May 18

COUNT CROWLEY, AMATEUR MONSTER HUNTER #2

Story: David Dastmalchian | Art/Cover: Lukas Ketner | Dark Horse | $3.99

Dark Horse not only offered this issue for review, but the previous issue and the previous miniseries! So I’m no fool; I read them all.

It was no chore, though, because I was hooked from the first issue. It hits a lot of my buttons, buttons I probably share with a lot of other comics fans.

For one thing, it takes place in the 1980s, so it’s a familiar — but rapidly becoming rare — setting for those of us who grew up before computers. For another, the main action surrounds a Friday night creature feature show starring a pun-laden host.

That seems to be an almost universal experience among older comics fans. Here in Memphis that experience was called Fantastic Features, hosted by local TV guy Watson Davis, who reversed his last name to become Sivad, the Monster of Ceremonies: Each Friday he would introduce the movie (usually terrible) with a slew of puns, and do minor bits during the commercial breaks.

And I ate it up, because not only was this before streaming, it was before Star Wars, and nobody was making good horror, fantasy or sci-fi movies. It was Fantastic Features, or something worse.

Here's the intro:

Which brings us to Count Crowley, the horror host of a creature feature at a “north central Missouri” TV station. But he's also secretly a monster hunter, part of a monster-hunting organization. The horror host thing is just a front for his real activities.

Not that we meet him. Instead, we meet Jerri Butler, the sister of the station owner, who is in the process of hitting rock bottom. She’s talented, we’re told, and had her shot at the big time in Detroit. That went south — we’re shown why, and it’s heartbreaking — and now she’s fallen back on her home town and into a bottle. A sad set of sequences show how close to rock bottom she is … or maybe she’s already there.

So in desperation, she fills in for Count Crowley, who has gone missing. As events unfold, they force her to sub for him in the monster-hunting business, too.

That’s really all I’m going to say, because the trip is more fun than the destination. Jerri Butler is pretty three-dimensional, and her supporting cast is well-crafted, too. The dialogue is terrific, the humor unforced, the plot engaging. And, of course, the subtext is Jerri's redemption story.

Then there’s the art. O, be still, my heart! I don’t know if it's actually without a computer, but it looks pre-computer, complete with competent use of the ink brush. It’s basically Marvel house style circa 1985, with hints of all sorts of artists peeking out: Jack Davis, Don Perlin, Jim Mooney, even Dan DeCarlo. I had no idea how much I missed pre-computer-age art, until this book.

The first miniseries is titled Count Crowley: Reluctant Midnight Monster Hunter. My only complaint is that it felt like it ended too soon, before finishing the set-up. The first two issues of Count Crowley: Amateur Midnight Monster Hunter finish the job, and finally get on to the main plot.

And I’m here for it. Recommended.

SHAOLIN COWBOY: CRUEL TO BE KIN #1 (OF 7)

Story/Art: Geof Darrow | Covers: Geof Darrow, Mike Mignola, Alice Darrow | Dark Horse | $4.99

I haven’t read the previous Shaolin Cowboy miniseries, but this issue was self-contained enough that I didn’t feel like I was lost.

The story is narrated by a couple of lizards — yes, they talk, and people can understand them — as one of them tells the other about how he met the Shaolin Cowboy, and how the Cowboy saved his life. It is a long tale, with more to come, involving multiple encounters between Cowboy and various threats.

The Cowboy doesn’t say much, but is well armed and great at martial arts, as well as more esoteric combat skills. This makes for great combat sequences, which is good, since that makes up the bulk of the book. It helps that he's in a world of all sorts of unimaginable animals and monsters, living uneasily with humans.

I say unimaginable, but Geof Darrow imagined it. Also, in no way was I ever lost, and the lizards’ dialogue is pretty funny. Top marks on the writing.

Which only leaves the art, also by Geof Darrow. I have seen his work before, so I knew what to expect: Tons of detail that is occasionally distracting but rewards re-reads with the tiny stuff going on away from the main action. Maybe I was just in a good mood, but I was more entertained than irritated by all the distractions.

I’ll be around for the second issue, if for no other reason than to find out how the lizard’s story ends.

 

I HATE THIS PLACE #1

Story: Kyle Starks | Art/Cover: Artyom Topilin, Lee Loughridge | Image | $3.99

Yep, this is the comic that originally had the NSFW title: F*ck This Place (without the asterisk, of course). The old title is true to the spirit of the comic, though, as the main characters cuss up a blue streak. But the title had to change, because where is a retailer going to display F*ck This Place for sale without calling down the vengeance of the Blue-Haired Defenders of Decency?

Anyway, yes: Cussing. And it’s called for.

Gabby and Trudy, two lesbians in a committed relationship, arrive at a remote cattle ranch that Trudy has inherited. Trudy is the cheerful, optimistic one of the pair; she thinks they can stay at the ranch until the actual pros who work there raise and sell off the last of the herd, then they can sell the land and live on easy street. Gabby, who was apparently raised by survivalists and packs a LOT of guns, isn’t so sure.

It turns out that Gabby’s pessismism was on the money. The ranch is haunted, and that’s not the half of it. The duo discover a soundproofed room with a bajillion video tapes, and they quickly discover its use. Trudy gets touched by a ghost while outside, and is teleported a distance away. She runs in the house, where apparently the ghosts can’t enter, but they cause such a ruckus that Gabby and Trudy retreat into the soundproofed room. On the way they see a message from Brodie, the in-house ghost.

And it gets worse. In the Quiet Room they find a video tape from the previous owner, who describes their predicament. They can’t leave. And it’s not just ghosts, you see, but UFOs, various types of monsters and, as the text piece tells us, every kind of horror story the author can imagine. There’s even a serial killer who shows up as part of the crew. The video tape describes the “rules” (Example: “Don’t let the ghosts touch you.”) that may allow them to survive.

It’s an awesome premise, and the cussing is well-deserved.

I would give the book an enthusiastic recommendation, except I found the art rather ugly and sometimes out of proportion. But art is a matter of taste, so it may not bother you as much.

 

THE FOX: FAMILY VALUES ONE-SHOT

Script: Dean Haspiel, Vito Delsante, Alex Toth | Art: Dean Haspiel, Richard Ortiz, Alex Toth, Matt Herms, Jack Morelli | Covers: Dean Haspiel, George Caltsoudas | Archie | 32 pages | $3.99

Of all the attempts to revitalize the 1940s MLJ superheroes, the current version of The Fox is the only one that has worked for me. (Although technically the current Fox is the son of the original, not that you could notice.)

Mark Waid and Dean Haspiel took a generic costumed acrobat from the Golden Age and gave him a sort of super-power that also serves as a raison d’etre. Journalist Paul Patten pretends to become The Fox “to get the story,” but as his son notes, “what if the story is trying to kill you?” Because the real reason Paul Patten becomes The Fox is because he is a “Freak Magnet” — weird things (usually in the form of supervillains) attack him, and he has to fight back to survive. Hence becoming The Fox.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that whatever cosmic alignment creates Paul’s problem invariably offers a solution, and Paul just has to notice it. That’s how a costumed acrobat always ends up winning, even against super-powered antagonists: He just flows with, ahhhhh … let’s call it The Force.

Waid is no longer part of the picture, but Haspiel is ably filling both writer and artist niches. He handles two stories in this one-shot, “Mid-Life Pisces” and “Back to Back.” The former gives all three members of the Fox family (Fox, She-Fox and their son, Ghost Fox) a chance to shine. The latter is a flashback to just before Paul marries Mae (and sorta explains why she goes through with it).

A third story is a reprint of an Alex Toth Fox effort from the ‘80s, and yes, it is the highlight. (Sorry, Dean.) But it rounds out a nice package.

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SHAOLIN COWBOY: I am a pretty big fan of the Shaolin Cowboy and have been ever since his debut. He was even killed at the end of one mini-series, yet came back to life in the next. Can you believe it? 

I HATE THIS PLACE: I Almost bought the F*ck this Place version but ultimately gave it a pass. (When's Die! Die! Die! coming back? Ever?)

THE FOX: Another one I almost bought. I looked for it the week it shipped )or was supposed to have) but didn't see it.

I may have to get the previous Shaolin Cowboys then. This issue didn't really tell me much about who he is or why the world is such a mess. Do the others?

Well, no, not really. They're heavy on action and heavy on detailed artwork. Problem is, my various mini-series are scattered among at least three boxes. I've been meaning to take the time to bring them all together. Maybe now is the time to do that. I do think you should get the previous series, though. (Everyone who likes a good rollickin' comic book should.) Maybe there's a collection in the works. If there's not, there should be. 

My horror host was in the early 70s. I was an adult by then, but Seymour was a kick. He showed up at one of the early San Diego Cons. Here's his Wikipedia article:

Larry "Seymour" Vincent - Wikipedia

This is long but worth watching:

The Retro Time Machine - Larry "Seymour" Vincent - YouTube

I gathered my various Shaolin Cowboy series together for a potential re-read. Not including the new series, only 15 issue s were published in 13 years. They always seen to come out when I least expect them... and when I do expect them they don't come out! The first series started in 2004 from Burlyman Comics as a bimonthly. It debuted alongside Doc Frankenstein, the two together being two of my favorite comics of the 2Ks. Shaolin Cowboy started as a bimonthly, but six months passed between issues #3 and #4, six between #4 and #5 and, although only two months passed between #5 and #6, eleven  passed between #6 and #7. That issue ended with, "Wait wait... It's not over yet... or is it?" (Incidentally, the indicia listed these seven issues as volume 54.) 

It turned up next, six years later (2013) from Dark Horse. Dark Horse must have required that the entire series be in the can before they put it on the schedule because these four issues shipped on time. The main character was killed in the last issue and, as happy as I had bee to see him back, I never expected to see him again. Four years later he returned, again from Dark Horse, in the four-issue series "Who'll Stop the Reign?" which again shipped on time. This brings us up to 2017. Skip ahead again another five years to 2022 and the beginning of "Cruel to Be Kin." That brings the total up to 16 issues in 18 years.

Because of the Shaolin Cowboy's sporadic and erratic publishing history, I've never sat down to reread it, but maybe it's about time I do. I'm confident the seven issues of this series will ship on time (provided they're all in the can). If so, that will bring the total up to 22 issues in 18 years. 

I looked for The Fox, too, based on your review, but didn't see it! I'll continue to keep my eye out for it.

It looks like Dark Horse has released TPB and HC versions of their first three Shaolin Cowboy miniseries, subtitled Shemp Buffet, Start Trek and Who'll Stop the Reign? The original seven-issue Burlyman series seems to have only been collected once, by Burlyman, in TPB, in 2014. I don't know how many of these are available; Amazon only lists one HC (Shemp Buffet).

If DH ever releases an omnibus, I'll snap that up.

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