Friday, July 29, 2016

The Champion

The Champion
by Doug Moench (story) and Dan Day
Special Studio, 1990

‘The Champion’ was completed in 1982 (Gene Day, who contributed to 'The Champion' and was the brother of Dan and David Day, all Canadian comics artists, died of a heart attack that same year). It wasn’t until three years later that it was published, in issue No. 33 of Marvel’s Epic Illustrated (December 1985). At the insistence of Epic Illustrated editor Archie Goodwin, the comic was shortened from 22 to 16 pages.

In 1990 Dan Day was able to have the entire story published in comic book format by Canadian publisher Special Studio.

Doug Moench's plot is overwrought and pretentious - in one panel, the external narration states that 'Molecules are disturbed' (?!) - but it's Day's artwork that really makes 'The Champion' one of the best comics of the 80s. 

Day's intricate pen- and- ink draftsmanship features some amazing shading and stippling effects, all this in the era before Photoshop:

Dan Day went on to pencil the Eclipse Comics series Aztec Ace, as well as the Cases of Sherlock Holmes series of comics for Canadian publishers Renegade / Northstar. Both series are well worth reading in order to further further acquainted with Day's artwork.

Posted below is 'The Champion' in its entirety.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Book Review: The Dreamfields

Book Review: 'The Dreamfields' by K. W. Jeter

3 / 5 Stars

‘The Dreamfields’ ( 190 pp) was published by Laser / Harlequin in June 1976; the cover art is by Kelly Freas.

[‘Dreamfields’ was one of two novels that K. W. Jeter published with Laser Books that year, the other being Seeklight.]

The novel is set in the near future, i.e., the 1990s. Behind barbed wire fences, at a US government installation in the California desert, an unusual experiment is underway. Hundreds of juvenile delinquents (!) are kept in a state of suspended animation, their dreaming selves wandering the grounds of the Dreamfield, a cyberspace construct resembling a the kind of empty small town that might be located in the outlying desert. 

The stated goal of the experiment: cure the delinquents of their psychological ills and antisocial behaviors by allowing them vicarious release within the virtual reality of the Dreamfield.

Ralph Metric is a nondescript man in his 30s who has taken a job with ‘Operation Dreamwatch’. He is one of a team of staffers who, each night, enter the Dreamfield, there to monitor the actions of the delinquents’ dream avatars. Along with the other members of the Dreamwatch team, Metric has settling into a sort of vague, day-to-day existence among the drab utilitarian offices and apartment complexes of the base, brushing the film of desert dust from his furniture, and blinking in the harsh glare of the desert sunlight whenever he emerges from the air-conditioned, darkened interiors of the base facilities.

As the novel opens, Metric’s co-worker, Michael Stimmitz, reveals that he has violated regulations and trespassed inside the Thronsen building, where the delinquents are housed. What Stimmitz saw there has him questioning the purported rationale for Operation Dreamwatch. But before Metric can learn more about the Thronsen bulding, a gruesome accident on a nightly Dreamfields run leaves him badly shaken.

Ralph Metric decides to take an impromptu vacation to Los Angeles………and to visit, and question, some of the parents of the children enrolled in the Dreamfields program. But Metric soon discovers other people are asking the same sorts of questions…..and they are willing to kill, if it brings them closer to the truth underlying Operation Dreamwatch…….

The first half of ‘The Dreamfields’ is engaging and very readable. Along with its proto-cyberpunk leanings, it also effectively creates the unique atmosphere of paranoia and existential despair that epitomized 70s pop culture, as depicted in movies such as The Parallax View, The Conversation, and Coma. Jeter’s sun-bleached, rundown landscapes and neighborhoods of southern California, Los Angeles, and Orange County are tinged with entropy, their residents gripped by apathy, indifferent to the machinations of the greater powers scheming for control of society.

Where ‘Dreamfields’ falls short is in the final chapters; the inevitable Big Revelation about the program, and the climax of Ralph Metric’s struggle to grasp the nature of the Conspiracy, are unconvincing. These weaknesses in the plot may have been imposed on the author by the editorial constraints of the Laser Books imprint, but their contrived nature leads me to give the book a three-star rating.

Summing up, if you are looking for a proto-cyberpunk work with a unique flavor of 70s Paranoia, then ‘The Dreamfields’ may be worth getting, provided you’re willing to accept a somewhat unsatisfying denouement.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Kraaoo by Sokal

by Sokal
from Heavy Metal, July 1980

Some distinctive artwork in this tale by the Belgian artist Benoit Sokal. He is perhaps best known to American audiences as the creator of the Syberia (2002) and Syberia II (2004) adventures games for the PC.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Book Review: The Breaking of Northwall

Book Review: 'The Breaking of Northwall' by Paul O. Williams

5 / 5 Stars
‘The Breaking of Northwall’ (280 pp) was published in February, 1981; the cover art is by Darrell K. Sweet.

This is the first volume of 'The Pelbar Cycle', which ultimately comprised 7 volumes published from 1981 - 1985. Although the entries in the Cycle all share the same setting and jointly reference particular characters, each novel is more or less a standalone work.

Author Paul O. Williams (1935 – 2009) was a poet and a faculty member at Principia College in Illinois. 

[Principia College is if course the flagship college of the Christian Scientist Church. It is unclear to me if Williams' fiction incorporates the philosophies of Christian Science or its founders, Phineas Quimby and Mary Baker Eddy.]

The Pelbar Cycle takes place in the US, more than a thousand years after World War Three has devastated the world. Civilization endures in the form of small enclaves; some are made up of nomadic ‘barbarian’ tribesmen, while others are more settled. The Midwest remains sparsely populated and technologically backward compared to the East Coast.

Jestak, the hero of the story, is a young man who belongs to the Pelbar enclave. The Pelbar live in stone fortresses along the banks of the upper Mississippi River. Their society is matriarchal and inward-focused; secure in their fortresses, the Pelbar rarely interact with the barbarian tribes roaming the plains, and then only to trade goods during mutually observed Truce Weeks.

As ‘Northwall’ opens Jestak has elected to rebel – in an understated way – from the strictures of the matriarchy governing Pelbarigan, the largest and most powerful of the stone fortresses of the Pelbar nation. Jestak finds his way up the river to Northwall, the smaller of the Pelbar fortresses, and one whose leader, the so-called Protector, is less orthodox in her attitudes towards interacting with the world.

When Jestak proposes a mission to travel to the territory formerly known as Colorado, there to rescue a young woman enslaved by the Emeri tribe, the Protector gives assent. But as Jestak and his companions from the nomadic Shumal tribe set out for the country of the Emeri, unknown to them, an invasion force made up of the ruthless Tantal of the Great Lakes has embarked upon the Mississippi. Their goal: subjugation of the Pelbar. And the Tantal have weapons that the Pelbar, in their seemingly impregnable stone fortresses, have never before encountered……..

‘The Breaking of Northwall’ is a well-written, fast-moving story. While I can’t say it’s particularly imaginative in terms of using the traditional post-apocalyptic setting of a devastated, far-future USA, author Williams elects to model the nomadic tribes – which are comprised of whites – with the attitudes and spiritual beliefs of the American Indians, which gives the novel’s sociological and anthropological themes additional depth not usually found in an adventure novel.

For a novel published in 1981 – a period during which sf as a genre was doggedly recycling tired New Wave tropes - ‘The Breaking of Northwall’ is noteworthy for its readability. I recommend this as one of the better sf novels of the early 80s.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Battle for the Planet of the Apes Part I

Battle for the Planet of the Apes
Part I
by Doug Moench (script) and Vincente Alcazar and Sony Trinidad (art)
Planet of the Apes (Marvel / Curtis) No. 23, August 1976

July 1976, and on FM radio, 'Summer' by the group War is in heavy rotation.

In the latest issue (cover dated August, but on the shelves in early July) of Marvel's Planet of the Apes comic magazine, a 'Battle for the Planet of the Apes' story is being serialized; this one features content that didn't make it into the 1973 feature film. Doug Moench handles the writing chores. 

Spanish artist Vincente Alcazar, and Filipino artist Sonny Trinidad, team up to provide outstanding artwork, with the imaginative use of layouts, silhouettes, and finely detailed linework. Very good stuff.........

The seven-part series concluded in issue 28 (the magazine was cancelled with issue 29).

I've posted Part One below. If there is sufficient interest I'll post the succeeding installments......?!