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:

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

COMICS SUCK! - Blue Beetle #5 (April 1965)

50 YEARS AGO - April 1965
BLUE BEETLE #5 (Charlton Comics)
"The Red Knight"
By Joe Gill (w); Bill Fracchio(p); Tony Tallarico (i) & Pat J. Masulli (e)

This was the final appearance of the original Blue Beetle, Dan Garrett. The character had been around since 1939 when he first appeared in Fox Feature Syndicate's Mystery Men Comics #1. Like all other costumed heroes aside from Superman, Batman and to a lesser degree Wonder Woman, the character eventually fell out of popularity with the rise of the fright rags which began to dominate comics newsstands in the 1950's. Blue Beetle was revived only months prior to this issue by Charlton Comics in Blue Beetle #2, with new powers and a new origin (also a new spelling of his last name, adding a second 't' to Garrett). Arguably, it's a different character altogether, but at the pace with which comics companies and now even film studios revamp, revise, re-tool and retcon established characters, which is the "real" version of any character?

The stories and art on this Blue Beetle series (4 issues) are of relatively poor quality. 50 years ago, Marvel and DC Comics had very little competition in the superhero game. There was Archie Comics "Red Circle" line of heroes led by The Fly and The Jaguar who were later joined by The Mighty Crusaders and there was Charlton (Tower Comics had yet to join the fray with Wally Wood's THUNDER Agents). Charlton's Captain Atom and Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt were minor draws, but Charlton's version of the Dan Garrett Blue Beetle never truly found his audience.

The main story in this issue, "The Red Knight" moves at a brisk pace, arguably too brisk a pace as in the space of two pages we're introduced to Garrett's chess buddy, physicist Lew Coll and his experimental rocket, then he takes off in that rocket and heads to Saturn even as he's just showing Garrett the rocket. From panel to panel it's "hey, check out my new rocket" and then "so long, bitches, I'm going to Saturn!" By the time he comes back he's a changed man. He tells his fiancee to go away and she does so without argument. This is the mark of the rushed story, things just sort of happen and are taken for granted by the writer. The characters are not living, breathing, feeling, thinking individuals, each of their actions serves a story purpose and nothing else. There isn't much for the reader to latch onto with a set-up like that and thus, the short four issue run.

When the villain of the piece finally emerges, he does so fully realized. He goes from a normal man with no powers to riding a flying horse that travels at 600 knots from page to page. His only special attribute, as it's explained is his access to the impenetrable Siliconium, which he finds on Saturn to make a suit out of. Why and how is his horse flying though? It's a question that the creators didn't care enough to answer.

Ultimately, Blue Beetle is interrupted and upstaged in his own book by a Frank McLaughlin short called "Nightmare", which appeared between parts II and III of the main story. It's a three-page sci-fi piece about a man falling into the clutches of demonic-looking aliens, but are they really what they seem? It's not a great short, but the storytelling is a step up.

This issue also had a fan letter from future comics artist Alan Weiss with the added bonus of his re-designed costume / Blue Beetle pin-up. A decade later Weiss would become on of the best cover artists in the comics business. He's one of the finest artists all around, but was mostly a fill-in artist, never lasting on a book for more than two or three issues at a stretch. But in 1965, he was a Blue Beetle fan, one of the few.

Blue Beetle would be revived again by Charlton, this time with some serious gusto by comics legend Steve Ditko, fresh off his storm-out from Marvel. In Ditko's iteration of the character, Garrett has died between issues and Ted Kord has taken up the mantle, with a new, improved costume. This would be the character that was brought over to DC when the publishing titan bought the rights to the Charlton heroes back in 1983. He was also the inspiration for Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's Nite Owl character from their critical darling Watchmen (Did you know that all of the costumed heroes in Watchmen were based on DC's recently purchased line of Charlton heroes? DC wouldn't let the creators use the Charlton characters so they invented their own interpretations).

DC has since re-vamped the character one final time, in what is arguably the most popular version of the character as young Jaime Reyes. His resemblance to Spider-Man, both in attitude and costume is probably neither accidental nor incidental considering Reyes's mentor Ted Kord was created by Spider-Man co-creator Ditko, but that's some pure speculation right there.

After putting the final issue of Blue Beetle aside and either forgetting about it for all time or simply burning it, it was time for a complete artistic reversal. It was time to check out the latest album from one of the most challenging, but finest artists of theirs or any era:

Bob Dylan - Subterranean Homesick Blues - HQ from Noisefield on Vimeo.

Bob Dylan is one of the most successful recording artists of the 20th century, in terms of sales, artistic quality and influence. The man is a legend. He became that way by challenging his audience in a seemingly impulsive fashion. His artist growth was rapid, he left many in his dust. 50 years ago, he broke all his own rules.

He started out in high school as a Little Richard / Jerry Lee Lewis type piano-rocker but eschewed all rock & roll adornment upon his discovery of folk-singer Woody Guthrie. He drove to New York where he was "discovered" and signed by John Hammond who earlier re-discovered Robert Johnson and would later "discover" Bruce Springsteen. Dylan's first four records were mostly acoustic folk, but a limited band was introduced on a couple tunes on the 'Another Side' album released in '64. The change from protest songs to rockers shocked and stung the folk community, many turned their backs on Dylan for good, swearing off the artist forever. But Dylan always had his roots in rock & roll. His first single "Mixed Up Confusion" is a high energy honky-tonker and there's even a version of Dylan's "House of the Rising Sun" with drums long before The Animals recorded their version. The idea of bringing in a band had always been floating around for Dylan.

He let it all come out on 'Bringing It All Back Home'. No matter how virulent the negative reaction to it was by the hardcore folk contingent, the influence of this album was sweeping. Not only did it inspire a generation of garage rockers, the impact was felt by successful, mainstream bands like The Beatles and The Byrds.

The above video for "Subterranean Homesick Blues" is also, arguably, the first true promo video, for good or ill. And yes, that rabbinical, bearded figure in the background is legendary beat poet Allen Ginsberg.

Another rule breaking artist with a new project out and about at that time was filmmaker Herschell Gordon Lewis with his bold Color Me Blood Red, circulating in theaters.

As is to be expected from Lewis, this movie is pure sleaze and that's why I love it. It's about a temperamental artist who finds a new material to paint with. I think that says it all. Color Me Blood Red was written and directed by Lewis and stars Don Joseph, Candi Conder, Elyn Warner, Patricia Lee and Jerome Eden. Watch it here:

Color Me Blood Red (1965) - Feature by FilmGorillas

Saturday, 4 April 2015

COMICS SUCK! - Psychoanalysis #1 (April 1955)

60 YEARS AGO - April 1955
Reprint cover. Artwork by Jack Kamen.
From the publisher that brought you such comics as Mad, Weird Science and twisted stories such as "Foul Play" in which a disgruntled baseball team plays ball with a severed head comes the weirdest comic of them all: Psychoanalysis. It's hard to believe this comic was ever published, let alone by EC Comics. It debuted 60 years ago along with sister titles M.D. and Extra! as part of the publisher's New Direction line of comics. Looking back it seems to be a sardonic response to the draconian censorship that had been foisted on the company as a result of a government witch hunt. "So, you don't like the ghoul mags, eh?" publisher William M. Gaines seemed to be saying, "you want us to tone it down, huh? Well, how's this for you? Not too lively for you is it?" Gaines and co. had toned things down alright. The New Direction comics weren't too lively, they seemed to have no pulse at all!

This comic is practically unreadable and it seems to be an extravagant waste of resources and talent just to send a message. The amazing Jack Kamen was the featured artist on this title. We was the artist Gaines and partner-in-crime Al Feldstein would tap any time they needed somebody to draw a sexy dame. But he was more than just the "good girl artist". His pages were livid, his monsters memorable and his depictions cinematic (see "Kamen's Kalamity" from Tales from the Crypt #31 (Aug-Sept '52)). Kamen's art is drowned in a tidal wave of text (see picture below), it's something the writer's of EC's famous horror mags had been guilty of in the past, but they were forgiven because of the exciting subject matter. Psychoanalysis is possibly the dullest comic I've ever read. It's hard to imagine the publishers really expected the 10 year old's who read titles like Vault of Horror in the millions to make it through even a single issue of this title.

While the New Direction did appear to conform to EC's weird sensibilities, it was weird for all the wrong reasons. Imagine your favorite thrash metal band releasing an AM Gold album at the height of their popularity (cough**'Load'**cough). In some ways, EC had always been ahead of their time. I could imagine this comic being put out in 1995 by an underground creator like a Charles Ware, but for 1955 Psychoanalysis magazine was simply outrageous.

About Psychoanalysis, Gaines said this on the inside front cover of this issue:
"This magazine, PSYCHOANALYSIS, the fifth of E.C. Comic's "New Direction" publications, is our most difficult and revolutionary creative effort thus far. Through the medium of the comic format, we will attempt to portray, graphically and dramatically, the manner in which people find peace of mind through the science of psychoanalysis. 
Psychoanalysis is the psychology of the unconscious mind. To understand the human mind by the study of consciousness alone would be the same as to attempt to learn the structure and content of the ocean depths by examination of the surface waters. It is in the unconscious mind that are located the basic reservoirs of emotion. It is there that the roots and sources of passion and prejudice, love and hate are hidden. Most emotional disorders are the result of a tug-of-war between the unconscious and conscious minds! Through analysis, this tug-of-war is dissolved. 
However, don't let this technical stuff scare you away. First and foremost, this magazine has been produced for your entertainment. You're going to meet three tormented and troubled people ... not mental cases, mind you (for the insane cannot be helped by psychoanalysis), but people who are plagued by the same type of emotional disturbances that may be plaguing you or us. You will see how the analyst helps these people discover the subconscious bases for their emotional disorders. This is done by taking the patient back, mentally, to the source of his unsolved conflicts, activating the factors once again, and adding in a new and better solution. This is the method of psychoanalysis. 
An analysis, ordinarily, is a fairly long procedure ... frequently taking two or more years. If an outsider was given the privilege of listening in on an actual analysis, the main effect upon him would be a boredom beyond all endurance. Therefore, for dramatic effect and entertainment value, we plan to telescope each analysis into three to five issue-sessions, according to the severity of the particular patient's problems. For example, Freddy Carter will run four issue-sessions; Ellen Lyman, three; and Mark Stone, five. At the completion of each analysis, a new patient ... with new problems ... will be introduced. (Who knows, you might eventually meet YOU!) 
Another liberty we have taken is with the role of the psychoanalyst himself. Ordinarily, in real life, he gives no advice, and neither criticizes nor condones, praises nor blames. His work is limited solely to assisting the patient to an interpretation of his own thoughts and feelings. Again, for dramatic effect and entertainment value, "our" analyst actively guides the patient in making his discoveries. 
Several psychiatrists checked over the proofs of this first issue. They, too, noted the condensed treatment and the non-passive role of the analyst. Aside from these, and a few minor faults which we will correct in future issues, they were, for the most part, highly enthusiastic."
Unsurprisingly the series was cancelled after issue #5.

Still, after having read countless E.C. revenge horror stories, I wonder if they didn't have something planned. Fredric Wertham, the loudest cheerleader in the crusade against comics and author of the infamous Seduction of the Innocent, was a psychiatrist. Had the series flourished and developed and E.C. been willing and able to fight back against the censorship that had gutted them, it might have led to the greatest revenge tale of them all: the story where "their" analyst is revealed as being utterly, rampantly insane. The final panel: a basement full of rotting corpses and torture devices.

After reading this issue and having a good snooze, it was time for a pick-me-up. It was time to pop a dime in the 'ol juke and dig on some old hound dog blues in the form of:

You listen to a song like this and realize where Elvis Presley came from. What a great record! Sonny Boy Williamson (II) shouldn't be confused with his harmonica-spewing predecessor / contemporary of the same name.

If it seems like I "know-it-all" when it comes to music, specifically the 1950's period stuff, I don't. I started with a rudimentary list of known favorites like Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, John Lee Hooker, Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters, Johnny Cash & Carl Perkins among a few others, but I had to dig down and do my research to unearth the best songs and albums from the decade of crew-cuts and sock hops. So I wanted to share with you the ultimate resource that I found for the best 50's songs: this list of 100 Great Rock & Roll Songs of the 1950's. If you're interested, check it out. You'll be surprised at the potency of some of these mostly unheralded songs of yesteryear. "Don't Start Me Talkin'" is just one of them, and relatively tame to boot!

The same goes for films. One of the great joys of doing these Comics Suck! posts is the research involved. Before I started doing these I didn't know my 1950's and 60's movies from the parliamentary proceedings of the country of Luxembourg. It's been great fun catching up.

I have a list that I add to on an almost daily basis of comics, music and films that I find. Most of the time I have two or three movies (most of which I've never seen) to choose from to talk about. For April 1955 I had a choice between Godzilla Raids Again or The Conquest of Space. Both films are wonderful in their own ways, but let's talk Godzilla.

Originally released on April 24, 1955 in Japan as ゴジラの逆襲 (Gojira no Gyakushū), this early Toho Productions film was distributed in the United States by Warner Brothers in 1959 as Gigantis, the Fire Monster. This movie is arguably an early example of big studios attempt to re-boot a franchise, in this case by giving everybody's favorite giant lizard a new name and origin. It's also an example of American studios needlessly "re-tooling" a franchise for the American audience, which always seems unnecessary to me and ought to be considered an insult to the audience's intelligence. In this particular case it was an attempt to pass of the famous monster as an entirely new entity. Anyway, the heavily re-cut film failed at the box office and all subsequent Godzilla film releases have used the monster's real name.

The American version is an unusual picture to say the least. The film "reads" like a summary. Rather than having events unfold in "real time", the story is told in flashback with a voice-over from main character Soichi Tsukioka (Hiroshi Koizuma), making it more difficult to suspend disbelief. When disbelief is suspended, it's impossible not to sympathize with the monster: thrust into a world he never made the giant lizard has the appearance and demeanor of an upright-walking family dog whose destructive behavior is an accidental consequence due to its size. Godzilla even defends Osaka from an attack by Anguirus, the ankylosaurus, who is, by the way, Godzilla's first monstrous foe. However, the attack nearly destroys the entire city.

It's difficult not to read into the themes of the picture. Japan was a mere 10 years removed from being on the wrong end of the worst single strike in human history. They were still healing from the Great War and doing a great job of it, but seeing the Japanese city in ruins, even in miniature strikes a sobering chord even 60 years later. In a rebuilding mode as the country was, this movie was as much about Japanese industriousness and restoring the nation's pride as it was about a fire-breathing lizard. Which makes the American studios decisions regarding the release and marketing of the film all the more callous. At one point, the plan was to edit out all of the Japanese actors and replace them with Americans, but to keep all the Japanese special effects shots. Thankfully, that plan never materialized.

Morally reprehensible as a re-cut version with all American actors would have been, the greatest loss of all would have been in the english overdub performances. The monster-loving world would have never thrilled to the excitable young George Takei's English overdubs.

Godzilla Raids Again was directed by Motoyoshi Oda and starred the previously mentioned Koizuma alongside, Setsuko Wakayama, Minoru Chiaki, Takashi Shimura, everybody's favorite ubiquitous Japanese actor of the era, and Haruo Nakajima as Godzilla, a role he owned until the early 70's. They say he lost ten pounds a day wearing that foam-rubber monster-suit!