High Five! Comics

Friends, I am amused! I was reading Adventure Comics #463 last night and noticed an Easter Egg in the midst of the JSA story. The adventure is called, “The Night of the Soul Thief”. Check it out:

Notice the lady’s shirt? “Hi! I’m Phyllis,” right there on the chest.

Who’s Phyllis? None of the credits help. Maybe somebody’s mother or girlfriend? I do love a good mystery. If any readers know about this Easter Egg I’d love to know.

Happy readings!

-Jonny

As a little kid, most of my favorite movies were either super-saccharine 90’s Disney flicks or the grisliest horror the 1980’s had to offer. Therefore, it is with great honor that I was able to secure a preview for BOOM! Studios’ Hellraiser #1, written by one of the masters of horror (and the series’ creator), Clive Barker.

While preparing for this review, I took the liberty of re-watching Hellraiser, Hellbound: Hellraiser II, Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth, and that totally insane video where Pinhead plays poker with Lemmy Kilmister. Then I tried watching Hellraiser: Bloodline. After being bored out of my skull after only a few minutes, I realized that without the guidance of Barker, this franchise seriously disinterested me.

Thank God he’s back in charge of the Cenobites. Barker’s twist on the happenings of the amoral servants of Hell remains as creepy and as imaginative as ever. Pinhead still goes on being extremely articulate and frighteningly intelligent, all the while manipulating those into helping him achieve his goals. Everything about the character will seem familiar to fans of the original film, which is welcome when compared to some of the downright goofy things he said in the later films (“Welcome to the worst nightmare of all… REALITY!”). The issue still explores the line between pain and pleasure prevalent in the films, with the first issue featuring both the most violent and sensual panels I’ve seen in a comic produced by BOOM! Both of these mental states are skillfully drawn by Leonardo Manco (Hellblazer, Hellstorm, every other comic that ever had the word “hell” in the title), which ultimately leads to one emotional and frightening comic.

My only real complaint (which might be my own fault) is that I’m a little confused as to where in continuity the story actually takes place. Pinhead appears to be flanked by the Female and the Chatterer, both of whom were killed in Hellbound: Hellraiser II and never seen again, yet a reference is made to Kirsty Cotton’s marriage in Hellraiser VI: Hellseeker. Perhaps somebody who has seen more of the later sequels can clear this up. Either way, enjoy the (totally for mature audiences) preview to Clive Barker’s Hellraiser #1.

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!

BOOM! Studios has given me permission to present to you a downloadable PDF for “At the Tolling of a Bell,” an original, self-contained eight-page Hellraiser story by Clive Barker and Leonardo Manco not slated for public release until the trade paperback collection in, like, forever from now! Basically, we’re giving you some free comic book goodness from an industry legend! Enjoy!

Click here for PDF of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser Prelude!

I haven’t written for High Five in some time now. To be fair I never contribute too heavily and a disruption is measured in months not weeks, but really I haven’t been writing because I haven’t kept up with new comics. Sure, I hit the shop every week and often pick up a book or two, but for the most part the modern world isn’t grabbing me right now.

They say that 1985 is the year comics grew up. Well, I was born in ‘82 which means comics grew up before I did. Mine was a generation that had a kick-ass X-Men cartoon on TV, Superman died when we were still in grammar school, and most of us didn’t realize until later that Wolverine’s hair isn’t actually so out of control.

Since comics matured before I could form memories, my taste in comics has always been “grown up”. Writers like Moore, Ellis, Azarello, and Willingham dominate my bookshelf and before 2010 would have been quickly rattled off in reply had you asked who my favorite comic writers were; which is why I’ve taken a break from all this intensity and have spent the last 6-9 months reading Gold, Silver, and Bronze Age comics almost exclusively.

I’ll be the first to admit that this stuff is incredibly campy and many of the stories don’t make a whole ton of sense, but when you get past the modern bias against silliness a whole world of innocent amazement opens to you. At SDCC 2010 Grant Morrison pointedly remarked, “We’ve already got the real world. Why do you want comics to be like that one?”  which sums up how I feel about comics right now. I ask you: what’s so great about “realistic” dialogue? Why should I read about characters going through intense emotional pain? Why not read about amazing people fighting fantastical fights as pure good battles pure evil with no grey areas to bog us down? Some of you will tell me I’m just unevolved, but seriously: isn’t there room for both? Does one really preclude the other?

Maybe I’m becoming cynical as I age, sinking into some horrid pessimism (or escapism), but I feel like the real world around me is pretty f***ed up most of the time and I’ve gotten tired of reading comics that depict a world equally f***ed up. Nobody is dying when I read Planet Comics, Len Wein could write Phantom Stranger stories that were mysterious without being disturbing, I read Jack Kirby without turning my stomach, and Walt Kelly is pure delight. I’m telling you guys, this is the magic that made comics great.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not knocking the modern creators. I just read Outlaw Nation with much enjoyment and I swear I’m gonna finish 100 Bullets one of these days, but for now and the foreseeable future the world before 1985 is captivating my attention and I feel like I could never leave.

Happy readings,

-Jonny

A charming curio from a time often better forgotten in both music and comics: The early 1990s.

I’m listening to Entombed’s “Wolverine Blues”, released in 1993 with an exclusive mini-comic starring everybody’s favorite Canucklehead.

Though sometimes noted by serious metal fans as less of a “true” death metal record than their previous records (remember, we’re talking about a genre with a disproportionately high percentage of “classic” first records), “Wolverine Blues” is nonetheless a standout and is frequently cited as one of the better and most enduring death metal albums of the 1990s.

That the album was not written or titled with comics’ most popular characters in mind was not  a concern of Earache records, which seized upon the coincidence as an opportunity to make some quick scratch. When the album was released in North America with an alternate (one might even say “variant”) cover, Earache and Marvel’s cross-promotional venture managed to cash-in yet again. Given comics fans’ willingness to buy seemingly ANYTHING in the early 90s, and record’s eventual stature as one of the all-time greats in the history of Swedish death metal, nobody on either side of the deal seems to mind that Earache and Marvel basically succeeded in turning Entombed into a late 20th century version of the Banana Splits.

The borderline “berserker” aspect of Logan’s character has been a tension explored ad-nauseum ever since Chris Claremont renewed focus on the character in the late 70s and early 80s, and it’s not like the anthropomorphizing of a notoriously dangerous Midwestern quadruped isn’t the most subtle of metaphors to begin with. But that level of juvenility has always been what made both Logan and death metal itself so appealing to early-teenaged boys, as well as a natural commercial pairing.

On the title track, LG Petrov growls out the lyrics like he’s the best he is at what he does, and what he does is pretty stupid: “Vicious mammal/the blood is my call/pound for pound/I am the most vicious of all!”

Meanwhile, in the accompanying comic entitled “Just Don’t Look in its Eyes” (written by Ann Nocenti, art by John Bolton, originally printed as a back-up story in September 1988’s Classic X-Men #25), Logan continues his illustrious history of straight-murdering a grizzly bear out in the snow, spending between three and five panels feeling bad about it, and then proceeding to straight-murder the jerk who made him kill an innocent beast. Good times.

And even if it’s not, strictly speaking, the most over-the-top brutal offering Scandinavia might have offered, the death n’ roll on “Wolverine Blues” still makes for an appropriately nauseating soundtrack to enjoying comics’ most popular (and often silliest) psychopath.

BONUS! Despite the band not wanting the album to have anything to actually do with the Marvel character, Earache still managed to get them to do an entire music video with Wolverine all over it. Warning: it’s pretty terrible (so much so, it was featured on an episode of “Beavis and Butt-head” and largely ignored by the duo).

In 1977, Marvel came up with a pretty fantastical (and most likely drug-induced) idea. Comic books are always talking about their multiverses, where somebody at some point did something drastically different and changed that universe’s reality forever. Essentially, the writers wanted to nerd out and ask the big, cringe-worthy-fan-fiction-inducing question: “What if?”

With Uatu the Watcher playing narrator, the writers told tales of what might have been which, considering the breadth of what could be asked with this concept, had a tone that ranged anywhere from goddamn ridiculous to downright grim. Even so, it seems like a huge chunk of issues were dedicated to what would happen if Character X had/had not killed Character Y. Over the years there have been  two regular volumes (followed by many, many series of one-shots, most being event tie-ins), a parody series titled What the–?!, and (although they’d probably deny it outright) inspired the DC Comics Elseworlds imprint.

Considering the almost 200 issues of the series, most of which are pretty terrible (I think there’s a reason nobody who wrote any of the 90’s What If? issues were ever heard from again), it’s hard to figure out what’s actually decent. Man, good thing you got me here to force my opinion on you. TOP FIVE TIME, Y’ALL.

7. What If? Vol 1 #10 (…Jane Foster Had Found the Hammer of Thor?) – Originally, in Journey Into Mystery #83 Donald Blake went on vacation to Norway by himself. Here, he instead takes Jane Foster and she’s with him when he gets attacked by those weird aliens from Saturn. She beats him to finding Mjolnir and transforms into Thordis (which, considering that who Donald Blake is has no bearing on who Thor is, makes no sense). She goes around fighting Loki and more aliens in typical Thor fashion. While Thordis is off creating the Avengers, Blake saves the drowning Sif and falls in love with her. Odin realizes that this is all wrong and gives Mjolnir it to Donald, turning him into Thor. And then this gets all daytime soap opera on us. Poor Jane is now crazy-bummed, losing both the powers of Mjolnir and the man she loves to the Asgardians. Odin decides to fix this by granting Jane goddess status and marrying her, making Jane Foster the stepmother to the man she used to love (seriously, that’s like Lois Lane ending up boning Pa Kent). Yeah, gross.

6. What If? Vol 1 #13 (…Conan the Barbarian Walked the Earth Today?) – Okay, I’ll admit that the only stuff I know about Robert E. Howard’s Conan franchise I learned from that movie where he punches a camel in the face (in other words, I don’t know jack shit). There are three things that make this issue of What If? great to me. First, Roy Thomas and John Buscema, the regular writer and artist on the more mature Savage Sword of Conan title, handle this issue. Second, everybody in the present either mistakes Conan for Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger (a full four years before the movie, mind you). And lastly, Conan spends his one day in the present beating the shit out of a lady cab driver’s car with his sword, immediately going back to her apartment and fucking her, and foiling an art heist at the Guggenheim. That’s one hell of a day, Conan.

5. What If? Vol 2 #24 (…Wolverine Was Lord of the Vampires?) – Most of the second volume of What If? is just so terribly, terribly 90’s. Every issue seems to either deal with Wolverine or the Punisher and, well, this issue is pretty much about both of ’em. During the fight with Count Dracula from Uncanny X-Men #159, Dracula ends up biting Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Storm, and Colossus who go out and start turning all of the heroes and villains into vampires. Realizing that Doctor Strange is the only one who has the power to stop his horde, Wolverine sets out to kill him and succeeds. Apparently death doesn’t really stall Strange, whose spirit launches Plan B: possessing Frank Castle, giving him the Eye of Agamotto and Cloak of Levitation, and going crazy with garlic grenades and a Super Soaker full of Holy Water. To top off the ridiculousness, this issue got it’s own What If? treatment 13 issues later in the story “…Wolverine Was Lord of the Vampires During Inferno?”

4. What If? Vol 1 #26 (…Captain America Had Been Elected President?) – In Captain America #250, the New Populist Party offered Cap the chance to run for president as a third party candidate and he declined. But what if he’d have run against Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election and won?  After Cap reveals his secret identity to the world, President Rogers spearheads a massive movement to replace America’s dependency on foreign oil with solar power. He then supplies solar powered weapons to the some revolutionaries in the South American country of San Pedro, hoping to free them from some oppression or whatever. After accepting an invitation by the revolutionaries, it is revealed that their leader is actually Red Skull, who has hacked into the solar energy collecting satellites and turned them into giant laser beams. Cap manages to smash the Red Skull’s controls causing the laser beams to blow them both to bits. Okay, yeah, Captain America’s dead, but look on the bright side! In this reality there was never a President Reagan!

3. What If Jessica Jones Had Joined the Avengers? #1 – Now, this one is just terribly depressing. With Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos, the men behind ALIAS, handling this issue you know it’s gonna be good. Following her horrific eight months as a slave to the Purple Man, Jessica Jones is asked to join the Avengers, to which she agrees. Rather than working for The Daily Bugle and having a child out of wedlock with Luke Cage, Jessica winds up marrying Captain America and bringing Wanda’s mental breakdown to light before House of M can ever happen. However, what really makes this story great is that instead of being narrated by Uatu, those duties are given to Bendis himself, drawn conversing with a random patron at a diner in New York City while a forlorn looking Jessica Jones dines behind them.

2. What If? Vol 1 #14 (…Sgt. Fury Fought World War Two in Outer Space?) – In this dimension, it turns out that Leonardo DaVinci’s flying machine actually worked and, therefore, humans were waaay more advanced in the field of flight by the time 1941 rolled around. December 7, 1941, Space Station Pearl is attacked by a bunch of kamikaze lizard men. Later on, Nick Fury and Dum Dum Dugan host a conference in the Space Station Midway where it turns out that Baron Strucker has been the admiral of the fleet of space stations the whole time, trying to promote Space Nazism while working with the lizard men. It’s cool though, because Sgt. Fury gets rid of Strucker the same way every badguy in any fight on a spaceship has died: getting flushed out of an airlock. The best part of the story has to be the tagline on the cover: “First Star Wars— Then Battlestar Galactica— And now!!!”

1. What If? Vol 1 #11 (…The Original Marvel Bullpen Had Become the Fantastic Four?) – This is by far one of the goofiest issues of any comic I’ve ever seen, made even stranger considering it was written and drawn by Jack Kirby. A mysterious box shows up at the door of Marvel HQ and is opened by Stan Lee, believing it to be a box of cigars. Instead, it’s a small gamma bomb that douses the whole of the staff with radiation, giving Stan super-stretchy powers, Kirby the rocky skin of the Thing, Sol Brodsky the ability to control fire and fly, and Flo Steinberg (at the time Stan Lee’s secretary, later publisher of Big Apple Comix) the powers of invisiblity. After finding another of the boxes, the foursome meets Namor and discover that the boxes were planted by the Skrulls who plan to take over the world from their new undersea base. Kirby and Namor punch a hole in the base’s hull, defeat the Skrulls, and THE END. So, I guess the big question is how the hell did Jack Kirby draw this with those new big, orange sausage-fingers of his?

One of my New Year’s Resolutions this year was to buy a comic every Wednesday that I know nothing about. Considering how much I enjoyed last week’s Who Is Jake Ellis?, this has actually been a pretty good plan. On this week’s Wednesday pilgrimage, I came across Infinite Vacation by Nick Spencer, a guy whose previous efforts (Forgetless, Morning Glories) have been pretty great and is slated to have some pretty big superhero titles coming up (taking over Supergirl, Iron Man 2.0). So what the hell is this Infinite Vacation thing?

The concept of a multiverse in comics is nothing new, but what about capitalizing on it? A company has created a smart phone application which taps into a parallel dimension and allows a person to buy their way in to another version of themselves (or, if they don’t wanna do that, hang out with them). With every decision made by the user, no matter how mundane, they can go in and see exactly what would have happened if they’d done something else. And Mark has kinda become addicted to the whole thing. Averaging about 10 changes per day, Mark is clearly not happy with himself (himselves? Is that a word?). To make matters worse, his parallel selves start to die at an alarming rate (and before you ask, yes, they point out that if there’s an infinite number or yous, you’re always dying somewhere). Also, he’s suddenly fallen head over heels for a Deadener, a person who finds it morally repugnant to jump into another universe’s you.

Nick Spencer’s writing here is damn good, and only a tad bit confusing (but what story involving hopping universes isn’t?). For a book starring an infinite number of the same dude, it’s a cinch to figure out which Mark you’re rooting for. Plus, he does a great job of making sure that any skeptical questions are answered immediately by Mark’s narration, giving the reader no room to go, “Wait a minute, that doesn’t make sense.” While not being particularly fast-paced, he whole issue had me engaged (with the exception of a four-page live-action parody which only lost me because it was missing Cameron Ward’s fantastic art).

Speaking of Ward, where the hell has this guy been? With a style this similar to Alex Maleev’s, you’d think this guy would be everywhere. All I can find is that he lives in London and took part in the Totoro Forest Project. His art in Infinite Vacation is fucking beautiful to look at, though. There are a pair of two-page spreads throughout the book that I spent way too long staring at (and I normally hate two-page spreads). Here’s hoping we see more from Ward, and soon. [Edit: Upon doing, like, a minute’s more research, I discovered he had another Image series called Olympus. I’m a dumbass.]

Anyways, this book is definitely worth picking up. Hell, I’d even go so far as saying it’s the best single issue out this week. I eagerly await picking up the rest of this five-issue miniseries.

So, we all know how much I love the old Silver Age Fantastic Four books (or, well, anything Silver Age, really). It’s no surprise, then, that I got ridiculously excited when I discovered that in the mid-70s there was a short lived radio serial based on several of the Lee/Kirby issues of Fantastic Four.

The brainchild of Ann Robinson (yes, the same one who wrote that Spider-Man/Planned Parenthood PSA comic) and Richard Clorfene and Peter B. Lewis, a couple of New York City radio DJs,the Fantastic Four Radio Show came about after the two DJs realized that a Silver Surfer radio show would kinda suck. Ann talked to Stan Lee and got the rights to about a dozen characters while Lewis turned 13 issues of comics into 600+ pages of script (most of which copied the dialogue from the comic verbatim).

He managed to get Stan Lee to do all of the narrating for the series and got together a team of voice actors for the series including Bob Maxwell as Reed Richards, Cynthia Adler as Sue Storm, Jim Pappas as Ben Grimm, and Bill Murray as Johnny Storm (which is goddamn surreal to listen to). Unfortunately, Lewis decided to cancel the series after the thirteenth episode was produced, citing the fact that the only funding they got was $25,000 from Ann’s husband’s production company (and that Marvel had kinda stopped answering his phone calls).

Although never commercially released, bootleg copies of Fantastic Four Radio Show are out there. What the hel, I’ll save you a couple eBay bucks and just upload the damn thing for you. Enjoy!

1. “Fantastic Four Meets the Moleman” (Fantastic Four #1)

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2. “Menace of the Miracle Man”(Fantastic Four #3)

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3.”Coming of the Submariner” (Fantastic Four #4)

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4. “Fantastic Four Meet Doctor Doom” (Fantastic Four #5)

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5. “Prisoners of the Puppet-Master” (Fantastic Four #8)

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6. “Fantastic Four Meet the Incredible Hulk” (Fantastic Four #13)

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7. “Spell of the Hate Monger” (Fantastic Four #21)

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8. “Return of Doctor Doom” (Fantastic Four #16)

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9. “Fantastic Four in the Clutches of Doctor Doom” (Fantastic Four #17)

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10. “A Super-Skrull Walks Among Us” (Fantastic Four #18)

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11. “At the Mercy of Rama-Tut” (Fantastic Four #19)

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12. “The Menace of the Red Ghost” (Fantastic Four #13)

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13. “The Submariner Strikes” (Fantastic Four #14)

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