Category Archives: comic book

Batman: The Stone King

From his appearances on The Adventures of Superman radio show to the numerous “record/tape and comic” releases, Batman has always had a rich history in the world of audio dramas. The latest company to contribute to this legacy is Graphic Audio, with their series of adaptations of novels starring DC comics characters. Some of his appearances are as part of major crossovers, some are solo adventures and the Justice League of America dramas have him as a supporting cast member. Said dramas tend to focus on a single League member, although others argue that these are just JLA stories with a single member promoted on the cover. In this case, I’ll be looking Batman: The Stone King, based on the novel of the same name by Alan Grant.

Why is a horror website reviewing a comic book themed audio drama? Well, let’s look at the plot: a mysterious pyramid is unearthed in Gotham City in the aftermath of a dam burst. Said pyramid is filled with symbols associated with black magic. Needless to say, an ancient evil is unleashed and Batman is the only Justice League member left uncaptured as the entire world is in peril. Horror fans might also appreciate the interesting insights on the nature of fear that are sprinkled throughout the plot. Be warned, as there are minor spoilers ahead…

Batman: The Stone King, is definitely not something you can play for kids (like the above-mentioned record sets). People die (often in gruesome ways) and the gory events are described in graphic detail. Parents probably wouldn’t want the little ones to hear the flashback to two characters having sex, either. It’s nothing explicit (and only lasts seconds since the characters get interrupted), but still.

Although the idea of a non-powered superhero taking on a supernatural foe that managed to defeat the likes of Superman and Wonder Woman might seem outlandish at first, the story actually handles it in a believable manner. I won’t spoil Batman’s plan, but I will note that it takes advantage of the fact that the disembodied shaman needs a human host.

I enjoyed the way the Stone King is handled. Rather than immediately springing into action the second the pyramid is unearthed, Grant wisely chose to have the villain remain inactive until his chamber is disturbed. Similarly, the Stone King uses his powers to test each League member’s abilities before making his move. Even after he’s captured everyone but Batman, he doesn’t rush into his plan to “cleanse” the planet and instead makes sure everything he needs is in place.

Although the JLA does play a good-sized role and each member gets a “chapter” dealing with the Stone King’s test of their strengths and weaknesses, this is still Batman’s show. Most of the plot is about him and it’s his plan that ends up saving the day. Not having read any comics since the mid 90’s (and I was pretty much a “Marvel Zombie” then anyway), I can’t offer much insight as to the characterization of the heroes other than what I’ve gleaned from their TV and film appearances. Everything seems fine to me in that department. There are a few minor plot holes, but they’re nothing too major. For example, the old sewer Batman travels through at one point should have been destroyed in the major earthquake that struck Gotham (which is even mentioned in the drama).

However, there were other occasions when the seeming errors actually weren’t. There were times I thought “I don’t care if the Flash was caught by surprise, he shouldn’t almost get punched by a normal person” or “There’s no way Wonder Woman would have trouble handling a group of zombies,” only to find out later in the story that the Stone King grants superpowers to those he controls.

But let’s get to the question on everyone’s mind: how well does this work as an audio drama? After all, comics are a visual medium and a novel is already one step away from that. Some parts worked better than others and some aspects took awhile for me to get used to, but all in all I’d say it was a good ride. Graphic Audio’s “Movie in Your Mind” format is a hybrid of an audio book and an audio drama: A narrator describes the action while actors perform characters’ dialogue, combined with music and sound effects. Having first been exposed to the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth audio drama, it took me quite some time to get used to this. I suspect this won’t be as much of an issue for you if you have either only heard audio books or have never listened to audio books or dramas. I found that doing something else while this played in the background or listening while feeling a little tired made it easier to visualize the story. The music and effects were all top notch; I’d gladly pay for a soundtrack CD. Judging the voice acting is hard in the sense that the “right” or “wrong” voice for a character depends upon the listener. In my opinion, the only truly wrong voice was the one used for Commissioner Gordon, as it would seem more appropriate for a comic relief character. This is in terms of the voice only, each one of 27 cast members were great actors/actresses. I thought the voices used for Wonder Woman, the Flash and Martian Manhunter were great. I was unsure about the ones used for Batman and Superman, but I got used to them after awhile. However, if Superman is supposed to be an older, world-weary version of the character, then the portrayal here is dead-on perfect. The titular Stone King sounded very creepy and menacing, although the effect is occasionally spoiled in the (rare) instances when he briefly lapses into a vaguely Russian accent. But otherwise, he’s very scary. “Terrify your friends by suddenly turning off the lights and playing one of his rituals” scary. Do not let my attempts at being thorough fool you into thinking that I disliked Batman: The Stone King. On the contrary, I had a great time listening to it and I have far more problems with the sleeves used to store the discs than I do with any aspect of the drama itself. If anything, this release has increased my enthusiasm for audio dramas! Getting back to the sleeves, I wish they had included a hole of some kind on the top side in order to make it easier to remove the disc inside.

Speaking of discs, the story is spread out over six discs, with a running time of about an hour per disc. The long running time is due to both the drama being unabridged and because the company’s target audience is largely made up of people on long road trips. Speaking on someone who has been on many a long, boring vacation drive, this makes perfect sense to me. Come to think of it, I could have easily polished off a disc per day during my old commute. If the thought of swapping discs doesn’t sound appealing, Graphic Audio also offers both a single disc “.mp3 CD” version and an .mp3 download. I should also note that the multiple disc editions use CD-Rs, presumably to keep the cost of a multiple disc release under twenty dollars. They are not unauthorized bootlegs, as they’re licensed by DC Comics. These are professionally done CD-Rs with metallic tops and the title printed on them, so don’t expect some homemade job with stuff written on in marker.

I definitely recommend checking this (and other audio dramas) out and hope you’ll at least listen to the preview for it. Horror fans might also be interested in Justice League of America: The Exterminators, The Flash: Stop Motion and the upcoming DC Universe: Trail of Time (wherein Superman teams up with a variety of supernatural and western-themed characters, including Etrigan the Demon and Jonah Hex). Or for those who prefer non-comic book horror, there are titles like The Destroyer: Deadly Genes and The Demon Wars Saga.

Special thanks to Graphic Audio for the review copy!

Viva El Santo!

What better way to celebrate Cinco de Mayo that to look at the most famous luchador enmascarado (Masked Mexican wrestler) of all time, El Santo?

Born as Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta in 1917 and started wrestling sometime in the 1930s. He actually went through several names before he adopted the name we all know and love: Rudy Guzmán, El Hombre Rojo (the Red Man), El Demonio Negro (The Black Demon) and El Murcielago II (The Bat II). But this string of names came to an end in 1942, when his manager convinced him to join a new team of rudos (brawling, tough guy wrestlers, who sometimes act as villains) he was putting together. Rodolfo was offered a choice of three names: El Santo (The Saint), El Diablo (The Devil) or El Angel (The Angel). This team gave him both his name and trademark silver mask, as they were to wear silver costumes. The choice was allegedly due to the popularity of the Saint and the striking image of The Man in the Iron Mask. That July, “El Santo” was introduced to the world. He went on to form a tag team called La Pareja Atómica (The Atomic Pair) with the legendary Gory Guerrero (father of many famous pro wrestlers, including Eddie Guerrero).

The 1950’s were an incredibly important decade for El Santo. In 1952, he battled (and defeated) the Blue Demon and his tag team partner, the Black Shadow (who Santo unmasked). This led to a long-running feud between the saint and the demon, which was carried over in certain degrees when the two made the leap to feature films, with some portraying the two as enemies and others depicting them as partners.

Sometime in the early 50’s (the exact date isn’t known), he worked out El Santo a deal with publisher José G. Cruz that resulted in the creation of a long-running comic book. Instead of being hand-drawn, these comics used staged, live action pictures of El Santo (originally played by the actual luchador and later replaced with other actors). Foreshadowing the films to come, the man in the silver mask battled a variety of criminals and monsters in addition to his wrestling career. In fact, the comics eventually ignored the wrestling aspect entirely in order to show El Santo as a full-time super hero (unlike the films). And although I’ve only seen one of his movies, I’m pretty sure none of them had Santo praying to get help from Virgin Mary like he did in the comics. After he parted company with Cruz due to payment disputes, a bodybuilder was hired to be the new El Santo, complete with a “S” now on the mask. Not only was he billed as the “new…modernized Santo,” but pictures of the new mask (and/or new Santo) were inserted over the original in reprints of older stories!

The massive success of these prompted the film industry to get involved. In 1952, a movie called El Enmascarado de Plata (The Man in the Silver Mask) was made with the intent that El Santo would star in it. However, he opted not to and the film had to feature a villain wearing a silver mask in order to justify the title (as the replacement wrestler wore a white mask).

In 1958, wrestler/actor Fernando Osés convinced Santo to appear in two movies, Cerebro del Mal (Evil Brain) and Hombres Infernales (Infernal Men). However, Santo appeared as a mostly mute, non-wrestling sidekick to the films’ protagonist rather than the wrestling super hero role he was famous for in his other films. The portrayal of El Santo we all know and love made its cinematic debut in 1961’s Santo contra los zombies (Santo vs. the Zombies), which is known as Invasion of the Zombies in the USA. He eventually became a técnico (a highly skilled wrestler, usually a “good guy,”), a role that would define his career (both in wrestling and film). This spawned a film career that spanned over 50 films. It did not matter that his lines were always dubbed over by another Mexican actor, El Santo’s films were wildly popular. His time as a movie star lasted until 1982, the same year that he retired from wrestling (after reuniting La Pareja Atómica and-of course-winning his final match) due to health conditions. In 1984, he stunned viewers when he exposed his face during a talk show appearance. Be it in public appearances, wrestling matches or in his films, he had never removed his mask before. He died of a heart attack while appearing in a comedy skit that same year, and was buried in his famed silver mask.

His legacy is carried on by his son (one of his eleven children), Jorge Guzmán Rodríguez, who wrestles as “El Hijo del Santo” (The Son of Santo) and has appeared in several films (starring sometimes as himself and sometimes as his father).

Although many of his films have since gotten DVD releases in North America, the following four are the only ones (to date) that feature English-dubbed soundtracks:

Invasion of the Zombies
Samson in the Wax Museum
Samson vs. the Vampire Women
Masked Man Strikes Again (aka Santo Strikes Again in Canada)

The first three were dubbed by K. Gordon Murray who presumably changed the luchador’s name to “Samson” in an attempt to make the film seem less “foreign.” Until the age of DVD, those four movies were the only legal way for English-speaking fans to see El Santo in action.

Feliz Cinco de Mayo!
Happy Cinco de Mayo!

It’s Free Comic Book Day!

Ah, Free Comic Book Day. A day of free comics and special sales at numerous comic book stores that falls on the first Saturday in May of each year. 2010 marks the 9th annual celebration of the event since its creation in 2002.

Although past installments have carried horror-related titles and there are plenty of tie-ins between comic books and horror, but comic stores deserve our support for also carrying horror magazines, trading cards, models, DVDs, etc.

For more information, please visit the official website and its Wikipedia entry. That’s where we learned something that should be of interest to our German readers: they’re getting their own version of the holiday on May 8th!

Free Comic Book Day is Coming!

Don’t forget, tomorrow is Free Comic Book Day 2010! That’s right, comic shops all over America are giving away free comic books and having special sales on May 1st. Don’t miss out on this!