Horror Comics That Changed My Life #4

Classic literature has left a long legacy of prose and writings concerning the battle between heaven and hell that hails all the way back to the renaissance. The battle for earth and all of her souls was the source of prose by Milton, Bunyan and Shakespeare alike. By taking a sharply Jungian turn on this subject, Editor-in-chief at that time Tom Defalco and writer-Rafael Nieves launched the famed reboot of the classic Son of Satan title as “Hellstorm-Prince of Lies.”

This was 1993 and the current comic book explosion was at its very peak. Image Comics and Vertigo were absolutely killing. Dark Horse had come along and taken a gigantic chunk out of the market. Your regular costumed superheroes were considered passé by comic publishers and everybody was looking for that NEXT Alan Moore/Frank Miller. I think Marvel started to feel kind of left out of this new “Comics are good literature” idea that was taking over pop culture and college lectures worldwide.

So they hire Rafael Nieves to clean out all of the detritus and extra baggage that Damian Hellstrom was carrying around from years with The Defenders. He gave Damian back his Hellfire and trident by restoring the Darksoul. Mrs. Hellstrom, nee Patsy Walker (aka Hellcat), had been driven insane, slipping in and out of a coma and was now being nursed by Isaac the human gargoyle. Bust mostly we see that Damian had grown cynical of his costumed superhero ways and became dark, deep and brooding (no, I mean really…).

The second stage of this series sees writer Len Kaminski steer the plot into a strictly literate realm, illustrated over several issues as a loose retelling of “Pilgrim’s Progress” by John Bunyan. By the use of some Jungian devices, such as collective unconscious, Kaminski quite beautifully illustrated our spiritual crisis in modern western culture. Important questions were asked, like: Is homosexuality a sin? And: Is everyone able to surrender their ego in order to enter heaven/the great collective? Are angels really aliens and is the afterlife of heaven or hell a subconscious decision made long before ones death? This was not your everyday, run of the mill comics’ content for sure. This stuff was crucial at the time and after a few missteps, Kaminski had the book headed in a decidedly good direction.

Maybe this is why Marvel decided to shut him down? Maybe Marvel was afraid that this book might be too good? Perhaps the upper management at Marvel was sniffing glue? If they were so desperate to get into the “adult market” at the time, why did they move Kaminski over to “War Machine?” But the real question is, did they know what would happen when they handed the book over to a young British writer by the name of Warren Ellis?

With Damian Hellstrom fresh back from hell and a battle with his father Satan, Ellis dispensed with all of the Jungian drama and replaced it with some truly gothic sturm und drang. The evil undertones became overtones and Hellstorm began to really revel in his own sin and evil nature. Ellis simplified the plot and removed the effluvium that was littering the edges of this story. No more emotional heartrending over his role as a superhero. There was full acceptance of his role as the Son of Satan and the guilt had been removed.

This simple move made it possible for Ellis to explore the idea of good and evil and all the grey areas in between. The protagonist moved into a more active role as the agent of change that gave readers that action hit they so desire. As a result, the comic picked up the pace immediately by introducing a two issue mystery that brought in new characters. In addition, Ellis, in quite a humane maneuver, finally put down poor Patsy Hellstrom. I for one was happy to not have to see his wife rolling around in bed in a lunatic haze, issue after issue.

With the death of Hellcat, Damian was now able to slut around with whatever sexy occultist he chose without making the reader uncomfortable. The human gargoyle Isaac was revamped as well and became a more central player who acted as a separate conscious for a man without one of his own. But the best thing he did for me was the introduction of two concurrent themes: Demons who through jealousy of his lineage or by hubris crossed his path and a fight on Earth between Angels and the occultists who were devoted to protect her.

Underneath it all is Damian’s sister, Satana pulling the strings in an attempt to gain favor with their father. Sibling rivalry! Wow, all of this metaphysical fighting and violence is all about sibling rivalry. The simplicity of it is just one of those moments when you sit back with a smile on your face and say No Shit! This is the series that set Ellis up as one of the premier writers in the industry and at the ripe old age of 26! It was nice to see Marvel comics lose control for a short while and produce a book with teeth. Here’s to days long gone.


Horror Comics That Changed My Life #3

The Saga of the Swamp Thing issue #20

 It was 1984, Ronnie Raygun was the president and I was stationed at US Marine Corp Air Station Beaufort, South Cackalacky. My priorities had changed drastically since high school and two years of college. There were girls, of course, and beer (lots of beer) and then cars. That was about it. I mean, my testosterone pummeled brain just spun in circles trying to figure out a way of facilitating all three of these things at one time: Get beer, get girl, and get girl in backseat of car. Seemed like the hardest puzzle in the world for a young man with ADHD and an overactive libido.

Between thinking about girls and working through hangovers, it still amazes me to think that I could sit still long enough to read a 24 page comic. I remember that I used to smuggle comic books to work in the cargo pocket of my camouflage uniform and sit in the RIO cockpits of the F-4S Phantom fighter jets, pretending to repair radars while reading comic books. There was an intrinsic embarrassment of reading comics at my age around a bunch of jar-head Marines. It really wasn’t OK at that time for adults to be seen reading them; like a dirty secret that as it turns out, many, many adults were doing.

It seems looking back, that my emotional maturity didn’t begin until I left home for good and joined the Marine Corp. This began to change my taste in comic books and led me to what I recognized even then as “higher reading” in comics. With a small amount of fanfare and promotion, DC Comics hired a new British writer to take over Swamp Thing for issue #20. His name was Alan Moore and no casual comic reader knew who the heck this guy was. What we did know though, was this book, in one single issue, became really, really important.

Since its inception in 1971, the Len Wein creation was not much more than a DC version of Marvel’s Man Thing, with the same feeling and simple plot lines. It sort of fell into a corner of comic publishing that was a necessary evil; the corner where enough people (like me) would continually support creepy horror books of just about any kind. At about this age though, I kind of swore off Marvel and became a “DC guy.” And let’s be honest people, how many times have you gotten sick of the current truck load of dung being shoveled off on comic readers and in an act of pure desperation just chopped your pull down to one book? And when this happens how many times has that one book been a DC comic (Batman, Detective Comics has never left my pull)? Just sayin’…

In this comic, Alan Moore, singlehandedly changed the world of comic books perfectly and with grace. The depth, with which he wrote Swamp Thing for four wonderful years, is a present to those of us who continued to love this literary form through the nearly suicidal lack of effort from the big publishers of the day. Moore came along and waved his magic wand across the pages of this book and put us all in a spell which will never be broken. With subtext and imagery that went way over the heads of his readers, this bearded magician lovingly humored us with a morality play that addressed issues of true relevance: the interconnectivity of all living things, Man’s continual war with nature and the ability for love to transcend humanity.

In the early 80’s, Swamp Thing received a re-boot to coincide with Wes Craven’s movie of the same title. The writing was assigned to Martin Pasko whose star was on the rise as a writer in general and had to leave after issue #19 for other writing obligations. Enter the Wizard of Northampton.

In one single gesture, Moore swept aside Pasko’s entire story line and ret-conned this book into unknown territory. Several secrets of Swamp thing’s origins were revealed and the reader was introduced to “Parliament of Trees” and the dimension in which they live, known as “The Green.” It is then Moore pulls his craziest stunt and he has Sunderland Corporation (an absolutely horrifying villain) kill Alec Holland. Really, he killed the star of the comic book. Clean slate. Started literally from scratch and DC just stood by and let him go to it. I almost have to wonder if this was a book near its end and they just let this new British kid walk in and do whatever he wanted with it; save it, kill it, whatever.

Moore was then able to introduce us to a cast of characters that would leave an indelible mark across DC comics and heck, all comics in fact. By reviving some of DC’s best but then forgotten/abandoned magical characters (The Demon, Deadman and the Spectre to name a few); Moore began a tale that would develop into an existential masterpiece. If for no other reason we owe him a debt of gratitude, for it was in the pages of Swamp Thing that we were introduced to John Constantine.

The panel that has never left my head is the one where Abby sees an insect moving inside Swamp Thing’s arm and is repulsed, yet we see that she never stops loving Alec. This really still blows me away, the idea that the people we love can be revolting at times yet we never stop loving them, illustrated so perfectly in the small panels of a comic book. It also helped illustrate that Moore needed to remove Swamp Thing’s humanity in order to tell this tale. Alec Holland went from a man who was trying to regain his human form, to a man who was a self-acknowledged monster and no longer dreamed of being human but reveled in his disconnection from mankind. At times like these, Alan Moore began to show us the infinite possibilities of fictional story telling through the use of comic illustration.

So when we see images of Alan Moore and we think, “Wow, that guy looks crazy!,” in part we are correct. Moore is crazy in the best way possible: He’s a wizard!


Horrifyingly Bad Comic Book Movies #1

Editor’s Note – This our new column from Nathan Ellis is a bit of a departure.  While it isn’t about horror comics, it is about horror and comics.  Specifically about the kind of terrible films that have been made from the comics that we love.  So enjoy a bit of a departure from the blood, guts and shrieks and enjoy.  Because some times the scariest movies, aren’t in the horror section! – gl

This month:Fantastic Four

There are some days my extreme manliness prevents me from remembering what it feels like to cry. When I come to the conclusion that my tears (consisting of grizzly bear blood and Budweiser) are past due, I put on the Fantastic Four.

I was in my early to mid-teens when this came out and even then I remember being sad and confused as soon as it was over. I was easily entertained at that age, my expectations weren’t completely unreasonable. A half decent film with some fan service would have been nice. Nope. To a fan of the comics and a fan of cinema in general, it’s like watching a snuff film starring your childhood idols.

At this point you would be correct in assuming I can’t objectively review this movie. The most objective thing I can say about it is for a summer blockbuster/superhero film most audiences will forget about it after a good night’s sleep. For a fan of the comics, it’s not so forgettable.

To put any of this into perspective I have to take you on a journey to my childhood. My family life was confusing as a kid, without getting into details everything turned out well eventually but I did need some sort of go-to moral cornerstone in my life. You can imagine my elation when I found out about a superhero family who refused to give up on each other even when cosmic monsters and entities threatened to tear them apart; I had discovered the most inspirational role models I could have asked for. If you could encapsulate my adolescence into one thing, it would be an issue of the fantastic four.

As if that wasn’t enough personal baggage attributing to my overall disappointment of the film, it doesn’t stop there. Like every kid in the late 90’s I was listening to the Illuminati broadcasting network known as Radio Disney. I can only imagine how many times I willingly listened to Eiffel 65’s “I’m Blue” in 1999. My exposure to music that doesn’t require the listener to be a 10 year old on a sugar high came in the form of John Lennon’s “Imagine”, a cover of it at least. A Perfect Circle had released an anti-war cover album called Emotive, only a handful of the songs on the record are original tracks. One being a collaboration with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails (a song which is featured in Constantine, a bad comic movie for another day) the other is a reworked version of the song “Pet” from the band’s previous CD. Judge me all you want for my taste in music, there is a point to all this.I assume we have now established my love for the Fantastic Four and increasingly dated rock music. Now with all that in mind, watch the theatrical trailer for the Fantastic Four.

The song at 33 seconds into the trailer is none other than the remix of “pet” I was talking about earlier. The odds of two completely separate interests of mine colliding like this was insane to me, you know those moments where you’re sure there is no possible way that you’re not in the Matrix? As a nerd, this was my moment and until the movie came out, it was glorious.

In hindsight, I can tell now things were horribly wrong from the beginning. Take a look at the narrative synopsis during the trailer, “5 people will be changed 4 ever”? The numerical pun at the end is admittedly stupid in its own right but before we look at that, I want to talk about the number of people that “will be changed” according to the trailer. Five people? I understand the studio wanted to condense the origin story here. I am not so precious with the source material that I can’t take a few changes. I do however think that the core element of the family being adventurers is tarnished by throwing their main adversary up there in space with them. Not only that, they are confusing audiences who know nothing about the group aside from how many of them there are. You can tell the studio knew they fucked up when they had to tack on “4 ever” at the end. They’re basically admitting they messed up the number of people in a team called the fantastic FOUR. At least they put a 4 in there somewhere right? I don’t even want to get into the “one will be bad. Four will be Fantastic” part. Suffice it to say the full length movie fares no better.

The plot is simple enough, but it gets extremely confusing regarding the details of why any of what’s on screen is happening.
A scientist named Reed Richards wants to go to space because of evolution or curing diseases or something, I can’t tell honestly. He needs funding from a college rival named Victor von Doom, sounds like a nice enough guy, who for some reason wants to join in on a potentially life threatening space flight. In an attempt to keep this mission as unprofessional as possible, Reed’s ex-girlfriend and her brother come along. Oh, and Michael Chikilis from Shield comes too. They run into a cosmic storm up in space while Ben (Chikilis) is performing a spacewalk, so they have to keep the radiation shields up until he gets back to the ship. Everyone on board is exposed to the harmful rays and is knocked unconscious, yet they somehow manage to get back to earth. The scene transition is literally impossible, they were in space dying of radiation one minute and now they’re at a hospital in the mountains. It takes so many people to make a movie and nobody pointed this out?

The tradition of reckless storytelling continues when Johnny decides being cooped up in the hospital is a total bummer and he wants to go snowboarding with a date, regardless of how inconvenient and dangerous that would be. There are obviously no lifts in the area so what does he do? Johnny somehow manages to either have a helicopter flown in or he talks Doom into letting him use one because he is dropped off on the side of the mountain via chopper. Keep in mind, this is not a resort, there’s absolutely no way to get back up. The helicopter can’t land on a snow covered incline to pick them up and Johnny has no idea he can burst into flames and fly around yet. He does conveniently find out in the same scene when he accidentally flames on and creates a makeshift hot tub in the snow. This doesn’t even phase his date, who joins him in the Jacuzzi he just inexplicably made by spontaneously combusting in front of her eyes.

Meanwhile, Reed and Sue discover their powers over an awkwardly written and acted dinner scene. Susan is angry at her former love interest for spending more time in his lab than being a good partner. This is certainly a talking point in the comics; however, it works better when Sue’s character is not a scientist. You can tell where she’s coming from when she’s being represented as the all American girl next door who falls in love with a boy that can show her everything from the stars to the negative zone. Instead, she’s portrayed as a scientist who’s yelling at a scientist for being a scientist. The characters lose any sense of fun juxtaposition because Sue and Reed are now the same person. Don’t get me wrong, a genius couple who are at odds with the status quo because of their intellect would be fine, but if the film makers wanted a conflict of interest between the leads than they shouldn’t have made them interested in the same subjects.

Anyhow, Sue’s powers begin to emerge when she’s angry, like a menstruating Hulk; she becomes transparent and startles herself because turning invisible is kind of weird. A wine bottled is knocked over in the commotion and Reed catches it with his gross elastic arm, revealing the sad truth that the cosmic radiation has basically turned him into a stretch Armstrong. In all honesty the effects for Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Woman aren’t bad; it’s the way their powers are used that irks me.

Ben is the most unfortunate, being out on his spacewalk during the storm means he absorbed a higher level of radiation than the others causing him to turn into a cheap, rubber, movie costume. Michael Chikilis did a decent job with what he was given, but the movie should have been abandoned as soon as the film crew saw what he looked like in that damn suit. Not only does it look cheap, but Chikilis is shorter than most of the lead actors even when he’s in costume. The rock from 127 Hours is more convincing than he is. Ben finds out how deformed he is and like any sane person he decides to run through a wall like the kool-aid guy. Why would you run away from a hospital in that condition? Isn’t that the best place to be in his situation? No, it turns out he thinks the best thing to do as a rock monster is to go see his wife. When he shows up at his house looking like a guy who takes Halloween way too seriously, his old lady acts disgusted and immediately runs away without so much as a “come inside and tell me how this happened”. Great choice in women bro.

He mopes around on the Brooklyn Bridge before spotting a man attempting to jump off the edge. The suicidal man is understandably scared and doesn’t feel any better when he sees a rock monster coming towards him. Ben decides being in the middle of traffic on a busy bridge is a good idea and he literally rams a semi-truck, causing a huge pile up that almost gets people killed. After saving some firefighters he’s forgiven instantly for causing millions in damage; Forgiven by all but his wife, who is SOMEHOW in the crowd of people on the bridge when this happens. There is absolutely no rational cause and effect in this movie at all.

The rest of the film is mainly montage after montage. The team learns how to use their powers and Ben struggles with his humanity while Doom’s reaction to the radiation is causing metallic scars to appear on his body. His avarice gets the better of him and Victor begins his vendetta against our fantastic foursome even though he insisted on joining the crew to space in the first place. There is a sub plot based on the classic FF issue “This Man This Monster” where Ben sacrifices being human to save his family but other than that there is little to appreciate in this movie at all; Although Stan Lee’s cameo as Willie Lumpkin the mailman was near perfect.

While the writing is definitely the worst part about watching this train wreck of a film, I have to say the cast is one of the biggest complaints FF fans have. I’ll hand it to Chris Evans, who is admittedly a decent Johnny Storm. Save the costume, Chikilis isn’t a terrible Thing either. So out of the “5 people that will be changed 4 ever” only two of them deliver remotely acceptable performances. Ioan Gruffud completely fades into the background as Mr. Fantastic, if his character hadn’t been written and directed so poorly he might be capable of something better. The problem is Reed happens to have one of the most intimidating intellects in the Marvel universe, on top of that he’s also capable of being a bold leader, a husband, a father, and a friend. He’s the hardest of the team to get right and this requires some serious acting chops, something Gruffud doesn’t have the range for try as he might.

Jessica Alba as the invisible woman is, in my opinion, the biggest casting blunder of all time. I could see a studio’s need to change the ethnicity of a character based on the vision of the director or the talent of an actor, but Alba is there purely for sex appeal. Sue Storm has a depth to her, she represents the femininity of the family. This doesn’t mean getting naked to turn invisible in a crowd, it means being the anchor for a team that needs protection from themselves more often than not. Alba displayed none of these subtleties and barely puts anything into this performance at all.

Doom was beyond saving after the script was written. Julian McMahon isn’t necessarily to blame for Marvel’s most iconic villain becoming a cardboard cutout CEO archetype, but he didn’t do much to help the situation either. We’re talking about a character who’s supposed to be a megalomaniac dictator. A person responsible for turning himself into a soulless sociopath, a man disfigured because he refused to trust anyone but himself. He is empty inside and wants to take everything Reed has away from him. Where was this villain during the movie?

The part that hurts the most is how Fox put the minimum level of effort into getting a box office return for this. They thought a production crew could shit out some pretty fireworks to fool audiences everywhere and triple their money. They were right. This was the most influential science fiction comic ever and it was turned into some lazy action-comedy for kids to zone out to. Before I end this, and trust me I will, I want to say one thing. Not every movie needs to be Batman level serious. Heroes like the Fantastic Four, Superman, or Spider-Man can have lighthearted adaptions without the bar for entertainment being lowered. There is a misconception in the comic community that everything needs to be dark and edgy because batman is, example: the new Amazing Spider-Man film. We do not need gritty reboots to breathe life back into franchises, we need a little bit of heart and a basic understanding of the source material. So don’t tell me I didn’t like the movie “because it wasn’t serious”, some of my favorite moments in the comics are between Johnny and Ben getting into goofy arguments. That doesn’t mean I want to see 90 minutes of a badly acted and written film with no soul. If Whedon can do what he did with the Avengers, I believe Fox can pull it off with the director of Chronicle helming the upcoming 2015 reboot of FF. Only time will tell, until then flame on everyone.


Horror Comics That Changed My Life #2


The day I discovered Pokari Sweat, my life got a whole lot better. I mean a tangerine flavored soda with bits of pulp? Really? Purely by accident too. Those crazy vending machines are everywhere on the streets of Japan. You put in your Yen and something cool happens, like a door opens and a train on a track comes out and goes in a circle or maybe a little cartoon plays when you buy something like shoes or a t-shirt, a bottle of whiskey or a sports drink. You can actually buy a pony keg of beer from a vending machine right there on the street in front of God and everyone else without first being “allowed to” or “OK’d by” anyone. Apparently Japan doesn’t have to safeguard their teen-agers from buying beer and then over-throwing the government like we do in the USA.

I still remember the smell of smoked eel permeating the air and thinking “Oh my God that smells HORRIBLE!” Until the day I actually ate some and then I couldn’t stop eating it like some crack-coated candy. Riding that heavy red rental bike around the streets of Japan, I discovered so many amazing things simply because they were packaged or presented in some truly wonderful ways that appealed to my comics/cartoon damaged brain.

If not for Kuru Kuru Sushi, I never would have even thought about trying sushi. The famed conveyor belt sushi bar chain restaurant makes eating sushi a nerdy event. Utilizing a large oval conveyor, sushi chefs stand in the middle and make sushi. Customers sit on chairs surrounding the outer edge.

The chefs place sushi on the conveyor on plates with a price tag stuck to the bottom and the sushi is allowed to make 3 rotations. You, the customer can then simply take it off and eat it, stacking your plates to total your bill. Each restaurant has a variation on the theme. Some have little boats with plates of sushi that go around in a large circular water-track, some have race cars and I have heard of one that has airplanes. It’s really a blast because you can request your favorite futomaki or nigirizushi and the chef places it on the opposite side of the conveyor and you sit and hope that nobody else takes it before it reaches you. The place is loud as hell and people are basically screaming at each other and just having a blast.

Aside from Japanese punk rock and amazing toys/replica guns that I couldn’t get enough of, I acquired a minor love for Manga. I’ll have to tell you, it really takes some getting used to. The books read in reverse, from right to left. If you open the cover facing right, you are looking at the last page. The dialogue and narration are all in kanji, which no freakin’ way I can read. But the art, now that’s different. Looking at the illustrations, I began to get a pretty good idea of what was happening in the stories just by following the art, so in the late 1980’s/early 90’s, when some smart people realized that a new market could emerge in America just by reversing the books and adding English lettering, I accepted western market Manga with open arms. This was when I was introduced to Japanese Horror Comic artist/writer, Junji Ito.

Set in the small town of Kurôzu-cho, Uzumaki is a manga comic that centers on spiral shapes appearing for no reason and driving people insane. In the 20 issues that were published by VIZ Entertainment, Junji Ito paints a world that is randomly sadistic. This overtly Japanese idea that evil in this world indiscriminately chooses victims is illustrated in many J-horror movie classics, like Ju On and Ringu. The theme of the spiral is somehow connected with the infinite and the life cycle and ensuring it continues and some deep stuff and some even deeper stuff and whatever… It is creepy and very good horror.

In each issue, the spiral shows up in some significant and individual way that has Kurôzu-cho and its citizens killing, committing suicide and terrorizing themselves and each other. Paired with the beautiful artwork of Jinji, these stories strike a delicious contraposition that keeps the reader in a state of imbalance; horror made of juxtaposition. The way we see the bizarre theme of spirals completely overwhelming its victims strikes a chord of hopelessness and despair in the gentle people of this small coastal town.

The creepy-factor of Uzumaki is brilliant. Very quickly into the first issue, you are given a pervasive feeling of impending evil that continues to grow, eventually reaching an insane climax. I enjoy reading this type literature, as opposed to the overtness of our western horror. It is also nice to read a story so cleanly manipulate its emotional tone without the use of any obvious devices. Don’t get me wrong, I love ALL horror and don’t prefer one sub-genre over another. Frankenstein, Swamp Thing, Morbius and Hellboy are still ultra-badass in my book, but it’s nice to go outside the box on occasion. It’s also nice to read a horror book that actually tries to scare you and Uzumaki may very well do that.


Horror Comics That Changed My Life #1

The Hands of Shang Chi Master of Kung Fu #19

This is the first instalment of a weekly column from resident HHC writer Jimmy Stetler.  The column will be called Horror Comics That Changed My Life, and if this episode of the column is any indication, it should be fun.


Hello fellow horror nerds. My name is Jimmy Stetler and I am a horror comicaholic (“HI JIMMY!”). In this column, I would like to display to you a journey of self-acceptance, a sort of counseling session, a confession as it were. For people like me there are no therapists, no 12-step meetings, no magic pill (well, except for the OCD, that is) and no government funded programs. The sound of my ex-wife still rings in my ears, “How many comic books did you buy this week? How old are you?” Did I mention she’s my ex-wife? You see where this is going…

As I am currently in my 50’s (early 50’s OK? I’m a young 50, very spry, crap, sorry…), I cut my teeth on Silver Age comics. It wasn’t until Bronze Age came around though, that I was old enough to appreciate what I was reading and learn to draw from Ditko and Kirby, the two greatest art teachers I have ever had. It wasn’t until then that I began to see comics as something other than Spiderman, Thor and FF. It was also at this time that horror fiction began to truly diversify through all available media. As a young boy my fascination with all the Universal monsters was unparalleled by anything else. I grew up loving those old monster flicks like Frankenstein and Dracula. The memory of building the entire series of Aurora Monster Models sticks with me fondly. Honestly, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t a horror fan and comics and horror magazines always drew me in.

Reading Creepy and Vampirella (I still can’t believe my mother let me have these at such an early age) gave me the fix I needed until I was around 12 or 13. The day I walked into the 7-11 with my allowance money, intent on buying the new Aquaman, a Slurpee in a batting helmet and a Charleston Chew, I was completely oblivious that horror could come in a 25 cents comic book! Vampirella and Creepy were nearly three times that much (of course now that I think of it, they were loaded with content and the illustrations were by great artists the likes of Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo).

At this time, Bruce Lee or as I knew him at that time “Kato,” was seriously threatening my Catholic God as preferred deity and the coolest show on TV was “Kung Fu.” Now here was this mysterious power that had arisen from the Far East, allowing mere mortals to achieve super powers. Apparently Stan Lee caught this trend early and out came The Hands of Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu. I was all over that. I mean, the second it hit the comic rack, it went straight into my collection. The memories I have of eating candy and drinking Slurpees, sitting on the curb in front of the 7-11 Store and reading comic books are so integral to my childhood that they seem to outlast most others.

This issue, #19 to be exact, was a real head turner, permanently changing the nature of the series and my personal comic buying habits. Up until now, the series was focused on Shang Chi, a kung fu master, seeking the destruction of his father Fu Manchu. In this issue, Marvel decided to help a stalling but promising character: Man-thing. The cover was an amazing piece of work from Jim Starlin that hung on my bedroom wall until I left for college. It was THAT important to me.
The story in this issue is almost an afterthought. I remember Shang Chi meeting a guy who was basically Kwai Chang Caine with a moustache and the two of them fighting the Man-thing. The point was this was the book that would have me fall so deeply in love with horror comics that eventually I would try to make it my profession. Swamp Thing and Man-thing are really the comic books that I can trace it all back to. Suddenly there were books where the hero was a monster and I could identify with that being a little monster myself. It is, in a way, one of the stepping stones for the modern anti-hero I mean, where would Hellboy or Frankenstein be without these guys?

So, thank you Bruce Lee and thank you Steve Englehart and Jim Starling, thank you Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Jerry Conway and Gray Morrow. This is ground zero for my lifelong obsession and I am putting the blame directly at your feet. Sorry…