Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Kiss Kompendium

Kiss Kompendium
by Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley
Collins Imprint, 2009

This is one of the biggest books I ever have owned. It's more appropriate to call it a 'tome' than a simple book.

Kiss Kompendium weighs over 10 lb, measures 3 x 8.5 x 13.2 inches, and has 1280 pages. It's so heavy I can't put it on my scanner. I had to lay it on my dining room table and photograph the contents. 

To read the Kompendium I also have to lay it on a table - you can't flop onto your couch or easy chair with something this massive.

Kiss Kompendium is an omnibus edition compiling Kiss comic books published in the 70s, 80s, 90s, and 2000s by Marvel, Image, and Dark Horse.

It leads off with the inaugural Marvel Super Special #1 from September, 1977, which is famous for having the blood of the band members mixed into the printing ink. A photoessay documenting the story of this unique marketing twist is included.

Then there's the Marvel Super Special #5 from  October, 1978. Then there are some more obscure comics that Marvel included in special-issue magazines designed to coincide with tours or album releases: Kissnation (1995), and the autobiographical Kisstory

These comics, which see the band interacting with heroes and villains from the Marvel Universe, don't take themselves too seriously. The band members are depicted as superheroes in their own right, and their disagreements with the Marvel characters have a campy, facetious quality.

Impressed by the Image title Spawn, in the late 1990s Gene Simmons decided to break with Marvel and have Image do the next iteration of Kiss comics. Designed to promote the album of the same title, Kiss: Psycho Circus started in August 1997 and ran for 31 issues till June 2000. Image took the franchise seriously and gave it 'high production values', so to speak.

Circus took a darker, more mature tone than anything seen before, and - like the majority of Image titles - didn't bother with adhering to the Comics Code. Written by Brian Hulguin, the series featured intricate, atmospheric artwork by Clayton Crain and Angel Medina and fine coloring by Brian Haberlin. It's not only one of the best comic book series to feature the band, it's also (arguably) one of the best comic book series of the 90s. All 31 issues are present and accounted for in this Kompendium.

Kiss: Kompendium closes out with the 13 issue series from Dark Horse comics, which ran from July 2002 to September 2003. Titled simply Kiss, these comics are underwhelming due to the 'cartoony' art style of Mel Rubi. 

The final pages of the Kompendium features a 'Behind the Scenes' photo gallery that spans the years from 1975 - 2009. Whether you like Kiss, or hate them, there's no denying the band's staying power.

Summing up, there is some good material here for nostalgia aficionados, fans of Kiss, fans of pop culture, or - certainly in the case of Psycho Circus - fans of good comics, period. Brand-new copies of Kiss Compendium at amazon go for $42, and used copies for quite a bit less, so acquiring the book is not all that burdensome. When I calculated what it would cost to get all the issues of Psycho Circus as a standalone acquisition, for example, it was just as economical to acquire the Kompendium.

As for Kiss comics........well, they continue to be issued, yet another indication of the staying power of the franchise. The most recent iteration, Kiss / Vampirella, is at issue 5 as of October 2017. I wouldn't be all that surprised if a second Kompendium winds us being issued in the next five years or so................

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Kiss: A Day in the Life of a Town

Paul Stanley at the 'Day in the Life of a Town' event, Cadillac, Michigan, October 9, 1975

Kiss met with elected officials – all donning face paint - and sat on bales of straw for the Homecoming parade along the renamed Kiss Boulevard through downtown. They threw chocolate Hersey kisses to fans.

Gene Simmons led the football team down a hallway and into the band room for a private meet and greet. From there it was off to the football field, where television crews and scores of print and magazine journalists awaited.

"They're running around the football field in knee-high platform boots, trying not to fall,'' Schemmel said. "They were playing catch with us and posing for pictures. When we came in from practice – they had crates of guitars in the locker room. I mean Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons in the locker room – it was crazy.''

From Cadillac's connection with Kiss endures 40 years later, Detroit Free Press, 8 October 2015

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Gryphon Trilogy

The Crystal Gryphon
Gryphon in Glory
Gryphon's Eyrie
'The Gryphon Trilogy'
by Andre Norton

3 / 5 Stars

The 'Gryphon' trilogy consists of The Crystal Gryphon (DAW Books No. 75, 192 pp, cover art by Jack Gaughan, October 1973), Gryphon in Glory (Ballantine Books, 213 pp, cover art by Laurence Schwinger, May 1983) and Gryphon's Eyrie (Tor Books, 248 pp, cover art by Boris Vallejo, March 1985). 

All three books are considered part of the 'Witch World' universe, a quasi-medieval landscape littered with magical artifacts of a bygone civilization. The artifacts, which are imbued with 'Power', often are teleportation devices or dimension gates capable of letting both malign, and beneficent, entities access to the world. The human residents of Witch World are not above entering into alliances with these entities, sometimes for evil purposes.

All three novels originally are aimed at what is nowadays termed the Young Adult readership, but back in the 70s and early 80s, they also were marketed to adults. DAW Books relied on many of Norton's novels to round out its catalog in its early years. 

All three novels in the trilogy share an unusual narrative format, in which chapters alternate between the first-person points of view of the two lead characters.

The Crystal Gryphon is set in the mountainous High Hallack region of Witch World. The lead characters are Kevron, son of Ulric, a lord of Ulmsdale Keep; and Joisan, the niece of the ruler of neighboring Ithdale Keep. Both are adolescents, and, as part of a childhood ceremony uniting the two Keeps, are expected to marry once reaching adulthood.

Kevron is presented as a something of an outcast, whose possession of traits of the Old Ones (i.e., the original inhabitants of the Witch World) means he has cloven-hoofed feet and eyes with horizontal pupils. Much of the narrative of The Crystal Gryphon revolves (or belabors, depending on your point of view) around Kevron's angst about his mutant heritage and its effect on his interactions with the 'normal' humans of High Hallack.

I won't disclose any spoilers, save to say that Kevron's ascension to the throne of Ulmsdale Keep is abandoned in the wake of an invasion of High Hallack by invaders from a far-off country. Kevron and Joisan find themselves struggling to  survive the depredations of the invaders, whose ultimate goal centers on accessing the Dark Powers lying in stasis in the Wastes outside of High Hallack. Kevron and Joisan must rely on their psychic links with the Powers of Light still extant in the Wastes in order to deter what could be the ruination of High Hallack, and perhaps the Witch World itself. 

In Gryphon in Glory, Kevron and Joisan journey deep into the Wastes, braving multiple dangers of both human and nonhuman origin, in an effort to defeat further revivals of Dark Powers. 

In Gryphon's Eyrie, set in Arvon, a territory adjoining High Hallack, Kevron and Joisan befriend a nomadic tribe of horsemen, and try to find domestic tranquility. Unfortunately, the advent of yet another manifestation of Dark Powers forces Kevron to access a mountain redoubt and its reincarnations of entities of the Light, setting up a final confrontation to determine whether Avron and High Hallack remain free of taint. 

After reading five (!) horror novels in order to post reviews for the month of October here at the PorPor Books blog, I was ready to take in some lighter, less oppressive material, hence my decision to read the Gryphon Trilogy. The first novel in the series is the best; it has a more downbeat, 'adult' sensibility and works well as both a coming-of-age novel and a fantasy novel. 

Its literary style does suffer from being written in the early 70s, when the genre of adult fantasy was in its infancy and Norton elected to use the type of stilted prose that presumably marked High Fantasy writing. Readers should be prepared for the use of 'nooning' to refer to lunch; people who are routinely 'ensorcelled'; and people who 'company' , instead of 'accompanying', one another.

The plot of Gryphon in Glory is mainly an extension of that of the first novel; the setting becomes less expansive, and the narrative focuses on the interactions of the two lead characters. The portents of the forthcoming clash of the Dark Powers and Light Powers reviving in the Wastes begin to get tedious after a while, and the denouement is somewhat underwhelming, but Glory is a serviceable sequel.

Somewhat inevitably, the third and final novel in the series shows signs of tiredness. It's not clear what Anne C. Crispin's contribution was to the novel (by the early 80s Andre Norton was in declining health), but it essentially recycles the plot structure of the first two entries.

Summing up, the 'Gryphon' trilogy offers readable narratives that center on the emotional and psychological interactions of the lead characters; action scenes are relatively few and bloodless. But the Witch World setting does not lend itself to the scope of traditional fantasy novels; readers looking for depictions of massive conflicts between warring armies, forbidding Keeps stuffed with snarling orcs, and aerial assaults by fire-breathing dragons will not find these in the pages of any Gryphon novel.

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Rook Archives Volume 2

The Rook Archives: Volume 2
Dark Horse Books, July 2017

‘William Dubay’s The Rook Archives: Volume 2’ is the second compilation of ‘Rook’ comics issued by Dark Horse. As with Volume 1, this is a quality hardbound book with heavy stock pages and print quality that is about as good as it gets considering that the source materials likely are not in that great a shape (during its bankruptcy proceedings in the early 80s, much of the original artwork in the Warren magazines inventory ‘disappeared’, so it’s unclear if the scans used in this book are from the original artwork or not).

The issues of Eerie compiled in this volume run from 89 (January 1978) to 95 (September 1978); it’s issue 95 that serves as the cover illustration to this book.

Also included is a Rook guest-star appearance from issue 70 (July, 1978) of Vampirella.

As with Volume 1, Bill Dubay’s nephew, Ben Dubay, provides a Forward; this one deals with Bill Dubay’s efforts to break into the comic book business as a young man.

As far as the ‘Rook’ episodes in this volume go, the one titled ‘What is the Color of Nothingness ?’ is the standout. Bill Dubay’s script goes for a ‘cosmic’ atmosphere, as our hero takes his spaceship out to the edge of the universe and there discovers some mind-blowing things afoot. Presented in the rarely-used ‘landscape’ format, what really makes ‘Color’ special is the amazing artwork by the talented Filipino artist Alex Nino. Nino meticulously incorporates various Zip-A-Tone effects into the larger panels to give his artwork a striking three-dimensional appearance.

All this was done in the days before PCs and Photoshop, too – Nino had to cut out the Zip-A-Tone with an X-Acto knife and paste the cutouts onto the artwork pages. You won’t see that dedication to the craft in most contemporary comics, that’s for sure.

The remaining seven stories in Volume 2 are competent enough Rook tales, if nothing really attention-getting. The fact that one episode is titled ‘The Incredible Sagas of Sludge the Unconquerable, Helga the Damned, and Marmadrake the Magnificent’ is a sure tipoff that DuBay was aiming in these episodes for campy humor, most of it centered on Bishop Dane, the irascible great-grandfather of the Rook, Restin Dane. Dubay’s wordiness means that Luis Bermuda’s artwork often has to labor in cramped conditions, sharing precious panel space with lots of speech balloons.

Vampirella and Pantha appear in a two-part story to lend some cheesecake to the goings-on. But’s it’s the Vampirella issue 70 guest appearance by the Rook, titled ‘Ghostly Granny Gearloose’ with some outstanding artwork by Spanish artist Gonzalo Mayo, where Vampirella really shines, so to speak.

As with Volume 1, the readership for this compilation is aimed at Baby Boomers over 50 who remember these comics from their youth. If you are a fan of the Rook, and the Warren magazines, from those long-ago days, then you’ll want Volume 2. 

And………. if you’re a comics fan under the age of 25, who just maybe, possibly, hypothetically, is a bit fed up with round after round of ‘Spiderverse’ and ‘Secret Wars’ and ‘Dark Knights: Metal’ comic book ‘events’, perhaps taking a look at ‘The Rook Archives’ just might be a gateway to the time when comics were a little less designed to be multi-level marketing packages designed to separate fans from their money, and maybe a little more fun to read…………..?!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Tales from the Doghouse

Tales from the Doghouse
(Strontium Dog)
from 2000 AD prog 612, February 4 1989

Strontium Dog, aka Johnny Alpha, was both a mutant outcast, and an intergalactic bounty hunter, whose adventures in the weekly UK comic book 2000 AD began in 1978, and continue to this day in one form or another.

This brief strip from a February, 1989 issue of 2000 AD doesn't feature Strontium Dog, but a fellow team of mutants out to grab a bounty. The distinctive artwork is by Simon Jacob, one of the more talented artists whose work as a penciller, inker, and colorist appeared more or less regularly in the pages of 2000 AD from 1989 to 1996.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Book Review: Sunburst

Book Review: 'Sunburst' by Phyllis Gotlieb

1 / 5 Stars

‘Sunburst’ (160 pp) first appeared as a serialized novel in ‘Amazing Stories’ in 1964, before being compiled into this paperback, published by Gold Medal books that same year. The cover artist is Richard Powers.

The story is set in 2024, some decades after a nuke plant meltdown spewed radiation into the Illinois city of Sorrel Park. The city is still recovering, with both military and civil authorities enforcing a harsh order on its run-down, garbage-strewn streets. The denizens of Sorrel Park are a population haunted by the consequences of the accident – namely, the birthing of mutant children with extraordinary powers.

As soon as a child displays extraordinary psychic and mental powers, he or she is forcibly taken from their parents and consigned to a high-security complex – known as the Dump - in the city center. An energy barrier, the so-called Marczinek Field, prevents the mutants from teleporting out of the Dump and wreaking havoc on the streets…….for as they mature in the confines of the Dump, these mutant kids transform not into the wholesome teens of the ‘X-Men’ comics, but physically and behaviorally warped individuals with a deep and abiding hatred for the world.

Shandy Johnson is a thirteen year-old orphan who has scratched out a semblance of a life on the streets of Sorrel Park. As the novel opens, Shandy is abducted off the city streets, and imprisoned by the military authorities in charge of the Dump. From her captors, Shandy learns that the inhabitants of the Dump – the so-called Dumplings – have honed their powers with the coming of adolescence, and the danger of a breakout has dramatically increased.

When events spin out of control, it will be up to Shandy, and a mutant named Jason Hemmer, to confront the enraged Dumplings……….and deter them from destroying not just Sorrel Park, but perhaps the entire country……if not the entire world………..

‘Sunburst’ was not a rewarding read. Despite its short length, it was a struggle to finish.

Most of the narrative consists of lengthy passages of dialogue between Shandy Johnson and the various military staffers in charge of security for the Dump and its inhabitants. Dialogue is not author Gotlieb’s strong suit; it is consistently stilted and wooden, with idioms and slang that seem contrived, and out of place, even by mid-60s standards.

Nothing of consequence really happens until the second half of the novel, and then it is so suffused with needless melodrama that the narrative barely maintains momentum en route to its rather predictable denouement.

The theme of mutant children endowed both with superpowers and anti-social attitudes is a well-worn trope in sf, and there is no shortage of short stories and novels that deal with the topic. That said, ‘Sunburst’ is one of the least impressive of these entries. Readers are better off sticking with Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Cars album advertisement

The Cars
Debut album advertisement
Heavy Metal magazine, November 1978

The New Wave Aesthetic epitomized...........

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Moebius' Airtight Garage issue 4

The Airtight Garage of Jerry Cornelius
by Moebius
Issue 4, October 1993
Epic Comics

issue 1 is here

issue 2 is here

issue 3 is here