Saturday, June 30, 2012

'Tracks' by Roger McKenzie and Moreno Casares
from Eerie 102 (July 1979)

As June 2012 ends, and an immense heat wave (exacerbated by storms that have left millions without power in 100-degree temps) grips most of the Central and Eastern USA, it's the right time for a tale of deep woods, deep snow, deep cold, deep hunger, and a graphic image of a mutilated corpse....

Thursday, June 28, 2012

'Rockblitz' by Macedo
from the June 1977 issue of Heavy Metal

As always, stunning artwork by Macedo in this tale featuring juvenile delinquents, swingin' biker chicks, robots, Cosmic Karma, and, of course, plenty of rock n' roll in that 70s nostalgia / retro style....

.....'dig it' !

Monday, June 25, 2012

Book Review: 'City of Darkness' by Ben Bova

4 / 5 Stars

‘City of Darkness’ was first published in hardbound in 1976. This Berkley paperback (165 pp) was issued in November 1982, with a cover illustration by James Warhola.

It’s the near future, and the more affluent members of the US population live in clean, modern, sterile suburbs called ‘Tracts’. For teenager Ron Morgan and his friends, life in the Tracts is Boring. Having taken, and scored well, on his National Exams, Ron’s father is adamant that Ron attend Getty College and major in business, just like the Old Man. But Ron would rather pursue a career in science and technology, which angers his father. Tensions rise in the Morgan household.

In a fit of teenage rebellion, Ron decides to leave home and make for New York City, which he had visited previously with his father. Bova's incarnation of New York City is not the metropolis we know and love. Past outbreaks of plague and social disorder have led the federal government to expel the inhabitants, and close down, most major cities. Among the few exceptions is New York, where Manhattan is enclosed under an enormous transparent dome. From July 4th to Labor Day the city, and all its seedy, crime-infested, rubbernecking, dirty glory is open to tourists. But after Labor Day, the city is sealed off.

Those still within its confines the day after Labor Day are condemned to spend the next 10 months scrounging for a living as best they can. There are no police, no medical care, and no laws and restrictions….except those imposed by the violent street gangs that rule New York.

For suburbanites, and men in particular, New York City is like one giant Times Square, circa 1974. A world of sleaze and titillation awaits those who travel to its neighborhoods. For Ron Morgan, it’s an irresistible destination.

In due course, Ron takes the air train from New England to New York and steps out from the confines of Grand Central Station onto to the crowded, hot, smelly, raw streets of the Big Apple. He exchanges his straight-laced suburban clothes for the leather- and chrome - look of the streets, and takes in a forbidden pleasure: the sleaze movie theatres of 42nd street !

[ Bill Landis would be proud….. ! ]

But, for all his efforts to blend in with the locals, Ron soon becomes the victim of a classic Big Apple scam aimed at naïve newcomers. With no money, and no Identity Card, Ron discovers he cannot leave the City. Any attempt at jumping the turnstiles will get him sent to the city’s notorious prison, The Tombs.

Labor Day comes and goes….and Ron Morgan is trapped in the City of Darkness……

While clearly aimed at a Young Adult readership, ‘City of Darkness’ is an engaging, fast-moving novel that adult readers also will enjoy. Bova doesn’t hold back from placing as much violence, desperation, and social satire into his novel as the Young Adult designation will allow.

Many readers will be pleased to find that classic films such as The Warriors, and Escape From New York, are prefigured in many ways by ‘City of Darkness’.

This one is worth picking up.

Friday, June 22, 2012

'Only the Plitch' by Enki Bilal
from the May 1980 issue of Heavy Metal
The absurdist humor may draw blank looks from contemporary readers, but Bilal's artwork is very good, and stands up well more than 30 years later

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Book Review: 'Barking Dogs' by Terence  M. Green

2 / 5 Stars

‘Barking Dogs’ was first published in hardcover by St Martin’s Press in 1988; this paperback version (214 pp) was released in January 1989, and features a cover illustration by Brian Kotzky.

‘Barking’ is set in Toronto, 1999. Policeman Mitch Helwig is becoming more and more frustrated, and more and more despondent, by the fact that law and order is losing the war on crime. Violent crime is spiraling out of control, and the underpaid, ill-equipped, and undermanned police force is unable to staunch the bleeding.

Mitch decides to use extralegal means to bolster his own patrols of the mean streets: investing in a 'Barking Dog', a high-tech, portable lie detector with 99% accuracy. While the police force is officially prohibited from using the Barking Dog, Mitch soon finds that his clandestine use makes a difference. 

As does his coming into possession of a protective vest and a late-model laser pistol....

Armed with the latest weaponry, Mitch sets out to clean the scum off the streets of Toronto. But when Helwig’s investigations lead him to the operation of the ‘Archangel’, a Mafiosi boss who owns people on the police force, and the mayor’s office, the war on crime takes a dangerous turn. For the Archangel doesn’t take kindly to the idea of a beat cop leaning on his action…..

The cover blurbs for ‘Barking’ reference ‘Dirty Harry’ and ‘Robocop’, and the book does indeed borrow plots and themes from both movies. However, author Green chooses to write his novel with a stereotypical, pulp-police procedural style, chock-full of clumsy metaphors and similes. At times Green’s writing is so steadfastly tough-guy that it verges on self-parody.

It doesn’t help matters when the middle section of the novel turns its attention to a burgeoning melodrama between Mitch Helwig and his wife; the action is placed on hold while the reader is subjected to passages centering on marital angst. 

Toss in too-frequent flashbacks, in which we learn about the special bond that Mitch and his former partner, Mario, shared – that special bond that comes only to the men in blue who risk life and limb for each other, every day they are out patrolling the city – and ‘Barking Dogs’ gradually collapses under its own awkward weight. By the time I reached the novel's climatic last pages, I was motivated by a sense of duty towards completing my review, rather than out of any engagement with the characters.

Unless you’re a reader who is adamant about taking in everything and anything with a ‘Robocop’ flavor, this novel can be safely ignored.

Monday, June 18, 2012

'Light of Other Days' by Gene Colan and Mike Esposito

written by Tony Isabella
adapted from the short story by Bob Shaw
from Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction (Marvel / Curtis) issue 1, January 1975

Saturday, June 16, 2012

'Concorde' by Caza
from the June 1982 issue of Heavy Metal

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

'Burning Down One Side' by Robert Plant
from the album Pictures at Eleven (June 1982)

Released in the US on June 28, 1982, Robert Plant's first solo album, Pictures at Eleven, featured a number of strong tracks, including 'Burning Down One Side', 'Pledge Pin' (my favorite), and 'Ship of Fools'.

The video for 'Burning Down' was in heavy rotation on MTV as the Summer unfolded. The closing scene, where Robert is stuck in traffic, decides to park his car by the side of the road, and just chuck it all while walking off into the sunset, is something I'm sure everyone has entertained doing at some point of severe frustration in their lives....

Monday, June 11, 2012

Book Review: 'Men Like Rats' by Robert Chilson

2 / 5 Stars

‘Men Like Rats’ (Questar, 212 pp., March 1989) features a striking cover by Barclay Shaw.

‘Men’ is essentially a treatment of the theme introduced into SF by A. Bertram Chandler’s ‘The Giant Killer’ (1945) and William Tenn’s story ‘The Men in the Walls' (1963, later expanded into the novel ‘Of Men and Monsters’, 1968). 

Basically, mankind finds itself reduced to roach-like scavenging among the habitations of aliens vastly superior in size and intellect.

‘Men’ takes place in the future, when some vaguely described calamity has resulted in mankind occupying a vast series of rooms, or chambers, of alien design. The main function of these rooms seems to be as storage places or waypoints for an endless stream of packaged goods, conveyed from location to location by seemingly magical energy fields, elevators, and conveyor belts.

Toting spears, dressed in clothing salvaged from the textiles scavenged from the bales of goods flowing from one room to another, men have set up small fiefdoms or tribes among the various chambers in this alien warehouse.

As the novel opens, Rick, an experienced wanderer among the chambers, is seeking his fortune, and a chance to meet up with female tribals, among the cans and bales of one of the sections of the warehouse. Life among the chambers is not easy; the Sentiences that have erected the warehouse are becoming increasingly exasperated with the depredations of the humans, and a bevy of predatory animal, boobytraps, and robots have been seeded into the warehouse in an effort at vermin control. 

As he journeys deeper into the alien labyrinth, Rick stumbles on disturbing evidence that some of the tribes ruling selected cargo bays may in fact not be human....but they have a liking for human flesh.....

On the whole, ‘Men’ is a fast-moving, at times humorous tale that follows the adventures of Rick among the various tribes in the warehouse. There are plenty of stone-age battles, and violent encounters with monsters, as Rick makes his way to the territory of the most affluent and influential of tribes.

Unfortunately, the novel's backstory suffers from inadequate exposition. Author Chilson's passages devoted to the alien logistical system, however descriptive in nature, are resolutely presented from Rick's POV; and as a  member of a stone-age Cargo Cult, Rick's knowledge of his surroundings are vague and child-like.

There is no omniscient narration that discloses to the reader the exact nature of the landscape in which our hero is cavorting. 

As the novel progressed I became increasingly tired of the diffuse character of Chilson's prose: is the strange green terrain the alien equivalent of synthetic turf ? Are the giant colored blocks stacked in the cargo bays an alien child's toy ? Are the enormous boxes filled with edibles the equivalent of alien MREs ?

While less allegorical in nature than Tenn's 'Monsters', 'Men Like Rats' also will strike some readers as too opaque in nature. It's a workmanlike effort, but not much more, at this sub-genre of sf.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

'Hunter' from Eerie magazine (Warren)

'Hunter' was a recurring character who initially appeared in a run of six episodes in Eerie magazine, issues 52 (November 1973) to 57 (March 1974). 

All six 'Hunter' episodes were combined into a special issue for Eerie #69 (October 1975), in (yet another) display of publisher James Warren's niggardly habit of repackaging and reselling previously published material to hapless Eerie fans.

Further installments of the Hunter franchise appeared as 'Hunter II' in Eerie issues 67-68 and 70-73, with one-shot episodes in Eerie 87, 100, and 121. 

Hunter's last appearance came when he participated in a team-up with other Warren characters (including Vampirella, Shreck, Exterminator One, Dax, Child, and Rook) in Eerie 130, released in April 1982, in the waning months of the Warren franchise.

Needless to say, 'very fine' to 'like new' issues of these old Eerie magazines go for $15.00 and up on eBay, so assembling the entire run of 'Hunter' can be an expensive proposition.

Luckily, as part of their licensing deal with the New Comic Company to reprint the Creepy and Eerie catalogs, Dark Horse issued all the 'Hunter' stories in this hardbound compilation, released in April 2012.

This book has dimensions (11 x 8.5 inches) a little bit smaller than that of the original magazine, but the quality of reproduced pages is very good (note this volume is entirely black and white / screentone). 

All 15 of the dedicated Hunter stories are provided within this volume, save the Warren team-up issue of Eerie #130. Somewhat disappointingly, episode 6, which originally appeared in Eerie #57 and was reproduced in color in Eerie #69, stays black and white in this compilation. But that's really the only fault I could find with 'Eerie Presents: Hunter'.

Artist Paul Neary handled the initial run of 'Hunter' and he used a very ornate, stylized approach to his artwork, often incorporating Zip-A-Tone patterns. Nowadays, of course, manga are the only major graphic media where screentone effects are a part of black and white illustrations, but back in the 70s, Zip-A-Tone effects were a major component of the techniques commonly used by graphic artists. Of course, other Warren artists, such as Sanjulian, Al Sanchez, and Alex Nino, brought their own special touch to the strip, too.

The plots for most of the episodes of 'Hunter' were of good quality, and even today, when most major publishers routinely issue four-color comics featuring graphic violence and sexual content, their themes remain downbeat and disturbing. But all adhered to the premise of Demian Hunter as an offbeat hero in a post-apocalyptic landscape scarred by conflict between the survivors of the nuclear war and a race of radiation- spawned, mutant, 'lizard people', labeled as 'demons' by the superstitious populace.

I've posted the inaugural episode of 'Hunter', from Eerie #52, November 1973. 

Future installments will be posted here at the PorPor blog.

If the strip appeals to you, you may want to think about picking up 'Eerie Presents: Hunter'.