writer Bob Haney (a mainstay on the book since issue #50) has established certain traditions within its pages. One of those was the regular team-ups with Golden Age star, Wildcat. This was the fifth such teaming, the previous one had only taken place in issue #110 from January 1974. It seemed readers couldn't get enough of the scrappy, avuncular old fighting man ... err, cat. The very next issue (#111, March '74) saw the first ever Batman / Joker pairing as the caped crusader's iconic nemesis was becoming an increasingly big draw in his own right. Issue #118 was billed as a two-way team-up but isn't even close to playing out as advertised. Batman and Wildcat team-up and Joker is the villain of the piece. It's all very black and white. Putting Joker's name on the cover, however was a way to build just a little more "brand recognition" for the character as he would star in his very own title the next month. Barring Eclipso (who never actually starred in his own title, but was the featured character in House of Secrets for a couple years), Joker was to become the first ever comics villain to receive his own title (I also hope to feature an issue of that title as well, but that won't be for awhile).

Much as the cover depicts, Batman and Wildcat are forced to slug it out in a no-holds-barred boxing match while wearing the Roman spiked cestus gloves. All while a cute little poochie has a gun to its head. The common practice at DC in those days was for a cover artist, be it Jim Aparo, Carmine Infantino or Bernie Wrightson on the horror mags to do up an interesting cover, then give it to the writer to craft a story around it. It's kind of an ass-backwards approach to storytelling but it was DC's editorial policy at the time. Luckily, Brave & the Bold had one of the finest creative teams in the business.

Haney was a cagey veteran storyteller who could adapt his style to suit his artist, his Batman stories were mostly fun, establishing the light, humorous tone for the future animated series Batman: Brave and the Bold, but he could also do gritty like nobody else. Classic Batman artist Neal Adams cut his bat-teeth on the title before moving on to do spot work with classic Batman scribe Dennis O'Neil on various issues of Batman and Detective Comics. While each of those issues is now considered legendary and are highly sought-after, Adams's run on B&B is largely overlooked but needn't be, Haney was a fine writer, equally undervalued if not totally forgotten by today's comics audience. But if you ever pondered the strange and hilarious tone on the B&B cartoon, it came from Haney, who could throw equal parts camp, humor and suspense at the reader in a single issue.

Jim Aparo was another of those artists who could bring out the grittiness in Haney's scripts. Aparo would remain the regular artist on the title all the way up until its ultimate demise with issue #200 in 1983 when it gave way to a new Batman-centric title, Batman & the Outsiders which was basically a team-up book with a regular cast rather than a different character or team for Batman to battle alongside each issue. Aparo would draw the bulk of those issues as well. He remained a regular Batman artist until the early 1990's when he was finally crowbarred off the title by newer, younger rising stars like Mike Manley and Tom Lyle (who are, sadly both largely forgotten today also, but are both still working illustrators). But Aparo's final issue of Batman was cover dated February 1999 (#562). He died in 2005 at the age of 73. While not as dark or striking as Adams's Batman art, Aparo's linework was never-the-less on par with his more celebrated contemporary and because he was the main Batman artist for a period spanning three full decades, his Batman comes very close to being the "definitive" take on the character.

If this title says nothing else to us, it shows that Marvel Comics wasn't the only "house of ideas", DC took a ridiculous amount of chances in the 1960's and 70's, pumping out bizarre comics like Prez, Deadman, The Haunted Tank, Eclipso and Creeper while also creating concepts like the super-hero team-up book and the villain-lead title at a time when their rivals were mostly hamstrung by a bad distribution deal brokered by DC. Many of these ideas failed and most of them were more interesting in concept than in execution, but at least they tried them. Over the years, DC has garnered a reputation for continuing to publish good titles whose sales figures aren't great, as a company, they certainly aren't perfect, but at least they ain't Marvel.

And now, here to discuss ...
is my good friend Tony Maim! Take it to the stage, Tony ...

James Brown was riding high after “The Payback” and “Hell”, two double albums that showed his now legendary use of fixing a groove and playing the fuck out of it, using just bass, guitar and some horns along with hard hitting lyrics about drugs addiction, poverty and racism. On the other side of the block, Funkadelic were chasing funk, groove and party times with the gleeful abandon of kids let loose in a toy store. This album has the feel of joyful playing for the sake of just putting down vibes that wanna make you dance. Band leader George Clinton mixed funk, disco. soul, heavy rock with no regard for traditional arrangements. Electric organs carrying riffs, squelching synch lines, female backing vocals, raps, singing, chanting and the wild fuzz attack of Eddie Hazel spraying Jimi Hendrix type solos all over the place made this an infectious riot of modern music. Combined with the stage look of alien-playing funk invaders this was an un-earthly slice of grooviness – all together now …..

“Shit, Goddamn, Get Off Your Ass and Jam.”

So after braving the gritty impact of the cestus fight between Batman & Wildcat in the pages of Brave & the Bold, then subsequently getting off their asses and jamming, it was time for the young people of the middle-70's to catch a movie and The Night Train Murders would have fit the bill nicely.

Essentially, this is the movie Last House on the Left could have been. It was actually re-titled New House on the Left, Last House Part II and Second House on the Left in different territories. It deals with the same themes and plays out in similar fashion (basically, it's a rip-off, pure and simple), albeit in a slightly more tasteful fashion. But when dealing with a subject as disgusting as rape, tastefulness isn't really on the menu. The Night Train Murders fall into some of the pitfalls as Wes Craven's early piece de resistance including several explicit depictions of rape. It's hard to say what director Aldo Lado's and writers Roberto Infascelli, Renato Izzo and Ettore Sanzo's intentions were in showing it on screen. It's true horror that's for sure, and maybe one of the better things horror stories can do is lock us in a room with our tormentors and force us to face them for better or worse. What the intention, it landed the film the infamous "video nasty" label in the UK.

This Italian production featured the acting talents of Flavio Bucci, Marina Berti, Irene Miracle, Gianfranco De Grassi, Laura D'Angelo and Macha Meril as the unforgettable yet unnamed villain, "converted" from passive train passenger to active participant in the destruction of two young women's lives and the subsequent cover-up. She is one of the most evil and hateful characters I've ever encountered anywhere.

You can watch the full movie at this location. Trailer below: