The Synergy of Science Fiction and Horror: the lost potential of “Event Horizon”.

The Synergy of Science Fiction and Horror: the lost potential of “Event Horizon”.
                The film “Event Horizon” was on television over the weekend. I saw it in the theater when released in 1997 and I wondered if it was really as laughably bad as I remembered it.
                Time has mellowed my opinion of it. It wasn’t bad.  It wasn’t good either, but it wasn’t bad.
                Some of the movie’s worst crimes mellowed on the small screen; by that I mean the cheap scare tactics weren’t as bad when not amplified. When I left the theater in 1997 I told my friend (and fellow movie-attendee) Jon, “Next time let’s save some money. Instead of paying to see this movie, we should just randomly startle each other every two or three minutes and achieve the same effect.”
                This led throughout the night and the next week or so with our conversations peppered with the following routine.
                That was the total sum of the scariness of “Event Horizon” – build-up, build-up, build-up, soundtrack getting more and more ominous … and then … and then …
                The music stopped, the character’s fear was unfounded. The strange thingie he thought was approaching him was … nothing. Sigh of relief.
                Boo!  Oh no! The thingie attacks!
                Actual scene – Sam Neil hears his dead wife’s voice. The lights fade in and out. “Sara?” Lights on, Sam is on the right of the screen. Lights go out. Lights go on. Sam is still alone. Music swells.
                “Get it over with!” I shouted.
                Lights go up. Nothing. He turns to his right. Oh no! The ghost of his dead wife is to his right, not left! Music swells! He screams! The horror! The horror!
                A member of an as-yet-undiscovered tribe in the Amazon would see that coming. And the movie is filled with this tactic.
                I still dislike the movie despite the amazing cast. Sam Neill, Lawrence Fishburne, Kathleen Quinlin, Joely Richardson, Sean Pertwee (the son of Doctor Who’s Jon Pertwee) and a pre-Draco Malfoy Jason Isaacs.  Richard Jones overplays the black crewmember in all his token glory. He was the first one I wanted to go… Of all the shortcuts taken in this movie his was the worst. The other characters at least TRIED to appear three-dimensional. It was obvious the writers, producers and directors could not handle horror. They apparently can’t handle a black character that possesses dignity and self-respect either. The film made LL Cool J from “Deep Blue Sea” seem like Poitier…
                I was (and am) disappointed. With the right tweeking here and there it could have been a horror masterpiece up there with 1963’s “The Haunting” and perhaps even passing that OTHER famous scary sci-fi movie … the mother of them all … but more on “Alien” in a moment.
                Horror and science fiction fit very well together. It’s like peanut butter and jelly. Some like peanut butter with other things, some like jelly with other things, some like only one and not the other, some like neither. But you cannot deny their popularity as a team.
                Or compare it to two brothers who are identical yet a decade apart in age.  They go together even though at times they are vastly different.
                “Frankenstein” is arguably the first science fiction novel. If so it is definitely the first science fiction/horror novel.
                Of course, a movie or a book with science fiction elements doesn’t make it science fiction; no more than a book or movie with scary moments makes it a horror flick.
                If that were the case “Godzilla” and almost every monster movie would be labeled “sci-fi/horror”. They are monster movies. Some are very good monster movies, but not sci-fi/horror.     (“Deep Blue Sea” could be considered a sci-fi/horror film, but it was more of a monster flick…)
                Any sci-fi/horror blend has to be compared to the movie “Alien”. Isn’t that a monster movie too? In a way, but only in the way that a serial-killer movie is a monster movie. If “Alien” is a monster movie, then so is “Silence of the Lambs”.
                “Alien” had horrific situations folded in science fiction trappings. Want an easy way to describe it? “Jaws” in space. Or better – “Halloween” in space.
                But making it that simple misses the greatness of the movie. In “Alien” we have solid characters (not necessarily likeable one, which is important) and truly frightening and/or intense scenes. Hitchcock would have approved of the monitor scene. The alien is shown as an electronic blip slowly approaching the captain in an access crawl space. We see it coming and all we can do is what Ripley did, “Run! He’s getting closer!”
                It is good science fiction and scary as hell. The sequel “Aliens” is also a good movie, but it is works better as an action movie than a horror movie. That’s not a bad thing, but it does make a difference. You watch “Aliens” to be thrilled and cheer on the good guys, not to be scared or creeped out.
                The bad guys in “Event Horizon” were originally written to be an alien race. The movie-makers wanted to wisely avoid the “Alien” comparison and decided to get their horror from another vein. They went Lovecraftian.  The pitched it as “The Shining” in space.
                This is why I had such high hopes for the film. The few moments of true creepiness were overshadowed by “the startle” – the cheap way to get a scare (“Boo!”).  They should have let a horror writer come up with ideas.
                Ironically, Sam Neil appeared in one of the most genuinely scary movies out there – “In the Mouth of Madness”. A flick firmly ensconced in the Lovecraft/Stephen King mold. Plus it was directed by John Carpenter. That kind of fear-making should have been incorporated into “Event Horizon”.
                I’m reminded of an episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” called “Night Terrors”. The crew finds a missing Federation starship as a derelict with the crew missing (except one). They discovered that the crew of the missing ship killed each other and the Enterprise crew starts exhibiting the same symptoms – paranoia, violence and hostility. That’s the plot of “Event Horizon” too…
                There are moments when the “Star Trek” could have been horrifying. When Dr. Crusher was in the morgue with the dead crew of the missing ship, she hallucinated the bodies had sat up (the audience never sees the bodies move). She clenched her eyes shut and the scene pans out to show the bodies lying on their slabs again.  I waited for the next inevitable moment, but it never happened. The show moved on to the next scene.
                The bodies should have flailed.  They should have thrashed around while the doctor screamed her pretty red head off. A scary moment missed.
                That was “Event Horizon” – the scary moments were right there. Right. There. Ready to be exploited. But it went for the “Boo!”
                Or it went for the gore. Evisceration is not scary. The before and after, if done right, can be.
                A shame, really. Such potential. That’s why I still don’t like “Event Horizon”.
Copyright 2013 Michael G. Curry

Cover Charges: My favorite comic book covers…

Cover Charges: My favorite comic book covers…
               Recently Facebook pages and groups devoted to comic books have listed “Top Ten Comic Book covers” from professionals and fans.
               My friend Clyde and I discussed this topic one Saturday night and resulted in his blog post that you can view here.
               I stand by what I said. It would be very hard to do. But as I flogged my memory it became easier. I ended up with quite a long list. I could either go with comic book covers that have become iconic – Brave & Bold #28, Amazing Fantasy #16 and Action Comics #1 …

I could have gone with comics that I love as a work of art, such as this beauty – Batman #241 with
art by Neal Adams. It’s a comic I do not own, but is definitely one of my favorite covers. Wow!

               Or this famous cover from World’s Finest #7 from the 1940s. It’s another comic I do not own, but it IS one of my favorite covers. If only because it never fails to elicit a sophomoric giggle. Hee-heehee-


               Robin does look quite proud, doesn’t he?


               I wanted to do something more personal. These are ten comic book covers that made me want to buy the comics. Something about the cover attracted me enough to say, “Oh I’ve got to get that.” Some are iconic, some are beautiful pieces of art; some just pressed my buttons (in a good way). If a comic book cover is supposed to entice you to purchase and/or read it, these worked … for me …
               You may notice the distinct lack of Marvel comics. This is because I did not read much Marvel growing up. I got most of my comics for free from Sparta Printing – who printed National Comics (they officially changed their name to DC Comics in 1976), Harvey and Archie. So Marvel comics were only picked up in the grocery store.
               And all of the comics were from the 1970s. This was when I was a boy into my very early teens; comic book covers mattered more to me than they do now. I haven’t been excited by a comic book cover in many decades. Maybe older and wise, maybe not.  A cover may intrigue me but it is the interior art or story that catches my imagination. That is too bad, I suppose, but it helps keep impulse buying in check…
                Someone might say, “How could this cover excite you? It’s silly! Now Spiderman #28 – THAT gave me the willies!”  Really? Tell me more about it! I’d love to read your lists!
               So these are personal favorites only. Maybe someday I’ll do my favorite list of “iconic” or “classic” covers, but for now, this is all about me! Haha!
               These are in no particular order:
Superman vs Spider-Man: the Battle of the Century. 1976.  What comic book fan did not soil themselves upon seeing this cover? Even the house ads in other DC and Marvel comics brought a chill. It was this iconic cover with the words, “THIS … SAYS IT ALL!!” It helped that it was a rollicking good read that lived up to the hype! The cover was by Carmine Infantino (layout), Ross Andru (finishing and pencils) and inked by Dick Giordano – all hall-of-famers.
               Occasionally a comic cover lives up to its hype. This is one of them.
Superman #317. 1977? Neal Adams art. A later part of a multi-part issue, which was a better-than average story; so I would have gotten the issue anyway.  , but I was so wooed by the cover! An angry Superman!?  Wouldn’t you run away, too?
               Adams is a wonderful artist. Look at those muscles.  You can almost hear the cords creak as Superman flexes…
Superman vs. Muhammad Ali (All-New Collectors’ Edition #C-56). 1978. How can you look at this and NOT say, “Oh, I’ve got to see what the hell this is about…”. Iconic cover by Neal Adams. He was asked to redo this for a millennial-end issue of “Sports Illustrated” with the 20th century’s greatest sports legends. Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan boxed in that one. Babe Ruth was in the forefront. In the audience were Sandy Koufax and a legion of others.
Superman Family #182, 1978? Neal Adams art. Are you sensing a theme here? This was DC’s first “Dollar Comic”. A dollar? For a comic book? Yeek! It would blow the budget of any teenager, but I couldn’t resist the cover. The stories inside ranged from great to mediocre. Neal Adams draws Supergirl.  Ooo-la-la. Plus it had Krypto on the cover.
               You gotta love Krypto!

Marvel Team-Up #74. 1978. “Is this a joke?” Talk about a cover that

screams “I’ve GOT to get this one.” Art by Dave Cockrum & Marie Severin. A fun issue that never wallowed in silliness.

Justice League of America #137. 1977. Ernie Chua (Chan) pencils and Frank McLaughlin inks.
               Nowadays Superman and Captain Marvel (Shazam) fight each other annually. But this was the first time they shared a story – how could I resist it? It was also the first time they “really” shared a cover (earlier comics had Supes “introducing” Cap or their posters were hanging side-by-side, that sort of thing…).
This was part 3 of the traditional JLA/JSA team-up with Cap and other Fawcett characters appearing and fighting alongside our favorite heroes. It was the first time I had heard of or read about Spy Smasher and Ibis the Invincible – who have gone on to become two of my favorite comic book characters!

Batman #253. 1973
Mike Kaluta art (no one – NO ONE – would have been able to do this better).
Richie Rich and Casper #1. 1974. Artist unknown. Oh, wow! Together! Oh, WOW, said my nine-year-old self!
               The story was fun and the artwork well done. Surprised to see a non-superhero comic on the list? Me too. But I still remember how thrilled I was seeing this and reading it. Forty years later I still remember the entire series with fondness.
Detective Comics #468. 1978? It’s hard to believe this is the only comic on this list drawn by my beloved Jim Aparo, inked by Tatjana Wood.
               The Calculator! Over the past five issues this villain fought other DC heroes in the back-up feature (Green Arrow, Hawkman, etc. – all of them beaten and lying unconscious on the cover) and NOW he’s fighting Batman in a book-length battle! I was so excited seeing this cover when it came out! Great conclusion to a fun story line! It is in no way an iconic cover or a legendary story – but this youngster loved it!
Star Wars #1. 1977. Cover by the legendary Howard Chaykin, inked by Tom Palmer.
               Great cover as always by Chaykin, especially considering the flood of Star Wars comic art to come. But imagine the impact of this cover on this 12 year old kid …
               Star Wars? As a comic book? Star Wars! As a comic book! STARWARSASACOMICBOOK!! “Earl to Aisle 3, Earl to Aisle 3. We have another boy passed out in front of the book stand. Earl to Aisle 3.”
Oh, ok, one more.

Batman #291. 1979 or 1980? Look at this beautiful Jim Aparo art (I felt bad about only having one other Aparo cover on the list and this issue immediately sprang to mind…). Tatjana Wood again inked.

               The cover made me snap this up – only to find out it was part one of four! Rats! Even so, it was a great story arc. I wish it would be released in a graphic novel. The Bronze Age gets a bad rap nowadays and that is too bad. There were some wonderful stories that a lot of fans missed during that late-1970s era. This is one of them!
Honorable Mention:  Power Records, 1975. This is not a comic book, but dig the cover! Another Neal Adams classic. When I saw this album I had to have it! It took the Beatles (or my discovery of them in 1979) to knock this off of my record player once and for all. I still have it!
                If this were a comic book cover it would rank in any Top Ten!
 Honorable Mention #2 – the entire run of Marvel’s “What If…” 1978?  The whole point of this comic series – tales of alternate endings to the various Marvel Universe mythos – was to goad the reader into buying this anthology series. “Ooh, aah,” was often heard at the newstands when a new issue came out – What if Spider-Man joined the Fantastic Four? What if Captain Ameria had not “disappeared” after WWII? What if Shang Chi served Fu Manchu? What if Bruce Banner had always kept Bruce Banner’s intelligence? What if the New X-Men never formed? What if someone else had been bitten by that radioactive spider?
               Others will muse over “great” covers and “iconic” covers, but these captured by heart and imagination more than the others. There have been better covers – there have certainly been better stories on the inside. But just looking at the covers on my list brings back good memories.
               Isn’t that the whole point?

Hey Comics! Kids!

Hey Comics! Kids!
              The recent death of Robin the Boy Wonder got me thinking about superheroes and children. This Robin was the illegitimate love child of Batman/Bruce Wayne and Talia al-Ghul, the daughter of his enemy Ras Al-Ghul.
                My favorite comic book eras were the Silver Age and the Bronze Age, roughly comics released from 1956 – 1985.  During those eras, superheroes did not have children; with only two exceptions. The end of the Bronze Age saw the end of that – but more of that later. “World’s Finest” brought us the sons of Superman and Batman; and Superman and Lois seemed to have a super-powered kid every few issues; but these were imaginary stories (as opposed to the “real” stories), not canonical progeny.
                And during those years we had the adventures of Superbaby and Wondertot (no lie), but those were our beloved heroes as toddlers, not the children of an existing superhero.
                Why no kids?  It was probably because of the readership – oh, yes, some comic book readers enjoyed romance comics. Also, at this time Archie was always pining over Betty or Veronica. But to actually marry? And have a baby?
                No. Keep your reality out of my fantasy.
                Did we want to see Superman changing a diaper? Did we want to see Flash literally racing to the store to buy more formula? Probably not.
                The two exceptions signify the two extremes why such things did not happen otherwise in those eras…
                In the “Fantastic Four”, Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic) married Sue Storm (Invisible Girl/Woman). An entire special issue (an Annual) was made of their wedding. The birth of their first baby, Franklin, was on the blurb of their comic a few years later. It wasn’t an event on par with Lucy and Ricky’s on early television, but in comicbookdom it was big stuff. It was a superhero’s (and thus comic books) first baby. Every few issues the child was threatened; or he and his babysitter were kidnapped or disappeared. The stories always turned out well, but the easy plot devise was used again and again.
                Aquaman was not so lucky.
                He married Mera and had Arthur Jr. Sometimes Junior would be called Aquababy.
                 In the mid-1970s, some years after the cancellation of his own title, Aquaman was revived in “Adventure Comics”. The creators kept the cast intact: Mera, Vulko, and Arthur Junior.
                 Like Franklin Richards, Arthur Junior was shown at the beginning and ending of most tales playing with Mommy and Daddy or their friends/partners/sidekicks. But Aquaman wasn’t the Fantastic Four. He was a secondary character in a low-selling magazine. Writers could get away with things here they couldn’t elsewhere.
                Baby Arthur was kidnapped. Ho-hum. Aquaman vows vengeance. Yeah yeah.
                Aquaman smacks the shit out of Black Manta and opens up the pod in which Manta put Arthur.
                He was too late. Arthur Jr. was dead.
                What? He’s a baby! Well, a toddler. That can’t be. This is a comic book for chrissakes!
                That’s the trouble with children in comics even today.  I’ll be frank: putting children in life-threatening jeopardy should be off-limits. Isn’t it bad enough I have to see talking heads blather about the children of Sandy Hook on the idiot box? I don’t want to read about this stuff in my comics.
                Maybe I’m just turning into a crabby old man, but that’s my stand on that subject. Superheroes having kids can make for wonderful stories and great personal drama – but once born, leave them alone.
                Was the death of Arthur Junior done for shock value or publicity or a sales boost? Probably not. It was a second-string character in a second-tier comic book. The cover gave no indication as to what would happen. It wasn’t hyped in other comics in the line or other media (such hype was non-existent then anyway…). The next issue’s cover showed Aquaman in mourning at the gravesite of his son with a furious Mera in the background.
                As mentioned in a previous blog, death in a comic book is not always a bad thing. Most of the time, yes, but occasionally it can make for a great story. Arthur Junior’s death shadowed Aquaman for the next thirty years. It was even part of Aquaman’s legacy in the Batman TV cartoon “The Brave and The Bold”.
                By 1980 or so – the end of the Bronze Age – a child of a superhero was not such a rare thing.
                The Batman from the 1940s had a daughter. By the time we meet her she was a grown woman and fighting crime on her own as the Huntress. We saw more and more children of superheroes, but not as infants ripe for kidnapping. These were adults fighting crime on their own. Either flesh-and blood progeny, step-children or foster kids put on the cowl and became the next generation of crime-fighters.
                Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Hawkman, even the Atom all had kids. They formed their own group called Infinity Inc.
                This was all DC Comics. The other big comic book producer took a different tact.
                Their children came from the future – alternate futures. The comic book based on the upcoming X-Men movie “Days of Future Past” featured a grown Franklin Richards. Scott Summer/Cyclops has so many children-from-alternate-futures-who-now-live-in-the-present they could form their own comic book line.  He has five at last count – if you count the clone of one of his sons.  And why wouldn’t you count the clone of one of your sons as your own?  I managed to say that with a straight face…
                In the Modern Age – the past twenty-plus years – our comic book heroes have lots of babies. Franklin Richards has a sister. “Astro City” featured a story arc with superhero Jack-in-the-Box and his pregnant wife. And more and more superheroes find their children taking up the trade – the aforementioned Robin, Green Arrow has a son in spandex, so does Plastic Man.
                Yes, Plastic Man … I expect that was one satisfied woman…
                Looking back at the later Bronze Age, I wonder why they didn’t tinker more with the caped ones having children? Especially so-called second-stringers?  Hawkman and Hawkgirl/woman were one of the few married comic book characters around. They were married when introduced! Why didn’t they have a baby? Granted they didn’t have a regular feature of their own at the time, but it could have been done in the pages of “Justice League of America” or “Detective”.
                Same with the Flash. He and his wife Iris exemplified the white-picket-fence existence. Their parents appeared frequently, as did other family members. Kid Flash was Iris’ nephew. A child would have been a perfect fit in that book. Then again, they did (temporarily) kill off Iris at the end of the Bronze Age … I wouldn’t expect a comic book editor to be merciful to their child …
                I am surprised a young man didn’t walk up to the Silver-Age Green Lantern and say, “Hi, I’m your son.”  It could have been from the days Hal Jordan was a truck driver or an insurance salesman when he and his original/current paramour Carol Farris were broken up.
                I think they would have made for some great stories. But with “The New 52” rebooting the entire line, the Silver Age/Bronze Age characters and their characteristics are gone, perhaps for good.
                A son for Hal Jordan would still make a good story though – make him a late teen or older. The power ring could check his DNA.  The son could be the reader’s link to GL’s world. We could see it through his eyes.
                Jordan would have to hide his identity again. The son would look for him in the months GL was away on a space mission. Jordan could start to feel … worried? Is that the phrase? Fear? Me?
                The conversation with Batman would make for an iconic scene, especially with the slight animosity between the two (which is getting better – the subject of another blog):
                This could take place in Justice League HQ.
“Are you sure he’s yours?”
                “Yes, the ring (taps at his ring) and Clark verified it.  Well, see you at the next meeting, Batman.”
                “Here we go”, GL thinks. “Yeah?”
                “Hal.  Don’t give him a ring. Don’t let him put on a mask. Make him go to school, go to work. Make him get married, give you a grandson or granddaughter. Don’t turn him into one of us.”
                Trouble is, nowadays, within three or four years someone would kill him off. Or make him yet another Green Lantern. Or a different hero altogether. But it would make for some fine issues if done well; if they respected the characters and the genre.
                Aye, there’s the rub.
Copyright 2013 Michael G. Curry