Saturday, October 24, 2020

Casper The Friendly Ghost Goes Ape

The first thing I think of when thinking about a giant ape is Casper the Friendly Ghost?

Well, not really, but Casper did face a giant ape in two of his issues, Casper #129 (May, 1969) where he had to rescue Wendy the Good Witch from the super-sized simian....and later, in Casper #218 (October, 1981), where he put the fright into the giant ape.

Sadly, no records of the artists of these Harvey comic covers is available.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Doorway To Madame Xanadu The First Two

Walking down the street, you see that place, the one they talk about in whispers.  

You're not sure you should go in, with all it's occult trappings.  

It seems odd, but also inviting...dare you step through the doorway to nightmare and meet....Madame Xanadu?

Readers were faced with that choice in 1978, and here are her first two tales!

Cindy Barns

Cindy Barns was the first person to step through Madame Xanadu's doorway in Doorway To Nightmare #1 (January-February, 1978) by David Michelinie and Val Mayerik (with a stunning cover by Mike Kaluta) to find Madame Xanadu, ready to give her a tarot reading after she polished her jars.  

Cindy was an actress who came to New York to make it big, and even got a part in a play...to lose it arguing with the director about lines.  But, she impressed Brad Jacobs, writer of the play and one of the hottest playwrights on Broadway, who took Cindy in to get more writing advice.  

The two became close, having shared interests, but things went to the devil when Erika got involved (who happened to show up then at Xanadu's shop, to make an odd threat, but would not enter).  Erika was Brad's set decorator, and she didn't approve of Cindy.  Brad's health was starting to deteriorate, and he would wander off with Erika at times.  Curious, Cindy followed them once, and saw them performing some odd ritual.  

Madame Xanadu informed her some great evil was involved, and would have to do research before acting, so Cindy should wait to act.  Cindy was in love with Brad, and couldn't wait to act, so she went to see him, where he ended his relationship with Cindy.  Distraught, Cindy went home to her apartment, where Madame Xanadu saved her from a demon (or was it a trick of the light?).  The duo went to the location where Erika and Brad did their ritual....to find them there again.   

It is revealed that Erika was using sorcery to drain Brad's soul to save her from cancer, but Erika was Erikhatmen, daughter of Tutankhamen, and that she had been using sorcery to keep her cancer at bay since 4500 BC!  Madame Xanadu said she couldn't interfere, yet Cindy could, and did, breaking the pyramid device Erika used to drain Brad, ending Erika's unnaturally extended life, but starting a blaze which seemed to consume Madame Xanadu as well.  Passing by Xanadu's shop a few days later, Cindy and Brad were surprised to see Madame Xanadu there, polishing a new jar in her shop (which if you looked at closely, contained a lock of red hair, the same as Erika's!). 

The letter's page, Tarot Readings, promised this title would be something a little different, and would cover ancient mystic history, as well as inviting readers to write in about the issue, or any odd supernatural occurrences in their lives.

Douglas Holt And Melissa Mann

The next two to enter through Madame Xanadu's Greenwich Village doorway were Douglas Holt and Melissa Mann in Doorway To Nightmare #2 (March-April, 1978) by Gerry Conway and Vicente Alcazar (with cover by Mike Kaluta).   

Douglas was an artist, and Melissa a physicist, and Madame Xanadu was ready to give the lady a reading (even if Melissa didn't believe).  Madame Xanadu asked her to slow down her work, which upset Melissa, who didn't want to stop Project Doorway, and left in a huff, figuring this a scam that Douglas put the tarot reader up to.  

Douglas explained to Madame Xanadu that Melissa was working on a project with Professor Hampton Hill at New York University, but that she was also falling in love with the professor (or what she thought was love, as she, like the professor, were both coldly devoted to science).  Madame Xanadu suggested he should still watch the pair, and come to her if he needs help.  Melissa and Hill continued work on Project Doorway, and succeeded in opening a dimensional rift, unleashing a small horde of demons, which froze the pair to inaction, but Douglas was there to smash the machine, with the demons fading away.  

But, Melissa suddenly had newfound emotion, and wanted to go out and eat and dance (and more) with Douglas, which he enjoyed.  The second night, the pair went to a party, but Melissa left with another man, and showed up to the lab in the same clothes the next day, and embraced and attacked Hall, then Douglas, with Hill having her committed at Bellevue Psychiatric Ward.  Douglas told all this to Xanadu at her shop, who gave him a book on exorcism, and told Douglas to prepare.  

Douglas and Xanadu went to Bellevue, where Hill was waiting with Dr. Grant, who was saying he had little success treating Melissa, so they let Douglas and Xanadu set up.  It seems Project Doorway did release a demon, who took up residence in Melissa, and Xanadu and Douglas had to cast it out, which they did, but while the battle freed Melissa, the experience was too much for Hill, who became a new resident of Bellevue (without supernatural assistance).  As the happy couple left, Madame Xanadu did as well, with a new full jar for her collection.

Tarot Readings had no letters yet, but did feature a history of the Tarot by Bill Kunkel.

Madame Xanadu had three more issues of Doorway To Nightmare in the 1970s, then moved into a few issues of Unexpected for a bit, then her own title for one special issue in the early 1980s, as well as meeting Superman (and joining the larger DC Universe), a group of tales that it is a mystery as to why they haven't been collected in a tradepaperback.


 


Monday, October 19, 2020

Lady Monsters In Charge


The Bride Of Frankenstein, Dracula's Wife and the mate of the Wolfman show who's really in charge in this cover of Mad House #105 (November, 1976) from Archie Comics.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Kobra Two By Two The Fourth Endgame

Kobra had been leading a charmed life....but, all good things come to an end.  

Here's where the original Kobra saga came to its end, with two final solo stories based around the Lord Naja-Naja's battles with Jason Burr.

 

The Lazarus Conspiracy

For once in Kobra's history, his creative team was the same, as Kobra #7 (March-April, 1977) hit the stands with Marty Pasko, Mike Netzer and Joe Rubinstein handling the story (and Netzer doing the cover....) as the saga of the battling Burr brothers continued.

 

Here, Jonny Double and Professor Ross Emerson were celebrating their supposed victory against Kobra, thinking they blew up his Ark (in the previous issue), as Jason Burr dashes their hopes by storming into Double's San Francisco office, fresh from his delay in Oregon.  

 

Meanwhile, Kobra is dealing with his troubles, punishing the men who let Jonny Double get one of wrist weapons.  Burr and his friends go to the hospital to check on Randu Singh, now blinded in the aftermath of last issue's battle with Kobra.  Burr recounts his history with Kobra, his parents' death and how his now missing girlfriend, Melissa McNeil, comforted him and put flowers on their graves for the last six years.  Double told Burr of his plans to go to New York with Emerson, and that they would take care of the flowers, as Burr now checked out the wrist weapon Double got.  

Using that device, Burr was able to get aboard Kobra's Ark, and battle his troops (putting Jason where Kobra wanted him).  In New York, Double and Emerson find that Burr's parents' graves were robbed....six years ago, and that no one had been there in that time!  Back to Burr, who discovers Melissa held captive in Kobra's Ark, as Kobra also takes Jason captive as well.  Kobra has a few new devices, including a Neural Neutralizer to prevent their brotherly physical telepathy from sharing their feelings.

Kobra uses an Empathic Magnetizer to share the pain Kobra is inflicting on his lackeys with Burr.  Jason feels more pain, as Kobra leaves him alone with Melissa, who tells Jason that, though she doesn't know why, she no longer loves him, but loves Kobra instead.  Kobra now reveals his plan to Jason, that Project R is for Resurrection, as Kobra plans to kill world leaders, then resurrect them under his control.  Jason breaks free of his bonds, and battles Kobra, who throws Jason off his Ark over Hudson River (as they were flying to New York), thinking he could kill Jason.  Double and Emerson have to wonder about Melissa and Jason as their facts with the Burr's graves put doubt on their story.  Yet, Kobra feels pain after turning off his Neural Neutralizer, making him realize Jason is still alive, so, plans to resurrect his parents (whom Kobra has)!

The letters' page promises a nest issue, guest-starring Batman, that would deal with these issues....yet, in a rare time of not promising the title's end, the comic was cancelled with this issue!

 

The Dead On Arrival Conspiracy

Still, the story of Kobra did get an end, in DC Special Series #1 (1977), as writer Marty Pasko reworked his tale to make it a little more of a Batman story, for Mike Netzer and Joe Rubinstein to draw (all under a special Neal Adams cover for this special 5-Star Super-Hero Spectacular issue, with four stories unrelated to Kobra, featuring Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman and the Atom).

The adventure begins in Gotham, as Batman prevents members of the Cobra Cult from stealing a letter from the post office...and Batman is startled by the technology and uniforms of these thieves, especially when they evade him by being beamed up into the air!  

Odder still, that the letter he found, was addressed to Bruce Wayne.  Taking the letter home to the Batcave under the Wayne Foundation, and reads its contents to Alfred Pennyworth (Bruce's butler), as the letter recounts Kobra's origins (from issue one), and how Melissa ended up in Kobra's clutches (all with the letter being sent to Bruce because his family had slight ties to Burr's, with the letter being delivered by Burr's detective friend upon belief of his death, as Burr wanted Batman to continue his fight against Kobra, and Wayne was a known friend of Batman....unknowingly to Jason, Bruce was Batman!).  

But, Jason was alive, and, under duress, was revealing what was in the letter to Kobra (as Kobra was protected by his Neural Neutralizer).  Batman used clues he gathered as he discovered Kobra's Ark, and that it had been in the Swiss Alps, home of a secret base of Ra's Al Ghul, which Kobra had appropriated, having Alfred fly him there, so he could break into the base.  In the base, Batman is eventually captured by the Cobra Cult, and bound with Jason Burr, Kobra reveals his plan to them, to kill them by dipping them in Ra's Lazarus Pit, which Kobra has treated to kill anyone immersed in it, and restore them to life under Kobra's control.  

After telling them his plan, Kobra leaves the area (sigh...) and that allows Batman to use his acrobatic abilities to loosen his utility belt, dropping it into the pit to explode, and the two get free.  They find Melissa, and after a brief tussle with Kobra, where Batman takes him captive, they prepare to leave, with Jason and Melissa going ahead in the rail car off the Alps.  Kobra breaks free of Batman using his Neural Neutralizer, and beams aboard his Ark as Kobra's most nefarious plan comes to fruition, that Melissa, who was oddly deathly cold, kills Jason (as Kobra had killed and enslaved her prior to Batman's arrival).  

This causes Batman to vow to work with the Justice League to bring Kobra to justice.

While this ended Kobra's series and his individual war against the world, Kobra would pick up that war in many different titles, including Aquaman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and the Outsiders, DC Comics Presents and even briefly in the Crisis On Infinite Earths...    

 

...and later return to menace the Outsiders sans Batman, throw the governments intelligence agencies into chaos in the Suicide Squad/Checkmate! Janus Directive, deal with King Faraday on the Danger Trail, fight Deadshot, Deathstroke, Katana, Peacemaker and the female Dr. Light, face Wally West's Flash, work against Batman foe Bane, deal with Oracle and Black Canary in the Birds of Prey, face Tim Drake's Robin and more before a change in his status quo (and the new Kobra faces the JSA) and so much more, proving Kobra one of the most dangerous men in the DC Universe.

Finding these issues now is a little harder, as only Kobra #1 and the DC Special Series have been reprinted in Kobra: Resurrection (2010), but his Aquaman and Batman and the Outsiders appearances have been collected, as has his reinvention of Cheetah parts of his Wonder Woman appearances.  Time for a collection of the first seven issues of Kobra, plus the Five-Star Super-Hero Spectacular (with Jonny Double's Showcase and Marty Pasko written Superman #326/#327 as well) to give Kobra his due!


 

 

Monday, October 12, 2020

Gray Morrow's Mad House Covers


Archie Comics usually is known for light humor, but for three issues in the 1970s, Mad House became a horror anthology under the Red Circle brand!  

Artist Gray Morrow provided the covers for Mad House #95 (September, 1974), Mad House #96 (November, 1974) and Mad House #97 (January, 1975).


The stories featured monsters, zombies, vampires, demons, gypsies, and more to get you in a Halloween mood.  

Stores were written by Don Glut, Marv Channing, Bruce Jones, John Jacobson, Frank Doyle, Stan Goldberg, and Ralph Alphonso  and drawn by Vincente Alcazar, Doug Wildey, Carlos Pino, Jesse Santos, Sal Amendola, Bruce Jones, Al McWilliams, Gray Morrow and Frank Thorne, with Marv Channing and Frank Thorne introducing vampire hunter Henry Hobson as a potential reoccurring character....had this direction continued.


Saturday, October 10, 2020

Superman Vs Giant Insects


Even the mighty Superman can be bugged by things once in a while....

 

...especially when those bugs are really giant, invading insects, as they were in Action Comics #326 (July, 1965) as shown in the story by Otto Binder, Curt Swan and George Klein (with Swan and Klein showing the danger on the cover!).

 

The Legion Of Super-Creatures

Clark Kent was enjoying time watersking with Lois Lane, when cries of a sea monster made him have to change into Superman.  Finding the monster, Superman was unable to best it, forcing the community to have to close down the lake for a time.  Heading back to Metropolis, Superman had to save a plane from a giant attacking mosquito....which ripped his indestructible red cape.  

Later still, Superman tried, and failed to rip up a giant spider web near the Daily Planet, nearly ending up eaten by a giant spider as he was caught in its web.  Why were these creatures so harmful to Superman?  Were they from Krypton?  The army tried green Kryptonite against them, to no avail.  Superman, searching for clues at his Fortress of Solitude, found an alien ship, and went to check it out.  Entering the ship, it closed the hatch behind him, and took him to the planet of Giantia, a giant world orbiting a red sun, where Superman found a cult of death worshiping aliens, who planned on using the super-insects to destroy 100 worlds after their own had ended.  

Earth was the 100th, so, the aliens blew up this world, with Superman barely escaping in the ship in time (having lost his powers in the red sun/high gravity of the insect world which had made the creatures such a menace).  As the craft returned to Earth, it pulled orange Giantite behind it, which, as Superman orbited Earth wondering what to do next, had started to fall to Earth....killing the bugs, as Giantite was as deadly to them as Kryptonite was to Superman!  

 


A bit of luck saved Earth, and Superman, and, as any Silver Age fan who wants to read this tale of invading insect alien monsters, you can find it reprinted in DC Special #21 (April-May, 1976) or in Best of DC #42 (November, 1983)!

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Swamp Thing Two Beginnings


Swamp Thing may have started his first appearance fully formed, but he had back story that developed as that appearance progressed...

...and, the swamp's protector even had it happen twice!  Read on to see how DC fans were introduced to two Swamp Things in the early days of the Bronze Age....and how they would eventually meet!

Swamp Thing

The original Swamp Thing first appeared in House of Secrets #92 (June-July, 1971) in a tale by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson, as the creature watched a mansion at the edge of the swamp.  In the mansion, were recent husband and wife, Damian Ridge and Linda Olsen Ridge, married six months, yet Linda kept thinking of her previous husband, Alex Olsen.  Alex and Damian were scientists, and in the process of their experiments, Alex was killed in a fiery lab experiment.  

Damian had sabotaged the experiment, and taken Alex's dying body, and buried it in the swamp, as Damian had secretly lusted for Linda.  After Alex was gone, Alex pursued and married Linda, but she was beginning to suspect something.  Alex, realizing he loved freedom more than Linda, planned to kill Linda.  The swamp creature saw Damian trying to kill Linda through the window, and burst in, killing Damian.  Linda recoiled from the creature in fear, so the creature left, with Linda unaware that the creature was the mutated body of her husband, Alex Olsen.


Dark Genesis



That tale was so successful, that Wein and Wrightson were allowed to do it again with Swamp Thing #1 (October-November, 1972).  This time around, it was a different Swamp Thing watching a barn on the edge of the swamp, a barn to which had previously come government agent Lt. Matt Cable, bringing scientists Alec and Linda Holland, a married couple that had been working on a bio-restorative formula that would accelerate and enhance plant grow, which would be very valuable to many people.  

After Cable left them to their work, the couple were approached by Maxwell Ferrett and his thugs, who were looking to purchase the formula (which the Hollands were unwilling to sell).


Ferrett left making a threat to the couple, leaving them on edge (though they felt better after a wayward dog later came to the barn/laboratory.. ...though they shouldn't have, as the dog had a bug...which allowed agents of the Conclave to listen in to them, all the better to direct Ferrett, their agent).  After Linda leaves for a bit, Ferrett comes back, trying again to get the formula from Holland, who again refuses.  So, Ferrett rigs a bomb underneath the lab table, and leaves.  Holland wakes up, sees the bomb, and as he goes to defuse it, watches it explode under the bio-restorative formula, burning Holland, and sending his flaming body running into the swamp to die.  


As Cable and Linda bury a coffin representing the presumed dead Alec Holland, and have the government restore the barn/laboratory, the swamp gathers together, creating the Swamp Thing with the memories of Alec Holland, who vows to protect Linda from returning evil.  Cable, Linda and the dog return to the lab, where the dog wanders off (listening to instructions on his secret transceiver) with Matt Cable chasing after the dog.  Ferrett and his men return, killing Linda.  Swamp Thing finds Linda's body, and, enraged, goes after and kills Ferrett and his men, with Matt Cable returning to witness the end of this story, promising to get answers, as Swamp Thing wanders off to his new home, the swamp.....unaware that he is being watched by something evil and Arcane.....

Later issues of Swamp Thing would introduce readers to Anton Arcane (who would become Swamp Thing's greatest foe), as well as his brother, Gregori, and niece, Abby (who would become the Swamp Thing's great love), as well as Arcane's Un-Men and many other menaces in the swamp and beyond.  

Swamp Thing's original run would last 24 issues, with Bernie Wrightson leaving art duties with issue #10, and Len Wein's last written issue being #13).

Swamp Thing would have few appearances over the next few years, working with the Challengers of the Unknown and Deadman to fight Multi-Man and to find Rip Hunter in Challengers of the Unknown #83 to #87 in the 1970s, then helping Superman fight versions of Solomon Grundy in DC Comics Presents #8 (April, 1979), and meeting working with Batman in Brave and the Bold #176 (July, 1981), leading into a new Saga Of The Swamp Thing series.

Swamp Thing would come into conflict with the Sunderland Corporation during the course of the Saga Of The Swamp Thing, as well as grow closer to Abby, and battle Anton Arcane again.  

Swamp Thing would also learn uncomfortable truths about himself, and grow into a Protector of the Green, that dealt with the Parliament of Trees, which included others who were Earth Elementals, who had formed from similar accidents to Holland's, including Alex Olsen, who had taken root with the Parliament, and the two would meet as Swamp Thing learned of his real power thanks to John Constantine and his efforts to protect Earth from a coming battle of good and evil (as well as the Crisis On Infinite Earths), all the while, proving love is eternal, and sometimes, have two beginnings.