Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Marvel Year One: Spider-Man

Peter Parker is an a-hole.

We know this, this is part of his origin story.  He uses his powers to make money, doesn't stop a thief when he had the chance, and his beloved Uncle Ben dies because of it.

But does he stop being an a-hole?  We'll take a look next year, as Spider-Man only makes one appearance in 1962.

We're also introduced to the Peter Parker Principle, which dates back in one form or another to at least the French Revolution.  So far we only have the narrator preaching it.  We'll see when Peter himself references the phrase.  Later (maybe much later), the phrase is attributed to Uncle Ben, and I now wonder how that came up.  "Peter, with great power comes great responsibility.  But even powerless milksops like you still have to take out the trash".

Spider-man is used with or without the hyphen, sometimes on the same page.

There's a notice about a change in the title.  It went Amazing Adventures to Amazing Adult Fantasy to Amazing Fantasy, stopping here at issue 15 until there were a couple more issues in the 90s.  The notice posted here talks about teenagers being embarrassed buying a comic with the word "adult" in the title.

Amazing Fantasy 15

Collected in Amazing Spider-Man Epic Collection: Great Power in paperback or Kindle

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Able Team: Razorback by Dick Stivers

Able Team: Razorback
by Dick Stivers (David North)
In the anthology Heroes
1992, Gold Eagle

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Just after the Executioner spin-offs Able Team and Phoenix force got cancelled and combined into Stony Man, Gold Eagle published three anthologies with stories from each team - I suspect to burn through stories they already bought.

In Razorback, a corrupt Sheriff from Gobbler's [Run, Arkansas, is the middle man in an arms dealing scheme, buying from bikers who steal from the military and selling to South American cartels.  Pol and Ironman are on the case while Gadgets is on leave, hunting hogs with his buddy from 'Nam, which also just happens to be at Gobbler's Run.  A third party also coincidentally joins them later, stacking pretty steep odds they all show up at a town of a population of just over a hundred.

Most of the story is taken up with the baddies, who are suitably sleazy and evil and thus much more interesting than our heroes.  The good guys spend most of their time telling women how pretty they are while hoping they can kill someone without a trial.

The action scenes were below par, with the vileness of the villains not quite making up for it.  One thing annoyed me - they have one of those "This mission is off the books, so if you're caught by local law enforcement you're own you own" scenes, sandwiched between a scene of the Feds ordering Gadgets released from a local prison, and the Able Team getting the full cooperation of the State Police.

Paperback from AbeBooks

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Marvel Year One: Thor

What should be a simple premise is fraught with complications, the realization of which didn't come for some time.

Dr. Donald Blake is an ordinary surgeon, who presumably was born of human parents and has been alive for some decades.  He finds a magic stick that, when knocked on the ground, transforms him into the Norse god Thor.

At first it seems similar to Captain Marvel/Shazam - Blake remains Blake while gaining Thor's powers.  Blake has all own memories and personality (no thous and thuses) and at the start doesn't have additional memories - he only knows Loki from his knowledge of mythology.

But what of the Thor of legend?  At the first issue we don't know if he existed before, if he's still around, or if Thor was always a series of mortals granted power by Mjölnir.  Very quickly, Blake begins to become more Thorish, and addresses Odin directly as if from personal memory, and that the Thor of legend has been missing for some time.

Thor gets powered up pretty quickly.  Tapping the stick once changes Blake into Thor, once again changes him back, two times lets him control weather, and three times stops the storms.  It's complicated, and I think quickly abandoned, as he can control weather from the skies as well.  Blake is even able to control the weather without turning into Thor.

Technically Thor can't fly - he throws his hammer and grabs onto the handle thong.  But since he can control where the hammer flies, and can re-throw it a different direction or spin it around and stay in place, it's functionally the same as flying.  I will keep my eye out to see if Thor flies or floats when he's not holding his hammer.

Other powers include emitting anti-matter particles from his hammer, blowing hurricane force winds out of his mouth, tracking items by taping fragments to Mjölnir, and travelling through time.  He's the Silver Age Flash of Marvel Comics, inventing new powers as needed.  I remember these are explicitly removed later, not just forgotten about.

We have our first "could she ever love a cripple" romance comic anxiety piece, and our first of the few Marvel heroes to have a cape

Questions to keep an eye out - When does Thor start speaking in ye olden tongue?  Is Thor bulletproof?  My memory from my first read is that the handbook entries say all Asgardians are denser and bullet resistant up to 50 caliber, but that he's never actually been shot.

Journey Into Mystery 83-87

Collected in Thor Epic Collection: The God Of Thunder in paperback and Kindle.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Marvel Year One: The Incredible Hulk

After Pym's debut, but before The Ant-Man, we have the Incredible Hulk Bruce "Not Yet With Twenty Middle Names" Banner.  As simple as the basic concept of the most common configuration is (Bruce Banner turns into the Hulk when he's mad), right out of the box Lee is fiddling around with things.

After being zapped by the gamma bomb, Banner turns into the Hulk at night.  This Hulk is grey, not mindless but also not as smart as Banner, and is more actively malign than the "Hulk just wants to be left alone" that we're used to.  Mr. Hyde with a little bit of Frankenstein's Monster.

For an issue we get the Hulk being controlled by Rick Jones.  This doesn't last long before the next version: Banner has to be zapped with a gamma ray gun to change in either direction.  He maintains his consciousness and intelligence as the Hulk, though his personality is more aggressive.

So far, the change from Banner to Hulk is mostly predictable and you'd like him just fine when he's angry.  He doesn't say Smash and hasn't mentioned whether he'd just like to be left alone.

His powers change as well.  He starts off strong, but seems weaker than the Thing, and can be hurt by bullets (and Banner suffers the same wound after changing).  Later we get Hulk's sonic hand-clap and his ability to jump long distances.

When Superman started he couldn't fly, just jump long distances.  I think this gradually turned to flying as time went on as he started changing directions.  My memory is that the Hulk consistently jumped.  This may be true in later years, but within panels of being able to jump long distances, the Hulk is jumping horizontally and achieving lift.

You can tell they want to make Rick Jones a thing.  Maybe historians can make a case that him and Snapper Carr were actually popular, but I refuse to accept it.  Jones is established as an "orphan with an aunt" just one month after the more famous Peter Parker but before Ben Grimm.

Incredible Hulk 1-4

Collected in Incredible Hulk Epic Collection: Man or Monster? in paperback and Kindle.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Marvel Year One: The Ant-Man

Our second superhero in the world of Marvel doesn't start as a superhero, but as a standalone story in Tales to Astonish.  Henry Pym shrinks himself with a shrinking potion, has an adventure with ants, before returning to normal size, pouring his formulas down the drain, never to be used again.

They are used again.  Pym gets a regular feature in Tales to Astonish at The Ant-Man, with the article and hyphen, though no hyphen on the cover, beginning Marvel's complicated history with the punctuation mark.

This is before the Wasp and before Giant-Man.  Pym and his ants face the street level crooks, mainly communists, and is about as exciting as this character gets.  Pym, a character so dull that he actually improved by becoming a wife beater, was the only Marvel hero to not graduate from a monster title to his own comic, and I think only headlined a comic decades later as the Wasp.

Tales to Astonish 27-38 (periodically)

Available in Ant-Man/Giant-Man Epic Collection: The Man in the Ant Hill in paperback and Kindle.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Come the Night (aka Chainsaw Terror) by Shaun Hutson

Come the Night (aka Chainsaw Terror)
by Shaun Hutson (also as by Nick Blake)
Originally 1984 Star


book cover of Come The Night

Handyman Edward Briggs has lived in London home with his sister since their father murdered their cheating mother.  Sis tries to move out, but incestuously obsessed brother calls a stop to it by cutting her head off.

After dispatching her boyfriend, Briggs introduces a series of prostitutes to his sister's rapidly rotting head before introducing them to his basement full of power tools.

Meanwhile, reporter Dave Todd has been working on an article on the sex trade, and uses the prostitute he's been sleeping with as bait for Briggs.  The book is pure video nasty, something straight out of 70's 42 Street, with a climax straight out of early Peter Jackson.

The book started as Chainsaw Terror under the name Nick Blake, later reprinted as Come the Night, before being included in an omnibus edition under Shaun Hutson.  I've compared the nastiest pages of Chainsaw Terror and my omnibus edition of Come the Night, and I can confirm that these scenes are word for word the same.  They even seem to have the same typesetting, with the same page and line breaks.  Other reviewers who have copies of each have confirmed this as well.

 From the text itself there seems to be scenes cut out.  One has Briggs slowly lowering a drill into a woman's eye, his Johnson out and ready, then...

Fates Worse Than Death: “What an Amazing Escape!” | Medleyana

Dot, dot, dot, she's already dead on the floor.  Like he didn't even re-write it, just cut it out.

Don't get me wrong, this is a nasty, distasteful piece of work.  Hutson strikes a good balance here, clearly making it nasty on purpose, but not enough to slip into cartoonishness.

If you're interested in just the text, the omnibus edition with The Abduction and The Visitation is the best value.  Tip o' the hat to @richleau666, @paperbacksnpugs, and @whatmeworry

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Welcome to the Fun Zone (1984)

Dr. Demento hosts three other hosts who host Welcome to the Fun Zone, originally aired in the SNL time slot.  The show peaks early with the best of Dr. Demento, which is of course Weird Al.  John Candy and John Carradine are in a weird horror parody short film which feels like it was unfinished footage of an abandoned project.  There's a perverted version of MST3K doing It Conquered the World, and various other novelty comedy acts.  Also with Santana playing with Booker T and the MGs playing with the Fabulous Thunderbirds.  None of it is funny, but it's a time capsule for this kind of thing.  Dr. Demento is wisely almost completely absent.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Marvel Year One: Fantastic Four and Strange Tales

I'm re-reading all the Marvel superhero comics, starting with Fantastic Four, and in publication date order.  First up, the Fantastic Four.

Something that interested me about the first issue is that there is an implied gap between when the Fab Four got their powers and their first mission against the Mole Man, and that they were living separate lives prior to that.  There is one reference to Central City, but is quickly changed to New York.  At some point this is retconned into being an actual location change and not a name change.

Mister Fantastic actually uses his stretching powers, which for decades now he's only used for reaching for test tubes.

Not the most sensitive guy, Reed is.  He does blame himself for The Thing's condition, though he really shouldn't.  It's Sue's fault.

The Invisible Girl is not yet an Invisible Woman, but in the first year she plays a major part of the action, and is arguably the bravest member of the group, in that she's the easiest killed.  I remember at some point she gets wracked with insecurity about being "just a useless girl", but we're not there yet. 

The Thing starts off lumpy and gradually get's more defined as time goes on, but we're not quite finished with his look.  He started off more Hulk like, kind of dumb meathead who is endanger of turning against humanity, before turning into the wise guy hothead we know and love.  We don't have his series of catchphrases yet - his main one is a simple "bah!".

The Human Torch develops his powers pretty quickly.  In the first issue he's accidentally melting everything around him.  By the end of the year he's got his nova blast, can melt things without heat somehow, control flame around him, create flame duplicates, etc.  They also play with a "what if he turns his powers against humanity", but this goes nowhere.

The Human Torch gets his own series in Strange Tales, and with it our first retcon:

Give that man a no-prize!  Johnny Storm was pretty cavalier with his identity before they decided to make it secret.  I looked back and the four schoolmate story is consistent with the text.  Given that it's known that he's the Invisible Girl's sister and he's always around when the Human Torch shows up, we'll see how long this lasts.

Doctor Doom is introduced.  Latveria isn't mentioned, and other than his name there's no indication that he's even foreign.  He has a castle, but I think that's later established as being upstate New York.

Sub-Mariner is in a full third of the issues in this first year.  Atlantis isn't mentioned by name yet, just his "undersea kingdom".  It's mentioned that his people were displaced, not killed, by nuclear testing - I always though this was a later retcon.  Sue's all over him - such a tragic, noble figure.  He's only a rapey, genocidal madman because he's misunderstood.

Fantastic Four 1-9, Strange Tales 101-03

Fantastic Four collected in Fantastic Four Epic Collection: The World's Greatest Comic Magazine

Strange Tales collected in The Human Torch & The Thing: Strange Tales - The Complete Collection

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Series Showdown

To mix things up, and so I'm not reading the same genre for months at a time, the next showdown will be across eight different divisions:
  • Men's Adventure
  • Post-Apocalyptic
  • Novelizations/Tie-Ins
  • Westerns
  • Horror (by author, not series)
  • Science Fiction (of a Men's Adventure bent)
  • Fantasy/Sword and Sorcery
  • Miscellaneous genres I can't be expected to read 14 books of:
    • Plantation Gothic
    • Gothic Romance
    • Unexplained
    • Mystery Digests

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Deliver Us From Evil by Allen Lee Harris

Deliver Us From Evil
by Allen Lee Harris
1988 Bantam


Slow, overlong, mild, rural Omen style story.  Years ago, a girl is raped and ritually tattooed.  She becomes pregnant, and now years later a mysterious orphan comes to town.

I stuck with the twelve plus hours of audio hoping for some payoff, but the intro is the most horrific part of the story.  There's a moderately effective Satanic Sunday School scene, but that's offset by lengthy theological musings and piles and piles of nothing.

The prose is well written enough, but the length didn't add atmosphere, characterization, or even padding.  It was if the author didn't want to write a horror novel and was procrastinating by going on about small town life and the nature of biblical allegory for hundreds of pages.  This was the first time I turned up the speed on Audible to get through it.

It dips it's toe in Southern Gothic, but the small town secrets are baked into the premise and nothing shocking is revealed.  Even when we get to the "horror", it's a couple of off-page incidents of implied violence.

And check out the other books from the fine folks at Capricorn Literary, who were kind enough to send me a download code.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Alien III Audio Drama by William Gibson

Alien III Audio Drama
by William Gibson
2019, Audible

I owe Sigourney Weaver an apology.

I honestly don't remember how showbiz rumors get started or spread in the days before the internet.  I distinctly remember some friend telling me about the plans for the Star Wars prequels and sequels in the mid 80s, and was surprised later to learn how small the Extended Universe was at that point.

The word on the street in the early 90s was that William Gibson wrote an amazing script for Alien III, one that involved Hicks facing off a mass infection on planet Earth.  The rumor was that Weaver thought the script didn't focus on her enough, and since she was a megalomaniac movie star, they tanked that script and went with Jesus Ripley Christ sacrificing herself to save humanity.

Modern accounts are quite the opposite.  The plan was for there to be parts 3 and 4 shot concurrently, with Ripley barely being in 3 only to come back in 4.  Weaver wanted the smaller role, didn't think there was much left to do with Ripley's character, and only agreed to do Alien 3 if her character was killed off.

Gibson's first draft sounds pretty action packed, with a mass invasion in a space mall.  So, of course, the adaptations (a comic series and audio drama) are of his second draft.

Alien III has elements of the first two, only less of it.  Ripley, Hicks, and Newt are rescued by Weyland Yutani after another galactic faction of commies snatches up Bishop.  The xenomorphs infect members of the ship, there's a fight against the clock for a self destruct mechanism, all the while Ripley never wakes from her coma before being launched in an escape pod.

This one is explicit that the xenomorphs are biological weapons from a long extinct race.  Gibson also adds the wrinkle of the aliens being able to multiply by spraying spores in the air.  Given that the xenomorphs convoluted life cycle is central to the plot, this angle makes no sense and retroactively causes the other movies make no sense either.

The poorest of the Alien audiodramas I've heard.  As much as I love Michael Biehn, he was sounding pretty rough, and poor Lance Henriksen I just wanted to give a honey tea and give the man some rest.