Every Halloween (or Scare Season, if you will), I find myself taking on some kind of film-based project, but also trying to read through as many horror-themed books and comics as I can. Last year, I focused solely on Vertigo titles, but this year I’m mostly pulling books off my shelf or out of my To Read box. Of course, I’m always looking around to see if there are any books I just NEED to add to my library, though. While scoping out Amazon, I came across two volumes of Batman By Doug Moench and Kelley Jones. I was immediately interested and began comparing prices when I realized, “Hey, I have these issues in the garage!” As you can see from the above pic, that proved to be true and I saved myself some scratch and also had a far more immediate dive into some very important comics from my childhood!
It didn’t take much thought on where to go after watching Swamp Thing for my first film of Halloween Scene 2020: It’s All Connected! Just a few weeks ago, I noticed that the sequel, The Return Of Swamp Thing had landed on Amazon Video and it made a perfect next viewing experience, though some might argue that another Wes Craven film (or several) would be more appropriate than a Jim Wynorski joint. But we all make the choices we make in life.
Last year I did this thing where every horror movie I watched during the scare season (which starts in September for me) would have a connection to the previous film. I fully intended to write about all 60-some films and my path from Return Of The Living Dead 3 to the new Halloween, but life gets in the way of our best intentions. At the moment, I’m feeling a renewed interest in blogging, so here we go with this year’s entries. Let’s see if anything can even come close to the horror show of a year we’re living through (it won’t).
It took me a long time to get through this book. That’s in no way a judgement on the content, but more on my attention span which had to adjust to a very different kind of comic book writing than what I’m used to with modern comics. The thing I realized while reading through these Len Wein-written issues of Swamp Thing is that comics like this used actually be pretty literary. Nowadays, you mostly get word balloons and the occasional thought box, but Wein was actually writing ambiance type stuff, not just boring old set-up stuff like you’d see in Golden or Silver Age stuff. I also realized that this is very much in the tradition of the horror comics made famous, popular and infamous by EC Comics.
In the one film class I took in college the professor talked about film genres being on a kind of spectrum. You’ve got the original thing, the classic, the parody and the revision. If you’re talking westerns that would be like The Great Train Robbery then The Man With The No Name, Blazing Saddles and back to Unforgiven. I think that’s part of what I was experiencing with this book. I’ve read some EC horror comics and they’re pretty formulaic with a set-up, gruesome stuff and then a twist ending. I feel like Swamp Thing kept that style of comic writing and moved it closer to if not all the way to the classic territory.
This is a long way to go to say that, while these comics definitely don’t read like modern ones, I wound up really enjoying them. This will not come as a surprise to Wein fans, but he’s killer with words, which is interesting because we mostly learn about Swamp Thing through thought balloons as he mostly doesn’t talk. It also helps that Wrightson might be one of the best comic book artists of all time. He took a lot of what was done in the EC books and takes it up a notch. I also really enjoyed that this book does not just stick with horror themes, but also includes stories where Swamp Thing fights robots, meets Batman and mutant monsters. I’m a big fan of variety and this book has it.
I just realized I’ve written all these paragraphs without really explaining what this collection is. This hardcover from DC’s Classics Library series of books brings together the very first Swamp Thing story from House of Secrets as well as the series it spawned a year or so later, starring the now famous Alec Holland version of the character. We see his transformation and his trip around the world and cross country, which usually makes him cross paths with Matthew Cable, a secret agent who thinks he killed Holland, and his gal pal and daughter of his enemy Abigail Arcane. While there’s an overarching story following Swampy’s new life, these issues are mostly one and dones that get weird and wild. Highly recommended if you’re interested in checking out a great comic that’s also a pretty damn important piece of comic history, check it out already!
Swamp Thing is a pretty weird character and not just because he’s spent a few decades in the Vertigo universe being written by guys like Len Wein, Alan Moore, Rick Veitch, Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, Brian K. Vaughan, Andy Diggle and Will Pfeifer among many others. In his first appearance–the above House Of Secrets #92 from 1971–Swamp Thing is actually a different dude and not the more familiar Alec Holland. His name was Alex Olson and this was his only appearance. Swamp Thing was later resurrected by his creators Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson for an ongoing series starring Holland’s version of Swamp Thing. You can check out these early appearances in DC’s DC Comics Classics Library Roots Of The Swamp Thing hardcover. I’ve only read the intro by Wein and the first couple issues, but it’s pretty fun horror stuff. The series went along for a while and then the inimitable Alan Moore came along and added his unique view to the character, thusly introducing himself to the general American comics audience. Moore came along and started on the title with 1984’s Swamp Thing #20, eventually joined by artist Stephen Bissette. At that time the book wasn’t included under the Vertigo banner because Vertigo wouldn’t come into existence until 1993, yet, the Vertigo logo appears on many of the reprints, like the somewhat recent Saga Of The Swamp Thing volumes which seem set out to reprint all of Alan Moore’s issues (Swamp Thing #20-58, 60-61, 63-64, Annual 2). I’ve read some of this stuff, though not yet in the aforementioned Saga hardcover format, though I do have it on my to-read pile, possibly after I acquire a few more of the volumes. Like I said, the comic would go on to become a big part of Vertigo in the 90s and carry on through part of the 2000s, but that’s not what makes him such a weird character. That would be his exposure to regular people thanks to two movies, a live action television series, an animated series, two video games and a line of action figures. To put that into some kind of perspective, that puts Swamp Thing into the same place as characters like Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and Wolverine. Yeah, just think about that for a moment. That’s right, Swamp Thing starred in not one, but two movies. The first one was written and directed by master of horror Wes Craven of all people and starred the bodacious Adrienne Barbeau and convention staple Dick Durock as Swampy, who unfortunately passed away last year. The flick came out in 1982, which puts it before Moore’s run on the book, though I’m sure it was a big influence on his writing. I know that I’ve seen the movie fairly recently, but I couldn’t tell you anything I remember about it and I didn’t blog about it, so that means I obviously need to watch it again. 1989 saw the follow-up to the Craven flick starring Heather Locklear and directed by Jim Wynorksi who directed Chopping Mall (which I swear I blogged about, but can’t find anywhere), Ghoulies IV and The Lusty Busty Babe-a-que starring Tough Love’s Rocky. I have zero recollection of this movie, but you’ve got to give it some credit for getting made (maybe).
Sure it looks more like a Toxic Avenger sequel than a legit superhero movie, but you’ve got to remember that there were very few legit superhero movies at the time (basically Superman, Superman II and that year’s Batman). Maybe I’ll check it out on Hulu. Anyway, after the release of the sequel, cable network USA kicked off a live action series in 1990 called Swamp Thing (you can watch the first season on Hulu or check out the full series on DVD) that also starred Durock. The show lasted three seasons, totaling 72 episodes, which puts it one season and 15 episodes behind Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman.
But a live action series wasn’t the only Swamp Thing on television in the early 90s as the USA version was joined by an animated series in 1991 which ran on Fox for only five episodes and tied in with a toy line from Kenner which outlasted the cartoon considerably. You can buy the full series on an out-of-print DVD. Before getting into the toys, which I do remember fondly, here’s a look at the cartoon opener which involves an awkward reworking of “Wild Thing” to fit Swamp Thing’s name in.
I have a very distinct memory of seeing this cartoon at my then-friend’s house when I was about 8. He had had a big sleepover the night before for his birthday, we were all eating breakfast while the show was on and there might have even been Swamp Thing-related cups and plates, which is probably why I remembered it lasting longer than it’s measly five episodes. Like I said though, the toys made a much bigger impression on me. I swiped these images from the ever-amazing Virtual Toy Chest, which has even more on display on their Swamp Thing page. What I liked about the line was the crazy action features. I was even able to work my version of the guy in this picture on the far left into ToyFare’s greatest action features feature which was a ton of fun to write. If you pulled his arm or leg the threads holding the figure in the upright position would loosen and he’d collapse into a pile of swampness. The middle guy completely glows in the dark as do his axe and mace while the guy on the right changes color with water making him look all brown (if memory serves).There were also a series of villains with rubber monster heads that went over their actual heads. Here’s a video of a guy’s collection of them on display in a room still in the packaging.
Oh, I almost forgot, here’s some footage of the game. There was a version NES and Game Boy, but it looks pretty subpar to me.
But, of course, the Swamp Thing media monster could not last forever and by the mid-90s he was relegated back the long boxes and comic shops for the most part. There has been talk about a new movie by Joel Silver, possibly in 3D and even talk about bringing the character back into the regular DC Universe which he used to be a firm part of. We’ll see where our weird swampy friend goes from here, but he’s already had a more impressive life than 90% of the comic characters out there.
Doesn’t look like things will be letting up any time soon and seeing as I’ve been falling asleep pretty early these days, I haven’t been able to watch many movies. I will get around to the second part of that Thanksgiving weekend round-up though, because I want to get to my Squirm and Return to Sleepaway Camp (love that movie!). But, I’ve got some time now and I’ve been doing some trade reading so here we go.
SCALPED: DEAD MOTHERS (VOL. 3) (Vertigo/DC)
Written by Jason Aaron, Drawn by John Paul Leon, R.M. Guera & Davide Furno
Scalped is one of those books that I got to late in the game and have yet to actually catch up to the monthly issues, so I’m mostly grabbing the trades from the library as they come out. I dig the story for the most part, especially because it takes me to a world that I’m otherwise unfamiliar with in the form of an Native American reservation. Plus, there’s all kinds of action and intrigue and some great names (I especially like our main character’s Dashiell Bad Horse).
This particular trade focuses mainly on Dashiell working on a dead hooker case because he promised her son that he would while others investigate his own mother’s death. There’s obviously a lot of history between Dash and pretty much everyone else on the reservation and Aaron does a good job of giving just enough details as we read to keep us from getting completely lost but also not overwhelming the reader with needles detail. It’s a harder balance to achieve than you might think. I also like how the villain of the story, Lincoln Red Crow (the guy that Dash, an undercover agent is trying to pin a murder on) is more interested in finding his mother’s killer (they used to be lovers) than Dash himself. But even he’s got problems of his own as various outside forces are trying to push and pull him and the casino he runs.
Really, that’s what I like about the series as a whole: there’s a lot going on, but not too much. Aaron’s got a great sense of pacing and knows when to throw in some kick ass action scenes to balance all the other personal aspects of the book. I’m really curious to see where the series goes (they introduced a new character in the form of honest reservation cop Franklin Falls Down who seems like he’ll have a lot of potential). I’m also looking forward to seeing how Aaron writes a long form story like this one. I’m not sure if there’s an end point in mind that he’s working towards, but I’ve only read a handful of his other books, some I liked, some I didn’t, so I hope he ends this one with a bang.
SWAMP THING: LOVE AND DEATH (DC)
Written by Alan Moore, Drawn by Stephen Bissette, John Totleben & Shawn McManus
This is the second Swamp Thing trade collecting Alan Moore’s run on the book that helped launch his career and shoot comics to whole new levels. To me, it’s one of the last few epic comic runs that I haven’t read yet, so I’m glad to finally get to it (though I don’t have any more of the trades, so we’ll see how that goes), which is too bad because I really dug this book and am curious to see where it goes.
Most of the trade follows the developing relationship between Swamp Thing and Abigale including her short-lived death. There are all kinds of horror elements bouncing around these pages, including Swamp Thing’s visit to the afterlife which boasts guest spots by Etrigan, Phantom Stranger, Deadman and the Spectre. I really like how firmly Swamp Thing takes place in the DCU, proving that you can do Vertigo type stories in the same world that Superman flies around in (Sandman also did this on a few occasions).
I’ve also got to mention the semi sex scene between Swamp Thing and Abigale at the end of the last issue. It’s not as gross as it might sound as Abby eats a fruit that Swamp Thing grows from his chest and then they go on a super-trippy ride that we become voyeurs to.
But I didn’t like everything about this collection. There’s a story called “Pog” which featured some tiny cartoon-like aliens landing on Earth hoping to find a new home to call their own. The story itself is interesting, but the problem is the dialogue. These aliens talk different, making up words that seem and sound an awful lot like English, but took me way too long to read as my brain kept trying to read the words I’m used to. Props to Alan for coming up with this new language, but it drove me a little crazy. Oh well. I’m probably going to ditch these trades in favor of the hardcovers they’re putting out shortly (or is it out yet? I dunno).
DIANA PRINCE WONDER WOMAN VOL. 2 (DC)
Written & drawn by Mike Sekowsky
Man, I love these swinging Wonder Woman issues, each one is like a Roger Corman movie starring my favorite Star Spangled Amazon (missing her stars of course). For those of you who may not know, these Diana Prince tales follow Wonder Woman around after losing her powers and becoming a kung-fu boutique owner hanging out with blind martial arts master I Ching.
This volume not only collects Wonder Woman issues, but also a Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane issue in which the constantly swooning Lois gets jealous of Superman spending so much time with Wonder Woman who appears to have regained her powers. There’s even this hilarious scene where Wonder Woman takes Superman to a club and he starts dancing so intensely that he almost sets the floor on fire, after which he thinks to himself: “Did I goof! I can’t forget myself for an instant! That’s the trouble with being super! I can’t relax like ordinary people!” I don’t want to ruin the ending, but it’s your average cheesy silver age stuff (which is pretty different than the rest of the trade, because this particular story was written by Robert Kanigher).
There’s also an issue of Brave and the Bold with Wonder Woman and I Ching in another country (though I don’t think they ever say which one) in which a big car race is happening. It just so happens that Bruce Wayne is also there racing along with some bad dude (his name’s not really important). Well, the bad dude tries to kill Bruce because he’s such a good driver so Bruce calls Gotham and gets his buddy Batman to come race for him. There’s actual panels with Batman driving and his cape shooting out behind him flapping in the wind. I had literally just watched a Roger Corman movie with similar themes that I had just watched (Young Racers). Man, that movie was boring (hey, look, a movie review!), but this comic is great.
The rest of the trade involves the return of Dr. Cyber along with an adventure to Hong Kong and the addition of a new young lady who Diana saves from THEM (always written in big red block letters) and then gives a job in her boutique. I really love how the series bounces around from somewhat typical superhero stuff to all kinds of other genres without missing a beat. There’s also something fun about seeing Wonder Woman mingling with Superman and Batman even back in the late 60s/early 70s. These are great books for anyone even remotely interested in Wonder Woman or movies and TV from that time period, these are the books for you.
JACK KIRBY’S FOURTH WORLD OMNIBUS (VOL. 4)
Written & drawn by Jack Kirby
I’ve had a very on again off again relationship with these New Gods Omnibi (Ominbuses?). Sometimes I’ll get really into them but then I’ll put the book down for weeks or even months at a time, which was the case with this, the last in series. The main reason is that, for reasons that are probably explained in the intro by Mark Evanier that I haven’t read yet, Jack’s books weren’t doing so well and were canned, which means this book collects the last issues of The Forever People (which I liked a lot more than I thought I would), New Gods (my personal favorite of the ongoings) and then a bunch of Mr. Miracle issues (it lasted longer than the others), the new stories Jack created for the reprints and finally the Hunger Dogs graphic novel. The problem is that it’s like watching a TV show that you know doesn’t have a real ending, one that got canceled before it’s time; all the pieces are good, but you’re not sure about the pay off.
I read the FP and NG issues completely but ended up skimming the Mr. Miracle stuff as it wasn’t really my favorite of the books. I did enjoy the final two stories though, because it felt like Jack was finally able to tell the story that he intended to tell years before. But, man, just think of how cool it would have been to see Jack get to do his thing for real. It’s too bad because it feels like that’s a huge missed opportunity, a story only preserved in the library of unwritten books. Oh well, I really like Hunger Dogs, especially the big huge collage spread that Jack did in the middle of it. Check it out and see how many Star Wars pictures you can find (I spotted the rear end of a Star Destroyer first).
Anyway, there’s a pretty interested ending to Hunger Dogs that I’m not really sure how it was resolved later on when the New Gods re-entered the DCU. I did have a basic history explained to me by Rickey. He said that, basically, Jack created the New Gods, but after he left they just kind of sat around and no one used them until the Super Powers cartoon came along and was looking for a villain. They dug up Darkseid and he’s been a dominating force of evil in the DCU ever since. For someone who’s been reading comics since the early 90s, it’s pretty crazy to think that there was a time when Darkseid and the rest of the New Gods weren’t a big deal.
And finally, if you’re like I was when I first started reading these books and think that these older stories don’t really offer up much to a modern, more sophisticated reader, give them a try. Sean Collins helped me realize what I liked about these stories even when I wasn’t quite sure if I actually liked them. The true art isn’t in the words (the dialogue boxes are pretty easily skipped for the most part in my opinion), but in the art and the emotions and gut punches that Kirby is able to convey with his trademark pencils. Plus, if you can’t find a certain amount of giddy joy in tracing the lines of a Kirby machine, I feel bad for you.
Okay, that’s it for now. Hopefully I’ll get another post in this week, but I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you (seriously, that’d be crazy).