Friday, November 25, 2011

UNDERCOVER REVIEWS - Return of the Monsters

Review by David Zuzelo

With the New Pulp assault from Moonstone Publications rolling out in fits and starts over the last year it is great to see some of these characters making an appearance at Halloween time just to create the ultra pulper mash up of famous monsters meet the heroes of yesterday in stories that look and feel as modern as today. 3 of the promised 4 books hit stands a few weeks ago and anyone seeking action and a bit of ghoulish pulp goulash should seek them out.

First off the pile was THE BLACK BAT and DEATH ANGEL VS. DRACULA. I see gun slinging men of mystery battling the Master Vampire and I get excited-what can I say? Written by New Pulp voice (and yes, one of the owners of this site) Mike Bullock and featuring art by Eric Johns-this is a fast paced tale that maximizes the idea of a one shot monster battle that doesn’t waste words or motion in creating a scenario that comes to a halt to quickly. The police are hunting for a serial killer that is putting the bite on prostitutes in the area and are quick to blame The Black Bat, because that is what people usually think bats would do. This brings the action to a costume party at Halloween that is in for a visit from Count Dracula, with the bonus that Johns gets to draw partygoers in other famous creature cooldom. Things take an unexpected turn for the Plasma Pounder as DEATH ANGEL shows up, with a bit of zeal and a spooky silhouette to crash the hemoglobin huffing hijinx! Dracula and Death Angel face off with the monster and the monstrous maiden each getting there moment in the black spotlight of cool. But can Death Angel, who still has lots to learn and thousands of sinners to stop before stepping into the realm of the famous monsters, really compete with Dracula?

Nope.

Enter Black Bat who brings pistols and enough pugnacity to drive away Dracula. But can you ever really destroy the Prince of Plasma? Nah… but you can stop him and live to fight another day.
I enjoyed this issue a lot, though I was definitely surprised to see so little of The Black Bat here. He really cameos as the Pulper Ex Machina to give Death Angel a boost, and to point out that she is a true NEW Pulp hero in need of seasoning from the pros. Personally, I really enjoy Death Angel and have made sure to pick up all of the appearances of the character. Bullock has a great knack for pulp dialog and pacing, which has been proven in the handling of many characters with long histories such as The Phantom—but Death Angel feels different and utterly unique to him as a writer. The civilian identity of the psychotronic suit wearing character, Rebekah, is definitely off the pulpin’ path, and more interesting because of it. Every appearance seems to bring some new character dimension, and Bullock deftly crafts in a moment with Dracula that gives a nice logline about this bizarre looking hero for new readers. The story is swift, and while not exactly deep thinking-neither is trick or treating while dodging the house that puts razor blades in the apples!

The art by Eric Johns is straight to the point. The action has good flow from panel to panel and the page turns are particularly strong. Death Angel looks a little cleaner than usual-and it is fun to see the characters mask so clearly delineated. His Dracula is a cool customer and I was really impressed by a stairway spiral chase sequence that puts the weird firmly on Death Angel. That is another thing I like about this character, especially the visual design. I don’t think you are going to find villains that out bizarre this heroine!

Recommended as a standalone story and a way to find familiar ground to meet a New Pulp legend in the making, The Black Bat and Death Angel Vs. Dracula is a fun short story to spend the night with.

Up next…a Domino Lady adventure! Mummy Mania swept over me and away we go!

DOMINO LADY VS. THE MUMMY takes Moonstone’s version of the classic High Class Dame and Pulp Detective and uses her to great effect in a different kind of tale. The sleuthery is a bit slippery, but it serves its purpose to unravel a sticky tale of Hollywood horror blended told in classic B-Movie style.

Domino Lady is drawn into action as her heart leads her to help out Mad Dog Vernia, her detective pal that spends most of his time longing and a little time romancing the Madame of Mystery. While searching for a shooter she stumbles on a stranger set of circumstances. It seems there are chunks of people that are gone missing. A big star (Johnny Weisman-star of Ki-Gor! I know you get it) is going to have a hard time singing and a big time chef is missing his favorite food repository. Since we know there is a Mummy a’ shuffle thanks to Dan Brereton’s cover, it doesn’t take long until we realize that things are about to get monstrous. And they do! And there is romance too! A perfect pulp tale really.

Nancy Holder and Bobby Nash pull off a double threat here, managing to set the scene well and pace out the monster action to a point that makes sense given the setting and characters. Domino Lady also narrates and I sometimes find that a tough trick to read if not done well. Not a problem for this team, DL sounds spot on and even gets to confront her usual issues of men and the multiple relationships of a masked lady really well.

Rock Baker’s art is really nice, I’m glad to see these in black and white for this issue especially. Domino Lady gets some hubba hubba shots of course, but they all come packed with extra character instead of bulbous bosoms alone. The flowing panel layout is nicely done and reminds me of the kind of Golden Age story this should be. Not overdone and not trying to capture nostalgia, just well designed sequential storytelling. Its cheesecake when you dig out the garters, but if that cheesecake has a tasty filling, then I’m all in!

This issue is meaty and feels like a complete, dare I say, EGYPTIAN FEAST. H.G. Lewis would be proud and I kept wanting to shout “It’s sexy MONTAG lady…she’s doing it!!” Buy this.

And finally, the one I’d been waiting for the most! THE SPIDER VERSUS THE WEREWOLF! And it delivers the kind of Spider story that is truly worthy of the character. Honestly, I think Moonstone has done the best of all its licenses with The Spider. They don’t have the body of work that The Phantom received, but if it does it will be just as great a way of keeping classic characters on our newsstands here in America. Martin Powell has a firm grasp on what makes the character work and can seemingly spin new stories out with either an ease that is almost fearful, or with such attention to craft that it is an inspiration. Or both. Probably both. Yeah… both.

Opening on an interesting note, we meet a young Wentworth doing battle in the Black Forest during World War 1. The Spider is already manifesting itself through him at this point as he vanquishes and marks a number of enemy soldiers-only to be confronted by monsters that are as strong as The Spider. He may be a master of men, but beasts? We’ll see.

Skipping forward to his present day, Wentworth and Nita are tearing things up as usual for The Spider when an old comrade in arms shows up with a grim mission in mind. It seems that a monster is stalking the city and Kirkpatrick is ready to call in Wentworth-a peril so deadly that he must summon the man he calls friend and still believes to be The Spider? This is bad! And that is a great element in the story. A moment that is perfect for fans of the characters and not intrusive to newcomers, welcoming pulp readers and New Pulp fans equally. Of course, the fur and fangs fly and The Spider must face down his friend…and foe!

The cast of The Spider make great appearances here thanks to Powell’s writing. I was most impressed by the way Nita takes an active role, as she does in many of the best tales, and Wentworth gets to show his savage side in some nice bits while the story reflects back the monstrous nature he embraces as he battles evil. Ram Singh even gets a nice bit of action this time around. This is good storytelling in a one shot comic that will leave you wanting to be sure you have the other Spider installments as soon as possible.

Loaded with character development with an especially great use of the utterly non-standard femme du pulp Nita (watch for her great moment where she tries to steer a werewolf away from people to protect the public from the furry menace)—enjoyable top to bottom, this Spider satisfies and leaves me hoping that we’ll see a sequel.

The art by Jay Piscopo is fantastic as well. Disclosure time, I have done a little work with Jay and looked at many of his drawings (even making a point to dress my children in his designs)-so I’ll leave it at this. I believe in Jay Piscopo and his artwork. It is unique in a medium where rules seem to be generated by public demand. Jay doesn’t play by that. Golden Age inspirations are just a start both in his designs and layouts. This book is one of the best things I’ve seen him do. The characters bear his trademark looks that do justice to what has come before without bowing to keeping things status quo.

So, I love the guys work-and you won’t be let down here. ‘Nuff Said.

So, the Moonstone Return of the Monsters has been a fun selection of books to read and enjoy and gives me hope that a full on line of books from the company will be on my shelves on a weekly basis soon. If your retailer doesn’t stock these, buy them direct and bring them down to the shop and ask why they aren’t there. Quality products deserve a wide audience. These are quality.

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for the great review. I am very excited to be a part of this event.

    Bobby
    www.bobbynash.com

    ReplyDelete
  2. My pleasure Bobby, I've been enjoying your work for some time!

    ReplyDelete

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.