Friday, April 30, 2010

Marvel Zombies 5: issue 2

The second issue of ‘Marvel Zombies 5’ is now out on the stands and, as hinted at the conclusion of the first issue, the action moves to the alternate earth depicted in the 70s ‘Amazing Adventures: War of the Worlds’ comics featuring the definitive PorPor character, Killraven.
Dispatched to try and recover blood samples harboring the zombie-causing virus from multiple worlds and realities, Howard the Duck, Machine Man, and the gun-wielding ‘Quick Draw’ Jacali Kane arrive on an earth subjugated by Martians, and quickly encounter Killraven, M’Shulla, and Old Skull:   

I won't reveal much more of the contents of the issue, save to say that it features the traditional copious gore and 'sick' humor that have been trademarks of the 'Zombies' books:

It looks like this will be the only installment of the 5th series that will feature the 'War of the Worlds' crew, so at most it's a short-lived guest appearance by Killraven and his gang. Fans of the 70s series will want to pick it up.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Mental Wizard

The Mental Wizard
from Doc Savage No. 53, 1970, painting by James Bama
(reproduced from Illustration magazine, vol. 4, issue 16, Spring 2006, p. 11) 

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Dead Man's Chest Part 2 of 2

A Dead Man's Chest
(Part 2 of 2)
(from 'Death Rattle' issue 3, volume 3, 1986)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

'Death Rattle' issue 3, volume 3

‘Death Rattle’ first appeared in 1972 as an underground comix title from Kitchen Sink Press. Ultimately three volumes were published (each volume with its own issue No 1, issue No. 2, etc.) over the course of the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Issues from the first volume fetch high prices on the comix collectibles market.
‘Rattle’ was devoted to horror and SF themes and echoed the work of the EC comic books of the 50s, as well as previous underground comix such as ‘Skull’ and  ‘Slow Death’.
The story I have excerpted here, 'A Dead Man's Chest', is from issue 3, volume 2 (February 1986). The story and art are by Doug Hansen.

A Dead Man's Chest
(Part 1 of 2)
 (to be continued)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Book Review: Earth Has Been Found

Book Review: 'Earth Has Been Found' by D. F. Jones

3 / 5 Stars

At first glance ‘Earth Has Been Found’ (Dell paperback, 1979, 267 pp., cover artist uncredited) seems like a schlocky effort to cash in on the popularity of the movie ‘Alien’, which was released in the same year. But ‘Earth’ is actually a pretty decent sci fi thriller in its own right.

The beginning of the novel reads like a UFO mystery, focusing on the mysterious disappearance, and reappearance in space and time, of military and civilian aircraft.

The first of these events takes place in April 1974, when a US Air Force F4 Phantom flying above California vanishes from the radar. The jet reappears in August, but this time near the Pacific island of Guam; the pilot is disoriented and winds up crashing and burning on the Guam airbase.

Then in March 1976 a Soviet transport plane disappears mid-air during a flight from Moscow to Irkutsk; it reappears in January 1977 over the Arctic Ocean. The pilots survive to land the aircraft but they are bewildered to learn that what to them was a momentary blackout has translated into the loss of nine months of time in the real world.

Air Force officer Frank Arcasso is asked to head a covert US government team, code-named ‘Icarus’, to investigate these disturbing phenomena.

When in September 1982 a Boeing 747 full of tourists from the upstate New York town of Abdera disappears en route from Paris to New York, all the Icarus team can do is wait in suspense. When the 747 re-materializes in the air over Des Moines in December, it is clear that an event of unprecedented magnitude has taken place. The travelers aboard the plane are confused but healthy. Have they been abducted by aliens ? Has the plane entered and departed a Time Warp of some sort ?

e truth, one could say, is in the very early stages of gestation...

I won’t spoil the read by divulging anything more about the plot, but suffice it to say that author D. F. Jones had written several novels prior to ‘Earth’ and he knew how to put together a readable thriller.

His writing is clear and straightforward in the ‘Michael Crichton’ model and the alien parasites, while not as impressive as those from the ‘Aliens’ franchise, are still formidable adversaries, with a biology based on that of Terran insects.

‘Earth Has Been Found’ is a good ‘alien infection’ novel, and it’s worth keeping an eye out for it on the used book shelves.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

'Doc Savage' issue No. 1 ('First Wave', DC)

DC just launched the first issue of another of their ‘First Wave’ imprint titles, this time it’s a series devoted to the Man of Bronze, Doc Savage:

Things start off without much of a preamble as Doc, piloting his airship, encounters some deadly lightning attacks on his skyscraper in the heart of New York City:

I’m unsure about this latest series for Doc Savage. The placement of Doc in the modern era seems a little unconvincing despite the studied use of the Art Deco motifs to the illustrations. While the effort to start things off from page one with a great deal of action is understandable from a point-of-sale marketing standpoint, the book doesn’t do much to try and orient the reader as to exactly who Doc and the Fabulous Five are, settling for some dialogue-mediated self-disclosures by Doc, even as he’s plummeting down an elevator shaft with two kids in his arms. 
I’m concerned that for younger comics readers, who may have little in the way of advance knowledge of the Doc Savage canon, this series will come across as just another effort by DC to try and get something out the door before their licensing rights lapse.
The book also includes a supporting strip, ‘Justice Inc.’,  starring the other major Street and Smith character authored under the house name ‘Kenneth Robeson’: ‘The Avenger’. The artwork, atmosphere, and storyline for this supporting tale are well done, coming across as something from a Vertigo imprint title; this section of the book actually impressed me more than did the main feature.

Unfortunately, previous efforts over the past four decades at a successful Doc Savage comic, by a variety of publishers, were mixed financial successes. Hopefully this iteration by DC will break the trend, but it’s too soon to tell. I will go ahead and pick up the second issue of ‘Doc Savage’ and see if writer Paul Malmot can do something new and noteworthy with the franchise......

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Book Review: Systems

Book Review: 'Systems' by W. T. Quick

3 / 5 Stars

William Thomas Quick is the author of nearly 30 novels, many of them ‘Clan of the Cave Bear’ – style romances written under the pseudonym Margaret Allan.

A second-generation cyberpunk author, Quick wrote a number of well-received novels during the late 80s and early 90s, with ‘Dreams of Flesh and Sand’ (1988) and ‘Dreams of Gods and Men’ (1989) his best-known efforts in the genre.
‘Systems’ (Signet, 251 pp, 1989, cover illustration uncredited) takes place in the San Francisco area early in the 2030s.  Josh Tower, formerly a covert operative in the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), now earns a living as a ‘datahunter’ for corporate clients. As he and his pregnant wife are returning from dining out, their air taxi suffers a malfunction and crashes to the ground. Tower endures a painful recovery from his injuries to find himself a widower.
Bereft and depressed, Tower tries to make sense of the disaster by looking into the online databases for clues to the nature of the accident; he soon discovers that the accident may have been deliberate. His inquiries lead him to a small, nondescript corporation called Condor Securities. His efforts to delve further into the nature of Condor Securities elicit a strong reaction from what seems to be a rogue element of the DIA. In short order Tower finds himself on the run from a squadron of killers, anxious to eliminate the one man who may know too much about a plot to undermine the world economy.
‘Systems’ is a near-future  thriller with some cyberpunk frosting, more like the novels of Dean Ing (whom Quick salutes in his Acknowledgement) than a novel akin to that authored by Gibson, Sterling, Shirley, or Jeter.
This is not a bad thing; with the exception of a few too many passages wherein various characters muse a little too long about the Meaning of It All, the narrative flows along at a good pace with plenty of gunplay and some rather gruesome scenes of violence. Tower is by no means a superman, and his escape from his pursuers never easy or taken for granted, and the clandestine organization devoted to snuffing him out sports a collection of suitably malevolent assassins. 

The technology of the 2030s is reasonably well extrapolated based on the state of computing technology at the time the book was written, and the plot machinations that Quick introduces later in the novel are unsurprising but never contrived.
Readers interested in a more action-oriented, early cyberpunk novel will want to give ‘Systems’ a look.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Preview: Killraven Meets 'Marvel Zombies' ?!

The latest installment of the franchise, 'Marvel Zombies 5', picks up on the storyline used in Zombies 4, in which a reluctant Machine Man was drafted into action in order to eliminate a zombie infestation in yet another alternate Marvel Universe. 

The first issue of Zombies 5 takes place in the setting of the old Marvel western comics, and involves well-known characters like the 'Two-Gun Kid' and 'Kid Colt'. 

The issue ends with a one-page preview of the second issue of 'Zombies 5', showcasing none other than Killraven and the 'War of the Worlds' storyline - ! It will certainly be interesting to see one of the PorPor Blog's favorite 70s icons make the Zombie scene....

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Killraven: Amazing Adventures No. 27

Killraven: 'Amazing Adventures' No. 27 (November 1974)

The cover for ‘Amazing Adventures’ No. 27 (November 1974) is uncredited but judging by the intricate style of the artwork and the ‘cosmic’ background, it’s probably Jim Starlin (and maybe the illustration was originally designed for an issue of ‘Captain Marvel’ or ‘Warlock’ ?).

‘The Death Breeders’ is scripted by Don McGregor, and Craig Russell provides the artwork.

The book opens with Killraven and company iceboating on Lake Michigan, where they are attacked by giant lampreys (?!). This is less cheesy than it sounds; as the scan’s I’ve posted below indicate, it’s a harrowing battle that sees poor Grok the mutant nearly exsanguinated...

This issue introduces Volcana Ash, a woman with the attributes of Medusa and the Human Torch. She leads the rebels to Milwaukee, where the Martians have set up a colony of human slaves who are treated most heinously. It’s Killraven’s intent to free the wretched slaves, but the Martians have other plans…

This issue is a welcome change from the rather mediocre efforts of the previous several installments of ‘Amazing Adventures’. Russell’s artwork is dynamic and shows attention to detail, and McGregor’s plot provides as much brutality and bloodshed as a Code-approved book could allow in 1974.

The Marvel Bullpen page trumpets the forthcoming hardbound book ‘Origins of Marvel Comics’, as well as a new magazine called ‘Nostalgia Illustrated’ (?!) which seems to have been yet another a spur-of-the-moment effort by Stan Lee to cash in on the nostalgia craze then gripping the popular culture.

Editor Roy Thomas’s essay refers to the staff’s pastimes in that Summer of '74:

“Steve Englehart and Gil Kane were basking languidly by their swimming pools – and maybe sneaking a fast dip or two between deadlines.”

Monday, April 5, 2010

Book Review: Dying for Tomorrow

Book Review: 'Dying for Tomorrow' by Michael Moorcock

 2 / 5 Stars

‘Dying for Tomorrow’ (192 pp., DAW Book No. 282, 1978) first appeared in Britain in 1976 as ‘Moorcock’s Book of Martyrs’. The striking cover illustration is by Michael Whelan.
‘Dying’ collects 7 short stories that appeared in print earlier in Moorcock’s writing career, during the 60s, and 70s, in SF magazines such as New Worlds.
In the first story, ‘A Dead Singer’, Mo - an unemployed roadie - travels the back roads of Britain in a camper van; his meanderings are spurred by a foreboding assortment of recreational drugs, and Mo’s conviction that Jimi Hendrix, returned from the dead, is traveling alongside him in the van. 

This is a downbeat tale that perfectly captures the disillusionment that gripped so many erstwhile 60s flower-power children as they confronted the reduced expectations of the early 70s. It’s able to stand alongside Harlan Ellison’s ‘Shattered Like A Glass Goblin’ as a cruelly accurate portrayal of the squalor and self-inflicted misery that came with the dying years of the hippie movement.
The next entry, ‘The Greater Conqueror’, is a sword-and-sandals tale of a mercenary named Simon, seeking fame and fortune in the Middle East at the time of Alexander the Great. Simon becomes involved in a seemingly hopeless fight against occult forces seeking to use Alexander as a portal for the conquest of the world. Published in 1962, this is one of Moorcock’s earliest short stories and while the prose lacks polish it’s a serviceable enough adventure tale.
Moorcock’s best-known short story is ‘Behold the Man’, in which a neurotic British Jew named Karl Glogauer travels in a time machine to the Palestine of 28 AD. No one has heard of a great prophet named Jesus, but the local populace think that Glogauer, a strange visitor from some far-off realm, may be someone special in his own right…..This story remains a provocative and well-crafted examination of the intersection of history, myth and religion more than 40 years after its first appearance.
‘Good-bye, Miranda’ is a short (three page) tale of a girl haunted by a rejected suitor.
‘Flux’ is a sardonic retelling of the H. G. Wells classic tale ‘The Time Machine’. In a near-future European Union facing economic and social collapse, the multi-skilled genius Max File is sent 10 years into the future to see what happens, and how it might be corrected. Things go awry and Max finds himself in times and places far beyond the scope of his original mission.
‘Islands’ is an unconvincing story about a schizophrenic young man who seems to experience multiple possible realities simultaneously in time.
‘Waiting for the End of Time’ is a very New Wave-ish tale of the last pair of humans on the last city on the last planet in the galaxy, on the last day before the implosion of the galactic center eliminates all life and matter. There is much metaphysical prose. Like so many New Wave stories that tried to present Entropy as Art, it hasn’t aged well.
In summary, ‘Dying for Tomorrow’ contains a few memorable tales, but on the whole, this collection confirms that Moorcock’s best efforts at fiction tend to be in the novel-length format. Unless you’re a Moorcock completist, ‘Dying’ can be skipped.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Slow Death comics No. 3

'Slow Death' comics No. 3

‘Slow Death’ No. 3 (1971) features a cover illustration by Richard Corben, who also provides the (untitled) lead entry in the comic. Corben also contributes ‘Heirs of Earth’, a grimly funny little two-page story. Two of the longer pieces in the book come from Larry Weltz (‘The Sleeping Continent’), and Jaxon (‘Gene Shuffle’).

But the best entry in Slow Death No. 3 is another small masterpiece from Jim Osborne, which I have excerpted here, titled ‘Harbinger’. The entire four-page comic contains neither dialogue balloons nor text narration, but is nonetheless very successful in building up a feeling of religious awe and dread.

In utilizing a drawing style reminiscent of an engraving, Osborne’s piece is a homage to Lynd Ward (1905 – 1985), whose work I was vaguely familiar with from the children’s books I read in the 60s and 70s.

Ward does not get much attention nowadays, but in his time (1920s – 1970s) he was one of the premiere book illustrators and graphic artists in the US. He employed a distinctive style in his illustration, and devotees of graphic art will want to be acquainted with Ward’s body of work.

(Who says reading trash like underground comix won’t teach you something ?)