Saturday, October 17, 2009

Saturday Art - 10/17/09

Here's a pin-up for your Saturday viewing pleasure: the Frankenstein Monster by Pablo Marcos. This is from Legion of Monsters #1 (September, 1975). Hope everyone is having a having a great weekend!

Click to enlarge!

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Terrifyingly True History Behind Marvel's Reign of Horror
(Part Two of Two)

With the uber-restrictiveness of the Comics Code starting to erode and with Marvel's successful launch of their black and white Curtis Magazines to circumvent the bits of the code that still existed Marvel doubled-down on horror. They had already introduced Man-Thing in the pages of Savage Tales #1 and the character would become popular enough to feature in Adventure into Fear #10 starting in October of 1972 and then move into his... or its... own series in July of 1974.

Marvel was frequently launching the Curtis Magazine horror titles in the early 70's and their main competition on this front was Warren Publishing, who had been doing black and white magazine horror comics since 1966 with the first issue of Creepy. Creepy was followed a few years later by Eerie and then later by their own superstar who is still around today - Vampirella. Last time I talked briefly about the horror hosts of the EC Comics that had been inspired by an old 1930's radio show called 'The Witch's Tale.' Warren was no exception; Creepy's tales were hosted by Uncle Creepy and Eerie's tales were presented by Cousin Eerie. The two had the same tongue-in-cheek morbid humor of the EC Comics horror hosts and were well loved by Warren fans. Vampirella was the star of her own stories on top of other tales and another Warren publication - Famous Monsters of Filmland by Forrest J. Ackerman - had been popular with horror & sci-fi movie fans since the early 60's. Marvel's color comics had their own horror hosts as well who both made their first appearance in the pages of Tower of Shadows: Digger and Headstone P. Gravely.

To compete with Warren's very popular horror line Marvel launched Savage Tales, as I mentioned in Part One, and a bunch of other black and white Curtis mags. Monsters Unleashed, Tales of the Zombie (with Simon Garth as the Zombie) and Vampire Tales were all introduced in the summer of 1973. As Curtis magazine titles these books didn't run the Comics Code and the content was very different from Marvel's horror comics. An early star from Vampire Tales was Satana, who made her first Marvel appearance in the second issue, and who still putters around the Marvel Universe these days.

Satana's first appearance in the summer of 1973. From Vampire Tales #2 in a story by Roy Thomas & John Romita Sr.

Next up to bat for Marvel's monsters was the Werewolf, who made his Marvel Comics debut in the second issue of Marvel Spotlight in February, 1972. Marvel's Werewolf was a troubled eighteen-year old young man named Jack Russell whose father himself had been a werewolf. The Marvel forumla of creating a troubled life to make the character more interesting applied here to Jack; his mother had married an overbearing, manipulative man and neither Jack nor his younger sister Lissa cared much about him. Jack had never known his true father but didn't learn of the curse over him until his mother explained it to him on her deathbed after the family's driver tried to bump her off in a rigged car wreck. Jack Russell would appear in Marvel Spotlight for three issues, #2 through #4, before getting his own book - Werewolf by Night - which lasted almost four years. When it started off Gerry Conway was writing with Mike Ploog providing the art. Eventually a love interest for Jack was introduced - a striking and mysterious blond named Topaz - who would eventually become a student of Doctor Strange. More recently Topaz was turned into a brunette and given a more Middle Eastern or Indian look in the 2004 mini-series Witches. Jack himself is still kicking around the Marvel Universe as well.

Dracula and Werewolf by Night getting ready to throw down in The Tomb of Dracula #18.

With the Werewolf howling his way through the halls of the House of Ideas it was time for another Marvel horror superstar to emerge. This time around Marvel swung for the fences and wound up with the Elvis of their monster stable. The Tomb of Dracula premiered in April, 1972 and brought an all new menace to the Marvel Universe. Archie Goodwin, Gerry Conway and even Gardner Fox took turns writing Dracula until Marv Wolfman took over with #17 and remained the writer for the rest of Tomb of Dracula's run. Gene Colan and Tom Palmer provided the art for the entire seventy issue run and Colan had based the Marvel Dracula's look on actor Jack Palance. In an odd case of life imitating art Palance took on the role of Dracula in a 1973 TV movie produced and directed by the creator of the Dark Shadows soap opera on ABC.

Dracula was one of those Marvel villains that truly reveled in being no damn good. In the pages of his comic he routinely hunted down nubile girls to feed off of and was hounded at every turn by the descendants of the vampire hunters who had originally taken him down in the Bram Stoker story - namely Quincy Harker, the son of Jonathan and Mina Harker named for Quincy Morris, and Rachel van Helsing, the great-granddaughter of Professor Abraham van Helsing. The Tomb of Dracula also debuted a bevy of other supernatural Marvel stars. Blade made his first appearance in Tomb of Dracula #10, Deacon Frost hit the scene in #13 and Hannibal King popped up in #25. All three would later be part of the Blade series of films.

The character later got two more titles, both as black and white magazines - Dracula Lives! in 1973 and Tomb of Dracula (without the Curtis imprint) in 1979. The Tomb of Dracula magazine was for mature readers and included nudity and some *ahem* very suggestive themes; Dracula Lives was much of the same and it also introduced Marie Laveau (loosely based on the actual person) into the Marvel Universe as a reborn voodoo witch. She would make other appearances in Marvel Comics through the years and also played a key part in a storyline in the third Doctor Strange title, Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme. Recently the Tomb of Dracula comic and the two black and white magazines were collected in Essential Tomb of Dracula over four volumes, with the nudity removed.

Marvel's Dracula would continue to be a presence in the Marvel Universe as well, facing off against both Dr. Strange and the X-Men through numerous appearances. During an X-Men story by Chris Claremont & Bill Sienkiewicz (Uncanny X-Men Annual #6) Dracula managed to finally turn his hated foe Rachel van Helsing into a vampire. She asked the X-Men to stake her and end her misery, and Wolverine obliged.

In the early 70's Marvel also launched numerous horror titles to serve as reprints for old Atlas horror, suspense and sci-fi stories. With the odd exception of a new tale here and there the content (albeit the cover art) were reprints of early 50's stories from Atlas titles. Some of these titles were Chamber of Chills (1972 and different from the Harvey book of the same name), Vault of Evil, Beware! and the Crypt of Shadows (1973) and Dead of Night (1973). In 1972 Marvel even started up the second volume of Journey into Mystery (the original had been retitled Thor in 1966) and had some new stories in it but before long it too became reprints. DC was doing a lot of the same at this time, churning out titles like The Unexpected, Weird Mystery Tales, Ghosts and Secrets of Sinister House. These titles were, like their Marvel counterparts, a mix of scattered new yarns and old material from the 1950's like Prize Comics' Black Magic.

Two more horror staples would find their way into Marvel Comics in the early 1970's - Frankenstein's Monster and the Mummy.

The Monster had already made two cameos of sorts in Marvel Comics. The X-Men fought a Frankenstein Monster android in Uncanny X-Men #40 and the Silver Surfer came across the monster - sort of - in Silver Surver #7. But nothing more until the Monster was given his own book, The Monster of Frankenstein, by Gary Friedrich and Mike Ploog in January, 1973. Soon after the book's title changed to The Frankenstein Monster. All total the Frankenstein's Monster comic ran for eighteen issues but the Monster would keep appearing in Marvel Comics, including The Avengers and the second volume of Doctor Strange. Frankenstein's Monster would continue to be hounded, hunted, misunderstood and despised through Marvel Comics until he finally wound up being taken in by Marvel monster hunter Ulysses Bloodstone. Years later the Monster continued to work with Bloodstone's daughter, Elsa.

On a personal note, the Monster starred with Spider-Man and the Man-Wolf in the very first Spider-Man comic that my mother bought for me back when I was three in 1972 - Marvel Team Up #37 by Gerry Conway & Sal Buscema. That much cool in one comic changed me for life. Heh.

Another of Marvel's horror stars, the Living Mummy, premiered in Supernatural Thrillers #5 in August, 1973. Supernatural Thrillers was originally launched to adapt existing horror fiction from popular authors but the Mummy took the book over shortly after his first appearance. Tony Isabella, Val Mayerik and Len Wein all contributed to the book's remaining issues, which ended with #15. The Living Mummy was a three thousand-year old Egyptian slave, N'Kantu, who had killed an oppressive pharaoh named Aram-Set and was punished by a high priest, who turned him into the Living Mummy. N'Kantu made many other appearances in Marvel Comics, including guest spots with the Thing in Marvel Two-in-One #95 and with Captain America in Captain America #361. He also showed up in Marvel's Civil War event.

Eventually the horror craze subsided and readers began to concentrate more on just the normal, regular superhero stories from Marvel and DC. But the Marvel Monsters, as well as their competitors, would stick around. At DC, horror hosts Cain and Abel and other characters from their horror and suspense comics - House of Mystery, House of Secrets and The Witching Hour - would later appear in DC's popular Vertigo comics. Creepy was recently relaunched by Dark Horse Comics while his former Warren pal Vampirella lives on in Harris Comics. At Marvel, Werewolf Jack Russell continues to pop up across the Marvel Universe, as do the rest of Marvel's horror heroes and villains. Man-Thing even got a movie named after him - or it - that had very little at all to actually do with him. But those are the brakes. And more recently we've seen Satana, Man-Thing, Werewolf by Night and others appearing in Legion of Monsters one shots (which were fun) and MAX "reimaginings" (which really missed the mark).

As we end our look at the history behind Marvel's horror comics let us give thanks to the many talented people who gave us such terrirfying tales and blood-curdling yarns...

Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Marv Wolfman, Gene Colan, Archie Goodwin, Steve Gerber, Len Wein, Gerry Conway, Gil Kane, Gary Friedrich, Val Mayerik, Tom Sutton, Dan Adkins, Mike Ploog, Bill Everett, Gardner Fox, John Romita Sr., Bernie Wrightson, Barry Windsor Smith, Neal Adams, Wally Wood, Jack Davis, John Buscema, Jim Steranko, Gray Morrow, Tom Palmer, Rich Buckler and many many many others - including Jack Kirby & Steve Ditko who created a lot of those stories Marvel reprinted from the old Atlas days.

And now that we have the history down we'll start getting into the stories!

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Terrifyingly True History Behind Marvel's Reign of Horror
(Part One of Two)

There is no better way to start off our look at Marvel's Mighty Monsters than by parting the cloudy past and learning the who's, what's, when's, where's and why's. And to do that we're first going back to the 1950's.

In the early 1950's, horror comics hit the scene and EC Comics ('Entertaining Comics') was the big kid on the block. When William Gaines took the reins of his father's publishing company he introduced a slew of horror, sci-fi, crime and humor books. The titles included Tales from the Crypt (which you may have heard of), The Haunt of Fear, The Vault of Horror, Crime SuspenStories, Shock SuspenStories, Weird Science and Weird Fantasy and all were in an anthology format, with more than one story being printed per issue. Oh and lest we forget EC's little humor mag called Mad that is still published by DC Comics today. Gaines new mags hit the stands in 1950 and the proverbial crowd went wild. Soon other companies were following their lead and publishing their own horror tales.

A lot of the folks who delivered EC's ghastly tales included incredibly talented writers and artists such as Harvey Kurtzman, Joe Orlando, Johnny Craig, Al Williamson, Jack Davis, Graham Ingels, Reed Crandall, Jack Kamen, John Severin (who later went on to Marvel in the 60's), Al Feldstein and Wally Wood. They churned out truly gruesome and gory tales of horror and suspense. Many of the stories also had a 'tables turned' theme, where someone would do something dreadful to someone else and then later have something worse happen to them.

EC also developed 'hosts' for their horror comics, including the Crypt Keeper (who would later be made famous via HBO's Tales from the Crypt series) and the Old Witch. The concept of horror hosts dates back to the days of old time radio. In fact the horror host of The Haunt of Fear (the aforementioned Old Witch) was directly inspired by a show called The Witch's Tale produced by Alonzo Deen Cole in the 1930's. So before there was an Elvira or a Vampira there was an Old Nancy in EC Comics. And before her there was one on the radio. Later, in the 1970's, all three of the major horror comics & magazine players (Marvel, DC and Warren) would have their own horror hosts. More on that later.

EC Comics and their sensational (and fun!) content eventually fell under the gaze of public scrutiny in 1954 with the release of Fredric Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent, which blamed comics for juvenile delinquency. The public interest lead to a Senate hearing lead by Senator Estes Kefauver, a Democrat from Tennessee.

For the other three parts of this short documentary click these links!
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

The Senate subcommittee wrapped up its proceedings by strongly suggesting that the comic companies should clean up their act. The message was clear: Police yourselves or we'll do it for you and you don't want that. The major comic companies responded by banding together to form the Comics Magazine Association of America and then adopted the Comics Code Authority to enforce moralistic guidelines on comics. Among those guidelines were the following:

  • Scenes of excessive violence shall be prohibited. Scenes of brutal torture, excessive and unnecessary knife and gunplay, physical agony, gory and gruesome crime shall be eliminated.
  • No comic magazine shall use the word horror or terror in its title.
  • All scenes of horror, excessive bloodshed, gory or gruesome crimes, depravity, lust, sadism, masochism shall not be permitted.
  • All lurid, unsavory, gruesome illustrations shall be eliminated.
  • Inclusion of stories dealing with evil shall be used or shall be published only where the intent is to illustrate a moral issue and in no case shall evil be presented alluringly, nor so as to injure the sensibilities of the reader.
  • Scenes dealing with, or instruments associated with walking dead, torture, vampires and vampirism, ghouls, cannibalism, and werewolfism are prohibited.
  • Profanity, obscenity, smut, vulgarity, or words or symbols which have acquired undesirable meanings are forbidden.
  • Nudity in any form is prohibited, as is indecent or undue exposure.
  • Suggestive and salacious illustration or suggestive posture is unacceptable.
  • Females shall be drawn realistically without exaggeration of any physical qualities.
  • Seduction and rape shall never be shown or suggested.
For EC this meant completely changing its tune. They could keep printing as they had been, and they did try, but without the Comics Code seal their distribution dried up. This meant throwing out pretty much everything they were putting out at the time. When Gaines had the company shift from its popular horror and suspense tales to more educational comics including titles like Aces High, Valor and Piracy the resulting loss in sales was quick and catastrophic. The only EC title to survive was the humor book, Mad.

Pop culture's tastes began to shift. In Hollywood, the occasional Dracula, Wolfman, Mummy or Frankenstein flick still came out from time to time but they began to be overshadowed in popularity by new offbeat monsters like the Creature from the Black Lagoon and the giant radioactive ant film Them! - both from 1954, the same year as Wertham's book and the Senate committee hearings. The public's appetite gravitated towards sci-fi. Big screen horror gave way to great sci-fi movies like 1956's Forbidden Planet, while on radio the sci-fi series X Minus One adapted stories from popular sci-fi writers such as Arthur C. Clarke. Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein.

Two X Minus Ones stories: 'There Will Come Soft Rains,' involving an automated house, and then 'Zero Hour,' a terrifying tale that will forever make you think twice the next time a kid tells you they're playing a game. Very disturbing - and awesome! The first time I heard this 'Zero Hour' I was freaked right the Hell out!

So with the rest of the world going the sci-fi route and also gripped in the 'Space Race' between the United States and the Soviets, the comics followed. DC was still doing superheroes and Atlas (later Marvel) was doing a few superheroes (like the Sub-Mariner) as well as westerns and romance comics. Then, in 1963, Stan Lee & Jack Kirby stood the comics world on its head with Marvel's Fantastic Four #1, a book brought about by the success of DC's Justice League of America. At that point DC and Marvel went into superhero overdrive. And Marvel led the way, though DC got off to an early start.

In 1968 DC revamped its House of Mystery comic by bringing in former EC Comics artist Joe Orlando as the editor. A new horror host was introduced - Cain - who was followed later by his brother Abel over in the relaunched House of Secrets. DC followed up in 1969 with The Witching Hour. To fight for some of the resurgent suspense pie Marvel tried to counter with Tower of Shadows (Sept. 1969) and Chamber of Darkness (Dec. 1969). But those titles underperformed and within a year the two titles were reprinting previously published material from their Atlas Comics forerunner from magazines like Men's Adventures, Mystic, Astonishing Tales and Marvel Tales. They also published a comic titled Fear (which later changed to Adventure into Fear) which also began to resort to reprints but then gained a new comics star that debuted in Savage Tales #1. More on him - or it - in a wee bit. When DC ran reprints it did so from its own stable of back stories bought from Prize Comics, including stories from old 50's titles like Black Magic.

Marvel was still trying to find sure footing on the horror front while DC's successes proved the public's appetite was wanting to diversify, and it was starting to look back towards horror and suspense in a big way.

The House of Ideas began a new magazine line in 1971 - Curtis Magazines. These new books were in a black and white magazine format and did not carry the Comics Code seal on them. In fact, some even had nudity in their pages, though Marvel did have a 'M' for mature on the front cover.

Savage Tales #1, 1971. Note the rating box on the front cover.

One of the first Curtis Magazines was Savage Tales, featuring Robert E. Howard's legendary barbarian Conan. Prior to Curtis, Marvel had published two black and white Spectacular Spider-Man magazines in 1968 as a test run in answer to the growing popularity of the format, which was bringing success to Warren Publishing's Famous Monsters of Filmland, Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella in the late 60's and early 70's. In little time Curtis Magazines was publishing a ton of non-code black and white magazine comics - they even had a martial arts comic called Deadly Hands of Kung Fu. The Hulk also his own black and white book called The Rampaging Hulk. And in 1971, Savage Tales #1 struck gold. As did the main character from one of its back-up stories: the Man-Thing.

The Comics Code remained basically as it was until 1971. What caused the first cracks? Stan Lee and Spider-Man.

In 1971 the U.S. Dept. of Health, Education & Welfare (today known as the Dept. of Health & Human Services) asked Stan Lee if he'd consider doing a comic book about the dangers of drug abuse. Stan thought that was a great idea and since it was the Federal Government making the request he couldn't see the problem with telling a tale of Harry Osborn's descent into drug abuse in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man #96-98 (May through July of 1971). Astoundingly the Comics Code Authority disagreed and said the issues could not bear the seal. Marvel ran the issues anyway without the code and the code began to be amended. Among the amendments: the ban on vampires. And later, in October of the same year Marvel debuted the villain Morbius, the Living Vampire, in the same title - Amazing Spider-Man #101.

With the Code crumbling a little and with fans demanding more horror comics, Marvel was poised to create a lil' magic. Man-Thing had arrived (and had taken over Adventure into Fear as of #10) but even bigger things were in store. 1971 was the year of the Marvel Monsters. And Dracula was fast approaching on bat wings.

That's a good spot to leave off for now. Next we'll get into Werewolf by Night, Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, the Living Mummy and more - much much more!

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Boo, Marvel Fright Fans!

Just in time for the continuing countdown to Halloween in October, the Strange Scribe Dr. Strange blog is happy to open up a second blog for digging up Marvel Comics' legendary monster menagerie!

At the Strange Scribe you know me as George. And here I'm still me but on this side of the blogosphere I'll go by Marvel Monster. Mwahaha!

As tonight rolls on I'll be updating the fixing things up here, including throwing on a new playlist for this site.

I can already tell. You're dying to learn more about Marvel's Monsters, aren't you? Well, we will and we'll start in the early 1970's. All, Marvel comics in the early 1970's... Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, Man-Thing, Werewolf by Night, Simon Garth - the Zombie, the Living Mummy... oh and a lot of times they go after hippies! So it's double fun!

Alright, back to work putting up the cobwebs and hiding the bodies around here.

In the meantime, enjoy this YouTube Werewolf by Night offering matching one of those old storybook & record read-along adventures that someone edited together with moving panels. It actually turned out quite nice. I actually have a similar set for the Man-Thing. Which is freaky cause it's for kids and at one point a clown kills himself. Some people will kill for a laugh... even if it means they have to kill themselves! Mwahaha!

EDIT: Alright, I've fixed & flavored the sidebar links. I've also added a new content appropriate playlist on the sidebar as well called 'Monsters in my Longbox.' And with that I am off to start working on the Brother Voodoo background post over on Strange Scribe. Whew, it's gonna be a busy Tuesday!

More from me later! Ha-cha!

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