Podcast - Episode 130: Superhero Makeovers


You know when a creator completely changes an existing character and then that character stays that way forever (for better or for worse)? We're talking about that this week.

No new episode next week. I'm gonna be in sunny Toronto! We'll be back March 21!

Things That Frightened Me as a Child, Part 9

This one ties in to two others! Madness!

First up, it's an EC comic, so assume that I was freaked-out at a low level from cover to cover. I'm pretty sure that this one had a story about people being forced to swallow starving rats, for example - terrific stuff for Grade Five Johnathan.

Secondly, this is a tale about a man who has cancer, and much like the poor kid from the Swamp Thing entry I knew just enough about cancer to be totally freaked out by it. Although if Young Me had had access to the future ladyfriend's pathology textbooks he may never have left the house again. Last night I both learned about a human organ that I'd never heard of before and saw a picture of one riddled with tumors! Huzzah!

This is the tale of a man named Pete, who has either the most or least confidence-inspiring country doctor I have ever seen. On the one hand, his down-home ways and easy explainations of such things as malignant and benign tumours probably make for a pretty good bedside manner, but the way he shouts out SPINAL TAP! BLOOD SAMPLE! in the second panel seems kind of like he's trying too hard, like maybe this is the first case of cancer he's seen in twenty years and he's desperately trying to remember the next thing to do.

I would say something about the doc completely overlooking the possibility of chemo or radiation therapies, but honestly I have no idea when they were introduced. I would like to point out, though, that the tumour is on Pete's forearm, and I don't hear word one about amputating the limb to save the Pete. Why is that? Do arm tumours metastasize especially quickly?

So Pete, bereft of any medical advice better than "go get ready to die," hunts up the local witch and makes what I would generously call a very stupid request: he wanted her to make it so that he would never die. The witch reluctantly does what he asks, under the caveat that he never, ever come back to see her again. Especially when he eventually worked out that he just should have gotten her to cure his cancer.

Folks, I want you to remember for me: if a witch or a genie or something offers you the gift of immortality, remember to ask whether you get to stay young and healthy the whole time. Pete didn't remember, and look at him now. He looks like a hamburger monster.

And of course things keep getting worse and worse as Pete is consumed by his disease. Which brings us around to the setting in which the doc is telling his tale: outside a cave that he and the local menfolk have tracked some sort of horrible monster to.

And that monster is Pete himself, now transformed into a horrific blob of all-consuming flesh. Which is gross on the face of it, but the really disturbing thing about this story, both in the early Nineties and now, is the fact that this is a monsterous extension of something that happens to people all the time. It doesn't bear dwelling on, really. Oh, plus they couldn't actually kill the thing. They just sealed it away in the cave, there to slither around in the darkness forevermore. So gross.

Uh, sorry if this one is depressing you like it is me. I'll try to find something lighter-hearted for the Halloween post proper.

Oh! On a slightly lighter note, here is the cover:

File that sucker in the drawer marked "Way to give away the end of the story on the cover, guys. Geez."

Things That Frightened Me as a Child, Part 4



My local library (okay, local bookmobile) had a copy of the first Alan Moore Swamp Thing trade, and by Gord that thing haunted my tiny dreams - you want to know the real reason that the New Guardians didn't work? It's because one of their members was an insane mass-murdering monster, that's why - but the stand-out performance in the field of Freaking Out Wee Johnathan was the three-part tale of the Monkey King.


For those of you not familiar with the comic in question, well, that's just sad, as this is basically exactly what a shared-universe horror comic should be. In brief, it's the tale of a shape-changing monkey demon that fears on fear and terrorizes the inmates of a home for traumatized children. It's an utterly loathsome thing, and that is compounded by the fact that it's a little bit adorable. And then quadrupled by the twisted tenderness that it treats the boy that it has adopted as its master with. And also it ends up fighting Swamp Thing and the Demon, which is one of the best ever team-ups.

And Alan Moore really delivers on the "takes the form of your worst fear" front. No giant snakes or whatever here, oh no. This thing comes at you as the existential fear of cancer, homeboy.  I cannot express how much better that is than the usual treatment of the fear power - I recall reading a book where someone's greatest fear was a villain who beat them up once, which is maybe valid, but sure as hell didn't scare the crap out of me while I read about it. Or for the next ten years, for that matter.

So yeah, the Monkey king was terrifying. Case closed. I read these books again recently and was almost as freaked out by the thing as back in the day. Thing is, I read a heck of a lot of books in between, so am in a position to recognize several other ways in which this story is awesome:

1. The secret origin of the Monkey King

Turns out that Kirby did it:

Yup, the Monkey King turns out to actually be something called the Kamera that Jack Kirby came up with in the original run of The Demon. And let me tell you: twice as adorable; almost as frightening. 

2. Speaking of the Demon...

As I said, the Demon gets involved in this story, and he's terrific. Even though the basic character design involves a brutal, beastlike head, I think that this is one of the most effectively inhuman versions of him that I've ever encountered. Plus Alan Moore writes rhyming dialogue that works.

3. Oh god, this.

This scene - in which longtime supporting cast member Matt Cable has been in a devastating drunken car crash and gets a visit from a horrible fly - freaked me the hell out in my youth, even though I had no idea what was going on. Since then, I've come into some knowledge, and knowing doesn't help. If anything, it makes it worse. Don't swallow your uncle-in-law, Matt. You'll only end up as a raven.

4. Best takedown ever.

The Demon Etrigan shows everyone just how to take care of a fear-powered demon monkey.

And that's why the Kamera will not be making any more appearances. Hey, if you have to go out...