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Thursday, October 31, 2019

A Treat from Steranko - Two Versions of "At the Stroke of Midnight"

Vampire Tales #2 (October 1973)
Tower of Shadows #1 (September 1969)(cover by John Romita)
"At the Stroke of Midnight"
Jim Steranko

Happy Halloween, everyone! What's a fella to do when he's noticed that almost a year of this blog's life has gone by with nary a mention of one of the all-time greats? One cobbles together a fun post featuring the art of Jim Steranko, that's what! As mentioned last week, I recently purchased a copy of the Vampire Tales trade paperback (volume 1) at our local Half-Price Books. Other than Marvel choosing to trim it in digest size, it's a wonderful compilation of the first three issues of the magazine of the same name. Interestingly, those magazines included some gems from Marvel's horror past. And some of those had nothing to do with vampires. But who am I to quibble, especially when those stories featured art by the likes of Bill Everett, Gene Colan, and today's featured artist. Boom!

Today I'm featuring a short story by Steranko in its original color version, side-by-side with the black & white reprint that graced the magazine shelves four years later. For my money, the B&W version is superior to the colored art. You decide for yourself, and I'd invite you to leave a comment at the conclusion of your perusal. Along the way, color or not, I hope you relish Steranko's panel layouts, his use of lighting/shadow, and the general tension of the tale. It's top shelf horror writing, and of course we all know what a master Steranko is at layouts. So enjoy this treat, and I hope you are not on the receiving end of any tricks when the little goblins are out and about this evening. Stay safe, effendi!

Monday, October 28, 2019

Maus: A Survivor's Tale. And Here My Troubles Began, Chapter 4 - a Review

Maus: A Survivor's Tale. And Here My Troubles Began (1991)
"Saved" - Volume 2, Chapter 4
Art Spiegelman

Is it possible for a story featuring the Holocaust and a modern dysfunctional family to have a happy ending? We're close to finding out, as one month from now we'll witness the conclusion of Art Spiegelman's masterpiece in biography/autobiography. But until then, today we'll be party to the winding down of Vladek Spiegelman's trials in Nazi-occupied Poland. The Soviets had drawn near in the east, and the Americans and Canadians were pushing from the west. The war was nearly over... but would that stop the Jew-killing?

100-Word Review:
World War II spiraled toward its conclusion in the spring of 1944. Vladek and his fellow prisoners had been forced to go on a death march as the Soviets had approached Auschwitz. Arriving at Dachau, just outside Munich, Vladek’s odyssey was far from over. Moved to the Swiss border, then making his way across the German countryside, Vladek evaded murder at the hands of the Wehrmacht on more than one occasion. Assisted by the Red Cross, taking advantage of abandoned German provisions, and finally meeting the Americans, Vladek’s return to life could commence. But what of Anja…?

As is typical of the beginning of each chapter throughout both volumes of Maus, the story picks up with a scene between Art and Vladek. As we begin, the discussion is about money, and loneliness... so let's jump right in with

The Good: By now I've made it abundantly clear that I feel the "here and now" scenes are as important to the power of Maus as are the war-era history. Art the storyteller often uses dialogue with his father to frame what is to come. Here we see Vladek bemoaning money, his health, and the fact that Mala had left him. He's pretty down in the dumps, and perhaps that is made worse by Art's lack of patience with him. Art snaps at the suggestion that he and his wife, Francois, could move in with Vladek. He bristles again at the request to help Vladek hang his storm windows. Art insists that Vladek has enough money to pay someone to a) stay with him for healthcare, and b) do handyman jobs around the house. But Vladek is having none of it, having been conditioned during the war to conserve every resource. It's made him somewhat of a pathetic victim of his own history, but that's where I find these elements of Maus to be so powerful -- we're not only privy to the circumstances in the past, but to the bitter fruit born of those years.

Vladek answers Art's question about his mother's whereabouts when Vladek was in Dachau. Vladek makes the point that Anja and other women had been marched from Auschwitz at a different time than the men Vladek was with. Herein lies the core of the Nazi camp system - not only was it sprawling, but it was well-organized. There were female SS, and those women (perhaps along with male guards, too) would have supervised the evacuation. What's more, there would have been stops along the way for processing. It's likely that the women might have taken a path to camps where there were female SS on those premises to assist. Hence, the men would not have known exactly where the women had been taken, and also not necessarily their future destinations.

It's well worth noting on the page samples above a couple of things: First, as the prisoners figured out that the war was over, it did not equate to safety. As you see, within a short while Vladek and his mates found themselves facing the business end of a Wehrmacht patrol. But the war was over, you say - what is this? It does give one pause, and raises some questions: Were the Germans so infected with antisemitism that even at the end - no, past the end - they would still seek the conclusion of the Final Solution? And what else could possibly be a benefit for those soldiers? Germany had no assets, the government was going to capitulate, the economy was in shambles for the second time in a little over 20 years... where would be any sort of reward? Second, the villager - following no orders - attempts to turn in Vladek and his mates. What were his internal motivations, because one would have to assume that any external pressures had desisted by this juncture.

Vladek's reaction to "real food" is an important tale as well. When you consider how meager his sustenance had been over the past several months, his body was in no way conditioned to digest anything thick like milk, or with any grease such as chicken. So that they got sick is a story you can find often, the more survivor testimonies you encounter.

I enjoyed the interactions between the American GIs and the survivors. I crack up every time the soldier thanks "Willie" for the shoeshine...

The Bad: The scene above, with the photographs, gets to me every time. And the Spiegelmans had photos. So many survivors lost not only the lives of loved ones, but these keepsakes of memory as well. I feel badly each time as Vladek narrates the stories of all of Anja's relatives, but then tells that almost his entire family was lost. The page below, where Vladek's body is basically a splash page broken by the sad stories he tells Art, is powerful.

The Ugly: I'll mention here that films like Schindler's List, and other resources, often give the viewer the impression that once the war was over, it was end-of-story for the survivors of Hitler's persecution. This couldn't be further from the truth, as many survivors spent years in Displaced Persons camps, or wandering Europe searching for loved ones. The last of the DP camps did not close until 1960! And emigration...? To where? Most nations did not relax their immigration quotes. Keep in mind, too, that Israel is not sovereign until after the events of 1947-48. Perhaps this is why there's one more chapter in this book. See you in four weeks.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

DC's Horror Anthologies Covers - Original Art

If I ever have a spare $200 or so laying around, I am going to pick up the omnibi for DC's House of Mystery and House of Secrets. I was never into horror or mystery comics as a kid - all superheroes, all the time (with the occasional sword & sorcery or science fiction tossed in for good measure). But as an adult, and largely due to my increased interest in the B&W mags, my curiosity has been piqued.

Today I have a cornucopia of covers from those books, as well as DC's Ghosts. Enjoy the ghoulishness!

Neal Adams

Neal Adams

Nick Cardy

Ernie Chan

Luis Dominguez

Luis Dominguez

Luis Dominguez

Joe Kubert

Mort Meskin

Joe Orlando

Ricardo Villagran

Bernie Wrightson

Bernie Wrightson

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...

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