Thursday, April 25, 2019

Nightshade #1

Nightshade #1 1997 $2.50 U.S. $3.70 Canada
No Mercy Comics Woodland Hills, California
by Mark Williams

So, full disclosure. The only reason I picked this book to read was that it was published by Rikki Rockett's comic book company No Mercy Comics. For those unaware, Rockett was the drummer for '80's glam rock band Poison. 

Way back in 1986 Poison was the absolute best band in the world to the ears of yours truly. From the moment I saw the video for 'Nothin' But A Good Time' at age nine I loved Poison. It wasn't until I ventured into my broody teenage angsty phase and discovered bands like Nine Inch Nails that I began to lose interest in Rockett's band. 

Anyway, in the late '90's (during a seven year gap between Poison record releases) Rockett started No Mercy Comics. He is credited in this book not only as President of the company but also given second billing on the creative credits page as "Special Effects-Design-Production". Not really sure what he did though. Maybe he added some photoshop effects to Williams' watercolor artwork? 
Who knows. But without further ado,
 I give you... Nightshade!

Our tale opens on a lone figure as he rushes through the dark streets of Arkham, Massachusetts just before midnight. It is pouring down rain and he is obviously being chased by something ghastly.

A black van speeds up behind him and the man leaps into a pile of trash on the side of the road to avoid being hit. The van screeches to a halt and the man is stricken with fear. Suddenly the fearful man notices he is at his destination! But an iron gate with ominous symbols bars his way.

The man screams to let him in. The door to the house behind the gate opens...

Dr. Belknap opens his front door and immediately recognizes the lone figure beckoning from the other side of the gate... but it's too late!

The van has rammed poor Parker against the iron gate, smashing him into a broken mess. As he is squished to death Parker tosses a package through the bars onto the grounds beyond the gate.
The occupants of the van emerge and began threatening Dr. Belknap.

The demonic figures proclaim to the fresh corpse of Parker that he has stolen their secrets but "Death will not be your escape!" One of them begins to cast a resurrection spell!

Parker lives once again but it is a horrid existence he awakens to. His broken bones and ruptured innards cause him to shriek in pain. The head demon demands Dr. Belknap to give them the package that Parker has tossed through the gate!

The demon grabs the gate but is burnt by the bars. The gate is protected from the demonic by a spell!
Suddenly the demons realize that during the commotion Parker has slipped away.


They grab a Byakhee (some sort of  hideous creature on a leash from the back of their van) and head off on foot to find Parker. Once they leave, Dr. Belknap sits in his study to figure out what to do. He is relieved when three of his friends arrive. Titus Sabreton, Howard Campbell and Magellan, three fellow enemies of evil and all around bad ass hombres! They decide to arm themselves and look for the demons.

But as soon as they walk outside they are greeted with a grisly image... Parker has been skinned and left hanging on the front gate as a grim message from the van full of demons!

The men cut him down and put his body in the cellar. Then Dr. Belknap makes a call for some help...

While they wait for this mysterious help to arrive they discuss the events leading to Parker's demise. He had apparently infiltrated a cult and gained access to their inner circle. He was able to steal a box adorned with demonic symbols that was in the package he dropped on Dr. Belknap's grounds earlier that evening. The men can't figure out how to open the cryptic box. But I bet I know who can... Glenn Danzig!

Oh, wait...that's just Nightshade and his man servant Go (that's right, his name is Go). Well, hopefully Nightshade is half as tough as Danzig and can help Dr. Belknap and crew fight these demons. We'll have to find out next issue!

Fun comic! I would certainly read more if I find them in my dollar bin diving.

Now here is my depiction of Titus Sabreton from Dr. Belknap's demon fighting crew: 

Join me back here in 30 when we take a peek at...

Friday, March 29, 2019

Windraven #1

Windraven #1 1992 $2.95 U.S. $3.50 Canada
Heroic Publishing Manhattan Beach, California
By Dave Marchman, Craig Storman, Mitch Byrd, Richard Bonk and Steven Hughes

There are so many creators credited because there are three stories about Windraven and her team in this debut issue... so let's get started!

The first story in this comic is called The Healing and it opens with Windraven and the Rough Raiders fresh off a mission returning to their lair for much needed rest.

Unfortunately, rest isn't in their future. Their team mate Long John who suffered severe wounds on their previous mission isn't doing well and is going to die unless they can find a way to heal him.

Although Windraven rushes to his aid her sacred life crystals seem to do no good. She realizes it's because John is only half human and her Earth Magic therefore has no effect! 

Suddenly one of the Rough Raiders remembers he has heard tale of a colony nearby who have immeasurable healing powers. The team joins hands and use their combined psi-power to travel the astral plane to locate the healers. Windraven locates them! With mere hours left to save Long John the Rough Raiders blast off to find these mythical people!

When they arrive at the location they are greeted with intense visions of dinosaurs and demons attacking them! 

But Windraven realizes these are mere mirage meant to discourage visitors! Wow, that's even better than the Viper Car Security System!

Windraven talks to the people of the colony and they explain when they heal someone it drains their lifeforce... if they heal Long John they will die! Chenna, an older healer woman volunteers to exchange her life for that of Long John's since he is a hero (and possibly a fast food fish mascot).

Chenna enters Long John's mind and heals him. He awakens having had an intense dream of falling in love with a woman named Chenna, his soul-mate. But he soon finds that Chenna was real and gave her life to heal him. John cries over her dead body. The End. Wow, that was a bummer.

Next story!

The pencils in this one are credited to "Black Skull" which may be the late great Steven Hughes of Evil Ernie and Lady Death fame. Not positive though.

This one opens with half the Rough Raiders nowhere to be found. The remaining members search the headquarters to no avail. We cut to a penthouse overlooking Fifth Avenue in New York. Everyone is dressed like it's the '80's (even though the Windraven and the Rough Raiders are from the '90's). Inside Long John Lazer is beating up and sexually assaulting a woman. Wait... isn't this the hero from the previous story?!

The woman hears voices in her head telling her to use her powers... and she does!

After blasting her attacker out of the window she begins blasting his goons with her might powers! They blast back! So much power being dispersed! Suddenly a cloud of smoke engulfs The woman who turns out to be...Windraven! The smoke clears and she is no longer in that posh New York apartment but in the middle of the woods with her fellow Rough Raiders and some strange beings. What's going on?

We find out that the strangers are a group of wizards calling themselves the Cult of Krimson Karma who have summoned the Rough Raiders to this forest. The Cult were trapped in the Red Plain that surrounds the Earth. From this prison they made attempts to call for powerful beings to come to their aid but could only reach their subconscious minds. 

They decided to use dreams to create a fantasy situation for the Raiders which would perceive as reality. A shared false reality charged with emotions where they would be directed to use all their powers at maximum force to create a rift to shatter their prison! 

The Cult explain they conjured a dreamworld set in the '80's because they wanted to make it as real as possible and that is the age they were most familiar with. I  KNEW wizards listened to '80's bands like Dio and Mercyful Fate!

The Cult leaves our heroes to deal with the aftermath of their shared fantasy where one team member attempted to rape another and they all basically killed each other. Damn, and I thought the end of the previous story was bleak.

Final Story! (titled The Origin of Iron Cupcake) 
This one is just a straight up '90's action story with lots of boobs...

And big guns. 

But suddenly in the middle of the brawl a few female members of the Rough Raiders are zapped away! 

During the process their clothes were burnt from their bodies so they break into a clothing store and find something to wear. Apparently is was an S&M specialty store because they emerge looking like every typical '90's bad girl comic character.

Apparently the story is continued in a comic called Windraven SP Sex and Death #0 but I don't think it was ever published.

Thus ends the stories in this comic and as a bonus there is a great pin-up section including this one by Rob Liefeld and Craig Storman from way back in 1986!

Speaking of pin-ups I'm excited to announce the first guest pin-up art for The Bewildering...
it's Long John Lazer as depicted by Eric Shonborn!

Well, not the best comic I've ever read but it was interesting in the way it took the classic super story and gave it a dark spin. Decent art throughout (though whoever designed the logo just ripped it off of Wolverine comics from the same time). 

 I probably wouldn't pick up a second issue but I couldn't find evidence that one even exists so I guess that solves that quandary.

Still, fun comic!

Join me next month when we dive into...

Monday, February 25, 2019

Arctic Comics #1

Arctic Comics #1 1986 $2.00 U.S. $2.30 Canada
Souvenir Pavilion, North West Territories, Canada
by Nick Burns with assists by Lovern Kindzierski and Michele Buchanan

Three tales of the frozen north are presented in this magnificent comic book by Nick Burns and crew (doing the color separation chores). All three stories are vastly different despite their consistent setting of the Arctic.

The book begins with an Inuit legend of the beginning of time. A time of darkness before words had yet been spoken. The fox and the hare broke the silence by whispering aloud "Dark, dark, dark" and "Light, light, light" respectively. And because words had never been spoke before they were magic.

This legend sets the tone for the light and darkness in each story to come. First we have 'Spring' which is a tale seemingly set in the past about a hunter named Miuk as he and his dogs stalk a seal to provide meat for his family that night.

With equal parts luck an skill the hunter gets his prey but soon finds his luck has turned sour. The warmer Spring weather has caused the ice to break apart and Miuk is now adrift at sea! 

The other hunters from his village notice the ice has broken apart where Miuk was hunting and assume him dead. They report this tragic news to Miuk's wife Inuijak who mourns her brave husband. An odd moment occurs when Inuijak's son Sagives umik mentions he has soot in his eye.
Inuijak calmly pulls a louse from her son's head and ties a hair around the parasite. She lowers it right into the boy's eye. The louse's legs pick up the soot as it struggles to escape the slick wet surface of his eye. Wow.

Meanwhile Miuk has been stranded on the floating ice for days and has been forced to eat his dogs.

More days pass and starvation becomes a real threat. Suddenly things get worse for Miuk as the ice below his feet cracks! Will he fall into the icy Arctic waters?!

Back at the village food is scarce and the people have gathered to discuss their options. The speaker proclaims that "Taboo has been broken!" and asks if he should strip his skin and go where no people dwell... to the house of Sedna, the woman who lives beneath the sea.

Then, without warning, the lamps all go out and the confused crowd fears the worst. They scream and in a claustrophobic panic the people madly assume they are being dragged to the bottom of the sea.

 But the speaker stops them by declaring that Sedna has been appeased! She demands they kayak to the furthest finger of land tomorrow to find rich game beyond their imagination!

The next day the hunters do exactly that. But they hear the screams of an evil spirit upon the water! One of the hunters says he recognizes the voice... it's his brother Miuk! He is floating on a small raft made of ice! Miuk is pulled aboard the kayak by Karlik just as a killer whale launches from the icy waters overturning the boat! Karlik plunges into the water but quickly climbs onto the ice raft where he found his brother. Miuk waits for the whale to approach again and readies his harpoon. The whale suddenly breaches the water and sends Miuk and his kayak into the air! But the swift thinking Miuk jams his harpoon into the sea beast... he has killed the creature!

The hunting party returns to the village with Miuk alive and well! He is reunited with his elated family and the village have days of feasting ahead of them.

Thus our first tale ends and we are treated to a page featuring a glossary of a dozen or so illustrated Inuit terms (like 'Aglu-seal's breathing hole'). Now we know!

The second story is a "modern" tale of the Arctic set in the '80's titled 'My Northern Summer Vacation'.

It opens with a teenage girl named Rita writing in her journal about their trip to Safe Harbour. Her father is Mike Madigan, a wealthy oil man and he is scouting for a place to drill. He is a real caricature of a Texan windbag jerk complete with white hat and cigar. Rita's mother Thelma is a photographer who is excited to get some shots of the landscape and wildlife. Rita is a new wave looking teen with her short spiky black hair and Twisted Sister t-shirt with cut off sleeves. I'm not sure why she's wearing a sleeveless t-shirt and no jacket while vacationing in the Arctic but who am I to judge? 

Rita is introduced to some of her father's associates including his employee Damon and Peter the taxi van driver who will be escorting them to inspect the drill site.

As they drive through town Peter explains how new houses are being built in expectation for the oil boom that should stimulate their economy. Once outside of town they van crosses the rugged tundra and with little signs of life to see Thelma grows impatient for something to photograph.

At this point in the story the banter of the characters reminds me of the way Paul Chadwick (amazing cartoonist and creator of Concrete for Dark Horse Comics) breathes life and realistic nuance into the cast with playful dialogue. It's really nicely done and gives the characters life.

While Damon and Mr. Madigan talk business Peter points out the understated beauty and faint but beautiful signs of life on the tundra including birds and small ground animals. Suddenly Thelma exclaims aloud that she sees a polar bear up ahead and demands they stop so she can take some pictures. Peter advises against it but Mr. Madigan offers him cash which quickly changes his mind. Dolla dolla bill y'all.

They exit the car and walk up to the ridge where Thelma spotted the polar bear.

Unintelligibly, they bring along a bag of food which promptly grabs the attention of the bear.

As he rapidly approaches them there are several panels of everyone running in fear overlaid with narration of facts about the polar bear. For instance, did you know "the polar bear is the largest land carnivore- bigger than the grizzly bear or Bengal tiger"? I haven't fact checked this but I'm inclined to believe it.

Rita trips on a rock and twists her ankle but her father speedily turns back and grabs his daughter. But it's too late... the bear is upon them! They smell his breath as they brace for his attack!

The air is abruptly filled with the unmistakable blast of a rifle and all are still as the bear falls dead. Peter has saved them but feels obvious regret that such an act had to occur. Mr. Madigan wants to keep the hide of the beast and offers Peter more money to make it happen. Peter solemnly states that bear hunting is out of season. He tells them the whole animal will have to go to the department of renewable resources.

But when Mr. Madigan offers him a job on one of the drill ships as incentive he changes his mind. Man, Peter would probably kill his own mother if the money was good.

We flash forward a few weeks to see the drill ship in action. Rita and her father are about to leave to head back home now that the job has started. As Mr. Madigan talks business with an associate Rita says goodbye to Peter urging him to visit her and kisses him on the cheek. Nothing turns on a rebellious teenager like a man who sells out his morals for cash!

The story ends on an upbeat note with Rita pondering how of all the natural resources in the north perhaps people are the most important. It's a nice thought but we all know that human life grows exponentially while we deplete all other resources at record speed. So Rita can keep writing her cheerful diary entries but we all know what future awaits the Arctic. And in case we don't... the final story in this comic is set in the far flung future time of the year 2014!

In this future world a variety of political, religious and scientific agencies have consolidated to form Second Genesis, a group who seizes power over the entire globe. Their goal is to free Mother Earth from the strain of humanity. There are chronic worldwide shortages of food, water and breathable air. Second Genesis believes the solution is to herd the entire population into giant starships that would orbit the planet.

The plan is put into action and all are forced to leave Earth. Soon the only humans left on the planet are a few stragglers who have evaded deportation by hiding in Canada's Arctic. But Second Genesis armored troopers patrol the area looking for the malefactors.

When they do round up a stray human the convict is detained and interrogated by Second Genesis who have become tyrannical in their ideology.

The prisoners are dubbed degenerates and eco-pirates for continuing to remain as parasites on Mother Earth and daring to wear the skins of animals. If the prisoners don't give up the location of other stragglers in the Arctic they are killed and added to the nutrient vat to feed the population in orbit.

Although there are some charged with rounding up stragglers who are less loyal to the cause. They feel like prisoners in their roles as Krusaders dedicated to imprisoning those who have chosen to remain behind on Earth. There is little such soldiers can do though as their armor is equipped with location trackers and explosives that Second Genesis can detonate if they sense the soldier has developed dissenting views and is deserting their cause.

Two such soldiers (including Zac pictured above) are patrolling the Arctic when they locate some stragglers who convince them to join up with them in their underground stronghold. The soldiers have heard rumors of such a place which is called 'Refuge'. A straggler explains to the soldiers that Refuge is not a hiding place but a state of being. Once they learn this way of being then Second Genesis cannot detect them. After some back and forth, the soldiers decide to desert Second Genesis and join them. Second Genesis scans the Earth from their orbiting starships. Finally there are no signs of human life on Earth! Second Genesis believes their goal has been reached.

But deep under the blankets of ice and frozen land the inhabitants of the Refuge huddle together and tell a story. A tale of the beginning of life on Earth. A time of darkness before words had yet been spoken.

The fox and the hare broke the silence by whispering aloud "Dark, dark, dark" and "Light, light, light" respectively. And because words had never been spoke before they were magic.

And this brings our adventures in the Arctic to and end.

I kind of loved this comic. It was infinitely better than I expected. Solid art and interesting color choices adorning three separate tales that intertwine in a thoughtful and cohesive way to paint a picture of life in the Canadian Arctic. Addressed are history, folklore, political and social issues while remaining engaging and entertaining throughout. Plus it is almost forty pages of quality art with no ads! What a damn fine comic!

This was apparently the only issue published but thirty years later New Arctic Comics was published in the form of a hardcover from New Renegade Comics  featuring the contents of this single issue comic plus some other stories by other creators. I have not seen that hardcover release but if you do see the 1986 comic in your local shop's back issue bin I highly recommend picking up this gem!

Here is my depiction of a character from each of the three stories (Miuk, Rita and Zak).

I apologize for this lengthy review but that was a giant comic book with a lot that had to be shared.

 Join me next month for what most likely won't be such a long-winded recapitulation. But then again who knows... I mean just look at that cover!!

See you next time my little arluks!