Friday, October 31, 2008

13 for Halloween: Giving Mnemovore a piece of your mind

Mnemovore deserves a lot more credit than it gets.

The 2005, six-issue limited series has a well-paced script loaded with dread, combining seamlessly with art that skates between cartoony and otherworldly — yet is always dark, moody and menacing. Together the creative team tell a story I never get tired of reading (and which I credit for kick-starting the current wave in mainstream horror comics).

Especially effective is the use of design as a storytelling technique. Fading type, word balloons and eventually whole pages reinforce a sense of mental haziness and a gradual wearing away of what we perceive as real. The loss that the characters are experiencing is brought out to readers, making them an active part of the story. It's clever, and provides both a nice "a-ha!" moment and a disorienting sense of displacement, a brief literary vertigo. You actually find yourself asking, "Wait — what's going on?" ... just like the characters. It's something that could easily come off as gimmicky, but works like a charm in Mnemovore.

Mnemovore is the story of Kaley Markowic, a competitive snowboarder who has lost chunks of her memory following an accident on the slopes. Back at home, Kaley is starting the frustrating process of putting her life back together with the help of friends and family who are essentially strangers to her now. Worse, she starts suffering blackouts and wakes up to find oily black creatures that are all tentacles, eyes and teeth reaching into her head. And then they start attaching themselves to the people around her.

At the same time, Mike is having a nervous breakdown. After winning an award for advertising and marketing, he gives the weirdest speech ever and rails on about media saturation and information overload. Thought, he says, is overpopulated — and overpopulation is a precondition of plague. Mike is an alcoholic, though, and everyone assumes he's just drunk and politely usher him off stage.

Soon the stories of these two characters merge and are tied together by something they have in common; brain damage. With gaps in their memories and misfiring synapses, the mnemovores don't have much to hold onto. Mike quickly becomes a puppet who longs to forget, but Kaley is able to fight it off and sets out to rescue her grandma, ironically enough one of the only people who still remembers her thanks to Alzheimer's. It's not long, though, before Kaley finds herself armed only with ...


Panels from Mnemovore #5, #6
Hans Rodionoff and Ray Fawkes, writers; Mike Huddleston, artist

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And with that, the ghosts and monsters are wrapped up until next year. Oh, and I almost forgot! HAPPY HALLOWE

Friday Night Fights: Wildcat, Bahlactus and the final bell!

It's a bittersweet day in the squared circle, fight-fans; with this final round in the Ladies Night match, our intergalactic master of funk and fisticuffs will be ringing the bell for the last time. With this, Bahlactus will fight no more. Or at least, he won't oversee the battles himself anymore — can you ever truly keep a brawler out of the ring?

Keeping all this in mind, I wanted to do something to give props to the big man, something to let him know I appreciate all his hard work and mad rhymin' skillz on Friday Night Fights. Thanks to Bahlactus, I've come across a lot of blogs I might not have seen otherwise, and I like to think I've even made some new friends. That's a hell of a thing.

So I decided to do some kind of shout-out to his own original FNF post, the very first punch thrown in the name of four-color mayhem. But ... his first fighter was WILDCAT. A dude! Ladies Night calls for women warriors only — no men allowed (unless they were on the business end of a lady's tooth-loosening scorn).

Luckily there's a way around that, right, Yolanda?

Thanks, B — this one's for you: Ding! Ding!! Ding!!!

Panels and panel detail from Infinity Inc. Special #1
Roy Thomas and Dann Thomas, writers; Vince Argondezzi, artist

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Hey, you got your Muerto in my Baldo!

I meant to mention this a couple of days ago, but when I was reading through my local paper's funny pages, guess who made an appearance in Baldo? None other than El Muerto!

It's a neat little bit of crossover between two Latino characters, and hopefully the exposure will help El Muerto creator Javier Hernandez get some new readers.

OK, some background on who I'm talking about: Baldo is a daily newspaper comic strip following the everyday trials of a teenage Mexican-American kid named Baldo (spoiler alert!) and his close-knit family. Baldo is a typical teen, and really, really wants to own a custom lowrider someday (which, seriously, reminds me a lot of the neighborhood I grew up in). Just for the record, I have never in my life heard of anyone actually named Baldo. I did, however, know a Smiley.

El Muerto used to be a guy named Diego who was on his way to a Dia de los Muertos festival when he was snatched by Aztec gods, who promptly sacrificed him. Now those gods of death and destiny use him as their agent on Earth in the form of — this is awesome — an Aztec zombie! Also, he dresses as a mariachi. (And as an aside, Dia de los Muertos is not the same as Halloween. Thank you.)

El Muerto's sudden appearance in Baldo's barrio starts here, and you can find out more about the characters and their creators at their respective Web sites. Orale — que mas quieres?!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

13 for Halloween: When the abyss stares back

It's probably not much of a shock to find out I'm a fan of H.P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos he inspired.

Not only did Lovecraft's work set the groundwork for modern horror, it also touches on perhaps the most terrifying idea of all: The universe doesn't care. What's worse, something you've always suspected about the cold, vast and incomprehensible emptiness is true — when the universe does notice you, it's out to get you (oh, and there's nothing you can do about it).

Another thing I like about Lovecraft's writing (as well as a lot of the stuff written by those following in his trudging footsteps) is the whole idea of the unseen. It's not uncommon for the horror that falls on the protagonists to be kind of ... peripheral. A lot of times, the heroes (or more often, the victims) never see the actual monster itself. Awful, terrible things are happening to people, and it's not even the worst of it because what's coming out of the darkness has only brushed past them like a tunnel breeze pushed ahead by the oncoming freight train.

Cthulhu Tales, which started out as an anthology series and recently went monthly, gets it. A mix of funny, scary, modern and period stories, the series usually has at least one story told in the heebie-jeebie inducing Lovecraft tradition. A good example was published in the very first issue of Cthulhu Tales (available in its entirety online!) and is still the first story I think of when talking about the series. So hold on to your program and pray for intermission; the curtain is rising on ...


Panels from Cthulhu Tales #1
John Rogers, writer; Andy Kuhn, artist

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Meanwhile ... the Iron Pumpkin!

So yesterday I had a dental appointment (whee!), but there was a fun surprise waiting at the reception desk. Instead of the usual clipboards and dour faces, there was a line of fancy jack o' lanterns!

Honestly, they were all pretty impressive — one of 'em was made up to look like Cinderella's pumpkin carriage and came complete with horses and a working light inside. I mean, holy crap. But of course, that's not the one that caught my eye. Instead I instantly gravitated toward Iron Pumpkin!

I don't know what the faceplate and ear-thingies are made of (Sculpey, maybe?), but it's a pretty good job. I just wonder; at the end of the day, does it go home as a drunken gourd named Tony Squash?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

13 for Halloween: Hellboy and the witches of Appalachia

Whoof — cutting it close today!

But there's still time to get in today's 13 for Halloween entry, a nicely creepy scene from the recent mini-series Hellboy: The Crooked Man. I've may have mentioned it before, but The Crooked Man is probably my favorite Hellboy story — thanks to Mike Mignola's taut, no-nonsense horror scripting and Richard Corben's almost uncomfortably organic artwork. Atmospheric and burly, Corben's art is the perfect complement to this backwoods ghost story. (As a matter of fact, if Corben were to become the regular Hellboy artist, I'd be pretty OK with that — his collaboration with Mignola on Makoma was also superior stuff.)

So a quick recap: Deep in the Appalachian Mountains, Hellboy, prodigal son and sorcerer Tom Ferrell, and repentant witch Cora Fisher are on their way to holy ground and a final confrontation with the Crooked Man himself. But before the trio can face the demonic, deal-making miser, they have to first get past ...


Panels from Hellboy: The Crooked Man #2
Mike Mignola, writer; Richard Corben, artist; Dave Stewart, colorist

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

13 for Halloween: 'Funny? Seems to be ... ALIVE!'

The GCP Halloween train rolls on, and today it's making a stop to pick up a classic-style horror story from EC Comics. Interplanetary travel! Strange creatures from space! Insatiable blobs and nuclear bombs you can safely watch explode from mere miles away!

(A blob, I might mention, that appeared a full seven years before this one.)

As you might know, EC is the granddaddy of horror and suspense comics, and were at the forefront of popularizing the medium in the '40s and '50s until some shrill voices from the public — backed up by harrumphing from a Congressional hearing — brought the censorship hammer down. Caving under the pressure, the comic book industry ended up creating its own form of self-censorship in the Comics Code Authority. Thanks a lot, Dr. Wertham.

Luckily, the folks at EC were able to churn out the pulp at an incredible rate, giving us wonderfully warped stories like ...


Panels from EC Sampler #1 (Free Comic Book Day edition)
Originally published in Weird Science #6 (1951)

Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein, writers; Al Feldstein, artist

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Monday, October 27, 2008

13 for Halloween: Momma?!?

An issue of The New Teen Titans probably wouldn't be the first place you'd go looking for a horror story, and for the most part you'd be right. But add a couple of dead family members, some cultists robes and a full-on pentagram in the middle of the living room, and things start looking up. And when you throw in what's maybe one of the best nutty-occult-mom meltdowns ever, then you're on to something.

Wally West finds this out when he walks classmate Francis home one day, only to find out ...


Let's take another look at that ...


Panels from The New Teen Titans #17

Marv Wolfman, writer; George Perez, artist

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Friday, October 24, 2008

13 for Halloween: Abby Arcane reaps what she sows

When Mark Millar took over writing duties for Swamp Thing back in the '90s, he brought with him a distinct vibe that hearkened back to ol' Swampys roots (heh) as a horror comic.

One of the most interesting story lines was a semi-experimental series called "River Run." Tying in to Millar's whole Parliament concept, "River Run" had Swamp Thing meeting a woman who, after committing suicide, became trapped inside her own book of short stories. From there Swamp Thing went from story to story (and apparently from one alternate Earth to another), putting things right like some sort of mossy Scott Bakula.

Essentially being a horror comic, though, the worlds were always twisted in some way, with Swamp Thing often being in the dark about the whole picture. On one world Anton Arcane, whom he knows as an evil sorcerer, is actually a peaceful and generous farmer in Iowa.

It's his niece Abby — Swampy's girlfriend back home — who's the evil sorcerer around here!

Understandably, this makes things a little tense when Abby comes to the farm to stay with Uncle Anton, Aunt Anna and poor little cousin Joey. After all, Abby's ...


Panels from Swamp Thing #154
Mark Millar, writer; Phillip Hester, penciller; Kim DeMulder, inker

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Friday Night Fights: Long live Manhunter!

As most of you probably know, Manhunter has been canceled — again. Since this is the third time this excellent superhero comic has gotten the ax, it's unlikely it will be given another chance at finding a bigger readership once it wraps up with issue #38, and that's a shame.

Manhunter has consistently been one of the best comics out there, blending spandex-clad heroics with characterizations that gave its fans people who were noble, flawed, often strong, sometimes weak, but always, always, always real. The fact that this title won't be on the stands anymore is a loss for the comics community as a whole — not just its fan-base, much less for its publisher, DC.

It'd be easy to say Manhunter obviously just couldn't cut it. If it was good enough, it would have found its readers, right? Normally I'd agree, but it's also pretty common for critically acclaimed comics to have next to no readership; smart companies give those titles a chance to build one. And DC did Manhunter no favors by canceling the book over and over. Without a consistent presence on the stands, and a possible stigma as "that book nobody liked" (why else would it be canceled, right?), the creators were fighting an uphill battle.

I only hope writer Marc Andreyko — as well as the artists who have worked on the title, from first penciller Jesus Saiz to current artist Michael Gaydos — realize it wasn't their fault Manhunter didn't make it. They just made a better book than DC deserved.

Oh, and did I mention that Kate Spencer — in addition to being a smart, strong superhero, single mom and top-level attorney — is kind of a bad-ass?

Bahlactus knows what I'm talkin' about.

Following a link? Read more Great Caesar's Post here!

Panels from Manhunter #34
Marc Andreyko, writer; Michael Gaydos, artist

Thursday, October 23, 2008

13 for Halloween: Milk & Cheese are their own tricks and treats

If you've read any Milk & Cheese at all, you know that these dairy products gone bad have no redeeming value at all. None. Angry, violent, disgusting and usually drunk, the Carton of Hate and Wedge of Spite see society as good only for mockery and head-beatings.

I think it was the vomit strip that made me fall in love with them.

Luckily for you, that's not what I'm sharing today. Nope, because holidays and the rituals that go with them were a natural target for Milk and Cheese, and not even Halloween was safe from ...


As an added bonus, here are some appropriately themed trading cards from a set I've had since forever — enjoy!

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Panels from Milk & Cheese #5
Evan Dorkin, writer/artist