Nightmares Illustrated 001
This is the first of what I hope will be many columns written especially for Horror World covering comics and graphic novels. The focus is on comics with some horror or dark fantasy content and I will ramble on in four separate sections:
1. topics in the comics world I think are interesting (Always On My Mind)
2. current comics I have been reading (This Just In)
3. comics with swamp creatures (Swamp Report) — because I love swamp creatures, that’s why — and
4. quick recommendations on things to read that I don’t have time to review but that you should just trust me on and read anyway (Parting Shots).
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I. Always On My Mind…
I have mixed feelings about the giant cross-over events that both Marvel Comics and DC Comics give so much attention. It usually is interesting to see a single big event touch many different on-going comic series. For example, a few years ago Marvel ran the Civil War event. The event series itself consisted of only seven issues of the “Civil War” title. If you count up the official tie-ins and mini series connected to the Civil War event, more than two hundred individual comics are involved, counting the prologue Road to Civil War and epilogue The Initiative. That is about 4,000 pages of content with a purchase price of more than $600.00. As entertaining as all of this might be, reading the entire event is a huge commitment for a fan to make in terms of money and time. The vast majority of readers has to pick and choose. As a matter of fact, you don’t really miss much by skipping some of the ancillary titles because many of the tie-ins with existing comics aren’t tied very tightly. The question always is which ones to read and which ones to pass by.
Civil War is long gone so let’s consider a current event. DC is in the middle of a giant crossover event, Blackest Night. If you are a regular Green Lantern reader you know this event has been building for years. Before the eight-issue Blackest Night series began there were official “prologue” titles running in Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps comics for months. As the Blackest Night series itself began with a free issue (numbered zero) in June 2009, a number of mini-series could be seen on the horizon featuring Batman, Superman, Titans, Wonder Woman, The Flash, and JSA, plus tie-ins with existing comics like Superman/Batman, Booster Gold, Doom Patrol, and on and on. Makes your head spin.
In fact, it almost is enough to make you just skip the whole event altogether. Who needs the trouble of keeping track of where all the feelers go? The thing is, Blackest Night is a fantastic event. The main series, written by Geoff Johns, is exciting and important in Green Lantern continuity. Also, for horror fans, this is almost too good to be true — it is exceedingly gruesome, dark, and violent. The artists working on these books are at the top of their game. Everything about this speaks to horror and comics fans. Still, most people are not going to buy and read everything. After all, in November there were eleven tied-in comics and in December there are fourteen coming out. And we’re just at the halfway point. So which ones should you get?
I will talk more about the story and specific comics in Blackest Night in the coming months but for now I just want to offer a little advice on essential reading if you want to keep up with the story and see the best art. Naturally, you need to buy the main series itself. That’s not too bad as there are only eight issues (plus that free issue zero). After that, you will benefit greatly from reading both Green Lantern (starting with issue 39) and Green Lantern Corps (starting with issue 33) as far as the story goes. You also get to see some amazing artwork, especially in Green Lantern. For mini series that are particularly worth reading (so far) are Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and The Flash. After that, if you are not obsessively completive, then just read the minis and tie-ins of the characters and comics you already like. Yes, it is true you will miss something here and there, but all essential plot points will be presented (or repeated) in the main series and the two primary parallel Green Lantern titles.
In the past, say, ten years, the big two publishers have badly overloaded the market with crossovers, big, medium, and small. Some of them have been very good and some have misfired. Most have both good and bad points. If you approach them all with caution, reading reviews and press information before buying, you can avoid buying hundreds of dollars worth of regret. As for Blackest Night, you should run out and start reading now.
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II. This Just In…
North 40 (September 2009-February 2010) is a six issue mini-series of Lovecraftian wickedness. I am not a huge fan of this type of horror, but the spin on it kept me reading to the end. The story, written by Aaron Williams, is engaging and entertaining, building tension well as the series progressed. North 40 finds its greatest strength in the artwork of Fiona Staples which contrasts sharp, angular lines with gentle, pale coloring. The ending of the series suggests there will be another mini to follow, but that probably depends on sales of this one. Read the first two issues before deciding to continue. A cautious recommendation.
Victorian Undead (January 2010). In March 1854 in London a bright green light streaks through the sky. Any fan of zombie movies knows what’s coming next. Sure enough, a few months later the dead walk. Who can solve this perplexing mystery? In 1854? In London? Well, Sherlock Holmes, of course. There are a number of popular books lately recasting Victorian stories in blatant horror tropes (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, etc.). I can’t explain this, but I can embrace it, at least as far as Victorian Undead goes. I don’t know how long the comic will be able to sustain my interest, but I had a great deal of fun reading the first issue.
Terror, Inc.: Apocalypse Now. Mr. Terror suffers from a centuries-old curse of immortality of spirit but not body. Specifically, his body rots and needs to be replaced periodically. Mr. Terror accomplishes this feat in fits and starts, or, to put it more appropriately, bits and pieces. He rips off a rotting arm or leg or what have you and replaces it with a fresh one, usually from a recently deceased body. I find this situational twist to be original and fascinating. Mr. Terror makes his rent by doing a little private detective work from time to time. The new book, a Marvel Max title (read: explicit adult content) collects the four-issue mini-series Apocalypse Now. It is more of the same thing seen in earlier Terror, Inc. comics, but I like it anyway. If you have never seen Mr. Terror in action this is a good place to start.
Dead of Night Featuring Devil-Slayer. Another Marvel Max title, Dead of Night focuses on a particular character (Man-Thing, Werewolf By Night, and so on) for four issues or so, then moves on. The most notably aspect of the new Devil-Slayer entry is its writer, novelist Brian Keene. This is happening more and more, fiction writers writing comics. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. Keene does an all-right job of bringing the Punisher-like character of Devil-Slayer to the most recent Iraq war. The artwork is not in a style I like, looking to me flat and splotchy. Overall it is serviceable.
The Best of Vampirella Volume 3. I don’t know how it happened, but until recently I had never read a Vampirella comic. Poking around a bit I discovered I had missed hundreds of issues from dozens of series. That ugly question of what to actually read from everything that is available raises its ugly head again. Thankfully, Harris comics comes to the rescue. They are publishing and on-going series of Best of Vampirella books. The current volume collects Vampirella stories written by Grant Morrison and Mark Millar, most of which are very bloody and greatly over-sexed—a winning combination if there ever was one. The artwork is exceptional, both covers and interiors, and the stories themselves are memorable.
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III. Swamp Report…
My favorite comic of all time is Swamp Thing. I became enamored with it reading the reprint anthologies of Alan Moore’s highly regarded run from the 1980s. After that I tracked down and read them all, all four series. I even sought out the ancillary characters who had appearances in other comics, or comics of their own (for example, I have read 261 issues of Hellblazer so far because the main character, John Constantine, first appeared in Swamp Thing). It made a big impression on me, that swamp monster did. So now, given the opportunity, I want to share my obsession. In every column there will be a swamp report. Swamp Thing is no longer published, but it turns out there are many other swamp creatures to enjoy. This month there are two creature sightings.
Swamp Thing is a DC (and then Vertigo) character, but an oddly similar Marvel character called Man-thing predates Swampy. I’ll have a lot more to say about Man-thing in the coming months. For now it is enough to note it makes an appearance in Dark Reign: The List - Punisher (December 2009) with a continuing story in Punisher 11 (January 2010) and beyond. So far Man-thing hasn’t actually done much in the “Franken-Castle” storyline other than raise some havoc in a sewer, but there is always hope of a more prominent involvement in the coming issues.
In other swamp news, The Darkness goes to the bog in issues 80 (September 2009) and 81 (November 2009). The Darkness, by the way, is a very cool comic even without the trip to the swamp. It concerns the bearer of The Darkness (currently one Jackie Estacado), an “ancient power that allows its bearer to create constructs and summon otherworldly demons” (issue 80). The book is maturely written (Phil Hester) and beautifully illustrated (inks by Andre Parks). And now its in the bog. The creature, Bog, has many of the familiar characteristics of swamp creatures who have come before and at the same time offers a fresh look at the iconic mud and vegetable man. The Darkness gets a strong recommendation from me on its own merits with bonus points for the two-issue mini-arc, “The Bog.”
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IV. Parting Shots…
This section contains one- or two-sentence descriptions of comics and collections I think are very good but that I don’t have time to cover in the other sections.
Tomb of Dracula Omnibus Volume 2. Sure, $99.99 is a lot of money but this is a lot of book, clocking in at 816 pages in hardcover. This volume collects Tomb of Dracula 32-70, Giant-Size Dracula 5, and Dr. Strange 14 and is indispensible for fans of ToD.
Saga of the Swamp Thing Volume 2. This volume reprints the 1990 trade paperback in hardcover. If you read this column you know I am going to buy this no matter what but I hesitantly admit that if you already have the paperback and are not a ST fanatic you don’t need to buy this.
Hulk Planet Skaar. A collection of Son of Hulk issues 7-12 plus the one-shot Planet Skaar Prologue. I read everything Hulk and I have lately become quite impatient with the direction of the titles, but these issues of Son of Hulk are very good (although they are a light on horror content).
Wolverine Old Man Logan. Although I am one of the few comic book readers who does not particularly like the Wolverine character, the “Old Man Logan” arc is truly amazing.
House of Mystery Halloween Annual 1. This anthology comic is a lot of fun with a tie-in element appearing throughout the separate scenes. I hope it becomes a regular annual.
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V. Next time…
More on the on-going Blackest Night event, a discussion of digital comics, Vampirella comes again, Dark Reign The List gets longer, John Constantine goes to India, and much more.
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VI. Technical points…
If you have review material or suggestions you can contact me (after December 24, 2009) by clicking here.
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The publishers of the comics and books mentioned in this column are as follows.
Wolverine Old Man Logan, Hulk Planet Skaar, Tomb of Dracula Omnibus, Civil War, and Dark Reign: The List are published by Marvel Comics.
Dead of Night and Terror, Inc. are published by Marvel Max.
All Blackest Night titles, tie-ins, and minis are published by DC Comics.
House of Mystery, Hellblazer, and Saga of the Swamp Thing are published by Vertigo.
North 40 and Victorian Undead are published by Wildstorm.
The Darkness is published by Image/Top Cow.
The Best of Vampirella is published by Harris Comics.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters are published by Quirk Books.
Wayne Edwards has been quietly writing, editing, and publishing for the past three decades. He divides his time between Anchorage [Alaska], Burlington [Vermont], and Mysore [India].