Saturday, October 31, 2009

Reprint This! Scream!

Reprint This! is a periodic feature where I talk about some out-of-print comic book gems that are not available in collected form for readers to enjoy. This is hoping to let rights owners know that, yes, readers are out here, and we'd like to buy the things we can't get at this time!

Despite such an enormous variety of books available these days, and genuine efforts to present the material in reasonably-priced, archival volumes, there are still countless fabulous series from the US, Britain and Japan which are overdue for new editions. I've selected several titles which should be on bookshelves, but at this time are not.

When it comes to British comics, here at Reprint This! we normally talk about individual features, rather than entire anthologies where the material was first seen. However, there are so many missing gems from the entire run of the 1984 comic SCREAM! that, to be blunt, the whole enterprise deserves to be seen again. For fifteen issues, host "Ghastly McNasty" gave kids some genuinely memorable little frights in a horror comic the likes of which Britain never saw again.

Scream!, which warned readers that it was "not for the nervous!," was an anthology comic from IPC that used much of the talent from the publisher's stablemates 2000 AD and Eagle. Each issue presented a new installment of five regular features, along with one-off frighteners and a reprint of Graham Allen's silly comedy "Fiends and Neighbors," which originally appeared in Cor!! in the early seventies.

Many big names from the period were regular contributors. Apart from one-off stories brought to you by the likes of Steve Parkhouse, Barrie Tomlinson, Jim Watson, Cam Kennedy, Simon Furman, Steve Dillon, Look-In veteran Angus Allen and the late Jose Casanovas, every issue started with a really great Dracula serial, where the villain moved to England and carried on a war with vampire hunters. The Dracula File was written by Rogue Trooper's Gerry Finley-Day, and illustrated by Cursitor Doom's Eric Bradbury. The artwork was just gorgeous, and the story was a really entertaining rollercoaster of ancient curses, last-minute escapes and implausible shocks, huge fun from start to finish.

You also had paranormal investigation with The Nightcomers by Tom Tully and John Richardson, in which a brother and sister reunite twenty years after their parents died looking into a haunted house, and Terror of the Cats, written by John Agee and by Simon Furman, in which a small village is under siege by maddened housepets and feral strays. But the ones that everybody remembers are Monster and the gleefully malevolent Thirteenth Floor.

Monster has a little more notoreity, thanks to its odd, footnote appearance in Alan Moore's bibliography. Apparently, he was given the first episode to script, setting up a strange, really creepy tale of suburban horror. The first installment is told in flashback, as a young kid - twelve year-old Ken Corman - buries his cruel father, who was killed by an unseen resident of a locked upstairs room. The artwork, credited to "Heinzl," is a little pedestrian, but it's one heck of a great setup, and one of Moore's unheralded triumphs. The story proper begins in episode two, as John Wagner and Alan Grant take over, with much better artwork by Jesus Redondo. What follows is a little more conventional than what Moore promised, but still darn entertaining. In the attic, Ken finds his hideously deformed, superhumanly strong uncle Terry, locked away from prying eyes. The two of them go on the run, for an extended chase epic that lasted several months after Scream!'s untimely demise.

Wagner and Grant, working with Jose Ortiz, were also responsible for The Thirteenth Floor, in which a malicious supercomputer installed in a tower block "protects" its residents by using a hidden "virtual reality" holodeck thingy on its secret thirteenth floor to "put the frighteners" on anybody from the outside who's bothering them. Unfortunately, Max the computer, whom everybody secretly rooted for no matter how nasty he was, turned out to be really good at his job, and so loan sharks and vandals kept turning up dead from heart attacks. Max's next step was to hypnotize a resident into dumping the bodies somewhere away from the building, but both his programmer and the police guessed that there was something strange going on...

While Max himself, the cold, silky-voiced devilish anti-hero, was clearly inspired by HAL 9000, his strip was very much a product of its time, and hit that cultural milepost where films like Superman III, War Games and Electric Dreams were playing on the era's fears of early PCs taking over the world. In time, Max the computer moved on to other assignments, including watchdogging a department store and working for Her Majesty's Secret Service, and his bodycount dropped sadly, but it was still great fun. In all, the series ran for about four years.

While The Thirteenth Floor was a long-running hit, Scream! itself was not. A combination of low sales, upset mothers and industrial action at IPC saw the weekly comic killed in under four months, one of the shortest lifespans of any of these newspaper anthologies. Sadly, this wasn't a case like Thunder or Tornado, where the lackluster contents explained away the short run; every issue of Scream! just oozed quality. Officially, Scream! was merged with Eagle, but only Monster and The Thirteenth Floor made the transition. Max's adventures lasted into 1987, and Ken and Uncle Terry's continued for a few more months.

In 2007, a small outfit called Hibernia published a little short-run reprint of the first eleven episodes of The Thirteenth Floor, and that seemed to get a little talk about the strip for the first time in a while. What's really needed, however, is a straight reprint of Scream! in its entirety. The whole fifteen issue run could easily fit in one bumper volume. Even with advertisements, the package would be a little slimmer than a Marvel Essential. Do it up on nice paper and keep the original dimensions, and I think this is a worthwhile project. If somebody like Titan gets going with this, why, we could see it on shelves in time for next Halloween! Doesn't that sound wonderful?

Special thanks to Malcolm Kirk for helping out with some credits for this entry. Also, the Scream! fan site, Back from the Depths, is huge fun and includes a few samples of these episodes. Check it out, and tell 'im your old pal the Hipster Dad sent you!

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