EC Comics – The Vault of Horror 4 (1990, Gladstone)

To say that EC comics was the fore-bearer of just about everything in horror comics that came after them, would not be too hyperbolic.  Back in 1949/1950, Bill Gaines decided to take the company in a new direction. That direction was horror, crime, suspense, etc. All new material with an edge to it that had never been seen before in comics. EC blazed a trail that made it possible for any other publisher to push boundaries like never before seen in the industry. Not only that, the content was amazing. They just didn’t go for blood and guts with no substance, they had good stories, and excellent artwork by some of the greatest horror artist (and artists in general) of all time. “Ghastly” Graham Ingals, Johnny Craig, Jack Davis, Wally Wood, Reed Crandall, Jack Kamen, Frank Frazetta, Al Williamson, John Severin, Basil Wolverton, and more!

In this reprint, we see two issues chocked full of horror goodness. Vault of Horror 23, 1952, and Haunt of Fear 13, 1952. In both issues not only do you get the iconic horror hosts that helped make EC famous, but the pages are full of stories that will blow your mind when taken in the context of the year they were produced. Think about it, The Adventures of Superman, Ozzie and Harriet, and Roy Rogers were on television that year, so just imagine comic books featuring strong, mature content. It was a huge risk, but also ended up being a huge success and put EC comics into orbit.

 

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Dracula Lives! 11, 1975 “Pit of Death!” and ” Lilith Unleashed!”

In trying to focus on more mags from the Bronze Age, I thought it was time Dracula made an appearance! The Count has a long history in Marvel Comics, and although the black and white mags are awesome, nothing compares to the Tomb of Dracula series that Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan worked on together. That said, don’t sell these stories short, because they have some fantastic creators on them! Speaking of which, inside the front cover, we see an incredible illustration by Bob Hall (first image after the cover)! It remains one of my all time favorite images of Dracula.

The meat of the book has some excellent work. The biggest part of the book is the adaptation of the Bram Stoker novel Dracula by Roy “The Boy” Thomas and Dick Giordano. It’s only one chapter but the pages are incredible. It was never finished in these format but both men finished it years later and it was reproduced in a trade/HC.

Another magnificent tale (part two) “Agents of Hell” is by Doug Moench and Tony DeZuniga. We see a young man trapped in the catacombs of a castle, and he must fight off the brides of Dracula, but even if he survives, can he defeat the greatest vampire that ever existed? That story is followed by “The Vampire of Mednegna.” This story shows a man named Arnold Paole, as he returns from a trip to Greece, but he has returned a very different man. Again, we get Doug Moench (writer) but the artwork was by Golden Age stalwart, Win Mortimer!

Finally we see a very graphic tale starring none other than Dracula’s daughter, Lilith! Within just a few short panels, she tears a rapist to pieces! This is a very different story though (not just blood and guts), and a must read because the author is none other than Steve “Baby” Gerber! The artwork is credited to three gentlemen that are names synonymous with the Bronze Age- Bob Brown, Frank Chiaramonte, and Pablo Marcos!

And let us not forget the cover that was painted by Steve Fabian!

 

 

 

Monsters Unleashed 4, 1973

Slowly but surely I’m making the effort to collect all of Marvel’s magazines from the 1970s. They’re getting steep in price overall, but if you look closely, you can usually find them here or there in decent shape for a bargain. When I saw the chance to pick up this issue for a reasonable price, I grabbed it immediately. A cover with a werewolf, and advertising the Frankenstein Monster is awesome, and high on my buy list for sure.

In this awesome mag, you get a great little one page story inside the front cover by Tony “The Tiger” Isabella and Pablo Marcos! Next we switch gears and see the ongoing story (chapter two) of a tale involving the Frankenstein Monster, by “Groovy” Gary Friedrich and “Big” John Buscema! The story and artwork are absolutely incredible in that one! Next, the book provides a reprint of a story called “The Hands (Adventures into Terror 14, 1951).” The writer is unknown, but the artwork is by Gene “The Dean” Colan!  An interesting little 4 page story that has a twist ending. A prose story called “Our Martian Heritage” by Chris (Mr. X-Men) Claremont that has some photos accompanying it (most notably from Invasion of the Saucer Men- 1957). A new tale about Gullivar Jones Warrior of Mars (continuing from the pages of Creatures on the Loose), is nothing short of short of awesome. Brought to you by Tony Isabella and  “Dynamic” Dave Cockrum! A zombified story by Steve “Baby” Gerber and Pablo Marcos keeps the book rolling, and then we get another Atlas Age reprint (The Killers- Adventures into Weird Worlds 10, 1952), artist unknown and art by Bernie Krigstein! And finally, we see a gorgeous story by “Dapper” Don Perlin and Chris Claremont! A werewolf story that is one of the most (if not the most) beautifully penciled stories by Perlin I’ve ever seen! Cover by Albert Pujolar!

 

Marvel Spotlight 7, 1972 “Die, Die My Daughter!”

In the 1970s, there wasn’t a better time for comic book readers. You had Golden and Silver Age creators still pumping out material, but you also had younger writers and artists that had been inspired by those giants, and were determined to leave their own mark on the industry. There’s also another aspect to consider as far as the content, and that is what was in the zeitgeist of the times. One of those things was most certainly the occult. Marvel then decided to re-purpose a character from a western comic that was all but forgotten. His name was the Ghost Rider (later Phantom Rider), and this time around, he wasn’t going to be lassoing people or shooting at them with a six-shooter!

In Marvel Spotlight 5 (a lot of the newer characters started off in books like this one and once they proved themselves, were transitioned to their own book), we see the tragic story of Johnny Blaze. A young kid working at a carnival, and watching his father doing motorcycle stunts. His father ends up getting killed in an accident, and the carnival owners (The Simpsons…no, not Homer and Marge) adopt him. The show becomes a huge success but then his step-mother is killed, but right before she dies, she makes Johnny promise he won’t ride in the show anymore. He doesn’t ride but the show still gets even bigger than it was before. Johnny still practices privately, and becomes an excellent rider. One day, Crash Simpson gets a phone call and he’s made the big time, as his show will be at Madison Square Garden! He seems less than excited and then tells Johnny and Roxanne that he has “the disease” and the doctor told him he only has one month to live.

After thinking about this for thirty seconds, Johnny decides as any normal teenage in the 1970s would, he uses a book to summon “Satan” to grant him a wish to heal Crash Simpson (Satan is in quotes because Marvel would later retcon it wasn’t actually Satan himself, but a demon). Yes, he really did that…so, then “Satan” obliges him and tells him that he’ll be back to collect a fee in the future. We all know that means he’s in big trouble, but Johnny apparently doesn’t care because of dealing with the grief of his own father and step-mother dying. Of course, Crash dies not from cancer, but a motorcycle accident.  Then Johnny makes the jump, but is later confronted by “Satan” and his soul is bonded to a demon, which in-turn is why he changes into the new Ghost Rider!

In this issue, we see Johnny after a man named Curly, but we eventually see it’s actually a reanimated Crash Simpson! Curly is trying to sacrifice Roxanne to his master (again “Satan”), but Johnny will not allow the love of his life to perish! He fights off some occultists, then has a showdown with Crash himself!

The creative team on this issue is the same since the first appearance. Gary Friedrich (writer), Mike Ploog (art), Frank Chiaramonte (inks), Herb Cooper (letters), and Roy Thomas (editor). A few years back, there was a little controversy over who actually created most of the character of Ghost Rider. Friedrich claimed he did, and sued Marvel for creators rights. He lost of course, simply because everything was work for hire back then, and any attempts to seize control of a character simply fell short. Sadly, a lot of these creators have fallen on hard times, and could really use a helping hand from the companies that they helped become so financially robust. There is a great organization called The Hero Initiative, that can help creators in need. Definitely swing by and donate if you can at the next convention you visit.

 

 

 

Thor 229″Where Darkness Dwells, Dwell I!” and 230 “The Sky Above, The Pits Below!” 1974

There are certain quirky characters and areas of the comic book universe that I feel I might be the only fan of, either because they’re so odd or maybe just not well-known. The Fear Lords are one such group! Probably the most popular member of this group is definitely the Dr. Strange nemesis, Nightmare! Another heavyweight that’s a member is D’Spayre (see Fear Lords), and he had a memorable appearance in Marvel Team-Up (during the heralded Claremont/Byrne run), and a few others as well. All that said, in these two issues of Thor, we get to see another member of that group, in the form of the Dweller-in-Darkness!

In these two issues, we see Thor, and his good buddy Hercules! The two heroes are trying to unravel a mystery about why people in New York are going absolutely crazy, with seemingly no explanation. There is murder, robberies, suicide, muggings, etc., the city is in mass hysteria. Hercules tries to help, but is assaulted by a dark, mysterious figure wearing a trench coat. Before he knows what’s going on, he’s dragged into the sewers by a horde of demons! He returns to the surface later, but the son of Zeus is visibly shaken, and in fear for his life!

The creative forces behind these two issues are incredible but in two ways. The cover of the first issue is by Ron Wilson and Mike Esposito. Both men were awesome but vastly underappreciated. Do yourself a favor, and go to one of the many database websites and check out these two creators. Again with the same theme of being underappreciated, we have Rich Buckler (interior pencils on both issues, and cover pencils on #230). After his recent passing (May 2017), I really felt terrible because I’d only met him one time, and was sorry I didn’t talk to him more often, as he seemed like a great guy. The interior inkers are an interesting contrast. In #229, we have Chic Stone, whose style is a bit cartoony over Buckler’s pencils (see the splash/first page). Not bad, but definitely not the best either. The next issue sees Joe Sinnott inking (cover and interiors), and you can clearly see the detail and high level this man brought to the industry. The Bronze Age stalwart, Gerry Conway, is the writer for both issues. He had a pretty long run on the title (#193-238), following Stan Lee. Linda Lessmann, Stan Goldberg, and John Costanza round out the creative team.

 

Giant Size Man-Thing 3 and 4, 1975

The character Man-Thing is not only one of the best from the Bronze Age, but also for all time in the horror genre. Yes, the Heap predates him (also  another character called “IT” from the pulp era in a sci-fi story by Theodore Sturgeon predates The Heap) but his staying power wasn’t so great for one reason or another. Manny has been around since the early 1970s, and still going to this day. A lot of horror characters (other than the public domain ones), fizzled out and all but disappeared after the  Bronze Age came to a close, but not Man-Thing. One of the reasons is because he had great creators behind him virtually all of the time.

You may ask yourself, what does a wizard, a viking, a barbarian, a high school full of kids, and a duck have in common? Nothing, and that’s the sheer brilliance of Steve Gerber (writer, both issues, the Man-Thing stories plus Howard the Duck). He can take these random things and deliver a great story using a swamp monster that can’t even speak. On the surface, most Man-Thing stories just appear as action/adventure stories, but there is usually an underlying message that is/was very relevant.

The artwork in these two books is nothing short of excellent. In issue three, you get Alfredo Alcala (pencils/inks), Petra Goldberg (colors), and Marcos Pelayo (letters) on the interiors. The cover is by Gil Kane (pencils) and Klaus Janson (inks, with alterations by John Romita). There are two back-ups that feature work by Paul Reinman, Don Heck, Dick Ayers, and Jack “King” Kirby!

The following issue contains more incredible work, starting with an amazing cover by Frank Brunner! Ed Hannigan, Ron Wilson, Frank Springer, Phil Rachelson, Tom Orzechowski, round out the creative team, and a back-up story by Gerber and Brunner to top it all off!

 

 

Doctor Strange Master of the Mystic Arts!

As we march forward to another season of Marvel movies (Black Panther is here, and The Avengers in May, followed by Ant-Man and Wasp), it’s a good time to put the spotlight on my favorite sorcerer, Dr. Strange! It seems he’ll be quite a big part of The Avengers film (and hopefully others!), and you never know what time period of the comics the creative team will pluck ideas from to insert in the films. One thing is for sure, in the late 1960s, Marvel released volume one of the good Doctor’s stand-alone series (after Strange Tales concluded), and it was fantastic!

Roy Thomas (writer) had already been at Marvel for a couple of years, and proved himself on the X-Men, The Avengers, and so on. His work here is just as powerful as it was on those titles. Artistically, the first few issues were drawn by Dan Adkins. Not a household name for those on the outside looking in at comics, but for those on the inside, he’s known as an excellent artist. He was then followed by Gene “The Dean” Colan (pencils) and Tom Palmer (inks)! These two gentlemen would go on to do many great issues together on several different titles (most notably The Tomb of Dracula).

 

The Avengers 131, 1974 “A quiet half hour in Saigon!”

It’s no secret that Stainless Steve Englehart is one of the best comic book writers from the Bronze Age (and maybe of all time?). One of his most important legacies is his work on The Avengers. Being only the third person to write that title (Lee and Thomas preceded him), is quite an honor in and of itself, but Englehart took what was there and built a mansion on top of that foundation. He took the team to new heights with his reality spanning story, The Celestial Madonna.

Kang, the main antagonist of the story, was elevated from a more simplified villain, to a complex character that had many layers. In this issue, we see him overpower not only another version of himself (Rama-Tut) but a third version (Immortus) all within mere pages! As if that wasn’t enough, Kang then summons (using the technology of the master of time, Immortus), six characters from the past- Midnight (from Shang-Chi), Wonder Man, Baron Zemo, The Ghost (from Silver Surfer), and Frankenstein’s Monster! He uses them as pawns to attack The Avengers inside a castle!

Top to bottom, Englehart, Sal Buscema and Joe Staton (artists), Tom Orzechowski (letters) and Phil Rachelson (colors), did a magnificent job on this book!

 

 

Marvel Triple Action 17, 1974 “Once an Avenger”

Let’s face it, villains are much cooler than heroes. Their ability to make us think, to challenge the hero, to explore boundaries, etc., is way beyond that of their counterparts. Take Kang the Conqueror for instance. He’s without a doubt a top-tier villain in any universe, and has proved that since 1964 (Avengers 8). This mag is a reprint of The Avengers 23, 1965, and the fourth appearance of the character in under two years! For any era, that’s pretty good, and shows what kind of staying power Kang would have for years to come!

In this issue, we see Cap leaves the team after some turmoil (he was a bit temperamental back then!), and attempts to take a job as a sparring partner for a boxing champion. That lasts about two seconds, and he returns to the team afterward. Just in time, as the rest of the team has been subdued by Kang! And immediately after taking down Earth’s Mightiest Heroes…Kang attempts to take Ravonna out on a date but her dad says no (panel below). No joke!

This epic tale was brought to you by Dashing Don Heck (pencils), Jazzy John Romita (cover and interior inks), Stan “the man” Lee (writer), Artie Simek (letters), and Jack “King” Kirby (cover pencils)!

 

 

DC Archive Editions: World’s Finest Comics vol. 3

Thanks to a discount store (Ollie’s Bargain Outlet), I grabbed several great trade paperbacks of DC comics’ greatest characters! My library is very much dominated by Marvel Comics (the first 20+ years of reading/collecting I was a marvel Zombie for the most part), so any time I get the chance to grab some DC material from the Bronze Age (or earlier), I waste no time!

A team up book starring two of the greatest heroes ever in comics (maybe the best ever?) during an era that saw comic books under fire from the U.S. government (the misguided buffoons) gave us some of the most ludicrous stories ever. These stories are still very high in entertainment value, and are incredibly well drawn. Aliens are the big threat throughout this beautiful hardcover but also crooks, magicians, a Bat-Jester, Bat-Mite, Mr. Mxyzptlk, and more! Credits include- Curt Swan, Bill Finger, Dick Sprang, Jerry Coleman, Sheldon Moldoff, and Stan Kaye.