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Longbox Junk Halloween Creature From The Depths

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"I have a lot of issues. . ."

I write comic book reviews that NOBODY has ever asked for!

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Halloween!  It's that special time of year when children get their first basic lesson in the cornerstone of  Socialism. . . Redistribution of Wealth!  I have a giant bowl of candy.  Those who have less candy than me come to collect a portion of my candy under the threat of punishment if I do not comply.  This continues until I have no more candy. 

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

But enough of THAT.  We're here to talk about Halloween comics!
 
I'm going to come clean right off the top here.  I've never bought a Vampirella comic on purpose.  The 3 or 4 I have in my collection (including the comic at hand) have come to me by way of buying packs of comics where there's 10 random comics for $5 and they're sealed up so you can only see the top and bottom comic.  
 
Most comic stores have these deals, so I assume you know what I'm talking about. . .it's the true definition of Longbox Junk because it's a total random spin of the wheel on what you're getting beyond those two comics you can see.  
 
Vampirella is a character that's been around for a long time.  There are a LOT of Vampirella comics out there.  I've never bought a Vampirella comic on purpose because it's pretty obvious that they exist for one reason and one reason only. . .boobs.
 
I've flipped through plenty of Vampirella comics on the shelf and I find it hard to believe that anyone actually buys Vampirella for the stories any more than when guys protest that they read Playboy for the articles.   
 
THAT SAID. . .
 
My opinion of Vampirella is based on an extremely low actual exposure to Vampirella. And so I decided that since I'm having Halloween comic fun and I HAPPEN to have a Halloween Special starring Vampirella, why not give her a chance and actually read one of her stories for once and see if I'm judging these comics unfairly. . .
 
Let's do this!
 
VAMPIRELLA
HALLOWEEN SPECIAL 2013
 

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Welcome one and all to another Longbox Junk  special Retro Review edition, where I step away from my usual bargain box fare and take a closer look at some of the older and more "valuable" comics in my collection.

Since it's October and I've been having a bit of Halloween fun here at Longbox Junk, I figure why not throw in a Retro Review of a horror comic while I'm at it?  Why not indeed!  Let's do this!

TOWER OF SHADOWS #1

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Continuing my month of Longbox Junk Halloween fun, I present for your consideration a little item I pulled from the forgotten depths of a dollar box a couple weeks ago.  I bought it for the awesome cover. . .but is the story inside a trick or a treat?  Let's find out!

CREATURE FROM THE DEPTHS

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Ah. . .Halloween!

It's that special time of the year when you can go to a "pop-up" seasonal costume store set up in an abandoned Best Buy building and find skimpy "Maid" costumes in both child sizes AND XXXL! 
 
Not sure which one is scarier.
 
BUT. . .
 
we aren't here to discuss the hilariously depressing commercialism of "Scary Christmas", we're here to talk about comic books!  As promised in my last post, I'm giving DC's Halloween Specials a break as I try to rinse the mediocre flavor of superhero-themed Halloween stories out of my mouth with some actual horror comics.

The comic series at hand is a bit of a strange bird. . .it's a direct sequel to a horror movie that came out in 1989, which makes me wonder just who was asking for it almost 30 years down the road.  Also, the movie itself isn't that well-regarded, and is pretty much considered to be greatly inferior to the original.

The movie I'm speaking of is The Fly II, sequel to the David Cronenberg 1986 masterpiece of creepy body horror, The Fly.  The Fly is considered one of the greatest horror movies made (with an extremely solid 92% on Rotten Tomatoes), with Jeff Goldblum turning in one of his best performances playing a brilliant scientist who accidentally rewrites his DNA by splicing it with a housefly during teleportation experiments. 
 
Over the course of the movie, he slowly transforms into a mutated creature with full awareness of his horrific fate until he is mercy killed at the end by his lover as the transformation becomes complete.

The sequel to The Fly was not as well regarded.  The story involved the son of the doomed scientist from the original being raised from birth in a laboratory by the corporation that was funding the teleportation experiments that killed his father.  Martin (the son, played by Eric Stoltz) discovers the truth about what happened to his father as the same thing starts happening to him and he begins transforming. 
 
Eventually, by combining his flawed DNA with that of the evil head scientist in the teleporter his father built, Martin saves himself, but dooms the head scientist to live as a helpless monstrosity.

None of the original stars or Cronenberg were involved, and movie audiences shrugged and moved on. . .leaving The Fly II as a sort of forgotten relic of the 80's.  Judging by the extremely weak 27% Rotten Tomatoes rating and ho-hum reviews, I'm pretty confident in saying that The Fly 2 was a sequel that nobody really wanted.

I managed to rope my daughter into watching both of these movies with me over the weekend, and am able to confirm that The Fly is a masterpiece of 80's horror, practical effects, and reliable Jeff Goldblum scenery-chewing that somehow managed to capture my daughter's attention for the whole movie, while The Fly II is. . .pretty good. 
 
I didn't find it as bad as a lot of reviews made it sound.  My daughter defaulted to occasional glances at the screen between whatever was more interesting on her phone about halfway through.

So why am I spending so much time on the movies when it's the comics we're here for?

Because I have to warn you coming in that The Fly: Outbreak is a true and direct sequel to The Fly II.  If you don't have at least a sketch in mind of the story of the original movies, these comics will make absolutely NO sense to anyone reading them. . .which is kind of a strange direction to go, but to tell the truth, I sort of like it. 
 
As far as I'm aware, this is the first time I've ever read an ACTUAL sequel to a movie in comic form.  Not a reboot or re-imagining, but a SEQUEL to an almost-forgotten movie from 30 years ago.

But enough background.  Let's do this!

THE FLY

OUTBREAK

 
IDW (2015)
SCRIPT: Brandon Siefert
ART: menton3
COVERS: menton3
 

ISSUE ONE

THE BOOK OF TRANSGENESIS

Set a few years after The Fly II, Martin Brundle is now the head scientist at Bartok industries.  During his continued experiments on Anton Bartok attempting to cure the transgenic disease Brundle purposely infected him with (that turned him into a hideous monstrosity with the mind of a human trapped inside), Brundle accidentally triggers a new phase of transformation that enables Bartok to escape captivity.  
 
As the deranged hybrid human/fly tries to force Brundle into confessing that he infected Bartok to save himself, he is gunned down and killed. . .but during the battle, several employees and Martin are splashed with potentially infectious body fluids, leading to the entire staff being forced into quarantine.
 
Hmmmm. . .Okay.  Not a bad start.
 
Like I said in the intro above, this is a direct sequel to The Fly II, so it drops the reader right in a couple of years after the movie.  There's SOME exposition, but if you aren't familiar with the movies, it's not nearly enough.  This is NOT a comic friendly to new readers.
 
That said. . .
 
As someone familiar with the movies, I liked this first issue quite a bit BECAUSE it doesn't hold your hand and just gets right into the story without a lot of backtracking.  I like that Martin Brundle has dedicated his superior intellect to saving his former enemy from the fate that Brundle himself doomed him to.  I like that once again, Martin's ill-advised meddling has just made things worse.  I like that they moved the narrative along with the natural progression of the transgenic disease into something that can be contracted by humans through contact with fluids.  I also like the art a lot.  
 
The artist is definitely of the Ben Templesmith school of mixing extreme detail and sketchiness together, highlighted by beautiful coloring for a dark and moody look that is perfect for a story steeped in dark tragedy brought on by man trying to tinker with nature.  The artist has perfectly captured the likeness of Eric Stoltz and Daphne Zuniga (the leads on Fly II, who are now married), which helps establish this as a sequel to Fly II in a big way.  
 
 
BUT. . .
 
Even though there's a lot to like about this first issue, there's one thing that I didn't like at all. In the original movies, Seth and Martin Brundle (and Anton Bartok at the end of Fly II) were transformed into twisted, lumpy, oozing monstrosities with the last remaining vestiges of humanity barely reflected in their eyes.  In Outbreak, Bartok transforms into a sleek flying creature that resembles a stereotypical alien more than a fate worse than death. . .
 
This is a pretty jarring departure from what was established in the movies as to what happens when human and fly DNA are spliced.  It can be sort of explained by the new experiments that Martin has been trying, but I still found it unwelcome. Despite the unnecessary redesign of the hybrid, I found this first issue to be off to a great start.  It's mostly setup, but it's nicely done and makes me want to jump right into the next issue.
 

ISSUE TWO

QUARANTINE

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Ah. . .Halloween.  I love it!

It's that one special time of year when Wal-Mart shamelessly displays "Naughty Nurse" outfits that would usually only be found in somewhat sketchy stores on the outskirts of town. . .and one aisle over it's a winter wonderland of  pre-lit plastic Christmas trees in every color of the rainbow!

To which I can only quote the great Will 'Wicky, Wicky, Wild Wild West' Smith and say: "Welcome to Earth!"

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It's that time of year again!

The crisp fall air, horror movies on Netflix. . .girls wearing black leotards, hooker heels and dollar store cat ear headbands winning costume contests over guys with elaborate movie-worthy makeup that took them hours to apply.

In other words. . .it's October!

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It's that time of year again, folks! 

The season when the barriers between the worlds of the living and the dead thin just enough for strange things to happen. . .like your otherwise normal female co-workers getting falling down ripped on spiked punch with dry ice in it and wearing JUST enough clothing to technically qualify as a "Costume" at the company party. . .IF "Costume" is defined as "What would normally require an appointment with the HR department for a talk about professional dress codes."  

In other words. . .my favorite time of the year!

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Retro Reviews - The Shadow #1

85 views • 15 days ago • (1) Comment

Welcome to another "Retro Review" edition of Longbox Junk, where I take a closer look at some of the more "valuable" single issues in my collection instead of my usual discount box fare.
 
This time out, I take a trip back to 1973 and take a look at what many comic fans consider to be the best version of one of my favorite characters. . .the dark avenger known as The Shadow!

THE SHADOW #1

THE DOOM PUZZLE

 
 
 
DC (1973)
SCRIPT: Dennis (Denny) O'Neal
PENCILS:  Michael Kaluta
COVER:  Michael Kaluta
 
As usual with these retro reviews, part of my fun in doing them is finding out about the background of the comic at hand, so indulge me a paragraph or three as I outline some of what I learned.
 
So what we have here is the first issue of a short-lived (12 issue) DC run on the popular pulp character, The Shadow.  He'd been around since the 1930's, but had fallen a bit out of the public eye by the 1970's, thanks in part to a disastrous Archie Comics run with the character in the mid 1960's where they tried to turn The Shadow into a superhero complete with green and purple tights and cape.  I don't have any issues of this run, but from what I understand, it's pretty much regarded as the very definition of Longbox Junk.
 
Thankfully, DC decided they wanted to stay true to the pulp roots of the character that inspired one of their most popular superheroes of all time, Batman.  DC originally hired Jim Steranko as artist, but Steranko wanted to write the book as well. 
 
DC had already decided that they wanted Denny O'Neil writing The Shadow, so they passed on Steranko and passed the art to Bernie Wrightson, who was quickly becoming a superstar artist with his work on Swamp Thing.  Unfortunately, Wrightson quickly realized that he couldn't handle two ongoing series at the same time, so DC passed the art to Mike Kaluta.
 
And so that's how we ended up with the perfect combination of writer and artist to provide the world with what I consider possibly one of the greatest first issues of ANY series I've ever read.  
 
Okay. . .I guess I'm getting a little ahead of myself.  Let's start at the beginning.
 
I have to admit that I'm a little prejudiced in favor of this particular comic.  My wife (who isn't a comic fan) bought this issue for me about 10 years ago for Father's Day.  She found a BEAUTIFUL copy (I'd grade it 8.5) in an antique store and bought it for ten lousy bucks just because she knew I liked old comics and she liked the cover. 
 
I normally tell her not to try to buy comics for me, but this ONE time she hit a home run!  For 10 years, that awesome cover has greeted me every time I walk into my man-cave.  It was the first comic cover I put up on the "Wall O' Fame" and the only one that hasn't moved. 
 
 
Anyway. . .there it is.  Front and center.  What more can I say about that fantastic Kaluta cover other than I consider it to be one of the greatest comic book covers of all, and I never get tired of seeing it.
 
But enough of that.  I'm not here to review a cover.  Let's get inside this thing!
 
So the story goes like this:
 
While breaking up a gang of thugs in Brooklyn, The Shadow comes into possession of a coded note that sends him following a trail of clues. . .first to an exclusive nightclub, where as his alter ego Lamont Cranston, he overhears rumors of a gathering small army of criminals.  
 
From there he has one of his agents, Harry Vincent, stake out an area of town where Vincent witnesses a gang of criminals attack a police transport and free the prisoners.  During the gunfight, Vincent is taken prisoner, but The Shadow manages to track down his location.  
 
After defeating the gangsters holding Vincent, The Shadow interrogates one and discovers further clues to an expanding criminal plot which lead him to visit a Wall Street financier in the guise of Lamont Cranston the next day and discovering that a large shipment of worn currency to be destroyed is leaving New York for Washington D.C. that night. . .the final piece of the puzzle.  
 
Later that night, as the shipment of currency leaves in armored cars and guarded by U.S. army troops, a group of thugs wait to blow up the George Washington Bridge and send the convoy into the water.  The Shadow arrives by gyrocopter to stop the plot to blow the bridge up, and then destroys a submarine that was waiting below to salvage the sunken armored cars and escape with the money undetected.
 
But those were just the hirelings there to carry out the plan.  The mastermind was still at large, and The Shadow doesn't do things halfway.  The Shadow captures the fleeing Wall Street financier who was one of the only ones who knew the route the currency convoy was taking, and during a struggle, forces him to shoot himself. 
 
The weed of crime bears bitter fruit! The End.
 
All in all it's a pretty simple story, but one that moves at a nice steady pace and is very well written by Denny O'Neil. . .with spot on dialogue and great pulp/ noir lines like, "In the distance a foghorn moans -- Or is it the cry of something lost, something damned?"  
 
I see a lot of comics from the 70's that are definitely products of their time with slang and cultural attitudes that clearly mark when the comic was written just as surely as the date on the inside cover.  O'Neil's dark and atmospheric writing on The Shadow evokes the pre-WWII era without a hint of the 1970's and makes even a simple story like "The Doom Puzzle" a true pleasure to read.
 
And then there's the art.  
 
Just as with the writing, It's usually not hard for me to tell when a comic came out just by looking at the art.  It always sort of stretches my suspension of comic book disbelief when I'm reading a WWII comic and the characters have shaggy haircuts straight from 1975.  There isn't a hint of the 70's in this comic.  Kaluta's art is dark, moody, and perfectly evokes the era that the characters inhabit. 
 
Every page of this comic oozes character and atmosphere in such a way that perfectly compliments O'Neil's pulp/noir writing and really makes me just want to re-read the comic again, even though I just put it down 15 minutes ago to write this review.  The art on this comic stands the test of time and I'd definitely call it superior to many modern artists on the racks right now.
 
I really like Kaluta's unusual panel style!
 
BUT. . .
 
No comic is perfect.  This one comes close, but not quite all the way.  The main problem with this otherwise fantastic piece of comic art is that it is NOT new reader friendly.  Who The Shadow is or what his powers or motivations are is not explained except in the most vague and oblique ways. 
 
Who his agents are, why they serve him, and how they came to be his agents isn't even touched on, beyond their names and the fact that they take his orders without question.  As a huge fan of The Shadow, I know all these things. . .but if one knows nothing about the character this is a pretty lousy introduction. 
 
It seems to be fully expected that whoever is reading this comic is already a fan of The Shadow.  Newcomers need not apply.  I don't have any other issues of this run, so I don't know if The Shadow and his Agents are expanded on in later issues, but I wonder if this cold opening and unfriendliness to new readers might have something to do with the run being quite short.  If so, then that's a damn shame.
 
CONCLUSION
 
Overall, despite not being very friendly to new readers at all, I can easily say that for fans of The Shadow, this is a comic that MUST be in your collection.  It has a fairly simple story, but the obvious love of the character in both O'Neil's writing and Kaluta's art elevates this single issue into something great.  From the fantastic cover to the final panel, The Shadow #1 is a true example of comics as art.  
 
Up Next. . .
 
It's October, so how about some spooky fun?
 
Halloween one-shots!  Be there or be square!

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Longbox Junk - Jack of Hearts

126 views • 20 days ago • (2) Comments

This 4 issue mini is another nice find that came as a result of one of my local comic shops' abandoning back issue sales and pretty much pricing every back issue in stock that sells for less than $20 online at ONE LOUSY BUCK!  

As you can imagine, this has been a most beautiful bounty for a lover of Longbox Junk such as myself.  I now have a HUGE pile of unread comics and definitely feel like a dollar box glutton!

ANYWAY. . .

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Longbox Junk - Insurrection v3.6

125 views • 27 days ago • (4) Comments

One of my local comic shops is abandoning back issues in order to turn their back room into more gaming space.  A sign of the times for comic shops, I guess.  The result of this is that they have greatly increased the number of dollar boxes for me to hunt through. . .from 4 to 20! A nice little bonanza for a Longbox Junk lover such as myself.  

This mini is one of my many new acquisitions I've come across.  Never heard of it and never read it until now.  Bought them for the sweet sci-fi military covers.  Let's do this!

INSURRECTION v3.6

BOOM! Studios (2011)
SCRIPTS: Blake Masters & Michael Alan Nelson
PENCILS: Michael Penick
COVERS: Rael Lyra

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