Rob Zombie’s Spookshow International #5, February 2004, MVCreations
writer: Rob Zombie
artists: Matt Tyree, Val Staples, Will Conrad, Pat Boutin, Kieron Dwyer
colorists: Kevin Senet, Michael Kelleher, Jeremy Roberts
I never thought I would type this: I enjoyed a comic book by Rob Zombie. Who is Rob Zombie, anyway? Is he a musician, a horror filmmaker, or a just some pop subculture phenomenon that we would’ve eventually created anyway if he never existed? I’ll confess, aside from the freaky commercials for his movie House of 1000 Corpses I couldn’t avoid a few years ago – even during TV programming as innocent as The Snorkels Visit Fraggle Rock, if such a program were ever made – I’m not familiar with his work. I don’t know if Spookshow International brings me any closer to an understanding of the man’s career, but I find myself enjoying this singular achievement, which may be what he wanted in the first place.
Spookshow International is ironically neither spooky nor international. In fact, this comic book represents everything that’s deviant about Western culture – ghoulish violence, gratuitous nudity, and gutter-mouth comedy. Somehow, Zombie injects these otherwise repulsive elements with a shot of steamy, cheesy camp, creating a Tales from the Crypt-meets-Stan Lee hybrid that epitomizes what comics would’ve been in the ‘60s had the Comics Code Authority never existed. Seriously, if Kirby and the Crypt Keeper had a baby, it’s Rob Zombie behind the keyboard of a comic book script; his sense of horror isn’t without a sense of humor, both self-depreciating and layered with subtle social satire. Yes. I’m still talking about Rob Zombie.
Enough colloquialism; time to split this issue like a frog on a hotplate. (Oh no! I think I’ve been Zombie-fied!) Zombie’s effort here isn’t a wonton display of blood and babes, as a first impression flip test of the issue may imply. Zombie has actually established a comic book universe complete with core characters and their respective complexities. (By “complexities,” I don’t intend to assert that these characters have any real Freudian depth; rather, antiheroes like Mexican wrestler El Superbeasto have consistent traits all their own, similar to Kevin Smith’s eccentric View Askew personas. The author created them with intent, however sophomoric on the surface.) The first of three tales in this issue features heroine Baby and the macabre Professor from House of 1000 Corpses pitted against the cranially gifted Mr. Brains McButt in a pop culture game show. Questions like, “Name the one hit wonder band who recorded the song Afternoon Delight” establish a contrast with the ghouls in the game show’s audience, a visual treat for pop culture fans of obscure trivial and obtrusive horror. Of course, in the end, it was all just a dream. Makes sense.
The following two tales star El Superbeasto, Suzi X, and Marvin the robot, who seem to be super-agents for some supernatural crime-fighting outfit. Speaking of outfits, in the second tale, Suzi X loses hers, earning the issue its “Mature Readers Only” disclaimer on the cover – if the crude language hadn’t already – as she battles a small band of mutant sharks topless. I’ll confess, as a mature reader, I wasn’t sure how to interpret this admittedly unnecessary nudity. As a kid, I’m sure I would’ve enjoyed it, flipping through these pages under my Smurfs sheets with my Bat-signal flashlight until my mother told me to go to bed. As the mature reader this issue targets, I don’t see the point. This isn’t a real woman. The artist isn’t particularly talented enough to distract me from the sobering fact that I’m reading a still life porno. Call me a wet blanket (which could’ve been the fate of those Smurfs sheets years ago), but this type of tale simply isn’t my cup of tea.
I enjoyed Suzi X’s second appearance more, as she stood steadfast behind El Superbeasto in a wedding gone terribly wrong. Surprisingly poorly illustrated by Kieron Dwyer – the only artist I recognized in the credits – this adventure pits Zombie’s terrible trio on the world of Vulcan, a move that must violate some copyright infringement law, but that also pits these obnoxious heroes in the midst of a tight-lipped horde of conversely rational creatures. Zombie has fun with this and the Star Trek jokes that result, which makes me wonder if that was his initial intention all along. With a caption that proclaims, “Well, kids, the geek factor on this issue just went up to warp nine. Hold steady, Mr. Sulu, this ain’t over yet.” You can come to your own conclusions on that one.
I assume that someone somewhere is a legitimate Rob Zombie fan, and that Spookshow International is the holy grail they’ve been waiting for. I don’t know how many issues this series lasted – I’m fairly certain MVCreations, which also helmed the Masters of the Universe renaissance, went belly up a year or two ago – but if each installment was as rich as this one, Zombie fans have plenty of material to pick out of their well-filed fangs for years to come. (The supplemental material in this book, like the El Superbeasto’s Guide to Picking Up Chicks, reads like a demented Mad Magazine sound byte.) These creeps know who Rob Zombie really is. Me? I think he’s a decent adult comic book author. Again, I never thought I’d actually type that. That’s the spookiest part of all.