Wolverton's End of Days

Since it was mentioned in my other post and these pictures are way scarier than any horror movie that's on TV tonight, here are Basil Wolverton's end-of-the-world illustrations. The originals were in black and white and are preferable to the colorized versions by Wolverton's son, they these'll do.

These images were flat-out stolen from Wolvertoon.com, but I've seen them posted a ton of other sites. A book of these and other Biblical images has been talked about and teased for awhile now and that would be great to see because, as Monte Wolverton's site mentions, this is not the complete set (and they seem out of order, image four seems like it should go way earlier...).

Powerful Panels: Devil Dinosaur #4 by Jack Kirby

The first time I happened upon Devil Dinosaur was after flipping through the Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. Volume 2 trade, where after several splash pages of the team fighting through bizzare enemies (like a bunch of monkies and and a big-ass gorilla dressed like Wolverine and, guh, snakes on planes) they run into a red tyrannosaurus rex dressed like a kind of dandy nazi, holding a pistol and a flute of champagne. Immediately, I was sold. And oh, no big deal, but his name is DEVIL DINOSAUR. How great is that? Flash forward to a couple months later and I find the Double D Omnibus at a comic store in North Carolina, and knowing that the real Devil Dinosaur probably wouldn't be quite as dashing as I would like, I still figured red T-Rex with a little monkey guy is something I can get behind.

Turns out, the real Devil Dinosaur is kind of awful. The Omnibus is composed of nine issues, and until issue four, it's just a lot of cavemen talking like cavemen (i.e. really obtuse and awkward) and like, making traps out of pits covered in leaves and punching each other and stuff. In the second issue Devil Dinosaur inexplicably starts to be drawn with four fingers instead of three, giving him these stupid almost human hands, which gives Kirby the idea to start drawing his arms longer (sometimes) so he can occasionally grab things and flex to psyche out his enemies.

The panel up top is not powerful in a visually impressive or important narrative way, but in the sense that from this one panel, you know exactly what you're getting into with Devil Dinosaur. Even before reading the word ballons, I laughed at how ridiculous a face he's making, but then not only is this goofy wall-eyed gesture supposed to be taken in stride, it's supposed to be a look of deep understanding. You can also see his creepy man-hand and his arm at one of its many lengths throughout the comic.

To be fair, though, since this is from the issue where things start to pick up, there are some actually impressive displays of Kirby's work. The issue starts with a two-page spread of Moon-Boy's (Devil Dinosaur's fellow outcast companion) premonition of the dangers which are to come...from space! Maybe Kirby figured out that the only thing that can make cavemen exciting is the inclusion of alien robots and psychedelic dream sequences?

Required Halloween Reading: Basil Wolverton's Gateway to Terror

Basil Wolverton's work has always been known as grotesque (one of the turning points of his career was winning a "draw the world's ugliest women" contest). Somehow though, these aspects never got out of hand as Wolverton's work had the fun and immediacy of all cartooning, if a bit more damaged. When he was drawing goofball sci-fi adventures like Spacehawk or boxing comics with Powerhouse Pepper the elastic faces and dark-darks made it more unreal and outrageous, but when Wolverton directed his pen towards the genuinely grotesque, as he did in his mind-blowing religious work like his depiction of the apocalypse or in these Twilight Zone-esque horror tales, the results get under your skin and the atmospheric lines become palpable.

Each of these stories follow the horror anthology "twist ending" outline almost to a fault. There's some good, smart storytelling going on here, but without Wolverton to illustrate them, well they wouldn't have been hunted-down and reprinted by Dark Horse more than thirty years later (Gateway is a reprint from 1988).

The "trick" for lack of a better word, of Wolverton's art here is to lull you into a kind of stupor of appreciation, where you forget about the kinda silly storytelling or rather, just let it sort of play out, and get caught-up in the sheer weirdness of the art. His lines are never ever straight, they're straight enough, but they always wiggle around a bit, and it makes even the simple contours of a room into a panel that you hold too close to your face and fall in love with. In another sense, at least in these horror tales, the bordering-on-sloppy artwork foreshadows the chaos to come. And when something crazy or creepy or scary happens, Wolverton's art is at its best as he draws every ugly detail but still in this zany style. Not quite the same, but a little bit like Rick Geary's work as Jesse mentioned, where the fun, cartoon-ishness of it makes it feels scarier and weirder. Look at the frame below from the titular story and the way Wolverton draws flesh slipping of a face:

Wolverton's people too are over-the-top and ugly, but they're ugliness comes from real-life. Every weirdo or creep looks like a weirdo or creep you could see or have seen in real-life. Old people say dumb stuff like "I wouldn't want to run into this guy in a dark alley", well, Wolverton draws pretty much everyone in a way that makes you think that. The brilliance in doing so is that since these are horror stories, you expect the villains or "bad guys" or whatever to be monster-like. Instead, they're just a little uglier, a little more crack-eyed, and wrinkled than everybody else, grounding it in a little bit of reality.

In "One of Our Graveyards Is Missing!", everyone's in a panic and looking stressed-out because somehow, the town graveyard's just a giant pit now, but a mysterious man seen near the graveyard moments before it disappeared has a particularly horrifying presence. His presence isn't that scary on its own, but how he enters the story and his context aid Wolverton's drawing and the story's atmosphere. The same weird feeling you get when you've read about a crime that's been committed and then you see on the news they've caught the guy. You're not sure if he's scary as shit because you know the crime he committed or if he's scary outside of that too.

But the story that's like, palpably horrifying and icky-feeling, is "They Crawl By Night". The story's about a guy who hallucinates night-time visits from these gross, crawling crab guys and then it turns out, hasn't hallucinated it at all (again with the trick horror comic endings). A great deal of this story happens at night and so, the interiors are darker but because Wolverton's work is all line and ink, the panels aren't necessarily darker, they've just got more shadow and even more lines which adds an eerie unreal feeling. Something I can't exactly describe makes these images come to life in that sense that you begin thinking about crab guys sneaking into your bedroom at night and say, lift your feet off the ground or close the nearest door to you.

Subtle Dread: Rick Geary's Treasury of Victorian Murder

By all accounts, Rick Geary’s a 'Treasury of Victorian Murder' series should not be scary at all. Geary’s art, at first glance seems a better fit on the pages of Gumby than illustrating some of the most gruesome crimes of the 19th century. Even the plots tend to be composed mainly of facts and theories about the portions of the crimes that have gone unsolved. But oddly enough, it’s precisely because of Geary’s firm hold on reality with his plots, and his subtle use of horror and gore, that each episode fills with a dread that creeps to the back of your brain and stays there.

The Saga of the Bloody Benders takes the non-fiction elements to extreme by starting the story with maps. What seems like a history lesson on the surface, begins Geary’s secret invasion into our mind. He puts in his own interpretation of the houses on the maps and presents them in such a way that 19th-century Kansas looks like a different world. The details on the history of the area help the reader become immersed in the culture of the time and how its people behaved and felt. Geary’s art helps by showing a creepy John Brown with his sword covered in blood. This one simple illustration takes a simple line from a history book and gives it a face and meaning from page one.

This invasion of fact and caricature into your brain builds up until you are finally confronted with the grisly act. The murders aren’t shown but their aftermath is, and that makes it worse. Characters who come from a state “born in blood and fury” are shown sickened by the murders of the family. The next panel shows the same men moving the house. It has the same disorienting look and feel to it that death gives in real life. These men are going through their work in a daze after being confronted with their mortality. There’s no shocking panel of gore that can be identified as horrifying. Instead Geary allows the weight and reality of these events to sink in by showing us one little bone sticking out from the ground or an understated blood stain on the curtain.

In Jack the Ripper, Geary uses all the techniques employed in the Bloody Benders even more effectively. Geary plays up the city atmosphere of the killings making the whole book feel claustrophobic. The city looms over everything and like most smart works of art presents both the positive and negative of city life. London has Scotland Yard and Buckingham Palace but also terrible areas like White Chapel where the killings took place. One of the reasons Jack the Ripper is so terrifying is the mystery involved. Geary shows how British investigators exhausted every technique and resource to catch the killer but apparently, nothing could be done.

Geary subtly sets up a dichotomy of order vs. chaos in a way that is realistic and complex. The page where the story discuss the infamous “From Hell” note is the perfect example. The entire page is dominated by the background of this crazy handwriting. In the bottom is a small circle containing Scotland Yard and the quotation, “Several detectives already deem this a “transparent hoax.” Nevertheless, the specimen was deposited for extensive examination with Dr. Openshaw of the London Hospital.” In a small gesture, and purely by his layout, Geary suggests how the Ripper has overcome their culture. He even implies that both the people and detectives are helpless in the power of the Ripper, and shows how the detectives who realize this try and protect the population from panic.

Geary’s real triumph of horror is getting the reader to identify with the psychology of these killers. We are so into thinking about Jack the Ripper’s situation that when the “From Hell” note is presented, it becomes the scariest part of the book. It’s a realization that this guy really thinks he’s from hell! On one page, Geary illustrates all the possibilities thrown out for Jack the Ripper, and it becomes a kind of societal cross section of evil. But it also forces you to confront that fact that while Jack the Ripper was only one person, it could have been any of these people. Life has sent all of these faces over the edge as we’re left to wonder how close we are to insanity.

Halloween Bonus: gruesome Jack the Ripper crime scene photo

Toriyama's Cowa! Almost Animated

Some wonderful YouTube-er was cool enough to sort of animate the first story--or "Fright" as it's called in the collection--from Cowa!, "Paifu Goes on an Errand". Not sure what the music chosen is, but it's perfect for being cute and whimsical but a little melancholy too, sort of like Halloween, where it's really awesome to get candy but all the big kids being jerks makes it almost not worth it.


Hellboy - In The Chapel of Moloch

There is invariably some disappointment amongst fans of Mike Mignola's various comics that Hellboy - In The Chapel of Moloch--the first Hellboy story drawn by Mignola since 2005--is only a one-shot, but the format is perfect for demonstrating how far Mignola's skills as a writer have developed during his years spent penning so many books. In The Chapel of Moloch is a fully fleshed narrative with a beginning, a middle and an end (in that order), that features the flights of mythological esoterica that are the hallmark of Mignola's stories and throws in some comments about the creative process in general.

Though I realize that I spilled considerable ink discussing Mignola's narrative acumen in a previous post, it is a topic that is worth revisiting in the context of this new book. Mignola's Hellboy stories have always required a considerable amount of necessary background information and he has not always been as adept at working it into the flow of the narrative smoothly. Considering it is a one-shot, In The Chapel of Moloch includes significant background detail. Mignola works the details of the setting and situation, and the attendant mytho-religious background into the narrative action, making it part of the story.

Compare this to earlier Hellboy narratives in which the first several pages featured little more than panel after panel of Hellboy and Professor Bruttenholm sitting in an office with huge text-filled speech bubbles laying out a tome's worth of mythological minutiae. This made some of those early stories difficult to get into and likely turned off more than a few early readers.

There has been considerable discussion in the circles in which I run about the effect that Guillermo del Toro's Hellboy movies have had on Hellboy comics. The most obvious contribution del Toro made to the Hellboy universe was in helping to develop Hellboy (and Abe and Liz, for that matter) into a fully realized character. It may be that this increased attention to narrative structure and execution has been another, more subtle effect of del Toro's collaboration with Mignola.

It seems somehow telling that in the first Hellboy comic he has drawn in three odd years, Mignola would choose to tell the story of an artist who is possessed by a demon when he creates. While perhaps as much a wink to the readers as an actual comment on Mignola's feelings about the creative process, it is such little details that make Mignola's work so satisfying. Mignola's art throughout the book is filled with such subtle winks and other details that repay repeated readings.

There are some great sequences of wordless or near wordless panels in which the action is advanced in a very economical fashion, but which also include significant narrative information. An example of this is the sequence in which the little monkey-demon climbs up Jerry's back, whispering in his ear and then Jerry begins to sculpt. Jerry's gaunt face and his look of haunted inevitability are terrifying on their own, not to mention the motif he sculpts into the clay.

Mignola also includes these fascinating little juxtapositions in which he links characters or images by mirroring some of their features. In one example, the panel of the monkey-demon running away screaming after Hellboy threw the silver button in his eye faces an image on the opposite page of the awakening statue of Moloch which corresponds almost exactly to the monkey-demon, with Moloch's nostrils standing in for the demon's eyes. A few pages later there is a panel featuring a figure from one of Jerry's paintings atop a panel featuring Hellboy with a similar mirroring effect.

After the destruction of Moloch and the weird thorny-vined heart at his core, Jerry tells Hellboy he will never paint again. To which Hellboy replies that this is not the worst news he has ever heard. While nobody wishes Mignola to give up drawing his comics altogether, if you consider the significant contributions artists such as Richard Corben and Jason Shawn Alexander have made to the Hellboy universe, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.

The God Damn Man-Bat

The Batman's villains are all pretty ridiculous but you can make some sense of them. The Penguin is a sad deformed child who uses class to become one of Gotham's most feared kingpins of crime, Two-Face is an honest man done wrong by the justice he worked so hard for and now sees both sides of the law and even The Joker is only as insane as the clothes he wears. The brutality and overwhelming numbers of his murders are as unbelievable as his get up. Man-Bat however, is just a monster.

Batman: The Animated Series as far as I'm concerned is the best representation of almost all Batman villains and the man himself. Man-Bat especially came into his own in the first episode of the series, "On Leather Wings". Dr. Kirk Langstrom is a biologist who hopes to prolong human life with experiments using bat genes. Langstrom uses himself as a guinea pig and turns into a half-man half-bat beast but realizes without the ability to control himself in this form it's useless to him, and dangerous. He tries to end the trials, but the part of him that became the bat feels differently, forcing the Man-Bat out to steal the chemicals needed to cause the change again.

Where Werewolve's transformations are caused by a full moon, the beast inside of Langstrom forces him to become Man-Bat nightly. Instead of running blindly in a blood rage, Man-Bat is on a mission, making him far deadlier to anyone he comes in contact with. Langstrom basically goes into these 'roid rages when in need of a fix, and the only person he really cares about even after the change is his wife. After Batman figures this all out, Langstrom downs a vial to make the change, but when his wife walks in, his embarassment sends him to the skies, Batman in tow.

Batman's usual "brains over brawn" techniques don't work in the skies, and with Man-Bat's strength the Dark Knight can't get an edge. Man-Bat's rage and confusion leads him to fly around the city aimlessly, just trying to get rid of Batman and make a get away, and in his panic he gives Bats the chance to get a few punches in. Crashing into a wall and the aerial fight ending, Batman bleeds for the first and last time in the series. Instead of turning Langstrom over to the surrounding police, Batman cures the scientist of the beast in his blood, and hopes he stays clean off the bat-junk.

The ending of the story makes Man-Bat feel more human, but you don't feel bad for him. He's the annoying kid at the party that Batman has to take care of just so a couple months down the line he'll see him passed out next to the toilet with a dick drawn on his face, his wings covered in vomit. Being given no response from Langstrom after being cured makes you wonder if he liked being Man-Bat more than human and that was why he kept going back to it. He was able to fly and could kick Batman's ass, it's like PCP but it wasn't in his head, he was actually doing it.

All I know is that it produced the second most played with toy of my childhood.


Where My Money Went - Oct. 28th

Every Wednesday I push the limits of my budget for my comic addiction. This is where my money went this week:

The Skaar Son of Hulk series has been something I have been putting off writing about. Sword and Sorcery comics hardly exist anymore and the ones that do exist are poorly drawn, usually with the coloring doing all the work and the "pencils" being nothing but lay outs. Skaar is Conan the Barbarian on an alien planet, fighting giant monster and dragons, but no big titty slave babes. Suspected to be a prophet, Skaar is coming into his own as an Old Strong, worshipped and followed by some but feared by others. Skaar feels like an old Epic Illustrated story, but you don't have to deal with stoner comics dealers to get it.

Superman and Batman VS. Vampires and Werewolves #2 promises a "Tentacled Creature from Beyond!" and delivers this fucked up frog monster that Batman literally kicks in two after a vampire talks some trash to it. Superman finally shows up to fight a giant snail monster. Where is this story going?

So this bearded old guy kills a vampire-ish naked babe and then all these bondage S&M dudes run in and Ol' Beard uses the lady's head that's screaming like a banshee to stop them. He throws the head into his car and heads to a small town to find his Kindred. It's the kind of comic that leaves you wondering what happened but in that good "can't wait until next month" kind of way.

Hellboy "In The Chapel Of Moloch" is the first Hellboy written and drawn by Mignola since "The Island" in 2005. After "The Crooked Man" drawn by Richard Corben, and the Lobster Johnson series, I don't know how much I care about Mignola drawing his comics anymore. It's great to have what feels like this throwback Hellboy story, but after the actual character the movies added to the characters themselves, an almost lifeless Hellboy is completely noticeable and no longer excusable. The foot notes were a nice touch for those of us not in the know about all things occult, but the comic felt stiff, not much different than his covers. He can write an awesome horror story, but he needs the collaboration for his books to shine.

X-Force is a series for X-Nerds who are sick of all the continuity following and bullshit you have to get through to get a decent Super Hero Team book. Lead by Bastion, Anti-Mutant groups are back in the government trying to irradicate the X-Men and eventually all mutants. They've hired a teleporting mutant named The Vanisher to steal the Legacy Virus, and after tracking him down the team find out he doesn't have it and it may already be in the wrong hands. The team continues to grow with Domino and Elixir, and still manages to stay seperate from the other X-Books. Also, Warpath fights a monster bear.

Even if you're not a Secret Invasion reader, the Thor tie-in is worth your time. Skrulls have fallen onto new Asgard with a Super Skrull made up of Norse Gods, powered by the hammer of Beta Ray Bill. The power of the Gods was underestimated by the Skrulls, and they pay for the mistake. Great end to the three issue mini series, especially with the delays to the regular Thor series. Hopefully this will breed interest in Beta Ray Bill and we'll get a new series with Ol' Creepy Horse Face.

Incredible Hercules is my favorite weekly comic right now, I'm a sucker for burly dudes and Hercules is the burliest. Namor and Hercules fight for a few pages until Namora puts an end to it and they attempt to save Amadeus Cho, who's been kidnapped by Amazons. Namor asks Hercules to help him with his own mystery, the disappearance of Lord Poseidon. Stepping away from the aftermath of the events of Planet Hulk, Incredible Hercules is taking a new direction, combining mythology and Super Hero story telling for just great comics. Every other character from Greek Mythology they have brought back has been updated except Hercules, and that just makes the book more perfect. He's the same big, sorta dumb horny dude you've already read about, except he wears slightly more clothes.