Friday, October 31, 2008

Jack Kirby's Spirit World!

This is it, gals and ghouls! I hope you've dug this Halloween blow-out as much as Ol' Groove has. It's been a lot of work, but it's been worth it--I hope! Anyway, here 'tis...the grand finale for this Halloween! Who could we end with but the King of Comics, himself?

When Jack Kirby moved from Marvel to DC in 1970, it was bigger than anything today's comics fans could imagine. Kirby (along with Stan Lee) was Marvel to all true believers, and his going over to DC was like Hippies voting for Nixon--it just couldn't happen. But it did. When Kirby packed his pencils for the House that Superman built, DC's head honcho Carmine Infantino welcomed the King with open arms. Kirby was busting with new ideas and formats, ready to write, pencil, and edit like he hadn't done in years. We all know about (or should know--go bob for apples with no apples if you don't!) Kirby's Fourth World creations (New Gods, Mr. Miracle, and Forever People) and how Jack revamped Jimmy Olsen. But who remembers those black and white mags Kirby kreated, In the Days of the Mob and Spirit World? Not many fans do. Not because they weren't good, but because they were so rare. DC didn't even put their name on it (what the heck was "Hampshire Distribution, Limited"?), distribution was terrible, and they only lasted one issue apiece. Sometime in the future, I'll try to lay some'a the Mob mag on ya, but this is the end of our Halloween bash, so we're gonna travel into the Spirit World (Fall, 1971). First up, how about some fumetti, Kirby-style with "Children of the Flaming Wheel"...

Trippy, huh? How 'bout something a little more traditonal--but still pretty far-out? Like..."The Screaming Woman!"

Whew! Well, that's it for this Halloween, Groovesters! Come back tomorrow when we really kick things into high-gear with a brand new look and logo! Pax!

Morbius--the Sci-Fi Vampire!

In 1971, the Comics Code Authority was loosening up. To paraphrase Bob Dylan, the times they were a'changin'! One of the things they loosened up on was the use of the supernatural. If monsters and such were used in "the classic sense", they were allowable (Zombies were still forbidden in color comics, though). That left a lot of leeway for the more creative types. Guys like Roy Thomas and Gil Kane, who took the a 1950s sci-fi movie approach to creating the first flat-out vampire comics fans had seen in quite some time: Michael Morbius.

Morbius (the Living Vampire) first appeared as a villain in a two-part tale beginning in Amazing Spider-Man #101 (July, 1971) and ending in #102 (August, 1971). Morbius, we learned, wasn't a traditional vampire, but a man with a blood condition whose experiments to cure that condition changed him into a being who had to ingest blood in order to live. In other words, a sci-fi vampire, baby! Morbius origin was revealed smack dab in the middle of ASM #102, and it went like this...

Can you dig it? No wonder Morbius caught on, huh? And catch on he did! A few months later (April, 1972) Morbius had another run-in with our favorite web-head, this time in issues 3-4 of Marvel Team-Up, where he also had to duke it out with the Human Torch and the X-Men. Marvel had faith in Morbius, that our anti-hero, vampire-with-a-soul could handle his own strip, so in the spring of 1973, he became the headliner for one of Marvel's earliest black and white mags, Vampire Tales #1. The strip ran through all eleven issues of that mag (with Morbius making the covers for issues 3, 10, and 11) with a variety of writers and artists (from Steve Gerber and Pablo Marcos to Doug Moench and Sonny Trinidad) handling the creative chores.

Morbius was also given a shot at carrying a color title, headlining Fear from issues 20-31 (November, 1973-September, 1975). Again, a veritable who's who of creators took turns chronicling Morbius' adventures (folks like Mike Friedrich, Paul Gulacy, Steve Gerber, Gil Kane, Rich Buckler, Craig Russell, Doug Moench, Frank Robbins, Bill Mantlo, Don Heck, and George Evans), resulting in some fun stories, but not a lot of consistency.

With two mags cancelled out from under him, Morbius resorted to guest-star status, teaming with Man-Thing, Ghost Rider, and others in Marvel Premiere #28's Legion of Monsters, then joining forces with the Thing in Marvel-Two-In-One #15 (February, 1976). A left-over story intended for Vampire Tales showed up in Marvel Preview #8 (Fall, 1976), and then it was back to battling Spider-Man (Spectacular Spider-Man #s 6-8, February-April, 1977). Morbius appeared twice more right at the end of the Groovy Age in Spectacular Spider-Man issues 38-39 (October-November, 1979)--and ish 39 was just a flashback. That was pretty much that for the Groovy Age, but Morbius made a huge comeback in the 90s, finally getting his own title, but that's a story for another blog, ain't it?

Okay, my Groovy Ghoulies, it's almost time to wrap things up! What am I gonna lay on ya for the grand finale? A rare gem fit for a king! How's that for a cryptic clue? See ya soon!

Halloween Plop!

I hit ya with a little bit of Plop! for our first (Weird) Sunday funnies edition (you can view it here) and promised you more info on that far-out fearsome funnybook. Ol' Groove keeps his promises (when he remembers 'em), so here's the skinny plus some cool covers and another spooky strip, to boot!

In early 1973, DC was running ads warning us that Plop! was coming. We didn't know what Plop! was, but we were definitely on the lookout. Plop! turned out to be the weirdest, wildest mag of twisted black gross-out humor we could imagine. Wanna hear the story about how it all began? Come closer, kiddies, and try not to get the furniture sticky with your candy-coated little fingers, okay?

In House of Mystery #202 (February, 1972), editor Joe Orlando (renowned as part of the E.C. gang back in the Fifties) ran a strange little strip by writer Steve Skeates and artist Sergio Aragones. With talent of that caliber, you knew it was going to be something special. "The Poster Plague" warned folks in a small town that Klop! was coming; and in the end it did--spelling disaster for the town. Darkly humorous disaster. The kind that makes you giggle in spite of yourself.

From there, Orlando pow-wowed with Skeates, Aragones, and then-DC publisher Carmine Infantino about doing an entire comic mag filled with gross-out, black humor. They kicked around several names and settled with Plop! Infantino had high hopes for the mag, publishing it as a full-length 36 page anthology with no ads for the same price as all the other comics on the rack (twenty cents at the time). He even hired humor/horror legend Basil Wolverton to do the covers (the back cover printed the image from the front cover larger and without copy). They decided to have their regular mystery mag hosts, Cain, Abel, and Eve host Plop!, and hired the best writers and artists around (including a few from the then-popular underground comix).

Plop! arrived on the stands in July of 73, fandom flipped out, man! It was a beautiful package, funny and gross as the comics code would allow, and unlike anything else out there at the time.
Plop! ran for twenty-four issues, ending August, 1976 as a much tamer mag, fifty-two pages (with ads) for fifty cents (regular sized comics were 25/30 cents at the time). Like many great ideas back in the Groovy Age, I suppose it was just a bit ahead of its time. But what fun we had while it was around!

Take, for instance, this gem from Plop! #4 (December, 1974) by Steve Skeates and artist (and legend) Frank Robbins..."The Last Laugh!"

How'd ya like that, Groove-ophiles? There's no way we could have a Halloween celebration without at least one axe-murderer, right? Right? Two more Halloween posts to go!

The Haunt of Horror: Marvel's Horror Prose Digest

Back in 1973, when the horror/supernatural craze was really booming, Marvel Comics attempted to enter a whole new arena: prose digests. You know, mags like you still see today: Alfred Hitchcock Magazine, Ellery Queen, Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Analog. Back then, there were lots of prose digests (sort of survivors of the pulp era), so I suppose Stan and the gang looked at it like it was another world to conquer. Of all the bullpen members at that time, Gerry Conway had the most experience in the prose field, having written a couple of mildly successful sci-fi novels, so it was Conway, rather than Stan's editorial successor, Roy Thomas, who was made editor of The Haunt of Horror.

The Haunt of Horror was, in all honesty, a very well done mag. 160 pages filled with all kinds of sensational spookiness. It sported really nice spot illustrations by a great mix of Marvel mainstays and newcomers like John Romita, Gene Colan, Frank Brunner, Walt Simonson, Mike Ploog, Dan Green, John Buscema, Billy Graham, and even the legendary Kelly Freas. Stories were a mix of Marvel folks and respected prose authors like Harlan Ellison (whose story was poorly edited in the first issue and was reprinted in the second), R.A. Lafferty, David R. Bunch, Ramsey Campbell, Dennis O'Neil, Arthur Byron cover, Anne McCaffrey, Ron Goulart, Howard Waldrop, and reprints by Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber.

Sadly, it only lasted two issues. The title was revived the next year as a black and white comic mag that lasted five issues.

Still more Halloween goodies to come, Groovesters! See ya in a little while!

Now That's Hot Stuff!

Ready for more Halloween fun? Let's lighten the mood a little with Harvey Comics' Devil Kid, Hot Stuff! A funny kid devil? Wearing a diaper? Don't ask questions! Just enjoy! (From Devil Kids#75, January, 1976.)

Atlas/Seaboard's Planet of Vampires

I'm baaa-ack! What is more frightening than a vampire? How 'bout a whole planet full of 'em? Atlas/Seaboard's publisher Martin Goodman was famous for having his staff come up with knock-offs of whatever trend was hot at the moment. In 1974, few things were hotter than Charlton Heston's Omega Man (based on Richard Matheson's I Am Legend. Perhaps you've heard of it...?)--except perhaps Planet of the Apes (before cable, video, and the Internet, when a movie came to TV--especially those movies--they became sensations). So why not combine 'em? Editor Larry Leiber (Stan Lee's brother!) huddled with a couple newcomers, Larry Hama (the top G.I. Joe writer of the 80s) and Pat Broderick (who later went on to fame on Captain Marvel, the Micronauts, Firestorm, and Captain Atom) and came up with one of the wildest (in a very cool way) comics of all time. I can yap and yap, but you've gotta see it to believe it! Check it out, Groove-ophiles! From November, 1974 it's Planet of Vampires #1!

Stay tuned for more Halloween Happenings, Groove-ophile!


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Special thanks to Mike's Amazing World of Comics and Grand Comics Database for being such fantastic resources for covers, dates, creator info, etc. Thou art treasures true!

Note to "The Man": All images are presumed copyright by the respective copyright holders and are presented here as fair use under applicable laws, man! If you hold the copyright to a work I've posted and would like me to remove it, just drop me an e-mail and it's gone, baby, gone.

All other commentary and insanity copyright GroovyAge, Ltd.

As for the rest of ya, the purpose of this blog is to (re)introduce you to the great comics of the 1970s. If you like what you see, do what I do--go to a comics shop, bookstore, e-Bay or whatever and BUY YOUR OWN!