Ghost Rider: Fear Itself #2 (October – 2011- Marvel)

Ghost Rider: Fear Itself #2

Mephisto needs some help, and he has come to John Blaze for that help, much to Blaze’s amusement.  After all, he has just gotten rid of the curse of the Ghost Rider that Mephisto tricked him into in the first place.  Things are serious though, and even though Blaze wants nothing to do with Mephisto, there seems to be nowhere, and no one, else to turn to.  The Ghost Rider has been moved into the body of young Alejandra who has been trained since birth to be the weapon of divine sin destroying justice.

The vision of the future isn’t pretty either.  In an effort to eradicate The Serpent, an Asgaurdian deity that is stomping a mud hole in the earth, Adam will wipe all sin from the earth.  Leaving the future a bland and lifeless place.  The implication is that sin is our flaws, and our flaws are what make us human, and creative.  They give us drive, and desire.  Inner and real demons to overcome.

Blaze signs on, and soon finds himself trekking through the rain forest on a motorcycle on his way to confront the new Ghost Rider.  Upon his arrival Adam is getting Ghost Rider to give the penance stare to the others that were in training with her, the eradication of sin from the world is going to start with his own people.  Blaze interrupts and while Adam and Ghosty are distracted Mephisto sends in one of his major demons illiciting an overwhelming response for the Ghost Rider.  A swarm of locust pours from her mouth.

The direction this incarnation of Ghost Rider takes is pretty interesting, but not fantastically engaging.  It seems a lot like the antagonism that existed between John Blaze and Dan Ketch Ghost Rider in the 90’s.  So some of this seems like a bit of a retread to me.  The introduction of new and crazy powers for someone that is trained in how to be Ghost Rider is really interesting though.  Rob Williams seems to have a pretty firm (if not incredibly creative) take on Ghost Rider.  Matthew Clark’s art is good too.  Again nothing to unpredictable or surprising, just kind of by the book Ghost Rider.

Next Time:  Beware: Formula X

gl

Advertisements

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.

 

Darkhold #4 (January – 1993 – Marvel)

Darkhold #4

When last we left the Darkhold Redeemers they were jumping out of the frying pan and into the fryer.  Deep in the south of Perfection, South Carolina, Sam Buchanan was just about to get eaten by demons, when he is saved by a not so nice benefactor, Sabretooth.  Fortunately the demon that Sabertooth thought he killed isn’t dead, and has a grip of friends to back him up, giving Buchanan a chance to get away and try to find his partners.

Meanwhile Aurora, the woman who unleashed The Other on this unsuspecting little town, gets to witness firsthand what her foray into black magic has caused. Demons that she let loose tear apart her only friend in the town.  While those same demons were surrounding Vicki Montesi they passed her by like she was invisible.  Sitting in the basement of the local school in shock she is found by Louise Hastings and Buchanan just in time for Sabertooth to catch up with them.  Who in spite of his mutant healing factor is just about dead.

Buchanan talks Sabertooth down, and everybody takes a second to catch their breath which is when Louise figures out where the demons are coming from.  They are the N’Garai and they come from a portal that is located in the rock quarry.  Vicki, who is invisible to the N’Garai, and Sabertooth decide to make a run for the portal to destroy it, but upon arriving find Modred there already.  He has no plans to close the portal, all he wants to do is test if humans can go through it so he can get into Chthon’s realm.  Throwing someone that is caught up in the battle against the demons into the portal he finds that he will not be able to cross over into that realm, at the cost of innocent life.  Only one person can stop them, so with a belt of grenades Aurora (the woman who used the Darkhold page in the first place) pitches herself into the portal, blowing it to smithereens.  The Darkholders save the day again, but just in time for the Dwarf to show up with another black envelope.  This time for a man named Styge.

Chris Cooper hits the plot line of Darkhold full stride in this issue.  At this point it has moved forward from episodic to ongoing, and it becomes the kind of title that, at the time, I had to pick up month to month.  I was always wondering what was going to come up next.  The art from Nick Felchle seems less chunky and bold than previous issues, but he has no problem conveying different kinds of N’Garai.  Nothing to crazy though, everything seems to be cut from a superhero with a cray head or body mold.  Overall this is a decent issue that keeps me coming back for more.

Next Time:  Ghost Rider: Fear Itself #2

gl

Ghost Rider/Blaze: Spirits of Vengeance #3 (October – 1992 – Marvel)

Ghost Rider/Blaze: Spirits of Vengeance #3

Ghost Rider and John Blaze are still on the hunt for Lilith, but she has plans to unleash some of her children on them in an effort to wipe them out.  As they hunt she uses Pilgrim’s ability to travel instantly in space to arrive on the door step of her child Skinner.  Skinner has moved on in his life, he no longer hunts humans and monsters, and he wants nothing to do with what he thinks is a dead religion.  Now he has a family; he has a wife and kids.  There is a deeper familial obligation at work when Lilith shows up on his door step.

Lilith commands him to go and hunt Ghosty and Blaze.  He eliminates his old family by killing them, and then the hunt is on.  Skinner, as far as horror villains go, is pretty interesting. He has a kind of bone spur thing going that allows giant blades to come out of his arms (sort of like Wolverine’s claws), the flesh on his body is another matter though.  The whole of his being is his bones, all of his flesh is gathered from the corpses of his victims, with his family being the last bits that he has placed on himself (and his only memento of them).  So when John Blaze burns all of the flesh off of Skinner, though Skinner lives he is even more enraged than he was before.  The last bits of his murdered family are gone.

Writer Howard Mackie paints a really bleak story here.  One that is punctuated by two fathers.  Blaze who is trying to save the world and thereby endangering his family, and Skinner who is torn between the Lilin and his new family.  Blaze contemplates that maybe the risk that he is putting his family in makes him no different than Skinner.  Something that Ghost Rider, in a rare moment of humanity, assures him he is not.

Artist Adam Kubert makes this story pop off of the page.  The bones that sprout from Skinner look painful and raw.  the rage on Blaze’s face when he realizes that Skinner murdered his own family is palpable.  This cover also happens to be one of my favorite Spirits of Vengeance covers.  I remember the first time I saw it at the newsstand that I was actually horrified that maybe Ghost Rider and Blaze were defeated in a battle with this new and bulky foe.  I really dig the whited out cover look too.

Next Time:  Whistling Skull #2

gl

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.

ne

Hellstorm: Prince of Lies #1 (April – 1993 – Marvel)

Hellstorm: Prince of Lies #1

Damion Hellstrom one of the flag ship characters of Essential: Marvel Horror Volume 1. His books from the 70’s exude that paranoia bestowed on the American psyche by The Exorcist that behind curtain and around every corner there was a demon waiting to possess you.  Those come across as pretty standard super hero fare.  Even though Hellstrom is the son of the Devil, and constantly fighting against the Devil’s forces (because unlike Satana he wants to be free of his father), he is basically a hero in a cape there to fight against the forces of evil.

The re-boot of this title finds a darker and more sinister Damion Hellstrom in its pages.  It would seem that the internal struggle of Damion against his darker demonic self is now external  .  He is no longer a man with something deep inside of him longing to get out, he is actually two entities.  One that wants to crush the forces of evil and another that wants to herald the return of Satan to earth.  There are two people on the trail of the evil side of Damion.  Damion himself, and a former priest and exorcist named Gabriel (also from Marvel’s bullpen of 70’s horror characters).

There are points in this where the plot is a little muddled, and the hints at  back stories and other characters alluded to make it a little obvious that this is just supposed to be an introduction to the title.  Because of that, as a single issue it is a little unsatisfying.  The writer, Rafael Nieves has some clunky passages in here, and some of the exposition seems a little forced.  It is almost like he was being forced to tell the story of one and a half comics in one comic.

Artist Michael Bair has a sketchy and intense style that fits the title really well.  It is almost a throw back to some of the pre-code horror titles, while maintaining the same feel as other Marvel horror titles from the 90’s.  That style made more dark and intense by full bleed, and full black pages.  This is the look that I loved when I was in middle school reading all of those Midnight Sons titles, I’m not sure how I never picked this book up when I was a kid.  Discovering this later in life I can see the flaws in it, but overall I do enjoy it.  I will be interested in seeing where subsequent issues take the plot.

Next Time:  Billy the Kid’s Old Timey Oddities and the Orm of Loch Ness #1

gl

Leigon of Monsters #1 (December – 2011 – Marvel)

Legion of Monsters #1

Legion of Monsters is an old idea that just never seems to really catch on.  Originally it was a group made up of Ghost Rider, Man-Thing, Morbius, and Werewolf by Night.  They combat a god that returned to the earth to bring peace and a chance for the Legion to be human again, but because they couldn’t get their shit together they all just stayed monsters.

Fast forward in the Marvel Universe over 30 years and you have a new batch of Legion of Monster’s issues. This time Morbius is the head of a group that you could call the police of Monster Metropolis.  With a team of other monsters, N’Kantu The Living Mummy, Werewolf by Night, Manphibian, and Ellie Bloodstone (the only non-monster of the group).

Being the police of the monsters isn’t the easiest job in the world to start out with, but there is something else going on.  It would seem that something is infecting the minds of the monsters and turning them into wrecking balls of horror that are hell bent on destroying everything.  So the Legion are setting out to figure out how to stop the infection, or magic, or possession or whatever the hell it is that is going on.

This is a quirky little title.  It is fun and the art from Juan Doe is really cool looking.  I’ll be interested in seeing where this goes (in a lot of ways it seems like an excuse to drop a bunch of cameo appearances of other Marvel Horror characters).  Hopeless has a good script going too.

It is hard to not point out that this is just the first of four parts, and while the characters are pretty cool, it would be pretty rough to make this an ongoing title.  There isn’t a whole lot of depth it seems to a police force of the Monster Metropolis.  Every issue would just end up being some kind of silly monster mash (which is what this one even feels like).  It is a lot of fun, but I don’t know that it would hold up over the long haul.

Next Time: Frankenstein Alive, Alive #1

gl