Sunday, March 31, 2013

An "Unexpected" Easter


This December I did an entire history of evil Santa’s in comics and popular culture, so today here’s a look at an evil…Easter Bunny??? Yeah, it’s short, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and kills some of it’s own impact by making the Bunny creepy even before we see his true form, but you know what? This may actually be the single most famous horror comics story of all time, even though it was published by DC (whose horror output was notoriously lackluster, great art aside) in an era when anthology horror comics were on their way out. I’m serious, I’ve heard people who don’t read horror comics, or even comics in general, or who were even alive when this story was published, who are familiar with it. It regularly gets mentioned on comic forums about comics that traumatized people when they were kids, it tops lists of horror comics stories, and back before it became a PC hellhole, Scans_Daily practically made a meme of this story by posting panels out of context. I’m probably not even the first blogger to post it. I’m also honestly surprised this story has never been inducted into the DCU or made into a short film or TV episode (Hey, “My Ghostwriter: The Vampire”, another Unexpected story got adapted for TV!).
 Also, true story; I once worked as an office temp, and during a blackout, me and some co-workers talked about things that scared us as kids to pass the time, and this one guy, a huge gruff non-nonsense guy who didn’t seem like one to read comics (or anything in general to be honest) brought it up and said it made him scared for years of the Easter Bunny. Let me mention that this was when I was going through a sort of anti-comics phase and had never mentioned them myself all the time I had worked there, so hearing the guy’s story out of the blue like that really got to me. It reminded me of the power comics can have and eased me back into them.
 So yeah, this story, in a way, is responsible for me getting back into comics, and for this blog even existing. How can I not post it?
 So, from Unexpected #202, here’s “Hoppin’ Down the Bunny Trail”. Written by none other than future Batman film producer Michael Uslan! All © DC. Oh, and…Happy Easter!

Vas ist das? Dis comic book is clearly racial segregationist propaganda! Look at how ze white rabbit is persecuting zese children covered in chocolate! Clearly zis story is trying to teach white children to discriminate against African Americans! I must alert mein goot friend Martin Luther King of zis trash!
 ~3 hours later~
…and so zen de story ends. Vat do you think?
 ...........Fred, have you been hitting the bong again?
 No! I—I---Ja.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Crazy like A Fox: Gardner Fox's goofiest moments

Oh, Gardner Fox. I think I’ve reviewed/posted more comics by him than any other writer. Thus, I thought I’d look at some of the most prolific writer in comics history’s oddest, silliest and creatively questionable moments.
 7) Fiddler picks up good vibrations:
 In the famous Crisis on Earth-One story from Justice League #21, 1940’s villains Icicle, Wizard and Fiddler arrive on Earth One and team up with Felix Faust, Doctor Alchemy and Chronos. How did they get there? Well see, during a prison break, Fiddler decided to twang one of the strings on his violin and…
 Take note of the “Special string I made” line. That means this wasn’t his usual magic violin, this was something he either made himself (In prison!) or that it was an ordinary violin, and he managed to transcend time and space just by playing the shit out of it. This means that either 1940’s jails had the most cutting edge technology available in their workshops, or that a whole lot of kids in band class attempting Ave Maria on their violins suddenly found themselves in for a big surprise when they hit the C note…
6) Time Travel can do anything:
 In Justice League #37, Johnny Thunder’s magic thunderbolt falls into the hands of his evil Earth One counterpart, who uses it for crime. Nothing wrong with that premise, but then Evil!Johnny gets it into his head to have the thunderbolt take some of his henchmen into the past to the point where each of the Justice League members gained their superpowers, so that the henchmen will receive their powers instead. Sounds like a good plan! Look at how well it works for two thugs who gain the powers of Flash and The Atom.
 Of course, this is the part where the scheme has to stop of course, because after all, Barry Allen and Ray Palmer were ordinary people who gained their superpowers in accidents that could have transformed anyone had they been in the right place at the right time, so surely there’s no way that travelling back in time could turn the thugs into Superman or Martian Manhunter, who were born with their powers on distant planets, or Batman, who has no powers and had no single point where he “became’ Batman…
 Yes, surely there’s no way, right?
 Well, apparently there is, but we never find out about it. Why? Because Gardner Fox, that’s why:
 And the funniest thing? It’s not like Fox was unfamiliar with these character’s origins or powers, in fact, those origins are shown to us earlier in the story, in detail so accurate that entire panels were copied from the original stories! It even becomes a bragging point in the editor’s note!
 Also, although she appears at the JLA HQ at the conclusion of this storyline, Wonder Woman (wisely) sat the entirety of this story out. Thank God, imagine what it would be like if one of the thugs was somehow transformed into her! The thought of one of those hardboiled, unshaven mooks walking around in her costume is a mental image I don't need.
5) And the 1961 award for Most Gullible Son Of A Bitch Ever goes to…
 In Brave and The Bold #34 (first appearance of the Silver Age Hawks) intergalactic space police Katar Hol & Shayera decide they need to make contact with one of Earth’s law officials, and arrive at the home of Midway City’s police commissioner George Emmett. Naturally, he finds the sight of two people dressed like Hawks odd.
 Ooh, seems like Emmett’s a tough man! I wonder what our heroes will have to do to convince him that they’re aliens….
 Not much apparently.
 Who wants to bet this guy believed it when the papers said “Dewey defeats Truman”? Also, trust me; we’re not finished with Hawkman yet.
4) Collateral damage? Isn’t that what you get if you don’t eat enough cheerios?
 In Flash Comics #9, a race of deep-sea creatures called Kogats (Creatures that resemble cavemen and satyrs instead of anything approximating ocean life) begin coming ashore and abducting people. Hawkman foils their scheme with the help of Poseidon, who among other things, imparts our hero with the ability to breathe underwater (Now there’s an ability that I bet you didn’t know the Golden Age Hawkman had!). It’s a fairly straightforward action story until Poseidon tells Hawkman that the best way to defeat the Kogats is to smash a pillar over which their kingdom is built:
 It works.
 Except then, we get this disturbing little tidbit:
3) Breaking and Entering For The Win!
 In the very next issue after his little Kogat debacle, Hawkman, in his Carter Hall identity, tries to buy an old Spanish blunderbuss at an auction, but one guy outbids him.
 Well, normally when you get outbid for something, you just say “Oh well” and decide to look for some other way of acquiring what you want. In the pre-internet days, it must have been tougher if you wanted a rare item, but I don’t think anyone would resort to this.
 ‘yep. Carter breaks into the guy’s house, and prepares to do so by getting out a knife that belonged to the Borgias:
 Of course, the guy who outbid Carter turns out to be a criminal who wanted the gun because it contained a treasure map wadded up inside, but think just for a moment what would have happened if this guy just happened to be an ordinary (if zealous) antique collector, and walking in on Hawkman, and understandably being shocked by the sight of a half-naked masked man stealing his stuff, had tried to shoot him, only to end up on the receiving end of that knife…
  Since I think everyone can agree that all of this alien/reincarnation bullshit has done Hawkman more harm than good over the years, I really wish that someone would return to this original characterization of him as a snotty, self-absorbed, collateral damage-causing rich asshole. They could make him a Jersey Shore-type and….actually forget everything I just said. Horrible idea. Horrible idea.
2) Grundy becomes the Pied-Piper of Wood:
 Part of me didn’t want to include this one because of the nostalgia factor Showcase #55 has for me, but there’s no denying both how goofy and downright surreal this moment is:
 There’s a joke here, but nothing comes to mind. A big ugly undead swamp monster being followed around by radioactive wood, with no explanation to tie it into Grundy being partially made of plant matter/wood (Though I don’t think the Comics Code would have allowed mention of that). It just doesn’t get any sillier for Grundy than this.
 Heh. Actually, it does:
 Fox may be the single writer most responsible for turning Grundy from a fearsome monster into a comedic figure, sort of a villainous version of Steve Gerber’s Hulk. It would take Infinity Inc. and Starman to restore the character’s dignity and give him lots of intentionally funny moments.
1) The craziest take on Wesley Dodds ever.
 Justice League #46-47 are among my very favorite Silver Age DC issues, namely because the two-parter within remains the most batshit insane JLA story I’ve ever read. I can’t even summarize it, honestly. It’s just that crazy. Gardner Fox’s attempt to imitate Stan Lee’s “hip” lingo is compellingly awful enough in of itself, but Mike Sekowsky’s embarrassing attempts at surrealism, the number of times the premise of the storyline completely and utterly changes itself, the increasing desire with which the reader wants to see Atom-supporting character Enrichetta Negrini punched in the face, and of course, Blockbuster and Grundy’s hug fest at the end, all combine to create perhaps the oddest storyline in a “team” book of the entire decade; rivaling even Doom Patrol and Metal Men (which were both supposed to be weird).
 But the one thing that sticks out the most to me in this sea of lunacy is how The Sandman is portrayed. As I noted, even in the original 1940’s stories (Which were also by Fox) everything was inconsistent, but despite the number of radically different takes on Wesley Dodds that would appear in the 40’s, none of them were quite like this.
 Remember how Dodds would leave specks of sand as his calling card? Now, he actually goes around spraying sand at people (or just throwing it), with nary a mention of his sleeping gas! But that in itself is not as crazy as what he does once the sand hits the air:
 Yes, he carries around a flame-thrower so hot, that the heat turns the sand he throws (in mid-air) into glass.
  He can even create entire barriers and create cement blocks out of it:
 Morpheus of The Endless and Flint Marko will always be the most well-known Sandmen in comics, but it’s safe to say none of them have ever done anything quite as crazy as this.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Very Jack Kirby St. Patrick's Day

   Well, well, well me fine buckos, it sure ‘tis a fine day to make a post after being absent from the blogging world since Valentine’s Day. The luck of the Irish must be with me, I reckon. Golly bejabbers and---Fuck it I can’t do this accent stuff. I’m just not in the mood.
 But what I’m always in the mood for is some Jack Kirby! And today being St. Patrick’s Day, I thought it would be fun to look at two Jack Kirby stories revolving around the wee folk. You know; the gentry, the fair folk, the kobolds, the Lucky Charms mascots: Leprechauns! They may not be the best stories Kirby ever gave us, but these two stories definitely are a step up from the last time I spotlighted a character inspired by Irish folklore!
 In the 18th issue of Simon & Kirby’s much-loved horror series Black Magic, readers were given a look at Leprechauns far afield from their usual depiction as fun-loving and helpful. Although it features one of the poorest lead in-captions I’ve ever seen, the Lep featured herein certainly lives up to the story’s title!
 Gotta love the weird characterizations of the hobo’s, and those are some pretty nasty fates that befall them for a comic that was considered tame enough to survive the code! Still, it’s really not too different from actual folklore about leprechauns, who could be scary little fuckers if something made them mad. I wonder why no one’s ever made a horror movie about a leprechaun? I think it could work fairly effectively if done well and wouldn’t come off as ridiculous and….
[And yet, I'm going to watch all those films tonight, even the "Hood" ones]
 The next Kirby story featuring leprechauns wasn’t quite as dark (Naturally, for it came out after the Code), then again, it does boast what is easily the creepiest splash page Kirby ever drew:
 Quite different from the various goofy Gooms and Monsteroso’s and other Muppet/Ray Harryhausen rejects Kirby was drawing for Marvel around this time, eh? The story itself is definitely more reminiscent of EC than anything else Marvel was doing.
 I also must pause at the bitter irony of how it’s taken me this long to bring up a story called “Quicksand” on a blog called “Out of the Quicksand”.
 Anyway, this story (from Tales to Astonish #32) featured two brothers who lived alone on a foggy English moor; the kindly, blind Geoffrey, and scheming, evil Edmund. Edmund decided to dispose of the trusting Geoffrey by tricking him into walking into a bog, so that he could inherit the estate:

 Pretty creepy build-up! Then things take a more fanciful turn:
 Well you can’t say he didn’t have it coming!
 While not one of Kirby’s more prominent obsessions, I still thought this look at Kirby’s two ventures into the realm of Irish folklore would be worth looking at, since the two stories feature two radically different depictions of the same creature, and the Code-approved story has the distinction of actually featuring the creepier artwork of the two! I may rag on some of Kirby’s fans, but never let it be said I rag on the man himself (Unless of course one of Kirby’s fan-nutters out there starts claiming that Kirby was the true creator of Daredevil and that the blind character Geoffrey was a prototype…).
 Kirby did draw a leprechaun one last time, although it would only be for a cover:
 It may be just a cover, but you gotta admit that’s one crazy image!
 Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some Guinness to go vomit out now…