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: