Thursday, January 18, 2018

Ghost Rider 2099 issue one

Ghost Rider 2099
Len Kaminski (writer)
Chris Bachalo and Mark Buckingham (art)
Marvel Comics, May 1994

According to Ronin Ro in his book Tales to Astonish: Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and the American Comic Book Revolution (2004), in the early 1990s Stan Lee was increasingly disillusioned with the failure of Hollywood executives to greenlight production of a large-budget film featuring Marvel characters. Lee decided to return to scripting comic books, and one of his ideas was to create a new series of Marvel titles that were set a century into the future.

Marvel's editor at the time, Tom DeFalco, endorsed Lee's idea, and the Marvel 2099 imprint began in 1992 with the publication of Spider-Man 2099. Despite the advent of the Great Comic Book Crash of 1993, additional 2099 titles were rolled out in succeeding years, including Doom 2099, Hulk 2099, Punisher 2099, and X-Men 2099.

Ghost Rider 2099 kicked off in May 1994, and eventually ran for 25 issues until May 1996. That year most of the 2099 lineup was cancelled due to declining sales, and in December, Marvel declared bankruptcy.

The 2099 books were set in a shared dystopian, near-future world devoid of 'traditional' superheroes. There was a decided emphasis on incorporating the Cyberpunk aesthetic into all of the titles, and into Ghost Rider 2099 in particular.

Writer Len Kaminski took the inclusion of Cyberpunk elements to heart in this first issue of Ghost Rider 2099........perhaps a little to earnestly. Practically every panel has some message designed to remind the reader just how well Kaminski knows the genre. 

Here's a panel where the speech balloon references the lead characters from William Gibson's Count Zero and John Shirley's A Song Called Youth:

These kinds of cutesy callouts tend to give the book a gimmicky character. Things aren't helped by the artwork, which tries to simultaneously channel the artistic styles of Simon Bisley, Frank MIller, and Walt Simonson......and predictably winds up an incoherent mess, for the most part.

That said, Ghost Rider 2099 retains merit for taking all sorts of 80s tropes, like the dystopian cityscapes of the Judge Dredd comics, 'virtual reality', and Robocop-style urban policing and working them all together into a comic that, while flawed, continues to represent one of the better Cyberpunk-themed titles of the past 25 years.

Posted below is the entire first issue of Ghost Rider 2099. I've included scans of some of the advertisements appearing in the comic. By the start of '94 the trading card market was oversaturated, but Marvel and other major companies continued to churn out set after set............ 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Book Review: 'Quasar' by Jamil Nasir

Book Review: 'Quasar' by Jamil Nasir
2 / 5 Stars

'Quasar' (207 pp) was issued by Bantam Spectra in November, 1995. The cover art is by Bruce Jensen.

‘Quasar’ was author Nasir’s first novel, and represents a third-generation cyberpunk tale.

The story is set in a near-future earth where, in the aftermath of global war, much of the surface is an uninhabited wasteland, poisoned by biowarfare pathogens and toxins. Humanity has retreated to the confines of an enormous city, where they lived crammed into tiny apartments, breathing filtered air.

The lower levels of the city are decrepit slums, inhabited by mutants and outcasts, permanently forbidden to ascend to the city resting above their warrens.

Protagonist Ted Karmade is a ‘psychiatric technician’, who uses modified headsets to electronically jack in to the minds of the afflicted and deliver necessary counseling.

Ted’s life is humdrum and mundane, until he gets a summons to the Sentrex Complex, the highest, largest, edifice in the city, and the home of the unimaginably wealthy ZantCorp. There he is tasked to treat the psychological traumas of one Quasar Zant, the beautiful heiress to the ZantCorp fortune.

As Karmade settles into his job as psychiatric counselor to Quasar Zant, he discovers that, far from being a deranged party girl, Zant is a genuinely troubled soul whose life is stealthily manipulated by her trustee and aunt, Nelda Cloud.

Quasar is adamant that the solution to her psychic turmoil somehow lies in the Warrens under the city. When Quasar slips away from her minders and flees to the forbidden zones, it’s up to Ted Karmade to find her and bring her back before ZantCorp’s executives realize they have lost control of their future CEO.

But as Karmade learns more of Quasar’s childhood, it becomes clear that what is taking place within the confines of the Sentrex Complex is not just a struggle over the future of the corporation. Rather, what happened to the young Quasar Zant, and her since-vanished parents, will have implications for the survival of the city and the entire human race……

‘Qausar’ is a middling first novel. It starts off on an intriguing note, as we follow Karmade into the Sentrex Complex and its warped atmosphere marked by the presence of the decadent rich, and their mercenary staff.

But the middle chapters are overly preoccupied with the burgeoning psychodrama between Quasar and Karmade, and the narrative tends to drag.

Things liven up in the novel’s last chapters, although some plot developments struck me as a little too contrived – the ‘cosmic’ revelations come so thick and fast they tend strain the novel’s structure as a tale centered on the emotional interactions of doctor and patient.

Nasir would revisit the theme of a man who (against his better judgment) is gradually caught up in the political and social turmoil surrounding a beautiful, but flawed, young woman in his 1999 novel Tower of Dreams, which much improved over ‘Quasar’.

Cyberpunk fans may want to give ‘Quasar’ a try, but I would recommend ‘Tower’ as a better entry to Nasir’s writings.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Sweetheart Roller Skating Rink: photographs by Bill Yates

Sweetheart Roller Skating Rink
photographs by Bill Yates
Six Mile Creek, Hillsborough County, Tampa, Florida 1972 - 1973
"It was all rock and roll and muscle cars out in the orange groves.”

This is a fascinating series of black-and-white photographs taken of the young patrons of a Florida roller skating rink in 1972 - 1973.

This is an era when the Sun Belt was just beginning to take shape. Central air conditioning in individual homes and businesses still was relatively rare. This is the South that you see in 70s Burt Reynolds movies like White Lightning and Gator : two-lane blacktop roads; small towns roasting in the heat; soda in bottles, not aluminum cans; people driving cars with the windows down (because there is no A/C); and people sweating..........constantly.

And at the roller rink, plenty of people, even 'tweener' -aged kids, smoke............!
Many of these kids are behaving much older than they are; they aspire to adulthood. They want to be independent. This is a time when the concepts of the 'helicopter parent', or 'My Mom is My Best Friend', didn't really exist. 

An interesting look at American culture, particularly when comparing kids back then, with those of today.

As writer Jean M. Twenge observes in her September, 2017 article in The Atlantic:

The rink was a place where kids could get away from their parents and inhabit a world of their own, a world where they could drink, smoke, and make out in the backs of their cars. In stark black-and-white, the adolescent Boomers gaze at Yates’s camera with the self-confidence born of making your own choices—even if, perhaps especially if, your parents wouldn’t think they were the right ones. 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Dax the Damned The Paradise Tree

Dax the Damned
'The Paradise Tree'
by Esteban Maroto
from Eerie Issue 59 (August 1974)

'Dax the Damned' was the English-language adaptation of Esteban Maroto's strip Manly el Guerrero ('Manly the Warrior'), that originally was published in the early 70s in the comics section of the Spanish paper Pueblo.

The first episode of 'Dax' apeared in Eerie 39 (April 1972). Additional episodes ran until issue 52 (November 1973).

Never one to spoil a chance to repackage previously published material and foist it on the buying public, James Warren took all the Dax episodes and made them the content of Eerie issue 59, which billed itself as a 'Super Special Summer Giant !' 

Unfortunately, Eerie writer Budd Lewis couldn't help meddling with the speech balloons in these reprinted stories, making extensive changes to Maroto's original wording.

Maroto's exceptional draftsmanship was unlike anything yet seen in American comic art at the time. In 'Dax', he would craft myriad tiny details (like using a small piece of Zip-A-Tone to cast a shadow over one half of a female character's face) to give each page a highly ornate styling.

As for Maroto's plotting, he instilled the Dax adventures with a downbeat, existential tenor that contrasted sharply with the more ebullient atmosphere of Marvel's Conan the Barbarian comics.

Maroto also seems to have modeled the female leads of his 'Dax' strips on the beautiful Spanish actress Soledad Miranda (1943 - 1970), who looked really good in a metal bikini:

Posted below is the episode titled 'The Paradise Tree', scanned at 300 pdi from the original Eerie issue 59.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Groovy by Mark Voger

'Groovy: When Flower Power Bloomed in Pop Culture'
by Mark Voger
TwoMorrows Publishing, December 2017

TwoMorrows Publishing is a Raleigh, North Carolina company that publishes books on comic books, and comic book artists; it's now expanding into the broader field of pop culture with the release of Groovy (192 pp).

The Groovy Era spans the interval from the mid 60s to the mid 70s. Author Mark Voger (who previously published Monster Mash: The Creepy, Kooky Monster Craze In America 1957-1972 with TwoMorrows in 2015) clearly knows what he is writing about. In his autobiographical Introduction, he recalls how it was to be 12 years old in 1970, and how revelatory it was to visit the head shop at a New Jersey shopping mall……ultimately decorating his bedroom with selected purchases: a skull ashtray, and a black-and-white poster of Raquel Welch in her animal-skin bikini from One Million Years BC

He also relates a July, 1969 encounter at the Moorestown Mall in New Jersey with Tiny Tim, who was on a tour to promote his book ‘Beautiful Thoughts’. Voger was a firsthand witness to Tim’s adroit handling of some dismissive ‘mall hoodlums’.

Any Baby Boomer reading Voger’s memories of adolescence during the Groovy Era will undoubtedly smile with their own recollections.

Groovy primarily focuses on music, but other aspects of the pop culture of the era are covered as well. Within its pages you will find informative articles about, and interviews with, The Turtles; The Rascals; Mickey Dolenz; Tiny Tim; The Doors; Wild in the Streets; Easy Rider; Steve Ditko; Peter Max; The Who; Wonder Woman; Jesus Christ Superstar; Maureen McCormick; the late David Cassidy; Teen Magazines; The Banana Splits; and H. R. Pufnstuf.

The book’s copious illustrations, color scheme, and formatting are designed to recall the bright colors and Pop Art presentations of the covered era.

Flipping through the pages of Groovy will reward the reader with all sorts of little revelations and discoveries………….for example, I had no idea that Barry White (?!) sang lead on a Banana Splits song. Or that The Jefferson Airplane tried to pay artist John Van Hamersveld half a kilo of pot for making the cover art for the ‘Crown of Creation’ album (Van Hamersveld had to go to the Airplane’s record company to recover his $9,000 fee). Or that Frank Zappa (?!) appeared on a 1968 episode of ‘The Monkees’, courtesy of an invitation from Michael Nesmith.

Don’t be surprised if reading Groovy sends you to Google and YouTube to look up long-forgotten cultural artifacts. For my own part, watching the Banana Splits do a dance number to the song 'Doin' the Banana Split' (sung by none other than Barry White ?!), accompanied by the Sour Grapes Bunch (a group of girls wearing pink miniskirts and black go-go boots) and 'trippy' special effects, is both sublime and surreal.......

As with any book of this nature, there is an element of subjectivity in deciding what material is worthy of content. An argument certainly could be made that a second volume of Groovy is necessary to adequately cover the spectrum of content associated with the covered era.

Summing up, Groovy primarily is aimed at a readership of Baby Boomers, who will find it indispensable. But younger readers may want to peruse a copy as well, if only to see how the pop culture of the Groovy era paved the way for many aspects of contemporary culture.