Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Twilight Zone #88

Halloween 2018 Post-A-Day: Day 31, HALLOWEEN!
Horror-ible and Tie-ins
The Twilight Zone #88

We look at a timeless classic TV Show tie-in

Rod Serling was a special kind of genius. He loved pulp adventure stories as a kid. When he grew to adulthood, he craved stories that resonated with the headlines of the day. Philosophical stories with themes about racism, society, war, government and moral choices were his passion.

As a prominent writer for television, he found network censorship his bane. His dramas were constantly hamstrung by sponsors and networks. He found that “To say a single thing germane to the current political scene was absolutely prohibited.”

So Serling looked outside the standard drama. He crafted his own teleplay called “The Time Element” in 1958 and sold it to the network as a possible pilot for a weekly anthology series. It was his first science fiction story.

The Time Element did extremely well in its television debut on the Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse. Well enough for Sterling’s twisted anthology series to become reality. Serling pulled in writers to help script episodes for him, veritable giants such as Charles Beaumont, Ray Bradbury, and the masterful Richard Matheson.

Frequently the series would use the science fiction framework as a vehicle for social or moral commentary, evading the network and sponsor censorship. In this way, like Star Trek after them, they became more than just a way to entertain. They became a method of persuading an audience.

I grew up on them, as many here would attest. All 156 episodes. My favorite would still have to be “Time Enough at Last” with Burgess Meredith as the timid bank clerk and sole survivor of the human race. I’d love to hear yours. I’m certain everyone of my generation has one.

As for comics, Dell had the license initially and came out with four issues. Then a few one shots before it transitioned over to the Gold Key side of that shop. From there it received a new number 1 and a run that would span 92 issues and 17 years. Now publishing had the license in the 1990’s and ran new stories. Remakes of a handful of episodes came out in 2008 under the Savannah College of Art and Design and Walker & Co. And in 2013 Dynamite gave reviving the series a try with J. Michael Straczynski and Guiu Vilanova on board. Currently the license sits idle but I’m certain that’s a temporary thing.

Jordan Peele has a revival of the TV show slated for next year (the third revival since 1964), so I expect new comics to come along any minute.

In the meantime, enjoy this blast from 1978, as the Twilight Zone comic predicts the dangers of steroids, placebos, and building lifelike human robots…

"The Meek Shall Inherit”
Writer – Unknown
Art – Frank Bolle
Letterer - Unknown
Colorist – Unknown
Editor – Unknown
December 1978

Our first story out of the gate is this little piece that takes those Charles Atlas “The Insult that made a Man out of Mac” ads and reformulates them a bit. If you don’t remember the advertisements, let me throw one up for you.

I love this as a story concept and how it is told. Feels right to do this inside a comic book, too. It's the same panels we are all familiar with, only now with a slight more twisted ending. Let’s get started....

Marvin Mannerheimer is enjoying a day at the beach with his girlfriend, when just like in the ad, some jerk happens by. Here’s sand in you sandwich, Marv. This guy is a real lout tossing the picnic blanket over Marvin in the end.

He’s made the butt of the joke for the entire beach to see, although this affects his girlfriend Shirley’s feelings for him not in the slightest. IN fact, when Marvin does start getting riled up, Shirley seems less attracted to him. She wants a calm, unflappable guy. 

And true to the Charles Atlas story, Marvin gets his answer to how he can be the “Hero of the Beach” for just a mere $5. All this courtesy of a flying advert that hits him in the face. It touts the Magic Muscle Builder that works miracles in minutes. Sounds like steroids to me, or at least their metaphorical equivalent.

Marv is sold, however.

The resulting package he receives makes him less enthusiastic. It is a lightweight barbell that he doesn’t have to exert any strength to lift. 

The flying flyer did mention “magical” transformations and that’s exactly what he gets. A few fake (and poorly executed – just look at his hand placement) curls and he’s got the upper bod of Arrr-nuld. 

The weird thing to me is that this was exactly the line being sold in those Charles Atlas ads. It never mentioned how many hours of painstaking work  maintaining a muscled physique would require. In the ads it worked like magic. Poof! Kick around some furniture and mail a postcard. Bingo! Instant muscles in the mail.

Well, it isn’t that easy. And as Marvin is about to find out, even when it is that easy…it isn’t that easy!

First off, he heads to Shirley to show off his new physique. He notices other women looking at him on the way and gets a little inflated ego. Shirley reacts like any sane person would, suspicious of how this occurred. And remember when I said the word steroids above, well note that Marv hurts his girlfriend trying to impress his wishes upon her. 

The pair go out dancing, but Marv is no longer the sweet, shy, considerate guy Shirley loves. In fact, he has what amounts to a roid-rage incident when some poor schlub bumps into him on the dance floor. Shirley notices his change in demeanor and calls him a bully for good measure. 

She leaves him. A few other girls come on to him, but Marv needs time to think. Too much has changed too fast. After a night spent alone, wandering the streets, he comes to his senses finally and heads back to Shirley’s to apologize.

Unfortunately, his body is still expanding. He has monstrous strength and a look to match. People scream and avoid him. He even accidentally rips the door off a cab.

Instead of going to Shirley’s he rushes back home, tearing through doors like the out of control freak he has become. (see: seroid metaphor)

Once there he breaks the Magic Muscle barbell in two, an act that reduces him back down to his less muscular self.

And in a happy ending, he goes back to the beach with Shirley. This time ending conflicts with intelligence instead of fists. 

Loved this one! Such a wacky bent to those ads but given in a serious way. Being the "Hero of the Beach"  means different things to different people.

"Farewell Performance”
Writer – Unknown
Art – Mike Roy
Letterer - Unknown
Colorist – Unknown
Editor – Unknown

Moving on to our second story, we have Farewell Performance, which is a murderous little ditty about the power of the placebo. We begin with Hamlet...

Our Hamlet actor friend being hailed as the greatest actor since Nicholas Cage has a secret. This backstage cast member Archer clues us in that he wasn’t garnering rave reviews just a few weeks ago. The suddenly he’s super-good at acting and everyone is loving his performances.

Archer decides not to let this “Ham”-let out of his sight until he figures out his secret. Before the actor’s next performance he spies him taking a drop of a strange liquid…

…and trying it himself realizes his castmate has what amounts to bottled talent. 

Archer is caught in the act, as it were, and asks our lead actor where the potion came from. The answer is an old woman, which we can interpret to mean “witch.” The potion gives you the “life-force” of any character you are set to portray.

But our lead actor isn’t about to share.

…which causes quite a scuffle and ends with him bashing his head in from a fall. Archer realizes he’s dead and steals the potion to make his own fortune.

Once the body is discovered, Archer moves in quickly to secure top billing, knowing that the potion will allow him to give the performance of a lifetime.

And of course he is amazing on stage, the power of the elixir allowing him to bring the role of Hamlet to life. What follows is a whirlwind of other plays all over the world.

His big break comes while they are performing Julius Caesar. A movie casting director is in the audience and might offer him a part in a big film if he wows them. Archer seems a little nervous.

And being nervous, he decides to down just a little more than normal of the elixir of great acting. 

His performance is going amazing! Better than that! Spectacular! The audience can almost believe that Archer IS Julius Caesar. 

Which leads to a horrendous third act. Because having Caesar’s life force in THIS play means accepting Caesar’s fate at the end. I mean, it’s not called one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies for nothing.

So Archer dies, his need for superstardom and a bottle of wishes dooming him to an early, ignoble death. And as for the potion?

Down the sink it goes.

With two nicely done tales, the book should really wrap it up here. I mean, I’ve gotten my worth out of it. But no. Twilight Zone tried for a trifecta, bless it’s heart. Even though it only had two pages left to go. What ends the book is kind of an embarrassment…

“Super Star”
Writer – Unknown
Art – Sal Trapani
Letterer - Unknown
Colorist – Unknown
Editor – Unknown

Page one shows Teri Deere wrapping up a concert in a huge venue. She is adored by her fans. Her manager however is an older gentleman who drags her off to the limo as soon she exits the stage. He appears overly controlling and kind of an asshole.

On the drive home to the estate they share, Vernon the manager, who we learn is also her Father chides her for staying on stage so long. He worries that she will run out of energy. Terri reminds him that without her, he’d still be a nobody.

Once inside, the Father hooks Terri up to all kinds of machines and we learn that she is a robot and he is her creator. She asks why he doesn’t get rid of her if she is so much trouble?

And his answer is that he has fallen in love with her, his creation. 

Page count met!

You are seeing every panel of this last “story.” I put that in quotes because nothing about the constitutes an actual tale. It is a writing prompt illustrated in two pages. If the story had about four more pages that explained how the Professor/Daddy/Lover/Stage Manager dealt with his Creation/Daughter/Significant Other/Talent from this starting point, maybe it would be a story. What if her power fails during a concert? What if she falls for another man? What if his love for her is discovered somehow, and the press makes big waves of the Father-Daughter incest angle? What if the sales of her albums start to slip? Or people notice she isn’t aging?

This shouldn’t count. It’s not complete and shoved in just to fill two pages. Sadly this is where we end this Halloween. Two great tales and one…meh one.

Do me a favor? Post your favorite Twilight Zone episode in the comments? I love hearing from my readers and this is a great night to share some really amazing spooky stories.


Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Black Hole #1

Halloween 2018 Post-A-Day: Day 30
Black Hole #1

Symbolic body horror, pubescence, and Charles Burns

"Biology 101/ Planet Xeno/ssssssss”
Writer and artist – Charles Burns
March 1995

I encountered Charles Burns work in 1984. Hidden in the densely packed pages of Heavy Metal’s March 1984 (Vol7, No 12) magazine, was part of his first El Borbah story, serialized over several issues. I was buying the magazine for Moebius’ The Incal and Ranxerox and Tex Arcana.

I appreciated that Heavy Metal wasn’t a kid’s comic book. That it contained art that challenged you to look beyond the four corners of a page for a meaning to what you were reading. Many of the one and two-part stories from the magazine would stick with me for years. Those weren’t what you bought the mag for, but they were part of the package deal of getting an anthology of weirdness like Heavy Metal.

And nothing felt as strange as El Borbah.

The art was beautiful, yet the hero was repulsive. He looked like Andre the giant wearing a luchador mask. Burns thick non-conformist lines only added to the strangeness. Burns’ art does not include variations in color. It is, in strictest sense, black and white art. Any shading or highlighting is accomplished by varying the line size from the normal bold strokes that outline figures. I’d never seen anything like it.

It made me quite confused. I wanted to like it, but found it just too challenging. It was an instant read for me, but it made little to no sense. His hero smoked and drank. The stories were filled with oddities. I had met my match.

When Black Hole dropped into the Crapbox, it brought back all of the memories of reading Burns when I was sixteen. The twelve issue series was well known to me, although I had yet to pick it up. Beyond the mere nostalgic twinge, there was a comfort in approaching this particular storyline.

I grew up reading Burns in a way. So a story by Burns that conflates a symbolic representation of puberty with a horrific body mutation infection felt…comforting? Understandable? I’m still unsure.

What I’m not unsure about is the odd tingles that Burns’ art gives me. Like Junji Ito’s manga, the images that Burns conjures up are at once eye-catching as they are revolting. However, Burns manages to infuse a magnificent beauty to certain panels that transcends the story he is telling.

I don’t need to tout this book. Black Hole has won more Harvey Awards than you can shake a stick at, as well as the 2006 Ignatz Aware for Outstanding Anthology or Collection, the 2007 Essentials of Angouleme award from Angouleme Internation Comics Festival, and the third best foreign comic book published in Japan for the 2013 Gaiman Award presentation.

A Crapbox seal of approval is something Black Hole doesn’t require.

You are here, so let’s dive right in. There are TONS of metaphors here so I will state that I can’t give you a real teardown of the issue and you get all of it. Mainly because I don’t.

But, also because the book is more of an experience. Posting a page or two here or there won’t give you the same feeling as looking at say a picture of a dissected frog, who’s body incision looks much like a female vagina while knowing the preceding page shows the same incision shape against a black backdrop.

It is a book you have to wander through to truly GET.

All I can do is try to pull you in a little, so you know what you will get when you purchase your copy.

We start before any title page showing what our story will be about. This isn’t stated anywhere in this issue and I would suspect that this is the clearest statement about the basis of the story found throughout the 12 issues. It is like Burns wants to get it out of the way so he can get on with making magic with it.

Here we have a before picture of a lad…

…and an after infection picture of the same boy. Is this a character we will meet? Or is this just an example? Won’t know until we keep turning pages. 

Note also that the method of transmission of said disease isn’t brought up here, but it is certain to be sexual. The idea is threaded through the graphics on every page and the shed human skin form on the cover. To play that part up, the first story title and the frog incision I mentioned earlier come up next. 

These next few pages set the tone and perhaps foreshadow the entire story. I really hate that I passed on pulling the graphic novel printing of this book when I was last at Half Price, because of this opening. It just resonates like this is our story hook. 

Keith is in Biology in school. He is partnered with a pretty girl. He feels the social pressure to “man up.” To take care of business for her. This is the “coming of age” portion writ small.

But when he accepts that role, he finds himself paralyzed before he can follow through. He sees his future and wants no part of it. This is the struggle we all face at this age. It speaks to how we view the world and our changing part in it. As we move from child to adult, we shift from reacting to events to being the cause of them. We accept the responsibility of charting our destiny and the destiny of humanity. 

(we are on page five folks.)

Through this event, Keith comes to realize the changes his body will be going though and the desire to be with a woman. However, in Burns’ vision, these things are terrifying. The link to death, injury, mutilation and shame. This is the Black Hole that Keith is falling into.

Keith faints. When he comes to he finds judgment and condemnation from everyone but Chris. 

The book then shifts gears with a segment called Planet Xeno. We spring forward in time what may be weeks or months. Keith and his friends are sharing a joint as they embark on a trip to a spot in the forest.

The trip is meant to be an escape to where they can get high in peace. However, this is where the kids who have the Bug live. Exiled here, cast out from society, they live in tents and scavenge what they can to survive. I find the parallel to teen mothers and fathers almost too easy a connection to make. These are the people of the scarlet letter.

Keith happens to spot one while taking a charge from another boy. The group goes to check it out.

They find a tent…

…which is filled with the things a teenager might have. Unlike his fellows, Keith doesn’t intrude on the campsite, but instead searches the surrounding forest.

He comes across a shed human skin…

…and that skin is decidedly female. Keith evokes our empathy for this unknown girl who shed this skin. 

Just then he encounters one of the camp’s inhabitants. It is a heartbreaking meeting. Keith’s thoughts describe in detail the torturous conditions this flesh affords the person inhabiting it. A person who just wants Keith to “Go away.”

On his return trip, he discovers more trails and more camps before he makes it back to the original tent and his friends. They have discovered the identity of the tent’s occupant.

However, Keith’s compassion is not shared by his companions. They destroy the tent before leaving. 

The third portion of the story is “sssssssss” and it is a dream that Chris has while living in the camp. The visuals are as bizarre as they are open to interpretation. After showing Chris slumbering we ease into her dreams, our clue being the irregular wave pattern of the panel boarders. She is having a dream of being sexually active, finding attraction to guys she knows. The odd disfigurement on one of them puzzles me. 

Then she looks down to find herself standing in glass. She slices open her foot. In the wound she finds a rolled-up scroll. Again, we see a very vagina-like symbolism in this along with the snake graphic depicted on the scroll. 

The scroll changes, drawing Chris in as the images move to a cave behind the snake. It is half filled with water and in the water, people congregate. They sit immersed chest-high and eat from the garbage that floats around them.

Keith appears from the corner of her vision, as she is now a part of the picture too. He offers her something that is “good to eat” yet appears to be some kind of organ. As well his aspect changes from that of a person to that of the penis-like snake that has followed this dream from the beginning.

In real terms, Chris is infected with the bug. We will see in a moment just what her mutation is. She is living in the camp afraid of what her sexual contact with another might do. Keith was kind to her and she sees him as a white knight. Due to this she has a sexual attraction to him, looking for him to save her from the status the Bug has brought her to. All this is clear from this next sequence.

Keith is shown to be squeezing her when she awakens, an with that act, the skin splits along her back. She peels out of it…

…shedding it like a snake…

…and tearfully tossing it from her tent. 

I’m going to have to buy this entire series. No bones about it. The resolution between Keith and Chris, how the Bug infected are treated by society after their peers grow up a little, so many questions I need answered.

Hopefully I’ve done a good job of getting you to join me.