Krampus: The Devil of Christmas


By various, edited by Monte Beauchamp (Last Gasp)
ISBN: 978-0-86719-747-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Horrid Holiday Cheers… 8/10

When I lived in New York, the morning after Thanksgiving was when retailers committed Christmas. Staggering out into chilly morning air (I wonder if they still have that?) after a surfeit of everything, one’s eyes would boggle at a profusion of tinsel, glitter and lights with entire buildings done up like stockings or giant parcels.

These utterly mindboggling tributes to understatement would make any stolid Englander quail with disquiet and I still get tremors occasionally around postmen bearing packages… Another way to bring on Christmas chills is with a good book, and this delightfully engrossing hardback celebration from artist, historian and designer Monte Beauchamp (a welcome expansion on his 2004 book The Devil in Design) focuses on a long-lost aspect of the Season of Good Will that’s found renewed interest in recent times thanks to a film franchise and the general malaise affecting glum modern humans…

For decades Monte Beauchamp’s iconic, innovative narrative and graphic arts magazine Blab! highlighted the best and most groundbreaking trends and trendsetters in cartooning and other popular creative fields.

Initially published through the auspices of the much-missed Kitchen Sink Press it moved first to Fantagraphics and carried on as the snazzy hardback annual Blabworld from Last Gasp. Here however Beauchamp looks back not forward to revel in the lost exuberance and dark creativity of a host of anonymous artists whose seasonal imaginings spiced up the Winter Solstice for generations of guilty-until-proven-innocent nippers…

In Western Europe – especially the German-speaking countries but also as far afield as Northern Italy and the Balkans – St Nicholas used to travel out with gifts for good children, accompanied by a goat-headed, satanic servant. Fur-covered, furtive, chain-bedecked, sinister and all-knowing, the beast-man with a foot-long tongue and one cloven hoof wielded a birch switch to thrash the unruly and a copious sack to carry off disobedient kinder.

The Krampus was a fixture of winter life in Austria, Switzerland and the German Principalities, with his own special feast-day (December 5th – just before St. Nikolaus’ Day), parades, festivals and highly enjoyable (for parents, at least) ceremonial child-scaring events. Back then we really knew how to reward the naughty and the nice…

This compelling and enchanting hardback tome – still readily available but not yet as a digital delivery – celebrates the thrilling dark edge of the Christmas experience as depicted through the medium of the full-colour postcards that were a crucial facet of life in Europe from 1869 to the outbreak of World War I.

However, even with fascinating histories of the character and the art-form related in ‘Greetings From Krampus’, ‘Festival of the Krampus’ and ‘Postal Beginnings’, the true wide-eyed wonder and untrammelled joy of this compendium is the glorious cacophony of paintings, prints, drawings collages – and even a few primitive and experimental photographic forays – depicting the delicious dread scariness of the legendary deterrent as he (it?) terrifies boys and girls, explores the new-fangled temptations of airplanes and automobiles and regularly monitors the more mature wicked transgressions of courting couples…

A feast of imagination and tradition ranging from the wry, sardonic and archly-knowing to the outright disturbing and genuinely scary, this magical artbook is a treasure not just for Christmas but for life…

And it’s not nearly as environmentally harmful as coal…
© 2010 Monte Beauchamp. All rights reserved.

Showcase Presents Ghosts


By Leo Dorfman, Murray Boltinoff, John Broome, Jack Miller, Joe Samachson, George Kashdan, Bob Haney, Richard E. Hughes, Carl Wessler, Tony DeZuñiga, Jim Aparo, Sam Glanzman, Carmine Infantino, Sy Barry, Frank Giacoia, John Calnan, Bob Brown, George Tuska, Wally Wood, Curt Swan, Ruben Moreira, Irwin Hasen, Leonard Starr, Jerry Grandenetti, Nick Cardy, Ramona Fradon, Art Saaf, Michael William Kaluta, Jack Sparling, Win Mortimer, Ernie Chan, Buddy Gernale, Nestor, Quico & Frank Redondo, Alfredo Alcala, Gerry Talaoc, Nestor Malgapo, E.R. Cruz, Rico Rival, Abe Ocampo, Ernesto Patricio & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-0-85768-836-1

Boo! Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Perfect Serving of Sinister Comics Spookiness… 8/10

American comicbooks started rather slowly until the invention of superheroes unleashed a torrent of creative imitation and established a new entertainment genre. Implacably vested in World War Two, the superman swept all before him (occasional her or it) until the troops came home and the more traditional themes and heroes resurfaced, and eventually supplanted the Fights ‘n’ Tights crowd.

Whilst a new generation of kids began buying and collecting, many of the first fans also retained their four-colour habit but increasingly sought older themes in their reading matter. The war years had irrevocably altered the psychological landscape of the readership and, as a more world-weary, cynical young public came to see that all the fighting and dying hadn’t really changed anything, their chosen forms of entertainment (film and prose as well as comics) increasingly reflected this.

As well as Western, War and Crime comics, celebrity tie-ins, madcap escapist comedy and anthropomorphic funny animal features were immediately resurgent. Gradually another cyclical revival of spiritualism and public fascination with the arcane led to a wave of impressive, evocative and shockingly more-ish horror comics. These spanned the range from EC and Simon & Kirby’s astoundingly mature and landmark scary fictions to grotesquely exploitative eerie episodes from pale imitators and even wholesome, family-friendly fear tales from the industry’s biggest players.

The company that would become DC Comics bowed to the inevitable and launched a comparatively straight-laced anthology that nevertheless became one of their longest-running and most influential titles with the (December 1951/January 1952) release of The House of Mystery, at the same time turning venerable anthology Sensation Comics (the magazine that had starred Wonder Woman since 1942) into a fantasy vehicle with square-jawed he-men such as Jonny Peril battling the encroaching unknown with issue #107.

That conversion was completed when the title became Sensation Mystery with #110 in July 1952.

Everything changed when a hysterical censorship scandal and governmental witch-hunt created a spectacular backlash (feel free to type Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, April- June 1954 into your search engine at any time… You can do that because it’s more-or-less still a free country).

The crisis was curtailed by the industry adopting a castrating straitjacket of self-regulatory rules. Horror titles produced under the aegis of the Comics Code Authority became sanitised, anodyne affairs in terms of Shock and Gore, even though the appetite for suspense was still high. For example: in 1956 National introduced the sister title House of Secrets which debuted with a November/December cover-date and specialised in taut human-interest tales in a fantasy milieu.

Stories were dialled back into marvellously illustrated, rationalistic, fantasy-adventure vehicles which dominated the market until the 1960s when super-heroes (which had started to creep back after Julius Schwartz began the Silver Age of comics by reintroducing the Flash in Showcase #4, 1956) finally overtook them. When the cape-and-cowl craziness peaked and popped, sales began bottoming out for Costumed Dramas and comics faced another punishing sales downturn.

Nothing combats censorship better than falling profits. As the end of the 1960s saw the superhero boom end with so many titles dead and some of the industry’s most prestigious series circling the drain too, the publishers took drastic action.

This real-world Crisis led to the surviving players in the field agreeing to loosen their self-imposed restraints against crime and horror comics. Nobody much cared about gangster titles but as the liberalisation coincided with another bump in public interest in all aspects of the Worlds Beyond, the resurrection of spooky stories was a foregone conclusion and obvious “no-brainer.”

Even ultra-wholesome Archie Comics re-entered the field with their rather tasty line of Red Circle Chillers…

Thus, with absolutely no fanfare at all, spooky comics came back to quickly dominate the American funnybook market for more than half a decade. DC started by converting The House of Mystery and Tales of the Unexpected into mystery suspense mags in 1968 and followed by resurrecting House of Secrets (August-September 1969) which had been cancelled in 1966.

Soon supernatural mystery titles were the dominant force in the marketplace and DC began a steady stream of launches along narrowly differing thematic lines. There was gothic horror romance title Sinister House of Secret Love, a combat iteration in Weird War Tales and from late summer 1970 a bold new book which proudly boasted “True Tales of the Weird and Supernatural!” and challenged readers to read on if they dared…

This first monochrome encyclopaedia of the eerie and uncanny collects the first 18 issues of Ghosts, covering like a shroud September/October 1970 to September 1973 with lead scripter and supernatural enthusiast Leo Dorfman producing most of the series’ original material for a title he is generally credited with creating.

Dorfman was one of the most prolific scripters of the era (also working as David George and Geoff Brown) and a major scripter of comic horror stories for many DC and Gold Key titles.

The thrills and chills begin with a graphic ‘Introduction’ from Tony DeZuñiga – probably scripted by editor Murray Boltinoff – before ‘Death’s Bridegroom’ (Dorfman & Jim Aparo) told of a conniving bluebeard conman who finally picked the wrong girl to bilk and jilt. Sam Glanzman illustrated the fearsome tale of a shipbuilder slain while sabotaging a Nazi U-Boat who returned as a vengeful ‘Ghost in the Iron Coffin’, after which ‘The Tattooed Terror’, by John Broome, Carmine Infantino & Sy Barry, offers a slice of Golden Age anxiety from Sensation Mystery #112 (November 1952) when a career criminal is seemingly haunted by his betrayed partner.

Broome, Infantino & Frank Giacoia then relived ‘The Last Dream’ (Sensation Comics #107, December 1951-January 1952) when a 400-year old rivalry resulted in death for a 20th century sceptic, and this initial issue ends with a Western mystery in ‘The Spectral Coachman’ by Dorfman & DeZuñiga.

Issue #2 began with a predatory ghost-witch persecuting a Carpathian village in ‘No Grave can Hold Me’ by Dorfman, John Calnan & George Tuska, whilst ‘Mission Supernatural’ (art by Bob Brown & Wally Wood) revealed a WWII secret which perpetually plagued a modern English airport.

A brace of revered reprints begin with light-hearted romp ‘The Sorrow of the Spirits’ from House of Mystery #21 (December 1953, by Jack Miller, Curt Swan & Ray Burnley) wherein a plague of famous phantoms attempted to possess their descendents’ bodies whilst ‘Enter the Ghost’ (Joe Samachson & Ruben Moreira from House of Mystery #29, August 1954) found an actor endangered by a dead thespian jealous of anyone recreating his greatest role…

With Dorfman still writing the lion’s share of the new material, DeZuñiga illustrates the sorry fate of an unscrupulous diver seduced by the discovery of a ‘Galleon of Death’ whilst Miller & Irwin Hasen’s ‘Lantern in the Rain’ (originally from Sensation Mystery #113, January/February 1953) recounts an eerie railroad episode, and Dorfman & Glanzman reunite to tell an original tale of ‘The Ghost Battalions’ who still haunt the world’s battle sites from Gallipoli to Korea.

Dorfman & DeZuñiga visited 17th century Scotland for #3’s opening occult observation wherein a sea-born princess demanded her child back from a wicked Laird in ‘Death is my Mother’, after which ‘The Magician who Haunted Hollywood’ George Kashdan & Leonard Starr, from HoM #10, January 1953) reveals how actor Dick Mayhew might have been aided by a deceased escapologist when he played the starring role in the magician’s bio-pic…

‘The Dark Goddess of Doom’, drawn by Calnan, reveals how a statue of Kali deals with the ruthless collector who stole her, after which the anonymously authored ‘Station G.H.O.S.T.’ (limned by Moreira from HoM #17, August 1953) discloses how a man’s scheme to corruptly purchase a house haunted by his ancestor went weirdly awry.

Tuska draws the saga of a WWII pilot who crashes into a desert nightmare and fatefully meets a ‘Legion of the Dead’, whilst, after a reprinted fact-file on ‘Ghostly Miners’, Jerry Grandenetti depicts the story of a French landowner who unwisely disturbed a burial ground and met ‘The Screaming Skulls’

Ghosts #4 starts with a secret history of one of America’s most infamous killers in ‘The Crimson Claw’ (Tuska & cover artist Nick Cardy) before ‘The Ghostly Cities of Gold’ (Grandenetti) reveals the truth about fabled, haunted Cibola and the first reprint features ‘The Man Who Killed his Shadow’ (Miller, Swan & Burnley: HoM #16, July 1953) wherein a murdered photographer reaches from beyond the grave for justice.

Thereafter, Ernie Chan limns ‘The Fanged Spectres of Kinshoro’ with a Big Game hunter pitting 20th century rationality against an ancient Ju-Ju threat, whilst the superb team of Bob Haney, Ramona Fradon & Charles Paris shine again with ‘The Legend of the Black Swan’ (HoM #48, March 1956) wherein three sceptical American students in Spain have an eerie encounter with doomed 17th century sailors. This issue concludes on ‘The Threshold of Nightmare House’ with Calnan & Grandenetti illustrating the inevitable doom of a woman who was haunted by her own ghost…

During the invasion of China in 1939 a greedy Japanese warlord meets his fate – and the spirits of the Mongol warriors whose tomb he robbed. Issue #5’s lead tale ‘Death, the Pale Horseman’ (by Dorfman & Art Saaf) is followed by ‘The Hands from the Grave’ (Calnan) which somehow saves a young tourist from an early death, after which reprint ‘The Telltale Mirror’ (by an unknown author & Grandenetti from HoM #13, April 1953) shows the dread downside of owning a looking glass that reflects the future…

Original yarn ‘Caravan of Doom’ (Jack Sparling), tells of an uncanny African warrior aiding enslaved Tommies in WWI Tanganyika, and is balanced by uncredited reprint ‘The Phantom of the Fog’(illustrated by Moreira; HoM #123, June 1962) wherein valiant rebels overthrow a petty dictator with the apparent aid of an oceanic apparition, before Grandenetti’s ‘The Hearse Came at Midnight’ ends the issue with spoiled college frat boys learning an horrific lesson about hazing and initiation rites…

With Ghosts #6, the page count dropped from 52 to 32 pages and the reprints were curtailed in favour of all-new material. Proceedings begin with Dorfman & Saaf’s cautionary tale of an avaricious arcane apothecary when ‘A Specter Poured the Potion’ before ‘Ride with the Devil’ (Calnan) told of a most unexpected lift for an unwary hitchhiker whilst ‘Death Awaits Me’ (Grandenetti) exposes the eerie premonition that marked the bizarre death of dancer Isadora Duncan.

A rare DC outing for mercurial comics genius Richard E. Hughes closed this slimline edition with ‘Ghost Cargo from the Sky’, illustrated by Sparling and exposing the incredible power of wishing to Pacific Islanders in the aftermath of WWII.

Michael William Kaluta stood in for Cardy as cover artist for #7 but Dorfman remained as writer, beginning with ‘Death’s Finger Points’ (Sparling art) as a bullying Australian sheep farmer falls foul of aborigines he’d abused, whilst President in waiting Lyndon B. Johnson becomes only the latest VIP to learn the cost of ignoring a Fakir’s warning in the Saaf-illustrated ‘Touch not my Tomb’.

Calnan then closed things out with ‘The Sweet Smile of Death’ in a doomed romance between a 20th century photographer and a flighty Regency phantom who refused to let this last admirer go…

‘The Cadaver in the Clock’ (art by Buddy Gernale) opened Ghosts #8, as a succession of heirs learned the downside of an inheritance which perforce included a mummified corpse inside a grand chronometer, but Glanzman’s ‘The Guns of the Dead’ shows a far more beneficial side to spectres as US marines are saved by their deceased yet unstoppable sergeant in 1944. ‘Hotline to the Supernatural’ – lovingly limned by the wonderful Nestor Redondo – recounts numerous cases of supernatural premonition, whilst ‘To Kill a Tyrant’ (Quico Redondo) implausibly links the incredible last hours of Rasputin to the so-necessary death of Stalin decades later…

Issue #9 begins with Calnan’s ‘The Curse of the Phantom Prophet’, as an Indian holy man continues his war against the insolent British and rapacious white men long after his death by firing squad, ‘The Last Ride of Rosie the Wrecker’ (gloriously illustrated by Alfredo Alcala) detailed the indomitable determination of a destroyed US tank that shouldn’t have been able to move at all, and Grandenetti’s ‘The Spectral Shepherd of Dartmoor’ showed how a long-dead repentant convict still aided the weak and imperilled in modern Britain. Events end on an eerie note when vacationers see horrific apparitions but discover that ‘The Phantom that Never Was’ has created a real ghost out of a hoax disaster in a genuine chiller drawn by Bob Brown & Frank McLaughlin.

Fact page ‘Experimenters Beyond the Grave’ – from Dorfman & Win Mortimer – details the attempts of Harry Houdini, Mackenzie King and Aldous Huxley to send messages from the vale of shades before storytelling resumes in #10 with the Gerry Talaoc/Redondo Studio illustrated tale of a Vietnamese Harbinger of Doom in ‘A Specter Stalks Saigon’.

Increasingly, a host of superb Filipino artists would take on the art chores for the ubiquitous Dorfman’s scripts such as ‘The Ghost of Wandsgate Gallows’ by Chan, detailing the inevitable fate of an English noble who hires and then betrays a contract killer.

Although naval savant Sam Glanzman could be the only choice for the US maritime mystery ‘Death Came at Dawn’, Nestor Malgapo artfully handles horrific saga ‘The Hell Beast of Berkeley Square’, which for decades slaughtered guilty and innocents alike in prosperous Mayfair…

Ghosts #11 opened with Eufronio Reyes (E.R.) Cruz’s contemporary thriller wherein Nazi war criminals recovering long-hidden loot finally pay for their foul crimes in ‘The Devil’s Lake’, before Chan delineates a subway journey where the ‘Next Stop is Nowhere’.

Graphic master Grandenetti visually captures ‘The Specter Who Stalked Cellblock 13’ (of San Quentin), and Bob Brown returns to illustrate the story of a church organ which killed anyone who played it in ‘The Instrument of Death’, after which Sparling charts the sinister coincidences of ‘The Death Circle’ which dictates that every US President elected in a year ending in zero dies in office.

Of course, not everyone today is happy that the myth has been debunked…

Ghosts #12 featured ‘The Macabre Mummy of Takhem-Ahtem’ (Calnan art): more a traditional monster-mash than purportedly true report, after which ‘Chimes for a Corpse’ (Grandenetti) saw a German watchmaker die for his malicious treatment of an apprentice before the always amazing Glanzman-limned ‘Beyond the Portal of the Unknown’ closed proceedings in magnificent style when French soldiers in 1915 uncover a terrible tomb and unleash a centuries old vendetta of vengeance…

Dorfman & Brown open issue #13 with ‘The Nightmare in the Sandbox’, detailing a war of voodoo practitioners carried out in Haitian garden, whilst ‘Voice of Vengeance’ (Calnan) depicted the macabre vengeance of marionettes on the embezzling official who silenced their maker. ‘Have Tomb, Will Travel’ (Talaoc) sees contract killers using a scrapyard to lose their latest corpse discover that their brand-new car comes with his unquiet spirit as an angry extra… Nestor Redondo then depicts the inexplicable experience of two lost GIs who spend a night in a castle that isn’t there and endure ‘Hell is One Mile High’

In #14, an heirloom wedding dress that comes with a curse doesn’t stop Diane Chapman from marrying her young man in Gernale’s ‘The Bride Wore a Shroud’, whilst ‘Death Weaves a Web’ (by George Kashdan & Chan) sees a bullying uncle live to regret destroying his little nephew’s spider collection – but not for long…

‘Phantom of the Iron Horseman’ (Talaoc) finds a young train driver and a host of passengers saved from disaster by the spirit of his disgraced grandfather before the issue ends with a catalogue of global portents warning of the appalling Aberfan tragedy in 1966 in Cruz’s ‘The Dark Dream of Death’.

Gernale opened #15 with ‘The Ghost that Wouldn’t Die’, another case of domestic gold-digging, ectoplasmic doppelgangers and living ghosts, whilst ‘A Phantom in the Alamo’ (Carl Wessler & Glanzman) revealed the ghastly fate of the American who sold out the valiant defenders to the Mexican invaders. Alcala lent his prodigious gifts to the Balkan tale of a corpse collector who abandoned morality and began profiteering from his sacred trust in ‘Who Dares Cheat the Dead?’ and Rico Rival delineated a gripping yarn wherein a corrupt surgeon was haunted by the hit-and-run victim he’d silenced in ‘Hand from the Grave’.

Ghosts #16 told of a Spanish gypsy cursed to see ‘Death’s Grinning Face’ whenever someone was going to die in a stirring thriller from Rival, and Glanzman again displays his uncanny knack for capturing shipboard life – and death – when, after 25 years, a deserter finally joins his dead comrades in ‘The Mothball Ghost’. Talaoc then delineates Napoleon Bonaparte’s services to France after the Little Corporal dies and becomes ‘The Haunted Hero of St. Helena’

Issue #17 finds a phantom lady save flood-lost children in Dorfman & Alcala’s moving ‘Death Held the Lantern High’ after which editor Murray Boltinoff & Talaoc reveal ‘The Specters Were the Stars’ when a film company tries to capture the horror of the 1920 Ulster Uprising, before Kashdan & Calnan expose the seductive lure and inescapable power of traditional Romani using ‘The Devil’s Ouija’ to combat centuries of prejudice…

This first terrifying tome terminates with Ghosts #18 and Alcala’s account of a hateful Delaware medicine chief who still lures white men to his watery ‘Graveyard of Vengeance’, centuries after his death, whilst Abe Ocampo details the unlikely ‘Death of a Ghost’ at the hands of a very smug inventor who has just moved into a haunted mansion.

Frank Redondo describes how villagers in old Austria knew young Adolf would come to a bad end because the boy had ‘The Eye of Evil’ and the spookiness at last ceases with ‘Death Came Creeping’ – by Ernesto Patricio & Talaoc – when a visiting Egyptian merchant and his unique pet stop a sneak thief’s predations in an age-old manner…

These terror-tales captivated the reading public and critics alike when they first appeared and it’s almost certain that they saved DC during one of the toughest downturns in comics publishing history. Their blend of sinister mirth, classic horror scenarios and suspense set-pieces can most familiarly be seen in such children’s series as Goosebumps, Horrible Histories and their many imitators.

Everybody loves a good healthy scare – especially today or even on those dark Christmas nights to come – and this beautiful gathering of ethereal escapism (sadly, still only available in monochrome and paperback) is a treat fans of fear and fantastic art should readily take to their cold, dead hearts…
© 1971, 1972, 1973, 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Sandman Mystery Theatre: Book One


By Matt Wagner, Guy Davis, John Watkiss, R.G. Taylor, David Hornung & John Costanza (Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6327-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Eerie Mystery-Mood Masterpiece… 8/10

Created by Gardner Fox and first depicted by Bert Christman, The Sandman premiered in either Adventure Comics #40 July 1939 (two months after Batman debuted in Detective Comics #27) or two weeks earlier in New York World’s Fair Comics 1939, depending on whether some rather spotty distribution records can be believed.

Head and face utterly obscured by a gasmask and slouch hat; caped, business-suited millionaire adventurer Wesley Dodds was cut from the iconic masked mystery-man mould that had made pulp fictioneers The Lone Ranger, Green Hornet, The Shadow, Phantom Detective, Black Bat, The Spider and so many more such household names. Those dark red-handed heroes were also astonishing commercial successes in the early days of mass periodical publication…

Wielding a sleeping-gas gun and haunting the night to battle a string of killers, crooks and spies, he was accompanied in the earliest comicbooks by his plucky paramour Dian Belmont, before gradually losing the readers’ interest and slipping from cover-spot to last feature in Adventure Comics, just as the cloaked pulp-hero avengers he emulated slipped from popularity in favour of more flamboyant fictional fare.

Possessing a certain indefinable style and charm but definitely no especial pizzazz, the feature was on the verge of being dropped when the Sandman abruptly switched to a skin-tight yellow-&-purple costume and gained a boy-sidekick, Sandy the Golden Boy (in Adventure Comics #69, December 1941, courtesy of Mort Weisinger & Paul Norris). All this, presumably to emulate the overwhelmingly successful Batman and Captain America models then reaping such big dividends on the newsstands.

It didn’t help much, but when Joe Simon & Jack Kirby came aboard with #72 that all spectacularly changed. A semi-supernatural element and fascination with the world of dreams (revisited by S&K a decade later in their short-lived experimental suspense series The Strange World of Your Dreams) added a moody conceptual punch to equal the kinetic fury of their art, as Sandman and Sandy became literally the stuff of nightmares to the bizarre bandits and murderous mugs they stalked…

For what happened next you can check out the superb Simon & Kirby Sandman hardback collection…

Time passed and in the late 1980s Neil Gaiman, Sam Keith & Mike Dringenberg took the property in a revolutionary new direction, eventually linking all the previous decades’ elements into an overarching connective continuity under DC’s new “sophisticated suspense” imprint Vertigo.

Within a few years the astounding success of the new Sandman prompted the editorial powers-that-be to revisit the stylishly retro original character and look at him through more mature eyes. Iconoclastic creator Matt Wagner (Mage, Grendel) teamed with artistic adept Guy Davis (Baker Street, B.P.R.D.) and colourist David Hornung to create a grittier, grimier, far more viscerally authentic 1930s, where the haunted mystery man pursued his lonely crusade with chilling verisimilitude.

The tone was darkly modernistic, with the crime-busting playing out in the dissolute dog-days of the Jazz Age and addressed controversial themes such as abuse, sexual depravity, corruption and racism; all confronted against the rising tide of fascism that was sweeping the world then.

This is a warning: Sandman Mystery Theatre is not for kids…

This compendium collections the redefining first three story-arcs from issues #1-12 (April 1993 to March 1994) and commences after an absorbing introduction from veteran journalist, critic and pop culture historian Dave Marsh.

Each chapter preceded by its original evocative faux pulp photo cover created by Gavin Wilson and Hornung, the dark drama opens with The Tarantula, taking us back to New York in 1938 where District Attorney Larry Belmont is having the Devil’s own time keeping his wild-child daughter out of trouble and out of the newspapers.

She’s gallivanting all over town every night with her spoiled rich friends; drinking, partying and associating with all the wrong sorts of people, but the prominent public servant has far larger problems too. One is a mysterious gas-masked figure he finds rifling his safe soon after Dian departs…

The intruder easily overpowers the DA with some kind of sleeping gas – which also makes you want to blurt every inconvenient truth – before disappearing, leaving Belmont to awake with a headache and wondering if it was all a dream…

Dian, after a rowdy night of carousing with scandalous BFF Catherine Van Der Meer and her latest (gangster) lover, awakes with a similar hangover but still agrees to attend one of her father’s dreary public functions that evening. The elder Belmont is particularly keen that she meet a studious young man named Wesley Dodds, recently returned from years in the Orient to take over his deceased dad’s many business interests.

Dodds seems genteel and effete, yet Dian finds there’s something oddly compelling about him. Moreover, he too seems to feel a connection…

The Gala breaks up early when the DA is informed of a sensational crime. Catherine Van Der Meer has been kidnapped by someone identifying himself as The Tarantula

Across town, mob boss Albert Goldman is meeting with fellow gangsters from the West Coast and, as usual, his useless son Roger and drunken wife Miriam embarrass him. Daughter Celia is the only one he can depend on these days, but even her unwavering devotion seems increasingly divided. After another stormy scene the conference ends early, and the visiting crime-lords are appalled to find their usually diligent bodyguards all soundly asleep in their limousines…

Even with Catherine kidnapped, Dian is determined to go out that night, but when Wesley arrives unexpectedly she changes her mind, much to her father’s relief. That feeling doesn’t last long however, after the police inform him that the Tarantula has taken another woman…

When a hideously mutilated body is found Dian inveigles herself into accompanying dear old Dad to Headquarters but is promptly excluded from the grisly “Man’s Business”. Left on her own, she begins snooping in the offices and encounters a bizarre gas-masked figure poring through files. Before she can react, he dashes past her and escapes, leaving her to explain to the assorted useless lawmen cluttering up the place.

Furious and humiliated, Dian then insists that she officially identifies Catherine and nobody can dissuade her.

Shockingly, the savagely ruined body is not her best friend but yet another victim…

Somewhere dark and hidden, Van Der Meer is being tortured but the perpetrator has far more than macabre gratification in mind…

In the Goldman house Celia is daily extending her control over darling devoted daddy. They still share a very special secret, but these days she’s the one dictating where and when they indulge themselves…

With all the trauma in her life Dian increasingly finds Wesley a comforting rock, but perhaps that view would change if she knew how he spends his nights. Dodds is plagued and tormented by bad dreams. Not his own nightmares, but rather the somnolent screams of nameless victims and their cruel oppressors haunt his troubled sleep. Worst of all these dreams are somehow prophetic and unrelenting. What else could a decent man do then, but act to end such suffering?

In a seedy dive, uncompromising Police Lieutenant Burke comes off worst when he discovers the gas-mask lunatic grilling a suspect in “his” kidnapping case and again later when this “Sandman” is found at a factory where the vehicle used to transport victims is hidden.

Even so, the net is inexorably tightening on both Tarantula and the insane vigilante interfering in the investigation but Burke doesn’t know who he most wants in a nice, dark interrogation room…

As the labyrinthine web of mystery and monstrosity slowly unravels, tension mounts and the death toll climbs, but can The Sandman stop the torrent of depraved terror before the determined Dian finds herself swept up in all the blood and death?

Of course, he does but not without appalling consequences…

Scene and scenario suitably set, John Watkiss steps in to illuminate second saga The Face (issues #5-8). Attention switches to Chinatown in February of 1938, where Dian and her gal-pals scandalously dine and dish dirt until Miss Belmont meets again an old lover.

Jimmy Shan once worked in her father’s office but now serves as lawyer and fixer for his own people amongst the teeming restaurants, gambling dens and bordellos of the oriental district…

Dian would be horrified to see Jimmy – or Zhang Chai Lao as his Tong masters know him – consorting with unsavoury criminals, and would certainly not be considering reviving her scandalous out-of-hours relationship with him. All frivolous thoughts vanish, however, when the diners vacate the restaurant and stumble upon a severed head: a warning that the ruling factions are about to go to war again in Chinatown. As usual, white police are utterly ineffectual against the closed ranks of the enclave…

Later at a swanky charity soiree to raise money for a school, Dian meets Jimmy again and agrees to a later meeting. At the same shindig she later sees Wesley, and in the course of their small talk, Dodds reveals that he recognises Shan from somewhere…

And in Chinatown, another beheading leads to greater tension between the Lee Feng and Hou Yibai Societies. When an enigmatic gas-masked stranger starts asking unavoidable questions, he finds that both Tongs deny all knowledge of the killings…

As the grisly murder-toll mounts, The Sandman’s investigations lead to one inescapable conclusion: a third party is responsible. But who, and why…

Before the drama closes, Dian will learn more hard truths about the world and the money-men who secretly run it…

Issues #9-12 (December 1993-March 1994) are illustrated by R.G. Taylor and plumb the darkest depths of human depravity in the tale of ‘The Brute’.

The friendship of Dian and Wesley slowly deepens and life seems less fraught in the city, but that soon ends as hulking degenerate stalks the back-alleys, killing and brutalising prostitutes and their clients…

Dodds is also on the mind of boxing promoter and businessman Arthur Reisling who’s looking for a fresh financial partner in his global exploitations. The effete-seeming scholar is hard to convince, though, unlike Eddie Ramsey. He’s a poverty-stricken pugilist and single parent desperate to make enough money to pay for his daughter Emily’s TB medicine. Riesling’s offer to him is just as scurrilous but the broken-down pug doesn’t have the luxury of saying “no”…

Eventually, with Dian in tow, Wesley accepts a party invitation from the speculator and meets his dynasty of worthless, over-privileged children. None of them seem right or well-adjusted…

Later, when Eddie tries to come clean by informing the authorities of Riesling’s illegal fight events, he’s attacked by the promoter’s thugs and saved by the Sandman – at least until the colossal mystery killer attacks them both and they’re forced to flee for their lives…

As Dodds returns home to recuperate, the punishing dreams escalate to mind-rending intensity.

Eddie, meanwhile, is left with no safe option and takes to the streets with Emily. His decision will lead to revolting horror, total tragedy and utter heartbreak…

The Sandman returns to his covert surveillance, silently unearthing the depths of Reisling’s underworld activities and coincidentally exposing a turbulent and dysfunctional atmosphere in the magnate’s home life to match his criminal activities. In this house corruption of every type runs deep and wide, and the masked avenger decides it’s time to bring his findings to Dian’s father. This time, District Attorney Belmont is prepared to listen and to act…

And as the murders mount and Dodds’ dreams escalate in intensity, the strands of a bloody tapestry begin to knot together and the appalling secret of the bestial killer’s connection to Reisling is exposed, only a detonation of expiating violence can restore order…

Stark, compelling and ferociously absorbing, the bleak thrillers depict a cruel but incisive assessment of good and evil no devotee of dark drama should miss, and the period perils come accompanied by a gallery of the series’ original, groundbreaking comicbook photo-covers and posters by Gavin Wilson plus later collection covers and related art from Matt Wagner, Alex Toth and Kent Wilson
© 1993, 1994, 1995, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Black Max volume 1


By Frank S. Pepper, Ken Mennell, Eric Bradbury, Alfonso Font & various (Rebellion Studios)
ISBN: 978-1-78108-655-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Astounding Air Ace Action… 9/10

It’s time for another sortie down memory lane for us oldsters and, hopefully a new, untrodden path for fans of the fantastic in search of a typically quirky British comics experience.

This stunning paperback (and eBook) package is another stunning nostalgia-punch from Rebellion’s superb and ever-expanding Treasury of British Comics, collecting all episodes of seminal shocker Black Max.

The strip debuted in the first issue of Thunder and ran the distance – spanning October 17th 1970 – 13th March 1971. It then survived cancelation and merger, continuing in Lion & Thunder until that magazine finally died.

This book carries those stories, beginning with March 20th up to May 8th 1971 and the period perils are rounded out with a brace of longer yarns taken from Lion & Thunder Holiday Special 1971 and Thunder Annual 1972. These eerie enthralments are preceded by a warmly reminiscent Introduction from Font that adds a very human dimension to the freaky flying thrills.

The series is typical of the manner in which weekly periodicals functioned back then: devised by screenwriter, veteran Editor and ubiquitous scripter Ken Mennell (Cursitor Doom, Steel Claw, The Spider and so many more) with the first episode limned by the company’s star turn for mood and mystery Eric Bradbury (Invasion, The Black Crow, Cursitor Doom, Hookjaw, House of Dolman and dozens more). Then the whole kit and kaboodle was handed off to another team to sink or swim with, which they did until 1974: a most respectable run for a British comic

The attrition rate of British comic strips bore remarkable similarities to casualty figures…

This particular serial was well-starred: the developing writer was the legendary Frank S. Pepper. He’d begun his professional comics career in 1926 and by 1970 had clocked up a few major successes such as Dan Dare, Rockfist Rogan, Captain Condor, Jet-Ace Logan and Roy of the Rovers to name but a very, very few.

Even the series illustrator Alfonso Font – a relative newcomer – was a ten-year veteran, albeit mostly for European publications. Based in Spain, he worked not just for Odhams/Fleetway but on strips for US outfits Warren and Skywald and on continental classics such as Historias Negras (Dark Stories), Jon Rohner, Carmen Bond, Bri D’Alban, Tex Willer, Dylan Dog and more…

Because of the episodic nature of the material, generally delivered in sharp, spartan 3-page bursts, I’m foregoing my usual self-indulgent and laborious waffle and leaving you with a précis of the theme… and what a cracker it is…

In 1917 the Great War is slowly being lost by Germany and her allies and in the Bavarian schloss of Baron Maximilien von Klorr, the grotesque but brilliant scientist and fighter ace has devised a horrific way to tip the scales back in favour of his homeland…

His ancient family have long had an affinity with bats and the mad man has bred a giant version that will fly beside him to terrify and slaughter the hated English…

The only problem is that his beloved monsters are vulnerable to gunfire so he must keep that as a most secret weapon…

That scheme is imperilled on a weekly basis by thoroughly decent young Brit Tim Wilson. A former performer in a peacetime flying circus, the doughty lad is possibly the best acrobatic flyer on the Western Front and narrowly escapes his encounter with the colossal chiropteran…

Of course, he cannot convince his superiors of the fearsome bio-weapon’s existence, but the Baron knows he’s out there and devotes an astonishing amount of time and effort to killing the lad – when not butchering Allied fliers and ground troops in vast numbers.

As the cat-&-mouse game escalates, both men suffer losses and achieve victories but the odds seem to shift after von Klorr finally manages to mass-produce his monsters, supplemented by ever more incredible inventions like his flying castle…

Most strikingly, some of Tim’s most fervent support comes from the ordinary German soldiers enslaved to the Baron’s vile program…

As previously stated, this initial collection also includes two longer, complete stories from seasonal specials. The first comes from Lion & Thunder Holiday Special 1971: an extra-sized summer treat which revealed how crashed English aviator Captain Johnny Craig experienced a night of extreme terror in the bio-horror filled home of Black Max, whilst Thunder Annual 1972 revealed how Captain Rick Newland of the Royal Flying Corps sought bloody revenge for the brutal bat-winged butchery of his comrades…

These strip shockers are amongst the most memorable and enjoyable exploits in British comics: smart, scary and beautifully rendered. This a superb example of war horror that deserves to be revived and revered.
© 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973 & 2018 Rebellion Publishing Ltd. Black Max and all related characters, their distinctive likenesses and related elements are ™ Rebellion Publishing Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Boneyard in Color, Volume 1


By Richard Moore (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-427-9

Happy Día de Muertos to all of you who celebrate the occasion. Here’s something that might appeal to you today…

Boneyard was an award-winning comicbook that ran 28 issues between 2001 and 2009. It was subsequently collected as a series of monochrome albums and eventually seven full-colour collections between 2005-and 2010. Most volumes are still readily available online.

It’s been on hiatus since 2010 and I, for one, miss it something fierce. Surely it’s time for a re-issue and even some new stories, yes?

Young Paris – don’t call him Michael, he hates it – may finally have had a turn of good luck. Not only has he inherited some property from his reclusive grandfather, but the residents of picturesque little hamlet Raven Hollow are desperate to buy it from him, sight unseen. Nonetheless he makes his shambolic way there and finds that it’s not all so cut and dried.

The property in question is a cemetery named The Boneyard and not everything within its walls is content to play dead…

There’s Abby, a beautiful vampire chick, a foul-mouthed skeleton, a demon with delusions of grandeur, a werewolf who thinks he’s a cross between James Dean and the Fonz, a witch, a hulking Frankenstein-type monster and even talking gargoyles over the gate.

Most worrying of all: There’s even a voluptuous (married) amphibian who adds worlds of meaning – and assorted shades of grey – to the phrase “predatory man-eater.”

The place is a veritable refuge for the restless dead and every sort of Halloween horror, but somehow the residents all seem far more human in attitude and friendly in manner than the increasingly off-kilter townsfolk whose desperate measures to make Paris sell up prove that not all monsters haunt graveyards.

Reprinting issues #1-4 of the independent comic book in full-process colour, this is a charming, sly, funny and irresistibly addictive book, a warm-hearted comedy of terrors that is one the best humour series to come out of the States since Charles Addams first started reporting from that spooky old house in the 1940s.

This is a must-have for Horrorists, Humorists and especially Romantics with an open mind, which can even be read by younger teenagers. Get hunting, amigos…
© 2002, 2005 Richard Moore. All Rights Reserved.

I Luv Halloween Volume 1


By Keith Giffen & Benjamin Roman (TokyoPop)
ISBN: 978-1-59532-831-1

Are you sick? Are you depraved, demented or just plain ‘not right’?

If So, it’s not necessary – but it won’t hurt either – if you pick up this darkly wicked little tome to reaffirm your skewed view of reality.

First seen in 2005, it spawned two further paperback volumes, a hardback Ultimate Edition in full-colour and, latterly, eBook editions (similarly converted from moody monochrome to gaudy sunset shades and blood-spatter hues thanks to the tender ministrations of Michael Kelleher and Glasshouse Graphics…

This holiday is primarily one where kids of varying ages go mooching about begging for sweets and threating mayhem. It used to be about predatory monsters roaming the land, terrorising the citizenry and making mischief. Here, those worlds collide and collude…

Every Halloween, Finch, Moochie, Pig Pig, Bubbles and Squeek, Li’l Bith, Mush and the rest of the kids get together for their annual sugar-coated loot-fest.

But this year it’s all botched up from the get-go ‘cause the very first old lady they accost just gives them fruit, and everyone knows if you don’t get candy right from the start it’s nothing but rubbish all evening.

Drastic steps have to be taken, or else this Halloween is ruined…

You don’t know drastic until you see what this band of masked reprobates get up to. These are not your average trick-or-treaters…

Along the way you’ll also meet that friendly old policeman, the vicious, bullying older kids and that really stacked chick who lives next door as well as her doofus boyfriend. See their ultimate fates and give thanks it’s just a comic!

And as the night unfolds – with each kid given his/her/its own chapter to play in – we’ll see that theirs is a very bleak and nasty kind of fun with a vicious undercurrent to the shenanigans. You might even call it tragic…

Comics veteran Keith Giffen flexes his comedy – and bad taste – muscles in an irresistible confection that would win nodding approval from Charles Addams and the producers of any self-respecting splatter movie. The jovial malice is uniquely captured by the totally enchanting art of Benjamin Roman, whose inexplicably charming grotesques are the stuff of any animation studio’s dreams. If you don’t believe me just check out the stupefying Sketchbook section and frankly alarming Creator Bio feature…

Toys based on these sick puppies will sell and sell and sell – if you can bear to liberate them from any stout packaging or go to sleep in the same room as them…

If you have no fear of the dark, if you love a gross joke, have a soft side that can be hit by a brilliantly sad twist or two and especially if you don’t care what your immediate family or the clergy think of you, then you really want to read this book. Over and over and over and over again. Amen…
© 2005 Keith Giffen & Benjamin Roman. All Rights Reserved.

Creepy Presents Alex Toth


By Alex Toth, with Archie Goodwin, Gerry Boudreau, Rich Margopoulos, Roger McKenzie, Doug Moench, Nicola Cuti, Bill DuBay & Steve Skeates and Leopoldo Durañona, Leo Summers, Romeo Tanghal, Carmine Infantino & various (Dark Horse Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-692-1 (HB)                    eISBN: 978-1-63008-194-2

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Festive Flurry of Fearsome Fun… 9/10

Once upon a time the short complete tale was the sole staple of the comicbook profession, where the intent was to deliver as much variety and entertainment fulfilment as possible to the reader. Sadly, that particular discipline is all but lost to us today…

Alex Toth was a master of graphic communication who shaped two different art-forms and is largely unknown in both of them.

Born in New York in 1928, the son of Hungarian immigrants with a dynamic interest in the arts, Toth was something of a prodigy and after enrolling in the High School of Industrial Arts, doggedly went about improving his skills as a cartoonist.

His earliest dreams were of a strip like Milton Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates, but his uncompromising devotion to the highest standards soon soured him on newspaper strip work when he discovered how hidebound and innovation-resistant the family-values based industry had become whilst he was growing up.

At age 15 he sold his first comicbook works to Heroic Comics and, after graduating in 1947, worked for All American/National Periodical Publications (who would amalgamate and evolve into DC Comics) on Dr. Mid-Nite, All Star Comics, The Atom, Green Lantern, Johnny Thunder, Sierra Smith, Johnny Peril, Danger Trail and a host of other two-fisted fighting features.

On the way he dabbled with newspaper strips (see Casey Ruggles: the Hard Times of Pancho and Pecos) and confirmed that nothing had changed…

Constantly aiming to improve his own work, he never had time for fools or formula-hungry editors who wouldn’t take artistic risks. In 1952 Toth quit DC to work for “Thrilling” Pulps publisher Ned Pines who was retooling his prolific Better/Nedor/Pines comics companies (Thrilling Comics, Fighting Yank, Doc Strange, Black Terror and others) into Standard Comics: a comics house targeting older readers with sophisticated, genre-based titles.

Beside his particularly favourite inker Mike Peppe and fellow graphic artisans Nick Cardy, Mike Sekowsky, Art Saaf, John Celardo, George Tuska, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, Toth set the bar incredibly high for a new kind of story-telling. In a cavalcade of short-lived titles dedicated to War, Crime, Horror, Science Fiction and especially Romance, the material produced was wry, restrained and thoroughly mature.

After Simon & Kirby invented love comics, Standard, through artists like Cardy and Toth and writers like the amazing and unsung Kim Aamodt, polished and honed the genre, regularly turning out clever, witty, evocative and yet tasteful melodramas and heart-tuggers both men and women could enjoy.

Before going into the military, where he still found time to create a strip (Jon Fury for the US army’s Tokyo Quartermaster newspaper The Depot’s Diary) Toth illustrated 60 glorious tales for Standard; as well as a few pieces for EC and others.

On his return to a different industry – and one he didn’t much like – Toth split his time between Western/Dell/Gold Key (Zorro and many movie/TV adaptations) and National (assorted short pieces, Hot Wheels and Eclipso): doing work he increasingly found uninspired, moribund and creatively cowardly.

Soon he moved primarily into TV animation: character and locale designing for shows such as Space Ghost, Herculoids, Birdman, Shazzan!, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? and Super Friends among many others.

He returned sporadically to comics, setting the style and tone for DC’s late 1960’s horror line in House of Mystery, House of Secrets and especially The Witching Hour and illustrating more adult fare for Warren’s Creepy, Eerie and The Rook.

In the early 1980s he redesigned The Fox for Red Circle/Archie, produced stunning one-offs for Archie Goodwin’s Batman or war comics (whenever they offered him a “good script”) and latterly contributed to landmark or anniversary projects such as Batman: Black and White.

His later, personal works included European star-feature Torpedo and the magnificently audacious Bravo for Adventure!: both debuting at the independent magazine publishing company owned by Jim Warren.

Alex Toth died of a heart attack at his drawing board on May 27th 2006.

The details are fully recounted in Douglas Wolk’s biographically informative Foreword, as are hints of the artist’s later spells of creative brilliance at DC Comics, the growing underground movement and nascent independent comics scene…

The erudite and economical Mr. Evanier even finds room to describe and critique the differing art techniques Ditko experimented with during his brief tenure…

Whilst working for Warren (only intermittently and between 1965 and 1982) Toth enjoyed a great deal of editorial freedom and cooperation. He produced 21 starkly stunning monochrome masterpieces – many self-penned or written by fellow legend Archie Goodwin – and all crafted without interference from the Comics Code Authority’s draconian and nonsensical rules.

They ranged from wonderfully baroque and bizarre fantasy, to spooky suspense and science fiction yarns, limited only by the bounds of good taste… or at least as far as horror tales can be…

The uncanny yarns appeared in black-&-white magazine anthologies Creepy (# 5-7, 9, 75-80, 114, 122-125, 139) and Eerie (2, 3, 64, 65 and 67), affording the master of minimalism time and room to experiment with not only a larger page, differing styles and media, but also dabble in then-unknown comics genres…

Those lost Warren stories were gathered into this spectacular oversized (284 x 218 mm) hardback compendium (or assorted eBook formats): part of a series of all-star artist compilations – which also include Rich Corben, Bernie Wrightson, Steve Ditko amongst others – and begins here – after an appreciative Foreword from critic and historian Douglas Wolk – with the short shockers from Creepy.

Moodily rendered in grey wash-tones ‘Grave Undertaking’ comes from Creepy #5 (October 1965). Scripted by Goodwin the period piece relates the shocking comeuppance of a funeral director who branches out into providing fresh corpses for the local medical school, after which December issue #6 provides insight into ‘The Stalkers’ as a troubled soul seeks psychoanalytic help for the hallucinations of aliens plaguing him…

Prophetic visions play a part in ‘Rude Awakening!’ (#7, February 1966) as man flees omens of being gutted by a madman before Toth reverts to his minimalist line style for ‘Out of Time’ (#9 June). Here a murderous mugger seeks sanctuary for his latest crime and ends up making a devil’s bargain…

A long absence ended in November 1975 as Creepy #75 heralded a wealth of new stories from Toth, beginning with the Gerry Boudreau written crime-thriller ‘Phantom of Pleasure Island’ wherein a mob-owned San Diego funfair is plagued by a sinister sniper. Private Eye Hubb Chapin is on the case, but his dogged determination to find the killer opens a lot of festering sores his client should have left well alone…

Spectacularly experimental and powerfully stark, ‘Ensnared!’ scripted by Rich Margopoulos; #76, January 1976) is another paranoiac psychodrama with science fictional underpinnings before Toth begins writing his own stories in Creepy #77 (February) with a wash and tone tour de force depicting the strange fate of missing air mail pilot ‘Tibor Miko’ in 1928.

March’s issue #78 continued the tonal terrors with another 1920s tale exposing the stunning secret of a celluloid icon in ‘Unreeal!’ before we storm into Indiana Jones territory with ‘Kui’ (#79, May) as a couple of anthropologists make the holiday find of a lifetime on a deserted tropical island…

This tranche of Toth treats ends with ‘Proof Positive’ from June’s issue #80 wherein a gang of fraudulent patent lawyers and their ruthless honeytrap pay the ultimate price for gulling the wrong inventor…

When Toth returned in January 1980 his first story was another chilling collaboration with old comrade Archie Goodwin. Creepy #114’s ‘The Reaper’ was rendered in overpowering scratchy line and solid blacks, detailing how a virologist with six months to live decides he’s not dying alone and leaving a world of idiots behind him…

Issue #122 (October 1980) found Toth inking veteran illustrator Leo Duranona for the Roger McKenzie-scripted civil war yarn ‘The Killing!’ Here a Northern party occupying a mansion enduring conflicting passions of lust and vengeance before death inevitably settles all scores.

Doug Moench writes, Leo Summers draws and Toth inks & tones ‘Kiss of the Plague!’ (#123, November) as a welter of grisly murders slowly subtracts the inhabitant of a seemingly accursed house after which ‘Malphisto’s Illusion’ (#124, January 1981) finds Nichola Cuti, Alexis Romero (AKA Romeo Tanghal) & Toth explaining in grisly detail just how a stage magician pulls off his greatest trick and #125’s ‘Jacque Cocteau’s Circus of the Bizarre’ (McKenzie, Carmine Infantino & Toth) maintains the entertainment motif with a short shocker about a freak show like no other…

Toth’s last Creepy appearance was another collaboration with Goodwin. Issue #139 (July 1982) again featured the master’s moodily macabre tone painting in a grim post-apocalyptic rumination on ‘Survival!’

Toth’s tenure on companion anthology Eerie #2 was relatively brief and began with the second issue (March 1966). ‘Vision of Evil’ was the first of two Goodwin tales limned in tone and bold line, revealing the fate of an overly-arrogant art collector who couldn’t take no for an answer, whilst #3’s ‘The Monument’ (May 1966) saw an equally obnoxious architect accidentally engineer his own doom by stealing ideas from an old idol…

Eerie #64 offered intolerance, fear and sentiment in equal measure in ‘Daddy and the Pie’ (written by Bill DuBay). In Depression era America a very alien stranger is made welcome by one hard-up family despite the barely repressed hostility of his neighbours…

A very modern monster’s exploits comprise the end of this stupendous collection as Steve Skeates pens a wry tale of serial killers and doughty detectives in old London town. ‘The Hacker is Back’ (#65 April) depicts a maniac’s return to slaughter after a decade’s hiatus and leads to an inconclusive resolution before ‘The Hacker’s Last Stand!’ (#67 August) find forces of law and order overwhelmed by a killing spree unlike any other…

This voluminous volume has episodes which terrify, amaze, amuse and enthral: utter delights of fantasy fiction with lean, stripped-down plots and a mordant tone which lets the art set the tone, push the emotions and tell the tale, from times when a story could end sadly as well as happily and only wonderment was on the agenda, hidden or otherwise.

These stories display the sharp wit and dark comedic energy which epitomised both Goodwin and Warren, channelled through Ditko’s astounding versatility and storytelling acumen: another cracking collection of his works not only superb in its own right but also a telling affirmation of the gifts of one of the art-form’s greatest stylists.

This is a book serious comics fans would happily kill, die or be lost in a devil-dimension for…
Creepy, the Creepy logo and all contents © 1965, 1966, 1975, 1976, 1980. 1981, 1982, 2015 by New Comic Company. All rights reserved.

Misty Volume 2: featuring The Sentinels & End of the Line


By Malcolm Shaw, Mario Capaldi, John Richardson & various (Rebellion)
ISBN: 978-1-78108-600-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Sinister Thrills and Treats for Every Stocking… 9/10

Like most of my comics contemporaries I harbour a secret shame. Growing up, I was well aware of the weeklies produced for girls but would never admit to reading them. My loss: I now know that they were packed with some great strips by astounding artists and writers, many of them personal favourites when they were drawing stalwart soldiers, marauding monsters, evil aliens or strange superheroes (all British superheroes were weird and off-kilter…).

I actually think – in terms of quality and respect for the readership’s intelligence, experience and development – girls’ periodicals were far more in tune with the sensibilities of the target audience, and I wish I’d paid more attention to Misty back then…

Thus, I’m delighted to share another peek at superb comics fare from a British publication every bit as iconoclastic and groundbreaking as its contemporary stablemate 2000AD, albeit not as long-lasting…

Despite never living up to expectations – for all the traditional editorial reasons that have scuppered bold new visions since the days of Caxton – Misty was nothing like any other comic in the British marketplace.

Girls’ comics always had a history of addressing modern social ills and issues but this Girls’ Juvenile Periodical viewed events and characters through a lens of urban horror, science fiction, moody historical mysteries and tense suspenseful dramas. It was also one of the best drawn comics ever seen and featured stunningly beguiling covers by unsung legend Shirley Bellwood, a veteran illustrator who ought to be a household name because we’ve all admired her work in comics and books since the 1950s – even if we’ve never been privileged to see her by-line…

Unlike most weeklies, Misty was created with specific themes in mind – fantasy, horror and mystery – and over its too-short existence specialised in a string of usually self-contained features serialised like modern graphic novels, rather than ever-unfolding, continuing adventures of star characters.

Although adulterated from comics legend Pat Mill’s original grand design, Misty launched on February 4th 1978 and ran until January 1980 whereupon it merged with the division’s lead title Tammy, extending its lifeline until 1984. As was often the case, the brand lived on through Annuals and Specials, which ran from 1979 until 1986…

Another in the unmissable series working under the umbrella of The Treasury of British Comics, this second compact monochrome softcover compilation offers two more complete part-work novellas from the comic’s canon of nearly 70 strip sagas, starting off with the time-bending, socially aware saga The Sentinels.

Scripted by Malcolm Shaw (Misty’s Editor and writer of dozens of strips in Britain and Europe) and illustrated by the wonderful and much travelled Mario Capaldi (Care Bears, James Bond Junior, Zorro, Thundercats, The Famous Five, A Christmas Carol and dozens of strips for Misty, Tammy, Hurricane, Eagle, Jinty, TV Action, Roy of the Rovers and others), The Sentinels leads off here.

The eerie tale of privation, intolerance, family discord and alternate universes originally ran between February 4th and April 22nd 1978 and revealed how in Birdwood on a post-war estate stood two identical tower blocks.

At least, once upon a time they were. Now whilst one is still a gleaming modern tribute to high rise modernism, somehow its twin sister had devolved into squalor and misuse: a sky-high slum tenants fled from and where apparently people vanished never to be seen again. The council had been under pressure to demolish the failing tower for years…

One day as Jan Richards comes home she learns that her family have been evicted from home. After exhausting all avenues, her mum and dad refuse to let the family be broken up and the kids put into care so they break into the evil block and begin squatting in one of the flats…

Almost immediately bizarre things start happening: Jan meets her dad in places he can’t be, she sees visions out of the windows that can’t possibly be true – and aren’t when she goes outside to check – and then her beloved dog Tiger attacks her…

The uncanny experiences continue as the squatters make the most of their new lives but Jan’s anxiety only increases. When at last she discovers the incredible secret of the ramshackle Sentinel sister, the result is the loss of her father, valiant, noble Tiger and best friend Sally and finding herself trapped in a Britain where evil reigns triumphant…

Potent, suspenseful and wickedly edgy, The Sentinels seamlessly blends powerful social commentary with traditional themes of loss and female agency whilst telling a chilling tale of parallel world peril. How this was never made into a film or Kids thriller series in the vein of Timeslip, Chocky or Children of the Stones is utterly beyond me – and it’s still not too late, as the tale’s themes are more relevant today than they’ve ever been…

From the same year (but serialised between August 12th and November 18th) and illustrated by the great John Richardson, End of the Line is a more traditional yarn of paranoia and loss, again scripted by the taken far too early Malcolm Shaw and once more presenting a story with plenty of contemporary parallels.

Richardson was a highly gifted artist with a light touch blending Brian Lewis with Frank Bellamy: a veteran visual storyteller who worked practically everywhere in Britain from 2000AD (Mean Arena, The V.C.s) to DC Thomson (Pussy Muldoon) to Marvel UK, as well as national newspapers (Amanda) and for specialist magazines such as Custom Car, Super Bike and Citizen’s Band. Here, his deft touch provides a smooth transition between slick modernity and Victorian moodiness in the saga of Ann Summerton.

The teenager and her mum are still coming to terms with the loss of breadwinner Andrew Summerton, even though he’s been gone two years now. He was one of seven men who perished in the construction of super-deep new London subway The Windsor Line.

Mum has moved on enough to be considering marriage to the deeply unpleasant “Uncle” Neville Chandler, but Ann just doesn’t like him…

Today the family are guests at the grand opening of the line, and invited to ride on the first scheduled journey along the Windsor. It’s a PR disaster however as Ann collapses in hysterical panic. She claims to have seen her dad and the other lost engineers slaving in a tunnel off the main route…

Despite the ministrations of doctors and the chiding abuse of Neville, Ann can’t get the image out of her mind. Despite the very real threat of psychological incarceration she returns to the tube again and again and uncovers evidence of a much earlier attempt to build a railway tunnel on the same route. The Prince Albert line also suffered a catastrophic collapse and was abandoned in Victorian times…

Ann eventually convinces a local reporter there might be something in the story, but when he goes missing – one amongst a slowly growing tide of disappearances – she decides to take action herself and is soon propelled into a world of nightmare and the private fiefdom of an ancient madman who has created a kingdom of the damned beneath the streets of the modern metropolis…

Evocative and dripping tension, End of the Line is a classic horror-mystery to delight anyone with a love of gothic mood and historical adventure…

Augmenting the strip thrills and chills is a reconditioned text feature appendix revealing how ‘…Your Face is Your Fortune…’ with an extended exploration of the prognosticatory clues a person’s feature reveal about them…

This engaging and tremendously compelling tome is another glorious celebration of a uniquely compelling phenomenon of British comics and one that has stood the test of time. Don’t miss this fresh chance to get in on something truly special and splendidly entertaining…
The Sentinels and End of the Line are © 1978 & 2017 Rebellion Publishing, Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Misty is ™ Rebellion Publishing, Ltd. and © Rebellion Publishing, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents The House of Secrets volume 1


By Mike Friedrich, Gerry Conway, Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, Steve Skeates, Robert Kanigher, Raymond Marais, Sam Glanzman, Jack Kirby, Mark Evanier, Jack Oleck, Mary Skrenes, Jerry Grandenetti, Bill Draut, Jack Sparling, Dick Dillin, Dick Giordano, Werner Roth, Neal Adams, Sid Greene, Alex Toth, Mike Royer, Mike Peppe, Don Heck, Wally Wood, Ralph Reese, John Costanza, Gil Kane, George Tuska, Gray Morrow, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, Michael Wm. Kaluta, Rich Buckler, Bernie Wrightson, Al Weiss, Tony DeZuñiga, Jim Aparo, Sergio Aragonés, Nestor Redondo, Jose Delbo, Adolfo Buylla & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1818-8

It’s the time for over-eating and spooky stories so let’s pay a visit to a much-neglected old favourite…

American comicbooks started slowly until the creation of superheroes unleashed a torrent of creative imitation and invented a new genre.

Implacably vested in the Second World War, the Overman swept all before him (and very occasionally her or it) until the troops came home and the more traditional genres resurfaced and eventually supplanted the Fights ‘n’ Tights crowd.

Although new kids kept on buying, much of the previous generation of consumers also retained their four-colour habit but increasingly sought older themes in the reading matter. The war years altered the psychological landscape of the world and as a more world-weary, cynical young public came to see that all the fighting and dying hadn’t really changed anything, their chosen forms of entertainment (film and prose as well as comics) reflected this.

As well as Westerns, War and Crime comics, celebrity tie-ins, madcap escapist comedy and anthropomorphic funny animal features were immediately resurgent, but gradually another of the cyclical revivals of spiritualism and public fascination with the arcane led to them being outshone and outsold by a wave of increasingly impressive, evocative and shocking horror comics.

There had been grisly, gory and supernatural stars before, including a pantheon of ghosts, monsters and wizards draped in mystery-man garb and trappings (The Spectre, Mr. Justice, Sgt. Spook, Frankenstein, The Heap, Sargon the Sorcerer, Zatara, Monako, Zambini the Miracle Man, Kardak the Mystic, Dr. Fate and dozens of others), but these had been victims of circumstance: The Unknown as a power source for super-heroics.

Now the focus shifted to ordinary mortals thrown into a world beyond their ken with the intention of unsettling, not vicariously empowering, the reader.

Almost every publisher jumped on the increasingly popular bandwagon, with B & I (which became the magical one-man-band Richard E. Hughes’ American Comics Group) launching the first regularly published horror comic in the Autumn of 1948. Technically though Adventures Into the Unknown was actually pipped by Avon who had released an impressive single issue entitled Eerie in January 1947 before at last launching a regular series in 1951.

By this time worthy monolith Classics Illustrated had already long milked the literary end of the medium with adaptations of The Headless Horseman, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (both 1943), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1944) and Frankenstein (1945) among others.

If we’re keeping score this was also the period in which Joe Simon & Jack Kirby identified another “mature market” gap and invented the Romance comic (Young Romance #1, September 1947) but they too saw the sales potential for macabre mood material, resulting in the seminal anthologies Black Magic (launched in 1950) and boldly obscure psychological drama vehicle Strange World of Your Dreams (1952).

Around that time the company that would become DC Comics bowed to the inevitable and launched a comparatively straight-laced anthology that nevertheless became one of their longest-running and most influential titles with the December 1951/January 1952 launch of The House of Mystery.

When the hysterical censorship scandal which led to witch-hunting hearings (feel free to type Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, April-June 1954 into your search engine at any time… You can do that because it’s apparently a free country now) was curtailed by the industry adopting a castrating straitjacket of self-regulatory rules.

Horror titles produced under the aegis of the Comics Code Authority were sanitised and anodyne affairs in terms of Shock and Gore but since the appetite for suspenseful short stories was still high, in 1956 National introduced sister title House of Secrets which debuted with a November/December cover-date.

Plots were dialled back into marvellously illustrated, rationalistic, fantasy-adventure vehicles which would dominate the market until the 1960s when superheroes (which had started to creep back in 1956 after Julius Schwartz began the Silver Age of comics by reintroducing the Flash in Showcase #4,) finally overtook them.

Green Lantern, Hawkman, the Atom and a slew of other costumed cavorters generated a gaudy global bubble of masked mavens which even forced the dedicated anthology suspense titles to transform into super-character split-books, with Martian Manhunter and Dial H for Hero monopolising House of Mystery whilst Mark Merlin – later Prince Ra-Man – sharing space with Eclipso in House of Secrets.

When caped crusader craziness peaked and popped, Secrets was one of the first casualties. The title folded with #80, the September/October 1966 issue.

However, nothing combats censorship better than falling profits and by the end of the 1960s the Silver Age superhero boom was over, with many titles gone and some of the industry’s most prestigious series circling the drain…

This real-world Crisis led to surviving publishers of the field agreeing to loosen their self-imposed restraints against crime and horror comics. Nobody much cared about gangster titles anymore but as the liberalisation coincided with another bump in public interest in all aspects of the Worlds Beyond, the resurrection of scary stories was a foregone conclusion and obvious “no-brainer.”

Even ultra-wholesome Archie Comics re-entered the field with their rather tasty line of Red Circle Chillers…

Thus, with absolutely no fanfare at all House of Secrets was resurrected with issue #81, cover-dated August/September 1969 – just as big sister The House of Mystery had done a year earlier.

Under a bold banner declaiming “There’s No Escape From… The House of Secrets”, writer Mike Friedrich, Jerry Grandenetti & George Roussos introduced a ramshackle, sentient old pile in ‘Don’t Move It!’ after which Bill Draut limned the introduction of bumbling caretaker Abel (with a guest-shot by his murderous older brother Cain from HoM) in ‘House of Secrets’.

The portly porter then kicked off his storytelling career with the Gerry Conway & Jack Sparling yarn ‘Aaron Philip’s Photo Finish!’ and the inaugural issue was put to bed with a Draut limned ‘Epilogue’

HoS #82 is a largely Conway scripted affair as Draut drew both ‘Welcome to the House of Secrets’ and the ‘Epilogue’, whilst cinema shocker ‘Realer Than Real’ was illustrated by Werner Roth & Vince Colletta.

Written by Marv Wolfman, ‘Sudden Madness’ was a short sci fi saga from the brush of Dick Giordano, whilst Conway regaled us with ‘The Little Old Winemaker’ (Sparling art): a salutary tale of murder and revenge. ‘The One and Only, Fully-Guaranteed, Super-Permanent, 100%’ is Wolfman again and realised by Dick Dillin & Neal Adams – a darkly comedic tale of domestic bliss and how to get it…

After Draut & Giordano’s ‘Welcome to the House of Secrets’ piece, superstar Alex Toth made his modern HoS debut with the Wolfman-written fantasy ‘The Stuff That Dreams are Made Of’, Mikes Royer & Peppe visualised the sinister love-story of ‘Bigger Than a Breadbox’ before Conway & Draut revived time-honoured gothic menace for a chilling fable ‘The House of Endless Years’.

Conway & Draut maintained the light-hearted bracketing of the stories as #84 began with ‘If I Had but World Enough and Time’ (Len Wein, Dillin & Peppe), a cautionary tale about too much television. The tension grows with Wolfman & Sid Greene’s warning against wagering in ‘Double or Nothing!’ and Steve Skeates, Sparling & Jack Abel’s utterly manic parable of greed ‘The Unbelievable! The Unexplained!’, before Wein & Sparling mess with our dreams in ‘If I Should Die before I Wake…

Cain and Abel acrimoniously open HoS #85 after which Wein & Don Heck disclose what happens to some ‘People Who Live in Glass Houses…’ whilst art-legend Ralph Reese illustrates Wein’s daftly ironic ‘Reggie Rabbit, Heathcliffe Hog, Archibald Aardvark, J. Benson Babboon and Bertram the Dancing Frog’

John Costanza contributed a comedy page entitled ‘House of Wacks’ and Conway, Gil Kane & Neal Adams herald the upcoming age of slick and seductive barbarian fantasy with the gloriously vivid and vital ‘Second Chance’.

Issue #86 featured the eerily seductive ‘Strain’ with art by George Tuska, a powerful prose puzzler ‘The Golden Tower of the Sun’ written by Conway with illustrations from Gray Morrow, after which the writer and Draut tug heartstrings and stun senses in the moving, moody madness of ‘The Ballad of Little Joe’

The issue ends with an episode of the peripatetic, post-apocalyptic, ironic occasional series ‘The Day after Doomsday’ courtesy of Wein & Sparling.

The chatty introductions and interludes with Abel were gradually diminishing to make way for longer stories and experimental episodes such as #87’s ‘And in the Darkness… Light’; sub-divided into ‘Death Has Marble Lips!’, a sculptural shocker from Robert Kanigher, Dillin & Giordano; sinister sci fi scenario ‘The Man’ from Wolfman, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito and excellent weird pulps pastiche ‘The Coming of Ghaglan’ by Raymond Marais & talented newcomer Michael Wm. Kaluta.

Much the same was #88’s dread duo ‘The Morning Ghost’ by Wolfman, Dillin & Frank Giacoia and ‘Eyesore!’ by Conway & Draut.

Most of the covers were the magnificent work of Neal Adams but HoS #89 sports a rare and surprisingly effective tonal image by Irv Novick (although attributed here to Gray Morrow): a gothic romance special with period thrillers ‘Where Dead Men Walk!’ – drawn by Morrow – and ‘A Taste of Dark Fire!’ from Conway & Heck.

This latter tale debuted Victorian devil-busting duo Father John Christian and Rabbi Samuel Shulman who appeared far too infrequently in succeeding years (see also Showcase Presents the Phantom Stranger volume 2).

Tuska illustrated Skeates’ futuristic thriller ‘The Distant Dome’ in #90, whilst Wolfman, Rich Buckler & Adams described the short, sharp lives of ‘The Symbionts’, after which Mike Friedrich & Morrow end this SF extravaganza with the perplexing tale of ‘Jedediah!’

Issue #91 was almost entirely Conway scripted and led with a South American revolutionary rollercoaster ‘The Eagle’s Talon!’ illustrated by Grandenetti & Wally Wood. Sparling limned faux-factual feature ‘Realm of the Mystics’, after which writer/artist Sam Glanzman produced a potent parable of alienation in ‘Please, Don’t Cry Johnny!’ and Murphy Anderson wrapped up the wonderment with Conway’s deadly doppelganger drama ‘There are Two of Me… and One Must Die!’

Issue #92 was one of those rare moments in comics when all the factors are in perfect alignment for a major breakthrough. Cover-dated June/July 1971, the 12th anthological issue of House of Secrets cemented the genre into place as the industry leader as Len Wein & artist Bernie Wrightson produced a throwaway thriller set at the turn of the 19th century. Here gentleman scientist Alex Olsen is murdered by his best friend and his body dumped in a swamp.

Years later his beloved bride, now the unsuspecting wife of the murderer, is stalked by a shambling, disgusting beast that seems to be composed of mud and muck…

‘Swamp Thing’ was cover-featured – also eerily illustrated by Wrightson – striking an instant and sustained chord with the buying public. It was the bestselling DC comic of that month and reader response was fervent and persistent. By all accounts the only reason there wasn’t an immediate sequel or spin-off was that the creative team didn’t want to produce one.

Eventually however, bowing to interminable pressure, and with the sensible idea of transplanting the concept to contemporary America, the first issue of Swamp Thing appeared on newsstands in the Spring of 1972. It was an instant hit and an immortal classic.

The remaining pages in that groundbreaking HoS issue aren’t bad either, with Jack Kirby & Mark Evanier scripting the psychodrama ‘After I Die’ for old Prize/Crestwood Comics stable-mate Bill Draut to illustrate, whilst ‘It’s Better to Give…’ by Virgil North (AKA Mary Skrenes) provided an early chance for Al Weiss & Tony DeZuñiga to strut their superbly engaging artistic stuff.

The issue ends with a sudden shocker by Conway & Dillin entitled ‘Trick or Treat’

House of Secrets #93 (August/September 1971) saw the title expand from 32 to 52 pages – as did all DC’s titles for the next couple of years, opening the doors for a magnificent period of new material married to the best of the company’s prodigious archives for an appreciative, impressionable audience.

Jim Aparo made his HoS debut in the Skeates scripted spook-fest ‘Lonely in Death’ and so did macabre cartoonist Sergio Aragonés in ‘Abel’s Fables’, after which the reprint bonanza began with ‘The Curse of the Cat’s Cradle’ (originally from My Greatest Adventure #85) stupendously depicted by Alex Toth.

Jack Abel’s ‘Nightmare’ was followed by golden oldie ‘The Beast from the Box’; courtesy of Nick Cardy and House of Mystery #24, after which Lore (Shoberg) contributed a page of ‘Abel’s Fables’ before the entertainment ended with the chilling ‘Never Kill a Witch’s Son!’ by John Albano & DeZuñiga, rounding out the fearsome fun in period style…

Issue #94 began by revealing ‘The Man with My Face’ (art by Sparling) and ‘Hyde… and Go Seek!’ by Wein & DeZuñiga, whilst ‘The Day Nobody Died’ (George Roussos; Tales of the Unexpected #9) and ‘Track of the Invisible Beast!’ (Toth from House of Mystery #109) provided vintage voltage before another Aragonés ‘Abel’s Fables’ and ‘A Bottle of Incense… a Whiff of the Past!’ by Francis (Gerry Conway) Bushmaster, Weiss & Wrightson closed proceedings in devilishly high style…

Albano & Heck showed domesticity wasn’t pretty in ‘Creature…’, everybody got a nasty case of chills in ‘And Thing That Go Bump in the Night!’ (credited to Sparling but probably Tuska & Win Mortimer) before ‘The Last Sorcerer’ (Bernard Baily from HoM #69) and ‘The Phantom of the Flames!’ – a rare DC illustration job for the great Joe Maneely from HoM #71.

The dark dramas close with Jack Oleck and Nestor Redondo’s ‘The Bride of Death’. Issue #95 also included a couple of Lore’s ‘Abel’s Fables’, a Sparling ‘Realm of the Mystics’ and a Wein & Sparling ‘Day after Doomsday’.

‘World for a Witch’ by Oleck & Draut opened the next peril-packed issue, followed by a high-tension, high-tech Toth reprint ‘The Great Dimensional Brain Swap’ (HoS #48) and Wein, Dillin & Jack Abel’s ‘Be it Ever So Humble…’ whilst Oleck & Wood’s ‘The Monster’ describes a different kind of horror.

‘The Indestructible Man’ (by unsung master-draughtsman Bill Ely, and originally seen in Tales of the Unexpected #12) closes the show. Also lurking within this issue is another agonisingly funny Aragonés ‘Abel’s Fables’ contribution…

The penultimate issue in this sparkling collection – incomprehensibly still the only way to access these chilling classics – led with classical creep-show ‘The Curse of Morby Castle’ by Sparling after which Skeates & Aparo return to ‘Divide and Murder’ and Aragonés strikes again in ‘Abel’s Fables’.

Blasts from the past ‘The Tomb of Ramfis’ (HoM #59, by the fabulous John Prentice) and ‘Dead Man’s Diary’ (drawn by Ralph Mayo for HoM #46) are demarcated by another trenchant Wein & Sparling ‘Day after Doomsday’, before Jose Delbo delineates a manic monster-fest entitled ‘Domain of the Damned’.

The last issue in this magnificent monochrome compendium opens with a glorious intro page from Mark Hanerfeld & Kaluta, after which the artist entrancingly illustrates Albano’s tough-as-nails-thriller ‘Born Losers’ and Toth illuminates the ‘Secret Hero of Center City’ (originally seen in HoM #120).

After one more Aragonés ‘Abel’s Fables’ Wein, Mikes Roy & Peppe reveal why ‘The Night Train Doesn’t Stop Here anymore!’ and another John Prentice treat is served up in ‘The Fatal Superstition’ (HoM #35) before the great Adolfo Buylla celebrates the end of the affair in grisly fashion with ‘Happy Birthday, Herman!’

These terror-tales captivated the reading public and critics alike when they first appeared and it’s no stretch to posit that they probably saved the company during one of the toughest downturns in comics publishing history. Now their blend of sinister mirth, classic horror scenarios and suspense set-pieces can most familiarly be seen in such children’s series as Goosebumps, Horrible Histories and their many latterday imitators.

If you crave beautifully realised, tastefully splatter-free sagas of mystery and imagination, not to mention a huge supply of bad-taste, kid-friendly cartoon chills, book your stay at the House of Secrets as soon as you possibly can…
© 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Alien: The Illustrated Story


By Archie Goodwin & Walter Simonson, from a screenplay by Dan O’Bannon and a story by Dan O’Bannon & Ronald Shusett (Heavy Metal/Futura)
ISBN: 978-0-93036-842-5                  978-1-78116-595-9 (Titan Books Facsimile 2012)

Alien was released in 1979 and utterly redefined the science fiction cinema genre. It pretty much did the same for horror stories too.

Creeping in on the back of the jolly adventuring romps of the Star Wars phenomenon and its shiny, happy, Valerian rip-offs “homages”, Dan O’Bannon’s dark tale and Ridley Scott’s grimly meticulous vision reintroduced the vital element of apocalyptic terror that had been absent from the medium since the headiest, most utterly paranoiac days of 1950s B-Movies.

You know the plot: a bunch of interstellar miners are diverted by their untrustworthy bosses to a lost planet where they find an extraterrestrial shipwreck. One of the humans is infected by something uncanny and beyond the explorers’ meagre imaginings and brings aboard a ghastly killer that grows and hides and changes. Picking off the crew one by one, it cannot be stopped, escaped from or killed…

Lots of films have had comics adaptations: good bad or indifferent. Very few have ever come as close to capturing the stunning, senses-overloading feel – rather than the plot or look or detail – of the source material, although all of those too are well-catered for in this slim but superb graphic extravaganza from the award-winning creative team of Archie Goodwin & Walt Simonson (see Manhunter: The Special Edition for perhaps their ultimate moment of comics collaboration).

Spectacular, engrossing, visually innovative (in both storytelling and lettering/calligraphic effects) and absolutely absorbing, this hard-to-find gem – either in the original US edition from Heavy Metal Productions, this mass-market UK edition from Futura, or any of the later reissues in a variety of formats and sizes – is a true landmark of comics, long overdue for a definitive release with plenty of bonus features and preferably only in the original large, square European Album format please…
© 1979 by Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.