Some stretchy stuff.

Haunt of Horror: Edgar Allan Poe #3 (of 3)

So yeah, the hardcover compilation of this series is supposed to be due out in October (though I didn't see it in Marvel's October solicitations); plenty of time for bookstores to give their Halloween displays thorough consideration, if the book shows up. Just in case anyone was still wondering why we’re wrapping a literary horror miniseries from Marvel in the dead heat of summer.

Steve Bissette, he of many a comics tome and film critique, has posted his own review of issue #1 up at Panel to Panel (you’ll need to click the Reviews tab) - you can tell he’s aiming for a somewhat more general audience, as he takes time out to explain exactly what a MAX book is, but he hardly skimps on the details of artist Richard Corben’s background with the horror genre and Poe in particular, even whipping up a few nice comparisons. It’s a good, informative piece, particularly fascinating in its suggestion of Corben working from different horror traditions in his different periods of Poe adaptation, the earlier fidelity of one version of The Raven (created for Warren) giving way to a new allegiance with the drive-in fuel of Roger Corman, another prominent tapper of Edgar Allan’s veins.

This final issue is no less a ‘return the speaker to its original position before exiting the grounds’ experience, transmogrifying verse and prose into grimy little shockers. Obligatory ghoulish host Uncle Deadgar (yeesh) notes that this issue bears a theme of love, though I’m at a loss as to how some of this material could possibly fit into that particular box without the most warping of contortions - there’s really no connecting fabric at all to bind the three shorts presented here, save for the most obvious aspect of all these stories being drawn by Corben and based on Poe. That’s enough for me, it’s worth mentioning.

So first we have Izrafel, a mutation of Poe’s Israfel - an expectedly vague rumination on vain mortal longing for a heavenly state of beauty - into a direct-to-dvd tale of rapsploitation pistol skirmishing among hip-hop stars. Somehow, an echo of Poe’s original theme slips through the cracks, though (as Bissette notes) the star is always Corben, every page a stanza in a sequential poem of blood and ravishingly chunky sound effects, absurd details like a circus clown popping into the smoky urban milieu. I've not seen Corben's work on the prior MAX series Cage, though I wonder if the vivid style here isn't a bit of a throwback to that earlier Marvel work, going on what I've heard of it.

Such tone is kept going in the next story, The Happiest Day, an even less solidified Poe consideration of the passing and souring of happy times, twisted into the saga of a class reuinion school shooting, a nerd's only nice memory (buying comics with his best pal, of course!) constantly smothered by its terrible surroundings. Corben's work with facial expressions here is excellent (even though everyone's way too old for a 10 year reunion), and he adds an interesting dimension to his adaptation by inserting a pair of 'blank' stanzas - pages devoted entirely to silent shooting and mayhem with no direct Poe material - to add extra anticipation to the final page/stanza drawn from the original work.

So is the true theme of this last issue modern anxieties? The scratching of (pop) cultural itches in homage to the widely-cast brooding of the good Edgar Allan? No sir - as it's always been in this series, our eyes travel wherever Poe and writers Rich Margopoulos & Rick Dahl demand prefer go, and Berenice closes the series with a final cornball throwback to the extra 'spooky' contemporary renderings of classic tales of a pulpy comics past. Now our narrator is telling his tale to the police! And he's a dentist (which is why he fixates on teeth)! And he's into drugging his cousin to bring on her trances! A few scary visions later, and all we're missing is a gasp 'n choke from the fuzz upon the final horrid reveal, and maybe a few lame puns from Uncle Deadgar to close the curtain.

Pure camp, but a fitting end for a miniseries of this kind, Corben placing an officer's bald spot in prime viewing position as we chortle ourselves done. Those teeth are scattered to and fro about the floor, just like the stories themselves, but can't you just love their white and ghastly spectrum?

Gumby #1

And just to follow all that up, Gumby. A new series from Wildcard Ink, seemingly released to celebrate the Art Clokey-created clayboy's 50th anniversary, though I don't think I'm stretching it too much to note that most Direct Market denizens are going to show up due to the creative team: writer Bob Burden (of Flaming Carrot Comics) and artist Rick Geary (of A Treasury of Victorian Murder), both of whom share only the simplified credit of Story without further compartmentalization. And isn't the 'story' of comics indeed inseparable from the visuals?

Still, if we're to fall back upon specific tasks, Carrot fans will be pleased to know that this is very much a Bob Burden script we're getting here. And not just in terms of silliness; actually, the absurdity here is slightly less overt than it is in any given Carrot comic I can think of, though we do get some odd superheroes dropping in to talk about the dangers of driving a car with toast on your antenna and so on. There's also the familiar Burden jabs as corporate homogenization (a little girl marvels over a land of imagination: "I don't see any Target stores or...") and undue pacifism (a cowardly cop flees the scene of a crime yowling "Violence only begets more violence!").

But even after that, there's a side of the writer I've not seen since the Carrot himself returned: the melancholic Burden. This is a fun little all-ages comic, but there's an unmistakable hint of sadness about it: the plot, after all, ultimately concerns young Gumby's education in how life sometimes just isn't fair, and how good deeds aren't always rewarded, even in a magic land of fun. "And a little boy has the first pang of a feeling he's never felt before." Indeed. It's similar in flavor to those old Carrot bits where he'd wander around rusty steel factories spitting out poetry for a few pages, or some of the more bittersweet issues of Mysterymen Comics, though don't misunderstand: Gumby still has faithful Pokey, and he does save the day from evil circus clowns who burn down a minimart in an attempt to shoplift booze and smokes. It's not too far removed from that old Robot Rumpus episode where our heroes destroy crazy automatons and put their heads on pikes, if I recall correctly.

Geary's art is really nice, a fine, pliable look that's enhanced by the colors of Steve Oliff & Lance Borde into the same sort of tasty display as those old foodmaking clay playsets that would have you salivating over the faux hamburgers. And there's 33 pages of story for your $3.99, so you get a goodly amount of space to watch Gumby and Pokey meet a new girl in the neighborhood, run into assorted antagonists and supporting characters, visit the fair, dance for food, transform into things, and otherwise engage in Gumbyish activities. Very low-key, but appealing. More than anything it makes you wonder where Burden is planning on going with this series, and whether the men pulling lions out of their pants will eventually overpower the bits with Gumby playing with trains in his basement and avoiding girl cooties. It's a little strange to think that as unssuming a book like this is capable of going pretty much anywhere, but there you go. Like Pokey says, "Don't worry, Kimo Sabe, we can figure it all out tomorrow!"