Friday, October 30, 2009

Judge Dredd in 'Halloween'
from the 'Judge Dredd Annual 1984'

It's Halloween.... and there's no better story to run than 'Judge Dredd: Halloween', which appears in the hardbound 'Judge Dredd Annual 1984'. The story was written by T. B. Grover and illustrated by Carlos Ezquerra.

'Halloween'  takes as its premise the fact that Mutants, who dwell in the radioactive zone of devastation in the central USA, are prohibited from entering Mega-City One. Any mutant that tries to do so is almost always recognized by their bizarre features and subjected to arrest and deportation. 

However, there is one night of the year when anyone who looks more than a little odd can go about the city without attracting any attention...and some bloodthirst mutants aim to take advantage of that fact....

While its bright, almost garish color scheme may give it the appearance of a children's story, 'Halloween' is actually  quite violent, particularly compared to US comics of the same era, which labored under Code restrictions that British publications didn't have to contend with. It also has quite a leavening of the dark, satirical humor that made 2000 AD comics superior in many ways to the overwrought treatments favored by US publishers.






Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Alice Cooper: 'The Last Temptation'
(Marvel Comics, 1994) 

I was a High School student from 1974 to 1978, and along with 'nickel bags', feathered-back hair parted in the middle, flared polyester slacks,  foldout album covers,  and other gems of the pop culture of the era, there was Alice Cooper.

Alice (the stage name of Vincent Furnier) was regularly featured on the covers of rock magazines like 'Circus', and he would come around the upstate New York region where I lived and give concerts in the medium-sized arenas. Unfortunately, I never got to see Alice in his heyday, but I did see him live when he opened for the Stones in 2006 at their Phoenix stop. Alice put on a good show.

By the early 90s Alice was looking for a new direction, in terms of trying to broaden his audience to include a younger generation, who didn't recognize that Cooper was one of the founding fathers of the burgeoning Goth, grindcore,and death metal scene.

In 1994 Alice decided to use the concept of “a young man’s struggle to see the truth through the distractions of the ‘Sideshow’ of the modern world” as the central artistic approach to a new album titled 'The Last Temptation'. He collaborated with Marvel comics, and star writer Neil Gaiman ('Sandman' ), on a three-issue series also titled 'The Last Temptation'. Part One (released under Marvel's 'Epic' imprint) was released in May 1994.

Part One 

The story, which takes place in a small town in late October, involves an adolescent boy named Steven whose friends like to tell scary stories as Halloween comes near:


The group is surprised to find an alley alongside the Pox Drugstore...although no one has ever noticed an alley in that location before...

Only Steven is brave enough to take Alice up on an offer to enter the 'Grand Guignol' theatre at the end of the alley:

The Show begins and Steven sees himself portrayed on a boy lost in the badder part of town. The zombie-like inhabitants of this skid row are here of their own design:


After viewing some other creepy performances, Alice tells a shaken Steven the show is over...for tonight. But he's welcome to come back tomorrow night...for the Grand Finale:

While not an overtly gruesome or gory comic (it is aimed at a young adult audience, after all), this first Part of 'Temptation' does succeed in setting up an atmosphere of unease. Alice is portrayed in a rather sinister light, which, of course, is how he prefers it.

I'll be posting excerpts from Part Two and Part Three over the next week, just in time for Halloween.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Book Review: 'The Brains of Earth' by Jack Vance


3/5 Stars

‘The Brains of Earth’ (1966, 108 pp) is one-half of Ace Double M-141 (‘The Many Worlds of Magnus Ridolph’ is the other side of the paperback). The cover illustrations are by Jack Gaughan.

Paul Burke, a senior researcher at the think tank ARPA, gets a mysterious parcel which contains a metal disk that is able to float in the air via an unknown anti-grav mechanism. When Burke visist the home of the man who sent him the parcel, he encounters an insectile alien named Pttdu Apiptix (!). Apiptix knocks Burke unconscious and transports him via spaceship to the world of Ixax.

Ixax, and its race of Xaxans, has recently emerged from a civil war which has devastated the entire planet.  Pttdu Apiptix reveals to Burke that the conflict has been triggered by the influence of another race of aliens – the nopal. And Apiptix has given Paul Burke an assignment he can’t refuse: travel to the home world of the nopal and destroy them within 30 days. If Burke can’t accomplish this task, the Earth will be destroyed….

By the standards of mid-60s SF, ‘Brains’ is a reasonably well-written novelette. As with the majority of Vance tales, there is not a great deal of action; indeed, most the story is comprised of lengthy sections of dialogue carried out amongst  a trio of characters. Vance is skilled at dialogue (unlike many other SF authors of the mid-60s period), so these sections are not tiresome to read.

There is a typical Vance problem-solving element to the quasi-Lovecraftian narrative, involving apprehension of alternate dimensions, inhabited by malevolent beings who subtly control human affairs. The plot contains enough twists and revelations to make it an interesting story, all the more so considering its relatively short length. Vance afficionados will want to look for this novelette.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Book Review: Ibis

Book Review: 'Ibis' by Linda Steele


Gor Fanboy Score 4/5 Stars 

‘Ibis’ (1985) is DAW book No. 644; the cover art is by J. Chiodo.

I wasn’t aware until I had purchased this book and started to read it, that it is an SF Romance novel….?! It’s certainly one of the earliest commercially published entries in that genre, which nowadays takes up an ever-increasing proportion of DAW’s releases. I can’t say I’m a mega-fan of the romance genre, but in the spirit of adventure, I decided to persevere and check out ‘Ibis’:

A Federation research vessel has crash-landed on the planet Ibis-2, and only a few hundred of the crew have survived. Ibis -2 is an earth-like planet with a native population quite similar in appearance  to Homo sapiens. However, the Ibisian society is constructed much like that of social wasps, bees, or ants. There is a Queen, who alone procreates; a number of lubricious younger females, who will replace the Queen should she falter in her duties; a large caste of sterile female workers and warriors; and a caste of male drones, who live in pampered idleness until such time as the Queen seeks their favors. After one shot at Knocking Boots, the ephemeral drones die - ! Needless to say, this depressing aspect of drone reproductive biology tends to leave the younger Ibisian woman rather….. fidgety….

The Ibisians aren’t too pleased with the arrival of the Federation ship and within the book’s first few pages they launch an attack that destroys the ship and kills a significant proportion of its lightly-armed survivors. The novel’s hero, Padrec Morrissey (who looks something like Pierce Brosnan) escapes the onslaught only to be captured by Anii, one of the queens-in-waiting and a woman with the physical appearance of a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model. Things get rather bizarre as Padric quickly becomes the hot-to-trot Anii’s Pleasure Slave (!) and is interred in her quarters in the hive-like ‘nom’ wherein the Ibisians make their home. In rapid succession Anii becomes Queen of the nom, and Padrec her favorite 'Love Toy'.

Although there are brief passages of violence and action, much of the narrative centers on the drama between Padrec and his alien girlfriend. There is quite a bit of pouting and angst on the part of Padrec, which in my mind made him an unsympathetic character. But then again, this is a romance novel, and the arrival on Ibis-2 of a pirate spaceship filled with the well-armed, galactic equivalent of the population of Pelican Bay State Prison simply is not going to happen…..

The climax of the novel deals with an escape attempt by the other surviving humans imprisoned in the nom: will Padrec betray Anii and join his crewmates in their bid for freedom ? Or will he betray the escape plot and thus indirectly condemn his crewmates to death ? On a world where the Queen has the power of life and death, such a decision cannot come without consequences….

Since I’m not particularly familiar with romance novels, it would be unfair of me to give this book a traditional score per se. I have, however, given it a ‘Gor Fanboy Rating’. This rating reflects the book’s appeal to that dedicated subset of SF readers who cherish and treasure the Gor novels’ fascination with proud macho men made humble and ‘forced’ (cough-cough) to serve the sick, lust-filled desires of their gorgeous female masters.

While Ibis is rated PG-13, I think that Gor Fanboys will enjoy reading it….particularly the last few pages. Hence, its exemplary Gor Fanboy Rating of 4/5 Stars !

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Jonah Hex: 'Six Gun War' Part Five (Issue 48)

Part five of the ‘Six Gun War’ miniseries (appearing in Jonah Hex No. 48, December 2009) sees Jonah confront a team of assassins lying in wait for him in the darkened streets of a Mexican village. I’ve excerpted the first few pages here.

With this installment, the narrative shifts from the rather scattered storytelling of the past two issues and instead centers on a protracted series of  blood-drenched combats.  Jonah is forced to take on professional killers who employ a variety of weapons and styles, including whips, knives, and even some bare-knuckle brawling. The story also provides some of the sarcastic humor, peculiar to the Hex comics, that helps offset the gore. A little bit….


Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Elder Gods Part Two

'Elder Gods' from 'Aliens Special', Dark Horse comics, June 1997

Part Two


Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Elder Gods Part One

'Elder Gods' from 'Aliens Special', Dark Horse comics, June 1997

Part One 

Since it's getting close to Halloween I thought I'd post a neat little story that skillfully melds a great modern sci-fi horror archetype- the Giger Aliens - with the unique sci-fi themes of H.P. Lovecraft.

In June 1997 Dark Horse published a little  b & w 'Aliens Special' comic. The first story, '45 seconds', is little more than a few brief pages of some sketches linked with a makeshift story. But the second entry in the comic was 'Elder Gods', written by the well-published horror writer Nancy A. Collins, with pencils by Leif Jones, inking by John Stokes, and letters by Clem Roberts.

It's a shame this little story didn't get the full-marketing exposure of appearing in a color version of the Dark Horse 'Aliens' line. It's better than more than a few of the stories Dark Horse churned out at the expense of the franchise in the 90s.

I'll post the second half of the story shortly. Enjoy !