Saturday, July 31, 2010

'The Death of Orlaon' by Enki Bilal
from the July 1978 issue of 'Heavy Metal'


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Marvel Comics: 'The Essential Luke Cage / Power Man'

Nowadays original copies of the first few issues of 'Luke Cage' (later renamed 'Power Man') comics go for steep prices, so the most economical way to take in the series is through the black and white 'Marvel Essentials' paperback, which collects the first 27 issues, from June 1972 through October 1975.

While I remember seeing the Luke Cage issues on the stands in the early 70s, I was never motivated to purchase any, mainly because the villains were so cheesy. Instead of the 'cosmic' adversaries faced by the Fantastic Four, Thor, or the Avengers, Luke Cage - like Daredevil at this time in his publishing history - was pretty much left to fight third-tier nobodies like 'Mr Death', 'The Steeplejack',  and 'Chemistro', among others:

 Although on rare occasions, a genuine marquee bad guy would make an appearance:

My favorite of these oddball villains was one 'Black Mariah', an obese woman who did not take any jive from her fellow criminals, much less Luke Cage:

While no sellout, occasionally Luke had to put the smackdown on those 'radical' soul brothers who were pushing him to join the fight against 'The Man' :

 George Tuska's artwork on the series was quite good.Tuska always made Luke's battles look like they were genuinely physical, bruising affairs:

For a series that featured one of the first major black comic book heroes, portraying Luke in situations with some degree of social relevance did take place, but more rarely than one might think.

In a two-parter, Luke takes on a drug dealer named Cottonmouth, who is peddling slow death to the impoverished black folk of inner-city New York:

In another episode, Luke and his friend D.W. go West to seek Luke's estranged girlfriend; en route, they come across a prototype 'planned community' where they aren't exactly welcome:

Compared to the violent street culture that features so prominently in contemporary rap culture, these comics will seem restrained, if not tame to modern readers (Luke likes to shout 'Christmas !' when attacked, but this was after all a Code book). 

But if you are age 40 and over, they may evoke some nostalgia for the early 70s and the Blaxploitation era, the funky portrayal of a decaying Times Square, polyester clothes, and afros .

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Book Review: 'Sunsmoke' by James Killus

2 / 5 Stars

‘Sunsmoke’ (Ace, 1985, 182 pp.) features cover art by Don Brautigam.
It’s 1986 and Raymond Macgregor, a brilliant, but socially inept, programmer is exploring the use of the EPAnet  software package to model the development of smog formations over Southern California. This is Old School command-line stuff, done on cathode-ray-tube workstations with phone modems to a central server that does all the real computing. But back in the mid-80s it was considered the Cutting Edge.
Ray has been messing around with arcane knowledge and when he combines occult incantations and code, the result is the spawning of a creature – the Smog Monster – that feeds on pollution. And since it’s June, and the weather is heating up, the monster is going to find all the pollution it needs to grow, thrive, and make Los Angeles its private stomping ground.
Walter Peters, an atmosphere chemist and Macgregor’s longtime rival, watches his meteorological models with puzzlement and then increasing alarm. What is taking place in the air over the southern part of the state does not obey any natural laws.  As the monster becomes manifest and the body count rises, it’s up to Peters, a group of Southern California beautiful people, an alluring witch named Joella,  and a team of hardcore programmers, to discover the secret behind the smog monster and defeat it before the entire West Coast goes under a choking cloud of toxins and fire……
Author Killus was an actual smog modeler working on a EPA contract at the time he wrote his manuscript, so the science content of the novel is more or less accurate. 

However, I found ‘Sunsmoke’ to be an uneasy amalgamation of SF, horror story, and satire. Killus tends to use a lot of witty prose in describing the goings-on of his very ‘California’ cast of characters (think hot tubs, Sensual Massage, getting stoned, the I Ching, karate class, etc., etc.) but such prose tends to undermine his efforts to portray the smog monster as a genuinely harrowing phenomenon. When Killus labels the third part of his book ‘Godzilla Vs the Smog Monster’,  the layering of ‘Ghost Busters’ – style humor onto the plot becomes too self-evident.
If  ‘Sunsmoke’ had been written as a straightforward SF / horror tale it might have gained considerable traction, but as it stands, it comes across as a hesitantly defined mishmash of genres. I can only recommend it to those determined to read every manifestation of cyberpunk seeing print in the 80s.

Friday, July 23, 2010

'Mr Bunny' (detail) by Marion Peck

from the book 'Animal Love Summer', due from Last Gasp in November 2010.
Marion Peck official web page

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

'Romance' by Caza
from the July 1980 issue of 'Heavy Metal' 

NOTE: female nudity

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Book Review: 'The Texas-Israeli War: 1999' by Jake Saunders and Howard Waldrop

3 / 5 Stars

It’s 1999, five years after the outbreak of World War Three, and the USA is not in the best of shape. Nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons have whittled the population down to a fraction of its former size, depleted crops and livestock, and left many urban areas abandoned ghost towns. Conflict continues to smolder with the Chinese in Alaska and Canada. To make matters worse, Texas has decided to secede from the Union, taking its valuable oil refineries with it. To shield its act of rebellion, the state holds the President captive in Fort Deaf Smith outside of Crystal City.
The federal government, barely able to hold the other states in line, cannot allow Texas to break away. A desperate effort is launched to retrieve the President and crush the rebellion. To spearhead the effort to retake Texas, the government hires a team of Israeli tankers led by Colonel Sol Ingelstein. One of the few nations to emerge from WW3 intact, Israeli is now a world power, and its laser-armed tanks are among the most lethal weapons in the field. Its growing population has led many of its citizens to emigrate to other countries, where, in exchange for land and cash, they will fight for the highest bidder.
For all his armored superiority, the mission confronting Sol Ingelstein and his mercenaries isn’t an easy one. First they have to clear the Texas forces from the Dallas – Ft Worth area. Then they have to travel overland down to Crystal City and Ft. Smith without being detected by the state militia. And once they arrive at the Fort, they must free the President and get him to safety before the enemy can mount a counterattack. 

There’s only one chance to get it right…or the USA ceases to exist.
‘The Texas-Israeli War: 1999’ (209 pp) was published by Del Rey in 1974; the cover illustration is by Dean Ellis. Portions of the book appeared previously as the short story ‘A Voice and Bitter Weeping’ in Galaxy magazine in its July – August 1973. Howard Waldrop, of course, went on to write a number of well-received SF novels, among them ‘Them Bones’ (1984).
‘Texas-Israeli War’ is a straightforward SF adventure novel with an offbeat setting. While nowadays presenting the Israeli military in a favorable light is very politically incorrect, back in ’74 one could do it without incurring too much opprobrium. The Israelis are prone to uttering Pslams in Hebrew when under duress or in expansive moods, a religious attitude which distinguishes them from the more cynical tank-driving mercenaries usually peopling this genre of SF (e.g., 'Hammer's Slammers'). 

Readers interested in military SF may want to give this fast-moving novel a try.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Killraven: 'Amazing Adventures' No. 30
(May 1975)

The May 1975 issue of ‘Amazing Adventures’ No. 30 features one of the more iconic representations of Killraven and the Marvel ‘War of the Worlds’ storyline. 

The cover of the British edition was  used by author David Kyle in his section on H. G. Wells’ novel in 'A Pictorial History of Science Fiction' (1977, Hamlyn, London).

It’s also featured on the back cover of the 'Marvel Essentials' black & white collection of the Killraven saga.
Unfortunately, however striking the cover, the contents of this issue leave a lot to be desired. By Spring 1975 Marvel’s publication schedule was so over-ambitious that it wasn’t unusual for Stan Lee to recycle previously published material in order to fill the necessary page count and meet  deadlines. For Amazing Adventures No. 30, pages from issue No. 23 (‘The Legend Assassins’) and issue No. 24 (‘For He’s A Jolly Dead Rebel’) are inserted under the ruse of a ‘flashback’ storyline featuring the High Overlord.
[In fairness to Lee, he wasn’t alone in shamelessly recycling comics during the 70s. Over at Warren publishing, James Warren was regularly reprinting previous strips into new issues of Erie and Creepy. Maybe, like Warren, Lee was reluctant to expand his payroll when he could wrest sheckels from the unwary buyer for the old stuff in new packaging…..]

The last page of the book tells us that, far from dying in the assault that killed their mother when they were boys, Killraven’s brother Deathraven is alive and well… and awaiting our hero at Yellowstone National Park. It’s the only really rewarding tidbit present in one of the more forgettable issues of the Killraven saga........

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Gallery of 70s SF paperbacks 

from David Kyle's 'A Pictorial History of Science Fiction', Hamlyn, London,1977

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Book Review: Through Darkest America

Book Review: 'Through Darkest America' by Neal Barrett, Jr.

4 / 5 Stars

This paperback edition of Barrett’s novel 'Through Darkest America’ (1986) was published in 1988 (256 pp.) by Worldwide Library as part of its ‘Isaac Asimov Presents’ imprint. The cover art is by Vincent DiFate. The sequel is ‘Dawn’s Uncertain Light’ (1989).

The novel takes place in the US several centuries after World War Three has converted society to an agrarian level equivalent to that of the mid- 19th century.

Howie Ryder is a young boy growing up on a prosperous farm in the southeastern region of the country; he shares a home with his little sister Carolee, his mother Ev, and his father Milo. For Howie and his family life is good, despite the burdens of the weather and an economy beset by the existence of a war in the West, between the government and a force of rebels led by a man named Lathan. To fund the war, the government is increasing taxes on its farmers, something Howie’s father accepts only grudgingly.

The book’s major contrivance is that beeves have been replaced as a food animal by a race of simpleton humans, who are referred to as ‘livestock’. Cannibalism is seen as something perfectly ordinary and commonplace, as most of the continent’s animal population was eliminated by nuclear war. The shock value – if there is any – to this feature of the narrative wore off for me rather quickly, and I felt the book would not have suffered if Barrett had simply retained beeves as his livestock of choice.

In any event, Howie’s pastoral life comes to an abrupt halt when the government decides to rely on harsh measures to exact tribute from its citizens. Howie finds himself the subject of a manhunt, and flees west to seek safety among the wastelands. But he soon finds that the West is no safer a place than any other part of the country, and sometimes a young man must do morally objectionable acts if he is to survive. Through various adventures Howie lands in the middle of the conflict between the rebels and the government, and his life will be in danger no matter which side he chooses.….

I found ‘Darkest America’ to be reminiscent in some ways of Leigh Brackett’s classic SF novel ‘The Long Tomorrow’ (1955) which also deals with a boy’s abrupt transition into adulthood when circumstances converge to force him to survive on his own in a hostile world where violence lurks just under the surface of society. Like Len Colter, Howie must learn the hard way as to how to negotiate a post-apocalyptic civilization, where those best able to scrounge for the artifacts of the dead can achieve the greatest power.

‘Darkest’ is of course much more violent, even gruesome, in its depiction of lawlessness and cruelty and is definitely not a novel for Young Adults. The novel is also much more cynical and downbeat than other examples of 80's post-apocalyptic fiction, such as Brin's 'The Postman' (1985), Graham's 'Down to a Sunless Sea' (1986), or Strieber and Kunetka's 'Warday' (1984).

The narrative consistently moves at a quick pace, sending Howie into one dire situation after another, culminating in a final 40 pages that are truly suspenseful and worthy of the term ‘page turner’.

Fans of post-apocalyptic fiction with a unique Western flavor to it- think of a depraved Louis L'Amour novel- will want to have this book on their bookshelves.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

'Heat Wave' by Guy Colwell

oil on canvas 1976; reproduced here from the May 1980 issue of Heavy Metal magazine; appeared as the cover for the comic Inner City Romance No. 4, 1977 (Last Gasp Eco-Funnies). Guy Colwell website:

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

'The Bus' by Paul Kirchner

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Book Review: The Trial of Billy Jack

Book Review: 'The Trial of Billy Jack', by Howard Liebling

3 / 5 Stars

It’s 1974 and the hippie movement of the 60s has fast dwindled to nostalgia. The remnants of the counterculture retreat to communes and group living, while everyone else sells out to the hedonism and self-absorption of the 70s (perhaps hosting a ‘key party’ like the one depicted in the movie ‘The Ice Storm’).

For the half-breed Billy Jack, his girlfriend Jean, and the groovy kids of the Freedom School in the rural southwest, things aren’t going well in their struggle against the Establishment. Billy is tried for the murder of a redneck townie (which took place in the previous movie ‘Billy Jack’, 1971) and sentenced to four years in prison.

In his absence Jean and the Freedom kids embark on a campaign to record and document acts of corruption by the town and state governments, whose elected officials are intent on closing down the school and driving all those troublesome hippies out of the state.

Jean and the kids also must confront acts of bigotry and malfeasance waged against the vulnerable Indians of the surrounding territory by the White Man. When Billy Jack is released on parole, it’s time for rejoicing, as the school’s mentor and hero is back on the scene with new words of wisdom, and assurance, gained from a Vision Quest in the surrounding desert.

However, the Men in Power aren’t going to let Billy’s return deter them from their plans. It’s only a matter of time before the rednecks and Billy have a series of confrontations…and however much Billy wants to renounce violence, he’s going to have to defend the School and its pupils if they are to have a future…

‘The Trial of Billy Jack’ is a novelization of the film’s script (written by its star and director, the actor Tom Laughlin, who first portrayed Billy in 1967’s ‘The Born Losers’). The book contains an insert of black and white stills from the film.

‘Trial’ was a big hit back when it was released. Laughlin’s outfit of a black, wide-brimmed hat with a Navajo band around the crown, and a cropped-length denim jacket, was the perfect uniform for a counterculture hero who took his shoes off (?!) before launching karate kicks at nonplussed rednecks.

The Freedom School kids of either gender all have shoulder-length hair parted in the middle, and washed daily with Herbal Shampoo. They sport bell-bottomed polyester trousers or jeans, and pursue 'mellow' pastimes such playing acoustic guitar and singing treacly folk tunes.

While the film’s plot may have wandered, it never strayed far from its theme of confrontation between the pure people – exemplified by Billy and his followers - and the loathsome Establishment bigots.

But I suspect contemporary audiences are going to find the film unimpressive. Too much camera time is devoted to the antics and speeches of the school kids, which will seem dated and downright corny to modern viewers. The action sequences are few and far between, and while the movie’s climactic battle is memorable and effective, the viewer is forced to sit through a lot of tedium before things start to come together script-wise.

This novelization is a good way to experience the Billy Jack scene without having to sit through the entire film in all its flawed glory.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

'Heavy Metal' magazine: July 1980

The July 1980 issue of ‘Heavy Metal’ features a front cover illustration by Carol Donner titled ‘Invaders From Mars: Part II’ and a back cover by Tito Salomi, titled ‘And the Children Play’.
This issue contains some major advertising (at least by the historical standards of the magazine); Kawasaki bought an inside front cover ad for their KE100 dirt bike, and the opening page of the magazine has a full-page ad from Bic cigarette lighters. ‘Starlog’ magazine purchased the inside back cover ad space. Things were looking promising for the sales and marketing staff of Heavy Metal…
The contents of this issue include a new story by Bilal titled ‘Progress’,  the first part of a mediocre strip by Moebius called ‘Shore Leave’, another installment of ‘The Alchemist Supreme’ by Ribera and Godard, and ‘Kraoo’ by Sokal. 

Among the more visually interesting short pieces was ‘A Message from the Shadows’ by Druillet. Its striking orange-and-red color scheme loses some intensity when scanned thirty years after being printed, or at least when using a bright-setting LCD monitor to view things, but (hopefully) my tinkering with the ArcSoft Photo Studio app should correct things a bit…..