Saturday, October 29, 2011

Tales of Gods and Spacemen: FUNNYBOOKSINREVIEWAREGO!!

Two weeks' worth of funnybooks to cover here, one with a decidedly mythological tone, the other with a decidedly science fictiony one. I have no deep point to make with that statement, mind you; I just think it's interesting that those two seemingly disparate approaches hit in such great numbers in such a short period of time, especially considering that the vast majority of the books I'll be talking about here are super hero books. Just goes to show what a weird genre mish-mash super heroes really are, I guess. At any rate... Without further ado... FUNNYBOOKSINREVIEWAREGO!!
Fear Itself #7 (of 7)
by Matt Fraction and Stuart Immonen

I'll most likely do a more in-depth look at Fear Itself a bit later, once I've had a chance to sit down and re-read the whole thing. Matt Fraction had a lot of balls in the air here, and this issue was his last chance to catch them all before this whole super-porn juggling act came crashing to its end. I think he managed to snag most of them, if not all, but time will tell. In the meantime, though, I can comment on the merits of this final issue in and of itself...

This series has suffered from an unfortunate lack of emotional immediacy along the way. In fact, I often missed the intended emotional impact of some of the big shocking events in previous issues until I went back over them for review. This final issue alleviates that somewhat, mostly thanks to Captain America. He reaches his point of apotheosis this issue, and it's the emotional tipping point of the series, Marvel's greatest hero rejuvenated by the bravery of his allies, and I'm a big enough sap that I was right there with him. It's a great super hero moment, aided by having this as the exclamation point at the end:

Friday, October 28, 2011

Wertham Was Right II: The Horrifying Art of Basil Wolverton

"No small child exposed to his drawings could ever be expected to walk in a straight line again, or vote a party ticket."
- Gahan Wilson

See?! Even so respected a horror cartoonist as Gahan Wilson thinks that Basil Wolverton was bad for children! WERTHAM WAS RIGHT!!

Okay, no. No, he wasn't. To reiterate, in fact, he was dead wrong. Again.

But if you were ever going to make a case that a single artist should never, ever be seen by small children, it would be Basil Wolverton. Or Kevin O'Neill, according to the Comics Code Authority. Or maybe even Simon Bisley, if you're Paul Levitz.

Anyway. Basil Wolverton. The man who drew stuff like this:

Horrifying, isn't it? I mean, my god. To be sure, artwork like that should never be shown to the Children of America. It would terrify them! It terrified me when I was a wee lad! See, Wolverton had been hired by DC Comics to do covers for their new humor series Plop!, and when that book hit the stands and made its way before my tiny little virgin eyes...

Instant Nightmare Fuel!
Why are you laughing?! This cover scared the complete and total bejeezus out of me back before I could read! I lived in fear of this comic! It was traumatizing! I could hardly bear to look at it after I bought it, and... WHY ARE YOU LAUGHING?!

Okay... It is pretty funny. And it did get me to buy the comic, even though it freaked me out. I had this kind of love-hate relationship with all kinds of things that scared me back then, and Plop! definitely fit into that category. I was simultaneously repulsed by it, and drawn to it. Let's look at a couple more Wolverton Plop! covers before we move on, shall we?

Friday, October 21, 2011

25 Horror Comics That Prove... DOCTOR WERTHAM WAS RIGHT!!

Okay, not really. In spite of Frederick Wertham's claims in his legendary anti-funnybook screed Seduction of the Innocent, reading lurid comics featuring gruesome images of horror is cathartic, natural, and (most important) fun! For the whole damn family!

But, man. Sometimes, when I'm browsing through pre-Code horror comics, the sheer excesses on display make it a little easier to understand why people lost their shit over this stuff. Take this shy and retiring example from Gilmore Comics' Weird Mysteries #5...

Abby... Normal...
Okay, so that's one of the more notorious examples from the period. But, still. WTF, man?!

I can't promise that any of the rest of the covers I've culled for your Halloweenie enjoyment this evening will match that one, but there's still some real gems waiting... after the jump!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Happy Bela Lugosi's Birthday!

A national holiday here on the Dork Forty, Bela Lugosi's Birthday is a time for reflection and remembrance, indeed of appreciation, for all the evil brought into our monstrous little hearts by the Patron Saint of Halloween.

Click to embiggen, children of the night!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Pearls Amongst Swine: Funnybooksinreviewarego!!

The last couple of weeks haven't been great ones at the funnybook store, I'm afraid. There've been a couple of real gems in the batch, but for the most part I've found myself awash in a sea of mediocrity. Lots of books that I like okay, but very few that I love. But since it's always nice to start on a happy note, let's hit one of the high spots first...

Batwoman #2
by JH Williams III and W Haden Blackman

This issue sets aside most of my doubts about Williams and Blackman's ability to write a compelling Batwoman comic. They're continuing the main plot of the missing children and the drowning ghost who's preying upon them while still keeping tabs on the larger picture with Abbott and his were-creature Crime Cult. But they're also doing some very nice character work, and that's what impresses me the most. Not only are they doing a nice job on the damage done to the relationship between Kate Kane and her father, but they also wrote one of the better "first date" scenes I've read in a while for Kate and Maggie Sawyer. It's comfortable, real, and charming, and the fact that it's a lesbian first date doesn't really matter at all. That's nice. I guess we really have come a long way from this:
Say it loud! Say it proud!
Art-wise, the book is of course just as stunning as always, with Williams continuing to innovate on layout and mix styles with aplomb. The high point this time out is this stunning two-page spread in which Maggie Sawyer shows off her detective chops by recreating a crime scene:
Ah, man. That's the stuff.
Click to embiggen the awesomeness.
All in all, an excellent second issue. Looking forward to more.

Grade: A

Animal Man #2
by Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman

Two issues in, and Jeff Lemire's new horror reboot of Animal Man is picking up speed. He really is drawing on all the best stuff from the Vertigo series here, wedding the charming family drama of the Morrison era with the meaty body-shock horror of the stuff from Jamie Delano and Steve Pugh. Travel Foreman is channeling Pugh in particular on the art, with some genuinely disgusting biological anomalies popping up as we get deeper into things.

The book still feels like it's lacking something to me, though it's hard to put my finger on what, exactly. It may just be my reaction to Lemire's Midwestern stoicism at work. There's always a matter-of-fact coldness to his writing, and while that works for Sweet Tooth, I'm not feeling it as much here. I dunno. I may not be making any sense, even to myself, at this point. There's just something keeping me from loving this book, and I really kinda want to.

Grade: B

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Super-Porn and Other Distractions: Funnybooksinreviewarego!!

Catch-up reviews part two, coming up... now!

Fear Itself #6 (of 7)
by Matt Fraction and Stuart Immonen

Most of these big crossover series are, essentially, super hero porn. They're all money shots, big super-fights removed from their normal context of story, of anything with actual emotional resonance. That's why only a few of them in the genre's history really stand up in the long term. Off the top of my head, I can only think of two, in fact: Civil War and Final Crisis. And now, though it's too early to make the call for sure, Fear Itself seems to be shaping up as a third.

Like all super-porn, it's about death and destruction on a grand scale. But unlike most, it's also delivering on the character side. I've discussed the on-going Asgardian family saga before, Odin's grumpy kingly bluster and Thor's noble rage in response. And it's nice to have my reading of Odin confirmed: he's willing to burn a world to the ground just to save his only son from death, but in this issue, Odin's asshole front dissolves in the face of the badly-wounded Thor being brought home for healing. He's still gonna kill us all to stop the Serpent, mind you. But at least he finally explains himself to Thor before the end.

Of course, before that breakdown of kingly resolve happens, we see a chink in the armor. Captain America gets all up in his grill, and Odin (if only for a moment) blinks. Seriously, check this shit out:

Friday, October 14, 2011

Ultimate Sci-Fi: Funnybooksinreviewarego!!

Funnybooks! Staaaale funnybooks! Get'cher weeks-old funnybook reviews right here!

That's right, folks! It's time to play catch-up with the books we didn't talk about during our coverage of the DC Reboot. We've got a whole bunch of funnybooks to cover, enough that it'll take two posts to deal with them all, and that kind of volume can only mean one thing: brevity. So now, once again... QUICKIESAREGO!!!

The Ultimates #1&2
by Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic

Running right alongside DC's reboot is Marvel's uncharacteristically quieter response: rebooting their Ultimate Comics line. The new Ultimate Spider-Man is the big news-grabber here (and we'll get to it in a minute), but far more exciting for me is this reboot of The Ultimates. Ten years ago, this was the most cutting-edge super hero book on the market, a vision of the genre's future. But the series has since become... uninspired (to put it politely), and descended into wretched self-parody (to put it a bit less politely). It ceased to be cutting edge, and simply became neanderthalic crap (to put it truthfully).

Welcome back to the future. Jonathan Hickman's delivering his typical science fiction approach, with a city that encloses itself inside a sphere of accelerated time, emerging only hours later with a thousand years of social and technological growth, and a desire to reshape the rest of the world in its image. It's engaging stuff, and if Hickman's not the type of writer who's likely to deliver a "Hulk straight!" kind of moment, he does give us this great bit with Thor and the new Captain Britain:

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Every Day is Halloween: Get Bitten by Tarantula Ghoul!


Tonight we bring you one of the lost treasures of Horror Hosting:

Pardon the lady's crease... and click to embiggen
That's Tarantula Ghoul, who hosted Portland's House of Horror. Tarantula (Taranch to her friends) was a pretty typical host in many ways. She rose from a coffin at the beginning of each show, lampooned the movies, engaged in macabre social satire, and had a sidekick. In her case, the hunchbacked gravedigger-turned-gardener Milton.

Though one wonders if perhaps he didn't sometimes confuse his two careers...
Also like many horror hosts, Tarantula's rise to stardom was surprising, meteoric... and quickly over. House of Horror ran from October of 1957 to November of 1958, but in that short span Tarantula hit it big. Her show was popular enough that she was featured in TV Guide (from which the creased picture above came), she made public appearances... which she apparently carried Screamin' Jay Hawkin's walking stick...
...and generally lead the life of a successful 1950s horror host. And then her show got cancelled, only a little more than a year after it began. But it didn't end due to poor ratings. It was cancelled because Tarantula (aka Suzanne Waldron) got pregnant out of wedlock, and that just wouldn't fly in that more restrictive era.

That's not why we remember Tarantula Ghoul so fondly, however. We remember her because in her year of fame, she also cut a record. And what a record! Dig the hep sounds of Tarantula Ghoul and the Gravediggers, with their one and only single, "Graveyard Rock."

(Not the original video... obviously, I guess...)

Hot damn! That's one of our all-time favorite Halloween songs here on the Dork Forty, and it's not even the A side! No, that honor goes to the bossa-nova-flavored "King Kong," which you can also hear below:

Friday, October 7, 2011

Reboot Shmeboot! Funnybooksinreviewarego!!

Alright. Now it's time to start talking about funnybooks we actually like again.

Not that we didn't enjoy our two-month look at the DC Reboot. That's exciting, heady stuff for fans of super hero fiction, and they even managed to make as much as 10% of the line good enough to spend money on. But while we were focused on the shiny new thing, all kinds of amazing-ass funnybooks hit the stands, and it's time to turn our attention back to those. It'll take a few posts to work through it all, so I figured we might as well start with something current. Something really fantastic and not related at all to the Reboot. Something like... oh, shit...

Action Comics #2
by Grant Morrison and Rags Morales

Okay, so this book pretty much defines the Reboot as far as I'm concerned. Sue me.

I really will get to other stuff tonight. I'll be talking about my three favorite books of the week, and this is the only one that comes from DC. But it's also the only Grant Morrison we're getting right now, so I really can't help but lead with it. Plus, look at this cover:


That kills, man! That fucking kills! Has there EVER been a picture of Superman that bad-ass? If that cover doesn't make you want to read this comic, you hate everything good.

(Remember this over-statement. It'll come back again, and there will be a test.)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Every Day is Halloween: Jack the Ripper

A little more Halloweenie goodness for you tonight, this time the late great Screaming Lord Sutch, with a live performance of his horror rock classic, "Jack the Ripper."

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

"What's Wrong With Being Sexy?" -- DC Reboot Overview

So launch month of the DC Reboot is over. I've reviewed all the books I picked up (and a few I didn't), but how'd they do overall? Pretty well, as it turns out...

Money Money Money

Financially, the Reboot can't be seen as anything but an unmitigated success. Many of the launch issues are going back for a second print, with a good few of them getting a third. And it's not just the big name titles getting second prints, either: calculated risk Animal Man is getting a second print, apparently off good word of mouth alone. And Swamp Thing, which ought to be a big name but hasn't been for most of the last 20 years, has just been announced for a third.

Even more interestingly, sales may have actually picked up as the month went along. At the very least, I know I started seeing more sell-outs at my local funnybook store as we got deeper into the launch. And the guys there tell me that they steadily had more new customers making pull lists. That last phenomenon got so big toward the end that it overwhelmed their ordering: they didn't have enough of some books to fill all their subscriptions, and they were sold out of every big-name title released by the time I arrived two hours after they opened.

(This is not a criticism, by the way. I'm glad they're having so much success. More power to ya, boys!)

So it looks like the new reader appeal is working out well, better even than I was expecting. And I was expecting a lot. The biggest sales seem to be centered on the characters everybody knows, which may be only natural. We already know that the hardcore funnybook dorks prefer their traditional characters, after all, and most newbies are probably going to get their feet wet with a character they're already familiar with, too. This could also mean that the sales upsurge is a speculator boom, of course; you don't have to be Bob Overstreet to figure out that Action Comics #1 is going to be worth more than, say, Men of War #1 (I say that now, of course. In ten years' time, when Men of War has sparked a war comics overthrow of the funnybook market, I'll be eating my words). But we'll see. If DC's still selling high in six months to a year, we'll know that they brought in an influx of new readers, rather than just a bunch of assholes out to make a buck.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Every Day is Halloween: The Comics of Emily Carroll

While I won't be doing the insane "one post a day" Halloween countdown I did last year here on the Dork Forty, I can't let the season go by without posting at least SOME Halloweenie stuff. So here, for your reading pleasure, are two horror webcomics by Emily Carroll.

First up is last year's His Face All Red. A story of conflict between two brothers, it starts like this:

...then moves on into spookier and even more paranoid territory. You can read it, starting here.

And if you like that...

This year, Carroll's doing something that uses the web comics format more creatively, in Margot's Room. This one starts with the following image...

...which is spooky enough in its own right. But every Friday in October, Carroll will add one line to a poem that suggests an item in the picture. Click on that item, and you get the next chapter of the story. Pretty nifty. And though the story's not in horror territory yet, that opening image promises something ugly...

Hope you enjoy. And if you do, you can read even more comics from Emily Carroll here. It's all good stuff, much of it in a sort of children's book style. My favorite is maybe Out the Door. Which, now that I think of it, is also a horror story. So, hey! Halloween bonus!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The End of the Line: The DC Reboot, Week Four

And here we are in the fourth and final week of the DC Reboot. I mean, all these books will continue along with their new status quo after this, don't get me wrong. But this was the final week that DC will be debuting new books en masse. So how'd they do? Patience, Grasshopper, patience. First, let me review the funnybooks of Week Four...

I, Vampire #1
Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov
Art by Andrea Sorrentino

I was really looking forward to this book, and for that reason I'm just the tiniest bit disappointed in it. It's not a bad comic at all, mind you. Far from it. It's just not quite as good as I'd hoped. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

For the uninitiated (which, I'd guess, would be the vast majority of you), I, Vampire was originally a strip that ran as the lead feature in DC horror series House of Mystery in the early 1980s. I read it and loved it as a kid, which is something I'm sure I'm pretty much alone in; of all the little-known franchises being given a new lease on life in the reboot, this has to be the most obscure. But because I loved it so much, I really wanted this relaunch to work. And, considering that it's written by Joshua Hale Fialkov, whose comic Tumor is one of my favorite indie books of recent vintage, I had high hopes that it would.

And for the most part, it does, offering up a nice slice of epic vampire fiction and in the process almost effortlessly quieting the Twilight jokes that abounded when that cover was released. I'm still not sure why Our Hero's shirtless up there, other than to appeal to the Twilight market, but hey. His girlfriend's nekkid except for some weird vampire body paint, so maybe it's just equal time.