Thursday, June 28, 2007

Strange Galaxy #8

Strange Galaxy #8, February 1971, Eerie Publications

The A Comic A Day project has been an incredibly challenging undertaking, not so much because I’ve had to read and review a comic book every day for a year despite my sometimes busy schedule. I initiated this blog under the presumption that I was reading a comic book every day anyway, so why not just read one I’d never had before and chronicle my thoughts about it? Of course, venturing out of my own collection in search of different and eclectic books was the scary part, assuming I’d inevitably encounter issues and even genres I just wouldn’t like. The “comic book magazine” was one of those gambles. If my experience could be likened to an astronaut’s launch into the unknown, these magazines were strange galaxies, indeed.

Yet I enjoyed each and every one of them. From the Epic Illustrated I reviewed on the second day of this project to the Heavy Metal issue I read around Christmastime, each book has offered a variety of storytelling and artistic techniques I never would’ve experienced before. These anthologies are proof that the length of a comics story doesn’t matter in the face of a dynamic concept and stylized illustration, and further that these shorts can be combined to create a sampling of what any given genre or era has to offer. Today’s issue, Strange Galaxy #8, features seven stories about space and death, both respectively dark abysses that pose introspective and exploratory inquiries about the unknown. Just as these anthologies show us more about the comics medium, these questions reveal more about the nature of man. Strange Galaxies therefore is evidence of both phenomena!

The best way to review this magazine is by breaking it down by story, with a brief synopsis and review, as follows:

The Unknown: When a band of astronauts venture into space, they’re overwhelmed by the experience and driven to madness perceiving the stars and planets in the same visual dimension as from Earth; Mars looks like a tennis ball, and Jupiter, a balloon! The concept is a laughable one but presented with a psychological, thrilling succinctness – a perfect first story for a book with a title like Strange Galaxy. Also, the art in this story was brilliant, and it reminded me of today’s Eric Powell. Dark and dramatic, this tale might’ve actually dissuaded an entire generation from the youthful hopes of becoming an astronaut!

Planet of Horror: Another tale of interstellar exploration, this yarn depicts a band of “glory hunters” in pursuit of a long lost scientist, and when they find him leading a utopian society, he brainwashes them into remembering a horrific experience and sends them home in the hopes not to be disturbed again. Unfortunately, their boss hid cameras in their equipment and discovers the truth, only to fall by the scientist’s laser gun. This story could be a contemporary analogy for international invasion, simply elevated to a cosmic scale, so I appreciated its suspense and vitality.

Space Monsters: Has a story ever had a clearer title? Yes, heroic astronaut Don Benton and a hapless tagalong reporter face an army of space monsters under the mind control of a large radiated brain, and when Benton fashions a lead helmet for the brain’s capturers, they defeat the gray matter and escape. This adventure starts strong but jumps the shark in its brief eleven pages, still providing a rollicking good time for readers. Again, the art was definitive of this genre and era, beautiful to behold though a little stiff for its correspondingly melodramatic narrative. The panel of Captain Benton fighting like a “trapped canal cat” leaves something to be desired . . .

But not as much as The Moon is Red, a parable about a lunar colony struggling to achieve political vitality. Clearly the weakest in production, this story has the strongest potential, but something holds it back from achieving the reverence of the other three space adventures. Perhaps I was merely lost in its lofty study of an early civilization, in this case tainted by alien despots, and coupled with the torrent love affair of its future king and queen. Too many threads for an already high concept plot, is all. Still, the weakest of this anthology is still compelling by today’s standards, a fun, pulpy space epic.

The last three tales in this magazine take a macabre twist starting with Voodoo Doll, in which a professor of the supernatural acquires some voodoo clay from a forbidden grave in Haiti, and, despite his self-imposed logic, begins using it toward his own ends, killing “enemies” in his realm of academia. Of course, this strange tale takes a Monkey’s Paw turn when the prof’s admiring son makes a doll of his father with the clay, and though the professor locks it in a safe to assure his safety, he ends up suffocating as if he were imprisoned himself. This is a plot truly deserving of a Twilight Zone episode.

Flaming Ghost and Terror of the Dead are similar in that they embrace the supernatural with little explanation behind their climatic, frightening anomalies. For example, in Flaming Ghost, a jealous mortician burns his potentially cheating (but not really) wife alive, and when he taunts her ashes, she arises from the urn in a skeletal form to throw hubby in the flames for a taste of his own medicine. What befuddles me most is how such a human-sized skeleton could squeeze out of an urn, but if this story teaches us anything, it’s not to underestimate the dead.

Likewise, in Terror of the Dead, a gravedigger gruesomely collects the dead, vilest parts of his tormentors, like the tongue of the town gossip or the torso of the high school football star. Unfortunately, when the digger’s unrequited love is mistaken for dead, put in his care only to arise and reject, then murdered by his hand only to tell her fellow corpses about the creep’s injustices against them, these body parts form a strange Frankenstein-like uber-bully and effortlessly kill him. I liked these tales, but since Voodoo Doll had a mystical methodology behind it, I had a hard time embracing this “strangeness for strangeness’ sake” style. Then again, this mag isn’t called Strange Galaxy for nothing.

Although the A Comic A Day challenge will be complete by the time I venture to the San Diego Comic Con this year, I’ve resolved to seek out more anthologies like this there. I may not be reviewing them for public consumption, but the point of this project was to expose myself to new things. What would be the point if I didn’t stick to these new interests? What would be the point of venturing into a strange galaxy if one didn’t intend to stay there awhile, no matter how many monsters or ghosts lurked around the corner?

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