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.

-Gabe

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…

js

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Ghost Rider: Team Up (TPB – 2007 – Marvel)

Cover

Ghost Rider: Team Up

Collecting:  Marvel Team-Up #91, Marvel Two-in-One #80, Marvel Premier #28, Avengers #214, Ghost Rider #27 & #50

The Ghost Rider title is near and dear to my heart.  In the 90’s when the Spirits of Vengeance title was starting, I was starting to read comics regularly, and all of the Midnight Sons titles really got me going.  I would trundle my way up to the grocery store (before I even knew there was such a thing as comic book shops) and pick up the new issues every week.  Typically spending my whole allowance on it.

The progression of Ghost Rider’s character from the 70’s into the 90’s when I picked it up is pretty drastic.  Here the John Blaze version of Ghost Rider isn’t beholden to the Satanic powers inside of him (not clearly stated as possession by the demon Zarathos), he has a better grasp on how to control the spirit inside of him.  In this collection there is a remarkably self possessed John Blaze as he fights along side some of Marvel’s best and brightest.

Starting out with a Marvel Premier that features The Legion of Monsters, a kind of monster super group that has reared its head up a couple of times since.  Consisting of Ghost Rider, Morbius, Man Thing and Werewolf by Night they are featured in a pretty disjointed story that involves a volcano erupting in the middle of Los Angeles at the behest of Starseed.  Starseed is a misunderstood god like creature that wants only to bring peace and healing to the Earth.

Because of his mode of arrival the Legion of Monsters turns on him.  Not willing to hear his story they attack and destroy, but not before Starseed reveals that he could cure them each of their affliction (which is the most confusing to Man Thing).  So they end up eliminating their potential savior in typical anti-hero fashion.  No wonder Legion of Monsters didn’t really catch on as a title.  The stand alone is really pretty silly.

Not quite as silly as the next issue Ghost Rider #27 features a duke out between Ghost Rider and Manticore (a throw away villain if ever there was one), but with the aide of Hawkeye and Two-Gun Kid.  Clearly trying to tie in some kind of cowboy and indian theme to the outlaw biker image of Ghost Rider.  All three heroes lament their solitude and loneliness despite having to work together to defeat a common foe.  It just proves that throwing a semi big hero name into a different semi beg hero title doesn’t work that great.

Marvel Team-Up #91 pulls the typical Team Up tactic of having two heroes fight each other before they align against the evil that plagues the both.  This Team Up features Spider Man attending a circus side show that features Ghost Rider as a flaming man.  Ghost Rider is under the influence of the evil Moon Dark the Magician.  He is on a quest to steal souls to help convince Satan to give him eternal life.  Moon Dark has control of Ghost Rider and forces the two heroes to go head to head, until the secret ring that holds Ghost Rider’s soul is broken, releasing him from the spell.  Ass kicking on the part of Spidey and the Rider commences.  The quips and attitude of the Web Slinger make him a perfect team up character, and in this issue of the collection it shows.  The interplay between villains and heroes is spot on for a really fun, one shot.

Issue #50 of Ghost Rider comes next and it is hands down the best in this collection.  The Rider travels back to the old west where he teams up with Night Rider (a wild west prototype of the Ghost Rider).  Fighting the manifest spirit of Manitou the two face down bandits and ancient Native American spirits.  It is a romp and a great stand alone issue (though it obviously connects to the issues of Ghost Rider that surround it) that has all the tropes of a wild west showdown and the kind of supernatural shenanigans that Ghost Rider fans (old and new) expect.  This is my favorite issue in the collection.

Marvel Two-in-One #80 is tale about monsters and coming to terms with being a monster.  Featuring The Thing in one of his many Two-In-One appearances both heroes spend time coming to terms with the separation that being a creature of frighting visage causes.  It is pretty standard fare for both Ghost Rider and the Thing.  Contrary to typical team up style comics there is is no common foe for The Thing to fight with Ghost Rider to defeat.  Instead the issue has Thing fighting Ghost Rider to bring John Blaze back to the fore.  Ben Grimm appeals to the humanity within the inhuman, other wise The Spirit of Vengeance is hell bent on rendering two young joy riders  obsolete via the penance stare.  In the end Blaze’s humanity wins out and the Ghost Rider is brought back under control.  Leaving Blaze to ride off into the sunset lamenting his solitude and The Thing to return to The Baxter Building to appreciate that at least he has someone to go home too.

The final issue in the collection, Avengers #214, is the most modern in the collection.  Dealing with many of the same issues that the previous issue in the collection dealt with.  Coinciding with Yellowjacket’s removal from the Avengers, it tells how poorly things can go when those who are overwhelmed don’t ask for help.  The chaos that spiral out of Yellowjacket’s screw ups are mirrored by John Blaze losing control of Ghost Rider and attacking one of the Avengers.  As all of the Avenger’s pile up on Ghost Rider we learn that the cult of heroism isn’t all it is cracked up to be, and that in the long run, no many how much your rage and depression are out of control you have a choice.  As well as having a bit of an Ayn Randian nod to laws and regulations being less powerful than self.

The collection is a great look at the Ghost Rider of the past, but over all is about half good.  The reality is that there is only so much that you can do to advance ideas in one off team up style comics.  There is a standard format that is hard to break out from and as a consequence really limits the format.  I love Ghost Rider though, so reading some old issues in full color is great (a part of me with the Essential collections were in color too).  Decent collection but nothing overwhelming.

Next Time:  Crawling Sky #1