W I D E A W A K E
All in Color for a Quarter
July 13, 2001
As I am ill-prepared to write a critical essay dissecting the use of shock value as part of a story versus use of shock value for superfluous reasons (usually the writer’s inability to tell a good story), I will, instead, offer my humble comments on a comic book purchase made last week. But first...
I was skeptical about this movie, knowing little more than “it’s about comic books” as one person said to me. If you are a comics fan, you will probably like this movie. If you do not enjoy the typical Hollywood take on our genre, you will probably like this movie. If, however, you are a rabid fan of the X-Men movie, you will probably be disappointed by Unbreakable, but that’s okay, I’m sure an X-Men sequel will be out soon to numbify your mushy brain cells. Incidentally, the Unbreakable DVD contains a bonus disk that features interviews with Frank Miller, Trina Robbins, Denny O’Neil, and Scott McCloud.
Eclipse Comics during their heyday in the 80s, published many fine comics and graphic albums. I do not know the fate of Eclipse suffice to say that they are no longer (to my knowledge) publishing comics. I have a modest collection of Eclipse books that includes a full-run of Alan Moore’s (and later Neil Gaiman’s) Miracleman, which is perhaps the finest example of the super-hero archetype ever published. For those of us who were rabid fans of this series, it was a sad day when the series ended just as Neil and artist Mark Buckingham were beginning to open the reins as it were. Sadder still was the day when the rights to the character were purchased in auction by Todd McFarlane.
Other books published by Eclipse included several wonderfully-painted adaptations of Clive Barker short stories as well as the short-lived Tapping the Vein graphic novels, also based on Barker stories. Other series included Scout, Mr. Monster, and Alien Encounters. Which leads me to this year’s Fantastic Four annual. Huh?
I really want to continue collecting the Fantastic Four, I really do. I have been a fan of their adventures since the mid-to-late 70s, and have managed to track down many of the earlier issues from the 60s. I like the current creative team, but they’ve been utilizing far too many guest artists for my liking. Nonetheless, when I flipped through the current FF annual, I was impressed. It looked very well done. That is until I read “continued in Fantastic Four 48” or some such number. Call me old-fashioned, call me insane, call me a government-overthrowing radical, but I like my annuals to be inclusive. If you are unable to tell a single story in the pages of an oversized annual edition, they why bother doing an annual at all? Obviously the marketing boys at Marvel want readers of the FF annual to give the monthly series a try, but doesn’t it stand to reason that annuals are more-often-than-not purchased by readers of the monthly series? Of the monthly comics I don’t collect--and there are plenty--I sure as hell don’t purchase the more pricey annuals. So yea, I find it kind of unforgivable when a publisher shamelessly exploits its readers by forcing them to make multiple purchase to read an individual story. Which is what brings me to Eclipse. Howzzat?
The “quarter” bin at my comics shop goes largely ignored. But I generally flip through it on the off chance that something therein will appeal to me. So it was that I stumbled across many Eclipse comics shortly after returning the disappointing FF annual to its place on the new comics shelf. I left the store with 14 Eclipse comics (which, after taxes, cost me just under $4.00). That’s about 448 pages of reading material for four bucks. I won’t bore you with the details of all of these purchases, except to say that artists included in these bargain comics are Craig Russell, Ross Andru, Alex Toth, Dave Stevens, and Bruce Jones.
Seduction of the Innocent no. 4 (February, 1986; Eclipse Comics).
This issue reprints five horror stories from Golden Age of comics. The cover is beautifully rendered by Toth and Tom Yeates. Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr. provides an outstanding job of dissecting the history of this group of stories, all of which have been newly colored. The stories are, of course, dated; several are quite amusing, though I’m sure that was hardly the intended reader reaction the initial publishers were aiming for in the 50s.
The lead tale, Images of Sand, illustrated by Toth and Mike Peppe stars Henri Monard who, “in the Sahara desert...tries desperately to get some money.” Henri catches a female Arab named Terran in the act of going through his baggage. Fearing arrest, she gives Henri a necklace that is “cursed by the ancient Taureg kings.” Henri scoffs the curse and keeps the bracelet, especially since Terran explains that there are more riches to be found in the desert. Terran agrees to show him where the treasure is hidden if he will marry her and take her to Paris after he’s retrieved the treasure. He agrees. They marry. A safari is assembled and the cave in which the treasure is located is found. Henri kills Terran and the other Arabs in the safari. Not the brightest candle in the candleshop, Henri ignores the warning of a spirit, believing it to be a mirage, and takes with him as much treasure as he can carry. I guess he should have taken a larger trunk, because he runs through the treasure in only a few months and must return to the desert for more revenue. It is then that Henri is buried in sand and told that the curse is now fulfilled and that Henri is now charged the task of guarding the treasure. Oh well, it was a good ride while it lasted.
The Beast From the Deep is a 7-page tale “based on Ray Bradbury’s The Foghorn and I think it should be noted that this is very loosely based on that tale. The Beast reads more like a Godzilla story and lacks and subtlety. There are, however, several pretty pictures within the story.
Rat-Trap is my second-favorite story in this collection. It is a very basic tale. Charlie, who is incarcerated, is trying to escape from his cell. Simple, right? Charlie is portrayed with fangs. Big, white, sharp fangs. The writer seemed to feel it unnecessary to explain this. My initial thought was that Rat-Trap was going to be about vampires since, on page 1, panel 4 of the story, Charlie is shown holding onto the cell bars with his mouth open, fangs quite visible. Nope. Never mentioned, not part of the story; just happened to have fangs I guess. But about the story: Charlie is visited daily by a rat that leaves the cell by crawling through the bars in the cell’s window. You see where this is going, right? Charlie realizes that if he were to fatten up the rat each day, the rat will “spread the bars every time it comes in [through the cell window].” Months pass, and as the rat feasts daily it grows larger and larger, and bends the bars on the cell window ever slightly each day. Charlie, because he is giving most of his food to his rat companion, loses weight. Fearing he losing weight due to bad prison food, the guard gives Charlie a box of vitamin pills. Of course this will not satisfy the rat who, with an ever-increasing hunger, is given no choice but to feast on Charlie. This was a deliciously sinister tale despite the fact that Charlie’s alleged vampirism was never explained.
The Man Who Tricked the Devil tops the list for this issue. Attorney Jeff Hagstone decides he will outsmart the devil and describes this to two of his colleagues. It must have been common-place to sell one’s soul to Satan in the 1950s, because each of Hagstone’s pals are able to recount incidents in which their colleagues paid the ultimate price upon conducting business with the Prince of Darkness. Hagstone explains to his comrades that because of his “legal background” he will be able to one-up the Man-Goat. The next night he says, “Rise, devil, rise...from the depths below! Rise, devil, rise...there is evil to sow!” at which point the devil appears. (I must say, having tried this chant on dozes of occasions, I’m quite jealous that Hagstone was able to summon the Lord of Flies on his first incantation; I suppose it must have been a slow day in purgatory.) The two discuss all matters business, and Hagstone presents his own contract which includes “a million different prohibitory clauses!” Of course, to make the clauses binding, Hagstone must sign each one, separately...in blood, of course. I think you see this one coming. Hagstone spends the night tapping the proverbial vein and is left “completely drained of blood.” Of course, a true genius would have had the documents signed by an assistant or intern. This really is a great story with lots of campy dialogue, a gem!
Worlds Apart explores the sub-atomic universe theme in which scientist Rod Banton decides to break off his engagement to the knockout Lorna. Rod’s reason for doing so is that he’s discovered a sub-atomic universe existing under his microscope and he’s found on this world a lovely blonde named Teena. Rod uses his cosmic matter transmitter to transport him to the micro-world on which his new love (unknowingly) awaits. Concurrently, Teena has been kidnapped by thugs who are demanding a ransom from her old man. It is interesting to note that even on sub-atomic worlds crime and corruption are commonplace. Rod rescues Teena from the thugs; they communicate telepathically and in a matter of seconds explains, “Dearest!” to which Teena replies, “My darling!” We learn that Teena is actually on earth and that Rod is from a world called Zannia. Meanwhile, jealous Lorna returns to Rod’s lab, intent on smashing the microcosm. In the last instant, Lorna’s new squeeze explains “If Rod is gone for good, so much the better! We can have each other!” And so, Rod and Teena are free to explore their newfound love and the earth is safe...but for how long?
Jokes and datedness aside, there are some great stories in the pages of Seduction of the Innocent no. 4, and I got not just one complete story, but five! If you see this series among your comic shop’s back-stock or bargin bin, I highly recommend giving it a try.
NEXT: Shock value versus...yea, right.
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