Monday, October 23, 2017

Monster Menace #1

Halloween 2017 Post-A-Day, Day 23:
Horror Anthologies:
Monster Menace #1

Old school goodness under a Kyle Baker cover? Yes, Please!

Editor – Mort Todd
Editor-in-Chief – Tom Defalco
December 1993

Marvel dipped way back into its vault of 1950’s monster tales to reprint some classis in the four-issue series called Monster Menace. Never one to turn down classic Stan Lee collaborations with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, I snatched this up from the dollar bin, toot-sweet.

This four-pack of stories came before Atlas comics changed its name to Marvel, in the pre-code era. Atlas fought off closure by continually shifting the focus of its lines off books. After a stint of regular horror books did well, Lee noticed the trend had peaked and turned his creative team to writing giant monster stories. We ended up with quite a few grand Marvel tales that read much like the science-fiction movies of that same time, full of cunning scientists saving the world from destruction by terrible titans.

There is one standout in this issue, a reprint of a Lee-Ditko collaboration of The Terror of Tim Boo Ba, a classic Marvel Monster tale that is as near perfect a Deserved fate tale as one gets. The other tales are still amazing in art and story respects, however are limited by the prevailing plot devices of the time they were created.

Allow me to show you just what I mean…

Writer – Stan Lee
Pencils – Steve Ditko

I love that these old stories would have an opening splash page to announce their arrival. Greatly enhances their drama and power by placing a huge poster style graphic as an introduction.

This tale by Lee and Ditko is kind of a Frankenstein type of story with a sculptor secluding himself in a remote castle to create his greatest work: statues depicting the eternal struggle of Good Verses Evil.

Um…I don’t really think sculptors start models as fully articulated skeletons. I mean, MAYBE they do, but I find that highly unlikely that the go into details such as knee bones. But whatever! He’s made his masterpiece.

A masterpiece no one will see, as lightning strikes the Evil figure, bringing it to life. At this point I need to ask what was in that clay. Or how much LSD did the artist drop before starting this project?

Anyway, the Evil statue appears to actually BE evil, and chases our artist through the castle, busting down doors and knocking over columns as it goes.

Giving up on running away, the artist makes it to the top of the castle and uses the cannon on the clay giant. It is no use, however, as the cannon ball just bounces off his chest. Evil destroys the weapon and nabs our poor sculptor.

But just before he can hurl him off the castle to his doom, the other statue shows up. Evil pitches the man at the Good statue…

Who catches him and sets him down gently. Then begins a titanic brawl between the two blundering battlers (see Stan, even I can do “bombastic”) that ends with them tumbling to their doom and destruction.

The End.

I didn’t think much of this tale. There is very little emotional investment in the outcome as our sculptor protagonist wasn’t fully developed. Beyond wanting to create something, we aren’t given a chance to know him. The events that made the other statue live were not explained, not that "lightning strike" is a very good reason for the first one’s animation. It would have been better had we learned this was all in the sculptor’s mind or that the statues represented an internal conflict he was having over some temptation to do bad in some way, thus putting an ideological contest into physical turns. But no, just giant statues beat each other up.

I will say that putting this one first set the level of expectation of the stories to come at a low bar to meet.

“What Lurks on Channel X?”
Writer – Stan Lee
Pencils – Jack Kirby
Inks – Dick Ayers

Thankfully things get better quickly, starting with this piece from Kirby and Lee, inked with flair by Ayers.

We begin with a couple living in a crummy apartment ruled over by a lousy, restrictive landlord.

Much to the chagrin of the couple, the puppy has to go. However when a door to door salesman arrives hocking free cable TV, the couple happily accept, thinking it one thing the landlord can’t restrict them from. After a quick hook up, they are ready to check out The Honeymooners…or whatever was showing in the 1950’s.

What they weren’t expecting was to be hypnotized. Dun-Dun-DUN!

The aliens appear to feel the need to explain their entire evil plan to the audience, with exposition and pictures to boot.

But just like that, the hypnotism ends and the male smashes up the TV set with an axe. The aliens are quite upset by series of events and leave Earth FOREVER because the test of their evil plan failed. But why?

Wow, that is actually a pretty great ending. Not sure the moral lesson it imparts, but I admit to being entertained by the final twist. So this is vast improvement from the first story.

Prepare yourselves though, because up next is the BEST story in the four-issue run, a true classic tale and one of my all-time favorite Marvel monster stories.

Writer – Stan Lee
Pencils – Steve Ditko

I’m not going to spoil this one with my yammering, just flip through these next few pages and we will meet up after.


The setup. The villainy. The creation of sympathy. The distance we are from the actual struggles mirroring the reveal in those final panels. And that ultimate, Twilight Zone-worthy ironic twist.

This is one of those perfect Marvel stories that should be reprinted for every generation. One of the great things is that we build up a dislike for Tim Boo Ba from this huge distance of an omnipresent narrator. Lee’s words conjure up the worst sort of despot while Ditko’s pictures show the daily cruelty those under his heel must bear. It is effective even as we are giving the emotional distance from individual struggles. And then the ending makes all of that understandable because our world is as far from Tim Boo Ba's world as the child's model is from boy.

It could even fit as a metaphor for a political climate where we care very little for the strife in war-torn third world countries, even as we are the cause of decimation on a massive scale there. The story has so much going on in it that I feel everyone should love it. Perfect in execution, art, and plotting!

Now on to our last treat!

“I Fought the Molten Man-Thing”
Writer – Stan Lee
Pencils – Jack Kirby
Inks - Steve Ditko

I won’t lie to you and state the story here meets or exceeds the last one. It is pretty standard stuff. What isn’t standard is the we have Jack Kirby pencils embellished by Steve Ditko’s pen skills, and that is a true treat.

We begin by establishing that our hero, Frank, has been through a traumatic experience by showing him surviving a crash landing. He’s given a few weeks off to “get his head together” in the island paradise of Napuka.

But not everything is good under Napuka’s warm tropical sun. Namely a volcanic eruption has released a giant man-shaped mass of living lava that is making for the town.

Frank knows it must be stopped! Using his wits he…

…uselessly hurls flammable objects at it to no effect. Oh. That wasn’t the whole plan. No, now that he’s got its attention…

…he leads it on a merry chase into a jet engine wind tunnel.

Prepare yourself for the biggest blow job in history.

And with that, the village is saved. Frank explains that he realized there must a creature inside the molten outside that needed the warmth of the lava coating to survive. Once that was cooled, it was slowly dying. And because it learned the environment was so hostile, it was destined to never menace mankind again.

Oh, and Frank took to flying again.

A decided step down and I wasn't blown away by it, but still kind of a fun little tale. Now to sum up the book as a whole.

Was this fun? Sure. I enjoy going on Marvel history lessons back to the Pre-silver age and the companies it grew from. It is great to see stories by the top three Marvel talents of the early years working together to create fun and entertaining stories.

If I had one issue with the series it was that it excluded so many other classic Monster Tales. Noticeably absent during it's four issue run are  the original stories featuring Groot, Fin Fang Foom, and Gargantus. We do get the Living Totem, but it feels odd to exclude other, more popular monsters for the “also rans.”

If you like old school, Pre-code Marvel monster stories however, this pulls out some rare stories, but it is far from a complete journal of the best that era had to offer.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Haunted #7

Halloween 2017 Post-A-Day, Day 22:
Horror Anthologies:
Haunted #7

Aside from some way out Ditko, not much here to excite you

Managing Editor – George Wildman
August 1972

The Haunted title ran from 1971 through 1984, surviving for 75 issues even through the slump of the horror comics genre in the early 1980’s. It made it right up until the Charlton Publishing company’s money ran out and their presses fell apart. Most of this book’s contents were reprints, and if this issue is any indication, they weren’t top of the line stories.

But the book does have some post Spider-Man & Doctor Strange work from Steve Ditko, and the chance to see him do a horror story is kind of a perverse thrill. Ditko really gives it his all here. That cover is his too, which is kind of a perverse thrill because the story is about a spider-ma…ya know? I probably shouldn’t spoil it just yet.

Going in I’m going to throw out best info I could find on these tales. Charlton and older DC books were not known to be the best at giving writers or artists credit on their work.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

“Don’t Get Involved”
Writer – Joe Gill
Pencils – Pete Morisi
Inks – Pete Morisi
Letters – Pete Morisi

We begin with a tale of Deserved retribution. The sin is given away on the splash page, that being the breaking of the Golden Rule by turning your back on a fellow person in trouble. 

Note the white ghost at the top. That is you guide through these tales, a fella by the name of “Impy.” Impy lasted as host until issue 20, after which the duties of guide passed to Baron Weirwulf. Weirwulf had just vacated Charlton’s Ghost Manor. The title was also changed then to Baron Weirwulf’s Haunted Library, which makes a bit of sense as the only ghost to do any haunting in these four tales is Impy.

Now to start our actual story off! Meet William Rink, an all around shitty person. He starts up our tale with this cowardly act of failing to render aid…

…and quickly follows it by being a snitchy little tattle-tail at work. Writer Gill (if this really is him) wastes no time in getting us to hate Rink, which is good in a short story form where it is better to evoke emotions quickly so you can move on to playing upon them.

Just to make sure he’s put that last straw on the camel, we get one final dickish act by Rink before we begin his comeuppance. 

Rink leaves the guy to his fate and heads home, where gets into his yellow jammies and he smokes a cigarette (how odd that is to see in a book). I can see why he doesn’t have a woman. Just look at those PJ’s. 

As Rink closes his eyes, he hears a sound like someone trying to get in his window. Terrified, he tries to phone the cops, but…

…his phone line doesn’t work, because Rink is too scared to remember how to DIAL 911. So he seeks help from a neighbor…

…which gets the typical response in the big city. The lesson here is that had Rink made friends with anyone or worn a non-threatening color of pajamas he might have been able to call on these friends in his time of need. Being a reclusive shut-in is no way to live your life. (Point taken. Make a note: I should probably talk to the next door neighbors instead of just grunting at them when we leave for work in the morning).

That leaves Rink running through the streets like a madman, with some invisible person supposedly stalking him. He encounters a man and begs his help only to be rebuffed…just like he rejected the man’s plea for assistance earlier.

Finally, he darts out in front of a garbage truck not paying attention to where he is going and gets run over. I find it hard to believe the driver couldn’t see him in is yellow safety vest of a sleeping ensemble, but I’m not going to argue it. Unfortunately, Rink dies of this fatal mishap…sort of...

…because what really happened was he had a heart attack while in the throes of a dream, a nightmare where all this was happening.

Eh? It’s okay I suppose. The ending twist was passing, however something about the Rink character doesn’t work for me. I like my characters to exhibit at least a tiny bit of remorse somewhere, so I can root for them to rehabilitate themselves before it is too late. Instead we get an amoral self-centered monster. Nothing much there to root for.

Moving on…

“The Endless War!”
Writer – Pat Boyette
Pencils – Pat Boyette
Inks – Pat Boyette
Letters – Pat Boyette

This short, one-page “story” is at least over quickly. 

Ant that’s it. Uh…how is this scary again? I feel like this was a fill in piece from a war comic that never got published. War can be a great backdrop for horror tales and one-page stories do have merit if they are put together well.

This fails on both counts, being neither relevant nor anything other than a rumination of what air combat was like in WWI. Not sure why it is here...

“Stop the Clock!”
Writer – Joe Gill
Pencils – Steve Ditko
Inks – Steve Ditko
Letters – Charlotte Jetter

Now this is more like it. Ditko cemented himself as the avant garde of the supernaturally strange with is trippy Doctor Strange comic books at Marvel, so I expect great things from this story.

Boy do I get them, too. The art is near perfect, elevating a tale with a foregone scare into something that has a few genuine chills in it, all to Ditko’s credit. We begin with this couple who are left stranded on a road in the middle of a horrendous, lightning lit night. When suddenly …there’s a light…over at the Frankenstein Place…

(sorry, that may have been Rocky Horror and not this comic.)

A house run by that gruesome fellow at the bottom, who is a bit overly concerned with his appearance. And perhaps the home of this ginger gent by the name of Howard Royal Clark as well…

You can see the wispy like smoke effects in the way Ditko did the branches on that tree. And take a gander at the body language and facial characteristics that reveal this story is by Spider-Man’s creator.

Anyway, Howard seems the exact opposite the type of guy than the aged, balding weirdo that hovered so menacingly near the window in the bottom panels of that first scene. He’s jovial, handsome and full of life. So full of life he’s almost manic.

While he’s rustling goodies up in the kitchen, the couple notice some very odd things. The newspapers, magazines, and even the radio programs are over thirty-five years old. Not to mention that the fact that Howard’s picture is in one of those papers, and it doesn’t appear that he’s aged a single DAY!

Worst of all, when his favorite scary radio show comes on, Howard trips the lights out. And suddenly a puzzle piece falls into place for us, the audience.

For in the dark, Howard looks like the weird creep-o from the window, suddenly aged past his normal years. The fact that our now frightened couple can’t see him, coupled with the fact that he appears to be saying the ghost stories on the radio are real-life tales, means they might be in grave danger!

Eileen is so freaked out that Don forces Howard/undead creep to turn the lights back on. It’s then that we learn the reason Howard has drawn the couple there. That dead fiancĂ© looks VERY familiar. Don storms out of the room to get some answers…

…only to come face-to-face with the ghoulish spirit. Moments later, Howard comes back into the room talking crazy talk, about how Eileen became engaged to him thirty-five years ago. In her frantic haste to get away from him…

He reveals his true decrepit form…

YIKES! Luckily Don is still a live and arrives to throw some light on the matter. And in the harsh light of truth the creep crumples to the floor.

Appears he was dead before they arrived…which means the man they saw was a GHOST! (Maybe. We can’t be for certain.)

Okay, so first the bad: This story really doesn’t know what it is doing. The plot is all over the place and the characters actions and motivations don’t really jive. What redeems it, at least for me, are the Ditko visuals. The look and feel of classic Ditko is so refreshing in everything from the way he did faces to the angles and proportions of his character models makes me smile in spite of the dumb plotting errors. That splash page is amazing, as are the shots of Howard dancing and his ending swan dive.

So not a good story, but worth a read for the visuals. On to our last tale…

“Along came a Spider and…”
Writer – Joe Gill
Pencils – Steve Ditko
Inks – Steve Ditko

This is a second Ditko tale (huzzah!), but even though the sources I have state he is on inking chores, I think the embellishments were done by someone else. There are a lot of hallmark Ditko poses and edges that are smoothed over. It just doesn’t have the look of something he inked.

Sadly, for me that means the art comes off a bit bland. Gone are the exciting unique bits that make reading Ditko on Ditko such a treat. Let’s see if the story makes up for that.

We begin with this bell-bottomed vagrant hippy named Tyler Rand who swings into Samantha Shields life looking for a place to crash…and someone to freeload off of. That line about getting a job…because jobs are such a drag, man.

So while the art doesn’t have that “fun” vibe of the last story, the dialect and voice of the characters works overtime to give the piece some weight. It looks like the hippy freeloader has secured himself a cool place to hang out and a landlady that won’t bring him down…

…what might not be too cool is her penchants for not getting rid of a arachnid that’s made a cozy home in the room’s corner though. Tyler thinks he’s got a shot with Ms. Shields, so he accepts his new roommate. On a temporary basis, that is. Seems he has plans for Ms. Shield’s “bread.”

But to do so, Tyler has to find some funding to last a few weeks. And that means purse-snatching, of course.

That spider seems overly interested in Tyler.
As does Samantha after Tyler cleans up his appearances and starts dressing in her husband’s old clothes. All this wooing might actually work out for the lout.

However, even Tyler now seems to be talking to spider like it’s a person.

It was too good to last, as the spider (named Hedly) finally decides AGAINST letting Tyler marry Samantha. The next morning finds her searching for a new boarder…

…and now with TWO SPIDERS in her room. Making this actually a tale of a Spider-Man? Well, it wouldn’t be Ditko’s first one of those, would it?

Better story in this last outing than in any of the priors, nice twist and comeuppance at the end. I just wish the art had the weird, macabre allure of Ditko’s first story. That art just really sends me, dig?

In all, this issue of Haunted is more miss than hit. If you are a Ditko completionist, it is a must buy. Aside from one good story (out of four) and the art on another, there isn’t much to go gaga over here. It is one Ditko spider tale that won’t pull you into its web.