Friday, 20 March 2015

COMICS SUCK! - Jonah Hex: Riders of the Worm & Such #1 (March 1995)

20 YEARS AGO - March 1995


Cover artwork by Tim Truman.
JONAH HEX - RIDERS OF THE WORM & SUCH #1 (Vertigo - DC Comics)
"No Rest for the Wicked and the Good Don't Need Any"
By Joe R. Lansdale (w); Tim Truman (p); Sam Glanzman (i); Sam Parsons (c); Todd Klein (l) & Stuart Moore (e)

Riders of the Worm and Such was a five issue limited series from Vertigo comics, it was the second Joe Lansdale / Tim Truman Jonah Hex mini-series after the award winning Two-Gun Mojo from 1993. That series proved that the team could handle Hex's world and stay true to it, although one could argue that the characterization and setting is a little stiff at times. Riders of the Worm is where the creative team let loose and had fun.

And it IS fun. Lansdale is a rare writer, Riders of the Worm, like many of his stories is equal parts horror and humor. He has discovered a balance that I haven't read any other writer find as successfully. Many can handle one but not the other, some dilute the effect of both with the presence of the other. Stephen King does it quite successfully, as does his son Joe Hill at times. Lansdale turns the horror and humor knobs up to 11 without blowing the speakers. It's a thing to watch, the humor is truly funny and the horrors are truly ghastly.

The story revolves around Hex coming upon a strange ranch with a young sidekick after being attacked by giant half-man, half-worms. The ranch is run by Mr. Graves, an Englishman, inspired by a bar brawl he shared with Oscar Wilde to spread art and culture to the cowboys of Texas. Hex encounters Hildy at the ranch and the two strike a romance of convenience. He also runs into the Autumn brothers, Edgar and Johnny who strike romances of convenience of their own with pigs. There are loads of gross-out moments in these five issues and the Autumn brothers are principally involved in most of them.

And, like most, if not all of Lansdale's writing, there's wit. In issue 3, Mr. Graves refers to the worms as "denizens of the netherworld."

"What's a denizen?" the kid says.

"Kinda like a Yankee," Hildy says.

In this first issue, Hex's newfound travel partner, Rudy is pulled halfway outside the window of their shelter by the titular worms. Hex and the kid manage to pull him back in, but he's been bitten in half and only his legs return.

"One thing's sure," Hex says, "he didn't get caught on a nail." (See image at left)

It's obvious that Lansdale is fascinated by pre-Columbian America. Because it's history is mostly unrecorded and undeveloped, it provides him a sprawling canvas upon which to draw and he always delivers with the goods when drawing on it. It was said this story was based on local folklore, but I'm sure Lansdale colored in some of the background. Of course, when he does bring out his box of crayolas, he uses buckets of blood red.

Many of his most colorful moments, however are reserved for the Autumn brothers. The cross-eyed, pig diddling simpletons were based on Johnny and Edgar Winter and the company was sued for their efforts by the famous duo but won (read all about it at this location).


WHAT ELSE WERE THE KIDS UP TO BACK THEN?
Joe R. Lansdale carried on the Weird Tales pulp tradition throughout the 1980's and 90's, continuing to this day, so it's only right that another underrated weird tale scribe was also represented with a major release in March 1995:



MONSTER MAGNET - DOPES TO INFINITY
Dave Wyndorf, leader of Monster Magnet is arguably the weirdest poet of the post-beat, post-hippie era. His lyrics seem like stream-of-consciousness rambling on first listen, but contain a penetrable internal logic, unlike some of the other well-known lyricists of the 90's. For example, "All Friends and Kingdom Come" is a threatening romantic ultimatum, but the casual listener might not catch that among all the talk of "mushroom boy" and "mushroom clouds in my hands". I think it's time to re-evaluate Wyndorf's lyrics and place him among the great weird authors of the 20th century. He certainly comes out of the pulp tradition, having been weened on a steady diet of fuzz guitars and Jack Kirby Marvel comics.

Aside from the lyrics, 'Dopes to Infinity' contained some of the best music of the decade, smack dab in the middle of it. The album did quite well overseas but was virtually ignored on their home soil. It's been the story of the band's career. The problem wasn't one of quality, but how to qualify the band. They're too heavy to be a rock band, but not heavy enough to be a metal band. Who would buy these wonderful evils? The answer: Europeans!

To this day Wyndorf prefers the European audience and it's hard to blame him. He talks about it endlessly in interviews, but this recent quote takes the cake: "do you want to live your life playing in some shitty bar where some guy with a bald head and ponytail is looking at you going Do Freebird!! Or do you want to go play in front of 26-year-old girls with big tits in Finland? That’s where you
want to go. And that’s where I go!" (read the full interview at this location)

'Dopes To Infinity' is one of my favorite albums of all-time. It along with Alice in Chains's 'Music Bank' box set and the first six Black Sabbath albums have been mainstays in my listening rotation since high school. It's not necessarily diverse, it's not necessarily an "important" record historically, it's just good ... real good. Every song is exciting in its own way but I think what ultimately won my heart in those early days was the instrumental "Ego the Living Planet", named after one of the most fascinating characters to spring from the mind of Kirby and one of my personal favorites. The way to my heart isn't through food it's through early Marvel references.

Dave Wyndorf knows the way.

Well, now you've sampled Wyndorf and Lansdale, but have you read Sutter Cane?

Far as I'm concerned In the Mouth of Madness is director John Carpenter's last classic film and in some ways is his masterpiece. Combining the on-page and off-page lore of writers H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King into a single character, Sutter Cane (Jürgen Prochnow), Carpenter and screenwriter Michael De Luca had free reign here to explore every avenue of horror. The story is about fictional worlds bleeding into reality through the diabolical work of Cane. His books are turning people into maniacal killers, Sam Neil plays an insurance investigator sent on behalf of a publishing house (Arcane House run by Charlton Heston) to find him. Along the way he falls deeply into the mouth of madness.

In many ways the film is a love letter to two of the most popular masters of literary horror of the 20th century, but mostly it's a gallery of wonderful images. It's like an exhibition of deleted scenes from the minds of the masters put together into a running narrative. Now, that may not sound like the greatest of endorsements, and not every Carpenter fan loves this movie, but I think it's fantastic. But that's also why it may be Carpenter's masterpiece. Many of his most lasting images are in this film, without any one totally dominating. Who can forget the guy on the bike? Or the Cathedral of Transfiguration which doubled as Cane's castle and the mob that guarded it? Or Seinfeld's Nanna, Frances Bay as the murderous and deviant innkeeper? Or Julie Carmen's transformation.

The first time I watched this movie, I hated it. The premise didn't grab me and the look of the picture felt cheap and uninspired. But after I gave it another chance, it was revelatory and plays as the best "Lovecraft adaptation" not directed by Stuart Gordon.


3 comments:

  1. Loved the Hex series and of course sir, you were spot on with Monster Magnets legacy.

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