In this week’s Everything But Imaginary, I take a look at the recent announcement that DC and Marvel Comics, finally deciding they’ve got enough of my money, are going to be lowering the prices of many of their comics in the coming months. And may I say: wah-hoo.
But in this week’s Classic EBI, we’re going back to Oct. 26, 2005, a time when I (and all of the Gulf Coast) were still suffering from the recent shock of Hurricane Katrina, and we needed a little Halloween to get our minds off it. This is also the reason, by the way, that you’ll find no “favorite of the week” in this column. At the time, I had no shop from which to get my comics weekly, and thus couldn’t make regular picks…
Everything But Imaginary #135: Halloween Happenings
Well gang, here it is, October 26, just five scant days before Halloween. Anyone who knows me well can tell you that Halloween is one of my three favorite times of the year (the other two times being Thanksgiving and Christmas – January through September are basically just the months I have to slag through to get to the good stuff), and I enjoy it for many reasons: the opportunity to dress up as some outlandish character, the chance to embrace my dark side even just for a little while, and of course, the fact that you can eat enough candy to choke a camel and nobody looks at you funny.
Another major reason I like Halloween (and Thanksgiving and Christmas) is the surfeit of holiday-themed storytelling you get this time of year. In the case of Halloween, it’s scary stories, monster movies and cartoons about kids waiting up all night in a pumpkin patch hoping to see an enormous gourd that never quite materializes. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere, but if I brought it up I’m liable to invite a whole plethora of armchair analysis, so I think I’ll leave that alone.
As comic book geeks, of course, we don’t just look to the television or the silver screen for our holiday offerings. We look to comic books as well. In past years, we’ve had lots of comics to choose from. This year, not so many. I’ve only come across three specifically Halloween-themed comics so far this year. Would you like a rundown? Heck, I knew you would.
First and foremost, we’ve got to mention the Donald Duck Halloween Ashcan from Gemstone Comics. This was a stroke of brilliance on Gemstone Comics’ part – a comic book, a trick-or-treat giveaway, a promotional item. Sold in bundles of 25 copies for a really cheap price, this comic reprints “Hobblin’ Goblins” by the immortal Carl Barks, and is intended to be given away on Halloween night to trick-or-treaters. Personally, I want this to be a huge thing. I love Gemstone comics and getting them into the hands of their core audience – kids – is a great thing. We all trick-or-treated as kids. The point of the night, admittedly, was to get as much candy as humanly possible. But we always thought it was cool if we got one or two little trinkets that had a little more permanence – toys, trading cards or comics.
The Donald Duck ashcan, of course, isn’t the first comic ever printed as a Halloween goodie. In the late 80s, Marvel comics put out a set of ashcans reprinting issues of Captain America, Spider-Man and Heathcliff (part of their STAR Comics line for younger readers). These comics enjoyed a pretty healthy life and were circulated for several years. I, of course, got them all. Comic books make a great giveaway, although they’re far too expensive to give out in their full-sized editions. Kind of like Snickers bars. So I’m really glad to see Gemstone putting out this special. I hope some of the kids lucky enough to get it in their treat bags will look for more of their titles.
Next up is Bongo’s annual offering, Bart Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror. This year we get issue #11, which begs the question, what’s harder to believe? That the Simpsons TV show is in its seventeenth season, or that the Simpsons comics have been around for over a decade?
Just as each year’s Treehouse of Horror TV episode is an anthology of cartoons (usually spoofing popular horror movies and the like), the Treehouse comic is an anthology of Halloween stories, typically done by the biggest name comic creators (or other celebrities) they can get. In the past, Treehouse has featured the works of Chuck Dixon, Gail Simone, Sergio Aragones, Gene Simmons and – I’m not making this up, folks – Pat Boone. This year’s crop includes a vampire story by Blade co-creators Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan, a Swamp Thing parody by Len Wein and the inimitable Bernie Wrightson, and a great parody of classic EC comics written by Chris Bonahm and Steve Ringgenberg, with art by James Lloyd, Angelo Torres, John Severin and Mark Schulz. It’s definitely one of the better offerings, and a lot of fun.
The only other specific Halloween-themed comic I’ve seen this year was Action Comics #832. It’s tradition for one of the Superman comics to offer up a Christmas story every December, but a Halloween offering isn’t unheard of either, and this one (although it isn’t marked as a tie-in) links up with the Day of Vengeance miniseries. The Spectre, on a crusade to eradicate all magic from the universe, has set his sights on Metropolis, where a Machiavellian demon called Satannus has been hiding for years. And I mean years in real time – in the early-to-mid 90s he was a fairly major villain in Superman’s universe, but he sort of faded away, with his major plotline (the fact that he was disguised as Newstime magazine’s publisher, Colin Thornton), left dangling. I’m not really sure why DC (or writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning) decided to bring him back at this time, new readers certainly won’t know the history there, but it’s a nice nod to some unanswered history for longtime fans.
What makes this more of a Halloween story, however, is the Lois Lane subplot in this issue. As ghosts swarm Metropolis, she finds herself coming face-to-face with a very personal ghost. It’s a really strong story for her, and one that sets up a couple of good plotlines for the future as well.
Although I haven’t seen Marvel put out any specific Halloween-themed comics, they have taken advantage of the season with other projects. They’ve launched a new version of Nick Fury’s Howling Commandos starring some monstrous soldiers and put out a “Horror” edition of the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. They’ve also got a Marvel Zombies series coming up soon by Robert Kirkman – would that they could have squeezed that out in time for Halloween.
My favorite Marvel Monster project, though, are the four “Marvel Monsters” comics – a set of four one-shots spoofing the classic monster titles they put out back in the 50s and early 60s, before the superhero genre took over with Fantastic Four #1. They wisely decided not to play the genre seriously, doing a Fanastic Four spoof with Fin Fang Foom and having the Hulk tussle with Devil Dinosaur.
The only one of the specials I’ve been able to get my hands on so far is actually the one with the weakest ties to the current Marvel Universe, Where Monsters Dwell. The theme of this issue is to bring back some of those goofy monsters from the past in new stories. The prize of this issue is Bring on the Bombu, by Keith Giffen with excellent finishes by Mike Allred. This tells of Bombu’s second attempt to invade Earth (the first having taken place way back in Journey Into Mystery #60), which comes across with very comical results. Peter David and Arnold Pander supply a new Monstrollo story and Jeff Parker, Russell Braun and Jimmy Palmiotti give us a surprisingly strong tale of the monstrous Manoo. There’s also a reprint of another classic tale, I Was Trapped By Titano (not the super-ape with Kryptonite vision from DC comics), which is actually my only beef with this issue – not that there’s anything wrong with it, but I wish Marvel had provided us with credits for the story, or at least noted where it had been originally printed. (I eventually located that information in the text page that, presumably, is running in all four Monster specials.)
So you do have some choices for Halloween this year, friends, but you know what? It’s not enough! I want to see more Halloween offerings next year. I’d love to see a new Batman Halloween special (although with Jeph Loeb exclusive to Marvel now, it wouldn’t be the same). I want to see Halloween editions of Looney Tunes and Marvel Adventures. I have no idea who currently owns the reprint rights, but I want to see some nice archival editions of the old Tales From the Crypt comics in the vein of the DC Archives or Marvel Masterworks. (2010 Note: This was later achieved by copyright owner Gemstone Publishing.)
There’s lots more that could be done, folks, and the comic book industry has a whole year to get ready for it.
Blake M. Petit is the author of the superhero comedy novel, Other People’s Heroes, the suspense novel The Beginner and the Christmas-themed eBook A Long November. He’s also the co-host, with whoever the hell is available that week, of the 2 in 1 Showcase Podcast and the weekly audio fiction podcast Blake M. Petit’s Evercast. E-mail him at BlakeMPetit@gmail.com and visit him on the web at Evertime Realms. Read past columns at the Everything But Imaginary Archive Page.