Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 24

« Strangely, I heard a stranger say, I am with you. » — Rainer Maria Rilke

I’ve always had a soft spot for The Phantom Stranger, overwhelmingly in light of his brief original run (6 issues, 1952-53), some quite scarce books* full of first-rate art by, among others, Carmine Infantino, Jerry Grandenetti, Murphy Anderson and Gene Colan, with even a couple of scripts by Manly Wade Wellman thrown in!

A decade-and-a-half after his unceremonious cancellation, the Stranger was dusted off and given another shot in Showcase no. 80 (Feb. 1969), which was gorgeously illustrated by Messrs. Grandenetti and Bill Draut, and the Stranger, fedora, turtleneck and all, was soon spun off into his own title once more. It began well enough, but despite some often gorgeous covers, in no time descended into endless formulaic repetition: the PS makes vague, laughably pompous statements, his skeptic foil Dr. Thirteen fumes and rants, and my candidate for all-time most tedious arch-nemesis, Tala (introduced by Bob Kanigher and Neal Adams in issue 4) almost invariably turns out to be behind the issue’s menace.

It’s surely a minority opinion, but I only regain some interest in the series after its most celebrated creative team, Len Wein and Jim Aparo, have moved on. Scripters Arnold Drake, David Michelinie and Paul Levitz pick up the mantle, along with artists Gerry Talaoc and Fred Carrillo, and the book improves as its sales slowly tank. Near the end, editor Joe Orlando adds The Black Orchid as a back-up feature, and Deadman becomes a regular participant, both inspired decisions, but insufficient to stem the tide.

This is The Phantom Stranger no. 41 (Feb.-Mar. 1976, DC), the series’ final bow. Art by Jim Aparo. While I’m quite underwhelmed by Aparo’s work on the insides, just about every cover he provided, during and after his run, was outstanding.

A couple of years after the book’s cancellation, The Phantom Stranger and Deadman were teamed up again for a Halloween special. Beyond a decent cover, the results were rather… dire. I really, really wanted to like it, but it’s just a hodgepodge of overwritten mediocrity that can’t seem to decide what it wants to be or what its audience is: not scary in the least (even by Comics Code Standards), barely moody, a waste of trees.

This is DC Super Stars no. 18 (Jan.-Feb. 1978, DC)… also the final issue of that particular series. Cover art by Jim Aparo.
The first page, one of the better ones. Script by Martin Pasko and art by Romeo Tanghal and Dick Giordano (who’s actually in the plus column this time).
Sigh. Yet another self-indulgent reference to perhaps the Nerd-fest of the 1970s, the Rutland (VT) Halloween Parade, comes in to utterly derail the story.
Tala is behind it? You don’t say! And then the “creative” team shoehorns itself into the proceedings. How refreshingly outré. An excerpt from the second half of the, er, epic, written by Gerry Conway, pencilled by Tanghal, and inked by Bob Layton.
One of the earlier tributes to the Rutland parade, this is Batman no. 237 (Dec. 1971, DC); cover art by Neal Adams (with presumed design input by Infantino and Cardy). This has laughably been deemed The Greatest Halloween Comic Book Ever, which provides a view into the mindset of people who apparently deem only superhero comics worthy of their attention.

-RG

*helpfully reprinted, though in dribs and drabs and all over the place, through the 1970’s.

Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 7

« If someone tries to tell you that the universe is a big, empty place… don’t believe them. » — Kēif Llama

Haunted houses in space? Why not? They’re just about everywhere else!

Matt Howarth‘s heroïne Kēif Llama (pronounced keef yamma) has already been bestowed an exhaustive spotlight by my partner ds, so I shan’t rehash what she said. But since there are no tentacles involved in this case, I feel I’m on safe ground to take a peek at the spookiest bits of one of our favourite Xenotech’s startling interstellar encounters.

This is Keif Llama Xenotech Vol. 2.4 (Jan. 2006, Mu Press/Aeon), and despite what some have claimed, *not* a reprint of the also-recommended Fantagraphics series bearing the same name and logo.
For once, someone was thoughtful enough to provide stairs for those of us still subject to the law of gravity.
… then you will die. Sounds reasonable.
An earlier recorded instance of a Haunted House in Space, from It’s Midnight… the Witching Hour no. 14 (Apr.-May 1971, DC). Layout by Carmine Infantino, pencils and inks by Neal Adams — both presumably drawing closely on Al Williamson‘s opening splash for the cover story (right down to the deer!), which you can read here!

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: Dark Tendril of Contagion

« Morticoccus is overpoweringly large and sinister! In this new world he can live — only if he destroys all other life around him — kingdoms and empires would crumble to dust at his deadly touch! Morticoccus waits in his prison — he waits to get out — and breed!! »

I apologize, but according to co-admin RG (whose sense of humour is apparently more morbid than mine) this is Contagion Week on Who’s Out There? Well, I suppose tentacled microbes and germs are as good a topic as any right now…

Our first foray into germs is This Beachhead Earth, scripted by Roy Thomas, penciled by Neal Adams and inked by Tom Palmer, published in The Avengers no. 93 (November 1971). The Vision collapses, the Avengers send Ant-Man into his body to figure out what’s amiss. I made an earnest attempt at following the plot, but the bad dialogue made my head hurt. Did you know that the scream of an ant « is like the wailing of a forsaken child »?  The story includes gems like « frankly, my dear, I don’t give an hydroelectric dam» and « therein lies the only true superiority of the educated man — that he analyzes — dissects — probes — reconstructs ». Oh, the glorious mix of bad puns and pompous lines!

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You can read this « paltry prologue to the most portentous Avengers saga of all! », the work of a fellow who’s just a little too fond of calembours and his thesaurus, here.

Continuing on a grand scale – this time, it’s the grandest scale there is! – we pay a visit to the aforementioned Morticoccus (sinister a’plenty, you shall surely agree), arguably the most fatal disease known to mankind, or at least the deadliest to spring from Jack Kirby‘s fertile mind (ouch) . As for me, I really like the giant, lethal bats.

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Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth no. 10 (October 1973). Killer Germ! is written and pencilled by Jack Kirby, and inked by Mike Royer, with whom co-admin RG has conducted an interview. 

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Our third medical study is a little case of fungoid infection that even boasts a name. M’Nagalah had a rather complicated birth. Created by British horror writer Ramsey Campbell for his cycle of H.P. Lovecraft pastiches (to be more precise, the creature first appeared in the short story The Inhabitant in the Lake in 1964), it was soon adopted by DC Comics, after doubtlessly being bowled over by its puppy eyes while visiting a no-kill shelter of the Great Old Ones. It was first borrowed for Swamp Thing no. 8 (1974) and afterwards used as per the Russian idiom “a plug for every barrel“. Just look at this mess.

Challengers of the Unknown no. 82 (August-September 1977), scripted by Gerry Conway, pencilled by Michael Netzer, and inked by Joe Rubinstein, starts off with a just mild (if disgusting) contamination…

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That fast progresses to the old “unspeakable, indescribable horror” (yawn).

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Swamp Thing gets dragged in, and professor Mark Haley blooms prettily in the beginning of Challengers of the Unknown no. 82 (October-November 1977), also scripted by Gerry Conway, but this time pencilled by Keith Giffen and inked by John Celardo

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It is soon explained that this is actually some Elder God trying, as usual, to take over the planet, blah blah blah.

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Wishing everyone health and bon courage in these trying times, especially to our poor American friends who seem to be caught in the middle of the virus vortex… And a last strip to end on a more positive note:

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Calvin & Hobbes strip from February 7, 1993. May our worst encounter with microbes be of the digestive variety!

Oh, all right, one more:

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Page from The Incredible Shrinking Tightwad, published in Uncle Scrooge no. 359 (November 2006). Story by Don Rosa, of course!

∞ ds

What! You Call This Cold Weather?

« Polar exploration is at once the cleanest and most isolated way of having a bad time which has been devised. » ― Apsley Cherry-Garrard, The Worst Journey in the World (1922)

Here’s what happened: I was leafing through Paul C. Tumey‘s splendid comics anthology Screwball! The Cartoonists Who Made the Funnies Funny (2019, The Library of American Comics/IDW) when I came across a wonderful sample of Gene Ahern‘s Room and Board (1936-58) wherein the strip’s central figure, Judge Homer Puffle, feeds another boarder a steady line of bull in that grand, booming Baron Munchausen — Captain Geoffrey Spicer-SimsonColonel Heeza Liar Commander McBragg tradition.

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Gene Ahern‘s Room and Board (March 17, 1937, King Features).

Of course, it’s all piffle and bunk, but it brought to mind a passage from a favourite article on weather peculiarities in Siberia, Marcel Theroux‘s The Very, Very, Very Big Chill (published in Travel & Leisure in 2000):

« Local people told me that at minus 60 and below, a dense fog settles in the streets, and pedestrians leave recognizable outlines bored into the mist behind them. A drunkard’s tunnel will meander and then end abruptly over a prone body. At minus 72, the vapor in your breath freezes instantly and makes a tinkling sound called ‘the whisper of angels.’ »

Then I thought: « all very nice, but that makes for a rather meagre post »… so I decided to toss in a few bonus images featuring that venerable recurring motif… and got carried away.

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This is Astonishing no. 36 (Dec. 1954, Atlas), the title’s penultimate pre-Code issue… not that Atlas ever crossed the line into gruesome. The cover-featured yarn is The Man Who Melted!, an amusing load of utter rubbish you can read here. Cover art by Carl Burgos.

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This is Chamber of Chills no. 10 (May, 1974, Marvel), and most everything’s the same, save for the colour palette and the now-hostile expression on the caveman’s mug.

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And this is also Chamber of Chills no. 10 (July, 1952, Harvey)… the original, whose title Harvey Comics left curbside for Marvel to recycle when they went all kid-friendly in the Comics-code-ruled Silver Age. Cover designed and art-directed by Warren Kremer and illustrated by Lee Elias. For some insight into these collaborators’ working methods on the horror titles, here’s our post on that very topic. Incidentally, what’s up with the hifalutin Lord Byron quote, Harvey folks? This wacky fare is quite plainly fiction… what’s your point? [Read it here.]

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This is Tales of The Unexpected no. 101 (June-July 1968, DC). Layout and pencils by Carmine Infantino, inks by George Roussos. Infantino, promoted the previous year to editorial director (he would soon rise to the rank of publisher), brought in the versatile Nick Cardy to serve as his right-hand man on the artistic front; together, they designed all of DC’s covers until both men stepped down in 1975.

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This is House of Mystery no. 199 (February, 1972, DC), illustrating Sno’ Fun! a rare (possibly unique, really) collaboration between Sergio Aragonés (script) and Wally Wood (pencils and inks). Cover designed by Infantino and Nick Cardy, pencilled and inked by Neal Adams and coloured by Jack Adler.

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This is Unexpected no. 142 (Dec. 1972, DC); cover art by Nick Cardy.

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This is Unexpected no. 147 (June, 1973, DC); cover art by Nick Cardy.

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This is Unexpected no. 150 (Sept., 1973, DC); cover art by Nick Cardy.

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« Hey, look! The critter is frozen whole… it’s in pretty good shape! » Tom Sutton vibrantly sells Joe Gill and Steve Ditko‘s cautionary tale of arctic drilling gone awry, The Ancient Mine. Also in this issue: Steve and Pete Morisi‘s Surprise!, and Gill and Fred Himes’ touching Pipe Dream. This is Haunted no. 37, (Jan., 1974, Charlton), presented by the publisher’s blue-skinned, green-haired answer to Nana Mouskouri, Winnie the Witch.

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« … that face haunts me… was it a man or a beast? » Ah, the Seventies. Left dazed and frazzled by his whirlwind life of slow-mo violence, glamorous excess and substance abuse, not to mention radiation poisoning, the inevitable occurs: The Hulk wanders onto the wrong set, as well as the wrong publisher’s! Against all odds, he handles the rôle with aplomb and commendable gravitas. A page from Gill and Ditko’s The Ancient Mine. Read it here!

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This is Ghosts no. 37 (April, 1975, DC), featuring Luis Dominguez‘s first (or many) cover for the title, a passing of the torch from Nick Cardy, who’d handled every one of the preceding three dozen…. minus one: number 7’s cover was the work of Michael Kaluta.

Oh, and since I wouldn’t want any of you superhero aficionados to think I’m freezing you out, here’s another demonstration of Mr. Infantino‘s “encased in ice” idée fixe.

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Mr. Freeze, who first popped up in Batman no. 121 in 1959, initially known as, er… Mr. Zero (Celsius, Fahrenheit or Kelvin?) before being revamped and renamed for the mid-60s Batman TV show, a makeover that carried over to the comics, but tragically didn’t include his outfit. This is Detective Comics no. 373 (March, 1968, DC); layout by Infantino, finishes by Irv Novick. [ read it here!]
… and I can just about hear the « but what about Cap? » troops tromping down the hall, so…

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Namor goes all First Commandment on some poor Inuits (surely they’ve seen frozen bodies before?), displaying an unseemly level of insecurity for someone of his standing. This recap hails from King Kirby’s sensational feat of deadline rescue on the behalf of a tardy Jim Steranko (to be fair, it was worth the wait). George Tuska‘s inks are a surprisingly good fit! This is Captain America no. 112, Lest We Forget! (April 1969, Marvel). [ read it here!]
My co-admin ds was just telling me yesterday about a client who, upon remarking to a succession of winter-kvetchers that actually, we’d had a pretty mild January, was invariably met with goggling bafflement, as if he’d just then grown a second head. In related news, it was just announced that said month of January was, indeed, the planet’s warmest on record. There is, naturally, an xkcd strip about this sort of circular denialism.

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: Conan-o-rama

There’s some sort of Conan-mania around these parts. I’ve never understood the fascination with the Barbarian Hero (associated terms, in case you go barbarian-spotting: loin cloths or Pelts of the Barbarian, taut rippling muscles, oiled back, impressive weapons, the beard of a grizzly bear – or inexplicably clean-shaven at all times – and glorious manly manes), but clearly others go for sword-and-sorcery stuff in a big way. Conan sure puts the ‘sword’ in… err… well, he puts the sword into *everything*, slashing, hacking and dismembering his way through tedious comic after tedious comic.

He also runs into tentacled monsters, like, every 5 seconds. It seems that whatever tentacles existed in the Hyborian Age, they all made a point of appearing in concentrated clusters in whatever geographical area Conan was passing through. I understand, it’s difficult to come up with a decent monster for an Epic Fight Scene every month. Tentacles were clearly Plan B for days when nothing more exciting came to mind.

I’ve actually skipped some Tentacle Tuesday-relevant covers of this Conan the Barbarian series (275 issues published between October 1970 and December 1993) because they were just too ugly… or too boring. Can you imagine a cover with tentacles on it that’s boring?! Well, I can, now.

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 Conan the Barbarian #25 (April 1973), penciled by Gil Kane and inked by Ralph Reese. I actually sort-of like this cover. Nice totems!

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Conan the Barbarian #32 (November 1973), penciled by Gil Kane and inked by Ernie Chan. “Give the woman tentacles, but make sure she has huge boobs, too. And make them flesh-coloured, otherwise it’s too weird. And give her fangs because she’s also a vampire.

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Conan the Barbarian #41 (August 1974), penciled by Gil Kane and John Romita (?), inked by Ernie Chan and John Romita.

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 Conan the Barbarian #45 (December 1974), penciled by Gil Kane and inked by Neal Adams. What a cutie! I bet he was just minding his own business in a cave when he was rudely interrupted by Conan and his blondie.

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Conan the Barbarian #86 (May 1978), art by John Buscema.

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 Conan the Barbarian #116 (November 1980), penciled by John Buscema and inked by Klaus Janson; the latter information has been suggested by co-admin RG, whose artistic eye I unreservedly trust. To quote him directly: «another misattribution from the GDC. They think it’s Neal Adams inking, toss in Dick Giordano’s name to try and explain away the too-thick-for-Adams lines, and still get it wrong. Giordano’s inking is sloppy and random, never ‘organic’. This, despite clearly being a rush job, isn’t botched. The main inker: Klaus Janson, then-member of Adams’ Crusty Bunkers, and an inker with a very distinctive style. Dead giveaway, if you need just one: Conan’s left boot, bottom right corner. It’s likely a group effort, but there’s no trace of Adams nor Giordano on this page. Adams does pop up later, mostly inking Conan faces and some figures.» See how hard we work to bring you not only entertainment, but also edification?

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« Is that you, Conan? » Conan the Barbarian #117 (December 1980), art by John Buscema. Why is Spidey’s face in the bottom left corner?* Everyone looks half-hearted on this cover – the tentacles are only making a half-assed attempt at grabbery, Conan’s in the middle of some sort of intricate ballet footwork, and the girl seems a little bored. It’s not a good sign when I start reminiscing about the good old Gil Kane covers… I don’t even like Gil Kane (although I’m gradually warming up to him, I admit).

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Conan the Barbarian #136 (July 1982), art by John Buscema. I’m fascinated by the sword’s arc: what direction is it going in? From the bubbles, it’s a swing backwards, but why is the tentacle in the path of that art unaffected? And why is Conan swinging backwards? That child’s face is enough to give one nightmares.

In the mood for more Conan? Visit another Tentacle Tuesday entry, the Savagery of Conan’s Savage Sword, for a gallery of painted Conan covers, replete with mostly nude cuties and of course a great heaping helping of tentacles.

~ ds

*because it’s a direct sales edition, as opposed to a newsstand edition, which would bear a barcode.

Tentacle Tuesday: Superheroes Redux

As I pointed out during my initial foray into the tangled relationship between superheroes and tentacled creatures (Superheroes in Octopus Land), even heroic stock characters with extraordinary powers get bested by the occasional octopus, be it of oceanic, mystical, or outright intergalactic origins. Some of these monsters are aliens from proverbial outer space, some swam out from the depths of the sea for reasons they alone comprehend; some are plants, some are mammals – animal, mineral, or vegetable in form and content.

Our first entry is someone who’s faster than a speeding bullet… but requires a passerby’s help to get rid of some pesky plant tentacles. None too impressive for someone of his calibre, the first superhero that comes to mind for most.

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Superman no. 285 (March 1975). Cover by Nick Cardy.

That’s enough bumbling. I’ll move on to someone who can *really* handle tentacle problems!

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High atop Slaughter Mountain, where the rain never stops, stately Stearn Mansion stands silhouetted against the blood-red moon. This is the home of Dr. Strongfort Stearn, known throughout the world as … Mr. Monster!! From this lofty perch, Doc Stearn peers unflinchingly into the black abyss below. For it is Mr. Monster’s mission to search out evil — and destroy it!” Today Mr. Monster is fighting a cute octopus with googly eyes. Sometimes monsters look most innocuous, you know.

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Original art for Mr. Monster: Who Watches the Garbagemen? (2005). Cover by Alex Horley. As usual, the octopus has excellent taste in women.

And this is the way it was published:

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Mr. Monster: Who Watches the Garbagemen? (2005). Cover by Alex Horley.

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« Since the first simple life-form crawled from the pounding turf, the sea has been laced with legend! From the daring men who faced the raging waves in primitive wooden craft to those who probe the hidden depths today in devices of plastic and steel, fables have been passed, secrets whispered from father to son… » And where there’s sea legends and fables of raging depths, there’s tentacles, you can be sure of that. Can the mysterious Phantom Stranger cope with them?

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The Phantom Stranger no. 18, March-April 1972, with art by Neal Adams.

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Maybe saying that starfish have tentacles is stretching it a bit, but just look at the way their arms bend at the ends! Besides, they can “walk” using their tubed appendages, which look like tentacles to all but the most pedantic.

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Justice League of America no. 190 (May, 1981); cover by Brian Bolland, with colours by Anthony Tollin. This may not be a fashion statement, but think of all the money people would save on makeup and surgery!

Starro, a.k.a. Starro the Conqueror, was created by Gardner Fox and Mike Sekowsky in 1960. He’s a mean, stubborn alien lifeform with an idée fixe to enslave mankind, which he repeatedly tries to do by scattering his starfishy spores (which grow into clones of himself) over large cities. And, yes, he has prehensile extremities; it’d be difficult to wreak as much havoc without them.

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Technically, Medusa’s got hair, not tentacles, but she expressed the wish to be part of our Tentacle Tuesday line-up… and I am not going to argue with a woman with hair that can knock out an army.

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Created by Jack Kirby, Medusa first appeared In Fantastic Four #36 (1965). This is a pin-up from Fantastic Four Annual #5, November 1967; pencils by Kirby, inks by Frank Giacoia.

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A panel from Batman, Inc. no. 1 (January 2011), pencils by Yanick Paquette and inks by Michel Lacombe.

Does anybody have an answer for catty Ms. Kyle? I’ll see you next Tentacle Tuesday – until then, keep away from hungry and horny octopuses.

~ ds

Tentacle Tuesday: Plants Sometimes Have Tentacles, Too

The topic of today’s Tentacle Tuesday is based on a plant-based mishap. I was walking along an alley, minding my own business, when some sort of climbing plant with especially long and vicious tentacle-vines, swinging from from a nearby fence,  grabbed my arm. The result were scratches that felt like burns.*

So today’s gruesome offerings are mostly cousins of the Venus Flytrap, if the latter had tentacles to assist its quest for prey. (Let’s breathe a sigh of relief that it doesn’t.)

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Midnight Tales no. 6 (November 1973), cover by Wayne Howard. I am a big fan of Midnight Tales and its blend of humour and adventure. Note the “created by Wayne Howard” announcement on the cover, which wasn’t exactly typical for its time – comic book companies didn’t use to acknowledge the creators of their “content” so openly and insistently.

Midnight Tales often offer moments of “wait, how did that get through the Comics Code?” Arachne (Professor Coffin’s undeniably attractive niece) is frequently more sexually provocative than one would expect from a kid-appropriate comic, crimes committed are nastier than surmised, and the plots go from morbid to surreal… with some comedy thrown in. Oh, sure, there’s some terrible clunkers, as every issue has three or four stories linked by a common theme and illustrated by different artists, but overall the quality remains high throughout its 18-issue run.

I’ve seen people online saying that Howard shamelessly plagiarized Wally Wood’s style – perhaps people more erudite than I see that, but I don’t. “Influenced” is one thing – but one can build on those beginnings to create a recognizable style of one’s own, right? Those who like Wayne Howard frequently classify him as a “guilty pleasure”, and proceed to insult his art while they’re explaining why they like it. To quote, for instance, from Atomic Avenue, who follow the unspoken rule – just mentioning Charlton Comics warrants a condescending tone, and any acknowledgement of their quality has to be tempered by mockery. 

Creator Wayne Howard blatantly imitated the style of comic art great Wally Wood right down to his gothic signature, but at least he aimed high in his plagiarism. Consequently, Midnight Tales had the look of a seedy, off-register knock-off of an EC horror comic—putting it at the top of Charlton’s quality spectrum.

Another opinion from Cap’n’s Comics:

In my world of geek’n out over all this great art, Wayne Howard is one of my biggest guilty pleasures. He loves to draw like Wally Wood, but he’s no Wally Wood. His females usually look like Wally’s women after a really bad day, and his males are just plain fugly. His Wood machinery is close to the background machinery behind the awesome machinery, and everything shouts fan art VS pro art, but… Luvittopieces

Ah, well. I won’t be apologetic about liking Howard’s art, and Midnight Tales will be proudly presented as a favourite series on a need-to-know basis. Fortunately, there’s some nice articles about him, too – a sort of obituary for a great African-American artist who died at only 58.

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Another Flytrap for your enjoyment, in this tale of brotherly rivalry:

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“Harvest of Hate” was scripted by Jack Oleck and drawn by Alfredo Alcala (speaking of whom, I still can’t get over how beautiful his signature is.) Page scanned from House of Mystery no. 251 (March-April 1977).

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Don’t worry, the “gardener” who fed his brother to this man-devouring monstrosity gets his comeuppance, all right.

The cover of this issue of House of Mystery is also a good exhibit of plant tentacles, even if the children are a superfluous addition:

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House of Mystery no. 251 (March-April 1977), cover by Neal Adams.

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Here’s something more recent – published on some almost-thirty years ago, instead of forty – the tentacular adventures of Doctor Gorpon! I hope these guys count as plants (even if they’re slightly more mobile) – they’re the right shade of green!

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Doctor Gorpon no. 2 (July 1991) by Marc Hansen. The little guy in the right bottom corner is extra-cute – if only all children looked at their parents with the same sense of admiration and awe! It’s “Ooze Me, Baby!”

I only finished reading this three-issue series today, and I must say, it was an exciting ride. Highly recommended (if you can find it, that is).

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A panel from the aptly-titled “Big Eyeballs!”, published in Doctor Gorpon no. 3 (August 1991).

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A page from “Big Eyeballs!”, published in Doctor Gorpon #3 (August 1991).

~ ds

*
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The Expanding Ego Theory: Neal Adams at 77

« Now at this age, I look back and oh, Adams is probably one of the worst things that happened to the medium, when I look at it historically. » – Darwyn Cooke (2004)

On his 77th birthday, the legendary Neal Adams must surely look back on his storied career and radiantly beam (‘gloating’ is for lesser beings). Still, with all he’s accomplished (and with such brio!) in the fields of graphic storytelling, advertising, physics, the theatre and geology, who could find it in his heart to blame him? With so much to celebrate, let’s just stick to the highlights, shall we?

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Why is the little dude threatening the giantess? Why, Neal, why? Well, I suppose that is some people’s idea of romance. This is Heart Throbs no. 120 (June-July, 1969), edited by Joe Orlando.

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I don’t know if you’ve ever pulled yourself out of the water onto a dock, but that… is not the way to do it. One might argue that Triton is an Inhuman, and as such, gravity and anatomy are trifles unworthy of his kind. From Avengers no. 95 (Jan. 1972, Marvel), a chapter in the “Kree-Skrull War”, cobbled together by Roy Thomas from discarded Kirby plot effluvium and Jerome Bixby and Otto Klement’s Fantastic Voyage.

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Ah, Neal Adams. He who brought naturalism and realism to comics. A panel from “The Powerless Power Ring!”, a Green Lantern backup strip from Flash no. 226 (March 1974, DC Comics.)

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Neal’s influence can’t be overstated, and not only in the fields of comics and geology. Here’s US figure skater Jason Brown‘s poignant tribute to that very Green Lantern tale, presented to warm applause at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. As Neal is fond of saying to any cartoonist he encounters, « You are all my children! »*

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A concert poster reproducing Our Neal’s gatefold art for Grand Funk‘s 1974 LP, All the Girls in the World Beware!!! (which incidentally features their finest original composition, imho, Bad Time) Despite the difficult assignment, Neal comes through with flailing biceps and chicken legs; thank goodness his caricature chops are equal to his grasp of earth sciences. Curiously, half the groupie throng seems to be cloned from a particularly manic Marsha Brady, and most of the rest from Carol Burnett.

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They’re an American Band. From left to right: Don Brewer (he of the competent drum work), Mark Farner (he of the wild, shirtless lyrics), keyboardist Craig Frost (Homer didn’t rate him), and of course Mel Schacher (he of the bong-rattling bass.) One may wonder just who those guys in the poster are supposed to be.

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Faceplant time, or The perils of drawing comics whilst grabbing lunch, getting a massage on 52nd, or simply resting on your laurels. How does this cover make any sense? Just picture the scene from another angle, or if someone tried to build a model of it. Archie’s Super Hero Comics Digest Magazine no. 2 (1979 edition.)

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As legendary as his renditions of established characters are, it is with his own creations that Neal Adams’ true legendary status rests: fabled names, always spoken in hushed awe, such as Ms. Mystic, Samuree, Cyberad, Crazyman, Megalith, Valeria the She-Bat… and of course Skateman, Jason Brown’s childhood idol. Here’s his premiere (and dernière) issue, published in November 1983 by Pacific Comics.

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And here’s a mock-up of the same cover. I’ll go to my grave wondering why they chose to run the cover sans this piquant, vernacular-rich dialogue, which would have shown once and for all that Neal the writer was every bit the equal of Neal, the artiste. Eat your heart out, Noël Coward!

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Neal applies his Midas touch to another original creation: Crazyman! Double bag several copies of this number one, someday it’ll put your kids through college. It even comes with an embossed cover! By then, Adams was drawing donkey teeth on everyone, evidently his shorthand for “hilarious”. April 1992, Continuity Comics. You know, “The other superhero company”!

– RG

*as recounted by Yanick Paquette