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Longbox Junk - Catwoman #50

236 views • 5 weeks ago • (0) Comments

Welcome to Longbox Junk, where the comics are cheap and the reviews are free!

 
Like it or lump it, comics in the 90s had a style of their own.  You can just LOOK at a comic book without knowing a thing about it and know that it's a 90s comic.  This is mostly because of Rob Liefeld and Company at Image Comics.  They DEFINITELY put a stamp on the 90s that the "Big Two" scrambled hard to keep up with.
 
And when you think of that 90s style, what comes to mind?  Pouches, right? Straps and belts? Gritted teeth? Tiny feet? Giant, weird guns? Yep. . .all of that, but one of the things that simply SCREAMS 90s to ME is characters getting a shiny new suit of armor.
 
I think maybe the most famous example of this is Batman, but there were MANY characters in the 90s who got an unfortunate makeover featuring a suit of armor.  Captain America, Daredevil, Booster Gold, Blue Beetle, Spider-Man. . .and more, but that's all I can think of off the top of my head.
 
And Catwoman.  Yep. . .DC put some armor on Catwoman, of all characters.  It didn't last long, so it's one of the more obscure 90s armor makeovers, but yeah. . .Catwoman.
 
Let's take a look, shall we?
 
WE SHALL!

CATWOMAN #50

DC (1997)

 
 
COVER: Jim Balent
 
CATS IN THE NIGHT
 
SCRIPT: Doug Moench
PENCILS: Jim Balent
INKS: Robert Campenella & Sal Buscema
 
THE COVER:
 
Gritted teeth, tiny feet, armor. Yep. . .this is definitely a 90s comic.  You can tell without even opening it up.  That said, it's a pretty cool cover.  You can't really tell because gimmick covers are hard to scan, but the whole grey tone background is actually shiny silver ink with Catwoman, the title, and the splash on top.  It's a nice contrast.  The purple and yellow really goes well with the silver ink. 
 
 I'd go so far to say that this might be one of my favorite 90s gimmick covers.  It never makes any "Top Ten" lists, but in MY book it's a winner! Let's get inside this thing.
 
THE STORY:
 
We begin our tale with Catwoman in her element, at night on a rooftop, on her way to steal some diamonds.  She thinks the caper is going to be a cakewalk. . .but what kind of comic book fun is THAT?
 
 
 
Out of nowhere, she's targeted by a missile that narrowly misses her!  The explosion briefly knocks Catwoman unconscious.  When she wakes, confused, she tries to find the source of the attack and fails.  As she's deciding whether or not to continue with the planned theft, she's attacked again!
 
Catwoman immediately recognizes her attacker. . .Cyber-Cat!  She'd recently had a run-in with her during a job at a Syntex lab (a few issues previously) and now it looked like Cyber-Cat was out for revenge!
 
 
Catwoman desperately fights for her life against her armored attacker, but it's definitely a one-sided battle as Cyber-Cat brutally beats on her, blaming Catwoman for humiliating her during their first encounter.  Catwoman knows there's no way she's winning the fight, and so she decides to run. . .
 
 
Catwoman manages to elude Cyber-Cat, who shouts that she's not going to stop hunting Catwoman until she has her revenge with the thief's death.  Catwoman knows that Cyber-Cat means it, and she won't be able to go back to business as usual until the armored menace is dealt with. . .but in her current state, that's not happening.
 
As Cyber-Cat leaves the scene, Catwoman carefully follows her. . .discovering her hidden base.  But at the moment, she's in no shape to do anything about it.
 
 
We cut away from Catwoman and Cybercat for a bit of exposition!
 
A Syntex scientist is being interrogated by two mysterious Men in Black.  We learn that Cyber-Cat is a former Syntex scientist as well, named Christina Chiles.  She left Syntex two weeks previously and took an experimental suit of Cortically Amplified Technid armor (C.A.T. Get it? Get it? GET IT!?) with her.
 
The armor was still in its testing phase and only matched to Chiles' brainwave patterns, so she was the only person who could use it.  The scientist being interrogated believes that Chiles is convinced she's still testing the armor and using her vendetta against Catwoman to do so.
 
 
Switching back to Catwoman, she makes her way to the mansion of one of her underworld contacts. . .a wealthy dwarf known as Zee.  She informs him that the job was a failure and that she's in some serious trouble that only a mutual acquaintance named Clutterbuck can help her with.  
 
 
Clutterbuck is Catwoman's go-to tech expert.  She tells him about Cyber-Cat and asks him to put something together to even the fight.  Clutterbuck agrees to take on the job, but it will take a couple of days. 
 
 Catwoman returns to her apartment to rest, recuperate from her wounds, and lay low as her alter-ego Selina Kyle while she's waiting for Clutterbuck to come through for her.
 
 
While Selina waits for Clutterbuck, she decides to work a bit on her budding relationship with Detective Morland McShane. . .a cop who is obsessed with taking down Catwoman and an unlikely choice of romantic partner.  Selina is unsure of whether or not to continue building the relationship. And if she does, will it be to stay close to her most persistent hunter, or to try to make an honest go of it?
 
 
 
Okay. . .character development over. Back to sexy supercrime action!  

 
But first, I'd just like to point out that, while Jim Balent is one of the better DC 90s artists, he can't draw cats. . .which would seem to be sort of a bad thing in a CATWOMAN comic.  
 
 
BUT I DIGRESS!
 
After several pages of out-of-costume character development and setup for conflict in issues to come, Selina returns to Clutterbuck to take a look at what he's come up with to even the odds against Cyber-Cat.
 
It's a shiny new high-tech suit of 90s armor, of course!  
 
BEHOLD!!
 
 
Now THAT'S 90s!
 
Catwoman isn't so sure about the idea, but Clutterbuck manages to convince her.  After all, it was rush job, built in two days on a shoestring budget by a weirdo living in a junkyard. What could possibly go wrong?
 
So Selina pays Clutterbuck and takes the armor out for some practice. . .including an obligatory "Knightfall Era" reference to Batman's new armor.  She figures if it works for him, it will probably work for her.
 
Once she's got the feel for her shiny new 90s makeover, Catwoman decides to forget about her usual stealth and cunning and goes for a full frontal attack on Cyber-Cat's hidden base!  
 
Once inside, Catwoman finds the warehouse empty, but as she investigates, she triggers a trap and is attacked by two remote mini-robotic tanks!  Catwoman tries to escape, but eventually finds herself cornered and desperately fighting against the heavily-armed robots.  She manages to destroy them, but is confronted by Cyber-Cat. . .
 
 
Cyber-Cat is enraged by Catwoman's destruction of her expensive robotic guards.  But, at the same time, is happy that instead of having to hunt Catwoman again, she's come to her.  
 
Catwoman tries to talk to Cyber-Cat, but she's not having it. . .the fight is ON!  DING-DING-DING!
 
 
Over the course of the next seven pages, Catwoman and Cyber-Cat engage in brutal battle. . .trading the advantage back and forth several times as they both use every trick in their armor suits to gain the upper hand.
 
 
The battle rages back and forth until Catwoman finally deals Cyber-Cat a crippling blow. . .a massive explosion that sets Cyber-Cat on fire and causes her systems to eject her burning armor, leaving the woman inside. . .Christina Chiles, exposed to the victorious Catwoman!
 
 
With Chiles no longer being Cyber-Cat, but a sobbing and exposed woman denied her revenge, Catwoman tells her to never come after her again or she'll finish the job.  She leaves the scene of the fight just as the mysterious men in black arrive to take Chiles into custody.

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Longbox Junk - Black Diamond #1

210 views • 7 weeks ago • (0) Comments

I did it again.  I've had this review posted on my blog for about a week before I realized I forgot to post it here.  Apologies to Comic Book Realm!

Welcome to Longbox Junk, the place to find all the comic book reviews you never asked for!

 
I have a strange love for comic book tie-ins to stuff.  Movies, T.V. shows, video games, toys, what have you.  I just really like it when a comic book is able to move beyond what's already there.
 
I think maybe of all the comic tie-ins, the most successful in MY estimation is probably Star Wars. Back in the day when all we had were a couple of movies, the Star Wars comics definitely scratched that "I want more!" itch.  And truthfully, they still do.
 
But we ain't talking about Star Wars!
 
The comic at hand is a tie-in to an 80s action movie called Black Diamond.  A sort of female James Bond movie, if you will.  A globe-trotting adventurer pulling off crazy spy missions under the cover of being an internationally-famous model.  Starring one of the most successful of the 80s "B-Movie Queens", Sybil Danning.  Sounds decent, right?
 
But the movie never got made.  There's just this short comic tie-in series (5 issues, but I've only ever seen this one) to even indicate that it ever WAS going to be made.  There's literally no information on the internet about Black Diamond beyond the dry creator and publication details for this comic.
 
So there's no Black Diamond movie.  But we DO have this comic.  Let's check it out!

BLACK DIAMOND #1

AC/Americomics (1983)

 
 
COVER: Bill Black
 
THE COVER:
 
I like it!  The bold red background really grabs the eye and sets off both the giant title at the top and the nicely-done portrait of Black Diamond in the middle.  Yeah, the spike heels ARE a bit ridiculous, but the rest of this cover is really engaging.  definitely a very nice cover. It makes me want to get inside and see what's going on, so let's do that!
 
THE STORIES:
 
For an 80s comic, this issue is pretty packed.  Of course, two bucks back in '83 WAS a pretty stiff price, but for your two dollars you get two full stories (Really parts 1 and 2 of a continuing story), a shorter five page comic story, and several one and two page features introducing characters and talking about the upcoming movie that never got made.  
 
All that AND a sexy promotional photo poster of Sybil Danning as Black Diamond! 
 

Bewb-Tastic!
 
Like I said, this thing is PACKED for an 80s comic!  Let's check it all out. . .
 
THE DARKFIRE AFFAIR: GAUNTLET
 
SCRIPT:  Bill Black
PENCILS:  Bill Black
INKS:  Bill Black
 
THE STORY:
 
Before we get into the story proper, we get a one page black and white introduction to Black Diamond, courtesy of the one and only Paul Gulacy (who apparently also did the rest of the covers of the series beyond this first issue).
 
 
We start off with a flashback to a year previous to the current story.  Black Diamond has infiltrated the security of a Quansa (a worldwide criminal organization) in order to obtain a file of Quansa moles working as double agents in her own agency, Infocom Three.
 
After making her escape with the file, she discovers to her horror that her lover, Jack Burton, is one of the double agents!  She knows that she'll have to be the one to take him down.
 
 
We move forward to the present day.  Black Diamond is given a new assignment from her Infocom Three superior.  She's to go to New York City and investigate the presence of an elite group of female Quansa mercenaries called the Valkyrie Unit. . .led by a ruthless woman named Vanessa Cord, AKA Darkfire.  
 
Their being in New York signals that Quansa is up to something big, and Black Diamond needs to be there  to take it down!
 
 
Before Black Diamond even gets out of her apartment and on her way to the airport, she's attacked by one of Darkfire's mercenaries.  Black Diamond realizes that somehow, Darkfires knows she's on the job, so there must still be moles in Infocom Three.
 
At the airport, Black Diamond is attacked by three more Valkyrie Unit mercenaries.  As she fights them through the airport, Black Diamond wonders just what could be big enough for Darkfire and Quansa to risk such a public display.
 
 
After beating the three Valkyrie mercenaries, Black Diamond is forced to evade the authorities by way of an impromptu disguise in order to board her plane to New York.
 

 
To be continued. . .
 
THE REVIEW:
 
Okay. . .not bad.  Not great.  Not anywhere close to great, but not bad.  The story has a feel to it that reminds me of some of the Silver Age spy/action comics I've read.  Like something Dell or Gold Key would have put out. Or maybe like DC's I-Spy.  The dialogue is pretty cheesy and quippy, but there's a certain charm to it, a certain throwback quality that I can't really fault too much.
 
The art also has a Silver Age throwback look to it.  There's no real standout moments, but there's no really bad spots either.  It helps tell the story, but doesn't try to do anything beyond that. . .which also reminds me a lot of a Silver Age non-superhero comic  books I've read.   
 
All in all, it's a decent, but forgettable story that really throws off some Silver Age comic vibes.
 
NEXT!
 
BLACK DIAMOND 
(Two page text feature with photographs)
 
SCRIPT: Bill Black
 
What we have here is a bit of background on Sybil Danning and some of her upcoming roles, including pretty much all the information to be found on the Black Diamond movie.  It also tells how the comic book tie-in came into existence.  It's pretty interesting, and also pretty cool that they included something like this.   
 
 

 
NEXT!
 
THE DARKFIRE AFFAIR: MINDTRAP!
 
SCRIPT: Bill Black
PENCILS:  Mark Beachum & Bill Black
INKS: Bill Black
 
THE STORY:
 
Continuing from the first part of the story (above), we join Black Diamond on the flight to New York, where she's asleep and dreaming of the past.  After discovering that her lover and fellow agent Jack Burton is a double agent, Black Diamond is assigned to take him down.
 
After confronting him with the truth, Black Diamond shoots Burton with a knockout dart.  Instead of killing him, she plants criminal evidence on him and leaves him for the authorities.
 
 
Arriving in New York, Black Diamond goes to the secret headquarters of Infocom Three for a meeting with its head, General Van Pelt.  At the meeting, Van Pelt reveals that Darkfire (from part one, above) is involved with a Quansa plot to steal an experimental mind control device.
 
Their strongest lead indicates that the device was tested on another Infocom Three agent at a New York warehouse.  Black Diamond immediately leaves to investigate.
 
 
At the warehouse, a group of Darkfire's mercenaries wait to spring a trap on Black Diamond, but she gets the on them.  After fighting her way through the mercenaries, she confronts the last one and demands answers.  
 
The mercenary kills herself as Black Diamond watches in shock.  A nearby video screen comes on and Darkfire informs Black Diamond that she's just witnessed the power of the mind control device, and that Darkfire plans on using it on Black Diamond, so that the secret agent will be the instrument of destruction for Infocom Three!
 
 
Darkfire triggers explosives, demolishing the warehouse as Black Diamond narrowly makes her escape.  Outside of the burning building, Black Diamond wonders why Darkfire seems to have a personal vendetta against her.  All she really knows is that the Quansa mercenary needs to be stopped at any cost!
 

Coming next. . .Black Diamond in SPAAAAAAAAACE!
 
THE REVIEW:
 
Once again, definite Silver Age comic vibes from both the story and art.  For what it is, it's not bad.  Unfortunately, it's not really that good, either.  It's a pretty forgettable story that doesn't really grab me and make me want to see what's next, even WITH the promise of our heroine going into space in the next issue.  And when a comic involving a hot blonde having spy adventures in orbit doesn't really interest me, that's a definite first issue failure.
 
Let's see what else this issue has to offer. . .
 
INTRODUCING COLT THE WEAPONS MISTRESS
 
SCRIPT: Don Secrease
PENCILS: Don Secrease
INKS:  Bill Black
 
It's a one page introduction for the first appearance of a character that was a lot more popular for AC Comics than Black Diamond seems to have been.  You can see the whole thing below, but basically, Colt is the daughter of a military arms expert who married a government agent and worked together as a husband and wife spy team until her husband was killed.  Now Colt is a private agent looking for revenge.
 
 
Hmmmm. . .not much to say about this.  The art is nice, but her special weapon, the "Clipper" seems to be a bit derivative of Judge Dredd's gun, the "Lawgiver".  And when I say derivative, I mean it's pretty much exactly the same.
 
NEXT!
 
SQUEEZE PLAY
 
SCRIPT: Don Secrease
PENCILS: Don Secrease
INKS: Rick Burchett
 
THE STORY:
 
We begin in a meeting room at a government installation, where a group of high-ranking U.S. military officers are getting a presentation on a new experimental submachine gun.  A presentation being given by the ridiculously-costumed Colt.  Nobody says anything about the masked woman giving the presentation, for some reason.  Just another day of government work, I guess.
 
 
When the class is returning from a break, a bit of excitement ensues when one of the government agents is found, shot and dying!  Well, at least they don't have to go back to school now.  Colt immediately takes charge of the situation and declares that she'll get to the bottom of this mystery!
 
A quick search of the building leads her to the men's room, where she finds a used Co2 cartridge.  She returns later that night, laying in wait for the culprit to return to the scene of the crime. . .
 
 
It's one of the government officers that were at Colt's presentation. . .an agent Vawter.  He's trying to steal the prototype SMG!  As Vawter tries to make his escape, Colt manages to take him down.
 

 
Security guards rush in to take Vawter into custody.  General Wyndon asks Colt how she knew who the double agent was.  She tells him that from her examination of the dead agent, she knew the shooter was left handed.  Vawter was the only left handed person at the presentation.  Case closed!
 
 
The End.
 
THE REVIEW:
 
Like the Black Diamond story, I get a heavy Silver Age vibe when reading this story.  It's completely ridiculous, but played completely straight at the same time.  It's utterly forgettable, but sort of fun when you're reading it.  Just like so many Silver Age comics I've read.
 
The art is actually quite a bit nicer than the Black Diamond art.  The artist here at least tries a little harder to do something besides just tell the story.  Maybe that's why Colt eventually became a pretty popular character for AC (with a decent role in their only really popular comic, FemForce).  
 
Unfortunately, besides some decent art and a bit of goofy Silver Age-style fun, there's really not much more to it.
 

CONCLUSION

 
This is one of those weird comics where I can't really decide if I like it or not.  That may seem a little strange, but it happens from time to time.  
 
On the one hand, it's a pretty fun read.  It has a goofy Silver Age comic feel to it. The art is decent.  It's an interesting thing to have a comic tie-in to a movie that never got made.  I like strange little artifacts like this.  So I liked it, right?
 
But on the other hand, it's completely forgettable.  The story is weak and doesn't make me want to pick up another issue.  It's overall just sort of ridiculous and weird in equal measure.  So I didn't like it, right?
 
See what I mean?
 
I GUESS if I have to pick a side of the fence, I'd say I liked it.  But I didn't like it enough to recommend it as something to keep an eye out for.  I like having strange comic artifacts like this in my collection. 
 
I would only recommend it if you're also the kind of collector who likes having weird little things like this hanging out in your collection.  Other than that, there's not much here you'll be missing if you skip this one.
 
Up Next. . .
 
HEY! Remember when Catwoman got an unfortunate 90s makeover, complete with a brand new suit of shiny armor? Longbox Junk remembers!  Catwoman #50!
 
Be there or be square.
 

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Longbox Junk - Arak, Son of Thunder #1

418 views • 12 weeks ago • (0) Comments

Welcome to Longbox Junk, where the comics are cheap and the reviews are FREE!

 
Let's return for a bit to a little something I was getting into last year. . .comics that you are pretty much guaranteed to find in just about ANY bargain bin you may find yourself digging through.  The bread and butter of cheap comics. . .the Longbox Junk of Longbox Junk.
 
At hand today is the first issue of a series that, if you DON'T spot at least one issue of  the run in the bargain bin, somebody already bought it.  As far as I can tell, it's a REQUIRMENT that any bargain bin has to contain at least ONE of these comics.
 
I'm talkin' about ARAK, SON OF THUNDER!
 
That's right. . .DC's very own version of Conan, even written by the man many consider to be THE Conan writer, the legendary Roy Thomas.  But is that ALL Arak is? An 80s Conan knockoff?  Is it any good? Why are so many of these comics in the bargain bins?  I have questions.  Let's get some answers!

ARAK, SON OF THUNDER #1

DC (1981)

 
 
COVER: Ernie Colón


The Sword and the Serpent!


SCRIPT: Roy Thomas
PENCILS: Ernie Colón
INKS: Tony DeZuniga



THE COVER:

I absolutely LOVE the gigantic ARAK title on ALL the covers in this series! But other than that, this cover is a bit "meh". The central figure of Arak is done nicely, but if you look in the background, especially over on the right, the figures are sketchy, giving the cover a sort of unfinished look. 
 
I'm not sure that this cover would have caught my eye on the comic rack. A bit of a disappointment because Colón's work inside is really very nice. Let's get to the story!


THE STORY:

We begin our tale aboard a Viking ship. . .far to the West of anyplace that's been explored by Norsemen before. Driven before the waves during a fierce storm, the hard-bitten crew of reavers has barely survived the night.

As they survey their situation, a small boat is spotted adrift. Aboard it is a young boy with strange, reddish skin.
 
 
The Vikings rescue the boy, but as they try to revive him, he attacks the leader of the band, Sigvald.  To keep Sigvald from killing the boy, a Frankish raider named Hermold claims the boy as his slave.  
 
In the weeks that follow, Hermold begins training the strange boy in swordplay, so that he may join the rest of the band in their violent life of raiding.  He also gives the boy a name. . .Erik, but the child pronounces it Arak, and that's what the crew comes to know him as.
 
Arak proves himself to be a natural fighter with sword and bow and ax.  The seasons begin to pass as he becomes one of the raider band.
 
 
We move forward eight years. . .
 
Arak takes part in his first raid.  The band invades a peaceful Christian monastery  on the coast of Northumbra.  As the battle rages through the monastery, Arak comes upon his leader, Sigvald, as he kills the Abbot and claims the monk's treasure, including an ornate jeweled cross.
 
Arak is confused as to why the monk refused to defend himself, and as he tries to comfort the dying Abbot, he is surprised to find himself being cursed by the dying man and called a devil.
 
 
Leaving the Abbot's quarters, Arak becomes sickened by the raiders who have become his family when he sees them tormenting the defenseless monks. . .inflicting violence for no reason other than their own amusement.  
 
When he's finally had enough, Arak steps in to save a monk being tortured by a Viking named Hrolf.  He is mocked for being soft and Hrolf attacks, but he's no match for Arak, who swiftly kills him.  The leader of the band, Sigvald, tells Arak that his actions prove that he's no real Viking any more than a wolf is a shark.
 
 
As winter falls and the Vikings rest in their longhouses and prepare for the next raiding season, the raid on the monastery weighs heavily on Arak.  His former master and now friend, the Frankish Hermold, tries to ease Arak's mind by telling him the tale of Jesus Christ and how the monks follow His example of pacifism.
 
Arak is intrigued by the tale, and by the tales of the Frankish Christian Empire his friend speaks of.  In return, Arak tells Hermold what he remembers of his own land. . .far across the sea to the West.
 
 He belonged to a tribe called the Quontauka, who worshipped a Thunder called He-No.  His mother told him that he was He-No's son.  Truth or not?  Who can say?  He claims his people are all dead except for him.
 
 
We move forward.  Winter is gone and another raiding season comes.  Arak and Hermold try to convince Sigvald that no good can come of raiding defenseless monasteries.  Such attacks will only rouse the anger of the Anglo-Saxons who rule Northumbra. 
 
Sigvald ignores them and sets his sights on another monastery.  But as they approach in the darkness, a strange sight comes into view. . .a white-haired woman standing alone on a rock in the sea!
 
As the Vikings ponder the strange encounter, she chants words of dark magic and a giant serpent rises from the depths to smash the raider band's ship!  Only a few of the Vikings make it to shore, along with Arak. . .where they are greeted by armed and enraged monks.
 
 
Hermold tries to appeal to the Christian monks, throwing down his weapon and surrendering in the name of . . .but the monks leap on the Frankish raider and kill him, driving Arak into a berserker rage!
 
But even in his rage, Arak is soon overwhelmed by the strangely-aggressive monks.  When he wakes, he finds himself being tended to by one of the monks.  The only survivor of his band beside him is their leader, Sigvald.  They are both being held prisoner, along with the monks who had killed their companions.  Arak is confused.
 
The monk explains that they were forced to fight by a brother and sister named Argalia and Angelica (the woman who summoned the serpent), who appeared with a pair of giant Oriental bodyguards two days earlier and took over the monastery.
 
 
It's not long before Angelica comes to meet Arak.  She's intrigued by the strange red-skinned man and offers him his life in exchange for service as her personal slave and bodyguard.  Arak agrees, claiming any deal is a good one if the second offer is death.
 
When Angelica takes Arak to meet her brother, Argalia, she reveals that the reason they have taken over the monastery is because of a magic ring hidden among its relics.  A ring that not only makes the wearer invisible, but also protects against all enchantments.  
 
Angelica mentions that she will be using the ring against Malagigi. . .court magician to King Carolus Magnus (Charlemagne), a name Arak recognizes from Hermold's tales of the Christian kingdom of the Franks.  Now curious about traveling to the Frankish kingdom, Arak leaves the monastery with his new mistress and her brother.
 
 
As they set sail, Arak sees the remaining monks, as well as Sigvald, marooned on a rocky island.  Angelica once again casts the spell summoning the giant serpent to kill the prisoners.  As the monks pray, Arak begs his new mistress to spare them.  She refuses and reminds Arak of the oath he swore not to take up arms against her or her brother.
 
Arak proclaims that he will keep his oath, but that doesn't prevent him from killing the serpent!  He leaps overboard and swims to rescue the monk who tended to him, leaving Sigvald to his fate.
 
  Arak spots the wreckage of the Viking ship and grabs the jewel-encrusted cross  Sigvald had lashed to the mast.  Using it as a sword, Arak strikes down the attacking serpent!  
 
 
In the aftermath of the battle, Arak sees that Angelica has left without him.  He declares his intention to travel to the Frankish kingdom to meet King Carolus Magnus, and to perhaps gain some answers about the gods.  Who saved him during the battle?  The Christian , or He-No of his lost tribe?  Either way, he sets forth on a new journey.
 
 
The End. . .To be Continued.
 
THE REVIEW:

There it is. The first issue of Arak, Son of Thunder. Let's break it on down!

It was. . .better than what I expected. Like I said in the introduction, I see issues of this series CONSTANTLY in bargain bins. But now I wonder why. This first issue was pretty dang good!

First off, any time I see Roy Thomas' name as writer, I KNOW the story will be solid. Thomas is one of the most reliable writers in comics, and has been for a long time. The man is a comic legend in MY book for the sheer amount of good stories he's given us over the decades. I'm not sure why he's not mentioned often when fans talk about great comic writers, but I think he deserves to be.


Thomas gives this tale his signature sword and sorcery swagger most well known from his MANY Conan stories. . .but Arak gets a little twist in that it's set in the actual dark ages world we know from the history books, but with some magic and mystery thrown into the mix. A little dark ages "What If?" if you will.

I think what caught me by surprise the most in this story is the amount of Christian imagery to be found. The Christian faith is definitely front and center, and a big part of this story. It's a pretty bold move to have a comic from 1981 really leaning into an existing religion like this one does, especially for a mainstream title put out by one of the "Big Two".

To ME, the setting of this story makes it great. Not the prehistoric Hyborian Age of Conan, but a world of Vikings and Native Americans and Christian Monks and Frankish Kings. Really more along the lines of Solomon Kane, if you really want to make a comparison to R.E. Howard's works that were the more familiar stomping grounds of Roy Thomas.

That said, this first issue DOES read like a Conan story. Later issues lean into Arak's Native American heritage as the son of Thunder He-No, and Arak becomes more of a Hercules character. . .half man, half . But at the start of the series. . .yeah. . .it's sort of Conan for DC.

But that doesn't make it bad. If there's ONE thing Roy Thomas does well, it's sword and sorcery in the Conan style. You get that here in full measure. Seafaring raiders. . .mysterious sorcery. . .giant serpents. . .a burly outcast hero in a strange land. If you like Thomas' Conan, you're gonna like Arak!

On the art side of things, the Ernie Colón/ Tony DeZuniga art team do a fantastic job of bringing this dark ages fantasy world to life! I really think that DeZuniga's inks are the magic touch here. Colón's pencils are very nice, but DeZuniga's dark, bold inks lend to the individual panels a lifelike sense of motion in his signature style that has long made me consider DeZuniga one of my favorite Bronze Age comic artists.

That's not to say that Ernie Colón's pencils aren't just as good. I really like how his backgrounds are either sketchy or not existent at all. . .providing more of a backthan a background where the characters and action in the foreground push forward and grab the eye! It's a style I really enjoy, especially for this kind of story.


CONCLUSION



This was a surprisingly good read for a series that is pretty much bargain bin fodder. Roy Thomas provides a solid story with a great dark ages setting, and the Colón/ DeZuniga art team make it come to life in a big way.

If you're looking for some great Bronze Age sword and sorcery that ISN'T Conan, then don't pass Arak by next time you spot it in the bargain bin. I have most of this series (30 issues) and can tell you that the story just gets better as it goes along and leans more into Arak being a sort of Native American Hercules.

There are some similarities to Conan, but trust me when I say that they are just sort of on the surface. This is most certainly not a Conan comic. Unfortunately, I have the feeling that those surface similarities to Conan is why this series lives in the bargain bin. Frankly, I think it deserves better.

This series has never been collected, for some reason (probably those surface similarities to Conan) but the issues are very easy to find. I Highly recommend Arak, Son of Thunder for comic fans looking for some Bronze Age sword and sorcery comics that don't revolve around R.E. Howard's grim Cimmerian.


Up Next. . .

It's a comic tie-in to a movie that never got made.
AC's BLACK DIAMOND!

Be there or be square!

- read more

Welcome to Longbox Junk, where I write comic reviews even though nobody asked me to!

 
Let's keep this introduction sort of short.  What we have here is the second half of my review of the entire ill-fated and practically forgotten series featuring DC's version of a an X-treme 90s mutant superhero team meant to compete with Image and Marvel. . .Xenobrood.
 
In the first half ( ISSUES 0-3 ) I determined that the main reason this series is forgotten is ALSO the very reason it came to be.  As a potential competitor for 90s powerhouse Image, DC was barely on the playing field. 
 
Not that they didn't give it a decent try.  DC brought on a solid writer with some good fan credit in Doug Moench.  The team's origin had a pretty interesting hook in the "ancient astronaut" theory.  And the art. . .well. . .it was about as 90s as you can get without bringing in Liefeld on the job.  
 
Unfortunately, none of it was enough and Xenobrood turned out to be just okay.  And in the 90s when you're competing against the new bully on the playground named Image, okay wasn't going to cut it.
 
Worse, you can literally see DC giving up on Xenobrood.  It was originally supposed to be an ongoing series, spinning out of DC's soft 90s reboot, Zero Hour.  Instead it was quickly and quietly downgraded to a mini-series like that was how it was supposed to be the whole time. 
 
To make the slide even steeper, a new art team came in on just the THIRD issue, which ALSO featured a hail Mary Superman crossover sales stimulant (which apparently didn't work).
 
And now we're on issue four of this failed and forgotten experiment.  It's pretty clear that this thing is headed for disaster, and I COULD have just stopped with the first part of this review.  But I've said it before, and I'll say it again. . .I ain't a quitter, son!
 
Xenobrood Part Two. . .issues 4-6.  Let's do this!

XENOBROOD - PART TWO

ISSUES #4 - #6

DC (1995)


 ISSUE FOUR
 
 
COVER: Chris Hunter
 
CREATURES OF CRYSTAL
 
SCRIPT: Doug Moench
PENCILS: Chris Hunter
INKS: John Lowe
 
THE STORY:
 
Picking up directly from the cliffhanger in the previous issue, Superman and the Xenobrood are wary of each other as Doctor Leight fills his team in on Superman's origins and also tells Superman about the Xenobrood. 
 
As tensions ease between Superman and the Xenobrood, we learn that Vimana has managed to quickly process a few crystals stolen from the ancient Babylonian dig site.  Unfortunately, their improper storage has tainted them.  They are powerful and capable of following orders, but are otherwise mindless crystalline husks.  Still useful, but not what Vimana was hoping for.
 
 
Back at the dig site, the Iraqi army discovers the entrance into the ruins and attacks!  Superman leaps to action, but Doctor Leight convinces the hero to stand down and observe as the Xenobrood takes care of the threat.
 
As Superman warily watches, the Xenobrood manages to hold their own against the massing troops, especially Astra, who uses her powers to possess multiple targets for the first time.  But it soon becomes clear that there's too many of them and Superman starts taking down the heavier targets as they approach.
 
 
But while Superman is distracted, Vimana sends his tainted crystal warriors into the battle!  A desperate fight breaks out between the crystal creatures and the Xenobrood.  Superman hears their struggle and returns to help, using sonic waves to destroy the crystal warriors and the ship that brought them to the battle.
 
 
The grateful Xenobrood and Doctor Leight agree with Superman that the secrets hidden in the prehistoric ruins are too dangerous and powerful to remain available to ANYONE.  And so the Xenobrood and Superman work together to close and hide the entrance forever.
 
Afterward, Superman leaves the Xenobrood after telling them that he can relate to their difficulty finding their way and their place. . .after all, he's an alien just like they are.  He tells them to keep up the good work and flies off into the sunset.
 
Doctor Leight decides to return home with the Xenobrood and face whatever comes next.
 
 
The End. . .To be continued.
 
 
THE REVIEW:
 
Superman does NOT save the day, as far as this issue is concerned.
 
It just seems ridiculous that the Xenobrood don't know who Superman is when they've gained most of their knowledge of Earth through television.  This is a world where superheroes are ALSO superstars!  I expect better writing from Doug Moench.  At this point he seems like he's also giving up on the whole thing.  
 
This whole issue is pretty disappointing.  Superman's part is a pretty obvious attempt at propping up sales of this series.  The biggest thing he's there for besides a "You guys are great! No, really!" pep talk meant just as much for the reader as for the Xenobrood is to move this title away from attempting to be an "X" title entirely by making sure to firmly establish the Xenobrood as aliens, not mutants.  He also punches a few tanks. . .so there's that, too, I guess.
 
Setting the DC mutant angle aside is a move that makes DC giving up on this series painfully obvious.  It looks to ME like they figured out pretty quickly that they weren't going to be competing in the overcrowded mutant comic space after all.
 
And then there's the art.  I've already said that Hunter's art seems flat and that his heart wasn't in it (he left comics entirely not too long after this series) but this issue has some pretty bad. . .almost embarrassing. . . Superman illustrations.
 
One would THINK that if you were a practically unknown comic artist thrown onto a failing series to push it over a rapidly approaching finish line and you were given the opportunity to draw one of DC's biggest Superheroes. . .no. . .one of THE biggest Superheroes of all. . .you would put your best effort in.  You would think.  But no.  
 
Two more issues to go.  Let's do it!
 
ISSUE FIVE
 
 
COVER: Chris Hunter
 
ENDTIMES
 
SCRIPT: Doug Moench
PENCILS: Chris Hunter
INKS: John Lowe
 
THE STORY:
 
Upon their return from the Middle East, Doctor Leight and the Xenobrood go into hiding while they try to figure out how to get the government off their back.  Leight enters into a secret deal with a television producer who is willing to pay Leight a million dollars for exclusive footage and interviews with the Xenobrood.  More than enough to find a new hidden base of operations.
 

 
But once he actually meets the producer, Leight gets uncomfortable with the level of exploitation he's agreeing to put the Xenobrood through for money and calls off the deal.  As they leave the studio, Leight is unaware that one of the crew has alerted the authorities and Leight and the Xenobrood are ambushed and captured by the mysterious heavily-armed government agency that has been hunting them!
 
 
Leight finds himself at Area 51, in the hands of "Project Aquarius".  The Xenobrood are prisoners, Lorna is nowhere to be found, and he is being interrogated.  In exchange for his life, Leight tells the government interrogator everything he knows about the Xenobrood. . .their powers, their prehistoric alien origin, the implications of their very existence on human history!
 
Unknown to Leight or Project Aquarius, the Xenobrood's capture was witnessed by agents of Vimana, who dispatches a strike team to Area 51 to release the Xenobrood and capture them for his slaves.
 
 
As alarms blare through Area 51 and Vimana's strike team penetrate security, the Xenobrood manage to free themselves and rescue Doctor Leight and Lorna.  Astra takes over the mind of the pilot of the strike team's aircraft and discovers that the ship has an autopilot that will take them back to it's home base.
 
Leight and the Xenobrood decide to escape in the craft and find out who their TRUE enemy is.
 
 
To be continued. . .
 
THE REVIEW:
 
Surprisingly, this was actually one of the better issues of the run.  We get more of the Ancient Alien/ Annunaki background of the Xenobrood from Doug Moench, and I can also see a definite improvement in Chris Hunter's art, compared to the last issue.
 
It's still not great.  You can easily tell Moench is pretty much phoning it in and spinning the wheels waiting for the finale, despite a healthy dose of the concept that made this team at least a bit different than your average "X" team (Oops. . .sorry.  They're strictly aliens now).  It's too little, too late. . .and honestly, it's a rehash of small bits from other issues compiled into one place. 
 
Still, with the overwhelming mediocrity of this series as a whole, I'll take a halfway decent issue when I get one and give credit where credit is due. 
 
And FINALLY. . .
 
ISSUE SIX
 
 
COVER:  Chris Hunter
 
MEETING THEIR MAKER
 
SCRIPT: Doug Moench
PENCILS: Chris Hunter
INKS: John Lowe
 
THE STORY:
 
Continuing directly from the previous issue, Doctor Leight, Lorna, and the Xenobrood manage to capture the ship used by Vimana's strike force and they use it to escape the hidden government "Project Aquarius" laboratory at Area 51.  
 
They are shocked to discover the ship's autopilot takes them deep under the sea to a high-tech hidden base.  Immediately after docking, and before they can even get their bearings, the base's guards attack!
 
 
As Doctor Leight and the Xenobrood fight their way through the alien base, they discover the lab where the rest of the crystals from the archeological dig in the ancient Sumerian temple are stored.  
 
There is a debate over whether or not they should destroy them, but the renewed attacks of the undersea base's guards decide it for them when a stray shot destroys the container the rest of the crystals are held in.
 
 
When the crystals are destroyed, Vimana himself finally steps in.  But instead of fighting, he uses his mental powers to open the minds of the Xenobrood and show them the fantastic, highly-advanced civilization of their homeworld.  As the Xenobrood marvel at the sights, Vimana offers them the chance to join him and leave Earth behind.
 
But the Xenobrood know from Leight's research that they were created as slaves and breeders, and that they would be used as such on their homeworld.  They would rather be free outcasts than slaves in a gilded cage.  They refuse Vimana's offer.
 
And with the Xenobrood's refusal, Vimana flies into a rage and an epic battle to the finish ensues!
 
Ha-Ha. . .just kidding.
 
Vimana gets depressed and decides that life in exile isn't worth living any longer.  He triggers the base's destruct sequence and tells Doctor Leight and the Xenobrood to get out before it explodes.
 
And so, while Vimana patiently waits for death, Doctor Leight, Lorna, and the Xenobrood run for the craft that brought them, barely escaping with their lives as the base explodes behind them!
 
 
After their craft also self-destructs, Leight, Lorna, and the Xenobrood find themselves washed ashore outside of New York City.  Now that the threat of Vimana is gone, and in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, Leight tells the Xenobrood that they are free.  It's not right for him to be their "master" any more than it was for Vimana.  
 
As the Xenobrood leave for parts unknown, Lorna tells Leight that she's rediscovered her feelings for him and wants to give their relationship another chance.  All's well that ends well.
 
 
EPILOGUE:
 
In the months following Leight freeing the Xenobrood, he and Lorna move in together.  They have made a deal with a television producer, revealing the government's secret Project Aquarius in exchange for public protection for both them and the Xenobrood.
 
And then, one night, unexpected visitors arrive. . .the Xenobrood!  They have decided to remain with Doctor Leight of their own free will.  What will the future hold?  Who knows.  But for now. . .a happy ending.
 

 
 
THE REVIEW:
 
And there it is, folks. . .the big ending to the short-lived adventures of the Xenobrood! 
 
The end of Vimana's threat actually came as a big surprise to me.  Doug Moench shows that he wasn't entirely phoning it in with a most unusual end for the main villain.  Just giving up and killing himself was something I was NOT expecting.  It's either one of the laziest final boss battles I've seen in comics, or one of the most brilliant.  I don't even know what to think!  Thumbs up to Mr. Moench for taking this last issue down a most unexpected path.
 
Other than that, this final issue was. . .well, it was okay.  Not bad, not great.  Just like every other issue in the series.  Except for the unusual end for the villain, pretty much forgettable.  The sort of thing you don't even really remember the next day. . .or maybe even the next hour.  
 
Everything is wrapped up nicely, with the only loose end being the Xenobrood themselves, who are never seen again or even mentioned beyond one single lousy sentence in JLA #4 a few years later in 1997.  All's well that ends well?  I guess so.
 

CONCLUSION

 
After reading and reviewing the seven issues of this forgotten attempt by DC to jump on the mutant bandwagon, I think I can sum it up in two words: Wasted Potential.
 
There WAS potential here.  Doug Moench is a good comic writer, and the "Ancient alien/ Annunaki" hook for the team's origin set it apart a little bit.  This SHOULD have been better than it was.  Doug Moench ALONE should have been the key here.
 
But no.  
 
What we GOT was an utterly forgettable and borderline bad comic series that flopped so hard that it's practically forgotten today.  How did this happen?  As I said above, in MY humble opinion this series was doomed from the start. . .just like almost anything else written for a specific purpose or to fill a specific pigeonhole. 
 
DC wanted in on that sweet, SWEET mutant money.  So instead of letting Doug Moench write in his usual introspective style, we got a pretty weak attempt at an X-Treme Action comic.  Kind reader, if you know anything about Moench's writing, it's pretty plain to see that he's not really an X-Treme Action writer.
 
He's not my favorite comic writer, but he's a modern comic legend.  When you think of Doug Moench, you think of Moon Knight. . .Batman. . .Master of Kung Fu. . .brooding, introspective character pieces crafted in a unique style.  NOT what we find here in Xenobrood.  
 
A lot of what I'm writing here is just my OWN speculation (because there is amazingly little information to be found on this series), but it seems to me like DC took a good writer with a good idea and interfered enough trying to grab a piece of the mutant comic pie to make it fail.
 
Consider this. . .A dark series about an archeologist who discovers a shattering secret, hidden for thousands of years.  A secret that redefines human history itself.  Part of the secret is a group of human-like creatures from another world. . . powerful, but childlike and obedient.  Created as slaves and breeders for an alien race, they have the potential to become heroes or to become dangerous.  Hunted by a secret government agency, they are forced into hiding while they try to make sense of the world around them.
 
See that?  Now THERE'S a comic I want to read!  That's the idea underlying Xenobrood.  THAT'S the potential.  That's the WASTED potential.  This was an idea, a concept, that could have worked on its own instead of trying to cram it into the "X-Book" craze. 
 
Can I recommend Xenobrood?  
 
Honestly, it's not a great series.  It was a bit of a grind to make myself finish reviewing these last three issues.  Like I said above, there's a LOT of wasted potential here, and what we get is pretty forgettable and right on the edge of bad.  
 
I wouldn't recommend Xenobrood as anything other than a strange and somewhat interesting little relic of the time when Image stomped onto the comic scene and everyone was scrambling to keep up.  To ME it's a master class in how to waste the potential of a good writer with a good idea on a blatant cash grab.
 
Up Next. . .
 
Longbox Junk 2024!  How about we start off the new year with a little something you can find in just about ANY bargain bin you find yourself digging through?  I'm talking about ARAK, SON OF THUNDER!
 
Be there or be square.

- read more

HAPPY NEW YEAR FROM LONGBOX JUNK!

233 views • 15 weeks ago • (0) Comments

Another year gone, another one yet to come!  I thank each and every reader of Longbox Junk for taking a bit of their precious time to visit.  I know I've been getting a off track and somewhat random with the timing of posts, and I resolve to try and swing back the other way at least a little bit in 2024.

But more importantly, I wish each and every one of you a very happy healthy, peaceful, and prosperous new year in 2024!

 
THAT SAID. . .
 
Now, as I do, I'd like to take a few moments and think a little deeper about the year to come.  If you're not the kind to enjoy a "message" then just stick with everything above the picture and consider this your disclaimer.
 
Everyone in that's staying in?  Okay, then. Let's do this.
 
You know it.  I know it.  EVERYBODY knows it.  
 
2024 is gonna be a rough year, and don't let anyone tell you different.  It's an election year, and, as usual, a lot of people are acting like the United States is going straight to in either a Commie Liberal OR a Fascist Conservative handbasket. It doesn't matter WHO wins the election, nobody's going to be happy about it.  
 
But before that even happens, we're going to be treated to a pretty solid year of wall to wall political screeching from every direction.  , I hate election years.  They bring out the absolute WORST in people.  Politics is ALL that gets talked about.  The divisions plaguing our nation just get magnified to the point that one would think we're on the verge of a shooting war, if you watch too much cable news.
 
Now don't get me wrong.  I'm not saying politics aren't important. They ARE important.  I'm politically involved.  If you don't know, I'm an Independent voter leaning conservative.  I'm educated on what's going on, and I'm politically active in various causes.  But that doesn't mean that I think politics are the ONLY thing.  And THAT'S what 2024 is going to try and convince each and every one of you. . .that politics are the ONLY thing.
 
Listen. . .no matter what ANYONE says, politics aren't all there is.  They're important, but it's also important to step back and relax sometimes.  Take a breath.  Look around.  Try to find something else for a little bit.  Don't let politics consume you. 
 
Whether it's comic books, games, time with the family, or WHATEVER else you like doing, I want you to do it.  Don't let politics take over.  I know I need a break now and then, and I want you to do the same.  It can be hard, with everyone just SO focused on politics, but just do me a favor and take a time out sometimes.  
 
You know what you COULD do, right? Longbox Junk is right HERE!  Just a suggestion.  Take five or ten minutes to read a comic review nobody asked me to write.  Even if it's NOT Longbox Junk, do SOMETHING every day for a few minutes to clear your mind a bit and keep the perspective from narrowing until politics is the only thing in view.
 
But enough of that.  I don't want to seem like I'm trying to tell people what to do.  I'm just concerned with how politics are becoming a bigger and bigger part of life, and I HAVE seen people who have become consumed by them to the point that they don't even seem like the same people I once knew.
 
And so, once again I wish all of you a healthy, happy, peaceful, and prosperous 2024!
 
Up Next?
 
LONGBOX JUNK!!
 
Be there or be square.

- read more

MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM LONGBOX JUNK!

248 views • 118 days ago • (0) Comments

Merry Christmas one and all!

 
 


I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the readers of Longbox Junk! I appreciate each and every one of you who choose to come into this merry mess of reviews that nobody ever asked for on a regular basis. And for those of you who have somehow accidentally found your way into this little corner of the internet, thank you for coming as well!
 
There's lots of good stuff still to come, and I hope you'll enjoy taking a little break from whatever life throws at you to come along for the Longbox Junk ride through 2024!

I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and many more to come!

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Longbox Junk Isn't Going Anywhere!

232 views • 123 days ago • (0) Comments

 I've gotten some messages lately from readers a bit concerned about the timing and frequency of Longbox Junk posts lately.  Don't worry. . .Longbox Junk isn't going anywhere.

I've just been taking a bit of a casual break at the end of the year.  A sort of relax and recharge during the holidays.  I'm still writing Longbox Junk. And this isn't even really a break.  More of a relaxing slowdown that won't last forever.  I'm just about done with the rest of my Xenobrood review AND I have lots of stuff planned for the upcoming year!

Thank you for expressing your concern! It shows me that there are some great Longbox Junk readers out there waiting for me to get back up to speed.

- read more

Soooo. . .
 
I've actually had this review finished for about two weeks.  I didn't realize I forgot to post it until I came back to start on the second part tonight and saw it was still in draft! I must be gettin' old!
 
Anyway.  Better late than never, I guess.  Enjoy!
 
Welcome to Longbox Junk! If you're looking for comic reviews nobody ever asked for, you're in the right place!

 
A while back, a buddy of mine who sells comics at the flea market and reads Longbox Junk told me that he had what he considered to be one of the worst comic series ever written RIGHT THERE, and that he would give me the whole run for FREE if I reviewed them one day.
 
Okay.  Challenge accepted.  He gave me a slim stack of 6 issues.  I commented that it was a pretty short series.  He told me I'd see why after I read them.  And so I took the comics home and promptly forgot about them. . .until this weekend when I was doing some bagging and boarding and came across them again.
 
SO. . .if you're reading this, Jared. . .this one's for you!  Sorry I took a little while getting to it.
 
ANYWAY. . .
 
When Image Comics came on the scene in the mid-90s, they caused a seismic shift in the comic world, to say the least.  They came right out of the gate targeting Marvel's readers. . .which is to be expected, since most of Image's founders were Marvel defectors.  Marvel fought back, and the two companies soon engaged in an extended Ouroboros of a battle that lasted until it basically imploded the comic industry in general.
 
BUT. . .
 
Just because Marvel was Image's MAIN target, that didn't mean it was their ONLY target.  
 
DC took some shots from Image as well.  The battle between DC and Image wasn't quite as epic as the one between Marvel and Image, but when titles like ShadowHawk and Glory took direct aim at DC's Batman and Wonder Woman readers (and there were a few more, but this introduction is already long enough for more than two examples), DC fought back. . .giving us things like Azrael Batman and Artemis Wonder Woman.
 
But then DC decided to throw something into the ring they never really touched before during their friendly rivalry with Marvel. . .Mutants.  DC (and Marvel?) seem to have decided at some point that Mutants were just going to be a Marvel thing.  
 
Think about it a moment.  Can you think of a DC hero that is a mutant and that they call a mutant?  I can't.  There might be some, but I can't think of one right now.  But in their 90s desperation to hold the line against Image, DC decided it was FINALLY time for some mutants (I'm thinking they might have smelled a little of Marvel's blood in the water as well).
 
And that's how we got Xenobrood!  Let's check it out. . .

XENOBROOD - PART ONE

ISSUES #0 - #3

DC (1994)


ISSUE ZERO
 
 
COVER: Tomm Coker
 
STRANGE BREW
 
SCRIPT: Doug Moench
PENCILS: Tomm Coker
INKS: Kieth Aiken
 
THE STORY:
 
Archaeologist Zecharia Leight makes an astounding discovery in the desert of Kuwait. . .a collection of ancient Sumerian tablets and a mysterious temple dating back to 4000 B.C.  It's a discovery that Leight hopes will shed some light on his research into the "missing link" of humanity's sudden and inexplicable rise to civilization.  But the most amazing discovery is a strange metal cylinder, a seemingly out of place artifact that would be impossible to manufacture given its great age.
 
 
After narrowly escaping an attack by mysterious ninjas, Leight is determined to solve the mystery of the cylinder.  Unfortunately, despite bringing it for study to several respected scientific institutions such as NASA and STAR Labs, he gets no answers beyond that the alloy could not have possibly come from 4th Century B.C. Sumeria.  
 
 
After accidentally managing to open the cylinder, Leight discovers four crystals inside.  He decides to take a chance and reconnect with his ex-girlfriend and colleague, Lorna. . .a brilliant genetic scientist.  After showing her the cylinder and the crystals, they agree to work together in her lab.  
 
After many weeks of unsuccessful experiments, they finally discover the solution!  A simple mix of saline water and sunlight.  The crystals grow into blobs of protoplasm, but soon begin to grow even larger and take on human-like shapes in their saline tanks.
 

As the growth of the crystals progresses, Leight receives news of the translation of the ancient tablets discovered in Kuwait.  They seem to tell an incredible story of an advanced civilization visiting Earth in the distant past. . .but the connection between the tablets and the strange crystals remains unclear.
 
As Leight and Lorna discuss the implications of the tablets and the crystals, the lab is attacked by the same sort of mysterious ninjas that attacked Leight earlier!  The two scientists are outnumbered and heavily outmatched, fearing for their lives, they try to run.
 
But as their escape is blocked, they are rescued by a most unlikely group of strangely-costumed people with amazing powers!  After the ninja are defeated by the mysterious group, they address Leight and tell the stunned scientist that they are his to command!
 
TO BE CONTINUED. . .
 
THE REVIEW:
 
Okay. . .not bad.  Unfortunately, not really that great, either.  This one rides a very shaky track right down the middle line of the road.  It's pretty clear that Moench was taking a lot of inspiration from the "ancient astronaut" theory, and specifically from the work of Zecharia Sitchin (who gives Doctor Leight his first name, and Sitchin is also mentioned in upcoming issues) and his theories about the extraterrestrial nature of the ancient Sumerian gods known as the Anunnaki.  I won't dive into that rabbit hole here with three more issues to review, but it IS an interesting twist on your standard "X" team origin story.
 
Unfortunately, the execution of the idea is a bit lacking.  Moench is a modern comic legend in his own right, but this is definitely NOT his best work.  This seems less like a good superhero origin story and more of a vehicle to present the Anunnaki/Alien theory as a basic sketch in comic book form aimed at readers unaware of the theory.  It's really not up to Moench's usual writing standard.
 
On the art side of things. . .well, you can definitely tell this comic was made in the 90s during the Image incursion into the comic industry.  The art isn't BAD, it's just very 90s.  It tells the story just fine, but you can tell that Coker would really rather be drawing sexy women than anything.  The females in this issue definitely have more attention paid to them by the artist than anything else.
 
So let's see what happens next!
 
ISSUE ONE
 

COVER: Tomm Coker
 
MAKING ASHES
 
SCRIPT: Doug Moench
PENCILS: Tomm Coker
INKS: Kieth Aiken & Dennis Cramer
 
THE STORY:
 
Picking up directly from the end of issue 0, Professor Leight and Lorna find themselves with four strange beings who insist that Leight is their "processor" and is therefore their master and commander.  
 
The first task at hand is naming his new "genies", as Leight calls them.  In doing so, we get a nice little bit of exposition demonstrating each of their powers as they are given a name to match. . .
 
Astra: A female being who is able to astrally travel into the bodies of others to control them.
Blip: Another female that is able to teleport (or "blip") objects that she can see.
Thrasher: A huge male with superhuman strength.
Zapatak: A male who is the group's (sort of) leader.  Able to project radiation in blasts or focused beams.
 
 
After giving the group what has to be some of the WORST names (Zapatak? Really? Come on, Doug Moench. . .you're better than this!) a bit of time passes.  Leight and Lorna decide that they need a bit more room for six people than her laboratory and so Leight buys a "fixer upper" in the worst part of town.
 
The building turns out to be less of a fixer upper and more of a literal crack house.  The two scientists and their new mutant "genies" are forced to fight a street gang and a bunch of addicts in order to be able to move in. . .not realizing that they are still being watched by the mysterious ninjas from the previous issue.
 
After throwing out the gang and addicts, the team. . .now called "The Xenobrood", due to Leight presuming they are aliens who have been bred for some specific purpose (but really because Xeno has an X in it. . .for that sweet, sweet "X-Book" money), fix up the building and the Xenobrood begin assimilating human knowledge and trying to figure out their purpose for existing.
 
Leight and Lorna take the Xenobrood out in public, trying to acclimate them, but when they return from a pizza party, their building is aflame!  A fire set by the enraged street gang engulfs their new home, and Leight realizes that there are still a few homeless living on the roof they hadn't cleared out yet.
 
He commands the Xenobrood to save their lives, and in doing so, they appear using their powers for the first time in public.
 
As the Xenobrood go into action, they are being watched by the mysterious ninjas.  As they report the team's activities, we are finally introduced to their previously-unknown master. . .a three-eyed being who proclaims that the Xenobrood belong to him, and with their powers, he will at long last be able to come out of hiding and rule the Earth! DUN-DUN-DUNNNNN!!
 
 
To be continued. . .
 
THE REVIEW:
 
Okay. . .now I'm beginning to see why my buddy Jared considers this a bad series.  Starting right off with the cover (which I have to admit IS nicely done) and moving along to the awful names. . .Astra, Blip, Thrasher and *sigh* Zapatak. . .and the unimaginative powers. . .energy beams? Super strength?  This could be EASILY mistaken for any Image team comic of the time, which, to be fair, seems like DC's purpose here anyway.  But coming out of the gate as a blatant copycat is NOT a good look. . .especially with the benefit of hindsight.
 
The one thing that sort of gave Issue 0 an interesting twist. . .the ancient astronaut/Annunaki angle, is almost completely missing here.  This gives the issue even MORE of a cheap copycat feel and it's just weird to me that Doug Moench was the writer here.  His work is usually darker and more introspective.  Moench may not be my favorite comic writer, but credit where it's due, he at least puts his own unique stamp on things.  Here, that unique feel of Moench's writing that he brought to characters like Moon Knight and Batman is just not there.  The story feels generic.  Doug Moench is usually anything BUT generic.
 
On the art side of things, it's still 90s-Tastic to the Xtreme, but I DO see an improvement over the 0 issue.  The females definitely still get most of the attention, but there are actually a few other standout moments, to the point that the art in this issue stands slightly above Moench's uninspired storytelling.  But when I say "above", I mean maybe a single notch.  The art may have improved a bit, but it's still firmly rooted in the prevalent art style that makes most 90s comics instantly recognizable as products of that decade.
 
NEXT!
 
ISSUE TWO
 
 
COVER:  Tomm Coker
 
 
MASKS OF MYTH
 
SCRIPT: Doug Moench
PENCILS: Tomm Coker
INKS: Kieth Aiken & Dennis Cramer
 
THE STORY:
 
After the destruction of their new base, Doctor Leight, Lorna, and the Xenobrood are hounded by the press.  They head back to Lorna's laboratory and try to hide from the unwanted attention while they plan their next move.  
 
While the rest of them discuss plans for the future, Blip visits a gang member she teleported who is in the hospital.  Learning that her powers have caused unnecessary suffering to him, she decides not to use her teleport powers on living beings.
 

 
 
IN THE MEANTIME. . .
 
Deep under the ocean, in a hidden base, we learn that the mysterious three-eyed man at the end of last issue is called Lord Vimana.  He is disappointed in the abilities of his ninja warriors and decides to unleash ancient creatures long held in reserve to bring the Xenobrood to him. . .the true faces behind the legends of Minotaur, Khali, Gargoyle, and Medusa.
 
 
BACK WITH THE XENOBROOD. . .
 
Blip returns to the group and they continue their discussion of what to do next.  Doctor Leight is determined that they should use their powers for good, to try and help with some of society's ignored problems.  Their discussion is interrupted by a helicopter carrying ANOTHER group of mysterious black-clad attackers. . .different from the ninjas. 
 
The Xenobrood manage to defeat these new, unknown enemies (who claim to be Federal Agents) and escape, using Astra's ability to take over living beings to steal first the helicopter, and then a jumbo jet.
 
The Xenobrood have decided that before they can do the world any good, they have to investigate their mysterious origin, and are therefore headed to Kuwait, where Dr. Leight discovered the metallic cylinder that held the crystals they grew from.
 
 
In Kuwait, Leight, Lorna, and the Xenobrood are met by Doctor Jameson, a colleague of Dr. Leight who has taken over the dig site where the Xenobrood crystals were discovered.  He has astounding news for Leight. . .they have continued to translate the ancient Sumerian writings and have discovered tales of otherworldly beings engaging in massive battles with flying machines.  But more than that, they have ALSO discovered the entrance to the hidden structure below where the strange metal cylinder was found!
 
While Leight and Jameson discuss the implications of the Xenobrood being able to prove that what was previously thought to be myth as reality, the dig site is suddenly attacked!  The four creatures sent by Lord Vimana have tracked the Xenobrood. 
 
 They demand the Xenobrood return with them to their rightful master.  The Xenobrood refuse, acknowledging only Doctor Leight as their "Processor".  An epic battle ensues! As Vimana's creatures and the Xenobrood fight, Leight, Lorna, and Jameson flee.
 

 
 
The humans fall through the dig site and into an undiscovered portion of the ancient temple. . .finding themselves surrounded by mysterious high-tech devices that shouldn't have existed so long ago!
 
 
To Be Continued. . .
 
THE REVIEW:
 
One would THINK that in a comic based in the mainstream DC Universe (Superman even guest stars in the next two issues) that new superheroes, and even aliens wouldn't be such a big deal.  But I guess Moench wanted to dig into that old X-Men persecution.  It just feels a little forced as a motivation to get the Xenobrood on the run.  
 
On the other hand, there's a bit of a return to about the only thing that sets this series apart, the Ancient Astronauts/Annunaki angle.  To be fair, there's not much of it . . .the issue is more of a series of running battles to escape press attention, the Federal Government, and Lord Vimana. . .but the little taste we do get is a nice bit of flavor.
 
But even with that, this is clearly not Doug Moench's best work.  Three issues in and it's painfully obvious that Moench isn't really suited for writing a mainstream Image-style team knockoff. 
 
On the art side of things, Tomm Coker's art has shown slight, but steady improvement over the course of the three issues at hand.  It's sort of a shame that this is his last issue on this series.  I'm not sure why he departed Xenobrood, but it would have been interesting to see how much more he could have improved along the way.  That's not to say the art is GREAT. . .it's definitely a product of the 90s in every good AND bad way that implies.  But I did like to see the steady progression in style going on.
 
NEXT!
 
ISSUE THREE
 
 
COVER:  Chris Hunter
 
THE VIMANIAN BESTIARY
 
SCRIPT: Doug Moench
PENCILS: Chris Hunter
INKS: John Lowe
 
THE STORY:
 
After a brief recap of the previous issues, we join the Xenobrood as they battle Lord Vimana's monstrous servants amidst the ruins of an ancient Sumerian temple.  Below the ruins, in a previously undiscovered chamber, are the humans the Xenobrood are protecting. . .Dr. Leight, Lorna, and another scientist named Jameson.
 
 
After Vimana's creatures are driven off, the Xenobrood join the humans as they investigate the strange, technologically advanced ruins beneath the temple.  They discover twisted alien form inside shattered glass tubes, as well as a cache of dozens of crystals exactly like the ones the Xenobrood were grown from!
 
 
 
The group returns to the surface and Jameson continues to tell them what he's translated from the ancient texts discovered along with the temple. . .fantastic tales of beings engaging in battle from flying machines, beings that came to Earth to plunder the resources to be found. . .beings that brought their slave labor with them in the form of crystals!  
 
The Xenobrood quickly realize that they weren't the advanced beings, as they HAD thought previously, but their slaves. . .with their powers enabling them to carry out various duties involved with mining and processing ores.  Worse, Jameson's translations ALSO reveal that the slave DNA was mixed with primitive humans in order to jump their evolution process forward several million years, in order to make them better slaves to their alien overlords!
 

As the group ponders the history-changing implications that every human on Earth may be the product of genetic tampering by an ancient alien race, they don't realize that some of Vimana's ninja servants have remained behind and have been searching the ruins.  They find the crystals and retrieve them, bringing them to their master, who is pleased that he no longer needs to try and capture the Xenobrood.
 
The dig site once again comes under attack!  This time by the Iraqi military.  The scientists and Xenobrood scramble for cover under the heavy bombardment.  They rush back into the hidden ruins.
 
The Iraqi artillery begins to collapse the ruins on the group as they seek shelter within them.  A blast separates the humans and the Xenobrood.  As they try to dig the humans back out, the Xenobrood are attacked again. . .this time by a strange being dressed in blue and shooting heat beams from his eyes!
 
As the Xenobrood battle the new threat, Dr. Leight manages to dig his way free. . .and is startled to see the Xenobrood are fighting SUPERMAN! 
 

To be continued. . .
 
THE REVIEW:
 
And it's. . .CROSSOVER TIME!  It's never a great sign for a comic series when they have to pull out a fan favorite character to make an appearance this early in the run to prop up sales.  It's an even worse sign when they start making creative team changes this soon, which is exactly what happens with a new artist and inker swapping in starting with this issue.  
 
You can definitely see the writing on the wall for Xenobrood as an ongoing series.  Doug Moench scrambles as he tries to swerve the story back to the ancient aliens/ Annunaki twist that was really the only thing making this series stand out in the first place, so we get a hefty dose of it here. . .but he ALSO needs to cram in a sales-bumping Superman appearance as well.  The two things don't really mix well. 
 
Pounding another nail in the coffin is the new art team.  Tomm Coker might not have been the BEST 90s artist I've seen, but at least his art had some personality and quirkiness to it, and it was also showing an interesting (if slow) progression through his three issues. 
 
Chris Hunter's art is much more straightforward. . .with a lack of backgrounds and fine detail, and heavily inked by John Lowe to the point that it gives the issue an almost cartoonish feel.  Don't get me wrong. . .the art isn't BAD.  It just looks like something more like you'd expect in a filler issue. . .which is what Chris Hunter went on to do after this series, a few filler issues before getting out of comics entirely to  start his own studio doing storyboards for movies and graphic design.  And you can sort of tell his heart wasn't really in it here.

 

CONCLUSION

 
There is VERY little information to be found on this series.  It's not even mentioned on Tomm Coker's Wiki page. A couple of sketchy reviews of the 0 issue.  A bit of nuts and bolts description and creator credits on comic archive sites, but that's it.  The characters were never seen or mentioned again.
 
But I can see that there was some fairly high concept thought put into this by Doug Moench, and there was some decent work put into it by original artist Tomm Coker.  What little information I CAN find on Xenobrood seems to indicate that it was supposed to be an ongoing series that was shortened down to a mini-series when it landed with a resounding sales thud.
 
Doug Moench isn't my FAVORITE comic writer, but he's definitely got some industry swagger gained from working on characters like Moon Knight and Batman.  One would THINK that if anyone could pull off a superhero team book wrapped in ancient alien astronaut theory, it would be Moench.
 
So WHY is this series a practically-forgotten footnote?
 
Like I said, there's not much information to be found, so I can only speculate.  I'm thinking that the failure of this series lies in the purpose for which it was created. . .to try and compete with 90s Image.  An uphill battle for ANY series at the time. . .even worse of a battle for DC, which was sort of on the edge of the epic fight for sales going on between Marvel and Image.  
 
DC brought in a solid writer with some good fan credit under his belt, but it wasn't enough.  90s Image was a powerhouse!  From the looks of it, this series was swatted out of the collective comic fanbase so hard and fast that it's been pretty much forgotten that it ever even existed!  DC had a little better success giving their established characters like Guy Gardner, Wonder Woman, and Batman the "Xtreme" treatment, but their very short-lived attempt at an "X" team book?  Nope. 
 
So where does that leave the series itself.  Sure it's a failed and forgotten experiment, but is it any good?
 
Wellll. . .it's okay, I guess.  It DOES have an interesting story hook in the ancient astronaut theory, and it's definitely worth a look as a sort of 90s time capsule and example of how hard DC and Marvel were scrambling to keep up with Image at the time.  But other than that?  It's a pretty typical "X" team book, and not even close to the best example of such.
 
I'm not sure it's one of the worst comic series ever, like my friend pitched it to me as. . .but it surely ain't something to brag about, either.  It's just sort of okay.  Not really good, not really bad.  Just okay.
 
But maybe it will get better?
There's still three more issues left, and I ain't a quitter, son!
 
UP NEXT. . .
 
Let's finish this thing!  Xenobrood Part 2: Issues 4-6. 
 
Be there or be square!

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Welcome to Longbox Junk, where you can get all the comic reviews you want for FREE, and that comes with a 100% money back guarantee!

 
We're up to PART FIFTEEN of our 2023 Longbox Junk Halloween Horror Marathon and it's time to wrap things up!  Unfortunately, I got pushed off my great pace this year due to some work stuff, so I didn't get quite as many entries in as I planned on, but it was still a mighty fine party if I do say so myself. . .and I DO.
 
This time out, I have a bit of a special treat for you.  I've taken a little dig into the definitely NOT junk part of my collection for some GOLDEN Age comic horror.  And not just ANY old Golden Age comic horror, but a comic from the Big Daddy of Golden Age horror comics, EC!  That's right. . .the company that unwillingly helped usher in the Comics Code.
 
Pre-Code  horror comics are highly sought after books in just about ANY collection.   I got this comic as part of an auction lot about 3 years ago.  No, not an online auction.  THAT'S weak comic hunting.  I'm talking about sitting in a room with a bunch of people bidding on stuff.  Now that's some Longbox Junkin'!  It was in a box of comics I paid the princely sum of $125 for.
 
Truthfully, I'm a little excited to get into this one, because as far as I can tell, this will be the FIRST review ever done of this particular issue.  
 
My bet is that it will probably also be the ONLY review ever done, because most SANE comic collectors will slab this one up and NOT carry it just bagged and boarded in a manilla envelope to work to scan pages out of it.  I mean, I GUESS I could have just used my Vault of Horror hardcover set (which has a reprint of this issue), but then you don't get to see the STANK of almost 70 years on those old yellow pages. It just ain't the same.
 
Enough introduction! Let's set the dial on the Longbox Junk time machine for 1954 and take a look inside, shall we?  Ready? Let's GOOOOOOOOOOO!

VAULT OF HORROR #36

EC (1954)

 
 
COVER:  Johnny Craig
 
THE COVER:
 
There are more famous and controversial EC horror comic covers, but I really like this one! Golden Age master artist Johnny Craig tells a story I want to know more about in one single image!  The bright fire and bold title against the stark black background REALLY catches the eye, especially with the larger Golden Age cover size.  It's not a particularly great HALLOWEEN cover, but the simplicity of it just grabs me.  Like I said, not the most famous EC horror comic cover, but I find it very compelling.  Let's get inside!
 
THE STORIES:
 
FOUR comic stories and a text piece in 36 pages!  , but they had it good in the Golden Age when it came to comics.  I have a fair handful of Golden Age goodies and they're ALL absolutely stuffed full of content from end to end.  So this review may get a little long. Fair warning.  LET'S GO!
 
TWIN BILL!
 
SCRIPT: Johnny Craig
PENCILS:  Johnny Craig
INKS:  Johnny Craig
 
THE STORY:
 
We meet Larry Bannister as he hides in a dark room, nervously clutching a pistol, waiting on someone. But who is this man? Why is he here?  We flash back two weeks to find out.
 
Larry Bannister is a man with an unfaithful wife.  He follows her to an isolated lodge and catches her in the act with her lover.  At gunpoint, Larry forces the two of them into the woods, gives them shovels, and demands they start digging!
 
 
When the hole is deep enough, Larry tells his unfaithful wife and her lover that it's their grave.  First, they try to talk their way out of it.  Then, they try to fight. But Larry has the upper hand.  Once he subdues them, he begins filling in the hole. . .burying them alive! 
 
 
 
But when Larry returns to the lodge, he discovers his car battery is dead.  Unable to use the battery from his wife's car, he leaves his car at the lodge and returns to the city, planning to return as soon as he can.
 
Over the next two weeks, Larry remains calm.  He reports his wife's disappearance, answers all the questions from the police, and seems to have committed the perfect crime and gotten away with it.  There's only the loose end of his car remaining.  
 
And so, he returns to the isolated lodge with a new battery, and is relieved to find everything exactly as he left it.
 
 
After Larry meticulously cleans his wife's car of his fingerprints, he suddenly realizes that, even though he brought the new battery, he's forgotten the keys to HIS car!  Desperate, Larry knows that he can't just leave his car at the lodge.  But then he remembers that his wife had a spare set of keys to his car that she carried in her purse.
 
There was only one solution. . .he had to dig up the grave and get those keys!
 
But after making his way back to where he'd buried his wife and her lover, he sees that the grave has been disturbed.  Digging in, he finds it empty!  Luckily for him, he finds his wife's purse and the spare keys.
 
 
Terrified by the  implications of the empty grave, Larry comes to the conclusion that his wife and her lover somehow lived through his burying them alive, and that they have been hiding out at the lodge, waiting for him to return!
 
He runs through the rainy woods back to the lodge, convinced that he is being followed in the dark.  He decides to turn the tables on them and ambush them in the lodge when they come for him.  
 
And that's where we came in. . .with Larry hiding in the dark lodge, nervously clutching a pistol and waiting for his wife and her lover so he can finish the job once and for all.
 
 
After a while, Larry hears their footsteps.  Thumping, shuffling footsteps!  He snaps on his flashlight and points his gun to confront his wife and her lover for the last time!  Unfortunately for the horrified Larry, he quickly discovers that the pair did NOT survive their burial!
 
Fused together in a tangle of rotted limbs, the shuffling corpse-monster that was once his wife and her lover moves quickly toward Larry!  He fires, but the shots have no effect! He screams hysterically as the two people he had buried alive get their revenge. . .from beyond the grave! DUN-DUN-DUNNN!
 
 
The End.

 
THE REVIEW:
 
A great start for this Golden Age goodie!  A tight, tense story that's more of a crime tale than a horror story until that last page when Larry gets what's coming to him.  Johnny Craig weaves dialogue just dripping with paranoia and fear!  
 
Craig also pulls art duty on this one, and, for those reading who haven't had much exposure to Golden Age comics, let me tell you that if you see Johnny Craig's name credited as artist, just know it's gonna be good. . .maybe even great.  In MY humble opinion, Johnny Craig was one of the greatest artists of the Golden Age. He does NOT disappoint here. The scans above should speak for themselves.  
 
Overall, a fantastic opener from one of my favorite Golden Age creators!
 
NEXT!
 
WITCH WITCH'S WITCH!
 
SCRIPT:  Johnny Craig
PENCILS: Jack Davis
INKS: Jack Davis
 
THE STORY:
 
Scandal rocks the small European village of Blumstadt when young Eric Holbien returns from a week in the city on business with news that he has married!  Eric's betrothed, Alicia, who has been promised as his wife since she was a young girl, is devastated.
 
Eric and Helena (his new wife) are confronted by Alicia, her mother, and Eric's own mother.  It is not a pleasant conversation, to say the least, with Eric's disappointed mother being the most harsh.  Finally, Alicia takes the high road and wishes Eric and Helena the best.  
 
But out of earshot of Eric, Alicia tells Helena that she hates her and will have her revenge!
 
 
Only a week later, Eric's mother suddenly dies with no explanation.  Helena doesn't attend the funeral and rumors begin to swirl that she had something to do with the death.  The rumors only become stronger when a delegation from the local church tells Helena that she's not welcome at services, only for the leader of the group to fall dead just a few days later!
 
 
Soon, the rumors begin to turn to accusations of witchcraft!  Alicia's mother is the strongest supporter of the belief that a witch is among the people of Blumstadt.  And then, one day when Alicia's mother passes Helena on the street, the woman falls dead on the spot in full view of all passerby!
 
At her mother's hasty funeral, Alicia is suddenly stricken by pain and visions of Helena trying to kill her!  Among the other deaths, the villagers have had enough!  Accusations fly and a mob forms to seize and burn the witch!
 
 
As the frenzied mob of villagers break into Eric's house to seize his wife, Helena begs for mercy, trying to tell the villagers that it is Alicia getting revenge on her that's been responsible for the town's misfortunes!
 
The mob isn't having any of it and they take Helena!  Eric tries to defend his wife, but is shot dead by the enraged villagers as they drag Helena to the fire!
 
But SURPRISE!  As the villagers throw the protesting Helena onto the fire, she gives up the pretense and shouts words of dark magic, transforming the villagers into rats as her true appearance is revealed. . .from a dark-haired beauty to a withered crone, Helena WAS a witch after all!
 
 
The End.
 
THE REVIEW:
 
Another really good little story!  I like that the writer makes it look like an innocent woman is being plagued by a witch for revenge, but then flips the script and. . .yeah, the villagers were right.  A clever twist!  Like the first story, this one is also written by Johnny Craig and has the same tight, tense feel to it.  I know Craig more for his art, but I'm discovering he's also a pretty fine writer!
 
On the art side of things, right up there next to Johnny Craig on my Golden Age art favorites list sits the great Jack Davis!  He's got a more exaggerated and less precise style than Craig, but his looser pencils open up a nice feeling of movement that made Davis one of the Golden Age greats and carried him through a long and successful career even after the Golden Age was past.
 
Overall, another really enjoyable little story.  This one with a twist that took me by surprise, and when you've read as many of these old horror/suspense comics as I have, that's a sort of hard thing to do.
 
NEXT!
 
COOLER - 3/4 page text story with illustration
 
SCRIPT: (?)
ILLUSTRATION: (?)
 
THE STORY:
 
We follow a man as he escapes from Cragmore prison.  He's chose winter, believing it's his best chance to cross the lake surrounding the island prison when it's frozen over.  As he crosses the ice, he hears pursuit and ducks into a hole, down into the freezing water, breathing the air in the small space between the ice and water.
 
But soon, the terrified prisoner realizes that he's lost the hole.  As he frantically searches for a means to escape his predicament, he freezes to death.  A free man, but still in an icy prison.
 
 
THE REVIEW:
 
This is a VERY short little tale.  Just three-quarters of a page (and I have to say, the amount of fine print on the other quarter page is pretty amazing, compared to the little indicas we have now).  But for its extremely short length, its a very nice and atmospheric read!  For a filler, this is some pretty quality writing!
 
Overall. . .surprisingly good.  I scanned the whole thing above for you.
 
NEXT!
 
PIPE DREAM
 
SCRIPT:  Johnny Craig
PENCILS:  Bernie Krigstein
INKS: Bernie Krigstein
 
THE STORY:
 
We meet an old Asian man named Chen Chu Yang, where he lays in an opium den.  He's a man with a strange story to tell. And so we go back about twelve years before, when it all began. . .
 
Chen has a good wife, who is the light of his life.  One day, he goes to the opium den to relax and has a dream that his wife has died.  When he returns, he learns that his wife is gone.  Grief-stricken, Chen takes on the responsibility of caring for his son and daughter.
 
 
Unfortunately, Chen is a bit old and frail, and his son has to step up to take care of the family.  He does so until war comes to Asia and he gets a draft notice.  Understandably upset by his son leaving, Chen decides to drown his sorrow in opium smoke.  While at the opium den, Chen has a horrific dream of his son's death.
 
And sure enough, when he returns, he learns that his son has met a tragic end.
 
 
And so, Chen is left with only his beloved daughter.  When she decides to marry, Chen tries his best to convince his daughter that her husband-to-be is not a good man.  But she's in love and doesn't listen to her father.
 
As time passes, it turns out that Chen was right.  His daughter's husband is cruel and unfeeling, but now she is married to him, she is honor-bound to remain until his death.  Chen decides that he might be able to help her after all. . .and so he goes to the opium den.
 
 
Sure enough, while at the opium den, Chen has a horrific dream of his son-in-law's death.  When he returns, Chen learns that his daughter's husband has been murdered!  Chen takes great joy in the cruel man's death. . .but then he learns that his daughter is accused of the murder!  
 
Unable to prove her innocence, Chen's beloved daughter is executed for murder.  Now left with nothing to live for, and with the knowledge that his trying to use the strange power he had discovered for evil caused the death of his innocent daughter, Chen now spends all his days at the opium den. . .lost in his dreams.
 
 
The End.
 
THE REVIEW:
 
Another great little story from Johnny Craig!  Where the first was a paranoid crime thriller with a supernatural twist, and the second was a steady build to witch mob frenzy, this one drifts in a dreamlike manner, like the smoke from the unfortunate Chen's pipe.  Very nicely done to have three stories by the same writer told in such different ways!
 
The art likewise has a sketchy, dreamlike feel to it.  Not as precise or defined as the previous stories. As if the panels are barely-recalled memories. . .hazy and vague.  It's not my favorite art in this issue, but it does fit this story perfectly.
 
Overall, a very interesting change of pace from the tightly-focused stories that came before it.
 
AND FINALLY. . .
 
TWO-TIMED!
 
SCRIPT:  Jack Oleck (?)
PENCILS: Graham Ingels
INKS: Graham Ingels
 
THE STORY:
 
1911.  A young boy named Tommy hears shouting in the woods outside his home.  Sneaking out to investigate, he comes upon a man and a woman arguing.  The man begins to beat the woman, but then realizes he's being watched and grabs the boy!
 
 
Almost dead, the man stops choking Dickie for some reason.  Before Dickie passes out, he hears a gunshot.  When he wakes, his parents and the local constable are there.  They find no sign of the man or woman, and a strange burned area.  Other than that, the whole event is a mystery, and remains unsolved.
 
 
 
Flash forward about twenty years.  Tommy is now a grown man.  A man with a problem.  He's got an unfaithful wife.  One night, Tommy overhears his wife and lover discussing killing him.  Infuriated, Tommy decides to turn the tables and kill her instead.  He makes his plan, gathers what he needs and hides it in the woods, and then waits for his moment. . .
 
 
Later that night, Tommy confronts his cheating wife.  She protests, but Tommy drags her into the woods.  He begins savagely beating her with a lead pipe when she tries to fight back and escape.  Suddenly, Tommy realizes they are being watched by a young boy!
 
 
As Tommy chokes the life out of the young witness, he suddenly realizes that this has all happened before!  HE'S the boy!  Dropping the boy to the ground, Tommy gleefully pours kerosene on his wife's body and sets it alight. . .now convinced he's committed the perfect crime, knowing that the mystery from when he was a child was never solved!
 
But then a shot rings out.
 
 
As Tommy falls onto his wife's burning body, the old constable tries to save him, but fails.  All those many years ago, the only clue was a piece of half-burned paper.  A piece of paper with that day's date on it!  And so the constable solved the mystery. . .twenty years late.
 
 
 
THE REVIEW:
 
And there's four for four (Five for five, if you count the little text piece)!  This final story drives it home for the grand slam!  It's the only story in here without Johnny Craig's name on it, but it's still a very nice little crime suspense story with a supernatural/ time travel twist.  
 
On the art side of things, one of EC's premier horror artists pushes the pencils on this one and really brings it to life!  "Ghastly" Graham Ingles was MUCH better known as a horror artist, but he does a fine job with this cool little crime story. . .and nary a gory scene to be had!
 
Overall, a strong finish to a great issue!
 

CONCLUSION

 
EC comics are some of the most highly-sought after Golden Age comics. . .especially EC horror comics.  This issue is a perfect example of WHY.  It's not the most "valuable" EC horror comic out there.  It's a random issue from the tail end of one of EC's second tier horror titles.  But this comic book simply DRIPS with quality!
 
The stories are great reads, even almost 70 years down the road.  The art is some of the best you can find in a Golden Age comic.  It might not be the best HALLOWEEN comic, but don't get me wrong, this is a winner from end to end.
 
One of the things I like best about doing reviews of older comics like this is that mine will often be the first and probably ONLY cover to cover review of a comic that people will usually just see behind the plastic of a slab. . .just the cover posted online.   
 
 It's a great feeling, knowing that I'm contributing just a LITTLE bit to the overall comic knowledge out there.  I mean, think about it.  Where else are you going to get a description of a 3/4 page text filler piece by an unknown writer in a random Vault of Horror issue?  Right here at Longbox Junk, THAT'S where.  But enough of THAT.
 
This issue is a solid read all the way through.  I highly recommend it to anyone wanting a good example of Golden Age non-superhero comic books.  You're not gonna find it in a back issue bin. Even though this isn't the most "valuable" or sought-after EC horror comic, EVERY EC horror comic comes at a premium.  Even in the "okay" condition mine's in, I see it's "worth" close to a thousand bucks.  So Longbox Junk this definitely is NOT.
 
Fortunately, just about all the EC horror comics (including the whole Vault of Horror series) has been reprinted several times and in several formats.  There are some great EC omnibus editions out there, but if you REALLY want to get into them (and I highly recommend you do), then there's a five book hardcover edition in a nice slipcover like the one I have that would make a FINE Christmas present for yourself!  You can find them easily online and it's worth every penny!
 
 
So that's it for the  2023 Longbox Junk Halloween Horror Marathon.  I was zipping along nicely for a while there.  Thought I might break my October record until I hit a bit of a work wall and fell off my pace.  But still. . .fifteen spooky reviews ain't bad at all in MY book!
 
I hope you had a good time at the party, and we'll do it again next year.
Until then, it's back to Longbox Junk business as usual. . .or unusual.  
 
Be there or be square!

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Welcome to Longbox Junk! I write comic reviews nobody asked for!  

 
And now we're up to part FOURTEEN of the 2023 Longbox Junk Halloween Horror Marathon! Only 3 more after this entry to beat my October record! GOALS!
 
Looking back over the entries this year so far, I see that it's a sort of ghost and werewolf heavy party this year. . .so how about leaning into it with some more ghosts!  The more the merrier, am I right?  Yes I AM!
 
I reviewed issue #2 of this extremely short-lived series (only 3 issues) for LAST YEAR'S HALLOWEEN PARTY and really enjoyed it, so I kept my eyes open and managed to snag another one for this year's shindig.  Will we have another certified nugget of Longbox Junk gold with THIS issue? 
 
 Let's find out!  

TALES OF GHOST CASTLE #3

DC (1975)

 
 
COVER: Luis Dominguez
 
THE COVER:
 
I like this one a lot!  It's a great Halloween cover.  There's a lot of nice detail and a good sense of movement.  I really like the poltergeist theme, and the contrast between the bright central figure of the woman and the darkened room.  Word balloons on a cover are usually sort of intrusive to MY eye, but this one actually makes the cover better!  
 
The only think I DON'T like is how the title takes up so much territory.  Don't get me wrong, the logo is cool, but definitely just too big.  All in all a great Halloween cover.  Let's get inside!
 
THE STORIES:
 
The more of these older anthologies I read, the more I appreciate the value compared to comics today.  THREE stories in ONE comic for a single, lousy quarter.  I might sound old, but they don't make 'em like that anymore.  Let's check these stories out!
 
THE DEMON'S HERE TO STAY!
 
SCRIPT:  Jack Oleck
PENCILS:  Ernie Chan
INKS: Bill Draut
 
THE STORY:
 
Medieval Europe, the village of Domray.  Paul and Marie Lebrun are terrified when their son, a slow-witted but gentle giant named Andre begins to exhibit strange powers and a violent disposition. In desperation, they turn to a friend, Trudeau the Scholar, trying to find an answer before their beloved son is arrested for witchcraft.
 
 
Trudeau is skeptical, knowing Andre is a slow-witted boy in a man's body.  But then he sees for himself! Andre flies into a rage when he is told to put his dog outside.  He throws benches and cracks the beams of the house, almost killing Truedeau.  
 
The shaken scholar proclaims that the only explanation is that Andre is possessed by a demon and he must be taken to the village priest for an exorcism.
 
 
 
They bring Andre to Father Bernot, a gentle priest who doesn't believe in witch burnings, and beg for help.  Bernot agrees to perform an exorcism.  As the ceremony proceeds, a howling wind begins to fling the church's furnishings about!  Bernot gives up and forces Paul and Marie to leave with their son.
 
 
At their wit's end, Paul and Marie are convinced by Truedeau that the only way to save their son's soul, as well as their own lives, is to turn Andre over to the Sheriff. . .even if that likely means that he will be tried as a witch and burned.  
 
Indeed, what they most fear happens.  The Sheriff forms a jury and Andre is proclaimed a witch and then burnt at the stake.  Finally, the Lebrun's nightmare is over.  All that remains now is grief over their lost son.
 
 
But they quickly discover that the nightmare has not ended after all!  Unseen forces shake their home until it collapses on them, killing Marie instantly.  Paul lives for a little longer. . .long enough to see the true face of the demon in Andre's dog!  
 
We leave the sad tale as Paul dies while the dog laughs at him.
 

The End.
 
THE REVIEW:
 
And we have a good start to this issue!  A chilling little tale of demonic possession set against the background of medieval witch trial fever.  It's a long chunk of a story and that gives it time to slowly burn instead of feeling rushed like a lot of these anthology stories do.  
 
It's backed up by some nicely-detailed artwork by the great Ernie Chan. . .here still being credited as Ernie Chua, so it's some of his earlier work.  Not up to his later stuff I'm more used to, but still very nice.
 
Overall, a dark little tale that takes its time and does everything right.  
 
NEXT!
 
A VERY PRIVATE !
 
SCRIPT: Robert Kanigher
PENCILS: Frank Redondo
INKS: Frank Redondo
 
THE STORY:
 
Family man Tyrone is having an affair with a younger woman named Tina.  When Tina tries to break things off and mocks him for being old enough to be her father, her laughter drives Tyrone to push Tina onto the subway tracks, where she is killed by the train.
 
 
As time goes by after the murder, Tyrone is haunted by nightmares of Tina's mocking laughter.  His wife thinks it's the pressure of his job and living in the city, and convinces him to move the family out to the country.
 
 
But moving out of the city and to the countryside doesn't help.  Where Tyrone's family sees beautiful trees and a nice house, Tyrone sees a decaying dump and a gloomy landscape.  There's nothing good in anything Tyrone sees.
 
 
The first night in their new home, as Tyrone struggles to sleep he hears strange noises.  When he gets up to investigate, he realizes the noise is laughter. . .HER laughter!  He grabs a knife from the kitchen and runs outside, believing Tina has somehow survived and is torturing him!
 
 
Tyrone stumbles through the nearby graveyard, following Tina's laughter, determined to finally end it!
 
The next morning, workers at the graveyard find Tyrone's body inside a freshly-dug grave they had readied for a funeral that morning.  He had fallen in and broken his neck.  The grave?  It belonged to Tina!  DUN-DUN-DUNNNN!
 
 
The End.
 
THE REVIEW:
 
Okay, not as good as the first story, but still a mighty fine read.  A lot of building tension as Tyrone descends into his own private where nothing is good in his eyes, and then we find out it WASN'T just his own guilt driving him crazy, but Tina's vengeful ghost!  Very nice.  But the REAL star of the show here is the art!  It's just wonderful.  Lots of close-up panels and so much detail.  The art here really pushes the story up a notch.  
 
So that's two for two so far in this issue.  Will we hit the home run with a third good story? 
 
Let's find out! NEXT!
 
IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER
 
SCRIPT:  Mal Warwick
PENCILS:  Bill Draut
INKS: Bill Draut
 
THE STORY:
 
Robotic aliens descend to study Earth.  They are impressed with them many forms of life they see, metallic like they are.  Such a shame there are so many tiny organic parasites infesting the life forms of this world.
 
 
But they have a solution!  They will help the beings of Earth with their infestation problem!  The aliens use gas to kill all the parasites, leaving the machines free of all these tiny little humans.  Now off to help another world!
 
The End.
 
THE REVIEW:
 
And we're three for three folks!  It's a short little story.  Barely more than a filler at 3 pages, but it's a pretty good one.  A nice little twist on the classic "alien invasion" story in which the aliens are just trying to help out a fellow machine race.  The art isn't anything spectacular, but it's good and tells the story nicely.  
 

CONCLUSION

 
Okay, NOW I have definitely keep my eye out for the first issue in this series.  Wait. . .can three issues REALLY be called a series at all?  I guess back in 1975 they hadn't really started doing limited series yet, which this would be if it came out a bit later on.  BUT I DIGRESS!
 
With two really solid issues reviewed in a row, I almost HAVE to find the third for next year.  I now have a mission.  Tales of Ghost Castle has really been one of the best series(?) of Bronze Age horror anthologies I've read yet.  It's a shame there are so few issues of it.
 
As far as the issue at hand goes, three nicely-written stories, backed up by some very good artwork means I give this one the official Longbox Junk gold seal of approval!  If you're looking for some cool Bronze Age horror/suspense stories then you won't go wrong with Tales of Ghost Castle (I'm just gonna assume issue #1 is a winner too).  
 
These issues haven't been reprinted or collected in English (it looks like there are some French reprints), so you'll have to grab the actual comics.  I found both of mine in the back issue bins (Paid two bucks for one and five bucks for the other) so they're out there.  Keep your eyes peeled, Tales of Ghost Castle is some quality Bronze Age spooky stuff!
 
UP NEXT. . .
 
I've got a special treat for my Longbox Junk readers.  
 
I'm digging into the definitely NON-Junk end of my collection to do a GOLDEN AGE horror review!  That's right. . .I've got a gen-u-wine EC horror comic for you!  The kind of stuff that brought on the Comics Code! Because you deserve it!
 
Seriously, as far as I can tell, mine will be the FIRST review of this Golden Age goodie that's ever been done. EC'S VAULT OF HORROR #36!
 
Be there or be square.

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