Ambitious Halloween Reading List: Creepy Archives Vol. 1

creepy volume 1 Back when I was still at ToyFare, I got a pretty epic box of books including the first two volumes of Dark Horse’s Creepy Archives reprints. I’m a bit embarrassed to say that they’ve been sitting in my closet pretty much ever since. I might have pulled volume one out a few times, but never really dove in properly until this year. Not only was I excited to get into these stories as part of the Ambitious Halloween Reading List, but I was also able to make some money off of it by working on a fun list over at Topless Robot called The 10 Best Stores from the Early Days of Creepy.

I talked about some of the history over there, but basically, back in the mid 60s Warren Publishing figuratively picked up the mantle of EC Comics and rekindled quality horror anthology comics with books like Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella. Many of the old school EC guys came over and did art while most of the stories in this volume were written by editor Archie Goodwin. After reading a few EC collections, I wasn’t quite sure what to think of Creepy, but I’m glad to say I had a wonderful time reading these stories.

The big problem I had with the Tales From The Crypt and Weird Science books I’ve read is that, while the art is often amazing, the stories are hokey, boring or built in such a way that the twist ending is just so obvious it’s not even entertaining. I was worried that the Creepy tales would be along those lines and was delighted to find that that wasn’t the case.

ambitious halloween reading list 2013In fact, this book had some incredibly unique stories that I’ve never seen anywhere else which is really saying something. In that regard, these stories reminded me of The Twilight Zone because there was such a variety of stories being told, which is all the more impressive when you think that one guy was writing most of them.

But, the real eye-opening aspect of this book was introducing me to some classic comic book artists that I’m not very familiar with. Classic guys like Al Williamson, Jack Davis, Angelo Torres and Joe Orlando came in ready to rock as did Frank Frazetta whose gnarly style fits perfectly with those vets (not that he was any rookie by this point, but you get my meaning). The one artist that really blew me away, though, was Gray Morrow. His work has such depth and quality to it that you almost wonder if these were more modern stories slid into these others from the mid 60s. I’m so intrigued by him that I want to check out books like Orion and Space: 1999, which both happen to be on my Amazon Wish List if anyone wants to get me a little something.

Anyway, as you can tell, I’m pretty darn far away from reviewing these supposedly Halloween-themed books in a timely fashion, but I’m enjoying this mix of books still and will continue on until I find myself distracted by something else. I’m partway through the Wally Wood book and about a third of the way through The Fall right now, so maybe I’ll actually finish this one out before the end of the year (but probably not).

The First Ambitious Halloween Reading List

ambitious halloween reading list 2013I knew I hadn’t been doing very well on the most recent Ambitious Reading List, but then I checked the blog and realized I started it back in November of last year and have only since read three and a half of the books. So, with Halloween in the offing, I figured it was about time to toss that one aside and start a brand new one, this time with more of a focus.

So, I now have nine books that I’m trying to read this month. It probably won’t happen because I’m a damn slow reader, but why not give it a shot, right? Here’s the basic rundown.

The Listeners by Christopher Pike. I was a huge fan of Pike’s young adult books as a kid and figured I’d give one of his adult titles a read. I actually stumbled upon this used book store purchase while looking for the next book in the pile, but it felt appropriate to check out this month.

Interview With A Vampire by Anne Rice. This is one of two re-reads on the pile this time around. I can’t remember the first time I read this book, probably late grade school or high school, but I’m curious to get back to it and then give the adaptation another watch.

The Shining by Stephen King. You might not be able to see my Kindle on the pile, but I assure you it’s there. I read this book in high school then lent it to a guy I worked with at the bagel shop when I was 16. He got fired and I never saw him again. So, it’s been quite a while since I’ve given it a read. I will follow this one up by watching all of Kubrick’s film version FOR THE FIRST TIME! By the way, it’s only $4 for Kindle right now!

Vicious Circle by Mike Carey. This is the second Felix Castor novel from Carey. I used to interview him all the time for Wizard and really enjoyed the first installment The Devil You Know. The book explores a world where everyone knows ghosts exist and have to deal with them on a regular basis.

The Fall by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. Since reading The Strain, I’ve actually been able to get my hands on the other two books in the series at Barnes & Noble for less than cover price of one book! I’m really curious to see where this story goes and hope to read all three installments before the TV show premieres.

The Dead Boy Detectives by Ed Brubaker and Bryan Talbot. I read this Sandman spinoff series once before and am a big fan of Brubaker’s. While looking at my trade shelf, it seemed like a good fit for the theme.

Eerie Crime & Horror by Wally Wood. I fell in love with Wally Wood’s artwork after reading Weird Science Volume 2 and have been on the hunt for more of his work since then. I picked this book up earlier this year and figured now’s as good a time as any to finally read it (or possibly just scan it for the pretty pictures depending on how good the writing is).

Creepy Archives Volume 1. Featuring stories by some of the greatest artists in the comics business, I’ve been sitting on this book for years. It’s about darn time I finally sit down and have some fun with it.

Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History Of Friday The 13th by Peter M. Bracke. No kidding, I have a whole shelf filled with coffee table books I’ve never read. This oral history of one of the all-time greatest slasher franchises is one of them and seemed like a good non-fiction entry in the list.

Alright gang, so here goes. Hopefully this stack o’ books will get read more efficiently than the other. I’m already working on two of them right now, so I’m thinking it won’t be too long before the first review goes up.

X-Men Trade Post: Rise & Fall Of The Shi’Ar Empire & Supernovas

Uncanny X-Men-The-Rise-and-Fall-of-the-Shiar-Empire Uncanny X-Men: Rise And Fall Of The Shi’Ar Empire (Marvel)
Written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Billy Tan & Clayton Henry
Uncanny X-Men #475-486

Several years ago I started writing a pretty lengthy post about my brief time as a big-time X-Men fan. I never finished it, but am incorporating some of the ideas into this Trade Post. I loved the 90s cartoon, but that only ever read into me picking up the Fatal Attractions trade as one of the first collections I ever purchased. I also tried getting into the X-world around the time that Grant Morrison took over, but funds grew limited as did my attention span so that went out the window. Then I got a job at Wizard in the research department and wound up covering the X-Men beat for about a year. This might have stemmed from the fact that I’d interviewed Mike Carey for Newsarama about his impending Vampirella take-over between my Wizard internship and actually working at the mag. Anyway, I was the go-to guy talking to Carey about X-Men, the editors and lots of other folks. When you cover things like this extensively you feel the need to keep up on the books because, one, you will probably have to cover them again in the next few months and two,  you’re curious to see how it turned out.

At this point which was after the mutant-limiting 198 even with Scarlet Witch, Ed Brubaker — who I dug as the writer on Captain America — took over Uncanny X-Men and Mike Carey was doing X-Men. I’ll get into some of the ancillary titles I also really enjoyed like Cable/Deadpool and New X-Men when I can get my hands on more of those trades, but I figured it’d be fun to go back and read the first years’ worth of both these books, starting with Bru’s Rise And Fall Of The Shi’Ar Empire story. This was one that a lot of people I knew weren’t that into and, if memory serves, it did feel kind of slow when coming out in single issues — this is a pretty epic story spanning 12 issues — but when you read it all together it has that concise nature that I love in his writing.

This story spins directly out of Brubaker’s Deadly Genesis miniseries which revealed that Professor X sent a brand new team of mutants to try and save the original X-Men before he put together the international group made famous in Giant Sized X-Men #1. Most of them died, but two — the third Summers brother now called Vulcan and a super adapter named Darwin — survived. Vulcan flew off into space to get revenge on the Shi’Ar who killed his mother and enslaved him. This prompts Prof. X — who’s not having a great time as all his dark secrets are finding the light of day — to put a team together and go after his one time student. Said group includes Havok, Polaris, Nightcrawler, Darwin, Rachel Summers and Warpath (who I did a fun Wizard Insider on and actually got really excited about as a different take on the Wolverine idea). They head into space, but the trip winds up taking a long time because Vulcan is destroying all the jump gates and winds up actually falling for Deathbird and becoming part of the Shi’Ar royal family.

There’s a lot more going on in the book, which also introduces Korvus, a Shi’Ar citizen locked up because his family line was touched by the Phoenix force long ago and a portion resides in a gigantic, anime-style sword that only he can heft. Oh, plus Skrulls, the Imperial Guard and the Starjammers all play important parts. There’s so much going on that the book actually feels like a really solid TV season with a few departures — every three or four issues Vulcan takes the spotlight in issues drawn by Clayton Henry to give regular artist Billy Tan a bit of a breather.

Not being the biggest X-fan in the world, I must say that I felt it was pretty easy to slide right into this story. I put X-Men up there with the Legion of Super-Heroes when it comes to figuring out how characters related to one another, so it can be daunting wading into a story like this, but Brubaker handles these ancient relationships in such a way that he gives you enough information to understand what’s happening without getting deep into continuity porn. I know very little about, say, the Havok/Polaris relationship or Rachel Summers’ backstory, but I was never confused by the elements being presented to me in this story.

I really enjoyed this trade and a big part of that is the big, bold artwork by Billy Tan. Henry does some fun fill-in issues, but there’s a clear difference in style with his looser pencils showing off how tight and clean Tan’s can be. They both create large, heroic looking figures, though, which unites the stories. I’m also going to give huge props to the ink and coloring team of Danny Miki (mostly) and Frank D’Armata. I remember around this time being really impressed with the house inking/coloring style that Marvel seemed to be fostering in a lot of their books. While not necessarily uniform, I felt like a lot of different books had a somewhat similar feel thanks to a dark-ish, yet bold tone. I don’t have either of them yet, but I’d like to get my hands on Deadly Genesis and The Extremists which bridges the gap between Rise and the Messiah Complex crossover, which I’m a huge fan of.

x-men supernovas X-Men: Supernovas (Marvel)
Written by Mike Carey, drawn by Chris Bachalo & Humberto Ramos with Mark Brooks
Collects X-Men #188-199, X-Men Annual #1

I’m going to say right off that bat that I wound up talking to Mike Carey quite a bit in my time at Wizard and grew to really enjoy those talks. He’s a very cool guy with a deep love of all things X-Men and comics whose enthusiasm always comes through. I will also say that I had a bit of a harder time reading his X-Men book because of a lack of familiarity with a few of the characters. The idea behind his book is that, in a post-198 world, Rogue will lead a team of mutants not connected to the school who go out and deal with problems. Her crew included Iceman, Mystique, Cannonball, Sabertooth (kinda), Cable (kinda), Lady Mastermind and Sentinel. Most of my confusion — both during my initial reading and the more recent one — came from a pre-occupation of who those latter two characters were. It’s not like Carey put a lot of importance on their backstory, but being almost completely unfamiliar with them and their abilities was distracting. It’s like knowing everyone at a party except for two people and becoming obsessed with who they are. I should have just looked them up on Wiki, but that info should also have probably been in the story.

Speaking of the stories, you’ve got a couple doozies here. First off, there’s a new kind of mutant who were created and evolved on a battleship who have woken up and want to take out the X-Men. They’re so tough that they scared the poop out of Sabertooth who makes his way to the X-Mansion in an attempt to take advantage of the locale’s mutant refuge. He’s kept captive for a while, but is also used as a weapon during various missions. This group of X-Men also finds themselves on the hunt for an evil scientist named Pan who can absorb and use mutant powers like Rogue, but for longer periods of time. He was experimenting on Lady Mastermind and Sentinel which is how they found their way into the story. Oh and they also help fix Northstar who was turned into a psycho killer in Mark Millar’s run on Wolverine. I like that Carey went with new villains because it adds to the sandbox while also allowing him to work within a far more limited cast of mutant bad guys.

While I did have some trouble with understanding a few of the characters, I really enjoyed getting to know some of the others better. Rogue is super-rad in this book, taking charge, kicking ass and taking names. She goes through a lot too, which toughens her up even more, something she probably didn’t need, but gets worked with in later stories. I also liked seeing the weird relationship between Iceman and Mystique. Carey also does some really interesting things with Iceman’s powers that I got a kick out of. Then you’ve got Cannonball who played well off of Cable, the two having moved on a bit from the younger hero’s hero worship of the other. There’s a bit of a sadness that runs through these stories that infects these characters, all of which makes sense when you contextualize it against the fact that their very species is at risk of extinction.

And, of course, you can’t talk about this book without talking about the artists. I love Mark Brooks and his contribution as the artist on the annual is exactly what I think of when I think of superhero comic books. But since this is a darker comic, Chris Bachalo and Humberto Ramos’ styles fit better. Both retain their unique looks, but also feel like part of the same cloth. Bachalo has a crazy, erratic-ness  that fits with the idea of a new species popping up to take over for mutants while Ramos’ freneticism fits his story. I will say that sometimes, their sketchy nature makes some of the panels hard to read, but overall I like the effect of their art on the story. Like with the above book, there’s a much shorter trade between this one and Messiah Complex that I want to get my hands on, plus Carey wrote the back-ups that made up the Endangered Species collection. I’d like to get those in the ol’ collection as well to see how they all play together. After that? Well, I remember X-Men Legacy getting a little too in-depth when it came to X-Men history which isn’t really my bag.

Trade Post: Hellblazer: Empathy Is The Enemy, House Of Mystery Vol. 3, & Lucifer Vol. 1

HELLBLAZER: EMPATHY IS THE ENEMY (Vertigo)
Written by Denise Mina, drawn by Leonardo Manco
Collects Hellblazer #216-222
John Constantine is one of those characters that I have a lot of love for, but don’t know if I really get the character from my limited experience (a few trades here and there, Azzarello’s run on the book and random issues while working at Wizard). It’s the same way I like the Creeper. Anyway, I’ve got a list of all the Hellblazer trades and I’m slowly checking them off the list. I got Empathy here from Swap and enjoyed myself. One thing you need to know about reading a Hellblazer comic is that, it’s completely normal to have no idea what’s happening. Constantine always runs into someone who he knew from the old days, does some vague magic and deals with some big demon or some such. That’s been my experience at least.

This time around, Constantine’s got to deal with a man who is reading empathy. After helping him, John has the sickness now which is leading him towards a Scottish cult on an island. There’s a lot of info thrown at you that will probably make a lot more sense on a second reading, something I hope to do if I ever get the whole series. Even with everything going on, the slow burn of the story allows you to think about things without ever slowing to a crawl. Mina has this great way of making everything seem important and has a knack for writing interesting side characters. And Manco might be the perfect Constantine artist. He’s got a kinetic style that makes the panels seem to almost hum with magic.

If you’ve never read a Hellblazer comic, this is as good a place as any to start. The only continuity thing I didn’t really know about was why Constantine has sworn off magic. I’m guessing it’s after a particularly harrowing encounter with a demon in a previous arc, but it’s never really explained. It’s also not really that important because, SPOILER he does in fact use some magic.

HOUSE OF MYSTERY VOL. 3: THE SPACE BETWEEN (Vertigo)
Written by Matthew Sturges with Bill Willingham and Chris Roberson, drawn by Luca Rossi, Jim Fern, Grazia Lobaccaro, Ralph Reese, Sergio Argones, Eric Powell, Neal Adams, Gilbert Hernandez and David Hahn
Collects House Of Mystery #11-15
Boy, I hope you guys are reading House Of Mystery. I’ve been a big fan since it launched and even reviewed the second trade here. The idea is that the House of Mystery is a place outside of time that travels from different dimensions come to while traveling. Most of them can leave, but a few people are stuck there. In exchange for getting hooch and food, the patrons have to tell a story which is sometimes written by someone other than Sturges and drawn by a different artist. With the third volume, though, the ongoing story takes on a life of its own with star Fig dealing with her dad now being stuck in the House and the truth about some of the big players in the book. To make up for the lack of side stories, the 13th issue actually consists of all side stories by the likes of Neal Adams, Eric Powell and Gilbert Hernandez.

This is definitely not a good place to start reading, obviously, but I can’t recommend a comic book more than House Of Mystery. It’s good for longtime Sandman fans–yeah, it’s that House Of Mystery–, non comic book readers and people trying to check out something new aside from superhero books.

HOM is one of those books that I wait for the trade on because there’s so much going on, but that means that I’m behind. So, I’m still waiting to find out what’s going on with the huge cliffhanger at the end of this trade.

LUCIFER VOL. 1: DEVIL IN THE GATEWAY (Vertigo)
Written by Mike Carey, drawn by Scott Hampton, Chris Weston, James Hodgkins, Warren Pleece and Dean Ormston
Collects The Sandman Presents #1-3, Lucifer #1-4
I really wanted to like Lucifer. I love Sandman and am a big fan of Mike Carey’s writing, but I found the second half of this collection (the first four issues of the ongoing series) to be nearly impenetrable. Gaiman had this amazing knack for weaving these epic stories that also included regular human beings. Sometimes you’d be reading through the issue trying to figure out why the hell you were supposed to care about some blond girl and then, bam, it all makes sense. Unfortunately, in this story, Carey doesn’t have that knack.

I liked the first story enough, which showed Lucifer doing a favor for heaven to get rid of some ancient shadow gods. Like the later story, it involves a regular person getting sucked into something much bigger and it pays off. The second one though just seems to keep winding around the main story without really making it clear soon enough why I should care about this kid aside from the fact that he’s persecuted. Meanwhile, Lucifer’s dealing with a fellow fallen angel and his tarot cards of death. It just didn’t suck me in enough to keep reading so I actually quit two or so issues in. As a side note, it’s hard to tell exactly where the issues began and ended because they didn’t reprint the friggin’ covers between issues (I hate that).

Any Lucifer fans out there? Is it worth continuing on?