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PCR #167  (Vol. 4, No. 23)  This edition is for the week of June 2--8, 2003.

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The Death of Comics? Part 1 - Horror comics: where did they all go?

Tales From The CryptThe '50s gave birth to Horror comics then buried them. While Atlas (which became Marvel) comics pushed past costumed crime fighters at the end of World War II (i.e. Marvel Tales), it was EC Comics that published The Crypt of Terror (became Tales From the Crypt), The Haunt of Fear, and my favorite, The Vault of Horror. The surprise endings were complemented with intriguing hosts and awesome artwork. Later titles Weird Science and Weird Fantasy interwove science fiction with the superior stories and artwork. The imitators flooded the market leading to Dr. Fredric Werthamís book "Seduction of the Innocent" and the Comics Code Authority (1954).

Wertham, a John Hopkins grad and acclaimed psychiatrist/author, accused comics of being loaded with Communist teachings, sex, violence and discrimination - just what the Senate Subcommitee hearings needed. He even attacked Superman ("gives children the wrong idea of basic physical laws"--kids think they can fly) and Batman reinforces homosexuality (Iíll save my comments about Robin for a later issue). There were book burnings, more Senate hearings and pressure from mainstream media (Time, Parentsí Magazine) resulting in "The Code". The other publishers betrayed Gaines and created a set of criteria that eliminated the words terror, horror or crime from comic titles. The Comic Code outlined "appropriate" content stifling gruesome illustrations, especially zombies, vampires, werewolfs and cannibals - it marked the end of EC Comics.

Haunt of FearThe brilliant businessman Gaines didnít flinch and modified Mad to a magazine format to avoid censors. Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko kept Atlas/Marvel "horror" afloat by mixing in even more sci-fi: Tales of Suspense, Strange Tales, Journey into Mystery and others. Like Mad (outside of scrutiny because magazines were exempt from "The Code") Warren Publishing followed suite with Creepy and Eerie. Warren delivered the EC traditions and later added the popular Vampirella (which is more sex appeal than horror) about an alien vampire who battled the occult group Chaos while dealing with in-law problems - a great title that ran into the '70s (revived by Harris publishing).

The battle raged on. Steve Bissette and John Totleben (both of Swamp Thing fame) created a cutting-edge format for unknown creators to break all the rules about comics - Taboo. This was no comic, but a horror anthology - literature: expensive, adult-only literature. Well, literature or not, it didnít make it past customs (except in New Zealand where it was actually read) and it failed financially as it never reached its target audience worldwide.

Marvel distributed Amazing Spider-Man #96-97 despite not receiving the "stamp of approval" because of the issueís anti-drug theme. This paved the way for then the famous drug story in Green Lantern/Green Arrow, which did receive approval, breaking the barrier that lent to reformation in code guidelines. No more restrictions on "horror creatures" and Marvel delivered a flurry of characters (e.g., Marvel Dracula, Ghost Rider) At DC, Bissette and Totleben were key in the mainstreaming of horror after "The Code" was no more. The dilution of the code allowed very talented creators on DCís Vertigo line to bring us personal and social horror: Hellblazer, Saga of the Swamp Thing and others.

So, jump ahead with a couple of decades of societal changes where some things have changed, some have not. We may never recover from the '50ís persecution of comics but Spawn, Lady Death, and Purgatori have made it into the hands of todayís youth. Black Bullís Shadow Reavers and Jim Balentís Tarot are struggling to stay afloat while offering up classic EC Comic-style horror. Innovation publishes some great horror and The Crow went mainstream. There is no predicting the acceptance of most work, but at least that barrier has been breached.

Werthamís condemnation of comics relied heavily on "guilt by association" since most lawbreakers read comics. In our current state, where no one is responsible for his or her actions, itís only a matter of time until Thor is subpoenaed in a tragic ball-peen hammer murder trial.

Some interesting notes:

∑ Entertaining Comics was originally called Educational Comics.
ē In response to accusations of copyright infringement by Ray Bradbury, Gaines hired the renowned writer to the science-fiction EC titles.
ē Werthamís later writings communicated a completely different perspective on changes in society - dedication to the arts and freedoms of expression. Itís hard to believe it was written by the same man.
ē Original EC issues are extremely rare considered both collectible and historical.

THE SLUSH PILE

      Theyíre scary but not meant to be...

Instead of extensive reviews, let me just point out a couple of disturbing moments in comics. Hopefully itíll keep the therapist away.

She Hulk #34The Sensational She-Hulk #34: Another pregnant Demi Moore, Vanity Fair parody (see also the Leslie Nielson cover) -- to quote the cover: "Itís not fair to accuse me of vanity! I just thrive on controversy!" Oh come on! This was Marvelís gratuitous attempt to add sex appeal. Two giant green boobs is much scarier than a foil di-cut Silver Surfer cover.

Avengers #239: The guest appearance of David Letterman - even the gap in his teeth. I just want a "Top 10 List" of reasons why Wonder Man is a celebrity in the Marvel universe. Dave even smashes the tubby supervillain over the head then delivers that frightful grin.

Plasm #1 to whatever: Everything Plasm is scary and should have been called phlegm. What was Jim Shooter thinking? Save the ecosystem and let the humans die - how is this an appealing plot? I donít think youíll see any publishers building their comic book line around green ooze. Oh yeah, Eastman and Laird - "Heroes in a Halfshell". Now thatís scary.

Dinosaurs for Hire: Malibu put oozies in the hands -- I mean claws, of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Does it bother anyone else seeing a Triceratops wearing a saddle? How about a chain-smoking Brontosaurus in a hot air balloon? I prefer the comforts of "The Land of the Lost" - this is just painful. Do you think Speilberg has ever read DFH? Might explain a lot.

Transformers (especially the later issues of the original series): They were great toys, but what a mess in comics. Whoís talking the robot? The car? The plane that was the robot two panels ago? Aw crap - forget it.

Savage Dragon #35: With Hellboy guest starring, the Dragon defeats a band of skeletal pirates after being swallowed by a giant monster. Scary? No, but then they find their escape via the creatureís ass crack. The dragon snipes: "Man, I hope nobodyís got a camera handy". All I have to say is "crevice" - deep therapeutic scars.

Preacher: An amazing but jarring series with moments of gratuitous gore and laughable disturbing moments. The scars run deep thinking about Preacher #39 in which hillbilly cannibals "take" Starrís leg, and he then has to wipe the young cannibalís ass to get a gun. Starr takes them down as they close in, but they land on him - "Shit!" he says trapped under the pile of Jethros. With only one leg, he hops away through the desert. Whoa. This is Andy Lalino-bobbing-for-testicles creepy.

ONE SHOTS

Charlieís Angels Comics from Lebanon to Argentina: Classic 70ís comics of the crime fighting babes found new homes thanks to eBay. An Arabic comic from Lebanon drew a bid of $6 while a set of three from Argentina went for $22. I guess thereís a market for everything. (auctions #2174227095 & #2175619671) The movies have revitalized this franchise as Welcome Back, Kotter, A-Team, Police Academy and other spin-off comics have weak sales.

The PunisherMisc Movie Notes: Artisan has shipped the teaser poster for next summerís "The Punisher" - check it out. Variety reports Bill Murray will voice "Garfield" which is wrapping most of the principal photography. Rachel Talalay ('Freddyís Dead", "Tank Girl") will be directly James Marden (Cyclops from "X-Men") as Jesse Custer in "Preacher" while Christopher Nolan is on board for a "Batman 5" with a David S. Goyer script (Blade series and upcoming "Freddy vs. Jason").

Wife is pissed: My wife is pissed that I let her get into "AFIís Top 100 Heroes and Villains" only to have Atticus Finch ("To Kill a Mockingbird") number one hero. We felt that the villain was fine, but the hero list was a mess and not worth the loss of sleep. Well, it was better than that "Stage Mom" crap - "American Juniors".

The Heroclix craze: Heroclix is a game by Wizkids that allows you to create a team of comic book characters and compete against other teams using each characterís strengths and weaknesses. The characters (DC and Marvel have sets out) are small, painted figurines that stand on a dial with all of the necessary information. There are no charts and stat sheet to keep up with. Role-playing is more interactive than card games (there are props and playsets) and the figurines are really cool! The secondary market is taking hold of the more powerful and popular characters: Limited Edition Natasha Romanoff #119 is over $100, a level 3 Dr. Doom is around $35. More on Heroclix next week.

Keanuís undies fetches ten grand: Keanu Reeves visited a local radio station in 1995 while on tour with his band Dogstar. MJ, the host of the show, ask the star to autograph a pair of briefs. With "The Matrix: Reloaded" elevating the popularity of Reeves, MJ coordinated a auction on eBay with the proceeds going to charity. The winning is over $10,000 - a hefty price for the unique item, but it does all go to charity.

Lipton turns sadistic: The latest Lipton tea advertisement features a man receiving an abusive, somewhat violent massage. The message in the ad...well, I donít know, but itís sadistically funny. Thanks, Lipton.

Iím in Sports Hell: Ruben Rivera managed to touch second base three times in the most heinous attempt at base running Iíd ever seen. Rounding second from first, Rivera was duped into thinking that he needed to go back to first. Of course the other runner met him between first and second as Ruben turned around (thatís the third time he touched second) and headed to third. The throw was flubbed - Ruben is safe, so why not run home? Out at home, Rivera proves that skills learned in little league are long since forgotten.

Meanwhile, Michael "The Monster Truck" Pittman drove his spouse off the road after a dispute of their child. He is a repeat offender of "abuse" this incident violates his probation. Iím sure anger management classes and community service will be administered, even though this athlete has an apparent problem. To site Fisher from the local radio show, 97 X - Pittman will probably say he got carried away while listening to Prodigyís "Smack My Bitch Up".

Lastly, Sammy Sosa and his corked bat that is for batting practice -- oh hell, canít anyone be accountable anymore. I guess a small fine and/or suspension will be satisfactory for cheating. Ask Pete Rose about the integrity of the game.

UP NEXT

The Death of comics? Part two - 1992.


"Splash Page" is ©2003 by Brandon Jones.   Webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2003 by Nolan B. Canova.