Saturday, October 21, 2017

October's Dark Prince Steve Niles

I have read a great amount of horror and supposed horror over the last 50 years.  Some of it is technically great, but doesn't evoke fear in me.  Some of it is flawed but scares the shit out of me.  I think Humor is a deeply subjective and relative genre.  Horror is even more so.  What scares me might not you.  What I hate you might love.  Horror is hard, I think, for many to write or imagine, because who knows what lingers in the hearts of others?

As a reviewer I have suggested readers find various titles, but I realize, I might enjoy them and you think they suck.  But I refuse to suggest works I dislike, to appease others, or to suit another reader's taste.  As such, while I think there are numerous works worth reading, for me, they are concentrated in a small number of writers of different levels of skill and differently prolific.

For me the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard's take on Cthulhu, Anne Rice, Alan Moore, Brian Lumley, Jamie Delano, Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley hold a special place on my book shelf and in my heart.  Fifteen years ago I added to this list Steve Niles.  I like his prose better than his comics, but I like his comic writing a helluva lot.  One of the reasons, perhaps, that I like his prose better is the lack of an artist to illustrate my mind's eye's horror.  In general I prefer prose for story telling than movies or comic books.  I suspect I am able to imagine scary things via the author's words more than the art to illustrate those words.

Some of the reviews I've read of Steve's work is either YAY I like it or Blech I don't like this.  I do not know altogether why, except perhaps I can explain by an anecdote.  On a movie review site I read a review about a horror movie and the person writing clearly hated the work.  All of the other reviews were 5 stars.  But I thought, I wonder if they've written other reviews, and yes, they had.  And while they seemed to enjoy a great many things, of their horror movie reviews, all received 1 of 5 stars.  I have not watched most of the movies she/he wrote about, but it was clear to me, regardless of quality, they hated the genre of horror.  And anything the reviewer watched sucked because of that.  I really do like Steve's works, and while I have some small quibbles about various small things, none of those matter.  I have only the product before me, and I am not the creative talent writing.

The horror he presents is viscerally powerful.  And while I'd say his bad guys in his works evoke more disdain than horror, more disgust than fear, it works.  The discomfort is very powerfully created.   I have heard from various people that they felt 30 Days of Night was horror porn.  I do not agree, but, this sort of response might be part hatred of horror, or a entirely that horror works too well.  I'd say, for me, if you go to a horror movie and hate it because you were scared, that is a bit like going to the beach and getting pissed off for all of the sand.

His works with Bernie Wrightson did not work as well for me as his work with Ashley Wood or Ben Templesmith.  This is probably going to be perceived as sacrilege.  But, again, you like and prefer what you like.  I will say that I prefer the giant monsters (Kaiju) to the core Universal Monsters, so, I sometimes wish for more and different subjects.  But that is because I am so familiar with the werewolves, Frankenstein's monsters, and vampires that I want what I haven't had enough of.  That is, Yes, I like this ______, I hope he does something with a giant monster soon.

 Of all of Steve's work I'll say some I like more than others, but what I liked the most was Freaks of the Heartland.  The story is of a group of kids with oddities of their flesh that cause them to be perceived as "freaks".  Along with beautiful art that is highly expressive, there is the written aspect of the story that is really sweet and filled with compassion for others.  Who knew a guy who only wears black t-shirts and loves horror could have a warm heart?

I write all this to say I think if you like horror, you will like this.  I might be wrong, I often am, but in this case it wouldn't be because what I am offering isn't good, or only good for the genre and format, no, this is good, whatever elitists and weinies think.  His works fit comfortably in my taste zone.  I think people, especially comic book reading people, are often small minded.  So, I understand not liking what you would never try.  People often do that, and for me it is alien.  I want to taste everything, and by doing so I refine my tastes.

As usual, by writing this and promoting Steve's work, the cynically minded will accuse me of having my nose up his ass cheeks.  I promise, Steve and I are acquaintances but by no means buddies.  I like him, but, what I really like is his writing.  So if you in the midst of writing such an email, perhaps you should stick it straight up your black hole.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

We need more! More horror! In TPB Form. It is Halloween, after all...

By Marv Wolfman
And a great group of artists

Before DC's Vertigo imprint horror was presented in a mostly tame form.  And it would be honest to say that Night Force wasn't exactly extreme.  But, it was different, it was interesting through out, and there was a sense of new about it.  I realize that everyone does not have similar taste, so it was, I am sure, not for everyone, but Night Force had a sense of humor, an aspect of creepy, and it was done when the unlimited tools of non code comics were not yet in style.

This was a collection of bad guys, freaks, and others who were gathered by a mysterious leader.  As much as I might have enjoyed more and darker, the series in each of its three versions maintains an appeal.

The first run, with Gene Colan art and Marv Wolfman writing, is to come out in collected form at the end of this month, that is, Halloween.  But, I suggest it could use TPBing of the whole thing.  It is fun.

Writer: H.P. Lovecraft
Adapted by assorted
Art by assorted

The book series Graphic Classics was often brilliant.  Black and white stories adapting the works of great authors of the past.  In most cases the works were deserving of being brought back into the mind of the present readers.  The best of these works, in my view, were the adaptations of Lovecraft and authors of the Lovecraft circle of writers.  As the publisher seems to no longer exist, I doubt this is possible.

I am a fan of the writing of Chuck Dixon.  I am less a fan of Freddy Krueger and the franchise Nightmare on Elm Street.  But, who knew, this stuff is really quite good.  I think the medium of comic books is perfect for the franchise, and Chuck being a great writer loves being able to tell his stories in that other franchise.  There is one collection, but there were more books than that, and I'd love to see new works by Chuck in this franchise.  His gutsy adventure plus horror, plus the humor of Freddy = awesome.

The Supernaturals came out weekly (or bi-weekly) and was a celebration of many of Marvel's darker heroes and told a story with very striking art and colors.  I cannot promise that you will like it, but I enjoyed it, it has very little pretense and was a work that reminded me of the comics of the 1970s that I enjoyed a great deal.

The Innovation series of Anne Rice's Vampire LeStat was a wild success.  I never knew that a second series came out, Interview with the Vampire.  I've since found the singles, and damn but it is good too.  I have no idea if it would be possible to do a tpb, but I sure would like that.

Friday, October 13, 2017

We could use more, and maybe in tpb format too

Either collect em in TPB, bring out more issues, or do both.  Once again, click on various images to see in larger size.

I remember wanting a lot more of this.  The concept, as it appears, is rather huge, but, when you make it work, huge is an asset.   A mental institution houses a fellow who has to deal with his own demons, the evil predators called doctors, and, illusions.  His town is going to be consumed by insanity.  But, will he survive to save them?  Mark Teague and Derek McCaw didn't get the press they should have, because, this book was sweet.

Whisper, by Steven Grant and quite a number of artists, was a tale of a woman who was also a ninja.  It was well written, not always great but always at least good, and, you could see some young artists, like Norm Breyfogle begin their career.  I liked it, and always thought that comic readers missed out by not getting a large collected tpb of this, and that it isn't still ongoing is rather brutally insane.  Steven Grant is a great writer, one who does work I quite enjoy.

Matt Feazell is a cartoonist with a concept here, a boy raised by ants has super powers, well to the ants this human is a super hero.  And it is funny beyond the concept, he has enemies such as lawnmowers and expectations of others that he is merely human.  I'd love to have more editions of this, as well as a collection.  Hell, I used to buy extra sets to share, so that I could evangelize the world.  Most people liked it.  Those who didn't like it apparently were quite stupid.

This work by Jim Krueger, Matt Smith, Jason Baroody and Brett Weldele featured a society of men, perhaps eternal, who lived in a massive mountain, filled with clockwork.  They were the engine of eternity, they caused and canceled revolutions and wars.  And the series never was finished.  It needs to be done.  Jim promised me a copy, and I gave him a copy of my first book, so, hey, I am due.  Also, despite some format issues, I LOVE the concept.  Others loved the format but couldn't see the depth of the concept.  Oh well.  It needs to be completed.

STRIKE was a comic by two talented fellows, Tom Lyle on art, Chuck Dixon on words.   Of the many reasons I liked this work, the most compelling for me was the back story created to place it in a context of where the power harness came from, and how the world knows about the hero named STRIKE.  It was quite new for its time and I'd love to see it collected in TPB.  Dammit.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

More Truman Gold to Uncover

Any reasonable human having read my writing online over the last 15 years (and holy shit to 15 years) knows I have favorite creative talents.  I make no secret of it.  And Timothy Truman is among my very favorite people.  His work speaks to me in his writing talent and art skills, and vice versa.

And beyond talent and skills, dedication to craft, I think T2 is a wonderful human being in a world really not nearly so wonderful others.

This article is specifically to address 4 series of comics that ought to be collected in TPB format.  I have no idea who owns what.  I have no idea if any of these are at all possible.  I liked them.

Click any image to see at full size.

Written by Truman
With Art by Scot Eaton

I appreciate this series for many reasons.  I like the art, and the story, and what I like about it too is the depth of characters.  I felt like I wanted the team to return home whole.  And just where the mission leads will amaze you.  This is a fantastic fun piece of action.

By Truman

This concept is darker than the previous book, the Tribes of the Night have a society and within that is a lawkeeper.  He is a centuries old vampire who is nonetheless a protector of his flock.  Despite some issue with the clarity of various panels on the page, this was a great comic.

By Truman

Three DC characters are on an adventure together, in a dangerous place, with dinosaurs, ninja, Chinese junks, guns, swords and more.  It is a fun adventure, one with the same deft use of character, dialogue and action as other Truman works.  Fun stuff. 

By Truman and Quique Alcatena

The Spider was a character found in pulp novels who was very much different than anything out there in certain respects.   He used heavy disguise and clothing to alter his appearance, but tried to take on aspects of vampirism and the horror figures of the day to make himself a creature of the night, not simple a vigilante with a gun.  He had connections to different cultures, different sorts of philosophies, and was not a killer of police or people on the good side of the law.  Truman's take on this character is reflective of his own sensitivities and of all the works out there I think this could be a beefy addition to the Truman aisle in the best of TPBs room.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Lords of Order, Lords of Chaos

There is a philosophy called Dualism which holds that there are only two kinds of people in this world: those who divide everything into two categories and those who don’t.
All right; so maybe that’s not exactly what Dualism teaches, but people have been perceiving the world as paired opposites ever since Marduk cleaved the body of Tiamat with his sword and fashioned the world from the two halves. The theme was old when Zoroaster first envisioned the universe as a cosmic struggle between Truth and Falsehood. And so we have Light and Darkness; Yin and Yang; Anima and Animus; Marvel and DC.
Order and Chaos.
I probably first encountered the theme of Order vs. Chaos through Dungeons and Dragons, where it forms one of the axes of it's system of Character Alignment. D&D lifted the idea from two influential fantasy writers. Poul Anderson used this theme in his fantasy novels, Three Hearts and Three Lions and Operation Chaos; as well as his Dominic Flandry series, about an agent of a declining Galactic Empire, working to prevent that Empire’s eventual fall.
Writing about the same time as Anderson, and to a certain extent borrowing from him, British SF writer Michael Moorcock wove Order and Chaos into to his stories about Elric of Melniboné. His tragic hero, Elric, finds himself caught in the struggle between the Gods of Chaos whom his family has served for centuries, and the Gods of Order. Roy Thomas brought Elric to comics in the early '70s, having him appear in a two-part story in Marvel's CONAN THE BARBARIAN. Since then there have been various comics adaptations of Elric published by different companies and drawn by artists such as Barry Windsor-Smith, Walt Simonson and P. Craig Russell.
Inspired by Elric, Jim Starlin created a pair of cosmic buttinskis called Master Order and Lord Chaos, who each manifested himself as a giant disembodied head. Although, they personified opposing principles, they were described as brothers and usually worked together. They understood the need for Balance between their two forces in the Universe, and to that end combined their powers to create an entity called the In-Betweener to embody Balance.
In the 1980s, the gods of Elirc worked their way into DC Comics, with a number of their mystic heroes recast as soldiers or pawns in this struggle. Dr. Fate was originally an archaeologist who gained magical powers by donning the "Helm of Nabu", an artifact created by an ancient Egyptian sorcerer. Nabu was rewritten as one of the Lords of Order and Dr. Fate became their sometimes rebellious servant in their eternal war against the Lords of Chaos. Other characters, such as the Phantom Stranger and Kid Eternity, also got redefined along the Order vs. Chaos axis.
At the time, the notion that Order and Good are not always congruent seemed reasonably profound to me. After all, the Nazis were all about Order, and they certainly were Evil. This theme came up again in the TV series  Babylon 5  in the conflict between the seraphic Vorlons and the malevolent Shadows, aliens which at first seemed to personify Good vs. Evil but later on were seen to embody an arbitrary moral Order vs. a Darwinian Chaos.
Now, I grew up in the wake of the ‘60s, which equated Order with Repression and Chaos with Freedom. There was nothing new about this; G.K. Chesterton, writing at the beginning of the century, began his surreal novel  The Man Who Was Thursday  with a debate between a poet claiming that all art is anarchy and another claiming to be a "poet of Order".
Chesterton’s near contemporary Rudyard Kipling wrote a famous line in his poem "Recessional" about "lesser breeds without the law." Despite the temptation to associate Kipling’s "lesser breeds" with the brown-skinned natives his empire subjugated, in the context of the poem he’s referring to peoples who worship power for its own sake, untempered by a respect for justice and honor. The militaristic Prussians of Kipling’s time and the Nazis who eventually followed them may have been rigid in terms of rules and regimentation, but lawless in their ethical codes.
Later on, I decided the idea of Law and Chaos not equaling Good and Evil wasn’t quite as deep as my comic books thought it was. If your only choices are Order and Chaos, any hero worth his spandex will have to side with Order, because heroes are all about helping people and saving them from destruction. Chaos  causes  destruction and doesn’t care about anybody. Poul Anderson knew this, which is why in his stories Chaos is always a force to be combated. He was an engineer at heart, I think, and associated Chaos with entropy and decay, and associated Order with preservation and building. And he knew his Kipling.
Alan Moore understood this too. In his revolutionary series, V for Vendetta, his hero, V, is certainly an anarchist, an agent of Chaos bringing down a corrupt Order. But once the repressive government has been overthrown, a new and better one must now be built. That is something V is incapable of doing. The anarchist must step back so that a new and hopefully better Order can be created. But anarchy remains waiting in the wings, just to keep Order honest.
Not everybody gets that point. About the time DC reprinted the original V FOR VENDETTA series, they introduced a character in BATMAN named “Anarky” inspired by V and intended to be a sort of libertarian hero out to smash Big Order. To me the character seemed simplistic and he never appealed to me.
Neil Gaiman gently mocked the eternal conflict between Order and Chaos in his graphic novel  Books of Magic. When Dr. Fate explains the struggle between the two forces, young Tim Hunter comments that it sounds like a series of rotten fantasy novels.
"Oh no," Fate replies; "It is the basis of Magic: the imposition of Order on formless Chaos, the release of Joyous Chaos into the Gray monotony of Order..."
To which Tim’s companion John Constantine mutters, "Chaos versus Order indeed. I thought Everyone had heard of Fractals these days. There’s no chaos, no order; just patterns of different levels of complexity."
Perhaps; but dualistic lenses like that of Law vs. Chaos are how we try to make sense of these patterns.

At least that’s what a person of Lawful Alignment would say.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Comics that a kid in Wisconsin bought with paper route money and

... birthday money, and a wee bit of an allowance.

I am trying to do the occasional article here about comics that are current, interviews, reviews if such work comes my way, and some PR.  I love comics.  So this will be a recurring theme now and then, because comics that are new alone, are not the whole picture.  They are comfort food, they inspired me to be moral as much as my fallen flawed psyche can be, and led me to becoming a creative artist, however successful or not.  I think about them in terms of being art.  I think about them as things to make children smile.  And I think of all the amazingly talented comic industry professionalsI have met due to comics, and additionally, some truly awesome people who have become my friends also love comics. 

If I received an allowance, I didn't spend it all.  I saved most of anything I had.  But, I'd eventually fork over a quarter for a comic, and OMG, I was spellbound.  I was also somewhat specific in my taste, comics with cartoon characters didn't move me.  Funny animals weren't my thing.  I liked the genres of war, giant monsters and superheroes. I still do.  I'd add horror, and stuff that defies any convenient label.  And while my tastes have matured and evolved, the reasons I like those genres are not the same. 

My brother was a guy who read a shit ton of books, all the time, and from an early age.  We didn't altogether share taste in comics, but we both loved comics.  Escapism is one reason to read comics, and beyond simple escapism, appreciating great story telling, being moved by the art or characters, made comics different from kids books, they were ageless, at least if they were well done.  Escapism is one thing.  A creation of art is another thing.  But maybe another reason I read them, is that it gave me, a kid who stood out in crowd being chubby faced, tall, and naive, an agency to respond to bullies.  No, I didn't whip out my cape and beat them bloody.  No I didn't turn invisible and make them look to be fools.  I read in the comics stories about good defeating evil, people faced with impossible odds, and still achieving victory.  I was able, through comics to see and imagine the defeat of enemies, and bullies are assholes needing an ass whipping.

I was far more familiar with DC characters like Batman and Superman than the Marvel comics characters.  I can't say, however, that it was due to enjoyment of the comics.  For the most part Marvel stories didn't get told in a single issue, while DC mostly did.  As a kid in a town with very spotty comic book sources, I didn't want to be left hanging and never know what happened.  As an adult I've even bought comics that had been continued next issue, and left me stranded.  Some of the comics weren't good at all in retrospect, but damn it felt good to get an answer.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Just in time for Halloween TPBs that ought to be

Alan Grant writer
Val Semeiks art

Despite the quality of both writing and art, Demon gets no love.  Despite the story telling that is modern in aesthetics and humorous, it gets no love from the publisher.  DC Comics was about to create the Vertigo imprint, and Demon would have fit in, but, for whatever reasons, it never became a work for that imprint.  The early run of Demon has been ignored, but there were two late series collections, written by the more sexy name, Garth Ennis.  And however good that was, the work that preceded it was better.   It ought to be captured in tpb.  It is criminal that it is not.

Doug Moench writer

Gene Colan   art

The Tom Mandrake John Ostrander run of Spectre was beyond good, and it has been collected little by little.  This version was not at all bad, and I enjoyed it.  It was not the same work as the previously mentioned version.  But, whatever the differences, this version was both well written, thought provoking, and lovely to look at.  I say this despite my not being a great fan of Gene Colan's art, but this comic required a dark moody presentation, and Colan did succeed in doing that.  The tone of this version of The Spectre was somewhere between the cosmic and the superhero.  The stories were interesting, if not nearly as deep as the Ostrander/Mandrake version.  I say all this and recommend that it be collected, because there are plenty of crap books out there, why not reprint the many good ones?

Rafael Nieves, Len Kaminski writing
Michael Bair, Peter Gross art

I am sorry to include this one.  Not because it doesn't deserve collecting, I think it does, but because I believe that it could have been so much better.  The Son of Satan was given a regular series and the comic shows how he is divided between his desire to be fearsome, and powerful, but somehow become more than his lineage/father.  He isn't a hero, but isn't quite a villain.  This work is often times exciting but it does not reach the depths of darkness possible, due, partly I think, to the limits of the audience and limits of expression.  Still, it is interesting, well drawn with writing that was good despite the desires to keep the stories within a certain boundary of taste or expression.

The advent of the TPB helped many readers sit in one take a comic released, originally, serially.  It allowed a less disjointed experience... and thereby some comics with subtle building of plot lines and story ideas could become better by the experience of a single read of the entire run in question.  This book would read much better in tpb form, and eventually readers were entertained by Warren Ellis's take on the character.  But, Marvel needed a Vertigo section of the publisher so the power of expression could be unleashed.  I enjoyed it, but always wanted more.