Adventures in Revisionism

Adventures in Revisionism: Full House of Horror

Danny laughed as Michelle snuggled herself into her three layers of blankets.  “But I don’t think Old Peppermill would mind living in our basement.”

“Well, that may be so, but I don’t think a horse can be comfortable down there,” Danny said as he turned off the light.  “But why don’t we go visiting at the stable after school Friday?”

“You got it, dude,” Michelle chirped.  With that, they said their good nights.

Once the door was closed, Danny sighed as he saw Jesse standing in the hallway, looking rather grim. “Can we talk?”

Danny nodded. “I think so.  D.J. is on a date with Steve and Stephanie is holed up in her room working on a paper.”

“Joey?” Jesse asked. “You always forget about Joey.”

“Somewhere,” Danny said with a disgust that was repressed but far from hidden.

Jesse walked with Danny to the kitchen, where on the table Jesse had left behind an inconspicuous, small, red notebook, its pages filled with quotes meticulously taken from Michelle and the twins. “Becky’s out with friends and I just put the twins to bed,” Jesse said.  With that, he began to absent-mindedly flip through the notebook. “The twins talk like Michelle did;  still does. They don’t sound like kids their age at all.  And Michelle hasn’t really…changed.”

Danny nodded. “It must be because Michelle and the twins were infants when…it happened.”

“It”,  Jesse laughed in spite of himself. “It always kills me when you just call it…well, it.”

Instinctively Danny looked toward the basement. “Yeah.  After all these years, I still can’t…can’t think of the words.”

After a cold silence, Jesse blurted out,  “Why did it bring back Joey but not Pam?”

“We’ve been over…”

“It even created a clone or something of…of that girl who bullied you in high school.” That always surprised Danny, that the thing had both the power and the will to bring Kimmy Gibler into his life, as a distorted reincarnation of her teenage self, completely unbidden. The girl had made his sophomore year of high school hell, and now she lived somewhere in Wyoming as a chiropractic’s secretary.  Yet here she was, only now it was she who was the butt of everyone’s jokes.  “But not Pam.”

“Jesse, don’t…”

“For God’s sake, you asked it to bring back the guy who was fucking your wife but not Pam!”

“You’re talking about your sister!”  Danny hissed.

Jesse shook his head. “You’re right.  I’m sorry.  I just can’t let it go…”

Danny put a brotherly hand on Jesse’s shoulder. “It’s okay.  I still understand why you have to keep asking.  I don’t understand why it didn’t bring back Pam either.”

Jesse reached out and hugged Danny. “Thanks, man.  I’m just…”  Jesse paused.  “Never mind.”

“No, what?”

“Sometimes I wonder…” Jesse said, each syllable coming despite his obvious reluctance.  Shaking his head,  Jesse left for his and Becky’s room.

While he entered the basement and moved the boxes blocking the door that he told his children just led to a disused closet, Danny reflected bitterly on how much he loved Jesse like a brother and as a result how much he despised having to lie to him.   No, it was necessary.  Their situation was bad enough.  It was better that the burden should be his alone, wasn’t it?

As always, as soon as the door began to creak open the noises began.  It was primal in a way that seemed to be out of tune anywhere outside the imagination, the way it tickled Danny’s lizard brain and clawed at his nerves.  “….ttttlkkkklllkkkk…”  it went, the noise becoming louder.

As always the dimensions of the room felt wrong, as if he had just stepped into the atmosphere of an alien planet even though the room was certainly in San Francisco, California, United States, North America, Earth and was as always small and empty, save for what at a glance appeared to be a cloud and some lights at the left side of the room.  “…ttttllllkkllllkklll…” it continued to hum.  Danny knew from the beginning that it was intelligent, but he suspected that when it tried to communicate with him it was like any human communicating with an ant.

Looking at it for more than a couple of minues gave Danny migraines, but when he could resist the overwhelming instinct to look away he saw a dark mass, looking like neither flesh nor a cloud, whose full height and width did not seem to stay constant from second to second. That day he pieced together a description of the Fifth Ceremony of Carcosa and conjured it into this room, he thought he had made a terrible mistake. Then they returned, as if that accident with the drunk driver and everyone in Joey’s van never happened.  Indeed, Danny looked, but he could find no newspaper articles or obituaries describing the accident as it originally happened, even though the memories of receiving that phone call from the police was still emblazoned on his memory.  For Jesse it took longer for Becky and the twins to come back, but it did happen.

Suddenly the noise stopped, and a voice coming from a human adult yet sounding in some sense to be the voice of a broken, lonely child rose from the cloud. “Danny? You’ve come back?”

The third week that it was there he found Pam inside of it, but she did not speak and only peered at Danny with empty eyes. Then eight months later, it spoke with at most two-syllable words. Now he could almost have conversations with Pam, just barely.

“Yes,” Danny said, as if he had just returned from a routine trip to the grocery store.  “How are you, Pam?”

“Danny?  I think there was an accident.  The noise…”

“Don’t think about it, hon.  It was only a nightmare.”

“Oh.  I think I can see it now,” she said. The voice was different too, more casual, more even.  He could almost believe that the worst day of his life by far never happened, that the idea of Pam being gone for good never had to even cross his mind.

Danny approached the cloud, even though something deep inside screamed for him not to take a single step, and took Pam’s hand in his own.  It was warm.  The first two years Pam’s body was cold and he couldn’t feel any blood pump through her.  The thought surfaced unwanted:  It’s learning.

“I just came to say good night,”  Danny said, jerking away from Pam’s touch with more violence than he intended.  “Are…are you comfortable?”

“I feel very good.  I just want to see you more often,”  she said gently.

Danny smiled.  “I know.  Good night, hon.”

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Comics, The Forsaken

The Forsaken: Satan’s Six (1993)

Let me begin by saying this:  Jack Kirby was a genius, in every sense of the word.

Vintage Kirby.

Kirby was also astonishingly prolific, having an entire portfolio of ideas from the ’70s and ’80s that were never truly completed, much less adopted into print.  Along came Topps Comics, a subsidiary of the trading card company of the same name and one of the practically countless companies that mushroomed in the comics boom of the early ’90s (and withered away in the crash of the late ’90s/early ’00s).  With an eye toward long-time readers of comics, Topps licensed some of Kirby’s old concepts to form the basis for the company’s very own “Kirbyverse.”  Granted most of the titles under the Kirbyverse umbrella would be written and drawn by people who were distinctly not Jack Kirby, who would pass away the year after “Satan’s Six” was published, but these were still concepts from the same mind that gave us the X-Men, the New Gods, the Fantastic Four, Thor, the Newsboy Legion, and Destroyer Duck.

One of those unused concepts that probably lied in a file cabinet in Kirby’s home for many years was “Satan’s Six,” which is a great title however you cut it.  Kirby had come up with the premise, most of the character concepts, and had even scripted and drew eight pages.  When Topps picked up the license, they had Tony Isabella (probably best known for his run on “Ghost Rider” and as the creator of DC Comics’ “Black Lightning”) write a script incorporating Kirby’s pages with art by John Cleary (who didn’t do much outside this series, except some work for Image Comics in the early-mid ’90s).  Whatever Kirby originally envisioned with this series, and info on what “The King” himself had in mind with “Satan’s Six” is surprisingly scarce, the published result was, in spite of the title, a light-hearted comedic romp, just about the adventures of a group of wayward souls trying to earn passage into Hell.

Topps certainly treated the comic like a fan’s dream event, having big names like Frank Miller, Terry Austin, and Steve Ditko ink single pages while the pages Kirby originally drew and scripted were included in full (albeit far from seamlessly).  But…did it merit such attention by so many greats?

I will say that, out of all of Kirby’s ideas brought to light by Topps, “Satan’s Six” is easily the most distinctive.  The eponymous six include five human souls from different locales and time periods – a narcissistic knight from King Arthur’s court, a dancer from a Babylonian temple, a Victorian mad scientist, a Zulu warrior disgraced for refusing to harm animals, and a hard-luck gambler from Prohibition-era America – who were all neither virtuous enough to ascend to Heaven or evil enough to be sentenced to Hell.  Desperate to end their time in eternity’s waiting room, they all demand entry into Hell at least.  A low-level manager of the Abyss finally relents and offers to let them into Hell if they return to Earth and help corrupt souls.  At the London nightclub they’re stationed at, they’re finally joined by their “sixth”, a demon with a fondness for heavy artillery  named Frightful.  Meanwhile the angel Priscilla, who has responsibilities over “comic book characters” (they’re real, except they’re not, but…oh, whatever) has plans to intervene and instead redeem the five, no matter what Frightful and his employers intend…

It’s a fun premise that takes a fairly dark concept – I mean, imagine a group of people so fed up with a bland, desolate afterlife they’re eager to go to Hell, and that same group who without hesitation sign up for a job of leading others into damnation – and builds a zany comedy from it.  It’s perfectly possible to have something light-hearted and militantly goofy from even the idea of eternal punishment – after all, Looney Toons had plenty of blunt references to the Devil and Hell – and in the grimdark, macho atmosphere of early ’90s comics “Satan’s Six” still stands out as a nice change of pace.  Also it is true that the comic was clearly written for diehard fans;  hell, the very first couple of pages include a rather touching tribute to Joe Shuster.

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So why was “Satan’s Six” a failure, destined only to be remembered by Kirby fans?

Well, there are plenty of theories.  One is that fans were willing to lay down money for something drawn and written by The King, but not old concepts of his handled totally by other people, no matter how well-known or talented in their own right.  Another is that Topps failed to stand out in a market that was already oversaturated and being dominated by newcomers like Image/Wildstorm and Valiant.  These are probably true, but for me…well, look at the page above and behold the teeth.  

I don’t get any delight from blaming the failure of a collaborative work on any single person, but John Cleary’s contribution is…to put it in polite academic-ese, problematic.  For starters, saying his style is somewhat influenced by Todd McFarlene is like saying that Oreo cookies are slightly derivative of Hydrox cookies (and no, it’s not the other way around).  Then there’s…the teeth.  But it’s not just the teeth, it’s that even when his characters are just talking they look like they’re screaming or at least they appear like they’re trying to hold a conversation in the middle of a bowel movement.

satanssix2

Keep in mind, this is just during a normal conversation!

It’s not even so much the questionable art choices – after all, this is the era when Rob Liefeld became famous enough that Marvel was willing to hand most of its major properties over to the tender mercies of his pen – but what it’s up against.  Compare what’s above to something from Jack Kirby’s original pages:

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Put aside arguments about quality;  the styles are so different they don’t even seem to belong in the same galaxy, much less the same pages in the same comic.  Couldn’t they have hired an artist who would or could closely imitate Kirby’s style?  Would that have been so difficult?  It’s not like Jack Kirby was the single most influential comic book artist of all time.

To be more positive, Tony Isabella does what he can with what he has.   There are some good gags and one-liners, even if the jokes about Arthurian knight Brian’s megalomania make him out less to be a lovable oaf and more an unpleasant sociopath (much like latter-day Homer Simpson, actually) and the Babylonian dancer Dezira is a receptacle for dumb blonde jokes so ancient they probably were uttered in the comedy clubs of Babylon (although, Dezira’s existence notwithstanding, did the have blondes in Babylon?).  Honestly, at the risk of blaspheming the King, I think some of the key flaws from the writing front come straight from the original concept.  The protagonists really are terribly one-note – literally the only thing we learn about member Harrigan is that he was a gambler from the 1930s – and the subject matter is maybe treated too lightly even in the outlines.  Maybe it would have worked better in the ’70s when you had weird and PG-rated yet still edgy occult concepts like Marvel’s “Son of Satan”, and as far as I know maybe comics like that were the original inspiration, but in a grittier medium that had known the pitch-black comedy of Marshal Law and Milk & Cheese, a comic with a premise like this one demanded somewhat darker tones.

satanssix4

Jack Kirby be with you, Satan’s Six. Even he couldn’t save you from being filtered through the warped sensibilities of ’90s comics.

Like I said, if you look at it from a certain angle or maybe while standing on your head it does look like an early satire of ’90s comics.  Brian the knight kind of does come across as a parody of the macho ’90s superhero.  But that might be reading too much into it, and the fact of the matter remains that even an industry veteran like Tony Isabella couldn’t figure out how to take a half-finished concept from Jack Kirby and make it into something that would fit into the medium as it stood in the ’90s and at the exact same time hearken back to the glory days of one of the greatest minds to work in comics and, honestly, any medium.

Oh well, at least the issue also has a “Wolff & Byrd, Counselors of the Macabre” strip drawn by Steve Ditko.

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Literary Corner

Trash Culture Literary Corner: Worlds of Power: Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest: Chapters 12-13

I intended to post on something else, but WordPress’ image editing function is glitching on me for a reason I cannot even guess, so here’s another image-free post on Worlds of Power:  Castlevania II.  At least this gets me one step closer to being done with the least horror-esque book based on a horror franchise ever.

So, now that Simon and Tim are on the verge of fulfilling their mission, surely they’ll face a true threat now, right?

“Hey, hold on there!”  said the thing.  “I said argh because I just stubbed my toe trying to get away from you guys.  You wanna give me a break?”

I think I’ve seen Care Bears episodes where the protagonists were routinely in greater moral danger than the protagonists of this novel.

Anyway, Tim and Simon run across a monster Tim compares to the Creature from the Black Lagoon.  I guess it’s supposed to be based on the mermen enemies from the Castlevania games, but by this point does it really matter?  Whatever it is, it’s named “Freddie.”  From the resulting conversation we learn that all monsters, including Dracula, just end up in another dimension.  ‘Cause here we can’t even refer to destroying the undead vampire that embodies the ultimate evil (okay, I know in the actual series Dracula never really dies, but still…).

Oh wait, maybe, just as they’re about to get the rib, they will actually face something other than obvious riddles:

The floor shook.  A fissure opened in the rock, and something emerged that made Tim want to just forget this whole thing, go run back to his home dimension and hide under his bed.  It was an eyeball.  A flying eyeball!

Of course, a flying eyeball boss doesn’t exist in the game, but at least it’s something!  Could F.X. Nine be attempting to capture something of the spirit of the games finally?

“I see you!”  said the eyeball.

Never mind.  As you might guess, Simon defeats the eyeball kid by throwing a cloak over it and stabbing it (eeeeww…), which, the narrative makes clear, doesn’t destroy it and only sends it back to that magical dimension of Wimpy Lazy Writing.  I know I harp on this nearly every post I write about this book, but I still can’t believe that the writer is so reluctant to even let the monsters die.  Come on, even the bad guys (and parents of protagonists) die in G-rated movies!

We do, though, get an appearance from Dracula, who does appear in a rather eerie way.

When he turned, he saw the skeletons were joining together.  And from their joined bones and skulls, a face was forming.

[…]

“Bah!”he cried in a voice that sounded like the rattle-snap of thousands of bones breaking.

Okay, I have to admit, I like that bit.

“You think you have beaten me!  But you have much further to go yet.  I have more tricks up my sleeve that will not be so easy for you to deal with.”

Oh, Dracula, honey, part of being a good villain is not sounding so desperate.

“Right!” cried Tim, feeling full of himself.  “You can go to New York City and visit the Vampire State Building!”

Oh my Alucard, I hope that Dracula is wrong about us having much further to go.

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Literary Corner

Trash Culture: Worlds of Power: Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest: Chapters 10-11

It’s been a while, but I can’t leave anything uncompleted, even a crappy kids’ book written purely for profit based on the least popular installment of a horror video game franchise that can’t even really talk about horror.

Or can it?

Simon looked ill, as though he were struggling with something inside of him that he didn’t want to talk about.  ‘Berkeley Mansion was a bad place, before Dracula ever came to Castlevania.  It is a house where a great baron once killed his entire family, his servants and guests – and was there beheaded for his crimes by the law.”

Wow, was that…an actual reference to death?  A bit of classic horror?  Maybe this book will turn around after all…

As we enter the doors of this great house, I am reminded of the beginning of one of your jokes, Timothy Bradley,  ‘Knock-knock!’

Tim looked at Simon, and then back at Berkeley Mansion.  ‘You want me to say ‘Who’s there?’  Well, I’m not going to!’  He took in a long breath.  ‘Cause, I don’t really want to know!’

Maybe not.

Anyway, Simon and Tim go to Berkeley Mansion, home of one of Dracula’s body parts that must be destroyed.  Naturally, they must find a secret passage.  Luckily, this doesn’t involve just throwing holy water on random blocks like in the game (it makes sense in context, sort of, not really) but touching a white crystal to an arrowhead.  To be fair, the crystal is in the game, but not the arrowhead at all, so don’t expect this book to even serve as a useful strategy guide – which would be rather sad if that’s what you were expecting from the book, anyway.

But, if you were enraged at this book for ignoring the mechanics of and events in the actual game, then we have a treat for you:

“Something evii is blocking this passageway!”  he said.  “Which means that it may be something that is protecting the rib of Dracula!

[…]

Simon dug into his pack and drew out the large flask filled with the Holy Water they had received from the monk.  “If indeed this is evil, it’s not going to like this!”  He tossed a splash of the water upon the wall.  The effect was immediate.  It was as if Simon had tossed a stick of dynamite.

To be honest, I kind of do wish the book had more of things like evil walls exploding because holy water was poured on it.

So what lies behind the wall?  Murderous animated skeletons, a swarm of floating Medusa’s heads, a vampire bat the size of a car?  How about “Nothing from the source material”?

“Oh dear, of course.  How I do go on sometimes.”  She giggled almost girlishly.  “You must understand, that I am the caretaker of Berkeley Mansion!”

Castlevania:  Land of Danger and Excitement!

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