Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Wayback Wednesday - The Occult Files Of Doctor Spektor #1

WAYBACK WEDNESDAY

THE OCCULT FILES OF DOCTOR SPEKTOR #1


After the Golden Age of horror comics (the 1950's) came to a screeching halt, thanks to the Comics Code Authority, pretty much any comic book horror material was to be found in titles slipping through a CCA loophole in the form of larger-sized black and white "magazines".  

But in the 1970's, publishers began to push against the CCA and there was a major resurgence of horror comics in color. . .Swamp Thing, Werewolf by Night, Tomb of Dracula, and many others.  Unfortunately, the horror resurgence was pretty short-lived and didn't really last far into the 1980's.

From what I understand, the short life of the 1970's horror resurgence was mostly due to the fact that the comics weren't particularly horrific. . .99% of them would more properly be described as "Supernatural Comics" rather than "Horror Comics", mainly because they still adhered to the CCA even though they were skirting around the edges of it.  

What we have here for this edition of Wayback Wednesday is a NON-CCA horror comic that came out in 1973 as part of that big horror resurgence. From what I've been able to find out about it, Doctor Spektor is a practically forgotten character, and remains little more than a footnote in horror comic history.

So let's take a closer look at this artifact from the 70's, shall we?

THE OCCULT FILES OF DOCTOR SPEKTOR #1 (Gold Key)

So right off the starting line, this comic has a VERY nice painted cover.  It's a bit deceptive as to the actual story inside, but that was pretty much par for the course when it came to horror comics in general.  I couldn't find a credit for the artist, but it LOOKS like the same artist who did the interiors (Jesse Santos).  In any case, no matter who did the cover, it's 70's-tastic in every way!

Inside, there's two stories.  "Cult of The Vampire", the longer main story, and a 4 pager in the back by the same creative team called "Little 'Ol Coffin Maker".  I'll take a look at them separately.

So when I take a look at the art and script credits, something catches my eye.  The name of the writer (Don Glut)  seems familiar, but at the same time, not familiar for some reason.  I look up his name and it hits me.  He wrote one of my favorite books. . .one I read at least a dozen times when I was younger. . .the novelization of "The Empire Strikes Back".  

BUT I DIGRESS!

The main story quickly introduces us to the main character. . .Doctor Adam Spektor, his assistant. . .Lakota Rainflower, and the general series setup. . .he's a scientific investigator of monsters and the paranormal and she's a paranormal skeptic.  Like I said, it's all done very quickly.  The info-dumping takes up about 2 pages and isn't intrusive or annoying.  The writing in general moves at a snappy pace through the whole book, but I really liked how the introductions were handled.

The story itself goes like this:

Doctor Spektor has been researching a drug that might possibly cure vampires.  He hears about a possible vampire in Transylvania, so he decides to go there, hunt down the vampire, and try to cure him.  The vampire in question is called Baron Tibor, who was defeated and staked about 40 years before, and has been revived by a cult who will serve him in exchange for immortality.

When Spektor and his assistant arrive in Transylvania, they are immediately targeted and attacked by the cult, leaving Spektor for dead and bringing Rainflower to Baron Tibor so that he can feed on her.

What the cult doesn't realize is that Baron Tibor doesn't WANT to lead a cult or feed on the innocent any longer.  While trapped between the world of the living and dead when he was staked in the grave, he realized he was a monster and deserved to be punished.  He's more than a little angry that his punishment has been interrupted, so he fights his blood thirst and flees the cult. . .but leaves Rainflower in their hands.

Doctor Spektor and Baron Tibor encounter each other, and after a short battle, Tibor tells Spektor the truth of things, he's a changed man and wants to do no harm, and will help Spektor rescue Rainflower.  In exchange, Spektor agrees to use his new drug on Tibor and try to cure him of his curse.

They rescue Rainflower with a ruse where Tibor pretends he's going to drink her blood, then make their escape and leave the cult in the hands of a mob that has gathered from the nearby village.  Spektor's cure isn't a full cure, Tibor is still a vampire, but the drug eliminates his thirst for blood.  They part ways as friends, with Tibor promising to make the best of his second chance.

Overall, I really liked this story quite a bit.  The writing was snappy and moved at a fast pace, and the twist of the vampire not wanting to be a vampire any more was unexpected.  I could definitely tell that this was a product of the 70's with some of the dialogue, but that didn't make the story any less enjoyable.  

As for the art, I found it to be very nicely done, with a dark and moody, detailed look to it that perfectly matched the story being told.  I had never heard of this artist, but compared to a lot of the other comics from the 70's I've read, he's really quite good.  I Wiki'd him up and found out that he wasn't very prolific, having only worked on a handful of comics before going into animation, but I think he could have stood toe to toe with any of the more well known artists at the time.  His work on this particular issue is outstanding!

As for the second story:

It's done by the same writer and artist, so it shares the same snappy writing and fantastic art as the main story.  It involves a hunted criminal who breaks into a coffin maker's shop to hide from the police.  He doesn't realize that the coffin he hides in was specially made for Count Dracula himself.  The coffin maker locks him inside, and when Dracula comes to pick up his new coffin, there's a little something extra waiting for him when he gets home and opens it up.

For being so short, the backup is really enjoyable.  I think in most part due to the talents of the writer and artist.  It COULD have fallen flat on its face, but it didn't.  It wasn't quite as funny as it was trying to be, but still a very nice little piece of filler.

CONCLUSION

I bought this comic at a flea market for $1 and had never heard of Doctor Spektor before.  Now I want to try and find more issues (it had a 24 issue run) of this title.  The story was unexpectedly good, the art was fantastic, and all in all I have to say that was probably one of the best dollars I've ever spent.  I only have one real negative with this book and it's that I feel the lack of a CCA seal was totally wasted here.  Being a horror book focusing on vampires, it was remarkably bloodless for not having CCA approval.  That small gripe aside, I would definitely suggest this issue to any fan of 70's horror comics that hasn't read it yet.

Up Next. . .

Back to Longbox Junk business as usual until next Wayback Wednesday.

I wondered what happened to those great anthology titles of the 1970's when I reviewed Marvel's 2009 "Astonishing Tales" mini.  So now let's take a look at one of DC's efforts to revisit the anthology. . .

Vertigo's 5 issue return to "Weird War Tales".

Be there or be square!


Sunday, July 16, 2017

Longbox Junk - Terminator: The Burning Earth

TERMINATOR:
THE BURNING EARTH



Welcome back to 1990.  A long-ago time where people apparently didn't understand the concept of "Backup Power Generators" and they didn't know there were  going to be several movie sequels to The Terminator. . .
TERMINATOR: THE BURNING EARTH (NOW Comics)
ISSUE 1
Right out of the gate, let's get this out of the way. . .this is NOT the Alex Ross we all know and love. 
This is ALEXANDER Ross's first professional comic work.
It's not bad at all, it's pretty damn good, really. . .but it's not superstar Alex Ross as we have come to know hm. It's dark and pretty muddy in some spots. It's a lot rougher than his work to come. The lines aren't sharp and defined in his more well-known hyper-realistic style. This book looks like he drew it with colored pencils. That said, like I said above, that doesn't make it bad at all. You can see flashes of brilliance to come here and there, but there are also some pretty rough spots.
The story is as dark and grim as the art. It's 40 years after the first Terminator movie (this book came out before T2, so it has nothing to do with the timeline established in later films. It's based on the first movie only) and John Connor is a grizzled, grey-haired warrior tired of fighting to the point that one scene shows him with a gun in his mouth wishing he could sleep for more than an hour at a time. Pretty brutal. No "Hasta La Vista Baybee" quips in this book.
I have to say I liked this first issue a lot. If you read it, you just have to come into it with the viewpoint that ONLY the first movie existed at this time. I have high hopes for the rest of the series.
If there's one thing I really have to complain about. . .and really it's more of a questionable thing. . .it's that Ross doesn't draw the Terminators like they were in the movie, with the skull-like heads and skeletal metal frames, but more like. . .Cylons? They have red-lit slits for eyes and helmet-like heads. WTF?
ISSUE 2
This issue has the best cover of the series. . .except for one thing. I actually mistook the white highlights in her hair for fingerprints (I bought these at a flea market so I wasn't surprised), but when I looked closer I saw they were intentional.
Those rough spots on the otherwise fantastic cover carry over into the issue itself. The art veers from awesome to crap from page to page and even sometimes from panel to panel. There's only two humans who are distinguishable. . .Connor and DeVerona. Connor because of his gray beard and long hair and DeVerona for his eye patch. I'm going to have a hard time caring for the inevitable deaths to come if I can't even tell the characters apart.
The story itself switches perspective to that of Skynet when it decides that allowing 3.7% of humanity to survive means that its programming is flawed and decides it's time to repair that flaw with some close range nuclear bombing.
I'm still liking this a lot. Second issue not as strong as the first, though. . .and the subplot of Skynet creating sexy woman terminators (like the one on the cover) just seems like an excuse for Ross to draw some awesome D-Cups because "Aurora" is actually the most detailed art in the issue.
ISSUE 3
The quality of the art takes a serious dip in this issue, with hardly any flashes of the brilliant artist to come to be found. The entire issue is extremely dark and muddy. At first, I was like "It's raining and at night. Okay." But then one of the humans yells out "Sun's going down. We don't want to be out here after dark!" And I was like, "This is supposed to be during the DAY? WTF Alexander Ross? WTF?"
And then there's still the Cylon Terminators. I'm wondering if Ross watched the movie before coming on this project. Maybe he should have. . .
Still, all things considered, despite the rough art, this was a pretty good issue. The weakest of the bunch so far, but not BAD. . .just not great.
ISSUE 4
The art improves a good deal in this issue over the last. Unfortunately, the writing takes a turn for the worse as the humans assault the Skynet CPU and its power station in separate teams. Once again, I find it hard to care for any of these characters, as they are hardly distinguished between in either the art or the story. There is a decent sense of urgency, but there is also a bit of ex machina as Skynet's nuclear bombs are so powerful they cause seismic disturbances that weaken it. Skynet is located in a NORAD base modeled after Cheyenne Mountain. A base created specifically to stand strong if a nuclear bomb is dropped directly on top of it. "Thunder Mountain" is in Nevada. Earthquakes from the bombing of Phoenix, Arizona shouldn't even bother it.
Then there's the idea that "Thunder Mountain" is powered by an outside power station and has no internal backup power. Ridiculous.
Still, despite having to suspend disbelief twice in 32 short pages, it's not BAD. . .it's just sort of lazy and not well thought out.
ISSUE 5
And here we are at the big finish!
Unfortunately, this series ends with a whimper after it started with a bang. A damn shame.
Where Ross's art slumped a bit, then quickly improved, Fortier's writing went on a steady decline after a great setup.
I'm not sure if the blame can be placed on 1990 and that the internet didn't really exist at the time the way we know it now, but to base the climax of a story where the villain is basically a supercomputer gone mad on "If we just turn off the power, the computer is defeated" just seems so ridiculous that it pretty much ruined the ending for me as the human forces did exactly that. . .turned off the power by blowing up a power station. And there wasn't a backup power source in "Thunder Mountain". They just. . .switched off Skynet and won the day.
Didn't they have backup generators in 1990? I realize the writer may not have understood the concept of "Internet" or "Cloud Storage" as we do today, but one has to wonder if Fortier understood the concept of "generator".
Then there's the whole "Aurora Model Terminator" that was introduced in issue 2. I think I called it right as an excuse for Ross to draw some D-Cups because after the big introduction, she was forgotten until this last issue, where she caught a grenade and was unceremoniously blown up. But hey, at least she looked great!
CONCLUSION
All in all, it was. . ,.okay.  The suspension of disbelief in the last two issues pretty much ruined the ending for me.  I'd still suggest this mini, if just to see how far Alex Ross has progressed.  The story itself isn't bad, it's just not great, and can't really be considered part of "Terminator Canon" because about everything in it was gone with the release of T2 a few years later.  Well. . .at least we got a superstar artist out of this, so the good outweighs the bad.
Up next. . .
Wayback Wednesday with a relic of the 70's horror comic resurgence.
From The Occult Files Of Doctor Spektor #1

Be there or be square!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Longbox Junk - Astonishing Tales (2009)



ASTONISHING TALES
(2009)


What we have here is a brief return to the anthology format comics that used to be super popular in the past, but are pretty much gone now (and in 2009, when this book came out).  Over the 6 issues of this run, there are 3 continuing stories and 1 short one shot story in each issue. Let's break it down and take a look at them separately, shall we?

ASTONISHING TALES (Marvel, 2009)

ISSUE 1
A VERY nice wrap-around cover (above) from Rocafort on this one!

Punisher/Wolverine: I LOVE Rocafort's artwork, which is why I even picked this series up in the first place. It's insane how good this guy is! Here, I especially liked his version of Wolverine. Not my favorite character. I like him better when in "Logan" mode instead of in his X-men outfit and was glad to see that's the way he's shown in this story. The story itself is a well-written introduction, if a bit simple. Punisher and Wolverine meet in a bar in Madripoor and violence ensues as Hydra and some kind of giant creature show up. A very promising beginning!

Iron Man 2020: I'm not familiar with this character at all, but the story does a good job of introducing him in the short space it has. The art is a bit of a let down. . .it reminds me of the "Kid Friendly" Marvel titles on the bottom shelf of the comic shop. This part of the book isn't bad at all. . .it's just not outstanding in any way.

Iron Man: The short one shot explores the difference between the public and private identity of Tony Stark/Iron Man. It SHOULD be good, but falls flat in execution. The art isn't that great and the story is cramped by the writer feeling they just HAD to put some fighting in it. Worst part of the issue.

Mojoworld: I have no idea who ANY of these characters are (2 b-list New Warriors mutants and the ruler of an entertainment obsessed other dimension) but I liked this story a lot. It's played for laughs and the art reminds me of something that would be in a Deadpool comic. Some of the jokes fall a little flat, but this was a pretty good introduction due to the totally ridiculous nature of the story.

All in all, this book was 50/50. Two good stories bookending an okay story and a pretty bad one.

ISSUE 2
With one exception, this issue was stronger than the first. Let's take a look at the pieces separately. . .

Punisher&Wolverine: This was the exception. Rocafort's art remains the stellar high point of this series, but the story this time out was pretty much just a fight scene. Not bad, but not as good as the introductory chapter.


Iron Man 2020: The art on this one remains the most "Comic booky" of the series, but the story was nicely done by concentrating on the character of Arno Stark Starking it up at a high class party. The ending makes me think this one might slide off the rails first as Starks luxury skyliner is attacked by sky pirates. . .

M.O.D.O.K. : Not a bad little story. Played for laughs as the villain comes across a superhero themed restaurant and attacks it, only to be foiled by a sticky dart to the eye shot by a kid. The story was ridiculous, but what stood out was the best art by Ted McKeever I've ever seen. Normally he's a bit. . .abstract. Here, his art is awesome!


Mojoworld: I liked this part the best this time out. Mojo and the 2 B-List mutants make an entertainment deal and it's negotiated by them playing hilarious Mojo versions of different earth game shows and board games. There were several laugh out loud moments here, and the artist nails the visuals. Very well done.

ISSUE 3
First. . .that cover by Rocafort. ASS-Tastic!

Wolverine & Punisher: This episode is split between finishing the big fight scene from last issue and Wolverine, Punisher, and Tyger Tiger talking amongst themselves trying to figure out what's going on. It's not bad, and Rocafort can make people sitting around talking look GOOD. Still. . .if he wasn't on art, this would probably be the worst of the bunch this time out.


Iron Man 2020: This one starts to slide as Arno Stark suits up and heads into battle along side a team of. . .babies in robot bodies (Wha ?) against a sky pirate ship. Definitely belongs on the kiddie rack.


Mojoworld: Not quite as funny as last time out, but still got a few chuckles as the Mutants start making a Civil War movie starring a bunch of superheroes. . .in the civil war (and civil war uniforms). . .but fighting about superhero registration. Complete with a "Gone With The Wind" love scene between Jessica Jones and Luke Cage wearing a wig. Completely ridiculous. The double page spread of the "Civil War" itself is over the top detailed.

Spider-Woman: A short, but sweet tale with outstandingly realistic artwork by Fiona Staples with Jessica Drew being lured to investigate vampire snuff films with the intent to make her the victim without knowing she's Spider-Woman. It's a nice little story. Nothing special, but it has it's moment. The art is the star of this particular show.

All in all, this issue slumped a bit compared to the others.

ISSUE 4
Probably the best cover in the series on this one. . .

Wolverine & Punisher: The story picks up a bit as the hunted become the hunters in a plan to turn the tables on Hydra. Some good moments in this one, including Punisher telling Wolverine how he buys his famous skull shirts in bulk. The art is still stellar. I hate Wolverine's yellow X-men costume but Rocafort manages to make it look badass anyway. Nicely done.

Iron Man 2020: This story has devolved from a nice examination of the character of Arno Stark into a standard superhero punch-fest against a bunch of flying robots. Not completely off the rails, but getting there.

Daredevil: Definitely the weak point of this issue. Bad art in an almost completely silent story. If you're going to let the art do the heavy lifting, it has to be better than this. Fail.


Mojoworld: In a riff on "Wedding Crashers", the mutants try to get Mojo laid and fail spectacularly when they give a bunch of money to Elektra to do the deed and she thinks she's being paid to kill. Completely ridiculous, but still extremely enjoyable. And once again, the art on expressions is spot on. Probably the best part of this issue.

ISSUE 5
Hitting the home stretch!

Wolverine & Punisher: Another pretty much all fighting episode as Hydra doubles down on their efforts to take out Punisher & Wolverine. Not great, but not bad. Has some pretty good moments, like the smile on Punisher's face as he pulls a giant 90's-style rocket launcher from a duffle bag. Of course, Rocafort's art saves this from being a groaner of a punch fest.


Iron Man 2020: Unfortunately, this one doesn't have Rocafort to save it. The art belongs on the kiddie rack and the story is now all about robot punching and nothing else. Too bad. It started pretty strong.


Shiver Man: Now HERE'S the star of this show (to me, anyway). I have no idea who this character is, but this short silent (except for caption boxes) story is dark, moody, and has me interested to find out more about the ghostly western gunman it features, who is apparently doomed to walk the earth until there's no more earth to walk. Fantastic!

Mojoworld: A hilarious sequence of vignettes featuring takeoffs on cop movies, romantic comedies, Princess Bride, and so on. This story hasn't failed to entertain me yet. Probably the strongest part of the series just for embracing the total lunacy of itself.

ISSUE 6
And now for the big finish!

Wolverine & Punisher: Not a bad ending. It all wraps up nicely. All in all, it was a very simple story. . .pretty much a cliche "Two characters searching for the same thing on different paths get thrown together against their mutual enemy" comic book team up. Fortunately, the superior art of K. Rocafort elevated it above the mundane level of the overused story. 


Iron Man 2020: This one started strong and went on a quick slide down into robot punching territory. The art and the story (after the first 2 episodes) puts this one on the level of the "All Ages" Avenger and Spiderman books. Too bad. . .I really enjoyed it at first, with the great introduction of Arno Stark who is (if at all possible) an even bigger jerk than Tony Stark. I'd say this turned out to be the worst of the 3 continued stories in this series.

Sabra: Never heard of this character. Even though the idea of an Israeli superhero is interesting, this story doesn't really make me want to find out more. The art is incredibly "90's Good/Bad Girl" cheesecake. No bueno. . .

Mojoworld: This was probably the most consistently entertaining continued story. The art never failed to hit the mark. The writing always had at least a chuckle in it. The finish is no exception, as the Mutants make a Magnum P.I./Indiana Jones mashup before figuring out how to get home without becoming Mojo's slaves. Well done all the way through on this one.

CONCLUSION


Overall, I really enjoyed this series and would certainly suggest it.  It had a few slips, but not so much that I had to force myself through.  Wolverine & Punisher had the best art. Mojoworld was the most entertaining. Shiver (from issue 5) was the best of the one-offs. All things considered, both good and bad, I'd certainly suggest this series. . .but it would probably be better in Trade with the separate stories put together.

Up Next. . .


Travel back in time with me to a long-forgotten age where the internet was in its infancy, there were no smart phones, and an unknown artist by the name of Alexander Ross was just starting out in comics. . .NOW Comics Terminator: The Burning Earth mini-series.


 Be there or be square!

Wayback Wednesday - X-Men #35

WAYBACK WEDNESDAY
X-MEN (vol. 1) #35


Face front, true believers! For this week's Wayback Wednesday edition of Longbox Junk we take a trip back to 1967 for some Merry Marvel Mutant Madness, guest starring the one and only Wisecracking Wallcrawler. . .The Sensational Spider-Man! 

Sit back and enjoy another comic review nobody ever asked for, brought to you by the Astounding Authorship (AND Humongous Humility) of yours truly!

X-MEN #35: Along Came A Spider

So the story basically goes like this:  Banshee is in Europe on the hunt for a sinister group called Factor 3.  He discovers their hidden lair, but is attacked and defeated by a spider-like robot.  Before he is captured, he manages to send a message to the X-Men about his discovery, and tries to warn them about the robot, but the message is incomplete. . .just telling them to "Beware the Spider".

IN THE MEANTIME. . .

As the X-Men ponder the mysterious message, Peter Parker (AKA Spider-Man) has chosen that EXACT time to take a motorcycle ride out in the country, where he is attacked by a Spider Robot that Factor 3 sent to recon how much of a message Banshee was able to get through to the X-Men.  While he is fighting the robot, the X-Men get an alert from Cerebro about an evil mutant nearby.  They rush to check things out.  Spider-Man defeats the Spider Robot and it self destructs just before the X-Men arrive on the scene.  

It quickly turns into a classic "Heroes battle each other until they discover that there's been a mistake made" situation.  Spider-Man hilariously and easily defeats the entire (well. . .almost entire.  Jean Grey stays back at base to monitor communications) X-Men team single-handed before they get a message from Jean telling them that the message was incomplete and that Spider-Man isn't the enemy.  They all sort of apologize to Spidey and then take off in Professor X's Rolls Royce, leaving Spider-Man standing there wondering what the hell just happened.  The X-Men get back home and start making plans to head to Europe in order to rescue Banshee.  The End. . .To be continued.

Okay.  So let's break it down a bit. . .

Overall, a pretty simple story.  Mostly an elaborate excuse to get Spider-Man into an X-Men comic, as far as I can tell.  The story is pretty much propped up by a string of improbable coincidences and extreme stretches of comic book logic.  It seems like they were struggling a bit to get this crossover done and still fit in with the ongoing story being told (Professor X is missing, kidnapped by Factor 3).

Not that the writing is bad.  Roy Thomas does a fine job with the dialogue, especially during the fight between Spidey and the X-Men.  It's really entertaining in that bombastic early Marvel way.  It's just that the PLOT itself is forced and even somewhat confusing.  Spider-Man picks the EXACT day all this is going down for a quiet day in the country, AND he ends up in the EXACT spot the Spider Robot lands. Cerebro can distinguish between good and evil mutants?  Cerebro can detect a ROBOT made by a mutant?  Jean JUST happens to find Xavier's note about putting a special crystal in Banshee's headband that can be reached by adjusting Cerebro's frequency? So on and so forth.  I haven't read a LOT of these older X-Men issues, but I have to wonder if Cerebro was used as such a Deus Ex Machina crutch as often in other issues as it was in this one. . .

But like I said, it's not all bad.  I thought it was great how the X-Men had to drive around in a borrowed car, and how Spider-Man was basically spanking the whole team single-handed before they were like, "Sorry, our bad." and took off, leaving him standing there by himself wondering what just happened, and thinking the X-Men were a bunch of nuts.  I actually got a pretty good laugh out of that.

So that was the story. What about the art?  The cover of the book is fantastic!  It's bright, energetic, and hits all the marks for a classic Marvel cover that I'd want to put in a frame on my office wall for my rotating comic art collection.  The interiors are. . .decent.  Not bad, but there's nothing very inspired about it.  No panels stand out as being particularly impressive.  The art tells the story just fine, but it doesn't try any harder than that.  There are also a few pages with some sloppy coloring, but not nearly as bad as other comics from the same time, and so they don't really distract from the overall picture.  If I had to use one word to describe the art in this issue it would be "Workmanlike", even though I'm not sure if that's even a word.  The artist did their job, but that was it.

CONCLUSION

All in all, I liked this issue.  Sure, the story was contrived and extremely forced, but it had some good moments. The art was okay, and the issue has a very nice cover.  What more could you ask for in a 50 year old comic book?  I've seen issues of more recent comics that make this one look like a masterpiece, so it speaks to the quality of Stan Lee era Marvel comics that this issue still stands up and entertains after so many years.  Despite its faults, it's just plain fun!

Up Next. . .

Back to Longbox Junk business as usual until next Wayback Wednesday.
It's 9 Stories in 6 issues with Marvel's 2009 Astonishing Tales mini.

Be there or be square!