Stephen King’s Creepshow


By Stephen King & Berni Wrightson (Plume/NAL – Penguin)
ISBN13: 978-0452253803 Plume edition  ISBN13: 978-0452253803 Penguin edition

The EC comics of the Pre-code 1950s were possibly the most influential anthology strips of all time. The Crime, (anti-)War, Science Fiction and especially Horror tales that targeted mature readers before the term even existed, with sophisticated, cynical, sardonic and beautifully illustrated stories changed the lives of not only comics creators in waiting, laid the groundwork for the Underground Comix and counter-culture movements, but also spread far beyond the world of funny-book fans to influence novelists and film-makers.

In 1982 George A. Romero and Stephen King turned their fond childhood memories into another portmanteau film (Amicus Productions had already produced Tales from the Crypt in 1972 and The Vault of Horror the following year, directed by Freddie Francis and based on two paperback reprint collections issued in 1965) which used a horror comic-book as a maguffin and framing sequence for five darkly comedic tales of supernatural come-uppance’

To accompany the film comics star Berni Wrightson was commissioned to produce an actual graphic companion that delivered even more jolts than the surprise hit film. This volume, featuring some of the artist’s very best painted art, eschewed the framing sequence and plot bookends and simply presents the five component tales, complete with ghastly host narrator in all their gory glory beginning with ‘Father’s Day’. Written by King for the movie, it sees a murdered patriarch return to the bosom of his not-so loving family seven years after one of them murdered him…

‘The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill’ was adapted by the author from his previously published short-story “Weeds” and tells how a dim-wit hillbilly finds a meteor on his land. He thinks he’s found a means to financial security until the thing begins to mutate him… Famously King himself played the part of the bumpkin in the film (probably the inspiration for Cletus, the slack-jawed yokel on the Simpsons) – just as his son Jack played the kid who had his Creepshow comic confiscated.

‘The Crate’ was also a recycled yarn and detailed how a couple of college professor find an old packing case from an 1834 expedition to the Arctic in the college basement. Inside, still alive and very hungry is a slavering beast. Rather than academic kudos one of them thinks that it might be a foolproof way to rid himself of the harpy he married…

‘Something to Tide You Over’ wherein a cuckolded businessman suffers a grimly ironic fate after disposing of his wife and her lover is an original chiller as is ‘They’re Creeping up on You’ which closes the book on a truly creepy highpoint as a cleanliness obsessed millionaire determines to rid his apartment of bugs… at all costs!

Naturally these tales don’t have surprise endings – that’s not the point – but they are a delightfully gory and fun-filled tribute to spooky stories and the self-inflicted shocks of a misspent youth, lovingly crafted and perfectly rendered. Worth tracking down if you’re a comics connoisseur, and definitely an urgent candidate for a modern revival.
Text © 1982 Philtrum Corp. Illustrations ©1982 Laurel-Show, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

NEW, EXTENDED REVIEW Essential Monster of Frankenstein


By various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1634-9

There’s a tremendous amount of value in these phone-book sized cheap’n’cheerful monochrome Essential editions. This particular collection reprints Marvel’s 1970’s interpretation of the Mary Shelly classic from a time when the censorious Comics Code Authority first loosened some of its strictures banning horror material from the pages of comics.

Much American comic art should only be seen in colour – that is after all how it was intended to be – but in this instance that moody black and white only serves to enhance the groundbreaking artwork of Mike Ploog. A young find who had worked with Will Eisner, Ploog illustrated Gary Friedrich’s pithy adaptation of the original novel before moving on to new ventures as the strip graduated to in-house originated material.

‘Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein!’ debuted with a January 1973 cover-date and introduced Robert Walton IV, great grandson of the sea-captain who had rescued scientist Victor Frankenstein from the polar Ice and was regaled with the incredible tale of “the Modern Prometheus”. Leading a band of rogues, cutthroats and sullen Inuit, Walton finds the fabled monster in 1898, interred in a block of ice, and brings it aboard his ice-breaker. He recounts the story to the fascinated cabin-boy unaware of the fear and discontent simmering below decks…

A bloody mutiny in a terrible storm opens the second issue as the burning ship founders. Meanwhile the flashbacked tale of the tragic Victor reaches the terrible moment when the monster demands a mate. The guilt-plagued scientist complies only to balk at the last and destroy his second creation. ‘Bride of the Monster!’ concludes with the creature’s fearsome vengeance on his creator paralleling the grim fate of the storm-tossed ship…

The Monster of Frankenstein #3, ‘The Monster’s Revenge!’ has the reawakened creature freed from its ice-tomb and hearing the continuation of his life-story from Walton’s lips as the last survivors struggle to find safety in the Arctic wastes. ‘Death of the Monster!’ (with inker John Verpoorten taking some of the deadline pressure off the hard-pressed Ploog) turns the tables as the monster reveals what happened after the polar showdown with its creator, which leads to a new beginning when Walton reveals that the Frankensteins were not all eradicated by the Monster’s campaign of vengeance. The blood-line continued…

A new direction began with issue #5 as ‘The Monster Walks Among Us!’. Making his way south the tragic creature arrived in a Scandinavian village in time to save a young woman from being burned at the stake on a blazing longboat, only to rediscover that when villagers pick up pitchforks and torches to go a-screamin’ and a-hollerin’ for blood, they usually have a good reason…

With issue #6 the comic-book renamed itself The Frankenstein Monster. The undying creature reached the village of Ingolstadt a century after it wreaked bloody vengeance on his creator’s loved ones. ‘…In Search of the Last Frankenstein!’ is a mini-classic of vintage horrors scripted as usual by Friedrich but plotted, pencilled and inked by Ploog who was reaching an early peak in his artistic career. It was also his last issue.

Ploog was followed by John Buscema and Bob Brown before Val Mayerik settled as regular artist and Friedrich gave way to Doug Moench, a writer once synonymous with Marvel’s horror line.

Issues #7, 8 and 9 bowed to the inevitable and pitted the Monster against Marvel’s top horror star (albeit 75-ish years prior to his contemporary adventures). Beginning with ‘The Fury of a Fiend!’, continuing in ‘My Name is… Dracula!’ and concluding with ‘The Vampire Killers!’, this is a classy tribute to the old Universal movies and then current Hammer Films in equal measure wherein the misunderstood misanthrope battled an undying evil for ungrateful humanity, consequently losing the power of speech; and becoming more monstrous in the process.

Produced by Friedrich, John Buscema and John Verpoorten these tales lacked the atmosphere of Ploog’s tenure, but the action was very much in the company’s house-style. With #10 (inked by Frank Giacoia and Mike Esposito) the creature finally found ‘The Last Frankenstein!’ much to his regret.

With number #11 (‘…And in the End…!?’ illustrated by Bob Brown & Vince Colletta) and #12’s ‘A Cold and Lasting Tomb’ by Doug Moench, Val Mayerik and Colletta) the Monster finished his historical adventures by falling into a glacial sea and froze into another block of ice only to be revived, Captain America-like, in modern times.

My only real quibble in a book that re-presents the entire 18-issue run of the comic, plus the crossover from Giant-Sized Werewolf #2 and all the strips from the adult-oriented horror magazines Legion of Monsters and Monsters Unleashed, is that a little more attention to publishing in chronological order might have made for a smoother read.

If you’re the type who prefers to experience his or her yarns in the proper sequence this is the stage where flipping to the back is necessary as the stories from those aforementioned Marvel magazines – which originally ran concurrently with the four-colour comic-book – can be found. Most of those adventures take place between pages 13 and 14 of The Frankenstein Monster #12!

Just reading the book however, the next thing you’ll find is a rather tame team-up/clash from Giant-Sized Werewolf #2 wherein ‘The Frankenstein Monster Meets Werewolf by Night’ (by Moench, Don Perlin and Colletta) collaterally quashing a band of run-of-the-mill West Coast Satanists in the process.

Issue #13 ‘All Pieces of Fear!’ (Moench, Mayerik and Jack Abel) shoe-horned the Monster into mid-1970s America in a tale heavy with irony as men acted like beasts and an obsessive father ignored his family whilst building his own abominations with the new science of cloning. With a hip young kid as a sidekick/spokesperson ‘Fury of the Night-Creature’ (with Dan Green inking) extended the saga by introducing I.C.O.N. (International Crime Organizations Nexus) yet another secret organisation intent on corporate conquest.

Issue #15 ‘Tactics of Death’ (with a young Klaus Janson on inks) briefly concluded the acronym agenda as the Monster and his companion Ralph mopped up the men in suits only to be shanghaied to Switzerland to meet the latest Last of the Frankensteins in ‘Code-name: Berserker!’ (with inks by Bob McLeod – who managed to handle the next issue too).

Veronica Frankenstein was still absorbed in the family business, but claims to be fixing her ancestors’ mistakes when those incorrigible I.C.O.N. bounders show up demanding her biological techniques in ‘A Phoenix Beserk!’. Beautifully inked by Mayerik and Dan Adkins, the last colour issue ended on a never-to-be completed cliffhanger (although scripter Bill Mantlo covered elements of the story in Iron Man a few years later) when the Monster and his new friend met ‘The Lady of the House’ – the utterly bonkers creature-crafter Victoria Von Frankenstein…

Perhaps the abrupt cancellation was a mercy-killing after all.

As I’ve laboriously stated above, the man-made monster also featured in a few mature reader magazines, beginning with Monsters Unleashed #2. ‘Frankenstein 1973’ (by Friedrich, Buscema and Syd Shores) relates how an obsessive young man found the Monster preserved as a carnival exhibit, but his jealous girlfriend revived it by trying to burn down the sideshow. The story continued in Monsters Unleashed #4 (by the same team and Golden-Age Great Win Mortimer). ‘The Classic Monster’ had a mad scientist actually put his brain in the monster’s skull but all was put right in #5’s ‘Once a Monster…’

Monsters Unleashed #6, by Moench and Mayerik, ‘…Always a Monster!’ wrapped up the introduction to today storyline with a good, old-fashioned Monster hunt, and lead directly to #7’s ‘A Tale of Two Monsters!’ a dark, socially relevant tale of the modern underclass, carried on in ‘Fever in the Freak House’ and concluded in #9’s ‘The Conscience of the Creature’.

The horror boom was fading by this time and Monsters Unleashed #10 was his last outing there, a superbly dark and sardonic Christmas offering complete with Elves, snow, terrorists and a Presidential assassination attempt. One final tale ‘The Monster and the Masque’ appeared in one-shot The Legion of Monsters, by Moench and Mayerik (whose painted wash-and-ink artwork for the magazine line was some of the best of his career) assisted here by Dan Adkins and Pablo Marcos. This bittersweet morality play saw the creature accidentally accepted at a fancy dress party which was ruined when a different sort of monster got carried away…

With additional pin-ups, cover illustrations and pertinent text pages from the Marvel Universe Handbook, this collection is great treat for fantasy and horror fans and should be a first choice for introducing civilians to the world of comics.
© 1973, 1974, 1975, 2004 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

THE HOUSE ON THE BORDERLAND


By Simon Revelstroke & Richard Corben (Vertigo)
ISBN: 1-56389-860-8

What’s better, the book or the movie?

This is a highly charged question with only one answer: “It depends.”

Adapting works from one medium to another is always contentious, and often ill-advised – but the only fair response has to be both highly personal and broadly irrelevant. Just because I don’t like the X-Men films doesn’t make them bad, just as my deep love and admiration for the works of Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin doesn’t make me six years old (no matter how much I’d like it to be true!).

The real issue is whether an adaptation treats the original fairly or callously exploits it – and make no mistake: 99% of all reworkings are done with money in mind. Half of that other percent point is a genuine desire to proselytise: a mission to “bring the original to the masses” whilst the fractional remainder is an artist’s desire to interpret something that moved them in their own arena of expertise: I’ve wanted for years to adapt the Carnacki the Ghost-Breaker/Ghost-Finder short stories into graphic novel format…

The author of those tales, as well as the source material for this excellent graphic novel from underground comix legends Simon Revelstroke and Richard Corben, is the brilliant William Hope Hodgson. Son of a poor parson, he was born in 1877, and took to sea at 14. In 1899 to make a living he turned to photography and writing.

His stories are dark and moody explorations of terrors internal and ghastly, against a backdrop of eternal, malignant forces beyond human comprehension ever waiting to take the incautious, unwary or overly-inquisitive. As Alan Moore describes in his introduction Hodgson was the point-man for a new kind of story.

The gothic ghost-story writers and high fantasists of Victorian publishing gave way as the century turned to such cosmic horrorists as HP Lovecraft, Robert Bloch and even Clive Barker, and with such epics as The Night Land and The House on the Borderland, Hodgson lit the way. His too brief catalogue of works stands as a beacon of pervasive unease and outright terror and why he’s not a household name I simply can’t fathom. His career was cut tragically short as were so many others in the trenches of World War I.

Rather than religiously translate his masterpiece, Revelstroke and Corben have truncated and marginally updated the book, concentrating on what can actually be visualised – so much of Hodgson’s power comes from the ability to stir the subconscious brain – and in fairness can thus be called a companion rather than adaptation of the original text.

October, 1952: the rural hamlet of Kraighten in the Republic of Ireland. Two English students on a walking tour accidentally provoke the locals and must flee for their lives. They are chased to a ramshackle, desolate ruin on the edge of a crumbling abyss, a misty ravine which harks back to a long-forgotten time.

In the bracken they find an old journal. Scared and still hiding they begin to read the words of Byron Gault, who in 1816 moved himself, his sister Mary and his faithful hound into the infamous but irresistibly inexpensive old house. Of the horrors both physical and otherwise that attacked them and the incredible, infinity-spanning journey that resulted…

How this tale proceeds is a treat I’ll save for your own consumption. This adaptation was nominated for Best Graphic Novel of the Year by the International Horror Guild in 2003. It is not, can not, be the original book. So get both, read both and revel in what makes each unique to their own form, rather than where they can conveniently overlap and coincide.

© 2000 Simon Revelstroke and Richard Corben. All Rights Reserved.

The Spectre: Crimes and Punishment

The Spectre: Crimes and Punishment

By John Ostrander & Tom Mandrake (DC Comics)
ISBN: 1-56389-127-1

The Spectre is one of the oldest characters in DC’s vast stable of characters, created by Jerry Siegel and Bernard Baily in 1940 for More Fun Comics #52 and 53. And just like Siegel’s other iconic creation, he suffers from a basic design flaw: he’s just too darn powerful. But, unlike Superman, he’s already dead, so he can’t really be dramatically imperilled. Starting as a virtually omnipotent ghost, he evolved, over various returns and refits into a tormented soul bonded to the incarnation of the biblical Wrath of God.

With his superb version from the early 1990s, John Ostrander shifted the narrative onto the Tabula Rasa that was Jim Corrigan, a depression era cop whose brutal murder released The Spectre into the world of costumed heroes. This take on the character ran for nearly five years and lent a tragic, barbaric humanity to a hero who was simply too big and too strong for periodical comics.

Collected here is the first four-part story-arc wherein the troubled and Earth-bound Corrigan meets the vulnerable Amy Beitermann, a social worker who is the target of a serial killer – and somehow a living link to the detective’s own murder fifty years ago.

Powerful and often shocking, the developing relationship forces The Spectre’s mortal aspect to confront the traumas of his long suppressed childhood as he relives his own death and the ghastly repercussions of his return. With intense, brooding art by long-time collaborator Tom Mandrake, this incarnation of the character was by far the most accessible – and successful. If it had launched a year or so later and it might well have been a star of the budding Vertigo imprint.

The masterful interpretation seems largely forgotten these days but hopefully with DC trawling its back catalogue for worthy book-fodder this tale – and the issues that followed it – might make a speedy reappearance on book store shelves. Let’s hope so…

© 1992, 1993 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Tales of the Vampires

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Tales of the Vampires

By Various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 1-84023-548-9

Not a tremendous amount to be said about this one. If you’re a Buffy fan this collection of short stories featuring the kinds of beasties that she so adroitly killed is for you. If you’re a fan of the comic works of Ben Edlund, Scott Morse, Cameron Stewart, Tim Sale, Sean Phillips and a host of others illustrating stories by Joss Whedon and the writers of the TV series this one has it all.

If you’re a fan of kick-ass action/horror comics you’ll love this. And if you’ve just been a fan of the television show this is your chance to get addicted to comics ‘cause this one’s terribly hard to put down.

™ & © 2004 Twentieth Century Fox.

Hellblazer: All His Engines

Hellblazer: All His Engines

By Mike Carey & Leonardo Manco (Vertigo/DC Comics)
ISBN 1-84023-966-2

To coincide with the release of the Constantine movie, Vertigo pushed the boat out with an all-original hardcover featuring the current creative team and a wicked little tale of the ultimate chancer at his dodgy best.

It’s bad enough when the world is gripped by a mysterious sleeping plague. It gets worse when Contantine’s oldest – for which read longest surviving – friend Chas begs him to save his grand-daughter from said affliction. It becomes intolerable when a demon intent on housing Hell’s overspill population on earth tries to blackmail the scruffy sorcerer into doing his dirty work for him, but when a disenfranchised Death God sticks his oar in, the old Hellblazer has no choice but to get up, get out and get it sorted.

All of which, of course, he does with his usual grisly and spectacular panache. This is the character at his absolute best, in a tour de force from writer and artist at the very top of their game, making this one of those rare occasions when the ride is actually worth the price of admission. Take it from me, forget the movie and buy this instead. You’ll be so glad you did.

© 2005 DC Comics. All rights reserved.

Boneyard, Volume 5

Boneyard, Volume 5

By Richard Moore (NBM)
ISBN 1-56163-479-4

Boneyard goes from strength to strength. This black and white collection (there’s also a line of books collecting these self-same issues of the comic book series in full colour) features the young guy who inherited a cemetery and the extremely engaging gang of goblins, monsters and out and out weirdoes who inhabit it in more sharp, funny and endearing horror comedy for the lost generation.

Michael Paris shares his life with a hot vampire chick, a werewolf, an over-sexed fish-woman, assorted demons and monsters. But somehow, these are the good guys and they are often beset by really nasty types who have evil intentions. For example, there’s the US government, or the creature that keeps beheading counsellors at the kid’s summer camp across the way, or what about that creepy Pumpkin head guy who magics you unconscious then desecrates your dreams?

The peculiar sub-genre of horror/comedy is in safe hands with Richard Moore, whose light, deft touch combines traditional cartooning with spot-on slapstick, surreal humour, and a touch of contemporary cynicism. He can also imbue his abhuman cast with genuine humanity when necessary. And he’s disarmingly honest too, apparently, as this book begins with the last chapter of the previous story-arc, which he seemingly “forgot” to include at the end of the previous volume. Doesn’t someone like that deserve your money? Especially if he’s going to plough it back into making more great comic stories?

© 2004, 2005 Richard Moore. All Rights Reserved.

Hellblazer: Staring at the Wall

Hellblazer: Staring at the Wall 

By Mike Carey, Marcelo Frusin & Doug Alexander Gregory

(Vertigo)  ISBN 1-84576-233-9

This collection of the adventures of the world’s cockiest mystical bad-ass (from Hellblazer issues #187-193) sees an on-his-uppers John Constantine gathering what feeble allies he can muster as the un-nameable supernatural horror that has been waiting to devour humanity since the dawn of time (and for the previous two volumes) finally gets its snout in the door.

The chills begin with his niece Gemma having her own grisly adventure as the dupe of an old acquaintance of her uncle, who lures her to a seemingly deserted Scottish Island to complete a old mission and a new magical machine in Bred in the Bone, illustrated by Doug Alexander Gregory, before she eventually, and reluctantly joins Constantine in London for the main event, drawn with creepy and economical effectiveness by regular artist Marcelo Frusin.

Carey’s writing smoulders with a steady and overwhelming oppressiveness as his rag-tag band of desperate and self-serving mystics are forced to combine their talents in a desperate and inevitably futile attempt to thwart a truly unstoppable opponent who (which? what?) not only out-powers them, but has also achieved the inconceivable by out-foxing the arch-trickster Constantine.

How the wily con-man defeats a Thing that has won it all, and what the genuinely terrible cost is, provides a masterful horror tour-de-force that is compelling and eminently satisfying. Mike Carey’s tenure on this series is going to be one that will always rank as the highest of high points.

© 2003, 2004 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Sebastian O

Sebastian O 

By Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell

(Vertigo)  ISBN 1-84023-996-4

The mini-series was one of the earliest Vertigo outings and sadly doesn’t stand so well against later work by the writer or publisher. Blending Michael Moorcock’s alternative spy Jerry Cornelius with steampunk standbys, the myth of Oscar Wilde and the author’s fascination with higher dimensions, this is the tale of effete aesthete and super assassin Sebastian O’Leary, who escapes from Bedlam to wreak vengeance on the man who betrayed him — and inadvertently save the Empire from a cyber-space invasion.

It is well scripted, if a little forced, but the pretentious need to show off one’s cleverness obscures the narrative flow, don’tcha know, and were it not for the spectacularly underplayed drawings of Steve Yeowell, one might be forced to conclude that it’s all a bit of a bore.

©1993 Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell. All Rights Reserved.
Cover and compilation © 2004 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Lucifer: Evensong

Lucifer: Evensong 

By Mike Carey & various

(Vertigo)  ISBN 9781-84576-448-7

It’s an age old dilemma in comic book storytelling: What do you do the day after you save the universe? Mike Carey answers it by checking in on the survivors in a series of character vignettes that provide closure by counterpointing the Sturm und Drang with charm, humour and melancholy in equal measure.

From issue #70 of the monthly comic, Zander Cannon and Big Time Attic draw Fireside Tales, a yarn of the centaurs and humans of the alternate universe crafted by Elaine Belloc, God’s granddaughter. Evensong (issues #71-72) shows Lucifer setting aright what he can with past allies and enemies as he prepares to depart our universe for the great unknown. The art is by Peter Gross and Aaron Alexovich.

The vulgarly charming demon light relief takes centre stage with issue #73’s The Gaudium Option as the New God gives the repulsive tyke one last clean-up job. Eve (issue #74) and All We Need of Hell (#75) are both illustrated by art veterans Peter Gross and Ryan Kelly and feature a supernatural Girl’s Night Out, and finally the last departure of the Lightbringer, after a suitably telling ultimate chat with the long vanished original God, Yahweh. A perfect end to a masterpiece of comic fantasy.

Or it would be if the book had ended there. However, the editors saw fit to smash the narrative flow by tacking on the one shot Lucifer: Nirvana after that splendid conclusion.

Please don’t misunderstand. Nirvana is beautifully painted by Jon J Muth, an engaging fantasy anecdote as fine as anything else produced by Carey in his career as Lucifer scripter. But you don’t try to stuff in one more shirt after you’ve locked the suitcase. It’s just plain stupid. And annoying. Let’s hope it’s fixed in future editions.

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.