« La matière en était gélatineuse et peu consistante; elle se décomposa, au bout de quelques heures, en un liquide rose et gluant, d’une odeur insupportable.* » — Jean Ray, Dans les marais du Fenn
Aw, good old muck monsters…
Perhaps the first to emerge, at least in the English language, was Theodore Sturgeon’s “It”, published in Unknown’s August, 1940 issue, whose title page warned: “IT wasn’t vicious, IT was simply curious — and very horribly deadly!“
But IT was preceded, by some years, by Raymond Marie de Kremer alias Jean Ray’s superb Dans les marais du Fenn (« In the Fenn Marshes »), first published in the Belgian literary magazine L’ami du livre’s issue of November 1st, 1923! A handful of Ray stories (often published under his alternate nom de plume, “John Flanders”) were published in US pulps, including the legendary Weird Tales, but “Dans les marais…” appears to have somehow, to this day, remained untranslated to English.
This is Supernatural Thrillers no. 1 (December, 1972, Marvel), an adaptation by Roy Thomas, Marie Severin and Frank Giacoia. Cover by Jimmy “Profa” Steranko.
*« Its matter was gelatinous and insubstantial; it decomposed, within a few hours, into a viscous pink liquid of unbearable odour. »
Some folks seem to display a knee-jerk reaction to the legacy left behind by men and women who lived decades ago: that of condescension. Surely, if it was something that our grandparents believed in, something that made their imaginations soar or intrigued them, by now it’s no longer relevant or just utterly jejune. Frankly, I’d poo-poo this repulsive straw-man I’ve just erected, if it wasn’t for the fact that these narrow-minded airheads actually do live among us. “I’ll listen to music from before my time when today’s musicians stop releasing such excellent music”, somebody daft once opined, and the same (ahem) logic seems to be apply to other forms of culture. If TV shows from two years ago are ancient (overheard at a restaurant), what can we possibly think of comics from 70, 80 years ago?
As you probably noticed, this blog suffers from no such delusions: there’s plenty of intelligent, touching, excellent-all-around material to be dug up from (in this instance) the Golden Age.
Sorry about the varying quality of the images; some of these stories have been reprinted in recent years (and thus, thoroughly cleaned up, or even lovingly restored from original art); and some of them are only available in the original form, which is to say shoddily printed, dubiously coloured, and not all that well preserved. The Golden Age was, as I noted previously, a long time ago…
All right, let’s begin! I have a few favourites in this post, and our first story is one of them. I had access to a pristine, cleaned up, painfully white-papered version of it from Golden Age Marvel Comics Omnibus no. 1 (2009), but I by far prefer the following version, which keeps the colours, shall we say… less blinding? This is On the Planet Ligra, originally published in Marvel Mystery Comics no. 9 (Marvel, July 1940). It is scripted by Steve Dahlman, who did a very nice job of it, too. It’s worth a read in its entirety; find it here.
The next few pages demonstrate the dodgy printing I was referring to earlier…
This next part I like a lot, because I’m quite fond of Henry Fletcher, Barclay Flagg and perhaps even Hank Christy. These are all the same person, of course: Fletcher Hanks, The Most Bonkers Comic Book Creator of All-Time, according to Mark Peters. For now, let’s just look at some tentacles, although I will doubtlessly return to this theme at some later juncture.
Because of Fletcher Hanks’ relative cachet, comic scholars and restorers seem to have paid a little more attention to his work of late, and at a result, we can admire the two following pages in all their mighty crispness.
Getting off the Hanks bandwagon, we move into nonetheless enjoyable territory with Dynamic Man. These panels are from an unnamed story (with matching unknown artist ) published in Dynamic Comics no. 9 (Chesler/Dynamic, 1944).
Last but not least, as boring people say, is my second favourite of today’s post, both because I love the art and because the story gave me something to sink my teeth into. .
Twilight of the Gods, the cover story, is also illustrated by Edd Cartier. It’s surprisingly nuanced, doesn’t fall into horrible stereotypes despite the presence of several Chinese characters, and even has an interesting moral. Read it here.
Next week, I’ll return to my usual diet of the Latest Published Thing as well as superhero crossovers! Just kiddin’.
« Drosera’s snap tentacles — which can sense moving prey — catapult insects directly onto the glue tentacles at the plant’s center, where the prey is digested. What’s more, the catapult system is very effective—the insect almost never escapes. » (source)
Which child hasn’t passed through a temporary fascination with Venus flytraps in particular, and carnivorous plants in general? From there it only takes a tiny shift of the imagination to arrive at man-eating plants, which grab their victims with murderous tentacle-like tendrils, crawling vines and grabby creepers. Today we delve into one of my favourite sub-categories of tentacle obsession: plant tentacles.
This spine-chilling greenery often deploys its lethal vines in some remote corner of the Earth (well, in comics, at any rate). This, I firmly believe, is far scarier than the idea of other planets harbouring these carnivorous forms of life. After all, our chances of landing on Mars or somesuch are slim, and we’re a lot more (though not very) likely to wind up in some mysterious jungle.
But first, we deal with that old trope about a power-mad scientist breeding some man-devouring monstrosity in a pot, garden or greenhouse.
When I was a wee girl, my dad would give me piles of adventure books to read. Quite a few of them involved some intrepid explorers discovering (or literally falling into) a jungle (often hidden in some volcanic crater) in which prehistoric creatures had somehow survived (among the novels I remember reading were Sannikov Land and Plutonia by Vladimir Obruchev, The Lost Worldby Conan Doyle,Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne, The Land That Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs, etc.) Cue dinosaurs and woolly mammoths! As I loved dinosaurs, I didn’t mind this recurring theme, which by now seems a little, shall we say, hackneyed.
The cover story, The Deadly Jungle, is scripted by Paul S. Newman, penciled by Giovanni Ticci and inked by Alberto Giolitti.
« The stranger’s face was entirely obscured by a broad-brimmed felt hat bent downward over his features; and the long, black coat looked almost like part of the thickening fog. » –Harry Vincent first encounters his future employer. (Shadow Magazine, April/June, 1931)
We note today the birth anniversary of Walter B. Gibson (September 12, 1897 – December 6, 1985), an extremely prolific writer and professional magician. Gibson is best known for developing the radio character of The Shadow, through nearly three hundred stories he wrote under the collective nom de plume of Maxwell Grant.
The Shadow’s had an interesting and varied career in comics, but Gibson’s novels (and the radio shows… Orson Welles!) are where it’s at. Still, let’s take a look around, shall we?
As a bonus, let’s slightly depart from comics proper and admire a couple of paperback reissues from the brush of noted fabulist James Steranko.