A decade-and-a-half after his unceremonious cancellation, the Stranger was dusted off and given another shot in Showcase no. 80 (Feb. 1969), which was gorgeously illustrated by Messrs. Grandenetti and Bill Draut, and the Stranger, fedora, turtleneck and all, was soon spun off into his own title once more. It began well enough, but despite some often gorgeous covers, in no time descended into endless formulaic repetition: the PS makes vague, laughably pompous statements, his skeptic foil Dr. Thirteen fumes and rants, and my candidate for all-time most tedious arch-nemesis, Tala (introduced by Bob Kanigher and Neal Adams in issue 4) almost invariably turns out to be behind the issue’s menace.
A couple of years after the book’s cancellation, The Phantom Stranger and Deadman were teamed up again for a Halloween special. Beyond a decent cover, the results were rather… dire. I really, really wanted to like it, but it’s just a hodgepodge of overwritten mediocrity that can’t seem to decide what it wants to be or what its audience is: not scary in the least (even by Comics Code Standards), barely moody, a waste of trees.
*helpfully reprinted, though in dribs and drabs and all over the place, through the 1970’s.
Matt Howarth‘s heroïneKēif Llama (pronounced keef yamma) has already been bestowed an exhaustive spotlight by my partner ds, so I shan’t rehash what she said. But since there are no tentacles involved in this case, I feel I’m on safe ground to take a peek at the spookiest bits of one of our favourite Xenotech’s startling interstellar encounters.
« Morticoccus is overpoweringly large and sinister! In this new world he can live — only if he destroys all other life around him — kingdoms and empires would crumble to dust at his deadly touch! Morticoccus waits in his prison — he waits to get out — and breed!! »
I apologize, but according to co-admin RG (whose sense of humour is apparently more morbid than mine) this is Contagion Week on Who’s Out There? Well, I suppose tentacled microbes and germs are as good a topic as any right now…
Our first foray into germs is This Beachhead Earth, scripted by Roy Thomas, penciled by Neal Adams and inked by Tom Palmer, published in The Avengers no. 93 (November 1971). The Vision collapses, the Avengers send Ant-Man into his body to figure out what’s amiss. I made an earnest attempt at following the plot, but the bad dialogue made my head hurt. Did you know that the scream of an ant « is like the wailing of a forsaken child »? The story includes gems like « frankly, my dear, I don’t give an hydroelectric dam» and « therein lies the only true superiority of the educated man — that he analyzes — dissects — probes — reconstructs ». Oh, the glorious mix of bad puns and pompous lines!
You can read this « paltry prologue to the most portentous Avengers saga of all! », the work of a fellow who’s just a little too fond of calembours and his thesaurus, here.
Continuing on a grand scale – this time, it’s the grandest scale there is! – we pay a visit to the aforementioned Morticoccus (sinister a’plenty, you shall surely agree), arguably the most fatal disease known to mankind, or at least the deadliest to spring from Jack Kirby‘s fertile mind (ouch) . As for me, I really like the giant, lethal bats.
Our third medical study is a little case of fungoid infection that even boasts a name. M’Nagalah had a rather complicated birth. Created by British horror writer Ramsey Campbell for his cycle of H.P. Lovecraft pastiches (to be more precise, the creature first appeared in the short story The Inhabitant in the Lake in 1964), it was soon adopted by DC Comics, after doubtlessly being bowled over by its puppy eyes while visiting a no-kill shelter of the Great Old Ones. It was first borrowed for Swamp Thing no. 8 (1974) and afterwards used as per the Russian idiom “a plug for every barrel“. Just look at this mess.
Challengers of the Unknown no. 82(August-September 1977), scripted by Gerry Conway, pencilled by Michael Netzer, and inked by Joe Rubinstein, starts off with a just mild (if disgusting) contamination…
That fast progresses to the old “unspeakable, indescribable horror” (yawn).
Swamp Thing gets dragged in, and professor Mark Haley blooms prettily in the beginning of Challengers of the Unknown no. 82 (October-November 1977), also scripted by Gerry Conway, but this time pencilled by Keith Giffen and inked by John Celardo…
It is soon explained that this is actually some Elder God trying, as usual, to take over the planet, blah blah blah.
Wishing everyone health and bon courage in these trying times, especially to our poor American friends who seem to be caught in the middle of the virus vortex… And a last strip to end on a more positive note:
« Local people told me that at minus 60 and below, a dense fog settles in the streets, and pedestrians leave recognizable outlines bored into the mist behind them. A drunkard’s tunnel will meander and then end abruptly over a prone body. At minus 72, the vapor in your breath freezes instantly and makes a tinkling sound called ‘the whisper of angels.’ »
Then I thought: « all very nice, but that makes for a rather meagre post »… so I decided to toss in a few bonus images featuring that venerable recurring motif… and got carried away.
Oh, and since I wouldn’t want any of you superhero aficionados to think I’m freezing you out, here’s another demonstration of Mr. Infantino‘s “encased in ice” idée fixe.
… and I can just about hear the « but what about Cap? » troops tromping down the hall, so…
My co-admin ds was just telling me yesterday about a client who, upon remarking to a succession of winter-kvetchers that actually, we’d had a pretty mild January, was invariably met with goggling bafflement, as if he’d just then grown a second head. In related news, it was just announced that said month of January was, indeed, the planet’s warmest on record. There is, naturally, an xkcd strip about this sort of circular denialism.
There’s some sort of Conan-mania around these parts. I’ve never understood the fascination with the Barbarian Hero (associated terms, in case you go barbarian-spotting: loin cloths or Pelts of the Barbarian, taut rippling muscles, oiled back, impressive weapons, the beard of a grizzly bear – or inexplicably clean-shaven at all times – and glorious manly manes), but clearly others go for sword-and-sorcery stuff in a big way. Conan sure puts the ‘sword’ in… err… well, he puts the sword into *everything*, slashing, hacking and dismembering his way through tedious comic after tedious comic.
He also runs into tentacled monsters, like, every 5 seconds. It seems that whatever tentacles existed in the Hyborian Age, they all made a point of appearing in concentrated clusters in whatever geographical area Conan was passing through. I understand, it’s difficult to come up with a decent monster for an Epic Fight Scene every month. Tentacles were clearly Plan B for days when nothing more exciting came to mind.
I’ve actually skipped some Tentacle Tuesday-relevant covers of this Conan the Barbarian series (275 issues published between October 1970 and December 1993) because they were just too ugly… or too boring. Can you imagine a cover with tentacles on it that’s boring?! Well, I can, now.
In the mood for more Conan? Visit another Tentacle Tuesday entry, the Savagery of Conan’s Savage Sword, for a gallery of painted Conan covers, replete with mostly nude cuties and of course a great heaping helping of tentacles.
*because it’s a direct sales edition, as opposed to a newsstand edition, which would bear a barcode.
As I pointed out during my initial foray into the tangled relationship between superheroes and tentacled creatures (Superheroes in Octopus Land), even heroic stock characters with extraordinary powers get bested by the occasional octopus, be it of oceanic, mystical, or outright intergalactic origins. Some of these monsters are aliens from proverbial outer space, some swam out from the depths of the sea for reasons they alone comprehend; some are plants, some are mammals – animal, mineral, or vegetable in form and content.
Our first entry is someone who’s faster than a speeding bullet… but requires a passerby’s help to get rid of some pesky plant tentacles. None too impressive for someone of his calibre, the first superhero that comes to mind for most.
That’s enough bumbling. I’ll move on to someone who can *really* handle tentacle problems!
“High atop Slaughter Mountain, where the rain never stops, stately Stearn Mansion stands silhouetted against the blood-red moon. This is the home of Dr. Strongfort Stearn, known throughout the world as … Mr. Monster!! From this lofty perch, Doc Stearn peers unflinchingly into the black abyss below. For it is Mr. Monster’s mission to search out evil — and destroy it!” Today Mr. Monster is fighting a cute octopus with googly eyes. Sometimes monsters look most innocuous, you know.
And this is the way it was published:
« Since the first simple life-form crawled from the pounding turf, the sea has been laced with legend! From the daring men who faced the raging waves in primitive wooden craft to those who probe the hidden depths today in devices of plastic and steel, fables have been passed, secrets whispered from father to son… » And where there’s sea legends and fables of raging depths, there’s tentacles, you can be sure of that. Can the mysterious Phantom Stranger cope with them?
Maybe saying that starfish have tentacles is stretching it a bit, but just look at the way their arms bend at the ends! Besides, they can “walk” using their tubed appendages, which look like tentacles to all but the most pedantic.
Starro, a.k.a. Starro the Conqueror, was created by Gardner Fox and Mike Sekowsky in 1960. He’s a mean, stubborn alien lifeform with an idée fixe to enslave mankind, which he repeatedly tries to do by scattering his starfishy spores (which grow into clones of himself) over large cities. And, yes, he has prehensile extremities; it’d be difficult to wreak as much havoc without them.
Technically, Medusa’s got hair, not tentacles, but she expressed the wish to be part of our Tentacle Tuesday line-up… and I am not going to argue with a woman with hair that can knock out an army.
Does anybody have an answer for catty Ms. Kyle? I’ll see you next Tentacle Tuesday – until then, keep away from hungry and horny octopuses.
The topic of today’s Tentacle Tuesday is based on a plant-based mishap. I was walking along an alley, minding my own business, when some sort of climbing plant with especially long and vicious tentacle-vines, swinging from from a nearby fence, grabbed my arm. The result were scratches that felt like burns.*
So today’s gruesome offerings are mostly cousins of the Venus Flytrap, if the latter had tentacles to assist its quest for prey. (Let’s breathe a sigh of relief that it doesn’t.)
Midnight Tales often offer moments of “wait, how did that get through the Comics Code?” Arachne (Professor Coffin’s undeniably attractive niece) is frequently more sexually provocative than one would expect from a kid-appropriate comic, crimes committed are nastier than surmised, and the plots go from morbid to surreal… with some comedy thrown in. Oh, sure, there’s some terrible clunkers, as every issue has three or four stories linked by a common theme and illustrated by different artists, but overall the quality remains high throughout its 18-issue run.
I’ve seen people online saying that Howard shamelessly plagiarized Wally Wood’s style – perhaps people more erudite than I see that, but I don’t. “Influenced” is one thing – but one can build on those beginnings to create a recognizable style of one’s own, right? Those who like Wayne Howard frequently classify him as a “guilty pleasure”, and proceed to insult his art while they’re explaining why they like it. To quote, for instance, from Atomic Avenue,who follow the unspoken rule – just mentioning Charlton Comics warrants a condescending tone, and any acknowledgement of their quality has to be tempered by mockery.
Creator Wayne Howard blatantly imitated the style of comic art great Wally Wood right down to his gothic signature, but at least he aimed high in his plagiarism. Consequently, Midnight Tales had the look of a seedy, off-register knock-off of an EC horror comic—putting it at the top of Charlton’s quality spectrum.
In my world of geek’n out over all this great art, Wayne Howard is one of my biggest guilty pleasures. He loves to draw like Wally Wood, but he’s no Wally Wood. His females usually look like Wally’s women after a really bad day, and his males are just plain fugly. His Wood machinery is close to the background machinery behind the awesome machinery, and everything shouts fan art VS pro art, but… Luvittopieces
Ah, well. I won’t be apologetic about liking Howard’s art, and Midnight Tales will be proudly presented as a favourite series on a need-to-know basis. Fortunately, there’s some nice articles about him, too – a sort of obituary for a great African-American artist who died at only 58.
Another Flytrap for your enjoyment, in this tale of brotherly rivalry:
The cover of this issue of House of Mystery is also a good exhibit of plant tentacles, even if the children are a superfluous addition:
Here’s something more recent – published on some almost-thirty years ago, instead of forty – the tentacular adventures of Doctor Gorpon! I hope these guys count as plants (even if they’re slightly more mobile) – they’re the right shade of green!
I only finished reading this three-issue series today, and I must say, it was an exciting ride. Highly recommended (if you can find it, that is).
« Now at this age, I look back and oh, Adams is probably one of the worst things that happened to the medium, when I look at it historically. » – Darwyn Cooke (2004)
On his 77th birthday, the legendary Neal Adams must surely look back on his storied career and radiantly beam (‘gloating’ is for lesser beings). Still, with all he’s accomplished (and with such brio!) in the fields of graphic storytelling, advertising, physics, the theatre and geology, who could find it in his heart to blame him? With so much to celebrate, let’s just stick to the highlights, shall we?