Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Flash meets Robert Bloch

We all have our favorite genre authors, and my favorite is the late, great Robert Bloch.
 Although most famous as the man who wrote Psycho, the short story Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper and for coining the phrase “I have the heart of a small boy; I keep it in a jar under my desk”, there was much more to Bloch. His short stories ranged from horror stories that would start out humorously and then become darker (“The Cloak” and “Black Bargain”), cheesy but enjoyable Lovecraft imitations (“The Manikin” and “The Shambler from the Stars”), to pre-Munsters dark comedies about humanized monsters (“The Skeleton in the Closet” and “Nursemaid to Nightmares”), supernatural stories revolving around historical figures (“The Man who collected Poe” and “The Skull of the Marquis De Sade”)  to outright comedies like his Lefty Feep series, to warped and disturbing crime/psychological thriller stories (“The Beautiful People” and “Man with a Hobby”). His stuff wasn’t always original, clever or even all that well written at times, but his constant mixture of different tones, wordplay, and macabre humor always made him interesting. In my opinion, Bloch’s 1947 crime/horror/satirical novel The Scarf is easily the best novel ever written from the viewpoint of a serial killer, and very prescient of stuff like Brett Easton Ellis’s American Psycho and Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter novels. It also has some things in common with Psycho the movie that Psycho the book doesn’t!
 Bloch also wrote about comic books several times, usually in a manner suggesting that he had little regard for the medium, such as a Lefty Feep story satirizing superheroes called “Stuporman”, and a story called “”The Strange Island of Dr. Nork” which suggested that comic book artists got design ideas for comic book monsters by witnessing the experiments of a Moreau-like mad scientist. That said though, Bloch seemed to disagree with Fredric Wertham’s theories when he mentioned him in his short story “Sweet Sixteen”, about juvenile delinquents. He also had allowed Marvel to do several adaptations of his short stories in the 70s, and wrote the introduction for the Batman vs. Jack the Ripper Elseworlds Gotham by Gaslight (Bloch had a thing for Jack the Ripper).
 Thus, you can imagine my surprise back in 1994 when I learned that not only had Bloch written a Flash story back in the 40s, but that it had been collected in the 1991 trade The Greatest Flash Stories ever told. Bloch was always very descriptive, with a talent for snappy dialogue and over-the-top descriptive phrases; in other words, the perfect 1940s comic book writer. 1940s Flash stories generally had a strong humorous element that would probably fit Bloch like a glove. I had to have it!
 Now it could have been because of the hype I’d built up for it, but I was more than a bit disappointed with the actual story. It’s not bad per se, and it does feature some wordplay, and uses some ideas from Greek mythology (Bloch wrote several Greek-themed stories like “Seal of the Satyr” and “The Thinking Cap”) and the villain does come to a fairly nasty end, but all in all, it really reads no different from something a bored Gardner Fox would turn out.
 Still, I couldn’t pass up this October without posting something Bloch-related. From Flash Comics #66, here’s “The Flash and the Black Widow”. Art provided by Everett Hibbard. Annoyance provided by Winky, Blinky and Noddy. All © DC comics.
 In addition to being a writer, Bloch also drew in his spare time, and sculpted as well. Almost none of his art has survived (Although you can see why, based off of his mother’s reaction in this article), but this painting recently turned up:
A bit of a self-portrait?

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