Tag Archives: horror

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: Issue #7

It has been a full year since the last issue of Sabrina came out, probably because Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa was busy writing for the television show “Riverdale” (which I watched with my daughter and is quite good). Although it was a long wait, it was well worth it. The quality of this comic, in terms of both writing and visual artistic style, sets it in a class by itself.

Essentially, this is the back story concerning Sabrina’s father, Edward Spellman, who is resurrected and inhabiting the body of Sabrina’s boyfriend, Harvey Kinkle (a little Electra complex happening here). Edward recounts his initiation into the dark arts, his rise to power in the Church of Satan, and how he came to be imprisoned in the limbo dimension.

This installment is dark and disturbing on multiple levels. The content is macabre, the imagery intense, it is psychologically distressing, and the tale leaves the reader with a sense of tension and foreboding which is stoked by what is left unsaid. For truly, it is the unknown possibilities that stir the deepest fear within us, and Aguirre-Sarcasa is a master when it comes to leaving just enough of the story hidden to evoke the most profound terror in the reader.

Readers should be warned that this is not a comic for the timid. But if you love the macabre and long to peer into the stuff of nightmares, then get thee to the store and buy a copy.

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Vampirella: Issue #3

This issue could have been called “Campirella.” It’s a nod to the pulp fiction genre that began in the late 1800s and continued through the 1950s. The artwork, style, and content all recall the campiness of the genre.

Pulp magazines (often referred to as “the pulps”) were inexpensive fiction magazines that were published from 1896 to the 1950s. The term pulp derives from the cheap wood pulp paper on which the magazines were printed; in contrast, magazines printed on higher quality paper were called “glossies” or “slicks”. The typical pulp magazine had 128 pages; it was 7 inches (18 cm) wide by 10 inches (25 cm) high, and 0.5 inches (1.3 cm) thick, with ragged, untrimmed edges.

The pulps gave rise to the term pulp fiction in reference to run-of-the-mill, low-quality literature.

Pulps were the successors to the penny dreadfuls, dime novels, and short-fiction magazines of the 19th century. Although many respected writers wrote for pulps, the magazines were best known for their lurid, exploitative, and sensational subject matter. Modern superhero comic books are sometimes considered descendants of “hero pulps”; pulp magazines that often featured illustrated novel-length stories of heroic characters, such as The Shadow, Doc Savage, and The Phantom Detective.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Growing up, there were still pulp magazines available at the local stationary store. I used to read the campy detective magazines, as well as the graphic horror and science fiction. Although these publications were deemed the antithesis of literature, they did foster a love of reading for me which continues to this day.

There is something disturbingly timely in this bizarre throw-back issue. Vampirella is imprisoned in a concentration camp along with a variety of other individuals deemed to be social deviants. This included people of different ethnicities, LGBTQ persons, as well as individuals of different religious beliefs. And while the work camp is clearly a reference to the Nazi concentration camps, the people who are imprisoned there are the same groups who are currently being targeted here in the U.S.

At one point, the Commandant tells Vampirella why there will always be people to keep the factory running.

We have the world to choose from. There will always be malcontents.

The terrible truth of this statement is that a fearful and intolerant society will always find individuals and groups to direct their hatred and fear toward. Humans continue to exploit those who they see as different, and blame the “others” for their difficulties. Hopefully, one day we will transcend this cycle, at which point magazines like this will become a curiosity instead of a sad social commentary.

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Vampirella: Issue #0

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I used to read Vampirella when I was a kid and obsessed with graphic horror, but have not read it in many years and completely missed out on the modern saga. I confess the risqué covers would catch my eye at the comic store, but I always passed them up. Well, this past week I went in and there was nothing in my folder, but my friend Nikki who works there gave me a couple comp issues, one of which was this one which marks the beginning of a new arc. Nikki assured me that it was good and is a great place to pick up the saga. Since I trust her recommendations, I accepted the comic and read it. (Try it sonny; the first one’s free…)

I have to say, my interest is piqued. The writing and artwork are both very good, and while Vampirella is still scantily clad (something I personally have an issue with), she is not presented quite as much as the sexual object I remember from my youth. In fact, this was something Nikki and I discussed. She is bothered by the objectified depictions of women, and she said that supposedly in this arc, the imagery is toned down a bit. I guess we’ll see.

The basic premise is that Vampirella has been asleep for about a 1000 years and is raised by a couple who sacrifice themselves to provide the blood needed to awaken her. She has no recollection of where she is, how she came to be entombed, or how long she has been there. But the couple left her a book of myths and prophesies related to Vampirella. As her hunger becomes overpowering, she is drawn to the surface.

I think I will add this to my pull-list and at least give it a couple issues to see whether it is worth continuing. There is definite potential from what I see in this first installment. I’ll let you know my thoughts on the subsequent issues.

Cheers!

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Haunted Horror Tribute #22

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I picked this up recently, figuring it would be fun to read and get me in the Halloween mood. It looked like something that was inspired by the old horror comics I read as a kid, but I was surprised to discover that it is actually a compilation of vignettes scanned and reprinted from the classic 1950’s horror comics. So this is NOT just an attempt to recapture the essence of the genre, this contains actual reprints of the original 1950’s tales. It’s all here—the vintage artwork, the cheesy narration, everything that I remember about these publications.

The collection is a nice size, containing eight tales of terror.

  • Robot Woman: The opening tale reminded me of “The Stepford Wives.” It explores the dark side of our culture’s obsession with physical beauty, while at the same time offering a critique of the 1950’s view of what a “perfect woman” is supposed to be.
  • Chef’s Delight: This is a story that addresses domestic violence, an issue that sadly still plagues our society today. In the end, though, the wife gets her revenge on her abusive husband.
  • Shadows of the Tomb: This is a story about a man who murders his wife to claim her inheritance. But in a twist reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet, the wife is not really dead and exacts her revenge.
  • Guest of the Ghouls: This tale uses ghouls as a metaphor for individuals who violate the dead, who are like vultures feeding off the losses of the deceased. There is a great quote that warrants sharing: “We unburied the dead while we were living and stole what we wanted! You have robbed the dead of their only identity after death — their tombstones!”
  • I Killed Mary: Interesting vignette about a nerdy, dorky outcast. There was a scene about what was considered to be appropriate dinner table talk which I found to be a critique of the overly structured family life of the 50’s.
  • The Haunter: A piece about a greedy man who tries to scare his uncle to death in order to get his money.
  • The Choker: Probably my favorite in the collection. This is a very creative tale about a con job where a woman marries a man to get his money, then she and her lover kill the husband and stage it as a suicide. The brilliance of this piece is that it is written from the perspective of a necklace that the husband had given to the wife.
  • Night of Terror: The final story is about a man who stages a scenario intended to scare his wife so that he can prove himself to be brave in the face of danger, but as you can imagine, things go awry.

I really enjoyed this collection, and I am seriously considering getting more issues in the future. It is more than just a nostalgia piece; it’s a preservation of an artistic and literary genre that was a reflection of the anxiety, fear, and growing social tension that would later erupt into revolution in the 1960s. Highly recommended, even if you are not a horror buff.

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“Tales from the Darkside” Issues 2 – 4: Manifestations of the Shadow Self

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I decided to wait until all three issues in this mini-series were published so I could read them consecutively, and I’m glad I did. Sometimes I forget some of the details from the earlier installments in a serialized arc.

This story is about the struggle between the conscious mind and the primordial shadow part of the psyche. The main character, Brian Newman, finds himself in a struggle with a manifestation of his shadow self, who he calls the “big winner.” The big winner is the opposite of Newman, who is timid, uncertain, and withdrawn. Big winner is more like the trickster archetype: capricious, boisterous, and prone to the chaotic. As the big winner begins to take control of his reality, Newman agrees to undergo experimental surgery to gain control of this darker self. As you can imagine, things do not end well.

Before the surgery, the doctor explains to Newman that the manifestation of his shadow self is the result of a brain abnormality.

The anomaly in your brain is connected to an overdeveloped amygdala, a more primitive part of your mind. The part of you that can distort reality – this big winner – is undoubtedly very id like. Impulsive. Childish. A sort of negative image of yourself.

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The surgery does not go as planned, and instead of reigning in the shadow self, that darker aspect of reality becomes the prevalent reality. What is so fascinating about this concept is that, truthfully, our reality is based solely on perception that is agreed upon by the majority of people. But this begs the question: what happens when the paradigm of reality shifts? And this is what occurs in issue 4.

Here we encounter two kids who are constantly wired into their devices. They are obsessed with a sort of virtual reality app that allows them to control the “windows” through which they view their world. What they create through the app manifests in reality, and their darkest fantasies are manifest. What is eerily accurate about this portrayal is that virtual reality gaming can actually tap into the primordial center of the brain, the amygdala. Is it possible that virtual reality will one day alter our actual reality? It’s a thought-provoking question.

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Because the darkside becomes a part of them. It waits for them when they close their eyes, when they sleep… if they ever sleep again. Just below the surface of what they think is real… the darkside is always waiting.

Anyway, this arc is a great read. The writing and artwork are outstanding, and the concepts are challenging and relevant to our world today. I highly recommend giving this series a read.

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“The Devil in the Belfry” by Edgar Allan Poe – Time, Chaos, and the Disruption of Order

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I was not sure what to expect from this tale, having neither read it before nor heard of it until I happened across it in my anthology. It is a very short parable about deviation and disruption of order, and the chaos that ensues as a result.

The story is set in a town called Vondervotteimittiss. Very early in the tale, the narrator explains that he does not know the history of the town’s name, which implies there is some significance to the name.

Touching the derivation of the name Vondervotteimittiss, I confess myself, with sorrow, equally at fault. Among a multitude of opinions upon this delicate point—some acute, some learned, some sufficiently the reverse—I am able to select nothing which ought to be considered satisfactory.

The name of the town is a sort of Germanic transliteration and play on words, so the town should be pronounced “wonder what time it is.” The key then to understanding this story is the importance of time as a constant.

The town of Vondervotteimittiss is built in a circle, symbolizing a clock and the eternal cycle of time, which is a constant. The town is comprised of “sixty little houses” which represent the sixty minutes and sixty seconds which are the foundations of time. In addition, the steeple in the center of town, which houses the great clock, has seven sides with seven clock faces, symbolizing the seven days of the week, another important symbol of time and structure.

The great clock has seven faces—one on each of the seven sides of the steeple—so that it can be readily seen from all quarters.

The final number to keep in mind is twelve, which are the numbers on the clock face and the number of months in a year.

So one day, a stranger comes into town, and the way he is described conjures the image of the devil, or possibly the trickster archetype. He commandeers the clock tower, and as the clock strikes twelve noon, he causes the clock to chime once more, making it 13 o’clock.

“Twelve!” said the bell.

“Dvelf!” they replied, perfectly satisfied and dropping their voices.

“Und dvelf it iss!” said all the little old gentlemen, putting up their watches. But the big bell had not done with them yet.

Thirteen!” said he.

Thirteen is considered an unlucky number and portends evil and disruption. What Poe is expressing here is that deviation from the norm, disruption of the perfect order of things which is symbolized by the steadiness of time, results in chaos, which is exactly what happens in the town of Vondervotteimittiss.

Meantime the cabbages all turned very red in the face, and it seemed as if old Nick himself had taken possession of every thing in the shape of a timepiece. The clocks carved upon the furniture took to dancing as if bewitched, while those upon the mantel-pieces could scarcely contain themselves for fury, and kept such a continual striking of thirteen, and such a frisking and wriggling of their pendulums as was really horrible to see.

We now accept time as something relative, but for millennia, time was the constant, so the thought of what we view as stable crumbling is a sign of chaos and collapse. I look around us and we have created an illusion of stability, but I cannot help but see the potential for chaos at the slightest deviation.

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House of Penance: Issue 04 – The Addictive Power of Violence

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I really like this series and its exploration of issues of sin and atonement. The artwork is dark and surreal and the writing is sparse yet moving. But this installment in the series also explores the related issue of addiction, specifically addiction to violence.

My favorite definition of addiction is that it is the constant searching for something outside yourself to change the way you feel within. For this reason, you can become addicted to anything that elicits a powerful feeling inside, and violence can certainly fall into that category. I have known people in my younger days who were addicted to the adrenaline rush of violent behavior, starting fights for no reason other than the thrill of the fight.

In this issue of the graphic novel, there is a scene where several men who are serving their penance for violent acts discover a room that houses confiscated weapons waiting destruction. The men stare through the glass with a deep longing in their eyes, like the recovering alcoholic struggling with internal conflict as he stares through the window of a liquor store.

If we honestly look at our society—the films we watch, the books we read, the games we play—we are forced to admit that we are a society that is addicted to violence, and yet we act surprised and abhorred when we hear stories of people actually committing violent acts. Now I am not condoning the censorship of violence in the arts, just as I would not condone banning alcohol, but we need to acknowledge that violence, just like drugs, is addictive and remain vigilant with ourselves.

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