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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Suspended Animation Reviews from 1998 - Dracula, Godzilla, and More!

Dracula & Fu Manchu

Two of literature's' most sinister villains have been amazingly durable as comic book characters: Bram Stoker's "Dracula" and Sax Rohmer's "Fu Manchu."

Rohmer's writing seems weak to modern readers, yet he held his original audience spellbound. Racism abounds in his stories, yet he understood the tragic implications of cultures unable to understand each other. The shadowy outlines of modern turmoil in the Middle East and Asia can be detected in Rohmer's novels.

Marvel Comics had a long, successful run of stories based on Fu Manchu. Such artists as Jim Starlin and Paul Gulacy captured the essence of Rohmer's claustrophobic atmosphere in the "Son of Fu Manchu" stories which first appeared in Marvel Super Heroes.

Even though this series was an attempt to cash in on the Kung Fu craze of the 1970's, it frequently transcended faddish elements and holds up better than the Christopher Lee movies about Fu Manchu.

Even more successful was Marvel's Tomb of Dracula. Bram Stoker's vampire has rarely been in better form. Many of Marv Wolfman's stories for this series are masterpieces of Gothic horror, but considerable credit has to go to Gene Colan and Tom Palmer for art.

Novelists such as Kim Newman have done credible sequels to Stoker's unsettling masterpiece, but Wolfman, Colan, and Palmer have to be ranked among the best modern adapters. The atmosphere evoked by Colon and Palmer often surpassed the work of the creators of the famed EC horror comics of the 1950s such as artist Graham Ingels.

Although some of Stoker's lore was modified, this series was reasonably faithful to the original.

For years, collectors have overlooked the quality of these series; prices have remained low but are now beginning to rise. Those jaded with super heroes might investigate early issues of Tomb of Dracula, Marvel Super Heroes (later known as Master of Kung Fu) and their black-and-white counterparts, Dracula Lives and Deadly Hands of Kung Fu. These titles contained considerable dross from other writers and artists, but some outstanding stories can be found.

Dr. John Suter

Miniview: Godzilla #1 [Dark Horse]. A timely and marvelous reprinting of magnificent fun, this is not an adaptation of the current creature feature.

Buy it.

Michael Vance

Renee French's Corny's Fetish/$4.95, 60 pgs, Dark Horse/words and art: Renee French/sold in comics shops and by mail.

Admittedly, opinion and art are subjective. In my opinion, don't subject yourself to Corny's Fetish.

That it is almost entirely drawn in pantomime diminishes any plot or characterization subtleties.

Basically, a lonely old man witness an accidental death and becomes fixated on a young girl. He builds a fantasy family around her with figures possibly carved out of chocolate.

That the art is one step above juvenile scribble is not helpful.

The cover is nice.

Alone, none of its weaknesses (or my subjective preferences) condemn this work. But, together and at almost five dollars a copy, Corny's Fetish may be the greatest current waste of sixty seconds of 'entertainment' time on the comics market.

Michael Vance

Lost in Space #1 (of 3)/22 pgs., $2.95, Dark Horse Comics

(A Suspended Animation review from 1998.)

Lost in Space #1 (of 3)/22 pgs., $2.95, Dark Horse Comics/story: Brian McDonald; pencils: Gordon Purcell/sold in comics shops and by mail.

Danger! Danger! Although nowhere acknowledged, this comic book adapts a movie adapted from an old SF television series. It is better that the television series is unacknowledged. It was unbelievably poor.

Danger, Will Robinson!!

This comic is believably average in both story and art. Having not seen it, I am uncertain if this is a close adaptation of the film. Having seen advertising for Lost In Space, it is apparent that none of the comics characters look like the actors.

The art is otherwise adequate but unspectacular.

Because this the first of three issues, characters are introduced, setting is set, and only the germ of a plot is planted. A prisoner on a spacecraft finds something alien in a hole. Destruction ensues.

Is there reason to buy Lost In Space? Possibly, Will Robinson, if you enjoy average. Otherwise, the reason is lost on me.

Michael Vance

The Spectre

(A Suspended Animation "classic" from 1998.)

Killing major comic book characters has been a growth industry. Superman, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman have "died" recently; Red Ryan, Ferro Lad and Professor X "died" in the 1960s. Of course, their revival was rarely in question.

The latest casualty may be more permanent. After 62 issues, the latest run of DC's Spectre has ended with the funeral of James Corrigan nearly 60 years after his murder.

The trick was that the Spectre was two personas: Corrigan and the wrathful spirit that inhabited his body. The origin of that spirit has been a major focus of John Ostrander's scripts. He identified the Spectre as the "Wrath of God" who left throughout history a trail of death and destruction of Biblical proportions. And I do mean Biblical.

That interpretation is consistent with the earliest Spectre stories in More Fun Comics. From the first, the Spectre had access to Heaven. Lately, the Spectre's relationship with God has been troubled. Could an over-zealous avenger become worse than the villains he punished and require forgiveness? Ostrander's scripts have probed some deep theological concerns.

Tom Mandrake's art is remarkably appropriate for the dark mood of the stories. Anyone familiar with Gustave Dore's illustrations of Dante and Milton will appreciate Mandrake's work.

Prices for back issues of this latest version of the Spectre are low. Now is a good time to complete your collection.

Other runs of the Spectre's appearance are either unaffordable; e.g. More Fun and All Star titles, or of lesser quality. Essential, however, are the three Showcase issues in which the character was reintroduced to the Silver Age audience. Artist Murphy Anderson's version struck me as better than those of artists Neal Adams, Jerry Grandinetti, or Jim Aparo. (Spectre's appearances in Justice League of America left questions that have never been answered.)

Jim Corrigan is dead and finally buried, but the Spectre could be reassigned to another human host.

Will his green and white costume change after so many millennia?

Dr. John Suter

Go HERE for a concise history of The Spectre (through 2003) and some beautiful cover and panel reproductions.

Seeker #1/26 pgs., $2.95 from Caliber Comics

(A Suspended Animation "classic" from 1998.)

The government has developed a secret agency to handle terrorist situations called the "Tactical Advance Counter Strike Unit". In that strike force, the Seeker is top agent and ultimate weapon.

The current Seeker works both inside and outside the Unit and inside and outside of sanity. That's because the first costumed super-agent is dead, and lives inside the second Seeker. Nice twist.

She's also a babe which is a physical cliché that never goes wasted on clichéd males.

If this sounds like plots from TV's Mission: Impossible starring The Avengers and guesting on Pretenders, you have good ears. But if these similarities sound unoriginal, listen again. The first issue of Seeker is an outstanding comic book.

The writing is excellent and tightly plotted. Gary Reed writes in crisp, believable dialog and reveals details in both plot and characters with realistic, piecemeal timing. In particular, his characters are well developed within the limitations of one issue. You'll want to know more about them because you’ll know enough to care.

The art is excellent. In realistic style, penciler Chris Pertzborn draws what is needed and no more. His visual storytelling is clear, dynamic and distinctive. You'll wish there were a few more black areas on his pages, but you'll enjoy every page nevertheless.

Hurrah! There is no real nudity or foul language here! Seek this one out.

Michael Vance

Seeker #1/26 pgs., $2.95 from Caliber Comics/sold in comics shops and by mail.


(A Suspended Animation "classic" from 1998.)

The recent "DC versus Marvel" comics mini-series was successful enough to spawn a sequel with the curious name All-Access. The four issues start on a low key and build to the typical massive confrontations.

In many ways, the first three issues are better than the final fourth. The premise of the series is that the equilibrium of DC and Marvel universes established in the first series is crumbling and only the hero known as Access can restore order. He suspects that Marvel's sorcerer, Dr. Strange, has crucial knowledge of what is happening, but that question is not resolved until the final issue.

The first issue features a battle between DC's Superman and Marvel's Venom. The key to Venom's early success is Superman's total unfamiliarity with Venom's powers and tactics. Virtue triumphs.

The second issue features DC's Robin and Marvel's Jubilee on a trans-universe date. Their battle with Batman's enemy, Two-Face, is well done. The relationship of Robin and Jubilee could be the basis for future crossover stories. We are spared the heavy angst of other comics romances.

The third issue pits Batman against Marvel's Scorpion, a veteran villain from Amazing SpiderMan. That battle leads to Batman's confrontation with Dr. Strange which leads to a confrontation of Marvel's X-Men and DC’s Justice League of America. Since there was no such battle in the first miniseries, fans obviously demanded one.

With so many characters tearing up scenery, there is no space for the well-planned combats of the first three issues. Some of the pairings are worth further development: Aquaman and Iceman, Flash and Cannonball. The less said about DC's Martian Manhunter and Marvel's Marvel Girl the better.

The Amalgamated Universe of the first series reappears briefly and there is a strong hint that it will continue to appear as will crossovers between Marvel and DC. This is reminiscent of the Justice League/Justice Society stories (DC. 1963-1985). There is always the danger of triteness and over repetition, but this series shows that there is potential for many good stories.

Dr. John Suter