Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Horror Comics Curved My Spine! Part Two

As I got older, I grew more, ahem, sophisticated, and so, moved from the comparatively juvenile world of Gold Key and Dell to the adult terrors of Warren’s Creepy and Eerie (I never could get into Vampirella) and the (YOW!) non-Code approved Marvel Magazines.

My choices for the best stories ever to appear in Creepy ran way back in the final issue of The Scream Factory (to make a long story short, the best story to ever appear in Creepy was the Bruce Jones/Ramon Torrents shocker, “Second Childhood,” from #88 and the best issue of Creepy ever published was #18), and I admit I've a bias towards Creepy as the flagship of Warren’s triple threat, but the best story ever to grace a Warren mag was “The Disenfranchised,” from Eerie #39 (April 1972).

Weird Harold wanders the wastelands of a contemporary slum, a grotesque Joker-like grin frozen on his face, contemplating the hellish life he once led. The son of a butcher, Harold watches as businessmen force his father out of his neighborhood store to make way for progress. The humiliation and slow death of his father drive Harold insane (he chops off his left hand and replaces it with a meat cleaver) and he roams the empty tenements, striking down all in his way. The final sequence of panels, when an unknowing cop runs across the ghoulish Harold and pays the price, puts all those lousy slasher flicks to shame. In my favorite artist column, Tom Sutton is second only to Alfredo Alcala in what he can do with a blank drawing board. His work on “The Disenfranchised” (as well as his stint on the DC Mystery books) remains memorable thirty years later.

Marvel’s brief, and failed, attempt at crowding Jim Warren off the newsstand are guilty pleasures to this day. There’s not a lot of respect given to or recognition of these zines today. You don’t want to walk into your local comics den when it’s crowded with college guys arguing the breast enhancements of Lois Lane vs. Betty Brant (actually witnessed, swear to Kirby) and announce “Hey, I’m a Marvel Monster Magazine Zombie!” without a few sideways glances and maybe more than one call to security. Back in the day, I bought them all: Dracula Lives!, Haunt of Horror, Monsters Unleashed, Tales of the Zombie, Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction, Vampire Tales. Just typing those titles brings back fond memories of a newsstand (a newsstand, for god’s sake!) filled with... stuff... you just had to buy. Anxious moments of “Do I buy the Castle of Frankenstein, The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, the cheaper Sgt. Fury and Marvel Team-Up, or do I splurge and spend a whole buck on Monsters of the Movies. What kinds of choices are you given today? Maxim or FHM? People or US? Just not the same.

Oh, sorry, I was writing about the Marvel Monster zines of the early 1970s, not my mid-life crisis while buying a cup of coffee last week. A lot of very competent material appeared in these zines. Two titles in particular became favorites over the two years Marvel published their oversized comics: Monsters Unleashed and Tales of the Zombie. MU featured some of Marvel’s Monster/heroes, Man-Thing, Wendigo, Tigra, Gullivar Jones, Werewolf by Night, and a continuing storyline featuring the Frankenstein Monster by writer Doug Moench and artist Val Mayerik. The Frankenstein Monster is found frozen in a block of ice, put on display in a freakshow, escapes, and then wanders from one ghoulish incident to another, ala Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson’s Swamp Thing. A low-rent Swamp Thing to be sure, but still packing a thrill or three in each adventure. 

TOTZ was a weird experiment, to be sure. Based on a 1953 short horror story by Bill Everett (whose Sub-Mariner belongs in the Comic Book Hall of Fame, but that’s another article), the series told the story of Simon Garth, a nasty businessman cursed by his voodoo-practicing gardener to walk the earth undead. And walk he does. And walk, And walk. Like MU’s Frankenstein Monster serial, Steve Gerber’s “Simon Garth, Zombie” became a monsterific FUGITIVE, blundering into strange and not always interesting happenings. Though overall TOTZ was a high-quality strip, I do have to mention that one of the worst lapses of good taste and reason occurred in the pages of TOTZ and that would be “A Death Made of Ticky-Tacky,” a gruesome and just plain lame expose on group sex as envisioned by a Marvel superhero writer. Tacky, indeed. The aforementioned Alfredo Alcala (who will be mentioned again) put in a few appearances in TOTZ. You can find a lot of these Marvel monsterzines in the dreaded miscellaneous box at your local comic store and, chances are, they won’t set you back much more than a few dollars apiece.

No comments: