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Monday, October 21, 2019

Satana, in "The Kiss of Death" - a Review

Vampire Tales #3 (February 1974)
"The Kiss of Death"
Gerry Conway-Esteban Maroto

Years ago, over at the Bronze Age Babies, I posted the story that introduced Satana to the masses. It was a nifty little yarn penciled by John Romita and featuring the Devil's daughter in an almost wordless tale. Check it out if you'd like, then hop back here for today's fare, featuring Satana's third appearance.

I've posted an image of the cover of the first volume of the 3-volume series of trade paperbacks collecting the Vampire Tales black & white magazines of the early 70s. I was fortunate to spy a near mint copy of it at our local Half-Price Books last month during a Labor Day sale - scored it for $8! Yes, Doug left a happy boy. So it's my resource for today's review and I'm quite pleased to have made the purchase. My former partner Karen posted some comments on the tpb 8 1/2 years ago (yikes!). Of course you know that I've amassed a small library of books reprinting Marvels B&W magazines, and this one's a solid addition. But enough about me - you came here today for the comics.

100-Word Review:
Devil worshipers butting heads with the religious Right - seems right for a tale from early 1970s California. But what happens when the Devil’s daughter actually interjects herself to the fray? Satana spied the confrontation, and sought friendship with one of the young ladies on the side of Satan. Seeing that like herself, Ruth Cummins is also marked with the sign of the Devil, Satana takes her side against Harry Gotham. Gotham, apparently a televangelist of some ilk, leaves us wondering if he is more concerned with salvation or ratings. Either way, Satana is in his way.

The Good: You wanna tell me how this blog has published for 11 months and has only had a single mention of Esteban Maroto? Fixing that today. Maroto lands among the photo-realists who were penciling comics as the Silver Age transitioned to the Bronze Age, and he certainly mastered the techniques. The art in this 10-page story is simply stunning. Everything we'd expect from the likes of Neal Adams, Jim Steranko, Dick Giordano, and others is on full display. Yet, there's a wispiness to the pencils, most evident in the long hair of the females. There's just enough roughness around the edges to give the story a real moodiness, and I like it. Each page before the finale contains at least one closeup that is beautiful. And Maroto seems especially adept at channeling to us the evil that is inherent in Satana. Well, evil depending on one's perspective.

Gerry Conway's script leads us to question the virtue of one Harry Gotham, and casts him as the antagonist of the story. Gotham is a religious crusader, yet one obviously bent on exposure, publicity, and a consciousness of the value of a dollar. So when he comes into conflict with the young "devil worshipers" and our... heroine (Satana), we see Gotham as the one ruining the fun. Nevermind that Satana feeds on the souls of men, sucking the literal life from them while leaving a dry husk in their place. We have a growing tension with Gotham and seek his comeuppance. And when it happens I think there are cheers. Until again, you consider what's happened and the identity of the "victor" left standing.

One more comment on the length of the story before I head toward the finish: Prior to finding my love for the B&W comics, I'd been wholly accustomed to the 20-22 page packages of the standard four color comics. What I've really enjoyed as I've delved deeper into the Bronze Age magazines is the variety of story lengths. Some of the lead stories in Savage Sword of Conan, for example, can be almost 50 pages. Here we see a real economy of space, but no shortage of necessities of plot, character development, backstory, and the execution of the climactic event. I have become further impressed with creators who I'd only known in the color comics.


The Bad: It's a slippery slope when a Christian is portrayed as the bad guy. Yet I think we'd agree that there is an unsavory element (probably evident among the faithful of all religions) that seeks only legalism and judgment, as well as self-promotion. Harry Gotham wears all that, and Gerry Conway assures that Gotham wears it well. 

The Ugly: I'm gonna guess that getting one's soul sucked out of one's mouth, as the body dries and shrivels, doesn't feel good. What a way to go...

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Bernie Wrightson - Mangled Men, Monsters, and the Macabre!

I'm not vain enough to think I have anything to say about the brilliance and talent of Bernie Wrightson that hasn't already been said. So I'm just gonna slide out of your way and let you enjoy the output of a man gone too soon.

Thanks to those who own these images and have made them available.

Original pencils to the Bruce Jones/Bernie Wrightson masterpiece "Jenifer", from Eerie #63.

A Fitting Tribute Piece


Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Credit Where Credit is Due

Happy Tuesday, friends!

I am joining you specially today to right a wrong from a few months ago. If you'll recall, last June 20 I wished myself a happy birthday by posting some favorite sketches from across the Interwebs. I found this on an image search for Neal Adams and Batman, and tossed it into the post right away. Killer sketch, no? However, I had forgotten that a few months prior I had actually seen the image over at Dan Greenfield's 13th Dimension blog. Dan and I were in conversation this morning, and he'd seen that I'd retweeted the image from the Black & White and Bronze account. Hey, something this awesome needs to be shared more than once! Dan asked if I'd be kind enough to credit his ownership. You bet I would - while I secretly covet the piece from afar!

Do click over to Dan's original post - it's a great read, and I think you'll feel his joy in obtaining this wonderful work of art.

And come back to this space on Thursday, when we'll check in on some macabre men as rendered by Bernie Wrightson. October wouldn't feel complete without Bernie!

Monday, October 14, 2019

The Origin of Dracula - a Review from Dracula Lives! 2

Dracula Lives! #2 (September 1973)
"That Dracula May Live Again!"
Marv Wolfman-Neal Adams

Today's story was recommended to me a few years ago when I'd mentioned on Twitter that I was reading the first volume of the Tomb of Dracula: The Complete Collection. I was asked if it contained the material from the black and white magazine. Well, as you can see - yes, yes it does! Not long after the conversation, I got round to my encounter with this telling of Count Dracula's "origin", and all the accolades heaped upon it were realized to be true. It's quite a different looking Count, if you're only used to those wonderful Gene Colan renderings. But just about any character in the hands of Neal Adams is going to turn out special. Let's check it out.

100-Word Review:
We open on the battlefield in Transylvania, 1459. The Turks are pushing north and west from their Ottoman homeland, but the forces of Dracula stand in the way of Muslim advance across Europe. The battle rages, and eventually the prince is struck down and captured by the Turks. Dracula’s personal history is then related, bringing to light the legend of Vlad the Impaler. A Roma woman is enlisted to heal the prince; recognizing him, she instead curses him with the blood of the vampire. As Dracula’s Turkish captors torture him mind and body, he breaks free to enact his vengeance.

The Good: Hokey smokes, will you look at the art! I don't think I've ever seen a job from Neal Adams that I didn't just "ooh!" and "aah!" over (exceptions being some of the tinkering he's done on his reprinted Batman work), and this short story isn't going to change my mind. It is stunning. The panel layouts, the way figures cross barriers to almost leap off the page, facial expressions, the illusion of motion on the 2-D page, and the inclusion of that splash of red every so often all conspire to create a visual euphoria. Adams is great when he inks his own work; Tom Palmer and Dick Giordano were notable in their partnerships with Adams on the X-Men and Batman runs, respectively, but their absence here is largely not felt. Have I said that I like this?


How do you feel about Marv Wolfman? I know there are many fans who don't necessarily rank him among their top scribes, and I guess I'd be in that camp. As I look across his career, I don't hold him in the same regard as I hold Gerry Conway, Doug Moench, or Roy Thomas (to name a few). Yet when I reflect on Wolfman's tenures on Tomb of Dracula and Crisis on Infinite Earths, I'm left with warm regards. I think he must have really clicked with the character of Dracula (or Dracula the character clicked with him), because there is an ownership evident in this story. Wolfman is shepherding Vlad the Impaler through the seminal story of Marvel's version of the Dracula mythos and it's quite nice.

The story itself is brutal, from battlefield to conclusion. High body count, certainly R-rated events and themes, and a quandary for the reader: what does one do when both protagonist and antagonist are despicable human beings? The creators leave no doubt in our minds that we are to root against the Turks, and specifically their leader, Lord Turac. When Turac recounts the behaviors of Prince Dracula and his affinity for impaling decapitated skulls on lances, of running bodies through and then displaying the corpses, there's not a whole lot for which we can cheer. Then Wolfman and Adams put us in the position where we find Dracula to be the hero - when his wife details that she was gang-raped by the Turks and the infant son of theirs is threatened, our sense of justice hopes that Dracula prevails! I found it a tough road to navigate, and was left with a sense that I'd just read a quality comic book story.

The Bad: Nothing here. Amazing story.

The Ugly: Personally, I am repulsed by rape. It murders the souls of both victim and perpetrator, and leaves the victim with an altered perception of themselves at the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual levels. So although the gang rape took place off camera, I found it not much less impactful. As a literary device, confounding my "allegiances" to the Turks or to Vlad the Impaler, Marv Wolfman used the incident effectively.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

The Illustrative Excellence of Nick Cardy

What do you think of when you think of Nick Cardy? Is it the Teen Titans? Aquaman? BatLash? For me, it's usually the Silver Age Teen Titans.

Cardy's illustrative style was endearing to me. Whether on the many covers he penciled or as a narrative storyteller, Cardy's work seemed to have a storybook quality to it. And although he was often working from a hokey script from Bob Haney (which I have come to appreciate as I've aged), Cardy always delivered the goods. From everything I've read about the man, he was a true pro.

Most of the man's output was for DC Comics. I found a few color jobs for Marvel Comics, but couldn't locate the original art. A shame, because it would have been fun to see Cardy get hold of some of Marvel's characters. I've included a Captain America sketch cover to whet your appetite for what might have been.

Leave a reminiscence of the man and his art if you're so inclined. And as usual, many thanks to the collectors who own these gems and provide them on the Internet for all our enjoyment!




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