Whatever it Takes to Get 15 Minutes of Reading Time...

Whatever it Takes to Get 15 Minutes of Reading Time...

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Reunited With My Very First Comic Book

The older I get, the more value I place upon the simplest things that may take a smidge of effort but are so worth it in the long run.  I love grinding coffee beans for my java versus a mere scoop and dump into the carafe.  Keurig is strictly for the office when I have to get back to my desk in reasonable time.  I love how long it takes me now to walk the trash out to the street at night, these days living on a farm, because more often than not, God's majesty is revealed to me with sprawling constellations to marvel at.  I indulge in shots and beer but not to extremes, and it's the days in-between without  booze that makes an an alcoholic beverage feel like a reward instead of something you take for granted and possibly destroy yourself over.

I am humbled time and again when I see my album reviews cited at Wikipedia.  I love pushing my body to split and rebuild my muscles.  When I receive a compliment for my dedication to fitness, I welcome it as a badge of honor.  I make the bitchinist salads and fajitas and take pride in sharing them with others.  I put a lot of love into my food creations as I do my everyday work in multiple professions.  I have the reputation of being a tireless grinder when it comes to work (I've been hilariously called Superman by a few) and yet to me, it's just the nature of my own beast.  My son is my greatest task and also my greatest achievement.  Still, at the end of the day, it's the simplest thing to give him my love and my soul; you would never know he's adopted we're so close.  I smile as I build new friendships, in particular people I knew back in school with less than three words exchanged, now finding common ground to build upon in our adult lives.  That's cool stuff.

It just takes a little effort, is all I'm saying.  Patience also goes a long way, while I'm at it.  Given our collective hectic lives as the human race, this is all easier said than done.  I get it.

When I was hosting the forum "Comic Books" at ReadWave, I posted a piece about my very first comic book.  That was more descriptive about the book and its place in time.  My rewrite this time will contain a far more personal slant.  I had no longer owned the book in question when I wrote that column, nor did I the coveted G.I. Joe  # 2 (Marvel's 1980's run) which was the topic of another post I'd dropped at ReadWave.  Both books had been lost to me over the ages and though I routinely spot second printings of G.I. Joe  # 2, I have no interest in it unless it's a first run, not to sound like the snotty Comic Book Guy in The Simpsons.  If something means that much to me, it's all or nothing.

My first comic--drum roll if you would--was Marvel Team-Up  # 72.  It was the summer of 1978 and my parents had just divorced.  I can't imagine what hell my mom faced as a temporary single mother, but this was one of only two periods of my entire life I ever gave her any kind of grief.  It was a shattered moment for us both as my dad exited our daily-do and my stepfather was about to enter the picture.  Yes, I saw my father on Saturdays and we built wonderful memories together in time.  At home, I had silently rebelled by leaving all my toys and trading cards scattered about my new bedroom in Essex, Maryland, as if daring my mother to do anything about it.  I'd been raised to be orderly and neat, which I still am today.  This freakout session is what child psychologists would call lashing out against a traumatic event and challenging the strength of a lone parent--in particular a female parent.  Is it any wonder the villain of my first comic book would be Whiplash?

My mom is tougher than Galactus' shin guard and one day I was taken to the movies with my aunt. This provided Mom the opportunity to show me you never  effed with her--not without dire consequences.  I came home to find all of my toys, vanished, dumpster-bound.  I was momentarily devastated, resentful-even.  Yet something inside that little kid who was frightened to shit after his father told him he was the man of the house now felt relieved his mother could bulldog if she needed to.  We became immediately bonded.  It wouldn't be long thereafter until she was reunited with a childhood sweetheart who'd survived Vietnam and soon took me as his own son.

In the midst of these gales of change came Marvel Team-Up  # 72.  We'd had a brutal way to go as a divided family from late 1977 into the summer of '78.  My mom decided we needed to blow off a little steam by taking a trip to Ocean City with my grandmother, aunt and cousins.  I only remember bits and pieces about that trip, but the most glaring moment came when my mother stopped at a local convenience store and put Marvel Team-Up  # 72 into my hands for the three hour trek to the beach.

Now you younger folk might scoff at the proposition that a lone comic book could entertain a child for so long of a drive.  This is the age of iPod and Nintendo DS, which I refer to as kid crack, since youngsters today can't even go five minutes without being plugged in like junior Borg.  Atari had only just started infiltrating the world and yeah, I eventually had handheld electronic games you've likely never heard of unless you're in your mid-forties today:  Merlin, Split Second and Mattel's Electronic Baseball and Electronic Football.  Our parents were generally stricter over our game play time, and very seldom would they tolerate twittering boops and squawks from the backseats of their cars.  Car Bingo was as much of a red-hot time as you could have as a child inside a car then.  Kids today have it so damned lucky.

Yes,  that single, solitary comic book occupied me for the entire ride.  It sounds ludicrous, I know.  It takes me an average time of 12-15 minutes to read a modern comic today, 15 solid for the vintage books.  How is it possible one comic lasted me so long?

Well, first and foremost, it was the most magical thing I'd seen outside of Kiss, Dr. Seuss and Star Wars.  I wasn't a slow reader by any means, but I was still learning to read comprehensively, so I tripped over certain words until I re-read them and inquired about their meanings.  Bigger picture, it was the mystique of seeing those action-packed panels spread before my eyes that captivated me.  Sure, I'd seen Spiderman countless times on the classic education show The Electric Company.  I'd seen comics many times but never really went after them, though I was deep into superheroes as you can infer by my prior posts here.  My cousin Shawn turned me onto Jonah Hex  later in 1978 though I had already become an avid comics scarfer a week after returning from the beach.

I'm not going to draw out too much time analyzing the plot for you this time.  I'm too busy waxing nostalgia, but the core story is thus:  Spiderman thwarts a cluster of fur robbers but gets shot with dart drug that makes him not only woozy, it mucks up his spider sense.  This leaves him vulnerable to attack by one of Iron Man's main baddies, Whiplash.  After getting trashed by Whiplash, Spidey's frequent enabler Detective Jean DeWolff takes charge of him after he's apprehended by the police.  Jean has summoned Iron Man to lend his expertise about Whiplash.  We're thus set up for a tag team with ol' Shellhead, ba-da-da-daaaaaa!   

Whiplash is in cahoots with an underground mafia of supervillains, The Maggia.  The Section Leader of these costumed thugs ends up being Jean's unhinged brother, Brian, who can manipulate psyches to trigger hallucinations or to do his evil bidding.  Sheesh, I sound as old school as this book.  Brian, that dirty dog, manipulates Jean to turn a gun upon herself.  Spidey and Iron Man pull some trickery of their own to take out Whiplash and Brian in a goofy table turn abruptly ends in forgiveness, puzzling even our heroes.

For a young kid in 1978, however, this was powerful stuff.  I read, then re-read and re-read it again on the way to Ocean City, pausing only to gape at the sprawling Chesapeake while crossing the Bay Bridge.  It was the only sight that could possibly compete with all the trouncing and flogging throughout Marvel Team-Up  # 72.  Well, there were those old Coppertone billboards with the runty dog pulling the girl's bathing suit to reveal her tanless bottom.  They prompted such giggles out of me my mom knew every time what had triggered them.

I lost this book among many others when I was forced to sell half my collection years ago.  There's only so much money these days for pleasure, so rebuilding my collection has been a gradual process, one spent fishing out of dollar boxes and 50-70% off back issue sales.  It's probably not worth any more than the $1.20 I just paid for it, particularly with one of those muscle-building ads I mentioned in the Geppi Museum post clipped out of it.  Being a devout gym rat, I laughed heartily at that.

To me, it's worth a ton, as if I'd scored back Amazing Spiderman  # 252, the single issue I regret letting go.  That was the first appearance of Peter Parker's black suit, the alien nemesis which gestated into the contemporary badguy legend, Venom.  The first appearance on Earth, let's clarify, since it was 1984's Secret Wars  # 8 where Peter and the symbiote first bonded (I do  still have that one, thank you).

Having back the book that christened me into comics, one bearing the classic Rick Barry vs. Dr. J Spalding ad on the back...priceless.  I don't give two craps about basketball any longer, but I was a huge Dr. J. and 76'ers fan back in the day, thus it's always a treat seeing this ad when adding bronze age books back into the collection.

With patience and the effort to keep a vigilant eye out for a book many would finger past a zillion other downgraded comics, I got a sectioned part of my life back.  It's the simple things, I'm telling you...

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Classic Comics Ads: For Big Wheel Post Graduates, the Green Machine!

One of the best Christmas presents I ever got in my youth (aside from the original multi-tiered Death Star playset) was this beauteous vehicle, The Green Machine.

Like most kids of the 1970s, I mauled my Big Wheel jumping ramps and staging Big Wheel demolition derbys with the neighborhood kids I grew up with.  The Green Machine was the more advanced level of rolling plastic thunder.  You had to pump those legs longer and harder and work those gears as if you were being groomed for a professional life in Detroit at the Ford plant.

The Green Machine's specialty was offering young riders the most bitchin' spinouts legally permitted.  I must've had the look in my eyes spotting this ad in a long-ago comic book since I didn't nag my folks for it that holiday season.  I had  put the bug in the big man's ear during the last year I visited Santa before the bomb of reality was dropped upon me.

Thanks to some Christmas magic (I still believe, nyeh), however, I rolled like a champ on my very own Green Machine and was a madman on those spinouts.  The neighbors kindly gave me berth every time I came rumbling down the sidewalk in my Kiss Destroyer  t-shirt and Keds sneakers pounding those pedals with 9-year-old fury, setting up a 90-plus degree rotation with wheels grinding harder than my snarling teeth.

Ahhh, nostalgia.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Father and Son Taking In Steve Geppi's Wonder Emporium

The opening episode of this season of Comic Book Men  triggered it.  I'm ashamed for not getting there sooner.  I'm a homie and a comic book nerd.  This should've been a checked off pilgrimage ages ago.  I've passed by it a zillion times going to Baltimore Orioles games.  If not for the warehouse flanking Eutaw Street serving as a hypothetical shield, Chris Davis or Mark Trumbo might've served it a few souvenir homer balls.

I'm talking about the Geppi Entertainment Museum in Baltimore.  Walt Flanagan summoned his crew at The Stash (i.e. Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash comic shop) for a road trip to open the new season of Comic Book Men  and got a bigger deal than most of us ever will--albeit, the staff at the museum are incredibly nice, helpful and eager to talk with you.  Flanagan's posse and the AMC cameras were accompanied by the owner of the museum, Mr. Steve Geppi himself on their tour.  Better yet, Mr. Geppi pulled out his original copy of Action Comics  # 1 (the holy grail of comic books) to not only show the contents, but to allow Flanagan to inhale its pulp-preserved glory.  You know that special fragrance an antique comic book bequeaths its recipient.  Walt, you lucky S.O.B.

Now I remember as a youngster what a genuinely kind man Mr. Geppi was in his stores, which were, in the 1980s, the mecca of Maryland-based comic shops.  I'll always refer to him with a proper designation as "Mister," since the man has done nearly as much for Baltimore as the former mayor William Donald Schaefer, one of the most beloved individuals who ever served our region.  If you're a true comic book fan, you know the name of Geppi.  He owns Diamond Distributors, the only nationwide comics distributor.  Without Diamond, who knows if we'd have a comics industry as we know and attempt to preserve it for future generations.  With the print medium dying at-large, what he's done for comics should never be understated.

Mr. Geppi owns Gemstone Publishing, Inc., responsible for the EC Comics reprints and the blue book bible Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide.  He owns Baltimore  magazine, more relevant if you're a local, however, this is an award-winning journal of national prominence.  Mr. Geppi is part owner of the Orioles and one its most diehard fans.  Of course, he has Diamond International Galleries, which is what makes Geppi Entertainment Museum the treasure house it is.

Geppi's Comics was an institution.  It was the Baltimore version of Mile High Comics, a place us east coasters ached to visit since they constantly advertised back issues for sale in comics throughout the Eighties.  If you stepped into Geppi's massive location at Security Square Mall, it was the near-equivalent of walking into a Tower Records.  While building his empire, Mr. Geppi was frequently manning the register and if there's ever been a friendlier ambassador for the genre other than Smilin' Stan Lee, I can't tell you who that is.

Frequently, Mr. Geppi would compliment your picks when coming up to ring out, in particular if you were a kid.  He gave me praise for my selections numerous times and whether it was for show or his sincere opinion, it meant everything.  It stoked my passion for comics and befitting of proper customer service, it made me a return visitor, even though I lived on the other side of Baltimore County.  If you know the area, you'll understand what it meant to get from Rosedale to Woodlawn and Geppi's Comics.  There was also a location inside Harborplace at Baltimore's Inner Harbor, and yes, Mr. Geppi could be spotted there too.

My son is following in my footsteps.  I love horror movies, so does he.  I love Star Wars,  so does he.  I love Boo Berry cereal.  So does he.  I love music...you get the picture.  After telling my son what it was like when I was kid, waking up on Saturdays and pouring myself Boo Berry and watching Superfriends  in the 1970s, he simply had to have the same experience with me.  Sure, it's a little different manipulating the event with DVDs, but the intent is the same.

Boyo may not boast the comic collection size of his old man, but he's on his way.  His bin has now overflowed and that makes me happy.  He's still learning to read fluently, but he wants so much to please me and to share experiences with me that it's a humbling thing I know will likely diminish in his teen years.  I've taken the advice of many to savor it all now.  As Nolan has amassed a legion of superhero and Star Wars  toys (many donated by me), his mouth hung agape when I told him a sabbatical for comic book, toy and nostalgia enthusiasts like Geppi's Entertainment Museum existed and that I was overdue a visit.  He was more than happy to tag along.

We've had a rough year as a family.  Like Peter Parker, the Van Horn luck has been "in," and though I've been humbled numerous times by the generosity of others to ease the burdens 2016 has presented us, it's been a difficult challenge.  For a young boy who deserves more fun than he's been provided due to a succession of hardships, I felt this trip to Geppi's Entertainment Museum needed a special touch.

Instead of driving downtown, I thought Nolan might enjoy his first ride on the light rail train, which drops you off right at Camden Yards, where the Orioles play and Geppi's wonder emporium co-inhabits.  I had no idea what was in store for our travel plans, but at least until the North Avenue stop, my son forgot all about electronic gizmos and Five Nights at Freddy's,  taking in the world as only a train can provide.  I was silently congratulating myself as he marveled at everything, including the microcosm inside the train, which can often present its own form of amusement.

Well, I had no clue there would be no service on the light rail between North Avenue and Camden Yards.  Perhaps a quick check at the MTA's website would've enlightened me properly, but then, we might've missed out on a trip that became more memorable than the magic we beheld at Geppi's Entertainment Museum.

The MTA shuttled us by bus from North Avenue to Camden Yards, which is gracious of them, I'll admit.  Neither one of us thought about much else other than seeing Action Comics  # 1 and Detective Comics  # 27 (the births of two icons who stupidly fought for nothing on film this year) live.  Any inconvenience was long to our backs once we were in proximity of these masterworks.  I felt my gut drop in that wonderful way it gets when you're in the presence of something incredible.  It was the same feeling when I interviewed Ronnie James Dio and Rob Halford.

The comics room at the museum alone is worth the price of admission.  Action Comics  # 1 is the reason for the season, yes.  We all rejoiced as a city of comic dweebs when the news broke Mr. Geppi had procured an original copy.  In a way, the comic belonged to all of us, since Mr. Geppi was one of us, and being the righteous man he is, he was sharing it with everyone.  That being said, I felt the same gooey sensation when I spotted the collection of original EC books, i.e. Tales From the Crypt, Vault of Horror, Two-Fisted Tales, Haunt of Fear,  etc.  I own but one original Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror  each, and to behold so many pristine copies that had survived the nefarious book burnings in the paranoid age of  McCarthyism in the 1950s...it was humbling, as a fan and as a lover of history.

For the comics buff, this really is a mandatory crash zone.  Mr. Geppi has on display the first appearance issues of everyone from Batgirl to Black Panther to Iron Man to Doctor Strange to The Incredible Hulk.  Of course, there's an original Amazing Fantasy  # 15, which any rudimentary comics aficionado will recognize as Spider-Man's official debut.  There are the throwback war, cowboy and romance comics, Nancy and Sluggo, Archie...  Truly astonishing, however, is how many vintage Atlas Comics are housed here.  You have to really  be into this stuff to know the old Atlas imprint from the Fabulous Fifties.  In case you're a newbie to the name, you'll know it better by its future moniker, Marvel Comics.

Now, I got ten times more out of this visit than most Gen X'ers, much less kids my son's age.  I was raised on pop culture from the 1920s through the 1960s, so I knew the relevance of Tom Mix and Hopalong Cassidy, two of the old-time western heroes who are showcased prominently around the museum.  I knew the marionette Howdy Doody and his clown sidekick, Clarabelle, which can be spotted in a stellar 1950s room--here you can squint at relic tube televisions with screens barely bigger than a cell phone.

Captain Midnight, Captain Video, Sky King, The Cisco Kid, The Lone Ranger...these were what our parents and grandparents were watching on Saturday mornings as I myself watched Superfriends, The Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner Show, Fat Albert, Tarzan/Batman Hour, Jason of Star Command, Isis, Shazam and Spiderman and His Amazing Friends.  Sidebar, the art of Saturday morning entertainment has been forever lost.  Though most kids today would hardly care in the age of instant gratification via home video and YouTube, Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, Batman:  The Animated Series, Superman  (the 1990s series), Max Steel and Transformers:  Beast Machines  represent the final threshold of Saturday morning escapism.  I miss it greatly.

I geeked over the Flash Gordon serial era collection and my son and I both giggled at the old Superman exercise kit that kids from way back could use to get fit before you could buy into those goading bodybuilding ads shamelessly plugged into comics for eons.  If you don't want to be picked on for loving comics (or consuming heavy metal music, for that matter), do as I've done over the years, and pump iron!  I found myself taking pics for my stepfather, who grew up on the old cowboy shows and who will pine and ache at nearly every corner of the museum once I get him there, since it's tailored to affect all generations.  Get along, Hoppy!!!

Of course, I fell into the wonderful trap of Batman and Star Wars  memorabilia aside from a hundred other things from the 1970s and '80s which I either owned or still have:  I nearly choked seeing my old Close Encounters of the Third Kind  lunchbox as I did the Bat phone and bookcase-opening bust from the Adam West Batman  series.  I said hello to my old crushes Catherine Bach, Farrah Fawcett and Barbara Eden.  Nearly every Star Wars  toy there was in my grasp way back when and Nolan perfectly understood the significance of it.  We all like to say he's an old soul, and he's learned not to rush his elders along as kids tend to do.  He gets it when you explain why something presented affects someone.  I'm just thrilled to have a kid who squeals with delight spotting a Creature from the Black Lagoon  head, much less one who points out every Archie item in the place.

I can't harp enough how courteous the museum staff was.  They embody Mr. Geppi's welcoming spirit and I told them the very story I outlined here, how he made his customers feel special and wanting to be a part of something once considered subculture but has grown into a mainstream phenomenon.  The response I got from one of the employees was this:  "I hear these stories a lot from Mr. Geppi's old customers.  It's all of you people who supported his stores that made this place possible.  Thank you."  Who does that anymore?

Now, the glowing glee Nolan and I felt coming out of Geppi's Entertainment Museum was dashed by the suddenly frigid and windy temperatures outside.  The afternoon weather had been uncharacteristically balmy for fall, hot even.  I'd left our hoodies in the car back on the other end of the light rail line, and keep in mind, the MTA had shut down the Camden Yards stop and those leading back up to North Avenue.  The shuttle bus they were providing pulled away just as we got close to it.

So I parked us under the cubicle at the adjacent bus stop, trying not to laugh at the guy pulling on a joint and suddenly embarrassed to have a father and son in his midst.  The dude whirled into the corner and made it disappear probably faster than he wanted to.  For his shame and courtesy, I gave him a short nod and didn't bust him.  Luckily, Nolan has no clue what pot smells like yet.  The downturn was the wind had picked up and the temperature had dropped an easy twenty degrees.  I'm in shorts and a t-shirt, Nolan in pants and long-sleeve.

The poor child was shivering up a storm as I bear hugged him to keep him warm, in wait of the next shuttle.  Well, that didn't happen for quite some time and I had no choice but to take him into Subway and warm him up with some food.  Vigilantly we sat at the front window, scouting for the next shuttle.  It was comical, actually, seeing us scour each bus that came in preparation of darting for it.  By the time next shuttle did arrive, we bolted out trying to make it.  I had to do this properly so I didn't put my son into harm's way, but we ended up chasing that damned bus for three blocks and not once did it stop, even with all my yelling.

Going as far as I dared with a young boy, knowing the upcoming block was less than appealing, I doubled back and the angry bear father in me escorted his cub straight to the convention center two blocks back, figuring we could snag a cab there.  My gambit paid off and my son got introduced to the blazing speed of a cabbie.  He loved it.  I acted like I was indifferent, but inside I was screaming, don't you dare get my kid hurt!

Having finally settled ourselves on a train at North Avenue, I felt exasperated but proud of myself--more so of Nolan.  I was screaming inside the entire time we couldn't get a bus back, but he bucked up and supported me by being such a strong child.  I showed him no fear and he reciprocated.  The highlight of that entire part of trip came when I said, "Alright, forget the daggone bus, I'm getting us home right now!" and he said in return, "I'll allow you to cuss Dad, I'm doing it inside my head."

With rain now a part of the mix, the light rail yet again snookered us by dumping us out four stops to the end, but a new train collected us fairly quick as we made friends with a woman who laughed at our war story.  The peaceful part for me as a father came when Nolan asked to start reading the comics we'd bought at the gift shop and as you can see above, he fell into a state of content that took my momentary angst away.

I'd like to hope Mr. Geppi might take some pride by his indirect handiwork...

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

New Book Wednesday Pick of the Week: Kiss # 2

I'm humming a medley of "Room Service" and "Love Her All I Can" right now, two of my all-time favorite Kiss cuts from one the band's coolest slabs, Dressed to Kill.   Kiss fans will call to mind that album's dapper-glam cover and go nuts (as I did) for this dud-sporting variant cover for Dynamite's Kiss  # 2.  The photo on this variant was supplied by the band specially for Amy Chu's Kiss comic revival series.

Chu and Kewber Baal continue their comic book interpretation of Kiss' 1981 pseudo soundtrack, The Elder.  Check out my review from last week of the debut issue for further details about this cool project, Kiss' umpteenth appearance in comic form.

Keeping a rock 'n roll theme, be on the lookout this week also for Acme Ink's comic bio of Rob Zombie/White Zombie.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Retro Replay: Green Lantern # 123

When I was a kid, the character Green Lantern fascinated me.  Did Hal Jordan have the gnarliest power bestowed upon an ordinary human, or what?  Okay, so maybe Peter Parker, Jean Grey and Barry Allen trump Hal, but there was something extra cool about sliding on a ring and being able to project your innermost thoughts in green light form.  Considering how many plastic toy rings (i.e. junk) you could get out of a bubblegum machine back then, we kids of the Seventies flocked toward Green Lantern in our superhero playtime.  Arguments were always abound over who was Spiderman and who was G.L.  I usually opted out of those senseless scrums, pulling out my buzzing Han Solo laser pistol and insisting upon crossover character play.  "Ahh, geez, Raymond, you're always  Han!" the other kids would bark.  As I nick from Harrison Ford in departure from my folks following every single visit, hey, it's me!

I came late in the game when I started reading Green Lantern.   Even though a mere buck could snag you a few comics at one time, I did have my mandatory selections (drop down to my Heavy Metal  post for further elaboration) and by the time Green Lantern  # 123 arrived in 1979, the cover price had stepped up to forty cents a pop.  I know, boo effing who, Van Horn, considering today's prices.

I reached a point in life, as everyone does, when I didn't have to rely on my allowance for my entertainment funds.  By the time I started working a part-time job, though, I was still only reading a few titles religiously.  I bought my first car on my own, I paid my car insurance, I needed pizza and Tastycake money for my 10 minute breaks at the grocery store.  Then you had to factor in date money, Friday night movie money and I had became such a connoisseur of music at the time I was blowing an easy third of my part-time earnings on albums and cassettes, much as it had been comic books prior to.

In other words, it took me a hell of a long time to get on board with Green Lantern.  The 1990s were good to me in the fact I was working two jobs, going to college full-time and running track.  My expenses were increased only in the fact I was commuting an hour one-way to the university and doing what I could to slip my folks some extra groceries since they were shacking me up when they didn't have to.  While working in the comic book shop (enjoy my reminiscences in the Big Dumb Lists section), I became affluent with the macro comic world and finally, G.L. made my cut.

I went to a lot of area comic conventions, which were hardly the big ticket item they are now.  Back then, it was a just a mere banquet room in a regional Holiday Inn with local shops selling their overstock and comic geeks playing the superiority game over one another.  I knew a guy who thought you were absolute shit if you weren't reading Legion of Super-Heroes, much less Green Lantern.  You've no doubt witnessed fanboy feuds between Marvel and DC cotillions, and this particular dude was pro-DC with such furor it rivaled supporters of the main two presidential candidates this year.  I was over this dude in a hurry when he snidely told me "Jonah Hex?  Feh.  DC's biggest mistake."  No, that was Bat-Mite.

On the flipside of this exchange, however, I made it a mission to scarf all the cheap back issues I could unearth of Green Lantern  and # 123 was one of my favorites.  Unfortunately, fate intervened when I was broke, still a relative newlywed, and I sacrificed a large portion of my comics.  I sold my entire run with Kyle Rayner and all those wonderful Hal Jordan issues.  It was only recently when I spotted # 123 in a dollar box that I was reunited with the book.  A little tattered, but obviously loved.  I didn't need a grade appraisal other than the staples were there and the spine retains a full edge.

What's great about Green Lantern  # 123 is not only due to an appearance by Sinestro, who was wreaking havoc over Hal Jordan's life (or, being a royal pain in the ass, if you prefer) in numerous issues at this point.  It's not even due to a Superman cameo.  Prior to this issue, "Mission of No Return!" Hal Jordan and Oliver Queen were teamed up under the Green Lantern/Green Arrow  re-brand.  As boldly decried upon Gil Kane's in-your-face cover, Hal and Oliver were going their separate ways with Green Lantern "Back at last in solo star-spanning action!"

The truly cool part to this issue, written by Denny O'Neil and drawn by Joe Staton, is seeing a far less smartass version of Guy Gardner, who is trapped in the Phantom Zone (the same one from Superman's world) in this issue.  Guy is used as a pawn by General Zod and his motley band of imprisoned cutthroats from the galaxy.  Hal takes it upon himself to engineer a rescue, postponing his marriage to Kari and refusing help from his soon-to-be-former partner, Oliver Queen (this story opens the rift between them).  He won't even take a hand from Superman himself, who appears merely to open the portal of the Phantom Zone for Hal.  There's a good reason Supes doesn't get to join in the fun.

Considering the way DC remolded Guy Gardner into a short-lived, cocky superstar in the Nineties, it's hilarious seeing him far humbler and still in trad Lantern tights circa 1979.  Hal is armed with a lead box containing a block of anti-Kryptonite (ta-daaaa!), which helps keep General Zod at-bay even when turning the ring of an unconscious Guy Gardner against Hal.  Do the physics in your head why Hal's secret weapon works inside a dimension constituted by a bipolar molecular density; hint hint, the story is destined for the anti-universe, Qward.

These initial shenanigans against Zod (Terence Stamp would've been heartbroken) are a mere warm-up for a long go-round with Sinestro, lying at wait and striking at Hal with his negating yellow ring projections.  With Gardner's life hanging in the balance, Hal Jordan reverses his bodily atoms to adjust to Qward's inside-out nature.  He takes a lump from Sinestro (in this period, unwilling to take many shots in return) and then, following traditional comic protocol, he comes back to defeat his nemesis.  Hal reduces planetoids to space debris and creates a giant fan with his ring to spray back and blind Sinestro before clocking him cold.  Good times.

Guy Gardner is effectively in a coma by issue's end, no doubt pondering in obtuseness how he'd look in a blue bomber jacket, pirate boots and mushroom cap haircut.

Footnote, I had a blast showing my son this issue, particularly the advertisements for the network Saturday morning programming from my childhood:  Superfriends, Plastic Man, The Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner Show, Fat Albert, Jason of Star Command and Tarzan/Batman.  He and I ate Boo Berry cereal while watching the Superfriends  on DVD thereafter, manipulated from the way I used to do the same as a kid.  Now that's  good times.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Big Dumb Lists: 10 Atari Games That Turned Me Into a Vidiot

Joystick, CX10 and the rare CX40.  Paddle control.  Channel sector switch.  Television Interface Adapter.  Heavy Sixer and Light Sixer.  Turning it over.  Enduro.  RealSports.  Yar's Revenge.  Darth Vader.  If you really  know classic Atari, you know the latter refers to the all-black 2600 console versus the traditional model with the faux wood splashed across the front base.

It's not easy explaining why Atari is a far superior video gaming experience to modern PlayStation and Xbox games, which are more cinematic and astonishingly detailed than Atari's antiquated 128 RAM, 40 x 192 pixel scheme.  It's strictly a generation thing, I grudgingly admit.  You had to have been there like I was, at the dawn of the video game revolution to get it.  Otherwise, you're coughing into your sleeve trying to muffle the word "fossil."

You hear recollections of the deadpan blip-blip-blip  metronome of Pong and it really was like that.  The first true video game in history could make you halfway drowsy.  When the Atari CX2600 premiered in 1977 (the same year the original Star Wars  and the death of Elvis Presley likewise changed the world), even Combat  and the original Breakout  games could leave you numb.  Super Breakout  at least upped the ante in game play and noise selection as Atari became less a geekspeak phrase, bursting into a common household name.  Enough of the history lesson.

Author Tim Lapetino has assembled a beautiful Atari retrospective coming from a different approach than merely celebrating the company that launched Missile Command, Centipede, Warlords and Asteroids, all represented on the cover of his book, Art of Atari.  This rad book is released through Dynamite Entertainment, who have become guardians of time-honored franchises and trusted engineers of reinventing nostalgic properties.  Lapetino's Art of Atari  focuses on the wonderful packaging paintings for those giddy game cartridges by Steve Hendricks, Cliff Spohn, John Enright, Susan Jaekel, George Opperma and of course, Ralph McQuarrie, whom many will recognize as the  go-to concept artist on the Star Wars  films.

We had zillions of games back then, most produced by Atari directly, many of the best by ActiVision. Some were produced by Parker Brothers, who gave it their best shot trying to replicate arcade classics like Q-bert, Popeye  and Frogger  onto the small screen and came up short, except in the case of Frogger, which was sheer addiction once you got a handle over the leery jumps.  Some of the most notable are Pitfall, Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Yar's Revenge, Phoenix, Video Pinball, Berserk, Kaboom!  and The Empire Strikes Back,  which was terrific fun blowing up AT-ATs, but monotonous and frustrating in the fact you'd never be able to beat the damn game.  Lesser-known games such as Surround, Burger Time, Sssnake  and the wonderful Atlantis  are Gen-X treasures, while nobody  will ever again own the flubbed Atari game adaptions of Raiders of the Lost Ark  and the notorious E.T.  game.  The latter, was of course, destined for a landfall burial and the subject of scrutiny in the 2014 documentary Atari:  Game Over.

In my comic shop haunt, we had a blast looking at Tim Lapetino's book as we began recollecting the noises of those old Atari tapes, i.e. the blip-bloop-bleep  ricochets in Combat,  the skin-frying ersatz in Berserk,  the ratcheting digs in Night Driver,  the digital Tarzan whoop in Pitfall  and the rancid fart sound when your cannon got decimated in Space Invaders.  

We got to talking about turning the game over, which for you young bucks, means reaching 100,000 points on a game like Asteroids  before the counter flipped back to zero.  You could, at one point, take a picture of your score at 99,999 and send it in for a hypothetical prize from the folks at Atari that nobody ever earned, to my knowledge.  Like my peers, I spent a ton of time plugged into and zapped by Atari that I was a classifiable "vidiot," as the jargon went.  That being said, here are the top ten offenders who glommed onto my gray matter and turned it into squeezable cheese...

1.  Pitfall

2.  River Raid

3.  Warlords

4.  Space Invaders

5.  Super Breakout

6.  Asteroids

7.  Missile Command

8.  Defender

9.  Centipede

10.  Vanguard

Friday, November 11, 2016

How I Learned About Sex Through Hustler and Heavy Metal Magazines

K, so I just finished reading Heavy Metal  magazine # 281, the dubbed "Sex Special" from this past summer.  Yeah, I'm behind on my reading, this considering Heavy Metal's  "Fear Special" just dropped this week.  With Grant Morrison at the editing helm, Heavy Metal  just may be riding their own new Renaissance, and his riotous "fukk" story, "Option 3" in issue 281 had me roaring, particularly the roundabout fate of his dick-swinging lead.  What a punchline!

The "Sex Special" had me reeling in the years (cue Steely Dan) toward 1981, a golden year for me at age 11.  While I was a year shy of the harshest days of my youth where I was forced to slug my way out of continuous persecution (that day I finally lost it and trashed five kids being a visceral vision in my head all these years later), 1981 was boss.  

Those were sticky nights conjured from my subconscious slumber cinema, projected images of front-and-center band majorettes flashing me and space nymphs prancing around naked while I took their pictures with an old Polaroid Instamatic.  I can still hear the fun cough-sneeze sounds of those antique cameras that were instant gratification if you didn't feel like waiting a week to drop film rolls off at your local supermarket's film developing kiosk.  If you've ever owned a Polaroid and had sex, you well-grasp (no pun intended) the intertwined value.

I was getting away with the crime of century, on a microcosmic scale, anyway.  At age 11, I was reading both Heavy Metal  and Savage Sword of Conan  on a regular basis.   To the average person, what does this mean?  Probably not much, since this material is bred for and consumed by a subculture audience.  Granted, a large percentage of Heavy Metal  readers are intellectuals, much in the same manner surveys have revealed surgeons and finance wizards are secretly listening to Slayer.

Heavy Metal  magazine caters to fans of hard sci-fi, futuristic action, pulp, high fantasy, otherworldly noir...and copulation with species not of our own.  Before the pumping dildo machine you see on HBO's Real Sex,  that gonzo idea was fleshed out long before in Heavy Metal.  While never a true hardcore rag, Heavy Metal  has historically pushed sex as far as conventional society will permit without summoning a right wing cotillion to shut it down.  The fact Heavy Metal  has survived this long and still maintains relevance is truly remarkable.

With this explanation, you better understand the significance of how an 11-year-old boy was able to procure something boldly labeled "The Adult Illustrated Fantasy Magazine."  To hell with Willy Wonka's golden tickets and chocolate factory tours.  This  became my candy.  Rock hard, at that.

At age 9, I'd first learned about sex in the following fashion:  My parents had divorced and my father had visitation rights each Saturday.  For a long while, he hopped from bachelor pad to bachelor pad and eventually, he got careless.  Post-divorce, my dad was a regular reader of Hustler  magazine.  It never really occurred to me I was about to break into forbidden manna when I spotted the following cover peeking out from underneath a stack of newspapers and racing track forms:

Yes, I knew the word "boobs" and I knew women carried them to feed their newborns.  Amazing amidst the sexual revolution of the 1970s there was still far more conservatism in what kids were taught about sex, much less when.  As a father, I'm mortified by how early the schools teach children about drugs and sex, and I have a feeling my personal kid-year sins are about to haunt me in due time.

I'm being honest when I say it was the American flag that first drew my attention upon spotting the August, 1979 issue of Hustler.  I really had no idea what I was in for once I slid it out while Dad was taking a crap.  My eyes literally bugged out.  It wasn't enough to see naked women spread full-frontal.  Hustler  depicted sexual acts (or at least the predication of intercourse) with men's bulking cocks aimed toward the epicenters of their model partners.  I was, frankly, scared out of my mind, still a child, to see that a wee-wee could grow to something so huge and intimidating.

Suffice it to say, my father fell ghostly white upon spotting me with that magazine cracked open.  Poor dude, he was forced into teaching me about sex through a fuck rag.  Once he assured me all was natural and one day I would be that guy with the raging penis (my phrase, not his), I felt better about it.  Of course, I had to listen to my mother rip into Dad over the phone over the whole matter and felt incredibly guilty at the time.  The Hustler  mags disappeared until I got older and the sex-obsessed tween in me (we boys are incurable pervs from ages 12 to 15) went on a scavenger hunt in his house to nick a handful for my personal use.

Now from ages 8 through 10, I was blowing my allowance on baseball cards, Star Wars cards, Kiss cards, candy bars, root beers and comic books.  You youngbloods would shit your pants to know what you could score for a mere buck back in the day.  I was reading Amazing Spiderman, Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spiderman, Uncanny X-Men, Detective Comics, Action Comics  and Jonah Hex  religiously in this time frame.

My introduction to Conan the Barbarian came via Marvel Comics and that soon became added to my must-grabs from the long-ago spinner racks.  Of course, you can imagine where my hormones were heading with the cavalcade of Conan's scantily-clad female characters (usually defiled and portrayed as helpless unless gifted with sorcery or a progressive swordsmanship teacher).  As my reading skills developed, I soon grabbed the Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp's pulp novels featuring Conan.  You betcha there was a lot of fornication involved behind the goring and adventuring, and I was stoked, for lack of a better word.  I was brokenhearted I couldn't see Arnold Schwarzenegger's first film romp in Conan the Barbarian since it was an R-rated orgy of blood and sex, just the things I craved at the time.  To my joy, however, I soon had access to Savage Sword of Conan,  the black-and-white Marvel offshoot spilling just a little more grue and titillation than they allowed in the regular Conan comic.

I won't directly name the chain as they're still today a leader in the convenience store industry, but if you remember their old jingle, oh thank Heaven...   I'm sure slight obtuseness played a part in it, but more than likely, the cashier I normally confronted at this store empathized with what a heterosexual 11-year-old boy mystified by the female form felt like.

I tried my luck first with Savage Sword.   Keep in mind, Savage Sword of Conan  and Heavy Metal  magazines were never kept near the comic book racks or spindles.  They were shoved toward the front of the store, mingled in with Newsweek, Time, Field and Stream, Popular Mechanics,  all the normal trade mags.  If a store proprietor was on the ball, Heavy Metal  magazine was usually sitting between Playboy  and Penthouse,  practically as a dare.

Well, I dared and I won--repeatedly.  Only once did I catch a smirk upon that cashier's face as he rang up two bucks plus five percent Maryland sales tax and off I'd walk with Heavy Metal,  happier than if Red Sonja had given me a lap dance without the chain mail.  I began cutting back on a couple of my other books and swore off trading cards so I could save up for Heavy Metal  and Savage Sword of Conan.   Fate soon played conspirator in my favor as my grandmother eventually skinned me a dollar every Saturday when we'd come by since I hated Pepsi and that's the only soda she'd stock.  I was then able to continue reading all of my favorite comics, so long as I came back with a Dr. Pepper each time to justify her sliding me the Washington every week.  In an indirect manner, Grandma contributed to my Heavy Metal  and Savage Sword  sprees.

Such glorious times.  The ironic fact was I would buy Heavy Metal  and Savage Sword of Conan  on Saturdays from said store, which was within walking distance of my dad's apartment.  I'm sure he knew I was pulling a sham since I would wait until I got home to read those magazines in the privacy of my bedroom.  If he'd leafed through and scouted even one page of Den's fuck-fests while I was away peeing, he never let on.  It would've been a great get-back.  He never narcked me out, God bless him.

Only because I was underage I was unable get in to the Heavy Metal  movie that same year.  So close to the threshold since I was a regular reader who shouldn't have been, but fate again accompanied me three years later as I got myself and my horde of buddies into Friday the 13th, Part IV.   By the time I got the Heavy Metal  soundtrack, those songs from Blue Oyster Cult, Sammy Hagar, Devo, Nazareth, Donald Fagen, Riggs, Don Felder and Cheap Trick became part of my DNA, as a music journalist and fantasy fan.  Before I ever owned Black Sabbath's Mob Rules  album, I associated the song with Heavy Metal,  the magazine and film.  There are certain bands, of the past and even today (such as Baroness and The Sword) that I simply must have spinning while reading Heavy Metal  magazine.  They fit like a, well...you know.

With older eyes and a tighter control over my sexual urges, I get tons more out of these wonderful sci-fi yarns, even when going back and reading the now-outdated 15 Years of Heavy Metal  compendium.  When I read Den, Sunpot and Valentina today, I feel my teeth grit giddily.  This  was my higher school of learning and as one of the children of the future (to pull from Eleuteri Serpieri), I am blessed more than the average of my fellow Gen Xers.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

New Comic Review: Kiss 2016 # 1

Kiss  2016  # 1
Dynamite Entertainment
Amy Chu and Kewber Baal

I'm going to ask you to forgive the overly personal tone to this review.  Call it a quasi-review with a heavy lean on reflection.  Granted, I'm far looser in structure with my posts here at Confessions of an Old School Comics Nerd.  You're likely not expecting AP-style journalism here, nor are you going to get it.  When I'm writing for assignment, the rules are obeyed.  Here, I let my own interjections play free and when it comes to rock legends Kiss, I can't help but let them run wild.  I had a Gene Simmons doll (yeah, yeah, it was a doll back then) and I got in trouble for mimicking Paul Stanley's sex wheezes on "Do You Love Me?" without knowing I was doing anything offensive at age eight.  I used to think meeting you in the ladies room was two dudes taking a whiz in the wrong room, just for the sheer thrill of it.  "Shock Me," a phrase I muttered all day long and then on my way to sleep, until Queen's "We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions" ruled the charts for an entire summer and then some.  Alive  was handed to me in the mid 1970s by my late aunt, of all people, who was mortified by them but savvy enough to know what fascinated me as a child.  I made the local news wearing Peter Criss makeup at a Fourth of July event.  I was a one kid charter member of my self-branded Kiss fan club, the "Firehouse Brigade."  You get the picture.

I've been very fortunate in my thirteen years running as a music journalist.  I've had extraordinary experiences.  I've met or spoken by phone with most of the people who stared down at me from the walls of my long-ago bedroom.  I would need to resemble the multi-armed, arachnid-true Peter Parker from long ago to tally the artists I am downright privileged  to have interviewed:  Ronnie James Dio, Alice Cooper, Nicko McBrain, three-fifths of Judas Priest, another three-fifths from Anthrax, Marky Ramone, Lee Aaron, Rob Zombie, Lita Ford, David Coverdale, even Dee Snider.  Hell, I got to freaking work  for Dee Snider conducting interviews for his House of Hair Online site.  Can you dig it?

It was the latter hub where I fielded conversations with Kiss alumni Ace Frehley and Bruce Kulick, along with the band's esteemed manager in their glory days, Bill Aucoin.  For you true believers out there, the late and genuinely kind Mr. Aucoin sounds like Stan Lee's vocal doppelganger, what a trip.  The stories he shared with me (many off-the-record and remaining thus), wow.   I even had a quick email round with current Kiss guitarist (formerly of Black 'n Blue) Tommy Thayer.  Having time with the  original  Space Ace, I found myself thankfully in the pocket instead chiming like the uber dweeb I'd expected to be.  I was pro, praise be to the writing gods, as I was with Bruce Kulick, though I took the time to thank Bruce for something very special to me as one of the gazillion kids of the Seventies who worshiped this band.

You see, I was given front row tickets to Kiss on the Crazy Nights  tour by my cousin, who was working at Ticket Master at the time.  It meant the world to me to be so close at a Kiss concert, to directly feel the heat of Gene Simmons' fireball spew, the radiating emissions caressing my face like a long overdue baptism as a diehard Kiss fan.  Coming to the show at the long-dead Capital Center on the outskirts of Washington, DC, I'd spent two weeks meticulously drawing the faces of every member of Kiss who'd been in the band upon a bed sheet.  I'm more a writer than an artist, but I took that task as a sacred duty and it remains the finest piece of art I've ever accomplished.

I draped that bed sheet over the steel barrier at front row (never realizing I would one day be prowling the business side with a camera) particularly for Gene to see.  I know he saw it as he did what he's done in and out of makeup for decades, waggle his prolonged tongue and stare in evil character through the seeming oblivion of his rock 'n roll flock.  I threw the sheet up to the stage, near the amp stacks so I wouldn't obstruct the band.  Now, I know Kiss has millions of these types of fan adoration tokens, enough to fill ten warehouses, but I was still brokenhearted when Gene knocked my bed sheet to the floor with a casual nudge of his ankle.  In retrospect, I'm no longer offended.  I see Gene as a businessman on top of rock carnival performer.  This is just who he is and without getting to know him personally, it's all I have to go on.   It was Bruce Kulick who made my everything by strutting from stage left and pointing straight down at me, having seen my dismay.  He flipped me a guitar pick and made me feel pretty goddamn special, even as I had to employ the rock fan's version of The Force by willing that plastic triangle into my mit with scores of hands raining down upon my head and shoulders.  As I said in our interview, Bruce, thank you for that moment.  I would've fought anybody to elevate from buck private to full admiral in the Kiss Army on that magical night.

Which leads us into the new millennium with Kiss, having played farewell tours (psych!) and landed in the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame less than gracefully.  At least the broken fences splintered even further among the original four during the induction process seems to be in repair mode, ever-so-slightly.  Ace and Paul got together for a kickass cover of Free's "Fire and Water" on Frehley's covers album Origins Vol. 1  earlier this year.  Who knows what's possible from here, if anything?

For getting away with bloody murder selling sex jams by the hundreds over the heads of naive children, there should've been some sort of special award of merit by the Hall, if that's what you'd call merit.  At the end of the day, controversies aside, a Kiss concert will always be one to beat, no matter when you saw them play--in makeup or not, whether you had former comrades Ace Frehley and Peter Criss in front of you or the current Space Man and Cat personae played by Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer.  For that matter, you might've had Eric Carr on the kit, or Vinnie Vincent slinging axe--or Mark St. John, for that matter.  No matter the lineup or era, a Kiss show is the Ringling Brothers of rock.

I recently reviewed Kiss' Rocks Vegas  DVD/CD set for Blabbermouth.net, which should be going live anytime now.  As a longtime Kiss fan, I've had my issues over the maneuvers Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons have employed to keep this band rolling through four decades-plus.  Frankly, I'd walked away from the band after the Psycho Circus  album, because I'd seen the writing on the wall.  The original foursome seems unable to professionally inhabit the same working space again.  The conflicts arisen among Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss have been publicly documented.  For us old school Kiss hounds, the invitation in latter years has been to accept or reject the new order manned by Simmons and Stanley with Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer playing parts that sting to see filled by relatively newer shoes.  This, despite Singer holding the longest tenure as Kiss' drummer.  Sidebar, Revenge  (Singer's first album with the band) remains the best Kiss album in forever, albeit Sonic Boom  was a pleasant surprise.

Being a journalist, objectivity rules, thus I found myself pushing away echoes of the words "profiteering" and "facades" when I sat down with Kiss Rocks Vegas.  You can read my review where I was very flattering toward the band.  The praise was justified.  This is still  the show to beat, though I also reviewed Motley Crue's The End  concert film last week and wish I'd been there for that spectacle.  You can see the influence one had upon the other, at least in the terms of giving fans the rock rush of a lifetime.

Which is why I welcomed Dynamite Entertainment's new Kiss  comic that began a couple weeks ago.  However long you've been a Kiss fan, you're more than aware how many times these guys have broken into the medium.  The most famous is, of course, Marvel's 1977 super special, for which the band historically dropped their mingled blood into the printing ink.  Original copies of this book fetch as many duckets as DC's Superman vs. Muhammad Ali,  which likewise blew up the comics world in the same bronze age era.  Gene Simmons launching one against Doctor Doom?  Worth every bit of the buck fifty cover price, a steeper figure back then, I assure you, since we kids were paying an average thirty cents per regular issue.  Nyeh!!!

Marvel, Dark Horse, IDW, Rock n' Roll Comics, Crazy  magazine, Psycho Circus, Archie Meets Kiss and now Dynamite's turn at stoking Kiss' flaming youth comics pyre higher and higher and higher....  It seems nobody can get enough Kiss comics, the same as we couldn't get enough of the Kiss trading cards which were nearly the hot sellers Star Wars (A New Hope)  cards were.

Back in the day, it a was huge deal when Kiss performed on the late night music variety show, The Midnight Special.  My mom actually got me out of bed so I could see it, being the cool woman she's always been.  Then there was the t.v. movie, Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park,  aka Kiss:  Attack of the Phantoms.   Looking at it now (which you can peruse on Volume 2 of the Kissology  video set), gawd,  what a train wreck, but in 1979, it served to show how larger-than-life (pun intended) Kiss had become.  Nearly to the same effect as The Beatles with far less conscience, Kiss took over the whole damned world, point proven with the band blown-up in old-time layering effects like herculean titans over a rollercoaster while slinging out "Rock & Roll All Nite."

This booming Kiss idolatry of the 1970s is the central point behind Amy Chu's Kiss  2016.  While coming off initially like a rip of Terminator 2:  Judgment Day  straight down to similar playground images prior to global annihilation, Chu's book becomes more of a realization of what Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons had sought from Kiss' would-be film score, Music from The Elder.

While longtime Kiss fans are likely to cringe at anything bringing up The Elder  or even Unmasked,  two albums considered the band's most daring (translation, softest), there's a curious sense of fun in what Chu is unraveling here.  It's cool spotting Kiss album cover drops like the sunglasses-toting sphinx from Hot in the Shade  to the four solo albums to a nifty morphing of The Elder's  door knocking artwork into the actual story.

The basic plot so far is thus:  an alarming handful of humans have survived a worldwide holocaust and exist deep beneath the surface in a city called Blackwell--you know, as in "Mr. Blackwell" from The Elder.  A group of futuristic teenagers want more than what's handed them in this subterranean society, thus they do what every juvenile in their position would...sneak off and investigate what lies beyond.  The proverbial escape from the island, staying in theme with The Elder.   This, despite the omnipresent threat of Protectors, who are perceived by the characters as brutish enforcers.  We might also assume it's Kiss, who are inferred in this book as "elders."

What our teen sect finds is a stowed-away greenhouse and a preserved monastery, offering clues to something bigger than their forced microcosm.  On their stolen journey, they spot multiple brands in their surroundings resembling Kiss' kabuki exteriors, even a classy nod to Eric Carr's hawk eyes on Page 5.  Hopefully there's room for Vinnie Vincent's Ankh along the way.  Read into it as you will, these marks are primarily Paul Stanley's Love Child star and Gene Simmons' Demon slashes.  The quartet stumbles through an old sewer tunnel where the faces of Kiss loom like religious artifacts.  Graffiti bearing the message "Only you have the answers" (hoisted from "Only You" on The Elder)  indicates a figurative mantra for this series.  The teens inadvertently trip off a Kiss hologram via an antique supercomputer called Morpheus (in relation to the album, the caretaker by the same name) at the end of Issue # 1, and away we go...

These manifest images of Kiss are the representative elders setting our cast into motion.  Instead of The Elder's  lone boy setting off on his dangerous journey, we get a small youth group.  One carries a knapsack with Paul Stanley's star brand, while another has a rose upon the back of her leather jacket, acknowledging "Under the Rose" from the album.  No coincidence our protagonists are to the power of four, about to undertake The Elder's  embodied odyssey.   

Dynamite did a tremendous job reviving Alice Cooper in comic form in his short-lived recurring series from a couple years ago, along with The Last Temptation  reprint.  Remember, Alice also haunted Marvel at the same time Kiss did, thus Dynamite following suit in the 2000's is a groovy kind of kismet.  If nothing else gets accomplished by this new Kiss series, Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons will at least have had a small last laugh that The Elder  finally stands for something all these years later.  Just so long as this world without heroes doesn't have weeping demons.

Sidebar # 2, I can't wait to see what Amy Chu does to Red Sonja next month, much less how much of Stanley and Simmons' then-controversial vision she and artist Kewber Baal flesh out here.

Rating:  7

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Sneak Preview: Metalheads, the Comic by Ray Van Horn, Jr. and Dominic Valecillo

Because of a mutually brutal 2016, my creative partner from Kiel, Germany, Dominic Valecillo and I were momentarily derailed on all of our projects.

However, Dom is back in the flow and cranking out panels and pages for my Metalheads  miniseries.  The book is a metal and horror satire which pokes fun at the heavy music industry, garnished from my long-term experiences and throwing it a gonzo twist.  The hilarious UK sci-fi comedy The World's End  really stoked my writing process for Metalheads,  which is three-quarters written with Issue # 4 to be started once Dom catches up with the art.

Learn the name Dominic Valecillo.  He's on the rise as a frequently-retained artist by bands for their comic-themed promotional material and he's scheduled to appear at Germany's comic con in 2017.  This brother gets me on every level and has come up with such brilliant touches to my script, if I was a girl, I'd be thoroughly wet.  We met as a paired-up creative team for the Society 1 comic, No Salvation,  which you can order directly from the band's website.  No Salvation  serving as my first official comics writing credential, I'm happy to have procured Dom's services for Metalheads.

We're gonna slay this thing, so here's a sneak preview of rough treatment pages from Issue # 1.