Mission Arizona, the graphic novel from indie publisher Mirror Comics, recently came out on ComiXology. I already had a paper copy and loved this take on the weird western (like the dark weird westerns Buried Eyes by Lavie Tidhar or A Feast for Dust by Gemma Files), but I knew less about making comics or the changes in the comic book industry with e-comics sites like ComiXology, so I decided to chat with Mirror. Dominic Bercier is the president and publisher (and artist of Mission Arizona), while Kristopher Waddell is the editor-in-chief and co-publisher (and the writer of Mission Arizona). Both live in Ottawa, Canada.
Mission Arizona is a dark weird western about an old west town that has an unpleasant crossing with the supernatural world. Its outlaw hero is destined, by fate and birth, to face this supernatural evil.
Derek: Where does Mission Arizona come from? It’s got a bit of a spaghetti western feel, overlaid with the destiny of facing off against a terrible evil, but begins with a travelling showman sequence. How did these different flavors make it into the mix?
Kris: My interest in writing in this genre came from my childhood experiences watching old Roy Rogers and Gene Autry westerns with my Dad. Horror has always interested me because I’m fascinated by the abject, and our culture’s obsession with fearing the other. It probably doesn’t help that I watched Nightmare on Elm Street, Jaws and Alien at a very young age.
In Mission, I really wanted to explore loss and redemption. Padre Martin Risk loses his wife and child, Samuel Risk loses his home and his family, while the town of Mission loses its soul. I wanted to write about the struggle and the consequences of dealing with loss, and the protagonist’s fight for redemption.
“Tympani” by Dan Barry was serialized by King Features Syndicate from April 27 to July 9, 1955. The strip gets underway with Flash returning to Earth and taking Dale out to enjoy a symphony orchestra concert. Dale’s hair has reverted to its classic look, happily. The concert goes awry when the orchestra launches into a piece and the audience is deafened by the cacophonous sound.
Taking to the streets, they discover every car horn in the city is going off causing accidents and traffic jams. The situation spreads over the globe with factory whistles going off, sonar jamming, rockets misfiring, etc. Soon train accidents cripple the food industry and fuel truck accidents leave people without heat in winter. Dr. Zarkov is busy researching sound vibrations to try to get to the root of the problem that has threatened civilization.
“The Trail of the Vulke” by Dan Barry was serialized by King Features Syndicate from February 7 to April 26, 1955.
This is an interesting tale that sees Barry re-examining two of his favorite themes — myths and religious fanaticism.
The story kicks off with Flash driving up to Dale’s house for a dinner date and finding her home dark. Warily, he enters the house and Barry shows us menacing shadowy figures watching from the window in the front room.
It turns out to be a surprise birthday party for Flash thrown by Dale and the Space Kids. Improbably, they have arranged the rental of a rocketship from the Space Academy to allow Flash and the Space Kids to travel to Zoriana and pay a visit to Cyril and Mr. Pennington. Barry gets some mileage out of portraying Flash as henpecked and having to ask Dale permission to have an adventure. In no time at all, Flash and the boys are off to the stars and arrive on Zoriana in due course.
“The Martian Baby” by Dan Barry was serialized by King Features Syndicate from November 15, 1954 to February 5, 1955.
The story gets underway in another tranquil setting with Flash and Dale enjoying a picnic in the country (Dale is supporting a very short, but stylish new haircut) only to have their peaceful interlude disturbed by a flying saucer that buzzes them so closely they are forced to run for cover. The saucer lands and reveals its occupant is a Martian baby crying for its mother.
The baby is far heavier than it appears, absorbs all moisture (staying dry during rain), and munches away happily on flowers. Apart from that, the little tyke with the Mohawk seems human. While Dale’s maternal instincts quickly come to the fore, another saucer appears and obliterates the baby’s ship with a death ray beam. Flash, Dale, and the baby seek shelter in the woods. Dan Barry gives readers a glimpse of the exotic and beautiful alien female piloting the saucer and immediately diffuses the threat in accordance with the gender politics of the 1950s.
“Peril Park” by Dan Barry was serialized by King Features Syndicate from August 31 to November 13, 1954. I’ve begun to develop a fondness for Barry’s rather unique take on the character. He is a far cry from Alex Raymond, but his version is not without charm and these early 1950s strips did much to influence the Flash Gordon television series of the fifties.
“Peril Park” opens with a tranquil scene of Flash and Dale enjoying a summer day boating on the lake when Flash discovers a message in a bottle. The twist is that the message was written 600 years in the future by a woman called Elda who claims to be held captive on an island in the very lake where Flash and Dale are relaxing.
Dale is eager to let the matter lie, but Flash cannot and, with Dr. Zarkov’s help, he whisks forward six centuries via the time-space projector in Zarkov’s lab. The time travel scenes are rendered in a highly inventive fashion that suggests an influence on the trippy astral projection art pioneered by Steve Ditko on Marvel’s Doctor Strange a decade later.
It is the time of year for presents. If you celebrate Hanukkah, I’m late on giving you any gift ideas, but for people rushing to get gifts for friends in the next few days, here are a few last minute gift ideas. Do you know someone who loves interactive fiction? Someone who digs webcomics? If you’re shopping for someone who would rather have a digital gift than a package to open, you might encounter some gifting hurdles — but it can be done!
I’ve already mentioned some games I like in this column, so anything I’ve already spotlighted is something I recommend. Here are a few games I’m planning to cover in upcoming posts:
Today’s just released Choice of Deathless by fantasy author Max Gladstone is an awesome mix of corporate espionage and demon fighting. I got to playtest this one (disclosure: Max is in my fiction critique group, Substrate) and I’ve already played it probably five times. I can’t wait to play it again. (Max is also the author of two amazing fantasy novels, Three Parts Dead and Two Serpents Rise, which you can pick up at your local bookstore or use the expedited shipping option from your favorite online bookseller to get them in time for Christmas.
Choice of Ninja is exactly what you’d expect: lots of martial arts, magic, and stealth, and your choices help decide the fate of two warring shoguns. I’m still playing this one (so author Katherine Buffington may have some surprises!), but I’m really enjoying it so far.
I had so much fun playing a real-estate agent for a haunted house in Gavin Inglis‘s short game Eerie Estate Agent that I bought his novel Crap Ghosts. The book is downloadable without DRM via Kobo, which means if your friend is local, you can buy it and load it to your friend’s device (or send it via e-mail) rather than muck about with online gifting.
Failbetter Games (of Fallen London) is releasing a tie-in 2D adventure game, Sunless Sea, available now for pre-order. Best thing about this one is it comes with a “gift” option right from the order page.
So how do you send someone a digital game as a gift? It depends on the device, but here are a few tips:
Marvel Comics’ long-running Tomb of Dracula series by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan was a landmark in the medium. The award-winning series set a standard in the industry that is still felt four decades on. Marvel shamefully squandered their efforts to turn the controversial monthly title into an adult-oriented comic magazine free from the strictures of the Comics Code Authority. A dozen years later, the duo reunited to revive the series for Marvel’s Epic Comics line, but this highly underrated four-part limited series was not granted the accolades or the follow-up it deserved. Flash forward to 1998 and Dark Horse Comics offered Wolfman and Colan a three-part limited series to reinvent the property for the up and coming rival in the field.
The only tragedy is that The Curse of Dracula ended up being another one-shot limited series, despite the storyline’s potential to be expanded further. Much of the Dark Horse series recalls the story and artwork in the Epic Comics limited series from earlier in the decade. The plot is equally complex and adult and the art pushes the boundaries to the edge yet again. Once again, Marv Wolfman is crafting a new set of vampire hunters and has Dracula rooted in the world of politics.
“Circea” by Dan Barry was serialized by King Features Syndicate from March 22 to May 29, 1954. This lighthearted story begins with Zarkov encouraging Flash to propose to Dale. Just as he starts to ask her to marry him, the gravity of the area around them is thrown off and Flash and Dale find themselves hurtling past the clouds while the oxygen grows rapidly thinner.
They recover consciousness to find themselves in a rocketship hurtling through space. They leave our galaxy and pass through a comet unscathed before entering the atmosphere of an unknown planetoid in a far distant galaxy. They are brought to rest through the skylight of a large installation perched high on a cliff. They find themselves facing a beautiful woman named Circea who has observed Flash from afar and become infatuated with him.
“The Lost Continent” by Dan Barry was serialized by King Features Syndicate from October 26, 1953 to March 20, 1954. This is the story where Dan Barry finally realized his potential and would serve as the model for his best work on the strip over the next four decades. His art and plotting are reminiscent of the classic original work by Alex Raymond and rank alongside Al Williamson’s later work as the most faithful interpretations of Raymond’s unique style.
The story gets underway with Flash, Dale, and Zarkov enjoying a deep sea fishing trip in the West Indies when they are caught in a hurricane. Their yacht strikes a bathysphere in the storm and is washed ashore with it on the island of Bimini. A panel on the bathysphere opens and Flash, Dale, and Zarkov enter to find a pair of Neanderthals who quickly suffocate in the open air. The dying Neanderthals manage to speak a few words in their strange language and Zarkov makes out “Poseidon” and concludes they hail from the legendary capitol of the lost continent of Atlantis.
Dale discovers a cache of gold coins in the flooring while Zarkov discovers a recording machine that translates thoughts. The device translates the Atlan language into several different languages including English through which they learn the Neanderthals were on a mission to flood the markets of the surface world with the cache of gold in order to destroy the world economy to pave the way for an invasion. The trio resolves to pilot the bathysphere down to Atlantis to sabotage their plan after giving the Neanderthals a proper burial on Bimini.
“The Space Kids on Zoran” was Dan Barry’s first Flash Gordon storyline following the departure of Harvey Kurtzman from the strip. It was published by King Features Syndicate from April 21 to October 24, 1953. The storyline shows the influence of Captain Video and his Video Rangers, the seminal series that was to the first television generation what the Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon serials had been to their parents. As the storyline progresses, Barry incorporates another Biblical parable, this time offering up a space age twist on the Christ story.
Dan Barry had settled into a more comfortable style with the characters that was recognizably his own take on Alex Raymond’s original work. This style would remain constant until the early 1980s. The story begins with Flash and Dale driving to visit Ray Carson, who has set up a club called the Space Kids at an abandoned site. The boys have built a full-size model rocket out of wood and spare parts that Ray’s father gave him. Flash agrees to help the boys that weekend. There is a definite switch to a more juvenile approach to the strip, with the portrayal of the kids more reminiscent of Harvey Comics than a dramatic adventure strip. The sight of Flash smoking a pipe as he surveys the youngsters’ work is also somewhat disconcerting.
From there, Flash leaves for a meeting with aeronautics industrialist, J. B. Pennington, who is employing Ray’s dad to build a rocket and has hired Flash to fly it. Pennington is the stereotypical capitalist authority figure. He is dismissive of his employees and unloving to his young son, Cyril. Flash’s contemptuous attitude is meant to endear him to the young readers of the strip more than it is to offer social criticism as the generation gap becomes one of the major themes of the storyline.