Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 18

« La matière en était gélatineuse et peu consistante; elle se décomposa, au bout de quelques heures, en un liquide rose et gluant, d’une odeur insupportable.* » — Jean Ray, Dans les marais du Fenn

Aw, good old muck monsters…

Perhaps the first to emerge, at least in the English language, was Theodore Sturgeon’s “It”, published in Unknown’s August, 1940 issue, whose title page warned: “IT wasn’t vicious, IT was simply curious — and very horribly deadly!

But IT was preceded, by some years, by Raymond Marie de Kremer alias Jean Ray’s superb Dans les marais du Fenn (« In the Fenn Marshes »), first published in the Belgian literary magazine L’ami du livre’s issue of November 1st, 1923! A handful of Ray stories (often published under his alternate nom de plume, “John Flanders”) were published in US pulps, including the legendary Weird Tales, but “Dans les marais…” appears to have somehow, to this day, remained untranslated to English.

This is Supernatural Thrillers no. 1 (December, 1972, Marvel), an adaptation by Roy Thomas, Marie Severin and Frank Giacoia. Cover by Jimmy “Profa” Steranko.

The opening — and best — page from Marvel’s IT adaptation, which fails, imho, because Rascally Roy, overly attached to the original text, doesn’t let the visuals breathe. The mediocre results, at once too pedantically faithful and well off the mark, are no substitute for Sturgeon’s original.
IT originally saw print in this issue of Street & Smith’s Unknown, which had, just one month earlier, abandoned its striking painted covers for this money-saving but comparatively stodgy, ‘dignified’, Reader’s Digest-style design. It looks like there’s a page missing — the best one!
And they were soon at it again. How did they manage to convince themselves that this was going to succeed as an adaptation? This is Worlds Unknown no. 6 (Apr. 1974, Marvel). Pencils by Gil Kane and inks by Ernie Chan, with extensive alterations by John “Heavy Hand” Romita. This has been bestowed the impressive (if true) honour of being called The Lyingest Cover in Marvel Comics History.

-RG

Its matter was gelatinous and insubstantial; it decomposed, within a few hours, into a viscous pink liquid of unbearable odour. »

Tentacle Tuesday: Your Dime’s Worth of Tentacles!

Some folks seem to display a knee-jerk reaction to the legacy left behind by men and women who lived decades ago: that of condescension. Surely, if it was something that our grandparents believed in, something that made their imaginations soar or intrigued them, by now it’s no longer relevant or just utterly jejune. Frankly, I’d poo-poo this repulsive straw-man I’ve just erected, if it wasn’t for the fact that these narrow-minded airheads actually do live among us. “I’ll listen to music from before my time when today’s musicians stop releasing such excellent music”, somebody daft once opined, and the same (ahem) logic seems to be apply to other forms of culture. If TV shows from two years ago are ancient (overheard at a restaurant), what can we possibly think of comics from 70, 80 years ago?

As you probably noticed, this blog suffers from no such delusions: there’s plenty of intelligent, touching, excellent-all-around material to be dug up from (in this instance) the Golden Age.

Sorry about the varying quality of the images; some of these stories have been reprinted in recent years (and thus, thoroughly cleaned up, or even lovingly restored from original art); and some of them are only available in the original form, which is to say shoddily printed, dubiously coloured, and not all that well preserved. The Golden Age was, as I noted previously, a long time ago…

All right, let’s begin! I have a few favourites in this post, and our first story is one of them. I had access to a pristine, cleaned up, painfully white-papered version of it from Golden Age Marvel Comics Omnibus no. 1 (2009), but I by far prefer the following version, which keeps the colours, shall we say… less blinding? This is On the Planet Ligra, originally published in Marvel Mystery Comics no. 9 (Marvel, July 1940). It is  scripted by Steve Dahlman, who did a very nice job of it, too. It’s worth a read in its entirety; find it here.

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The next few pages demonstrate the dodgy printing I was referring to earlier…

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Slave Planet is scripted by Herman Bolstein (as Starr Gayza; what a nom de plume!), and illustrated by Arthur Peddy, possibly with some help by Will Eisner on inks. Published in Planet Comics no. 4 (Fiction House, April 1940). Incidentally, we have a whole bevy of Fiction House Tentacles at Tentacle Tuesday: Planet of Tentacles, courtesy of Fiction House.

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Mystery of the Vanishing Men, published in The Red Comet no. 8 (Fiction House, September 1940), is illustrated by Alex Blum.

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Another page from Mystery of the Vanishing Men.

This next part I like a lot, because I’m quite fond of Henry Fletcher, Barclay Flagg and perhaps even Hank Christy. These are all the same person, of course: Fletcher Hanks, The Most Bonkers Comic Book Creator of All-Time, according to Mark Peters. For now, let’s just look at some tentacles, although I will doubtlessly return to this theme at some later juncture.

Because of Fletcher Hanks’ relative cachet, comic scholars and restorers seem to have paid a little more attention to his work of late, and at a result, we can admire the two following pages in all their mighty crispness.

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A page from Stardust « featuring the Octopus of Gold!», published in Fantastic Comics no. 16 (Fox, March 1941), scripted and illustrated by Fletcher Hanks.

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The Slave Raiders is scripted and illustrated by Fletcher Hanks. It was originally published in Jungle Comics no. 1 (Fiction House, January 1940).

Getting off the Hanks bandwagon, we move into nonetheless enjoyable territory with Dynamic Man. These panels are from an unnamed story (with matching unknown artist ) published in Dynamic Comics no. 9 (Chesler/Dynamic, 1944).

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This has no tentacles, but I enjoyed these two panels far too much to not share: the guys’ New Yawk accents, and the witch’s demented rictus (not to mention that it’s all happening underwater).

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How many more rhetorical questions are you going to ask us?

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Last but not least, as boring people say, is my second favourite of today’s post, both because I love the art and because the story gave me something to sink my teeth into. .

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Super-Magician Comics vol. 5 no. 8 (Feb-March 1947), cover by Edd Cartier. Dig the guy’s dopey, sneezy expression… contrasted with the octopus’ hypnotic stare.

Twilight of the Gods, the cover story, is also illustrated by Edd Cartier. It’s surprisingly nuanced, doesn’t fall into horrible stereotypes despite the presence of several Chinese characters, and even has an interesting moral. Read it here.

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Next week, I’ll return to my usual diet of the Latest Published Thing as well as superhero crossovers! Just kiddin’.

~ ds

Tentacle Tuesday: A Child’s Garden of Carnivorous Plants

« Drosera’s snap tentacles — which can sense moving prey — catapult insects directly onto the glue tentacles at the plant’s center, where the prey is digested. What’s more, the catapult system is very effective—the insect almost never escapes. » (source)

Which child hasn’t passed through a temporary fascination with Venus flytraps in particular, and carnivorous plants in general? From there it only takes a tiny shift of the imagination to arrive at man-eating plants, which grab their victims with murderous tentacle-like tendrils, crawling vines and grabby creepers. Today we delve into one of my favourite sub-categories of tentacle obsession: plant tentacles.

This spine-chilling greenery often deploys its lethal vines in some remote corner of the Earth (well, in comics, at any rate). This, I firmly believe, is far scarier than the idea of other planets harbouring these carnivorous forms of life. After all, our chances of landing on Mars or somesuch are slim, and we’re a lot more (though not very) likely to wind up in some mysterious jungle.

But first, we deal with that old trope about a power-mad scientist breeding some man-devouring monstrosity in a pot, garden or greenhouse.

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Shadow Comics v. 2 no. 8 (November 1942, Street & Smith), cover by Vernon Greene.

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Page from Horror House, the cover story, scripted by Walter Gibson and illustrated by Jack Binder.

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The Botanist of Death, scripted by Joe Blair and illustrated by Lin Streeter, was published in Blue Ribbon Comics no. 19 (December 1941, Archie)

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 Gespenster Geschichten no. 550. One would think that a vampire getting restrained by a carnivorous plant is actually a *good* thing, but the lady seems unimpressed. Maybe she wanted to get bitten?

When I was a wee girl, my dad would give me piles of adventure books to read. Quite a few of them involved some intrepid explorers discovering (or literally falling into) a jungle (often hidden in some volcanic crater) in which prehistoric creatures had somehow survived (among the novels I remember reading were Sannikov Land and Plutonia by Vladimir Obruchev, The Lost World by Conan Doyle, Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne, The Land That Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs, etc.) Cue dinosaurs and woolly mammoths! As I loved dinosaurs, I didn’t mind this recurring theme, which by now seems a little, shall we say, hackneyed.

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Turok, Son of Stone no. 26 (Dec. 1961-Feb. 1962, Dell), cover by George Wilson.

The cover story, The Deadly Jungle, is scripted by Paul S. Newman, penciled by Giovanni Ticci and inked by Alberto Giolitti.

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Very much on topic is this installment of Land Unknown (a comic adaption of the 1957 science fiction movie), scripted by Robert Ryder and illustrated by Alex Toth, published in Four Color no. 845 (August 1957, Dell).

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I shall doubtlessly return to this topic again. In the meantime, visit Plants sometimes have tentacles too and The Hungry Greenery.

By the way, the Drosera plant (more precisely, a genus that includes about 152 species) – called Sundew in common parlance – is not only lethal, but beautiful, too.

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A real-life plant tentacle in action – goodbye, little insect.

~ ds

Walter Gibson and His Shadow

« The stranger’s face was entirely obscured by a broad-brimmed felt hat bent downward over his features; and the long, black coat looked almost like part of the thickening fog. » –Harry Vincent first encounters his future employer. (Shadow Magazine, April/June, 1931)

We note today the birth anniversary of Walter B. Gibson (September 12, 1897 – December 6, 1985), an extremely prolific writer and professional magician. Gibson is best known for developing the radio character of The Shadow, through nearly three hundred stories he wrote under the collective nom de plume of Maxwell Grant.

The Shadow’s had an interesting and varied career in comics, but Gibson’s novels (and the radio shows… Orson Welles!) are where it’s at. Still, let’s take a look around, shall we?

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This is The Shadow Comics Vol. 3, no. 12 (March, 1944, Street and Smith); cover possibly by Vernon Greene. That Thade seems like a friendly sort, mayhap a tad overly so.

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This is The Shadow Comics Vol. 7, no. 12 (March, 1948, Street and Smith); cover by Bob Powell.

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Now why were Archie Comics allowed to take such ridiculous (though I’ll grant, perversely entertaining) liberties with The Shadow? Must have been a lull in the revival market, I suppose. This is The Shadow no. 1 (August, 1964, Archie), cover by Paul Reinman. You just wait until the subsequent issues…

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This, however, is not quite how Gibson envisioned and portrayed the mysterious Shadow. This off-model rendition hails from Archie Comics’ 8 issue, 1964-65 run, helmed by Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel and Golden Age journeyman Paul Reinman. This be The Shadow no.8  (September, 1965).

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A privileged peek at Frank Robbinsoriginal cover art for The Shadow no.7 (Nov. 1974), second of his four (or so) covers for DC, featuring Night of the Beast!, scripted by Denny O’Neil. Yummy… but too short.

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Two great Street & Smith pulp heroes face off! Mr. Kaluta takes some artistic license here, however, since Ike (as The Avenger calls his throwing knife), is supposed to be small and almost needle-like, not a freakin’ butcher knife. Come to think of it, the Shadow’s trusty automatics look like something a Rob Liefeld character would wield. One doesn’t encounter often the final three issues of DC’s initial run of The Shadow. Post-Kaluta (save the covers) and post-Robbins, the art was handled by Filipino artist E.R. Cruz, who did a commendable job, while series regular Denny O’Neil (who wrote all issues except for number 9 and 11, Michael Uslan ably filling in) stayed until the curtain was drawn.

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Skipping the heinous Howard Chaykin revival, in which he delighted in sadistically dispatching The Shadow’s aged former operatives in gruesome ways (why do these people always call themselves fans of the original series?), we move on to the Andrew Helfer-Bill Sienkiewicz regular book. Better, but still not great. This is The Shadow no. 3 (Oct. 1987). Cover by Bill Sienkiewicz.

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Ah, now things perk up. A nasty but excellent tale, worthy of Michael Fleisher at his bugfuck best; the shade of Marshall Rogers and smart up-and-comer Kyle Baker were a good visual match. This is The Shadow no. 7 (Feb. 1988).

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This is Kyle Baker’s cover for the finale of his and scripter Andrew Helfer’s thrilling and hilarious Seven Deadly Finns saga (no. 13, March 1988) that made The Shadow such a must-read title. To quote Kate Bush, « What made it special made it dangerous », and the folks at Condé Nast, who hold the rights to the classic Street & Smith characters (also including Doc Savage and The Avenger) reportedly got twitchy* at the reckless liberties the Helfer-Baker team were taking and pulled the plug after issue 19, where a beheaded Shadow gets a big action robot body. The Shadow was rebooted the following year in more obedient hands, with quite pedestrian results.

As a bonus, let’s slightly depart from comics proper and admire a couple of paperback reissues from the brush of noted fabulist James Steranko.

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Steranko comes up with one of his subtlest, most unctuously moody covers for Pyramid’s 1974-78 series of Shadow paperbacks that introduced these classic pulp adventures to a new audience, picking up where its predecessors Belmont (1966-67) and Bantam (1869-70) had left off. Pyramid had one extra trick in its bag, though: Jim Steranko, who painted tantalizing covers for each of Pyramid/Jove’s twenty-three volumes. This particular case file, MOX, « from The Shadow’s annals as told to Maxwell Grant » originally appeared in The Shadow Magazine vol. 7, no. 6 (November, 1933).

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Natty dresser Jim Steranko has built up, over the years, quite a biography for himself. Of his numberless and prodigious accomplishments, my favourites are those that actually happened, such as a stunning series of cover paintings for Pyramid Books’ reprints of vintage Shadow pulps from the 30s and 40s. This one, twenty-second in a set of twenty-three, was published in March of 1978. The Silent Death initially saw print in The Shadow Magazine, Vol. 5, no. 3 (April 1, 1933.)

-RG

*which everyone apparently’s been denying since.