Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Scary Stuff, Kids

Comics:


Haunt of Horror, written by Richard Corben and Chris Margopoulos, based on stories, poems and fragments by Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft, illustrated by Richard Corben: Haunt of Horror brings together about two-dozen generally loose adaptations of an assortment of pieces by American horror-fiction Titans Poe and Lovecraft. Corben's best-remembered work is probably still Den, the sword-and-sorcery series from the 1970's that was adapted into the sword-and-sorcery segment of the Heavy Metal movie in which John Candy voiced the hero. Corben has become a supremely gifted horror and fantasy writer/artist over the intervening decades, and his work here really achieves some nicely creepy effects.

One of the decisions that makes this an interesting volume is that Corben doesn't try to adapt any of Poe's or Lovecraft's more famous, longer works. Instead, he focuses on short pieces that can be profitably adapted ("Dagon", "The Telltale Heart") and on poems and prose fragments which he adapts loosely, very liberally (Poe's "The Raven" doesn't much resemble its source, while several Lovecraft poems which were originally all about mood here become the inspiration for much more concrete scares.

Overall, I really liked this approach to adapting these two icons -- the pieces chosen were all of suitable length, and there are many suitably grisly, mysterious and cosmic vistas throughout the book. I wish Corben, who's already adapted William Hope Hodgson's minor masterpiece of a horror novel, The House on the Borderland, would turn his pen to Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness" or Poe's "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym." That would be sweet and tasty. Highly recommended.


Tom Strong Volume 6, written by Alan Moore, Michael Moorcock, Joe Casey and others; illustrated by Chris Sprouse, Jerry Ordway, Paul Gulacy and others: Among other pleasures, Alan Moore's America's Best Comics (ABC) imprint at Wildstorm offered tantalizing glimpses of what Moore's comics career might have been like had he not vowed to never again work for DC Comics after a dispute over money owed (or not owed, from DC's perspective) to Moore and artist Gibbons for various knickknacks derived from, and special editions of, Watchmen. Justifiably or not, DC managed to alienate their most popular writer over a matter of what was probably a few thousand dollars, scuttling at least two series that were already in the planning stages: the Watchmen prequel Minutemen and the dystopic, apocalyptic DC Universe 'What if?' series Twilight of the Superheroes.

Tom Strong, the adventures of a long-lived 'science hero' and his family and friends, reads a lot like Moore's take on pulp hero Doc Savage, but there's also a fair amount of Superman thrown into the mix. Is this what a potential Moore Superman project might have looked like, just as Moore's Promethea looks a lot like a metafictional, apocalyptic take on DC's Wonder Woman? We'll never know.

Of all the ABC-Universe books, Strong is the one that's both the lightest in tone and the "straighest", for lack of a better term (as this has nothing to do with sexual orientation). Moore plays his usual metafictional games throughout the book's five-year run, but Tom Strong is pretty much a cynicism, parody-free zone -- in this sense, it prefigures Grant Morrison's nouveau-Silver-Age All-Star Superman.

Here, in the final Tom Strong volume (for now, anyway) Tom and his family and comrades must deal with the end of the world. But prior to that, guest writers that include long-time British fantasy great Michael Moorcock (Elric) and several guest artists put Tom through a variety of crises -- the Moorcock piece brings in characters from Moorcock's own multiverse of characters, including a sinister descendant of albino sword-and-sorcery character Elric, along with what appears to be the soul-eating sword Stormbringer from the same Elric series. The art and writing are all top-notch throughout, though one probably needs to start earlier in the series to get a full grasp of the dynamics. Highly recommended.

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