Friday, June 2, 2017

The End of a Long Campaign

Tomb of Horrors original cover, art by David C Sutherland III

When I started my Pathfinder campaign, I wanted three things. I wanted to involve a lot of undead, I wanted killer dungeons, and I wanted an Egyptian theme to the campaign. Luckily, the first two go hand in hand. And when I discovered that Pathfinder's default setting of Golarion has an Egyptian-analogue called Osirion, it was suddenly much easier to set up.

My superobjective (an actor's thing) was that I wanted to have people in the house. A lot of middle-aged men suffer from loneliness and depression because they do not socialize enough. Having gamers in to laugh, kill things, and generally goof around forces me to be social once a week. I have noticed my depression has visited less often since I started the group.

I fused together Pathfinder's Osirion and Green Ronin's fantastic Hamunaptra for background. I didn’t have the time to write my own adventures, but I have a lot of deathtrap dungeons already, and it was easy to fill in with other adventures that fit the theme. I think it worked reasonably well.

The adventures were:

Hive of Villany: from Dungeon Crawl Classics #29, The Adventure Begins (Goodman Games)
The characters started out as prisoners, their sentences commuted by the Temple of Set in return for doing some dirty jobs. Their first assignment was to find out why the temple's bees weren’t producing honey. This properly set the campaign tone as not entirely serious.

Malice of the Medusa: Dungeon Crawl Classics #45 (Goodman Games)
The first actual tomb-raiding. This is a fun low-level adventure with good background, several small tombs, and an entertaining plot.

Forgotten King’s Tomb: (Kobold Press)
I hate to call this disappointing, but it’s a bit simple. I made this a more interesting adventure by allowing the adventurers to negotiate with the involved mummy.

Pyramid Pharaoh: I3 (TSR)
I bought this 1st edition adventure back when it first came out. I’ve carried it through many moves for more than thirty years, and finally got to run it. A wonderful adventure, a pseudoegyptian dungeon crawl set in a pyramid with a lot of creativity, plenty of strangeness, and a surprising amount of humor. The backstory provides a good hook that the players can figure out and interact with.

The Rebel's Ransom: Pathfinder Society 02-03 (Paizo)
A particularly good Pathfinder adventure, involving a certain amount of tomb-robbing, but with a twist. A combination of interesting characters, clever traps, and an enjoyable progression make this a great adventure.

Tomb of the Blind God: Dungeon Crawl Classics C9 (Goodman Games)
This was a side-quest that first touched on my own campaign arc. They are initially sent because a girl is kidnapped, and golly, there's grells, grimlocks, and more information about the past than they thought was going to be there.

The Scorpion Queen from In Search of Adventure (Goodman Games)
Maybe not the most inspired adventure. Still, a few puzzles, a little combat. The players didn’t seem to mind.

Imprisoned with the Pharaohs Imprisoned with the Pharaohs: J1 (Paizo)
One of the adventures that made me realize that a 3rd edition Egyptian-style campaign was possible. A fine adventure in a pyramid with mummies and all the Egyptian trappings I could want. Also the introduction to the mystery of Aucturn.

The Pact Stone Pyramid The Pact Stone Pyramid: J3 (Paizo)
Following on from the previous pyramid adventure, this was another pyramid dungeon crawl, and had its own contribution to the mystery of Aucturn. I provided my own answer to the mystery, and just about the time we were playing this, Paizo came out with their own. I liked mine better. Nevertheless, this was another fun pyramid adventure from the people at Paizo.

Wrath of the Accursed: Pathfinder Society 2-20 (Paizo)
A city-based intrigue adventure from Paizo. It made for a nice change of pace, giving the characters a chance to do some negotiation, and run through the streets of the city.

The Dog Pharaoh's Tomb: Pathfinder Society 3-12 (Paizo)
A smaller adventure than J1 and J3 above. Still, this was a good, rich adventure with interesting tomb traps, undead to destroy, and links to the future of the campaign.

Caves of the Crawling Lord: Dungeon Crawl Classics #37 (Goodman Games)
This was the adventure where the whole plot basically came out. And the characters learned that leaving the alchemist alone in front of the undead antipaladin was a mistake. Here the players found out about the Dynasty of Jackals, a line of corrupt and demon-consulting pharaohs whose names had been eliminated from official history. They discovered the mummified remains of the majority of the line, but not the ultimate resting place of the Dark Undying One, the last and most terrible of the Dynasty of Jackals. He was so evil that merely speaking his name would bring damage upon the utterer.

The Tomb of Horrors Tomb of Horrors: (3rd ed version) (WOTC)
Acererak was the court wizard of the Dark Undying One. The mechanics of Pathfinder mean that the adventure cannot be as deadly as it was originally intended to be. Still, the three pit traps puzzle is something you can't roll dice for, and it got the players, both here and in Necropolis. Good fun. This signaled the beginning of the serious trapped tombs adventures: the next three tombs were tributes to this classic.

The Tomb of Horrors Dread Crypt of Srihoz: Dungeon Crawl Classics 25 (Goodman Games)
Srihoz was the chief of the Navy under the Dark Undying One. This turned out to be more deadly than the infamous meat-grinder Tomb of Horrors. While the Tomb was first, the designers of the Dread Crypt also had some very dirty tricks to lay on the characters.

Lost Tomb of Kruk-Ma-Kali: (Kenzerco)
The tomb of the Dark Undying One’s mightiest general. Wonderful tribute to the Tomb of Horrors. But another instance where the extensive magics involved would have been much more expensive than a resurrection spell. But shush, because this one is really good, even though I ignored the wilderness adventure getting there.

The Mud Sorcerer's Tomb: Dungeon #138 (Paizo)
The individual entombed here was the tomb architect of the Dark Undying One’s court. And had directions to the tomb of Mrs. Dark Undying One. An update of a great 2nd edition adventure, also from Dragon magazine. A sly, thoughtful tribute to Tomb of Horrors, which fit easily with the campaign’s theme of tombs and deadly traps.

The Rolling Tomb: Dungeon #215 (WOTC)
An interruption of the main quest with a delightfully insane premise. The hook is "a full-sized pyramid on rollers is going to squash Pharaoh's favorite oasis. You will do something about this immediately."

StarHaunt Dungeon #207(WOTC)
StarHaunt was a bit of an emergency insertion. I'd made The Rolling Tomb too difficult. But replacing the meteor with an undead god-fetus made this adventure wonderfully macabre. Seriously. Look up "atropal scion" and tell me that isn't creepy.

The Tomb of Horrors Crypt of the Devil-Lich: Dungeon Crawl Classics #13 (Goodman)
After a couple of less trappy-deathy adventures, this was back to the meat grinders I love. Lots of traps, and traps within traps. There was a wonderful moment with the hellwasp swarms when everyone was helpless except the Fire Oracle. Who cashed in his chips later this adventure.

Necropolis: Necromancer Games
Sort of Gygax's adventure to top Tomb of Horrors, this is as gonzo and weird as you might expect. Wonderful, and one of the adventures the campaign was constructed to lead up to. Well converted by the people at Necromancer Games, and delightful fun for the players. They destroyed the Dark Undyng One, and the beacon that was drawing Aucturn close, amplifying necromantic spell effects. But that wasn’t the end of it all. Turns out the court wizard, Acererak also had a few lingering threats to the well-being of the world.

Prisoner of Castle Perilous: Dungeon #153 (WOTC)
The players learned that Acererak wasn’t quite as destroyed as they thought he’d been. And he’s mucking about with something in the Negative Energy Plane. Good adventure, and the beginning of the campaign’s endgame.

Return to the Tomb of Horrors Return to the Tomb of Horrors: (TSR)
I didn't use the introductory adventure, but the rest was pretty darn entertaining, if a little weird to convert to Pathfnder. Still, this is a solid, puzzling sprawl of a mega-adventure, and I’m quite happy that I finally got to run it.

Tomb of Horrors: 4th ed (WOTC)
This was the third and final Acererak the party faced. I’m a little sad I wasn’t able to reconcile the initial parts of the adventure with my campaign, instead only using the final adventure. Still, I liked this. Unfortunately, the party acted with a little haste before they learned what was going on, and managed to doom themselves. Ah well, such is giving control of the story over to the players. And there’s a lot of potential to having a new Devouring God.

There are a few adventures I wanted to run but couldn't find a way to slip in. Grimtooth's Dungeons of Death, Mayfair's Undead, and the Tomb of Iuchiban from Alderac. But they either didn’t fit the structure of the campaign, or mechanically would have lost too much when converted to Pathfinder. But now we’re onto a new campaign, one starting with zero level characters with random backgrounds and straight 3d6 characteristics. Let’s hope might oaks from small acorns grow.

I want to thank everyone who was part of the campaign, and made it the successful fun it was. Chris, John, Tristan, John, Diane, Shannon, Tara, Alex, Dave, and Nick: thank you all very much. I hope you had as much fun as I did.

Monday, May 29, 2017

I bit the bullet...

After literal months of agony and wishy-washiness, I pulled the trigger on my Patreon page. If you enjoy my writing, you can get previews of my books there, before they come out.

If you haven't yet read my work, you can mosey over to the page and read the first chapter of my fantasy/noir novel Necromancer for Hire. Only the first one is free. But if you support me at $2 or higher, you can read a chapter a week until it's finished. Support me at $5 a month, and you will get a copy of every book I publish, as my way of saying thank you.

I intend to change the contribution level names and images, but not the actual rewards as I go on with this. A hypothetical steampunk airpulp story will likely have levels that have to do with biplanes. Right now, it's all about the bodies.

And a huge thank-you to Darrell Grizzle, who joined within an hour of me posting the initial link. There are days when I doubt my ability to write a compelling, marketable story. Darrell killed that doubt for the next month. Thank you Darrell!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Kong: Skull Island, The Heart of Kaiju Darkness

The first thing I noticed, even in the trailers, is that Kong: Skull Island knows its roots. This is not Peter Jackson's unbridled King Kong. This is a movie that remembers the 1933 film, but at the same time is not enslaved to it. Kong's stature is erect, as it was in 1933, and more credible than in 1976. Kong battles an octopus-thing as he did in King Kong vs Godzilla. the Skullcrawlers are from the original film, and there is a giant spider in reference to the infamous lost and deleted scene. And, possibly because it's Legendary, there's a sly Pacific Rim reference when someone shoots a kaiju in the face with a flare.


One major thumbs-up for me is that Kong's island is in the South Seas, and the natives of the island are finally not African. Although Jackson's production used "a mix of Asian, African, Maori and Polynesian" actors, they do look very African. Not so in Kong: Skull Island.

For the first time, not everything is relentlessly hostile. Sure, the Skullcrawlers are just out for lunch, and the wee pterodactyls are pretty nasty, but Skull Island finally seems to have an ecosystem that doesn't try to consume every human that sets foot on the island. And because some of the shoot is on location, you can see the swarms of insects. It's a nice touch, although I suspect the actors were none too happy about it.

The Skullcrawlers, the main antagonists of the film, deserve some mention. Clearly modeled on the two-legged lizard from the original Kong, they've been upgraded. And they a good look. Like the MUTOs from Legendary Godzilla. Despite them being an homage to the original film, the feeling is that you have never seen anything like that before. Their movements are fluid for something that has such a unique method of locomotion. They're presented as frightening, and worthy opponents for the mighty Kong.

New Skullcrawler...
The new Skullcrawler

Old Skullcrawler...
The old Skullcrawler

The use of the military is interesting. Somewhat in keeping with the seventies end of Vietnam era. Col Packard (Sam Jackson) is a deeply traumatized officer who, on seeing his country leave a conflict unfinished, decides he is going to take no shit. Not from giant monsters, certainly. But his men are not quite as hell-bent as he is. So the military is not here for show, as it was in Ishiro Honda's work. But neither is the military turned into a bunch of clowns, as they were in the 1998 Godzilla. The military are depicted as individuals in a system, and the military is represented by different people. Which is, I think, pretty fair. Although I do take exception to Vietnam-era soldiers carrying poison gas grenades. But ultimately, in good kaiju film fashion, the military and guns are not the solution to the plot problem.

Kong downs so many helicopters I couldn't help wonder if he was still pissed off from the 1976 film, where he was shot off the World Trade Centers by helicopters with miniguns. But hey, they were dropping bombs...

It's a good film. Enjoyable, and I suspect it will stand up after repeated watching. I'll definitely be owning this one.

Next month, Colossal comes out, the Nacho Vigalondo/Anne Hathaway kaiju film. And you can bet I'll be there.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

We Have To Talk About Marvin

Marvin the Living Dead Thing, before he was dead Eerie was a Warren Publications magazine, which, in the seventies, was clinging to the format EC had been forced out of. Their flagship publications included Creepy, Famous Monsters of Filmland, and Vampriella. In format, Eerie is similar to Skywald’s mood-horror, a black and white magazine that avoided the Comics Code Authority’s censorius eye.

The majority of the magazine was short, moody stories, often with a buxom woman to add a little sex appeal to the story. The initial Marvin story "One is the Lonliest Number" written by Allen Milgrom, primarily known as an artist, achieving great success with Marvel's Secret Wars II and two years on The Avengers. Esteban Maroto provides beautiful line work. With this frankly stellar combination of artist and writer, the Marvin story is affectingly tragic.

Marvin merited the front cover of Eerie #49 (July 1973) Swamp Thing was in full swing, and had just published issue #5. Man-Thing was still appearing in Adventure Into Fear, but by the beginning of 1974, would be in its own magazine. The Skywald Heap had just had its final story in Psycho 13 (July 1973). So the ground was well-tread, but Milgrom managed to put the familiar tropes into a unique story.

Marvin the Living Dead Thing, enjoying himself for the first time Marvin the Dead Thing is in many ways a distillation of the Swamp Monster trope. Marvin Kanfer, we are told in the first panel, had always been alone. Six panels later, he kills himself by throwing himself in a polluted river. The pollution from ‘several factories’ serves as the catalyst (like Ted Sallis’s Super Soldier Serum, Dr. Holland’s bio-restorative formula, or the executed babies in the Heap’s Wausau Swamp). The results, inevitable. Marvin returns as a swamp monster without knowing it (similar to Sallis in his first Man-Thing story). The police get involved, and Marvin gets to demonstrate his strength and his invulnerability to bullets. He is more sentient than the Man-Thing, but thought is slow, so he id not as in control of his mind as the Swamp Thing or Skywald Heap are.

Marvin the Living Dead Thing, and the stone of social approval This is the first time that the genre has mined the idea of family for the swamp monster. Previously, the monster had been a lonely presence without attachments, only friends and enemies. The transformation into the swamp monster got rid of the individual’s previous life. However, Marvin is a different sort of person. In a story that perhaps draws from the classic 1931 James Whale Frankenstein, Marvin is befriended by a young girl who is not put off by the way he looks. But a mob (literally, a torch-waving mob) comes into the swamp to hunt Marvin down. Instead of killing him, however, they kill little Susie. Unwilling to accept the death of the little girl who had been his playmate, Marvin places her body in the same toxic sludge that brought about his transformation. After weeks of waiting, he is rewarded with her sludgy resurrection. The two then bond, and presumably, live happily ever after as man and child, free of the restraints of society. The story is similar to a Morto do Pantono story, “A Pequena Silvia”.

There us a bit of metaphor to be drawn from the stone and rope that Marvin uses to drown himself. If we view this as a symbol of the weight of society’s opinion which weighs on Marvin, it is this that eventually drags him down. During his conflict with the police, Marvin pulls the stone and rope off, throws it as a weapon, or sign of defiance, then he is free of society's opinions and rules. He can return to the swamp and be what he is. There’s a happy naturalness in this story. Marvin is the living rejection of modern society, and once he is free of those bonds, he can finally find satisfaction. Society is so damaged that the transformation of Marvin from human into a swamp monster is what allows him to be happy.

Marvin the Living Dead Thing, and the worst moment of his unlife Esteban Maroto’s work is never more poignant as the image of Marvin holding his playmate in his arms. The despair and sadness on Marvin’s disfigured face is palpable, and really makes the point of the story.

Just under a decade later, in February 1982, literally the month that Wes Cravern's Swamp Thing film his the theaters, Eerie resurrected Marvin. The writer is different, and so is the artist, but this is the second Swamp Creature's resurrection . Perhaps, like the return of Swamp Thing, this return was prompted by the Wes Craven Swamp Thing film. But Marvin returned.

Bad people. Baaaad people This story is less straightforward. Marvin watches a young couple dump their stillborn baby into the polluted waters that transformed Marvin into the swamp creature he is. Bobby-Jean and Billy are a troubled couple. Billy said he’d marry Bobby-Jean, but he most take care of his grandmother. But Billy is apparently a serial impregnator, and his supposedly sick grandmother is someone who takes care of unplanned pregnancies. The two of them have a business together, him taking advantage of inexperienced girls, his grandmother getting paid well to deal with the pregnancies.

Vengeful Baby The stillborn babe returns to life, thanks to the polluted waters, and immediately goes out to seek its father. Bobbie-Jean, hemmorhaging, tries to escape into the swamp, and the baby finds Billy, killing him. It also kills his grandmother. Bobby-Jean, dying, is taken by Marvin to the swamp, and the three of them turn into a kind of happy swampy family.

There’s a whole lot more dialog and exposition in this story. And at the same time, it’s less atmospheric and less complex. This is a more straightforward murder and revenge story, and Marvin as a character plays almost no part in it. Instead, he is primarily a watcher of the action, only There are several moments when the writer uses the shortcut of a character ‘just knowing’ something that helps move the narrative along. “Ode to a Dead Thing” is not as well-written as the original story, but it does have its tender moments, such as when Marvin carries the dying Bobby-Jean into the swamps. It is a pretty straight riff on the original story, adding another member to Marvin’s family.

Happily every after... in the swamp
The themes of the original story are gone. Marvin’s rejection of the modern world has vanished, and been replaced by an evil family, Billy and his grandmother, who are selfish, irredeemable villains. They are villains who the reader will not mourn when they are murdered by the resurrected baby. Marvin’s story is more of a wrapper around the standard revenge story, with the resurrected swamp baby serving the usual Heap role of dispenser of justice.

“One is the Loneliest Number” The first Marvin the Dead-Thing story stands as an excellent encapsulation of the majority of the tropes that make the he swamp-monster work. Using the inherent loneliness of the character to good effect, as well as the pathos evoked by that character desperately, finally caring for someone else. This emotional work is muted in the second, more simplistic story, as mentioned above. I wonder if Marvin’s return was a test balloon for making him an ongoing character, If so, it did not catch on. Like Carlton’s “Lurker in the Swamp” there are only two Marvin the Living Dead Thing stories. They are worth seeking out for the swamp monster enthusiast, especially Eerie # 49.

Next Month, the end of DC's initial series of Swamp Thing, featuring writers David Michelinie and Gerry Conway.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Coming Full Circle: Roy Thomas Adapts Sturgeon's "It" To Comics

In 1972, Marvel handed a new magazine, Supernatural Thrillers to Roy Thomas. The new magazine, which ran 15 issues, started as an attempt to capture the new macabre movement in comics. With the loosening of the CCA rules, Marvel thought they could now adapt classic weird short stories into comics, giving the medium more legitimacy. This plan lasted four issues, adapting Sturgeon's “It”, The Invisible Man, Robert E. Howard's “Valley of the Worm” and finally Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde before the original creation N'Kantu, the Living Mummy came to dominate the title.

In December 1972, the first issue of DC's Swamp Thing had just appeared, Gold Key had just released their first “Lurker in the Swamp” story, and Marvel's own Man-Thing had just merited its own magazine appearance as the lead in Fear, and Skywald's Heap was going strong in Psycho. That's a lot of swamp monsters to choose from. It had been three years since Roy Thomas had created the Glob. The Swamp Monster was at virtually every publisher, but no one had yet begin to really delve into the possibilities such a character held for long-term story telling. When Roy Thomas was handed the opportunity to launch a more literary series, he decided the first story he wanted to adapt was Sturgeon’s “It.” He adapted the story himself, primarily using Sturgeon’s language. As a fan of the story, why wouldn’t he?

Thomas had been a professional for three years at this point. The first story he’d worked was the Incredible Hulk story in which he had created The Glob. His adaptation of Sturgeon’s story is solid, using as much as the original author’s text as he could, while still adapting the story to a different, more visual medium.

The art is good. Not as moody as Wrightson, Bissette, or Mayrik, but the faces are expressive, and the emotional content of the story is conveyed well. Penciler Marie Severin would illustrate more than a hundred and sixty issues for Marvel. Especially effective is the panel Where Alton tells Corey about finding the corpse of his dog Kimbo is excellent. The tension in Alton’s stance, the sadness mixed with wariness are plain.

The creature itself is painted in a combination of green and gray, and is not as distinct from the background as Swamp Thing and Man Thing would be. Which is a bit of a shame since it’s difficult to see exactly what It looks like. The coloring, however, emphasizes the fact that it is made of the swamp stuff that surrounds it. Although it is human-shaped, It does not have a recognizable face. It has eyes, but they are usually brushed over in the same color as the rest of the creature. Other swamp monsters have red eyes, which helps to separate them from the rest of the creature, but that’s not the case here. As a result, I find it difficult to figure out which direction the creature is ‘facing.’ This and the coloration leads to a certain amount of cognitive dissonance, which is not entirely unwelcome in a thriller/horror comic.

The way that Alton dotes on the dog makes me wonder if the dog as adjunct was a deliberate homage on the part of Swamp Thing scribe Len Wein. Steve Gerber also wrote a story involving a dog in the swamp, in issues 9 and 10 of Man-Thing. Kimbo is one of the early emotional hooks that moves the plot of “It” forward.

Apparently, Marvel had the idea of turning “It” into an ongoing series. But what good would it have done to set one swamp monster against another from the same publisher? Man-Thing had done well enough to was doing reasonably well. Was there enough market for two Marvel swamp monsters? Thomas didn’t think so. So “It” remained a one-off from Supernatural Thrillers. Unfortunately, Marvel has lost the contract Sturgeon signed, so it was reprinted once. Beyond that, it’s in legal limbo, since no one knows the terms of the contract. So muck monster completist’s only hope of finding the story is to buy an old comic. Luckily, it’s not enormously popular, so copies are relatively inexpensive. It's a good single issue, and brings the origin of the swamp monster back to its origin, the Theodore Sturgeon story. But it's a single issue, so there's really not a lot to dig into here.

Next month, Warren Publishing gets into it with their own, pretty unique swamp monster.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Gold Key Puts Its Oar In: Don Glut's The Lurker in the Swamp

Comics, as an art form, have developed a heavily imitative business model. Most early horror comics were made in imitations of EC’s anthology format, complete with weird narrators. In 1972, Gold Key comics, one of several comics companies that survived until the early eighties, was still publishing comics digests, including Mystery Comics Digest. Tucked into the anthology of some nineteen stories including “Miracle of the Marne” and “The Ghost of the Gorilla” is “The Lurker of the Swamp.” By this time, there had been a certain amount of television pickup of swamp monsters. In November of 1972, Rod Serling’s Night Gallery aired a story adapted from Margaret St. Clair’s short story “Brenda.” Although not as popular as vampires of werewolves, but Swamp Monsters had at least touched the television medium.

The Lurker from the Swamp The Lurker is subtle twist on the now-standard Muck Man short story, in this case written by Don Glut and illustrated by artist Jesse Santos (nether of whom are credited in the digest itself). Bank Robber Martin Kraz returns home after a ten year stint, only to find that his buried loot is guarded by the swamp monster. Like the early Hillman Heap, the Lurker feels the need to feed, and it first sighted carrying off sides of beef from the local butcher shop. And like all swamp monsters, the Lurker has a powerful will to live that keeps the dead individual mobile. But Glut changed the formula, both for this as well as the Lurker’s later appearance in Doctor Spektor. For one, Martin Kraz is not a likeable character. And like Joe Timms from Like Roy Thomas's initial Glob, he’s a small-time criminal. Although Kraz has just been released from prison, rather than being an escapee. He discovers that the Lurker is the remains of his original partner, who helped him bury the loot. However, Kraz discovers that a gun does work on the swamp monster. But the curse of Haunted Swamp overcomes Kraz, and he becomes a mucky Lurker, even as the previous one dies.

The Lurker from the Swamp That said, there are several key differences that make the story stand out. One, the Lurker in the Swamp is not immune to bullets. So while the usual revenge (this time between two robbers) serves as the (apparent) climax of the story, Glut’s twist is that the Lurker dies, and the man who murdered it becomes the new Lurker. This idea of of the serial identity, that the swamp monster is not unique but an identity to be assumed, would not be picked up again until Alan Moore’s stint on Swamp Thing. Another twist on the tale is that the catalyst that changes the human into the Lurker is not pseudo-science, but supernatural. Haunted Swamp was where the local constabulary dumped the bodies of witches.

Four years later, in 1976, Glut revisited his muck monster in his ongoing series The Occult Files of Doctor Spektor. The good doctor is an occult detective, created by Don Glut as a one-off for Gold Key's Boris Karloff's Tales of Mystery #5 (July, 1972). By April of 1973, Spektor had his own series, The Occult Files of Doktor Spektor, which reached twenty-four issues between 1973 and 1977, and a 2014 miniseries Doctor Spektor, Master of the Occult. Don Glut took several creatures from his time writing digest shorts into Dr. Spektor's ongoing series. And with issue 21 the Lurker and Doctor Spektor crossed paths.

The Lurker from the Swamp

The Lurker from the Swamp One of Glut's strengths is his in-depth knowledge of the genre, so he can anticipate where the reader believes the story is going. So the story is not a simple monster hunt, it has a good twist in the end. The Lurker has also changed a bit in the four years between its appearances. The Lurker Dr. Spektor encountered doesn't appear to be animated by the spirit of the criminal Martin Kraz. It is now immune to bullets, where the initial appearance was not. It also showed a new power, a command over plants. This once showed up in the Heap comic, and Glut says he had read several Heap comics, although it's difficult to say which ones exactly. Control over plants was a rare power among the Muck Monsters, or was until Alan Moore took the ability to the terrifying extreme with Swamp Thing. Post Moore, many swamp creatures would be able to control plants.

The Lurker from the Swamp

Part of the change is the gentling the soul of the monster. Initially Spektor believes the Lurker is responsible for disappearances in the Haunted Swamp. And it seems like a good bet that it was. The Lurker, however, turns out to be benevolent, almost a guardian of the swamp, protecting the people of the swamp from a greater menace. And like Roy Thomas's initial Glob story, it sacrifices itself by walking into the quicksand.

The Lurker ain't dead yet It's a good and surprisingly complex story. And Glut was savvy enough to show the mucky hand of the Lurker rising from the depths. Obviously, there's life in the old monster yet.

Unfortunately, this was the last chance he got to write the Lurker, and in his interview for Swamp Men, Glut demonstrates a bit of disappointment that he never got to write a third Lurker story. To him, as to me, there is something unique and poignant about these mucky anti-heroes, something that allows us to write many stories on their oddly unfinished and inhuman features. And in Glut's two stories are the seeds of muck men attributes that will be picked up by later writers. I can only wonder what he could have done if he had continued with the character.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Two Trailers for Kong: Skull Island

The new Kong: Skull Island trailer is pretty interesting. First off, Kong looks like he did in the 1933 original. Short legs and erect posture. This makes him seem more human. The way people talk about him indicates he is not a raging beat, either. He also exists within a larger biome than he has been seen in previously. He didn't seem to really interact much with the other creatures of Skull Island in Peter Jackson's 2005 film. There is a greater diversity among the inhabitants, also. Not just classic dinosaurs, but also a giant mammal, what appears to be a water buffalo. Let's hope that some of the inhabitants show up and don't immediately get into huge fights.

John Goodman, I suspect, is our link to the American Godzilla films. He says he's been trying to convince people about Kong's existence for years, so I suspect he's part of Monarch. I'd also like to know the nature of the military involvement in what is seems to be a purely commercial enterprise. But that's me.

The initial trailer doesn't have the same punchy energy, but I think it tells us more about the film itself. At 1:52, you'll see a soldier firing off off a triceratops skull. Will they tease dinosaurs and not bring them out? The "Skull-Crawlers" are dinosaur-like, remind me of the serpent creatures in the Willis O'Brien original.

the film takes place in 1971, and there are a lot of visual references to Apocalypse Now, considered one of the definitive films about the Vietnam conflict.

You can bet I will be seeing this opening weekend.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Triumphant Resurgence: Shin Godzilla

I saw Shin Godzilla last night. I enjoyed it a great deal.

Shin Godzilla!

I like my Godzilla grim, so the reversion to the 1954 film which treats Godzilla as a force of nature, a natural disaster, is a welcome point of view. There's a straight line from the original to The Return of Godzilla to this. Much as I enjoy watching monsters battling each other, I didn't miss it here. The drama is the conflict between Godzilla, the government response team, and the government trying to get out of its own way.

Like all disaster films, the nature of the situation has to unfold, grow deeper. And in this case, Godzilla changes, thus altering the situation. I'm not going to spoil much of the film, but this is a forward-looking Godzilla, one that has new tricks up its sleeve. Like the 1954 Godzilla, it isn't until the second encounter that Godzilla uses its atomic breath. Like the original film, it's a big reveal. And then things change, and continue to change. I liked that.

With these two paragraphs behind me, I will say that there isn't much new in the formula, but it's handled very well. There are a lot of people running around getting things done. Previous installments of the franchise often involved the government figuring out what to do, but this really steps it up. Like The Return of Godzilla, there is a lot of international attention given to the problem of Godzilla, and the government is put under considerable pressure to stop Godzilla or have another nuke dropped on Japan. However, where that film portrays a static government confident of its control of the forces at its command, Shin Godzilla shows us a government in chaos, overlapping priorities, wrong guesses, and This leaves us with a ticking time bomb against which the scientists must race, similar to Invasion of Astro-Monster. Also, the technology to stop Godzilla is a combination of Godzilla vs Space Godzilla and Godzilla vs Destroyah. So the film is well aware of its roots, drawing on the more successful and popular entries from the franchise.

The devastation of Godzilla's second rampage is astonishing. The tension is ratcheted up, the amount of damage Godzilla does seems to escalate exponentially. It's awesome. And I like the looks of the new Godzilla. It has staged growth, like Hedorah, although there's some unfortunate similarities to the evolution of a Pokemon. But this multi-stage development has been present in the franchise for longer than Pokemon have been around.

I and others before me have written about the increased militarization of Godzilla films. The Japanese military doesn't get a lot of play because of the restrictions placed on it by the US at teh end of World War II. So Godzilla films have traditionally been something for the Japanese audience to enjoy military display, since Japan is being invaded. Ishiro Honda almost always portrayed the military as for display only, it never solved the problem of the monster movie plot. Part of the difficulty with the 1998 American remake was the portrayal of the military was the solution to the problem, but they had to be incompetent because otherwise the film would last as long as it took to deploy the appropriate firepower. But the military shines here, and I don't think the directors were entirely honest about it. The Japanese Self-Defense Forces is very careful, not attacking Godzilla when there are even two civilians who might get hurt. The film graces them with near-perfect certainty as to the location of civilians. And then, when the military takes it in the chin, casualties are glossed over. The big G hammers the military with its atomic ray, but the losses are never mentioned, as they are in the more nuanced Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah, Giant Monsters All-Out Attack. The boom pumps (called 'cranes' in the film) used on Godzilla are similar to those used to cool down the damaged reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant during the nuclear disaster. That said, the first wave of boom operators, don't walk away. They are not mentioned again, but the likely future Prime Minister Rando Yaguchi is praised. Not the people who did the actual work. This ties into my old post about strong leaders. Rando sacrifices his military men, who are not mourned for their sacrifice. The camera and script lionize him for his leadership. Which, given its invocation of the Fukushima 50, seems disingenuous at best, blindly deceptive at worst. This is exactly the sort of wishful thinking Monsters: Dark Continent addresses.

But that's pretty much all by implication, things the camera doesn't show. I found it a very good film, and seems likely to become one of my favorites in the Godzilla canon. Long live the franchise.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Strange Fruit: O Morto do Pântano

With translation assistance from David Ribeiro

Eugênio Colonneses' O Morto do Pantono I had the good fortune to stumble on a lesser-known literary descendant of the Heap. As far as I know, O Morto do Pântono (“The Dead Man from the Swamp”) has never been formally translated into English. It is a Brazillian comic, the creation of Eugênio Colonnese, a multitalented and prolific artist who wrote and illustrated movie posters, World War Two comics, created several superheroes, and was partially responsible for the widespread use of comics in Brazilian education to engage and motivate students. His most famous creation, however, is Mirza, mulher vampire (Mirza, the Vampire Woman). Mirza should be familiar to anyone who knows Warren Publishing’s Vampirella; aristocratic, voluptuous, and scantily-clad. It should be said, however, that while Vampirella’s first issue came out in September 1969, Mirza arrived in 1967.

As a backup to Mirza, Colonnese created O Morto do Pântono. This swamp creature, which I’ll refer to as O Morto, “the dead man” has enough similarities to imply that it was inspired by the Heap. Although I cannot make a direct connection, O Morto is a human-derived, but dead creature of the swamp. In the same way that the Heap’s later stories were structured, O Morto is a vessel of narrative justice via retribution, although O Morto’s methods aren’t quite as varied as the Heap’s. It seems to have inhuman strength despite the spindly nature of its limbs and short, hunched torso. Like the Heap and most swamp creatures that follow it, O Morto is immune to bullets.

At the same time, the character has enough dissimilarities to give O Morto his own flavor. Unlike most comic book swamp monsters, and again ahead of later muck men like Swamp Thing and Sludge, O Morto can reason and even talk. Although its skin is heavily textured, where that of regular people is undecorated, it retains a more human shape than the Heap or Man-Thing, even with a halo of hair with a balding pattern. In another departure, O Morto does not wander far from his swamp. The Heap’s stories were set in locations across the globe; Africa, China, the Middle East, American and Europe. O Morto remains where he is, and waits for the evildoers to come to him. And come they do. Blackmailers, marijuana smokers, and other bad men. Uniquely among the muck monsters of comics, O Morto always carries an enormous single-bit axe.

Eugênio Colonneses' O Morto do Pantono Eugênio Colonneses' O Morto do Pantono As the name implies, O Morto regards himself a dead person. His immunity to bullets seems to back this up. It isn’t until 1985, nearly two decades after O Morto’s first appearance, that his origin his even hinted at. In "Bodies Without Heads Do Not Speak," a legend is recounted that O Morto was once a judge who was dragged to the wetlands and killed with an ax. His subsequent resurrection is left as a mystery, but this explains some of the moral yet harsh nature of his justice, and his territoriality. Despite this new understanding of the character's background, he solves his problems in the the same way, an axe-blow to someone's head.

Eugênio Colonneses' O Morto do Pantono Unlike Dr. Ted Sallis who became the Man-Thing, Dr. Alec Holland who became the Swamp Thing, or Baron von Immelmann, O Morto does not seem to be highly educated. Judges of this period in Brazil were not required to have a law background, merely to pass a test on the local laws. He’s a bit more down to earth than the previous lives of other of the Heap’s literary descendants. In this way, O Morto seems to presage such slasher fare such as Jason Voorhees. But where Jason varied his implements and tended to merely start with the immoral youths and move on to their friends, O Morto just goes after the bad people. With a huge axe. He occasionally meets people who are not reprehensible, Sílvia in “Little Sílvia” as well as Bernardo in ”Bad Smell.” He does not kill indiscriminately. Only those he believes are bad. As such, his stories tend to follow the mid to late Heap style of story. A bad person goes into the swamp, only to be violently foiled. O Morto is also the only supernatural element in the these stories. Everything else is strictly noir or crime.

Another interesting quirk that sets O Morto apart from other swamp monsters is its tendency to speak directly to the reader, likely reflecting the hosts of EC’s fifties anthologies, the Vault-Keeper, the Crypt-Keeper, and the Old Witch. O Morto does double-duty, however, serving both as character as well as narrator. In the earlier stories, he has a splash image taking up the majority of the page, usually delivering a ghoulish or misanthropic message. In “The Gnats” he doesn’t actually appear in the story, serving instead as an outside observer of human wickedness and cruelty.

O Morto definitely has a personality. He is misanthropic, several times referring to humanity as muck or slime, happy when the mulch of humanity returns to the muck of the swamp. And he is more than willing to refer to the reader in such terms. But at the end of “Damn Herbs” he lets us know that this is not the only side to him:

Eugênio Colonneses' O Morto do Pantono "A coisa melhor do mundo e o lodo. Lodo e o podridao como estes dois! Ervas malditas, Mosquitos, pernilongos, oh! Que sinfonia harmoniosa! Tudo isso enche sde satisfacao minha sensibilidade de poeta, bem no fundo de minha alma! Ah Ah Ah! Embora eu nao tenha "fundo" E muito menos alma!"

Loosely translated: "The best thing in the world and the mud. Slime and rot like these two [people he’s just killed]! Damn herbs, mosquitoes, gnats, oh! That symphony! All this fulfills my poet's sensitivity, deep in my soul! Ah ah ah! Although I do not have "background" and much less soul!’

With ten, or possibly eleven, published stories between 1967 and 1968, Morto went dormant in the seventies, with the exception of a single story published in O Vampiro in 1974. But like Swamp Thing and Man-Thing, O Morto do Pântono was revived in the early eighties. Eight new stories were written for the Brazilian comics Spektro, Calafrio ("Chill"), and Mestres do Terror. One final story, “The Night 0f the Kidnappers” was created, for the Mirza, A Vampira, collection from Opera Graphica in 2002, with a script by Franco de Rosa. The final story of Morto, and the one in which Mirza and O Morto finally meet.

Eugênio Colonneses' O Morto do Pantono What makes these black and white stories stand out so much is the life, if you’ll pardon me, and energy that Eugênio Colonnese imparts to his creation. The swamp is lit like a noir film, dark and white, with no grey tones. Although I suspect this is a necessity of the printing process originally used, Colonnese’s art makes fantastic use of the medium. The line work is reminiscent of both Bernie Wrightson and Steve Bissette, fine and frenetic in places, other times using broad gestures to suggest more than is actually present on the page. Colonnese has a fine eye for the grotesque, and constantly creates memorable images.

I could only get my hands on the 2005 release, O Morto do Pântono, which contains seven of the twenty stories, and I’m a bit sad that I have been unable to locate any more of the stories. But pursuing this would involve a search for forty-year old comics in a country I’m more than twenty-seven hundred miles away from, and in a language I don’t understand. Additionally, there seems to be a contradiction in the introduction: three of the stories, “Hellish Herb” “The Gants” “The Red Jalopy” all bear the by-line of Luis Meri, but the history section claims they were written by Luis Quevedo. For all I know Mali is a pseudonym for Quevedo, or vice-versa, but it’s not something I have been able find any information on. I would send queries to the publisher, but Opera Graphica ceased operations in 2009.

It has been suggested by Amazon reviewer Lawrance Bernabo in his review of Swamp Thing: Dark Genesis that Swamp Thing was inspired by O Morto do Pântano, but it seems very unlikely. Though O Morto was created in 1967, I can’t find any evidence that it was ever translated into English. Further, I have not been able to find any reference to Len Wein or Bernie Wrightson, (the same for Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, and Grey Morrow, creators of Man-Thing which famously and contentiously debuted months before Swamp-Thing did) mentioning O Morto when they recount the origins of their muck monster. And given what an exhaustive job Jon Cooke did interviewing those creators for the monumental and extremely thorough Swamp Men book from Twomorrows publishing, I find it very unlikely that they wouldn’t have mentioned it.

Eugênio Colonneses' O Morto do Pantono I was extraordinarily pleased to come across O Morto do Pântono, because I love the all the permutations of Hillman’s The Heap. O Morto is another very entertaining, unique offshoot from the Heap’s fecund trunk. There’s a charm to the stories, and Colonnese’s art is stunning. Hopefully, and perhaps this article will help, the character will get more of the exposure that it deserves. I would love to read the rest of O Morto’s stories.

O Morto appeared in twenty different stories, spread out over thirty-five years. Only seven appeared in the eponymous collection which was published by in 2005. I won’t include a list of the illustrations that appear in various magazines, although the Opera Graphica editors note a number them for their complete history of O Morto. All stories were illustrated by Colonnese. Stories in bold appear in the Opera Graphica collection.

“Sou: O Morto do Pântano”, “I am The Dead Man of the Swamp” in Mirza, Mulher Vampiro #1, 1967. Script by Luis Quevedo
•“Orquídea Vermelha… Cor do Sangue” “Red Orchid… the Color of Blood” Mirza, Mulher Vampiro #2 1967. Script by Luis Quevedo
•“Prisão Macabra” Macabre Prison, in Mirza, Mulher Vampiro #4, 1967. Script by Luis Quevedo
•“Capturem… O Morto do Pântano” “Capture… The Dead Man of the Swamp” in Mirza, Mulher Vampiro #5, 1967. Script by Luis Quevedo
“Erva Maldita!” “Hellish Herb!” in Mirza, Mulher Vampiro #6, 1967. Script by Luis Quevedo
“Os Pernilogos!” “The Gnats” in Mirza, Mulher Vampiro #7, 1967. Script by Luis Quevedo
“O Calhambeque Vermelho” “The Red Jalopy” in Mirza, Mulher Vampiro #8, 1967. Script by Luis Quevedo
•“Sem Titulo” “Untitled” in Mirza, Mulher Vampiro #9, 1967. Script by Luis Quevedo
•“Um Amigo!” “A Friend!” in Mirza, Mulher Vampiro #10, 1967. Script by Luis Quevedo
•“O Peso do Ouro” The Weight of the Gold” O Vampiro # 13, 1974 (possibly a reprint from Mirza, Mulher Vampiro #11, but the editors at Opera Graphica weren’t able to lay hands on a copy). Script by Eugênio Colonnese
•“De Volta ao Mundo do Terror!” “Back to the World of Terror) Spektro #23, 1981. Script by Basilio Almeida
•“Sem Titulo“ “Untitled” in Mestres do Terror #1, 1982. Script by Décio Miranda Júnior
•“O Crime Perfeito” “The Perfect Crime” in Mestres do Terror #2, 1982. Script by Eugênio Colonnese
“A Pequena Silvia” “Little Sílvia” in Mestres do Terror #7, 1982. Script by Osvalo Talo
•“Fuga Para o Amor we a Morte!” ‘Escape to Love and Death!” in Mestres do Terror #8, 1982. Script by Octacilio D’Assunção
•“Noite de Luar… no Pântano!” “Night Moonlight… in the Swamp!” in Mestres do Terror #9, 1982. Script by Osvalo Talo
•“Uma História de Amor!” “A Love Story!“ in Mestres do Terror #18, 1983. Script by Osvalo Talo
“Corpos Sem Cabeças Não Falam…” “Bodies Without Heads Don’t Speak…” in Mestres do Terror #29, 1985. Script by Osvalo Talo
“Mau Cheiro” “Bad Smell” in Mestres do Terror #36, 1986. Script by Osvalo Talo and Reinaldo do Oliveira
•“A Noite dos Seqüestradores” “The Night 0f the Kidnappers” Mirza, A Vampira, 2002. Script by Franco de Rosa

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Classic: Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson's Swamp Thing

Sometimes I wonder what was in the air, or perhaps the water in 1971. Three swamp creature crawled their way into comics in a single year. Skywald’s Heap was the first, published in March, Marvel’s Man-Thing followed in May, and DC’s Swamp Thing followed in July. Accusations of copying have flown ever since, both professionally and in the respective fan communities. But that’s not a knot I'm prepared to detangle. Looking past the similarities of the swamp monsters allows us to perceive their great differences. As a character-driven media, comics depend very heavily on the character for the type and style of story that can be told. Swamp monsters are not, generally, interchangeable. One of Steve Gerber’s Man-Thing stories would not work if the Man-Thing was swapped out for the Swamp Thing, or even the Skywald Heap.

Bias alert here, Swamp Thing was the comic that got me into comics, and for a long time, kept me buying. Like a lot of kids, I got a big stack of hand-me-down comics at a young age, including Swamp Thing issues 9 and 10. They were unlike anything I had ever read anywhere else, and still have a special place in my heart. They had such an effect on me that the second volume of Swamp Thing, starting in 1982, was the first comic series I followed regularly. I stopped at issue #10, and then returned four years later with Swamp Thing 48. Swamp Thing and I have history.

House of Secrets 92, by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson
House of Secrets 92, by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson
Swamp Thing’s initial story appeared in House of Secrets #92, cover date July, 1971, a collaboration between Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson. A one-shot Victorian Gothic tale of Alex Olsen, who is murdered and left to die in the swamp. He returns to find the murderer making the moves on his wife. Smashing through a window, he murders the man who murdered him. However, he cannot reconcile with his wife, she cannot recognize him in his new mucky form. He then returns to the swamp, forever. Len Wein’s wordsmithing in this story is excellent and moody, and Bernie Wrightson’s art is magnificent. What makes keeps it from being yet another "back from the dead to take revenge on the murderer" story is the heartfelt love story that underlies it. The images from the story, with the red eyes and the outstreteched hand, the image of the Swamp Thing peering at the house where it once had a normal life, have become iconic. From this story sprang so much of the non-superhero comics of the nineties and the first decade of the two thousands, two films, a cartoon, a live-action TV series, and more than four hundred stories featuring the character. Although the seminal partnership between Wein and Wrightson only lasted eleven stories, those classic stories have left an indelible mark on comics.

The Swamp Thing, by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson One year after House of Secrets 92, Wein and Wrightson brought the concept back, this time in a modern setting. They had been reluctant to do so, but were encouraged to do so by DC editor-in-chief Carmine Infanto, who had once been the illustrator for Hillman's Heap. As the new Swamp Thing (#1 cover date November 1972) this was an ongoing series, the background is better fleshed out, and Alec Holland is a more fully realized character than Alex Olsen was. And the Hollands are working on a biorestorative formula, a catalyst added to the swamp to make the transformation of the protagonist into a grotesque more credible. Interestingly, between the House of Secrets story and the first issue of Swamp Thing, Len Wein wrote the second Man-Thing story for Marvel. The story was shelved when Savage Tales #2 was postponed, but brought back by Roy Thomas, and saw print in Astonishing Tales, in June, 1972.

As a character, the Swamp Thing is very different from the Hillman Heap, and Man-Thing. Not only does the creature retain the intellect of Dr. Alec Holland, it also retains some ability to speak. This also separates it from the Skywald Heap, which could think, but wasn’t a scientist, and couldn’t speak. As the decades have passed, speech has gotten easier for the Swamp Thing, but in the initial Wein and Wrightson stage, it’s pretty limited. Instead of being shaggy, as Man-Thing and the Hillman Heap are, the Swamp Thing is mossy, its surface (skin?) is smooth, although shot through with roots. It has the shape of a larger, more muscular man than Alec Holland was, as opposed to the shapeless goopiness of the Skywald Heap. Being able to reason and even sometimes speak allows the character a more active role in its stories. It need not be reactive, but can interpret what it sees without the need of an intermediary. Despite this, the Swamp Thing manages to get a supporting cast of humans, allowing for some complex stories told from different points of view.

Swamp Thing #3, by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson The Swamp Thing’s background cast is filled out with two people initially. Matt Cable was assigned to protect Alec Holland and now chases the Swamp Thing here and there across the globe. Cable is a bit generic, a down-on-his-luck government agent who hunts the monster that has ruined (in his opinion) his career. While on a trip to the Balkans, he picks up Abby Arcane, niece of recurring villain Anton Arcane. The two make a good team, although Abigail doesn’t have a lot of agency. They duo becomes a trio with Jefferson Bolt, a black man who was being held by the worms in issue eleven. Wein doesn't develop Bolt all that much, really only having two issues to do so. Bolt seems like he is there to provide conflict, or at least a different perspective that Abbey is unable to provide. The two (and then three) often provide a more human counterpoint to the Swamp Thing's stories, although occasionally (Issue 5 "Last of the Ravenwind Witches", and issue 10 "The Man Who Would Not Die") they don't show up at all. The supporting cast allowed Wein and Wrightson to approach stories from different perspectives. Issue 9, "The Stalker From Beyond" is an excellent example, switching perspective from Cable and the Abbey back to the Swamp Thing, moving the story forward through each character's perspective.

Swamp Thing #5 the legendary werewolf, by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson
The initial story of Swamp Thing is strangely unlike like the rest of the book. It’s a modern revenge thriller, an expansion of the original story. Later stories are almost entirely Gothic. Sorcerers dreaming of immortality, werewolves, New England witches, creepy robot human replacements, a Lovecraftian horror down a mine shaft, and an alien all populate the pages. Only issues 1 “Dark Genesis” and 7 “Night of the Bat" are without supernatural of science-fiction trappings. Wein crammed a lot of story into the twenty-four pages, and while they are nods of homages to films like Freaks, The Wolf Man, and Frankenstein, they are not imitative. The werewolf story happens on the moors of Scotland, the alien story takes place in the swamps of Louisiana, giving each a unique setting and flavor. The book fell into a "monster of the week" format almost by default. Multi-issue story arcs were not the norm in the seventies, so this could be viewed as an extended horror anthology series, like House of Secrets, but sharing a protagonist. The stories often present a familiar trope, but they are always given a unique twist. And this is Wein's genius, and half the reason these stories have held up.

Swamp Thing #7 Swamp Thing vs the Batman, by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson
Swamp Thing interacts with the rest of the DC Universe only once during Wein and Wrightson’s time on the book. Swamp Thing comes to Gotham City, the home of Batman. The Batman concept is flexible enough that it doesn't break the Gothic horror atmosphere that Wein and Wrightson carefully cultivated. The story itself stretches the concept of the Swamp Thing himself. For the first time, he is in a city. And the plot is again not a horror one, but an investigation, but starring Batman and the Swamp Thing conducting parallel lines of inquiry, arriving at he same conclusion at the same time. It works as both a Batman mystery and a Swamp Thing horror story, and sets in motion an association between the Batman and Swamp Thing that would be fruitful for years to come.

Hello, old enemy. Anton Arcane, back from the dead the first time in Swamp Thing #10, by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson
Issue 10 also deserves some special mention, since it’s the only issue with Wrightson as the plotter. It's a ghost story, as well as the return of Anton Arcane, who becomes the Swamp Thing's longest-lasting recurrine villain. His appearance here is quite memorable for its pure grotesqueness. Wrightson says the climax came from Ray Bradbury’s “The Handler” (adapted in Tales from the Crypt 36) and the parallel is easy to see. The image with the tombstones is very close to the Tales of the Crypt story. The story itself is radically different from the original Bradbury. It's a wonderfully dark story, and for once, the Swamp Thing is more a passive observer of the action rather than a participant. It’s a wonderfully dark story, very well told, and remains a personal favorite of mine. One point about "The Man Who Would Not Die" which I have never seen addressed, is the change of the old woman’s name from “Auntie De Luvian” to Auntie Bellum” in virtually every reprint I’ve seen. I’ve always wondered why tiny touch has been changed in the reprints.

The original Auntie De Luvian from Swamp Thing #10, by Len Wein and Bernie WrightsonAuntie Bellum, from the reprinted Swamp Thing #10, by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson

Although I have written mostly about Wein's writing, I have to note that Wrightson's art is the perfect match to Wein's storytelling. He often adds strange or disconcerting angles to his art which makes it more powerful. He also ads subtle layers to stories that are not in Wein's scripts. For example, there is a sequence in "The Stalker From Beyond", a stack of page-wide panels in which the army squad is setting up camp. From the apparent chaos of the first panel, the men have resolved themselves into their respective sides concerning the fate of the alien. Those that want to kill it stand to the right, those that do not stand at the left. It’s a very subtle piece of art, but one that ads texture to the story. When Nestor Redondo took over the art chores with issue eleven, this layer of artistic nuance was lost. Which is not to say that Redondo was a bad artist. He isn't. He's an exceptional artist. But he was more of a superhero artist, so his choices of point of view tended to be more conventional.

Swamp Thing #11 The Conqueror Worms, by Len Wein and Nestor Redondo Swamp Thing #13 Len Wein's farewell to the series, by Len Wein and Nestor Redondo Wein wrote another three issues with artist Nestor Redondo made the comic his, and gave us very strong art. Unfortunately, virtually anything would have seemed pale after the masterwork Wrightson did. That said, Redondo's art is sharp and very well defined, although not as detailed or chaiscuro as Wrightson. Len Wein’s stories remained solid, addressing more novel concepts such as alien worms that wanted to keep humanity for food stock, time travel, allowing some wonderful illustrations of strange worms, a Tyrannosaurus Rex, and lions from the Roman arena. But the stories were pitched and broken differently. They were were no longer a collaboration, but fully scripted by Wein before being sent to Redondo. So they have a different feel. They're still good, but they lack the sense of the Gothic and the grotesque that was present in first ten issues. The only thing I can say is that they feel more like a standard comic-book. A little more 'gonzo' and a bit less personal. They're still worth reading, but it seems clear that Wein was winding down his time on the book. As a lovely farewell, Wein ended the series with the same line that ended the short story: “... And if tears could come, they would.”

More than Man-Thing, which in its heyday was Steve Gerber's personal pulpit, the Wein and Wrightson Swamp Thing is foundational in the development of modern comics. Both of these comics sold well, outstripping popular superhero comics of their day. But Man-Thing doesn't seem to have acquired another writer who understood how to write compelling stories for the character, and Man-Thing has not managed to recapture its popularity under Gerber. Swamp Thing, on the other hand, managed to attract other authors and artists who would re-create the character, changing it from a simple "mucky human" into something larger and even more unique. Swamp Thing would eventually become the springboard from which DC Comics launched Vertigo, its successful line of horror comics in the early nineties. Swamp Thing is and remains a reminder that comics are not the exclusive domain of superheroes, that horror comics have and continue to be viable titles that, when well-written, sell well.

I hope I haven’t simply sung the praises of the Wein/Wrightson issues of Swamp Thing, but given the reader an idea of why I consider these to be some of the best comics ever produced. When it was going strong, Swamp Thing was one of DC Comics’ best sellers, and the stories have been endlessly reprinted. While the character has changed, especially after Alan Moore’s reinterpretation of the character in the eighties, these stories continue to be the firm foundation on which this extraordinarily popular character is based. The moody, beautiful art of Bernie Wrightson (and later, Nestor Redondo) combines with the carefully-chosen words of Len Wein to create a modern masterpiece, a book that i have read and re-read many times since I discovered it more than thirty-five years ago.