Friday, October 19, 2018

Longbox Junk Halloween - DC House of Horror

Welcome back to Longbox Junk's Halloween Party!

Just remember. . .Human Resources is still coming in on Monday, and they don't base decisions on how much you had to drink.  Got it?  Let's do this!

Previously, I reviewed a handful of DC's annual Halloween Specials and was pretty disappointed.  For the price they were charging, there were very few good stories.  The running theme seemed to be 2 good, 2 bad, and the rest filler in all three issues I took a look at.  Worse. . .for comics with taglines like "Embrace the Terror!", there wasn't a single story that really could be called a horror story.  They were mostly just DC Superheroes in sorta spooky situations or having Halloween fun.

If I'm paying a solid 6 bucks on a comic shouting "13 TALES OF TERROR!" on the cover, is it unfair to expect possibly getting some horror stories?  Look. . .I get it.  DC was trying to focus a bit more on the fun side of Halloween than on terror.  There's nothing wrong with that.  They weren't all bad, but I was disappointed that what they were selling and what I got were two different things.

SEE THE REVIEWS HERE:

DCU Halloween Special 2008

DCU Halloween Special 2009

DCU Halloween Special 2010

So why am I going on about three comics I've already reviewed instead of getting to the comic at hand?  Because the comic at hand today is DC's 2017 Halloween Special. . .titled DC House of Horror.  Will THIS Halloween Special actually live up to its name, or will I once again feel the bitter sting of an EIGHT DOLLAR comic book delivering two bucks worth of quality?  Let's find out!

DC HOUSE OF HORROR
DC (2017)
Cover by Michael Wm. Kaluta

BUMP IN THE NIGHT: A SUPERMAN STORY
SCRIPT: Edward Lee
PENCILS: Howard Porter

Martha Kent is relentlessly pursued by a malevolent creature from another world that crash-lands on her Kansas farm.

This is a great opener for this issue!  The story is told in an extremely cinematic style in both writing and art for an Elseworlds-style retelling of baby Superman's arrival on Earth.  It's a pretty brutal little story that's basically a "monster chase", but I'm happy to finally see some actual horror in one of DC's horror anthologies.  
A solid 5 out of 5!




MAN'S WORLD: A WONDER WOMAN STORY
SCRIPT: Mary SanGiovanni
PENCILS: Bilquis Evely

During a Ouija board party, a young woman becomes possessed by the spirit of an ancient Amazon warrior and goes on a bloody killing spree.

Not bad.  Not quite as good as the opening story, but as far as these anthologies go, 2 for 2 good stories is a solid start.  I liked the idea of Diana being an ancient spirit, and how a lot of this story is left up to the reader to figure out what is happening (Diana speaks in a foreign language.  Greek, maybe?)  Diana's brutal joy in slaughtering men is pretty terrifying, just check out that insane grin below!  This one gets a 4 out of 5.




CRAZY FOR YOU: A HARLEY QUINN STORY
SCRIPT: Bryan Smith & Brian Keene
PENCILS: Kyle Baker

The spirit of Harley Quinn torments a construction worker after encountering her during the demolition of Arkham Asylum, turning him into a killer.

And now we come to the first filler story.  The idea of Harley Quinn as a malevolent ghost torturing an innocent man into becoming a killer is pretty interesting, but the execution falls a bit flat.  The art is a bit disappointing here as well.  Normally, I like Kyle Baker's art, but here it just seems really sketchy and rough.  This one barely gets a 3 out of 5.




LAST LAUGH: A BATMAN STORY
SCRIPT: Nick Cutter
PENCILS: Rags Morales

Bruce Wayne is forced to confront the truth of why he can never defeat The Joker. . .because he IS the Joker.

This story is probably my favorite in this issue.  It's a VERY dark psychological journey into a different version of Bruce Wayne than we're used to. . .one that killed his abusive parents and was sent to an insane asylum as a child.

This version of Batman is brutal and deranged, but still convinced he's a hero.  His finally realizing that he is is own worst enemy drives him over the edge to suicide.  I really like the mental struggle as Bruce tries to reconcile what he believes and what the truth is about his crusade against crime.  A nice little Elseworlds story and a definite 5 out of 5.




BLACKEST DAY: A JUSTICE LEAGUE STORY
SCRIPT: Brian Keene
PENCILS: Scott Kolins

At the Justice League's Moon Base, Hal Jordan is the last survivor of a virus that has swept over Earth, turning humans into the living dead. . .

I'm not very familiar with Marvel Zombies, but superhero zombies seem to have been pretty well done already.  That said, this is a pretty good story.  Jordan trying to survive against the likes of The Flash and Batman without his power ring makes for a pretty desperate narrative. 

I didn't really like the way that Zombie Batman was drawn, though.   The rest of the art was fine. . .especially the final panel of Jordan blowing up the tower (and himself) to stop the infection from spreading via the League teleporter to other planets.  I give this one a 3 out of 5.



STRAY ARROW: A GREEN ARROW STORY
SCRIPT: Ronald Malfi
PENCILS: Dale Eaglesham

When the "Arrow Killer", a brutal vigilante, takes a beautiful woman prisoner, he discovers that sometimes the predator is the prey. . .

I really liked this story's take on Green Arrow as a grungy, deranged serial killer convinced he's a hero. . .but the twist of his prisoner (Black Canary) ALSO being a serial killer and taking him down was a surprise.  The dark, twisted artwork perfectly compliments the dark and twisted story.  I give this one a 4 out of  5.




UNMASKED: A TWO-FACE STORY
SCRIPT: Wrath James White
PENCILS: Tom Raney

District Attorney Harvey Dent discovers that the serial killer he has been pursuing is actually himself.

And here we are at the first bad story in this collection.  It's toward the end, so at least there's that.  The angle of Dent being the killer is okay, but it's set against a ridiculous giant monster invasion that really makes this story as schizophrenic as Harvey.

 Is it a sorta-noire detective story with a horror twist. . .or is it a Giant Monster B Movie without a hero?  The art is good.  The story is bad.  A disappointing 2 out of 5.



And finally. . .

THE POSSESSION OF BILLY BATSON: A SHAZAM STORY
SCRIPT: Weston Ochse
PENCILS: Howard Chaykin

Voices and visions relentlessly provoke a young man to say a single word.

And we finish this thing off with another bad story.  A damn shame, considering the strong start.  This story isn't quite as bad as the Two-Face entry.  It's actually an interesting idea. . .Billy Batson slowly becoming obsessed with the word "Shazam", seeing and hearing it everywhere, but fearing what will happen when he says it.

Unfortunately, the execution isn't great and the ending when he finally says the word just sort of leaves the reader hanging.  It's supposed to be thought-provoking, but it's just kind of annoying.  A weak 2 out of  5.
CONCLUSION

Overall, I have to say that I liked this DC Horror Anthology quite a bit more than the other three I reviewed earlier this month.  With 4 stories out of 8 being good, 2 being pretty good, and 2 bad ones, the ratio of good to bad is a lot more what I'd expect out of a comic that DC had the guts to ask EIGHT DOLLARS for. 

Value for cost aside, what I really liked about this issue was that there's actual HORROR in it. By taking this issue in an Elseworlds direction, the writers were free to run with some pretty brutal and dark stories.  This comic is NOT for kids.  There's some pretty twisted stuff in here.  But if you're looking for some actual horror in a horror comic, this is a decent way to go.

It's not worth eight bucks, but it's definitely worth a read if you can find it cheap.

Up Next. . .

This Halloween Party ain't over yet!

Be there or be square.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Longbox Junk Halloween - Vampirella Halloween Special 2013

Halloween!  It's that special time of year when children get their first basic lesson in the cornerstone of  Social Democracy. . . Redistribution of Wealth!  I have a giant bowl of candy.  Those who have less candy than me come to collect a portion of my candy under the threat of punishment if I do not comply.  This continues until I have no more candy.  HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

But enough of THAT.  We're here to talk about Halloween comics!

I'm going to come clean right off the top here.  I've never bought a Vampirella comic on purpose.  The 3 or 4 I have in my collection (including the comic at hand) have come to me by way of buying packs of comics where there's 10 random comics for $5 and they're sealed up so you can only see the top and bottom comic.  

Most comic stores have these deals, so I assume you know what I'm talking about. . .it's the true definition of Longbox Junk because it's a total random spin of the wheel on what you're getting beyond those two comics you can see.  

Vampirella is a character that's been around for a long time.  There are a LOT of Vampirella comics out there.  I've never bought a Vampirella comic on purpose because it's pretty obvious that they exist for one reason and one reason only. . .boobs.

I've flipped through plenty of Vampirella comics on the shelf and I find it hard to believe that anyone actually buys Vampirella for the stories any more than when guys protest that they read Playboy for the articles.   

THAT SAID. . .

My opinion of Vampirella is based on an extremely low actual exposure to Vampirella. And so I decided that since I'm having Halloween comic fun and I HAPPEN to have a Halloween Special starring Vampirella, why not give her a chance and actually read one of her stories for once and see if I'm judging these comics unfairly. . .

Let's do this!

VAMPIRELLA
HALLOWEEN SPECIAL 2013


DYNAMITE (2013)
SCRIPT: Shannon Eric Denton
PENCILS: Dietrich Smith
COVER: Joe Jusko

Oh, my. . .

That's actually a pretty sweet painted Jusko cover, but there's NO way I'm hanging that up on my office wall.  And therein you can see part of my problem with actually buying Vampirella comics.  The covers alone invite a bit of judgement.  Moving along!

The story goes like this:

We begin not with Vampirella, but with Eva (who I guess is Dracula's daughter, and some sort of monster hunter.  I admit I have very little information on this "universe", beyond the fact that all the women wear as little clothing as possible).


Eva reads about a ritual to summon a bear-headed Elder God and heads out to stop it.  We jump forward a year to Ukraine where Vampirella gives a motorcycle to a random father and daughter out trick or treating and then heads in to confront a man who has kidnapped a girl and has her tied up in a creepy old house.  As soon as the battle begins, the most metro-sexual vampire NOT in the Twilight franchise jumps in out of nowhere.  Enter Dracula!

Hello, ladies.

It turns out that the "girl" is actually a vampire and one of Dracula's consorts, and that the "serial killer" Vampirella was tracking is actually an animal-headed monster called a Wendigo, and as Dracula and Vampirella team up to take it down, Eva jumps into the fight out of nowhere to deliver the killing blow.  

The three of them hold a short exposition meeting and realize that they have all been lured there for some reason.  Eva has the best lead on the coven of witches responsible, and so they reluctantly team up and jump into Eva's. . .er. . .ATTACK HELICOPTER (?!) and head out on the hunt.


Magical attack helicopter is a bit unexpected and. . . HEY -O!  
Check out the extremely subtle innuendo in the bottom panel

They arrive on the coast near a creepy ruined castle and. . .oh yeah. . .there's a couple of hundred man-bears creatures just sort of hanging out and waiting for their arrival.  Of course, Vampirella has the perfect solution for THAT little problem. . .MACHINE GUN!

I'm no Vampirella expert, but this doesn't seem right for some reason.

So Vampirella is gunning down the ManBearPigs (Hello fellow South Park fans!), on the ground while Eva is strafing them with her attack helicopter.  Dracula takes a more traditional route as he transforms into a demonic man-bat form and rips his enemies to shreds with his bare hands.  The ManBearPigs finally take down the helicopter with. . .a spear. . .and it crashes, but Eva just walks it off out of the flaming wreckage like it ain't even a thang.

At this point, the ManBearPig fodder has been wiped out and all that remains is THE ManBearPig, who kind of hung back out of the battle until it was time for the boss fight.  Vampirella and Eva take on the boss ManBearPig while Dracula heads into the castle to stop the witches from raising the Elder God.  The battle is a rough one, and the ManBearPig almost gets the better of Vampirella and Eva.

There's ALWAYS time to sexy pose during desperate boss fights.

But by working together, they manage to bring the creature down and level their characters up!

Who said these comics were just about boobs?  There's butts too!

Dracula shows back up to inform Vampirella and Eva that there wasn't even a ceremony going on.  The three of them have an exposition huddle and their best guess is that the whole thing was just a trap to take the three of them out by the coven.  Dracula makes his exit because Dracula has better things to do, Vampirella and Eva decide to continue the hunt.

And then the story inexplicably takes a turn for the sentimental as we see that the random father and daughter that Vampirella gave her motorcycle to back at the beginning of things have sold the motorcycle and have use the money to move to the United States, and we close out on the two of them holding hands as their ship passes the Statue of Liberty.  AMERICA!

The end.

Wow. . .where do I even start? 

This is. . .bad.  Okay.  There it is.  It's bad.  From start to finish.  It's so bad.

I came into this comic with an open mind and willing to give it a chance beyond the HR red flag of a cover.  And what did I discover?  I discovered that my instincts about Vampirella were right.  This story is extremely weak and seems to exist only for the purpose of providing pictures of scantily-clad women.  And even THAT fell flat from time to time as there were occasional panels of art that looked unfinished and sloppy.  A couple of examples (2 out of about 6):


The artist left the faces off here, but at least the boobs got done.

Generally speaking, the art is really the only thing this comic has going for it.  The editor allowing obviously bad panels like the ones above to get into a finished product shows me a definite lack of effort.

That obvious lack of effort is a bit of an insult. . .not only to someone like me who isn't a Vampirella fan, but to the Vampirella fan who paid a solid five bucks for this piece of crap.  It's pretty plain to see that Dynamite assumed that Vampirella's boobs would have a built-in fanbase and just dumped this out.

CONCLUSION

I gave this comic a fair chance, even though I'm not a Vampirella fan.  It failed on almost every level.
The story is ridiculous, the characters are weak, and the art swerves from "pretty good" to sketchy and unfinished.  The whole thing shows a lack of effort and in my opinion was an insult to my comic fandom.  It's comics like this that keep this great art form firmly in the realm of the juvenile in the minds of many.  Unless you are a rabid Vampirella fan, I'd suggest you steer clear of this one.

Up Next. . .

Even MORE Halloween fun!  

Be there or be square.






Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Longbox Junk Halloween Retro Review! Tower of Shadows #1

Welcome one and all to another Longbox Junk  special Retro Review edition, where I step away from my usual bargain box fare and take a closer look at some of the older and more "valuable" comics in my collection.

Since it's October and I've been having a bit of Halloween fun here at Longbox Junk, I figure why not throw in a Retro Review of a horror comic while I'm at it?  Why not indeed!  Let's do this!

TOWER OF SHADOWS #1
MARVEL (1969)


Cover by John Romita Sr.

As usual with these Retro Reviews, I like to try and learn a little something about the comic at hand and then share some of my new knowledge, if you don't mind indulging me a few paragraphs. . .

I came into possession of this comic as part of an auction lot of "collector comics" I bid on about 5 years ago.  I ended up paying $75 for 10 comics from the 1960's.  The one I REALLY wanted was a beautiful copy of Gold Key's King Kong adaptation. . .not the most valuable in the lot, but what a cover! 

 I usually buy older comics for their covers, since I have a rotating collection of comic book covers on my office wall at work.  Since this particular comic has a sort of "Meh" cover, all it ever got was a quick flip through before it got boarded, bagged, and exiled to the "T" box of my collection.

But since I don't have too many older horror comics, I decided to give it a chance and take a closer look for this Halloween Retro Review. . .and upon doing a bit of research, I discovered there's some interesting things about this unassuming comic book with a somewhat crappy cover. . .

First off, that cover I keep bagging on (It's not BAD, just sort of "meh") isn't the original cover for this comic.  Jim Steranko originally had another cover ready to roll, but it was nixed by Editor Stan Lee in favor of the John Romita Sr. cover you see above.  Here's Steranko's original cover.  I couldn't find a color version. 

To tell the truth, I still don't think it's great, but I DO like the logo better.

In addition to rejecting Steranko's cover, it seems that Stan Lee (for some unknown reason) forced an unusually heavy editorial hand over Steranko's entire contribution to this comic (the first story, At The Stroke Of Midnight).  Apparently, Steranko and Lee clashed over panel design, dialogue, and even the title of the story (It was originally called The Lurking Fear At Shadow House).  From what I've read, Steranko wanted the story to be a more overt homage to Lovecraft, while Lee just wanted something the kids would like.  

It seems that after Lee changed some of Steranko's dialogue in the finished story, Steranko either quit or was fired (the story is a bit unclear, with conflicting interviews).  Steranko DID return off and on during the 70's to do some covers for Marvel, but basically this was the comic that ended his superstar days as a regular writer/artist for Marvel.  The story that caused the rift between Lee and Steranko went on to win the 1969 Alley Award (an early comic book award program) for Best Feature Story.

To be fair to both Lee and Steranko, there's an interview years later where Steranko admits that MAYBE he might have been up on a bit of a high horse and probably should have let Lee do his job editing the story because. . .well. . .Lee WAS the editor after all.

But enough background.  Let's get into this comic book, shall we?

AT THE STROKE OF MIDNIGHT!
SCRIPT: Jim Steranko
PENCILS: Jim Steranko

In this award-winning story, the meek Lou Fowler and his overbearing wife, Marie explore the mysterious mansion of Lou's recently-deceased Uncle (and not deceased by natural causes. . .Lou pushed him over a cliff at the urging of his wife), searching for his hidden wealth.

During the search, Lou is terrified by a ghostly image of his murdered Uncle pointing to a room that had always been locked.  Beyond the door is a strange library filled with books on witchcraft.  Inside the library, the couple find a door that only opens when Marie accidentally cuts herself and spills some blood.  Beyond the door is a trove of gold and jewels.

As Marie celebrates her new-found wealth, Lou is horrified to discover the way behind them gone, and the only exit from the room leads to an angry crowd. . .somehow his uncle discovered a way to open a portal in time to the French Revolution, and standing beside a waiting guillotine is the uncle himself, commanding the crowd drag Lou and Marie to their deaths.

Okay. . .a pretty good opener.

I didn't realize the connection between the names of Lou and Marie with their eventual fate until I read the story a second time for this review.  It's a nice, under the radar touch.  This whole story is very well written and with the tense atmosphere, the squabbling husband and wife character moments, and twist ending I can EASILY see this little tale as being a great Twilight Zone T.V. episode.

The art is simply superb.  The panel setup is brilliant, and enables a lot of dialogue in a little space.  The figures and backgrounds are excellent in every way, and this unassuming little story is a great illustration of why Steranko was such a superstar during that time.  There's plenty of modern artists that could stand to learn some lessons from studying the way this story is laid out.  The art in this story was not what I expected from a Silver Age comic at all.



FROM BEYOND THE BRINK!
SCRIPT: Johnny Craig
PENCILS: Johnny Craig

Moving along from the excellent opener, we have a middle entry that's a little more more along the lines of what I might expect from a Silver Age comic in terms of art and storytelling. . .

Arthur Watson is a writer deeply in debt desperately trying to finish a book about famous Spiritualist investigator, Hayden Hathoway.  Hathoway is relentless and obsessed with exposing fake Spiritualists, but Watson can't figure out WHY, and Hathoway isn't telling.

On a stormy night, Watson and Hathoway attend a seance put on by the beautiful and enigmatic Madame Angelica.  Unlike other nights where the deception has been easily spotted by Hathoway, the spirits summoned by Madame Angelica seem to be real.  

When the seance ends, Hathoway flies into a rage, destroying the furnishings of the room and trying to find evidence of trickery, but finds none.  Watson is astonished to see that Hathoway is happy at finally failing.  When Hathoway confronts Madame Angelica, she informs him that she knows his secret. 

Hayden Hathoway has been dead for years and the Hathoway before her is a spirit that has been searching for a true medium who can guide him into the afterlife. . .which she does, leaving Watson alone and realizing that he'll never be able to finish his book because nobody will believe him.

Okay. . .interesting. 

It's not a bad story, but the twist ending falls a bit flat.  Hathoway is a spirit that's looking for someone who can open a door to the spirit world.  Okay, fine.  The problem here is that Hathoway is substantial enough to not only be a celebrity worthy of writing a book about, but to also physically tear apart a room.  It doesn't make a lot of sense and it almost seems like the ending is a bit tacked on.

The art is much more in line with Silver Age comics, and is actually better than a lot I've seen.  I'm not a fan of a lot of 60's comic art, but with its heavily-inked lines and expressive characters, the art on this story is definitely on the good end of the Silver Age scale.

Like I said above, this isn't a bad story at all.  Except for the twist ending falling really flat, it's actually pretty good, making Tower of Shadows 2 for 2 for good stories.  For a 60's anthology, that's a strong showing so far.


And finally. . .

A TIME TO DIE!
SCRIPT: Stan Lee
PENCILS: John Buscema

Sebastian Scrogg is a wretched old man, but a brilliant scientist.  Along with his mute assistant, Arthur, Scrogg is desperately in search of a scientific path to immortality.  As he fails in his experiments, Scrogg becomes more and more abusive to Arthur, never realizing that his assistant is smarter than he lets on and is secretly biding his time in order to steal the secret of immortality if Scrogg discovers it.

After distilling the essence of the Redwood tree into a potion, Scrogg is finally successful in his search, but his celebration is short-lived as Arthur beats the old man to death, steals the formula and drinks it.  Afterwards, Arthur discovers to his horror that the formula works and he will be immortal. . .but in the form of a tree rooted in place for thousands of years.

I saw the Silver Surfer team on this story and was right on board with a hearty "Hell Yeah!"

Unfortunately, the story is pretty weak.  It's not bad, let's get that straight.  It's well written, but it's just really predictable.  The twist ending is telegraphed pretty hard, but I can still see this as being a pretty good episode of The Twilight Zone on T.V.

The art, on the other hand.  It easily competes with Steranko's opener.  It's a completely different style, but the dark, exaggerated lines and extreme background detail make every single panel of this one something that your eye just lingers on, soaking it all in.  This unassuming little entry might not be the best story, but it's definitely a showcase for Buscema's fantastic art.


CONCLUSION

I sort of bought this comic by accident and never read it until now. . .and I have to say that I am glad I did.  I learned about an interesting piece of comic book history AND I got to enjoy 3 good stories. . .two of which had some fantastic art.

For a Silver Age anthology title to get it right 3 for 3 without any reprints (Tower of Shadows has all original material)  is an EXTREMELY strong effort in my book.  The stories aren't perfect, but they aren't bad either.  And like I said, two FANTASTIC artist showcase stories and one that's not bad at all makes for a one good looking comic.

Overall, I'd say that Marvel definitely hit it out of the park with Tower of Shadows and it's well worth a read.  They say never to judge a book by it's cover, meaning don't let a pretty cover fool you.  But sometimes it goes the other way as well. . .under the utterly average cover of Tower of Shadows is one damn fine comic.

Up Next. . .

You guessed it, MORE Longbox Junk Halloween fun!

Be there or be square.





Friday, October 12, 2018

Longbox Junk Halloween - Creature From The Depths

Continuing my month of Longbox Junk Halloween fun, I present for your consideration a little item I pulled from the forgotten depths of a dollar box a couple weeks ago.  I bought it for the awesome cover. . .but is the story inside a trick or a treat?  Let's find out!

CREATURE FROM THE DEPTHS


IMAGE (2007)
SCRIPT: Mark Kidwell
PENCILS: Mark Kidwell
COVER: Mark Kidwell
(So if it's bad, there's only ONE person to blame)

So I bought this one shot for the cover, and what a cover it is!  I love it from top to bottom. . .the creepy title font, the colors, the dripping fangs, the detail on the webbed hands, the bubbling water.  There's NOTHING I don't like about this cover.  After I write this review, this comic is going up on my office wall as part of my October Halloween comic cover rotation.  But we're not here just for a cover. 

The Story goes like this:

Herbert and Melinda, down on their luck husband and wife owners of a failing freak show, are approached by a mysterious gentleman with an offer of money and a strange tale to go along with it.  "Mr. Ahto" tells of a small village named Innsmouth where an underwater grotto not far off shore has been discovered to be full of ancient treasure.  Unfortunately, the grotto is guarded by a fierce creature and nobody has survived the attempt to loot the treasure.  Herbert was formerly a diver of some renown, and so Ahto wants to hire him to kill the creature and share the treasure.

Herbert agrees and, along with Melinda and a trusted assistant (Squib) they travel with Mr. Ahto and his two mysteriously clothed and silent bodyguards to the village of Innsmouth and set sail on the rickety steamer "Derleth" to the grotto.

Nope. . .that guy they're working for doesn't look the LEAST bit sketchy, right?

Once there, Herbert dives and makes his way to the grotto, where he discovers a pile of treasure and a horrifying creature guarding both it and a nest of eggs.  Herbert dispatches the creature fairly easily and starts doing an "I'm in the money!" dance.  

Now THERE'S something you don't see every day.

What Herbert doesn't know is that while he's celebrating his relatively easy victory over Momma Creature, on the surface the Derleth has come under attack by Papa Creature.  The monster kills Squib and Mr. Ahto's bodyguards during the battle. . .and they are revealed to be humanoid creatures themselves in the process.  Before Papa Creature can finish off Melinda and Mr. Ahto, he senses the death of Momma Creature and he heads back underwater to attack Herbert.

After an awesome silent underwater battle sequence, Herbert barely defeats the enraged Papa Creature and heads back up to the surface to tell everyone about his successful mission.

I DO love some silent storytelling!

When Herbert gets topside, he quickly discovers the bloody carnage left behind during the battle that took place on the Derleth, but THAT'S not the worst news of the day.  Mr. Ahto has shed his disguise and reveals himself as a disgusting, tentacled monstrosity that is holding Melinda Hostage.

THIS is why you should ALWAYS check someone out before you head off on sketchy treasure/monster hunts with themJust sayin'

Ahto gives Herbert a pretty lengthy villain monologue about how the treasure is cursed and transforms humans into aquatic creatures.  Ahto wants all the treasure so he can be the ruler of all the creatures, and so they can begin dominating the surface world as well. . .but the guardians were too strong for him to defeat, so Herbert was the perfect patsy.  And now that the dirty work is done, Herbert's going to die and Ahto is going to keep Melinda for himself.  And with that, Ahto kills Herbert and we end with Melinda suffering a fate worse than death as the (presumed sex slave) prisoner of Ahto, kept alive only by a thin oxygen line and surrounded by horrific creatures.

No happy ending in THIS comic.

Hmmmmm. . .Okay.  Interesting.

So what we have here is a tale with a lot of obvious nods to the Lovecraft mythos.  It's pretty much a short Lovecraft story in comic form, but with a lot more gore and boobs.  The implied sexual undertones of Lovecraft (and Derleth) are brought right up front in this story.  There's no sex scenes or nudity in the comic, but it's explicit enough that it's definitely not for kids.

For me, I liked the Lovecraftian tone of the story, and I enjoyed it a lot until Ahto explains everything with his villain monologue.  I prefer the more ambiguous Lovecraft endings where things are left more to the imagination. . .but I guess that's a bit harder to do in a comic book.

Still, even with a somewhat weak ending, I found this to be an engaging and enjoyable story.

The art is consistently good from cover to cover.  Kidwell is obviously of the Tim Truman school of highly-detailed, yet exaggerated art.  It edges pretty close to actually copying Truman in quite a few places (the design of Mr. Ahto is an example), but manages to stay JUST this side of being different.

CONCLUSION

From the awesome cover to the extremely bleak ending, I enjoyed this one shot.  It's a pretty simple story and has an ending that's a little too on the nose for me, but as far as a decent little Lovecraft homage horror story with good (if a bit derivative) art goes, I can't ask for much more.  Pick this one up if you can find it.  It's a nice little piece of Longbox Junk.

Up Next. . .

Yep, MORE Halloween Longbox Junk fun!

Be there or be square.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Longbox Junk Halloween - The Fly: Outbreak

Ah. . .Halloween!

It's that special time of the year when you can go to a "pop-up" seasonal costume store set up in an abandoned Best Buy building and find skimpy "Maid" costumes in both child sizes AND XXXL!

Not sure which one is scarier.

BUT. . .

we aren't here to discuss the hilariously depressing commercialism of "Scary Christmas", we're here to talk about comic books!  As promised in my last post, I'm giving DC's Halloween Specials a break as I try to rinse the mediocre flavor of superhero-themed Halloween stories out of my mouth with some actual horror comics.

The comic series at hand is a bit of a strange bird. . .it's a direct sequel to a horror movie that came out in 1989, which makes me wonder just who was asking for it almost 30 years down the road.  Also, the movie itself isn't that well-regarded, and is pretty much considered to be greatly inferior to the original.

The movie I'm speaking of is The Fly II, sequel to the David Cronenberg 1986 masterpiece of creepy body horror, The Fly.  The Fly is considered one of the greatest horror movies made (with an extremely solid 92% on Rotten Tomatoes), with Jeff Goldblum turning in one of his best performances playing a brilliant scientist who accidentally rewrites his DNA by splicing it with a housefly during teleportation experiments.

Over the course of the movie, he slowly transforms into a mutated creature with full awareness of his horrific fate until he is mercy killed at the end by his lover as the transformation becomes complete.

The sequel to The Fly was not as well regarded.  The story involved the son of the doomed scientist from the original being raised from birth in a laboratory by the corporation that was funding the teleportation experiments that killed his father.

Martin (the son, played by Eric Stoltz) discovers the truth about what happened to his father as the same thing starts happening to him and he begins transforming.  Eventually, by combining his flawed DNA with that of the evil head scientist in the teleporter his father built, Martin saves himself, but dooms the head scientist to live as a helpless monstrosity.

None of the original stars or Cronenberg were involved, and movie audiences shrugged and moved on. . .leaving The Fly II as a sort of forgotten relic of the 80's.  Judging by the extremely weak 27% Rotten Tomatoes rating and ho-hum reviews, I'm pretty confident in saying that The Fly 2 was a sequel that nobody really wanted.

I managed to rope my daughter into watching both of these movies with me over the weekend, and am able to confirm that The Fly is a masterpiece of 80's horror, practical effects, and reliable Jeff Goldblum scenery-chewing that somehow managed to capture my daughter's attention for the whole movie, while The Fly II is. . .pretty good.  I didn't find it as bad as a lot of reviews made it sound.  My daughter defaulted to occasional glances at the screen between whatever was more interesting on her phone about halfway through.

So why am I spending so much time on the movies when it's the comics we're here for?

Because I have to warn you coming in that The Fly: Outbreak is a true and direct sequel to The Fly II.  If you don't have at least a sketch in mind of the story of the original movies, these comics will make absolutely NO sense to anyone reading them. . .which is kind of a strange direction to go, but to tell the truth, I sort of like it.  As far as I'm aware, this is the first time I've ever read an ACTUAL sequel to a movie in comic form.  Not a reboot or re-imagining, but a SEQUEL to an almost-forgotten movie from 30 years ago.

But enough background.  Let's do this!

THE FLY
OUTBREAK

IDW (2015)
SCRIPT: Brandon Siefert
ART: menton3
COVERS: menton3

ISSUE ONE
THE BOOK OF TRANSGENESIS


Set a few years after The Fly II, Martin Brundle is now the head scientist at Bartok industries.  During his continued experiments on Anton Bartok attempting to cure the transgenic disease Brundle purposely infected him with (that turned him into a hideous monstrosity with the mind of a human trapped inside), Brundle accidentally triggers a new phase of transformation that enables Bartok to escape captivity.  

As the deranged hybrid human/fly tries to force Brundle into confessing that he infected Bartok to save himself, he is gunned down and killed. . .but during the battle, several employees and Martin are splashed with potentially infectious body fluids, leading to the entire staff being forced into quarantine.

Hmmmm. . .Okay.  Not a bad start.

Like I said in the intro above, this is a direct sequel to The Fly II, so it drops the reader right in a couple of years after the movie.  There's SOME exposition, but if you aren't familiar with the movies, it's not nearly enough.  This is NOT a comic friendly to new readers.

That said. . .

As someone familiar with the movies, I liked this first issue quite a bit BECAUSE it doesn't hold your hand and just gets right into the story without a lot of backtracking.  I like that Martin Brundle has dedicated his superior intellect to saving his former enemy from the fate that Brundle himself doomed him to.  I like that once again, Martin's ill-advised meddling has just made things worse.  I like that they moved the narrative along with the natural progression of the transgenic disease into something that can be contracted by humans through contact with fluids.  I also like the art a lot.  

The artist is definitely of the Ben Templesmith school of mixing extreme detail and sketchiness together, highlighted by beautiful coloring for a dark and moody look that is perfect for a story steeped in dark tragedy brought on by man trying to tinker with nature.  The artist has perfectly captured the likeness of Eric Stoltz and Daphne Zuniga (the leads on Fly II, who are now married), which helps establish this as a sequel to Fly II in a big way.  


BUT. . .

Even though there's a lot to like about this first issue, there's one thing that I didn't like at all. In the original movies, Seth and Martin Brundle (and Anton Bartok at the end of Fly II) were transformed into twisted, lumpy, oozing monstrosities with the last remaining vestiges of humanity barely reflected in their eyes.  In Outbreak, Bartok transforms into a sleek flying creature that resembles a stereotypical alien more than a fate worse than death. . .


This is a pretty jarring departure from what was established in the movies as to what happens when human and fly DNA are spliced.  It can be sort of explained by the new experiments that Martin has been trying, but I still found it unwelcome. Despite the unnecessary redesign of the hybrid, I found this first issue to be off to a great start.  It's mostly setup, but it's nicely done and makes me want to jump right into the next issue.

ISSUE TWO
QUARANTINE


At a secret island government quarantine facility, Martin Brundle is confined with the staff of Bartok Industries while he continues his attempts to cure the transgenic disease that has become even more infectious, thanks to his mistakes.   Martin begins to realize his efforts are probably futile as more and more people he is confined with begin to show symptoms of transformation.

After the setup of last issue, we begin to get into the meat of the story as the series takes a swerve into "Who's infected? Are we ALL infected? HOLY $HIT, WE'RE ALL INFECTED!!" isolation paranoia story territory.  This is all shown very nicely by a device showing small time leaps of several days at a time and different people exhibiting the symptoms that Martin is explaining to his assistant as the expected course of the disease.  

It's exactly the same sort of storytelling device that one would expect to see in a movie, quickly moving time forward by two weeks and increasing the tension as more and more people show signs of infection and the mood shifts from paranoia to psychotic sex and violence. . .showing that it's unlikely that anyone on the island hasn't been infected and it's only a matter of time before there's a full-blown outbreak.

Overall, this issue is oozing with dark paranoia that gradually shifts from sexual tension to violence, presented in an extremely cinematic style that really makes the reader believe that this actually could be a true movie sequel. . .and a pretty good one at that.

ISSUE THREE
METAMORPHOSIS

As the transgenic infection spreads, the transforming scientists confined with Martin become increasingly hostile toward him as they (rightly) blame him for their situation.  Martin does discover a potential cure, but is denied access to the materials he needs by the government representatives in charge of the quarantine.  He can only watch in despair as his fellow prisoners reach their final stage of transformation and begin overrunning the facility. Chaos breaks out as government troops try to contain the outbreak.  During the start of the battle, Martin's wife arrives to rescue him from the bloodshed.

This is the "Oh, crap. . .this is happening!" issue.  The government waited too long to start shooting the infected, now there's hybrid fly/humans hatching out of cocoons everywhere and people are starting to die.  It goes from a quarantine situation to a survival situation quickly.


The desperation of the uninfected scientists and guards as they realize they waited too long to take action comes off the page and in your face, thanks to the fantastic shadowy artwork, which now has less splashes of color and is almost black and white as the fight for survival begins.

I really liked this issue a lot.  So far, I think it's the best issue of the series. . .perfectly combining character moments (such as the meeting where Martin is denied the materials for his potential cure) and action to make this one a great read.

BUT. . .

I have ONE major problem with this issue.  Beth (Martin's wife) coming out of nowhere and kitted out in full combat gear like a discount Sarah Connor coming to the rescue of Martin as the fighting begins to break out. 



 I JUST watched The Fly II a couple of days ago.  When Martin met Beth, she was just another employee of Bartok Industries.  She wasn't even a security guard.  Just someone that got caught up in Martin's drama.  In the first issue of this series, she's shown talking about "buggy codes" she needs to fix before attending some sort of expo. . .indicating she's in some sort of technical field.  So how in the hell does she end up coming to Martin's rescue like some sort of Special Ops agent?  "Badass Beth" literally comes out of nowhere and it's really jarring. . .especially since she was a bit of a cliche 80's horror "damsel in distress" screaming her way through parts of The Fly II.

Beth's sudden transformation (heh) into "Badass Beth" aside, this issue is the best of the bunch so far.

ISSUE FOUR
ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE

As government forces desperately try to contain the outbreak, Martin and Beth try to make their escape from the island.  They are confronted by Martin's assistant, Noe, and forced by her at gunpoint back into the telepod lab.  Noe threatens to kill Beth if Martin doesn't agree to try to stop Noe's transformation via gene splicing in the telepod.  Martin agrees, and the process seems to work, but Martin is now fully transformed into a fly/human hybrid and Beth and Noe find themselves running for their lives from him.

After an extremely strong start, the story begins to fall apart in this appropriately-named lead up to the finale of this series.   It's a bit of a confusing, hot mess.  The narrative jumps from place to place and for some reason, Martin's assistant mysteriously becomes yet ANOTHER out of nowhere gun-toting badass. . .except with an alien head.   In the previous issue, the unwanted redesign of the hybrids wasn't really seen.  The hybrids were only shown in shadowy flashes of action.  In THIS issue, the strange redesign is on full display and it's not good.  Once again, they look more like aliens than horrific mutations resulting from splicing fly and human DNA.


Overall, I was pretty disappointed with this issue.  It's a damn shame, considering how much I liked the previous three.  The story quickly became a convoluted mess. The art remains strong, but the odd new hybrid look just doesn't sit well with me.  I REALLY hope things swerve back a bit in the final issue. 


ISSUE FIVE
THE BOOK OF REVELATION

As battle rages through the quarantine facility, Martin (now fully transformed into a hideous hybrid) stalks Noe and Beth.  Eventually, they all find themselves back in the telepod lab and Beth sacrifices herself to reverse Martin's transformation.  Unfortunately, it's only partially successful and several years later it is shown that Bartok Industries, now under the control of Noe, has a partially-transformed Martin once again held as their prisoner.

*sigh*

Damn it.  They didn't stick the landing.  

This issue's story is every bit the mess that the last issue was.  They couldn't even stick to their own rules when it came to Martin's transformation.  Instead of the sleek alien-looking hybrid everyone else was transforming into, Martin turned into something more resembling what was seen in the movies. . .


And just a bit later, Beth transforms into some sort of previously-unseen alien queen fly-looking thing before Noe blows her head off. . .


Neither one of which looks like the hybrid form previously established in this series.  This is just one example of how this story turned into a hot, confusing mess.  At least the art remains strong.  This is actually probably the BEST looking issue of the bunch.  It's a damn shame that dark, moody artwork is in service of a story that's gone completely off the rails.

To make matters worse, the ending is abrupt, confusing, and completely unsatisfying.  One moment, we're in the lab with a bunch of dark $hit going down, the next moment it's over and everything is sunny and bright at Bartok Industries.  There's no real resolution to the story at hand before it just quickly steps right into the epilogue.  It's almost like there's a couple of pages missing.

CONCLUSION

I REALLY wanted to like this, but I'm having a bit of love/hate for this series.  

On the one hand, it's an incredibly dark and thoughtful exploration of science gone wrong.  The ideas here are great and they are presented in a very cinematic style both in storytelling and in artwork.  I also really like the unusual direction of this series being a true sequel to a practically-forgotten movie from almost 30 years ago.  

I can easily see this as being an actual movie in the theaters because of the presentation of it.  It's creepy, it's tense, and there's just a pervading feeling of darkness and desperation hanging over this story that I would love to see translated to the silver screen.

BUT. . .

On the other hand, once you hit the final two issues the story becomes a confusing mess that jumps around and refuses to follow anything already established in the previous three issues.  It almost becomes a different story in a way.  The ending is abrupt and provides no resolution to the story at hand before jumping right into the epilogue.  It still is cinematic. . .but not in a good way.  It becomes like one of those movies such as. . .let's say, Batman Begins.  It starts off great and ends up a mess of explosions and punching. That's what happened here.  It starts OH so good, and ends up OH so bad.

Overall, like I said above, I'm half and half on recommending The Fly: Outbreak.  I think it's definitely worth a read, but prepare to be extremely disappointed by the final two issues.

Up Next. . .

MORE Longbox Junk Halloween fun!

Be there or be square.




Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Longbox Junk Halloween - DCU Halloween Special 2010

Ah. . .Halloween.  I love it!

It's that one special time of year when Wal-Mart shamelessly displays "Naughty Nurse" outfits that would usually only be found in somewhat sketchy stores on the outskirts of town. . .and one aisle over it's a winter wonderland of  pre-lit plastic Christmas trees in every color of the rainbow!

To which I can only quote Will 'Wicky, Wicky, Wild Wild West' Smith and say: "Welcome to Earth!"

ANYWAY. . .

I've been having a bit of Halloween fun here at Longbox Junk, starting things off by reading and reviewing a set of DC Universe Halloween Special one shots.  The 2008 Special was disappointing.  The 2009 Special was a definite improvement, but still only half the book was any good.

READ THE REVIEWS HERE:

DC Universe Halloween Special 2008
DC Universe Halloween Special 2009

The comic at hand this time is the DC Universe Halloween Special 2010.
Will it continue the upward curve?  Let's find out!


DC UNIVERSE
HALLOWEEN SPECIAL
2010

Cover by Gene Ha

Only 6 stories this time out.  Let's break it on down and hope they're good ones. . .

BATMAN IN TRICK FOR THE SCARECROW
SCRIPT: Billy Tucci
PENCILS: Billy Tucci

Scarecrow finds himself in need of rescue by Batman after being captured by two young boys on Halloween night.

The 2010 Halloween Special gets off on a good foot by putting the fantastic art of Billy Tucci right up front, along with a pretty good little story that is a direct sequel to Tucci's entry in the 2009 DCU Halloween Special (See it HERE ).  This little tale has humor, heart, and a Batman who actually smiles!  A solid 4 OUT OF 5.



Batman on a roof framed by the full moon.  Classic!

BATMAN & ROBIN AND I. . .VAMPIRE IN ROBIN THE VAMPIRE SLAYER
SCRIPT: Joe Harris
PENCILS: Lee Garbett

Batman (Dick Grayson) and Robin (Damian Wayne) enter into an uneasy alliance with Vampire Andrew Bennett (I. . .Vampire) in order to take down a nest of vampires in Gotham City that are part of the Cult of The Blood Red Moon.

Another really good little story.  It's mostly Batman & Robin fighting vampires, but there's a bit of a twist (The cult is actually holding Andrew Bennett prisoner and he sort of tricked Batman & Robin into helping him escape) and it's well written with a spotlight on the adversarial relationship between Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne that made their time as Batman & Robin so interesting to a lot of fans.  The art is also perfect for this story, being dark and strongly-inked with brilliant splashes of color in all the right places.  Another solid 4 OUT OF 5.



Batman and Robin jumping through windows never gets old!

THE FLASH AND FRANKENSTEIN IN TIME OR YOUR LIFE
SCRIPT: Alex Segura
PENCILS: Kennith Loh

When Iris Allen's new assistant turns out to be a soul-sucking vampiric creature during a Halloween party, Frankenstein shows up to help The Flash defeat her.

This one's a bit of a mess.  Frankenstein just sort of shows up for no reason.  He fights Flash for a bit during a cliche "heroes fight until they realize they need to team up against the real enemy", and then Frankenstein just sort of wanders off at the end.  The art is pretty good, but I'm puzzled as to why this story exists, other than. . .Frankenstein and Flash teamup, hooray?  2 OUT OF 5



Frankenstein with a shotgun? I can dig it.

WONDER WOMAN AND DEADMAN IN A NIGHT TO REMEMBER
SCRIPT: Vinton Heuk
PENCILS: Dean Zachary

Deadman and Wonder Woman accidentally run into each other and team up to take down Felix Faust before he can summon a Godlike creature from another dimension.

After a very strong start, this Halloween Special is sliding downhill.  This story isn't bad so much as it feels forced and unnecessary.  I wondered when Deadman was going to show up in one of these Halloween Specials, but he just seems wasted in this "Two heroes accidentally find themselves at the same villain lair and team up" cliche punch-fest with a schmear of Cthulhu on it.  The art is very nicely done. . .so there's that at least.  2 OUT OF 5



Well, at least the pictures are nice. . .

TEEN TITANS AND KLARION THE WITCH BOY IN MEDUSA NON GRATA
SCRIPT: Bryan Q. Miller
PENCILS: Trevor McCarthy

Miss Martian and Blue Beetle have their Halloween trick or treating ruined when Klarion the Witch Boy comes to Earth and starts turning people into stone.

The downward slide of this Halloween Special continues here as we get another punch-fest with only a tenuous Halloween connection backed up by some utterly average comic art.  There's a couple of funny moments, but otherwise this only deserves a 2 OUT OF 5.



Klarion's evil kitty is the best part of this story. . .

And finally. . .

SUPERMAN AND THE DEMON IN FEARS OF STEEL
SCRIPT: Brian Keene
PENCILS: Stephen Thompson

The Demon Etrigan helps save Superman's soul when another demon torments the hero with visions of his worst fears.

*sigh*

Bad, derivative cliche story.  Bad, clunky art. Bad finish for this comic.  Just. . .bad.  1 OUT OF 5


Yeah. . .that's what my reaction was when I saw this art.  And this is one of the good panels.

CONCLUSION

I liked it a lot when I saw this Halloween Special only had 6 stories.  I thought that maybe with less stories, there would be less filler.  And then when it started off with two great little stories in a row, I was like "HELL YEAH!".  But then the rest of the comic slid downhill fast and it was like getting a goddamn apple in my candy bucket.

At least DC only charged $4.99 + tax for this one.  It's still about three bucks more than what it's worth for 2 good stories and some decent art.  Pretty disappointing.

Up Next. . .

How about I give the DC Halloween superhero anthologies a break (I still have 2 more to go) and continue the spooky fun with the comic sequel that nobody ever asked for to the unwanted sequel of a classic horror movie?

IDW's The Fly: Outbreak 5 issue mini OR (as I like to call it) The Fly III.

Wait.  You didn't know there was a Fly II? SURPRISE!

Be there or be square.