Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Goodbye 2014, and thanks for all the fish

-Internet memes have finally gone mainstream, with Grumpy Cat and Trollface finally getting their own movies:
 -Gary Oldman pissed his career down the drain.
 -Sony’s anti-Kim Jong Un comedy The Interview was pulled (supposedly) because of North Korean hacker attacks, then given a limited release in indie theaters. This can only mean either one of two people has come back from the dead: 1) Kim Jong Il, finally getting revenge over his portrayal in Team America: World Police or 2) William Castle, who just helped Sony pull off the greatest publicity stunt of modern times. Either way, don’t expect to see any more Seth Rogen movies playing at indie theaters again.
-My fellow Californians have had to deal with a drought, then weeks of near-torrential rain that still didn’t help.
-A found-footage approach, no costumes, ridiculous casting choices and Doctor Doom being made into an internet troll, smug statements about the source material from both employees and defenders, as well as absolutely no promotional material or set photos being offered (even though films not coming out for another two years already have teaser trailers out). Boy, the new Fantastic Four movie sure sounds like a winner! Ten bucks says it won’t be screened for critics.
-Dracula and Maleficent were actually pretty decent.
 The characters, I mean, their movies were only so-so. I really, really wanted to like both more than I did.
-The mystery of Jack the Ripper has finally been solved!!!---again, supposedly, kinda, not really, not at all.
-With cringe-worthy ‘romantic’ scenes, drastic tonal shifts (Mourning one minute, next minute “I AM DE VHRINO!!!”), poorly used villains that make Spider-Man 3’s use of villains seem well-planned, dozens of ridiculous subplots (Peter’s parents are such an important part of the mythos, don’t you know?) and forced attempts at building its own cinematic universe to compete with the MCU, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is quite possibly the most fascinating clusterfuck of a film released in the past decade. With ASM3 being pushed back further and further, and rumors of Marvel getting the rights back, it’s going to look awkward as hell in a few years.
  Dane Dehaan was good though, even after turning into robo-Beavis:
 I also cannot get over this display case:
 A friend of mine accidentally got one in advance and we considered taking it around town and photographing it in weird places. Thankfully, sobriety prevailed.
-A Furry convention was (supposedly) gassed by trolls and dozens were rushed to the hospital, sparking an outrage online. I don’t see what the big deal is, aren’t these people supposedly subjected to attacks like this every day according to their Tumblr posts?
-Speaking of Tumblr and conventions, the first Tumblr convention, called Dashcon, was organized. Not surprisingly, it failed hilariously, with all involved trying pathetically to pretend that they had fun and acting like they ‘get’ jokes about the con. Yeah right, if these people could take a joke that well, the site wouldn’t even exist.
More virgins than a Monastery
Also, consider how many of these people claim to be non-white and physically disabled. If even half of those claims were true, a quick glimpse of the con should show, if not a majority of such people, a sizeable amount that could not be missed in any big shot of the con. Well, there are pics showing pretty much everyone who was there, and I don’t see any non-whites or people whose physical impairments are noticeable enough to cause them discrimination worth complaining about. “Most diverse site on the internet” my ass.
OMG! One black guy! Sooo diverse!!!1!
-Look, I know Man of Steel didn’t please everyone, but did they really have to reboot it with Godzilla?
 -Internet semi-celeb Chris Chan had a pretty rough year. First his house burned down, then he found out several former friends of his were anything but, and now he’s been arrested for assaulting a Gamespot employee (and it seems this time, he’s really going to get the book thrown at him). Back in Chris’s glory days in 2009, someone said this whole affair would be “so funny if it wasn’t so sad”, and five years later, that someone is still right.
-Scientists have managed to successfully transplant the brain of a worm into a robotic body. I for one, welcome our new robo-worm overlords.


-IMDb message boards reveal that 90% of Turks who have internet access have never heard of Dracula (the character) prior to Dracula Untold and think the movie was intended as a serious biopic. What is it with Turks not hearing of famous fictional characters associated with bats and then getting outraged by movies with them?
-Having been abandoned by SJWs and declared “Oppressors”, no one paying any attention to the zillions of shitty documentaries being made every week about them, and with even the most hardcore fans acknowledging that the show no longer has any adult appeal (As if it ever did), Bronies are officially out of the limelight.
  Breaking Bad fans are also out of the picture now.  Even though the show has ended, Heisenberg is a cultural icon. The most mainstream an “edgy” show can possibly get.
 Doctor Who fans also left the show in droves over the new, less fanfic-able actor playing the Doctor. Sherlock fans also turned against the show. In fact, it seems Tumblr has now turned against Benedict Cumberbatch in general, and is calling his (rumored) casting as Dr. Strange “whitewashing” (Doctor Strange isn’t white? News to me).
 So with Bronies, Breaking Bad fans and the Superwholock fanbase out of the picture, which new obnoxious fandom will take over the internet next?
 -Strange Magic, George Lucas’s rumored adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream for kids suddenly popped up with announcements for a late January release. From the looks of it, it seems more like A Midwinter’s Tax Write Off, with sub-Dreamworks humor. It’s obvious no one expects to this to be a hit, but an awful lot of care seems to have gone into those character designs, so who knows? Actually, you know what? I’m more intrigued by this than I was by anything in the Force Awakens trailer, and that's not even a slam against Abrams.
-Jake Gyllenhall’s performance in Nightcrawler was nothing short of incredible, and the same goes for the rest of the film. This one deserves all the Oscars it gets, hands down.
-Captain America: The Winter Soldier was not just an excellent sequel, but probably the best political thriller in years. And not to rip on Iron Man 3 again, but was also far more relevant than whatever message that film had. That film criticized an out-of-power president and vice president years after they were gone, this film had something to say about what is going on NOW. I also really don’t get all the “MCU films are for kids” criticism, this was more adult and over kid’s heads than anything Nolan did in his Batman trilogy.
Best films:
 Anyway, Happy New Year! Maybe I'll even manage 10 posts!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Creepy presents: Bernie Wrightson

While I guess there’s a bit of truth that Dark Horse has become “the place where properties DC and Marvel loses the rights to go to die”, look at all the fantastic collections of material, much of it never before reprinted, that they’ve been putting out. There are few comic book artists who have gotten as much mainstream recognition as Bernie Wrightson, and hence, as many reprints as Wrightson has, but you know what? I don’t care! This little hardcover collecting the work Bernie Wrightson did when he was at Warren is fantastic. No enlarged or reduced pages or panels, no garish coloring. Here’s everything as it as it was meant to be seen. You know something has to be good when you buy it despite already owning most of the stories contained therein!
 A small caveat though, is that, famous as Wrightson’s stories at Warren are, the amount of actual stories he drew for the company is relatively small. A good chunk of the book is made up of his covers, pin-ups, back-covers and frontispieces, as well as stories where he was just the inker.
 But anyway, on to the stories:
 Stories from Creepy:
 -“The Black Cat” from Creepy #62:

 There have been quite a few adaptations of The Black Cat in comics over the years, and I don’t think this was even Warren’s first! But damn, when you read the introduction where Bruce Jones talks about Wrightson won over James Warren by intentionally withholding the pages at first and showing him work he’d done as a teenager, you believe it! Who wouldn’t be blown away by work like this?

 It’s a pretty straightforward adaptation of the story with almost no changes, but what do you expect from a story as done to death as this? Gorgeous stuff.
 Most memorable scene: When the narrator kills his wife. Ugh! That hurts just looking at it. Note how there’s no blood; it’s the sheer furor that sells it.

 -“Jenifer” from Creepy #63:
  This is the infamous shocker which got made into a Masters of Horror episode (aka “The only worthwhile thing Dario Argento has done in years”) and always gets cited when people bring up horror comics stories along with Hoppin’ Down the Bunny Trail and The Monster of Dead End Street. It's so popular Wrightson actually gets sketch requests of it.
 Truth be told, as good as the script by Bruce Jones is, I’ve never really gotten into Wrightson’s art that much in this story. It’s great, but I always found the titular character more comical-looking/pitiable rather than frightening, although that’s sort of the point, I guess.

 The story is about a wealthy family man who rescues a deformed and (apparently) retarded girl from being killed in the woods by shooting a man. Not wanting to face a scandal, he buries the body and “adopts” the girl, who he names Jenifer. Jenifer seems to exert a hypnotic influence on the man, making him overlook all the horrible things she does to his family, eventually causing them to leave. Half-horrified and half-attracted to her (Jenifer has quite a body), the man and Jenifer hit the road, with the man trying to escape but always coming back no matter what, sometimes out of pity, sometimes out fear, with each night a living hell of cheap motels, female-on-male rape and the dead bodies of Jenifer’s victims. Yes, it’s a story designed solely to prey on male anxieties about being dominated and a fear of “ugly” women, but it’s so hauntingly, unrelentingly bleak that you won’t even think to criticize the cliché ending.

 Most memorable scene: When Jenifer decides to get “frisky”. This is probably comicdom’s most sickening rape scene.

 Oh, by the way, “feminist” community Scans_Daily sees Jenifer as the real rape victim and completely ignores everything about the story in order to suit their “head-canons”. I wish I was kidding:
All of these dissenters have probably been banned now

-“Clarice” from Creepy #77:

 A man whose wife accidentally died in a blizzard returns, but is she after revenge? And which of them is truly dead? Told entirely in rhyme.
 Not much to say about this one either in terms of art or story (it is only 5 pages, with four panels to each page), but I do like Wrightson’s snow effects and how he tries to downplay the horror aspects to fit the romantic, melancholy mood of the story.
 Most memorable scene: I usually try to avoid spoilers, but the last two panels manage to be surprisingly emotional, although the ending doesn’t really make sense to me.

-“Country Pie” from Creepy #83:

 This one was actually drawn by Carmine Infantino and only inked by Wrightson. It’s about a woman hunting down a serial killer. We see a woman who is apparently the one tracking the killer, hitchhiking  undercover along with her ‘little brother’, getting in a car with a man who is apparently the killer on a lonely, country road. Seems pretty reckless bringing a child along on such a mission, and we never see how our undercover girl is communicating with the police.

 Sure enough, there’s a twist, and I’m going to go ahead and give it away. The girl and her little brother are the killers, the man is just a horny travelling salesman and the woman hunting the killer is actually a psychic observing this all from afar. Oddly enough, there’s a happy ending. Pretty weak overall and the misdirections are obvious.
  Infantino would later draw a much better (or at least, more atmospheric) story about a serial killer targeting travelling salesmen. Wrightson’s hand can barely be felt.
 Most memorable scene: When the salesman is thrown into a lake and observes the corpses of all the other victims. “Sis” must be a good swimmer to have tied them all down like that.

-“Dick Swift and his Electric Power Ring” from Creepy #86: A terminally ill young boy is comforted by the author of his favorite dime novel hero as he lies dying. However, the author has a secret: The electric power ring from the stories is real, and he gives it to the boy. I’m not spoiling this one.

 This is a very sad, sentimental story that nevertheless manages to be uplifting. Warren re-used this plot several times, but this time was the best. Infantino & Wrightson’s styles mesh perfectly this time, capturing the mix of sadness and childlike wonder that pervades the story.
 Most memorable scene: The ending, but since I’m not going to spoil it, I’ve decided to focus on the glimpses of the dime novel itself, which are pretty funny (and spot on if you’ve ever seen any 19th century dime novels) even though it looks more like a comic book.
 -“A Martian Saga” from Creepy #87:
A stranded astronaut  with a rapidly dwindling air supply is welcomed by a Martian tribe, kills a monster, saves a girl, is rewarded with sex, then dies from lack of oxygen.
 There are worse ways to go.
 Kidding aside, this is a good one, not so much for the story, but for the way it’s told. There’s no dialogue and everything is written in limericks. I love when writers mix comics with poetry, but I love it even more when the poetry is good, and Nicola Cuti’s certainly is. The subject matter may be a bit far afield from what you’d expect from Wrightson, but it’s still beautifully drawn, and with just one look at the ‘Martian monster’ (that looks more like a werewolf) you know you’re in Wrightson territory. Dig the full page, thin panels too on every page, similar to “Clarice”’s four panels-a-page grid. Wrightson’s layout skills are underrated.

 Most memorable scene: Our hero’s tragic death. Like I said, there are worse ways to go.

-“The Laughing Man” from Creepy #95:

 A disheveled explorer staggers out of the African jungle and relates the strange tale of what happened to him and his partner, Briggs. The two were on a quest to find a tribe of intelligent apes to bring back to a freak show, which Briggs hoped to infiltrate by skinning and dressing up as one. Unfortunately, the apes were watching, and strong adherents to the old phrase “Monkey see, Monkey do”…

 If you can overlook that Wrightson’s art here is cartoonish to the point of caricature, this is easily the, well, creepiest of his stories for Creepy. I’m not including a “most memorable scene” for this one. It needs to be seen all its own. Rarely has the image of a smirking gorilla been so scary, and an excellent way to end Wrightson’s work for the magazine.
 Part of me likes to think the scene of Briggs dressing up in the hollowed gorilla’s skin was inspired Tintin in the Congo. Huh, first boy’s adventure dime novels, now Herge. The writers for Creepy sure loved turn-of-the-century kid’s stuff.
Stories from Eerie:
-“The Pepper Lake Monster” from Eerie #58: A tourist sailing on Pepper Lake runs afoul of the legendary monster of Pepper Lake and decides to capture it, gradually becoming more and more obsessed. His plan seems to be working, but perhaps the monster is not the biggest problem he has to face…

 This is hands down my favorite stand-alone Wrightson work. Sure there are little flaws here and there (Pepper Lake must be the size of one of the great lakes to fit that thing in it), but damn if the drawings of the monster and our hero’s increasingly obsessive attitude still aren’t drawn beautifully. I’m a sucker for lake/sea monster stories in comics (I even considered making it the theme for one past Halloween before realizing there were several I’d overlooked), and this one, with its cynical but perfectly believable twist, is easily the best of them.
 Most memorable scene: There are plenty, but the splash itself is simply incredible. Every medieval mapmaker whoever scrawled a sea serpent would be jealous:

 Here it is in color:

-“Nightfall” from Eerie #60: A young boy named Nemo is harangued night after night by a group of goblins, then by his parents for waking them up. The goblins insist they just want to play, but Nemo knows better.

 I usually love stories about primal childhood fears, but this one is just okay. The design of the goblins looks unintentionally comical. Just look at the one in the splash pages’ tail:

 Looks like a man in a saggy suit.
If you overlook that though, it’s a lot of fun. The boy’s name and a few clever visual gags provide the set-up for this to be a wonderfully dark parody of Winsor McKay’s Little Nemo, but it never goes far enough. Still, you have to love that wash work.
 Most memorable scene: The Little Nemo shout-out, by far.

 Dime novels, Tintin and now Little Nemo. Yeah, someone at Warren was definitely a big fan of turn-of-the-century children’s entertainment. Love it.
-“Cool Air” from Eerie #62

 Coming away from comics beloved in countries that don’t like comics or speak English, we come to the world of pulp magazines with this adaptation of Lovecraft’s Cool Air, the story of a man made immotal being keeping himself frozen temperatures, which has had a number of retellings in comics (and what do you think inspired Mr. Freeze?), but this is the best.
 Most memorable scene: The money-shot at the end:

Oh come on, even if you’ve never read Lovecraft’s story, how did you think a story about a man kept alive by the cold would end?
-“Reuben Youngblood: Private Eye in: Beware the Scarlet Combine” from Eerie #72:

 Depression era private eye Rueben Youngblood accepts a job as a bodyguard for some wealthy Germans having a party on a zeppelin, shortly after his partner was murdered by a blood cult called The Scarlet Combine. Little does he know that the Combine is closer than he thinks...
 I was initially hesitant about this one since it’s really more of a detective story/pulp parody than outright horror, but it’s actually my favorite in this volume of the stories I haven’t read before, mostly because it’s so different. The writing tries a little too hard to create a period atmosphere, but it’s still a fun read. I could easily see this being a decent poverty row horror movie, or serial. Also, Wrightson’s art is excellent. He apparently relished the chance to draw a good old fashioned adventure story.
 Most memorable scene: The escape from and destruction of the zeppelin. If you’re wondering why Youngblood and his lady friend are dressed like that, it’s because of a costume party.

-“The Muck Monster” from Eerie #68:

 A Frankenstein-like mad doctor creates a monster from a blob which came to earth on a meteor, but the blob is sentient and realizes it has no place in the world of man, and thus refuses to come to “life” despite the scientist’s methods. The doctor hacks the creature up in frustration and dissolves it in acid, dumping it outside, but instead it oozes into a nearby cemetery and fuses with a long dead corpse. Now having been brought to life against its will for real, the ‘creature’ sets out to find a purpose….

 Despite the title, this story manages to be a melancholy, surprisingly, optimistic blending of both the blob monster and Frankenstein archetypes, with maybe a little inspiration from The Incredible Shrinking Man, at least as far as the ending goes (“To God there is no Zero” pretty much sums this whole thing up). Good as the story is, the real draw, is of course, Wrightson. Along with “The Pepper Lake Monster”, it’s the most beautifully drawn of all the stories here, and like the Arcane stories in Swamp Thing #2-3, feels like a dry-run for Wrightson’s later Frankenstein illustrations, but even more so. The ‘Muck Monster” is virtually identical to Wrightson’s Monster, and the unnamed scientist is also identical to his Victor:

 Even the damn test tubes are similar!
This is also the only story here printed in color. Wrightson was reportedly unhappy with the coloring, but it doesn’t really obscure any detail. Finding black and white copies of this story isn’t difficult anyway. In fact, if you’re really curious, you can buy the recent “Artist’s Edition” from Fantagraphics (I thought they hated horror comics over there? Must need the money) which reproduces Wrightson’s original art in full:

 Currently going on Amazon for the cheap, cheap price of $74.99. At that price, why not buy two?
 Most memorable scene: The liquefied creature “leaking” down a mountain.

Just the panel layout alone is breath-taking.
 That’s the end of the stories reproduced in this volume, the rest of the book is mostly covers and introductory splash pages. Some are good, some are a little too cartoon-y for my tastes.
  All in all, while some of the stories are a bit better than others, everything here is just of such high quality it is impossible not to love this volume. I give it a full 5/5.
Now if only DC would put out a Wrightson collection like this…
Happy Halloween!