Saturday, October 20, 2018

Darkness Visible #1


Halloween 2018 Post-A-Day: Day 20
Horror-ible
Darkness Visible #1



Feels like the start of a buddy cop movie

"Untitled”
Writers – Mike Carey and Arvind Ethan David
Artist – Brendan Cahill
Colors – Joana Lafuente
Letterer – Shawn Lee
Editor – Denton J. Tipton
February 2017

Whenever there comes up a buddy cop story with science fiction or fantasy overtones, I always harken back to the one that got all of the tick boxes checked. That would be 1988’s Alien Nation. The mix of alien and human cultures presented were handled much more maturely and intelligently than say Netflix’s slapdash “Bright” movie. It is the high bar for me.

And Darkness Visible meets that bar. Or at least it does in this first issue. Our setup here is that Demons have arrived on Earth (method unknown as of this issue) around WWII  timeframe and they have melded into society. They have their own culture and belief systems, much of which has resulted in an uneasy truce between them and us. However there appears to be a growing faction of terrorist devils who want the status quo changed.

It’s an interesting premise that in lesser hands might immediately fall apart, but Mike Carey and Arvind Ethan David do well with the concept. So well that last November the six-issue property was optioned for a TV series although as yet nothing has been released almost a year later. It’s a solid concept, better by far than Bright . The chance to show this off in another medium for this story would be welcome.

Time to get moving on the issue review so you can see if you side with me on this one. We begin in London on High Street at a bar frequented by the strange beings who have made our world their new home. Two devils arranged a meeting here that will have great import to our story. The place is called, ironically, The Angel…



Our information courier appears to be challenged by the demon waiting for her. So she reveals her true form and…Yuck!...convinces him. Their conversation drops hints at a mystery the audience will need to pay attention to: there is something portable at a location that a group of devils will want. A MacGuffin, if you will allow me to use the term, and something powerful from the sounds of it.



From her exit we move on to set the stage for our protagonist. He’s a detective assigned to the special devil crimes task force who is also a single father. We meet him on the heels of his daughter performing in The Merchant of Venice in her middle school, which means the author is using this as a way to shoehorn in “The quality of mercy is not strain’d…” speech, because no way are seventh graders the ideal performers of this Shakespearean tragedy. But it does give some context into what Daniel “Danny” Aston will soon be dealing with on an emotional level.




Likewise this bit from “Mags” where she puts forth that Shylock is only a villain because everyone treats him like a villain, a sure sign that we will be meeting some kind of devil whose actions appear evil, but only if you don’t view them from the right perspective.

It won’t be this demon-bum with roach arms…



…but it does give Danny a chance to do a little informing about the world we are walking through, in such a way that the exposition dumps seem natural. Either that or I am just very curious about how devils and humans live side-by-side…



Let’s break down what this part tells us. There are two types of devils: ones that can control their looks and ones that can’t. The ones that can’t, like our woman with a face where a va-jay-jay should be, are very old.

However, Mags brings up that these are energy creatures that “lock” with humans, only then taking on a true shape. Which sounds like a the demons can have a parasitic or symbiotic relationship when it suits them. I sure hope I’m getting this right, but all of it sounds pretty intriguing. Why would someone make a literal deal with a devil?

And at that moment we end up with a half-dozen devils, including one huge fella who appears to be the leader, acting on the information we saw supplied in the opening pages. They reach a downtown office building just as Danny’s voiceover warns that if you turn your back on a demon, you’ve only yourself to blame for the results.



These people certainly aren’t to blame, however. 



And the results are just as ugly. This is Rhak and the obvious boss, Mr. U.



Mr. U. is a pretty cold customer and his actions here are an enigma. The Crapbox is truly a curse in that I don’t know what the endgame of this death and destruction was, and I very much want to know what was at stake for all this. This has a Die Hard-bad guy level of planning to it and I’d really like to understand what the payoff was of sounding the alarm and shooting all the people was.

Aside from the devils just being evil fuckers, I mean. I get that could totally be it in a nutshell. But the writers are clearly throwing me stuff to counter that with Mags and Danny. I got one issue of this, folks. Lot of speculation and little payoff.

Let’s shift back to Danny for a bit. He is going over some answers to my prior question: what do people get out linking up with a demon?



Eternal youth and beauty…until the demon destroys who you are and then you are an ugly horn monster. Got it. Also looks like Danny has caught that call with Mr. U and Rhak raising a ruckus. For the record, I’m against this “bring your daughter to work day” spur of the moment thought. Things look to get a little rough.

Mr. U starts apologizing to the hostages, first for the inconvenience and second for the inevitable loss of life that will occur. Then he has the underlings bring him the manager of this …bank? Not real sure what we are in.



This but of careful mind screwing seems like such petty torments, but really cements who these devils are in our heads. They are like nature’s ultimate dicks. Like the guy that won’t turn on his lights in the pitch-dark pouring rain just because it is barely noon. That’s who these devils remind me of. Assholes.

They start randomly punching in series of numbers, beginning with Mr. U’s birthday all under the watchful and scared shitless eyes of the manager. Which is too much for this other employee who somehow knows the code.



And seeing as to how they have gotten what they want, this guy’s suggestion makes a bunch of sense…



…just not to the asshat devils running the show.

We learn Mr. U’s name is Ulescu and that the she-devil that provided the information was correct in the information that safe contained. Not sure how this all links together but an under-devil reports there are blueprints, costings, and personnel records that stretch back to some unspecified period. 

That period remains unspecified specifically because Ulescu senses the police presence in the building, which prompts him to release the hostages. Starting with Mr. Keene…



…which ends with Mr. U detonating Keene’s vest as soon as he makes contact with Danny’s squad. It kills Mr. Keene and injures most of the other others, Danny included. The devils then walz right past their prone bodies, although U mentions something about “otherwise all these deaths meant nothing…” which I can’t fathom if there is a reason to this that could some how have me siding with the devil’s actions. 



Whatever that plot line will develop into, Rhak stops long enough for Danny to get a bead on him…although the bullet appears to do nothing more than invite him to slap the injured Danny around some more.



But only so much that it draws Rhak in close enough for Danny to taze the unholy crap out of him, giving Danny his only suspect.



Maggie and Danny get reunited, the character of Gloriana Veer is introduced…and unless I miss my guess she’s a potential love interest for Danny. 



Danny’s boss shows up, we learn some more about NATHAN Ulescu and SIMON Rhak, the fact that we are learning first names showing that  Danny’s boss knows who these guys are…and maybe, just maybe my paranoia is kicking into high gear here, but did Lt. Devereaux tell them to “strap Rhak down tight?” like he expected something to occur?



Mags loads into the ambulance, and sure enough as she chides her dad on staying alive…



…a black SUV unexpectedly rear-ends the medics, sending Mags into the side of the van and the entire thing into the…Thames? I’m guessing. How many rivers are there in London?



And all the occupants of the ambulance drown. The End. 


At least for human Danny it is. His body is wheeled into the morgue where Gloriana Veer is tasked with autopsying him…(note that the shaitan isn’t in the morgue?)



BOO! (THAT’S BECAUSE HE’S APPARENTLY INSIDE DANNY!)



Good job, Darkness Visible. I’m going to have to seek more of you out. Only six? Well that makes it affordable at least.

But yeah, they Carey and David setup a good mystery here. I’m interested in the world, in the characters and in the contents of that safe room and what secrets it covers up. Looks like my buddy cop movie is down by one person, but I think Rhak is inside Danny at this point and seeing how that changes his character should make for interesting follow-up. As well as whether Danny’s literal deal with the devil included saving Maggie. SO Many UnAnswered Questions!

Good book. Check it out!

Friday, October 19, 2018

Hot Stuff #145


Halloween 2018 Post-A-Day: Day 19
Horror-ible
Hot Stuff #145




Having a Devil of a time figuring out how this got made

Harvey comics was undoubtedly one of the most successful youth market comic book companies when I was growing up. Their initial title list were a ton of licensed properties way back before my time that included Green Hornet, Joe Palooka, Blondie, and Dick Tracy. That wasn’t the Harvey I grew up with, though.

Nope. My Harvey comics started with a property the company bought when they licensed a group of cartoon characters from Famous Studios, a division of Paramount Pictures. This occurred around 1951. The group included Baby Huey, Herman and Katnip, Little Audrey, and…a friendly little ghost named Casper.



Casper was a revelation for the company. So much so that they bought out Famous Studios in 1958 and repackaged all of their animated output as Harveytoons, the logo I recall seeing before them as a kid. Casper became Harvey’s top draw. And leaning on him, the publisher sought to expand the breadth of his brand and more importantly, make him the house style for new characters. These new books expanded to a jaw-dropping 23 titles.



The characters that spun out of Casper’s orbit were all of a generic body shape with a few tweaks to differentiate one from the other. Artist Warren Kremer’s work became the official house style in 1959. He was the mastermind behind many of the most well known Harvey spin off characters, including Hot Stuff. Also, he was co-creator with Albert Harvey of Richie Rich.

And I’m going to state that Harvey’s gaggle of characters were pretty subversive when you take into account the times in which they were created. Just look at them: Casper, a “friendly” child ghost; Wendy, a witch who wants to spread love and happiness; Richie Rich, a benevolent billionaire who is neither spoiled nor narcissistic; Hot Stuff, a devil who isn’t interested in stealing souls; and Little Dot, a girl who can be nice to people even while on her period. Probably getting one of those descriptions wrong.

I’m going to admit to owning SEVERAL of these comics as a child, but none survived. I read them all to pieces and then possibly ingested the pieces. They are so much a part of me that I cannot believe upon finding this copy in a discount bin that anyone would go through life without knowing about them. But Harvey folded doors in 1994, their characters moved over to a different licensing company, a division of Dreamworks, that hasn’t seen fit to produce a Casper-type book since 2010.

Right now though we get to deal with Hot Stuff, an enigma in the era of the comics code authority and the 1960’s in general. I mean Hot Stuff is a DEVIL. An actual devil, and how this book flew in the face of Christian conservative America is an unfathomable mystery to me. The same people that would freak out because rock stars grew their hair long and wore dark makeup in my 1980’s were the same group that two decades before had allowed their kids read Hot Stuff comics.

It kinda boggles the mind a bit.

Comic Vine goes as far as calling Hot Stuff the “original Hellboy” which is so clever that I want to steal it uncredited. They also point out the facts that make Hot Stuff a bit more palatable to those worried groups: 1. He didn’t live in Hell, but in a Medieval dimension full of Ogres, witches, enchanted objects, humans, and other devils, and 2. While he did possess a fiery temper, his general disposition was kind and helpful, being more likely to assist and protect humans than not.

With that we should probably dig in to the tales in this book, one of his 177 appearances in the Hot Stuff magazine. The book shared shelf space with three other Hot Stuff titles: Devil Kids starring Hot Stuff,  Hot Stuff Sizzlers, and (get this one) Hot Stuff Creepy Caves. But hunker down and pull up those asbestos shorts, we are going to jump into Hot Stuff number 145

"Sign Post Land”
Writer – Warren Kremer
Illustrated – Warren Kremer
Colors – unknown
Letterer – unknown
Editor – unknown
September 1978

(For everyone’s illumination into my creative process, in doing research for this article I happened to type “Hot Stuff” in the search bar at one point without the word “comics.” Yes, for the rest of this article and perhaps several days that follow I will be bobbing my head as my brain plays Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff” on endless loop until it drives me insane. Thank you, Google.)

So we begin our issue with this weird tale of Hot Stuff being upset because he never gets mail. One offhanded comment by the maildevil leads him to decide that he needs a sign post outside his cave if he is ever going to get any mail.



He finds one outside his neighbor the bear’s place that has a “Made in Sign Post Land” label engraved on the post and off we go on what has to be some writer and artist’s pot-induced storyline. 



For you see, Sign Post Land exists. It lives at the bottom of a pit beside a Sign Post advertising its existence. And Sign Post Land is full of living sign posts…



...who end up being kind of jerks.

And if Hot Stuff was a less discerning customer, he would have been in and out of Sign Post Land in no time. I mean, It’s a freaking sign post! Just pick one. 



But no. He keeps insulting the sign posts, which I think I mentioned were alive, until finally they’ve had enough of his shit.



And of course them kicking the crap out of him gets Hot Stuff’s blood boiling, so…




…yeah. Well if you thought he was going to get away with burning living beings until they were ashy piles, you haven’t been paying close attention to that Comics Code Authority stamp on the front of this book. And this is a book for children, so no immolations. Bludgeonings still might be on the table however.

Hot Stuff tries to get away by turning himself invisible, but the posts are too crafty to let that happen. Thankfully this talking bag of sign post seeds helps Hot Stuff effect an escape.



Remember what I said about bludgeonings.



This does get Hot Stuff back home, though and the wallop to the top of the head gives the little devil a grand idea.

He builds this amazing looking sign post himself. The End!



Except it isn’t, because Hot Stuff leans his pitchfork up against the new sign post, which being made out of wood, causes it to burst into flames. And then the butthole of a maildevil tells Hot Stuff he never has mail for him anyway. What a total jerk!

"Untitled”
Writer – Warren Kremer
Illustrated – Warren Kremer
Colors – unknown
Letterer – unknown

And here was some of the best subversive humor a kid could ever want, all in one page. Devils, by their very nature, are evil. And Hot Stuff’s devil friends and relatives were no exception, however the evils they were fond of were very mild things. Like Grampa Blaze’s penchant for throwing around colorful language…



In my mind Grampa Blaze is being played by Samuel L. Jackson. There will be a second Grampa Blaze later on with a completely different look. None of these stories are credited, so it is possible that the one site I found with writer/artist names attached was incorrect. Either that or some of these are stock stories used for filler before the characters were generally established. Or the writer just got the name wrong. Who knows?

"Glara”
Writer – Warren Kremer
Illustrated – Warren Kremer
Colors – unknown
Letterer – unknown

Here we have a shocking introduction. This is near the very tail end of the Hot Stuff run and this issue introduces Glara, a girl version of Hot Stuff. Most of the other books like Richie Rich had a pseudo-love interest for their title characters by now, so this seems a little “late bloomer-ish” for our devil-may-care devil title.

This story also features some of the other intelligent beings in Hot Stuff’s world: the kind humans and the horrible ogres. The series had to have worse villains than devils as bad guys. Let’s see how well ogres fit that bill.

And in a very odd twist of things, our tale starts with Hot Stuff deciding to pluck an apple from a tree, after roasting it of course. It has an odd biblical feel to see the devil, an apple tree and the only eligible female the book will ever show as the staring place to our story. Here we go though.




While pondering this strange self-roasting apple tree, Hot Stuff is started by a beautiful (in little devil standards) female devil who sing-songs her first words to him. He decides he will be a gentledevil and offer they young maiden a roasted apple.(Gotta have some Hot Stuff!…Got to make love tonight!)



…but Glara proves she can roast her own apples, even without a fork. And she challenges Hot Stuff’s man…er, Devilhood by declaring she can roast apples faster than he can. And thus the gauntlet is thrown down.



Hot Stuff gets his usual hot under the collar and challenges her to a quick contest blowing up a boulder…



…which ends up completely humiliating him, because she can shoot flame blasts straight from her eyes. Sort of like my ex-wife could. (I kid! I kid!). Glara goes around showing off her skill at playing Cyclops from the X-Men, which includes lighting this campfire…



…much to the perplexed joy of this human camper.



Now we have the heavies of the series show up. Ogres and giants were typical bad-guys of these stores, being shown as brutish primitives who hated both devils and humans.

But that’s okay because they pose no threat at all. Glara can take care of them literally with her eyes crossed.



But those ogres aren’t all that dumb. They hatch a plan to sneak up on Glara and cover her eyes so she can’t flame blast them. Lucky for her Hot Stuff realizes he forgot to show off his forking skills.

Forking skills. Forking. F-O-R-K-I-N-G! If I meant to say the other thing I would have.


 
Which he gets to use to “save” Glara. Even though…




…heh, I love it that the woman is actually more powerful than the man in this series.

"Fork Failure”
Writer – Warren Kremer
Illustrated – Warren Kremer
Colors – unknown
Letterer – unknown

Now we have one of those trippy adventures that only can happen in a Hot Stuff comic. Out little devil has to get his fork recharged, so Uncle Vulcan lends a hand. As soon as the job is complete, Hot Stuff snatches up the fork to go give it a tryout.


Unfortuantely, Hot Stuff’s fork appears to be a little over-charged as it burns an apple to a crisp that he had intended to roast. In fact everything Hot Stuff hits with his fork tends to get a little too hot.



Remember that thing I said about this being a bit “trippy?” Check out the pond’s reaction to being heated.



This leads to a one-panel hissy fit by our diaper-wearing devil and then an attempt to use a glacier to cool off his fork.



The result of which is a huge avalanche as the glacier completely breaks up. At the same moment, Uncle Vulcan makes a startling discovery.



He gave Hot Stuff his “adult” level fork. He rushes off to make a quiet switch of the two and Hot Stuff’s tantrum gives him just the opportunity he’s looking for.



After the swap, Hot Stuff cools off enough to give the fork one more try and since it is his fork, it works to perfection. Unfortunately for Uncle Vulcan, its first zap catches him unawares. 



Hot Stuff is pleased that “his fork” has returned to normal and Vulcan states that he probably deserves the fried bottom for being so careless when he was working.

"Protective Cuss-tody”
Writer – Warren Kremer
Illustrated – Warren Kremer
Colors – unknown
Letterer – unknown

Lastly we come to one of my favorite bits in the book. Meet Hot Stuff’s foul-mouthed relative, Grampa Blaze. I love this bit so much because the book shows that devils love to stand around and cuss, which in today’s culture holds very little negative connotations. I mean, they drop F-bombs in song choruses these days.



In this story, however, Grampa’s such a good cusser that even Hot Stuff has to get far away when he does it. And in his travels, he comes across this castle bearing a strange sign. The sign says they have a job opening for castle guard. He goes inside to inquire with the prince…



All this leads to a genius idea in Hot Stuff’s brain…



…and in a jiffy, the little devil has Grampa installed as the new castle guard.



He is surprisingly effective.



In fact, he’s a little too effective. His level of cussing goes beyond Geto Boys or Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz CrunkJuice (had to include this link with a youtube for you. the cusswords come so fast that bleeping them sounds like putting an electronic beat over the hip-hop track) and it is just too much for the castle’s inhabitants.

 


Feeling under appreciated, Grampa Blaze takes off too, leaving Hot Stuff with the same problem – no one to protect the castle from the monsters he dislikes.



However, he’s never one to give up and in a few moments comes up with a clever solution that still uses Grampa’s cussing only on a recorded medium that can be turned off when the castle isn’t about to be under siege.

Eight or nine-year-old me would have LOVED this last story. The fact that it had cussing as the main topic was so grand, there’s no way the book would have survived my multiple readings.

Hot Stuff and Harvey are now a thing of the past. A revival has been attempted recently of the Casper property, but it fizzled. Richie Rich hasn’t been around in some time either. It’s a shame when you’ve grown so old that you have watched properties disappear from popular culture. I assume our parents thought the same when Mutt and Jeff, Gasoline Alley, and Snuffy Smith disappeared into obscurity.

At least this issue is preserved…and on display for the world to see here.