The Comic-Format Kolchak Comics - Page 2






Shady Places (Issue #1, 32 pages)
Writer: Dave Ulanski
Pencils: Chris Marrinan
Inks: Keith Williams
Publisher:
Moonstone
Price: $3.50

Plot: Carl Kolchak is working a story in New Orleans about a company making and disposing of illegal fertilizer, but things take several turns for the worst - a plant monster crosses his path while a shadow creature is consuming the locals...and Carl is next on the menu. Carl evades the plant creature but finds himself infected with a "disease" that causes him to sprout leaves and turn him into a plant monster himself. With time running out, Carl has to find a cure and determine what lies at the heart of both mysteries.

The Cover: Apparently in the comic book format K:TotNS will have two covers, A and B. I ended up with B, by Dave Ulanski and Ken Wolak. It's a pretty generic piece with a rather skinny-looking Carl dramatically posed while zombies close in from his left, something sticks its hands out of a manhole cover in the middle of the grass to his right and down, and images of various generic-looking (and rather cheesy) monsters appear to his right. The new lettering of the title goes for a combination of "Tales From the Crypt"/EC Comics and typewriter-style, which looks a little...odd. Overall, a rather uninspired piece that doesn't give any indication of what's going on within.

Cover A by Monte Moore is a definite improvement - better capture of Darren McGavin as Kolchak and it actually relates to the story. Lots of atmosphere, although it's a bit too...well, "golden" to really convey the atmosphere of your typical Night Stalker episode/setting.

The Layout: Thirty-two pages. No internal ads! The back cover has an ad for Kolchak and other upcoming Moonstone comics (The Phantom, The Silencers, Moonstone Noir). Nice glossy cover stock with firmer paper then your usual comic book.

The Artwork: Chris Marrinan's internal work is good. He's not photo-accurate with the established cast, but that's not really a requirement. Still, his rendering of the regulars is a little off - Miss Emily and Ron are both a bit taller and skinnier then in "real life," but his Vincenzo is good. Carl himself seems to vary significantly between shots. The supporting cast is adequate and do have a fairly distinctive look - the old man, the murder victims, etc. Both monsters are suitably creepy looking. The inks manage to be a bit brighter then your average Kolchak tale, being set in New Orleans and all (a colorful city), while still being dark and ominous.

The coloring, on the other hand... Officer Charlevoix's hair varies between brown-gray, blonde, and black throughout the issue. Even over the course of a couple of pages, so does McLegis'. There's a reference to a "nice tooth" by Carl that doesn't seem to make much sense - I think the colorist forgot to make the old man's tooth gold or something. And presumably there's supposed to be bright sunshine coming in when the police bust in to "rescue" Carl but there's no indication of bright light or yellow or anything (this may be inking rather then coloring). Either way, it tends to muddle the ending when you wonder what the characters are talking about sunlight-wise.

And on page 16 of an unnumbered issue, they totally forgot to put a lettering box around text in the first panel, which means it pretty much disappears on the page as black lettering on a dark blue background. Whoops.

The Story: Unfortunately, the story itself is somewhat of a muddle. The "in media res" approach, starting in the middle of the action and with Carl narrating, instantly becomes awkward since he seems to be relating the story as the plant-monster breaks in. Then there's a brief flashback, then it enters, Carl tosses it in a closet, and the narration doesn't even break from panel to panel.

Even on the first few pages the story is a bit confusing. Although the nod to "The Spanish Moss Murders" episode is a good start, Carl keeps referring to the monster as "The Spanish Moss Man" or "The Spanish Moss Creature." It had a name ("Perelmafait"), and Darren McGavin was even able to pronounce it. I'm not sure if the writer didn't know this, or was just trying to dumb things down for new readers (who wouldn't understand the reference anyway). It's also the first sign that the writer apparently hates using names - something we'll continue to see throughout. Also Carl describes spanish moss as "rare," which it isn't, or at least depending on your location isn't rare. It's not rare in Louisiana, which is where he's at.

The first few pages also set up something unfortunate that we keep seeing throughout the issue - a high level of coincidence. Carl just happens to stumble on the plant monster (or it stumbles on him). He just happens to be staying in a hotel near the shadow monster's hunting turf. The shadow monster just happens to wander up and try to eat him in the story's finale. One wonders why Carl needs to do anything or go anywhere - everything comes to him. And he doesn't really do anything - both menaces pretty much resolve themselves without him chipping in. Kolchak is very much a passive character throughout. Sure, he runs an investigation of sorts and learns things, but he really doesn't do much with the knowledge.

There are just a lot of miscellaneous little things that bugged me as I read this. I'd note again that almost nobody has names - the plant-monster host or whatever, a police officer, and one victim. It's hard to distinguish the characters or give them much personality when they don't have names. The characters also for the most part seem oddly bland - if the Night Stalker series is known for anything, it's the quirky bunch of contacts, police officers, and general looney-toons Kolchak encounters, but there's little sign of them here - the old man who lays out the shadow monster story for Carl comes close. And only one attempt at a Louisiana/Cajun accent - "Spanish Moss Murders" set in Chicago had more Cajun-sounding people then this story set in Louisiana does.

Speaking of voices, Carl's narrative is a bit off. The use of puns is trite, both when Kolchak narrates and speaks. As Silver Bullet noted in its review, Carl's narration of the murders lacks the kind of factual time-place-name structure seen throughout the series. This just doesn't seem like the Kolchak we know and love talking.

The pacing is a bit odd - the bottom of page 10 gives us three panels of...well, nothing. Carl sits around and finds out nothing, and nobody says anything useful. Carl roams New Orleans for several days but never manages to report the monster in his closet (and wouldn't the guy in there have dehydrated and/or starved by then?). Page 17 gives us a brief cute bit with Ron Updyke but it goes nowhere and falls kinda flat without Carl there to participate. (more below) Also, Miss Emily never refers to Ron as "Mr. Updyke" - she always called him "Ron" in the series. Carl goes to both a doctor and a plant-nursery owner to investigate his condition, but again, nothing happens and the plot doesn't get advanced. At least in the show this'd be an excuse for some quirky guest star characterization, but we don't really get that either.

One other note on the office scene - what is it with Carl not investigating stuff in Los Angeles, his current base of operations? It looks like the next two Tales... stories also take place somewhere other then Los Angeles at least in part. What was the point of moving Carl from Chicago to L.A. if he's never in L.A.? This gives the issue a kinda of cross-country X-Files kinda feel, and part of the cheesy charm of the original series was that most of the monsters keep showing up in Chicago. Okay, various critics and writers have mentioned that keeping the series in one city was a mistake. Fair enough, but...if Carl isn't in the office, there's not much office comedy. And in part the TV show was conceived as an office comedy. The best stories that have captured the office feel and humor (particularly "Devil in the Details") kept the story in L.A. and gave Vincenzo and Kolchak plenty of face-to-face interaction. Chatting over the phone just doesn't cut it.

And the ending...well, again, kind of a muddle. Carl involuntarily falls asleep, which cures him. This is kind of an interesting reversal on the episode "Firefall" but it doesn't seem intentional and is way too easy here. Then the shadow monster just happens to find Carl, and the police just happen to show up in time. We never do find out what the shadow monster is or why it feeds or if it's supernatural or scientific or what (and of course, it's never given a name *sigh*). It's just...there. And the issue ends on a rather vague X-File-ish type note - the standard horror movie "The End...or is it?" kind of thing that really isn't standard Kolchak fare.

On the plus size, what there is of the Kolchak/Vincenzo banter is good (although Carl is usually a little more subtle then just hanging up the phone). The monsters, both of them, are spooky and the shadow monster's attacks are well-realized. When he's not saying stupid puns, Kolchak himself is in-character - he seems a little too competent when handling the plant-monster in the first few pages, but the moments of panic (like when he runs screaming out of the library) are all nicely in character.

The Future: I'm not familiar with Dave Ulanski's work - in the introduction page he mentions he's a fan of the series and he's got some of it right, but he really needs to review the episodes and even the issues that have gone before. Or assuming he did, do it again. And again. And not watch X-Files after he does so. Mr. Ulanski's also the editor, and in my experience a writer editing his own work rarely works well. Also, a few typos slip in ("sighn" instead of "sign" on page 7 panel 3, "microfish" instead of "microfiche" on page 15 panel 3 although this may be another pun). Mr. Ulanski's four-page "Mr. Nightmare" piece at the end here is...well, adequate, but I'm not familiar with the character and I found it pretty much forgettable. It does show some enthusiasm for the character that his Kolchak work preceding it lacks.

Unfortunately, the first issue of this new series in comic book format raises some of the concerns I noted when Moonstone started doing Kolchak stuff. I'm not entirely sure who would want to read this other then Kolchak nostalgia buffs like myself. You've got a good protagonist with Kolchak - a determined everyman who isn't a superheroic type, a two-fisted adventurer, or a cerebral sleuth. But there's nothing of Carl's uniqueness here. I can't imagine new readers would want to read a comic where 75%+ of the characters don't even have names, and where one of the main monsters just...is. No background, no origin, and can be destroyed by someone opening a door. The second monster, that can be "destroyed" by locking it in a closet, doesn't seem too impressive either.

At its heart the problem seems to be the new creative team - Joe Gentile, who worked on the series in its first incarnation, doesn't seem directly involved here and it's not clear what (if anything) Mark Dawidziak as Creative Consultant is doing either. The flaw here seems to be mostly the writing - keep the story flowing, give us some quirky characters if a scene doesn't advance the plot (and give them names, for Pete's sake!), work on Kolchak's characterization, and keep Carl in Los Angeles for the most part. The series at its best thrived on taking classic monsters and giving them a new spin (a zombie in a junkyard hearse), or creating new monsters with absurd amounts of back story and detail ("Legacy of Terror.") We don't have either of those here. Rather it feels like I was reading an X-Files comic - investigator outmaneuvering a nameless monster, traveling around the country, bizarre physical transformation, etc. Gives us more Kolchak elements and less X-Files episodes and it'll be a major step in doing a "real" Kolchak comic.




Kyrie (Issue #2, 32 pages)
Story: Dave Ulanski
Pencils: Chris Marrinan
Inks: Keith Williams
Publisher:
Moonstone
Price: $3.50

Plot: Despite his interest in a human/cat mental-communication story, Carl ends up in Seattle on Tony's orders, investigating the connection between missing teenagers and a cult. Kolchak ends up uncovering a major political scandal that catapults him into the spotlight, all thanks to the aid of a mysterious woman. As Carl's reputation as a reporter continues to grow, he discovers that fame and respect aren't all he brought home with him. Who is the attractive mystery woman who follows him back to Los Angeles? Now an overnight sensation, Carl must ask himself... was the devil in Seattle? And if so, where is he now?

The Cover: K:TotNS has the now-normal two covers, A and B. I ended up with B, by Dave Ulanski and Ken Wolak. it's okay, although Carl seems to be doing a rather precarious balancing act and the background is Seattle, although the majority of the story occurs in L.A. I have a slight preference for Monte Moore's work with Ulanski on the A cover - More has a bit more detail on his art and does some interesting work with light and shading compared to Wolak's more straightforward work. Ulanski's cover art is nice and crisp, however, and it does stand out on the cover stock Moonstone uses. Each one has its advantages, so to each their own.

The Layout: Thirty-two pages, comic-format. Page 32 has a full-page ad for Moonstone's "Moonstone Monsters," and there is advertising work on the inside and outside back cover. However, there's nothing to interrupt the story itself. There's also a editor's "Welcome to My World" column on page 31. Same sturdy cover stock with firmer paper then your usual comic book format.

The Artwork: Chris Marrinan's internal work remains good and he brings a consistent look to the art that suits the material. Unfortunately, it looks like we'll be losing him after this issue as Moonstone plays musical chairs with the penciller slot - this has plagued Moonscape's other Kolchak book. For both books, I'd prefer a regular penciller and Mr. Marrinan seemed to fit the bill. Hopefully he'll return with Tales... #5. Some of the darker shadowy panels had a "dark" feel to them which suits both Kolchak and the noir aspects of this particular story with Lorelei, the femme fatale.

The Story: "Kyrie" is a more straightforward story then some of Moonstone's prior work, which is fine. I can't say the general gist of the story was particularly surprising, but then again in the TV series you usually get exactly what you see ("The Trevi Collection" being the rare exception). There's a nice use of continuity, both to the TV series, Moonstone's prestige-format Kolchak series, and Issue #1 of Tales... The only thing I found a little odd from a continuity standpoint was any omission of the other two times Carl has been offered a deal with the Devil as it were ("Trevi Collection" and "The Devil's Platform"). That said, it's nice to see the Devil taking a more oblique approach to tempting Carl, rather then a flat-out offer as in those two episodes. Still, a refer-back might have been good, even if it was only in the page 12 montage.

The story flow is overall pretty good, although there's an odd little hiccup where Carl envisions/imagines an alien with a cat (on page 3). This peek into Carl's...imagination? hallucination? daydream? seemed a little odd. The dream sequence later on pages 19-20 fits in a bit more, and as Carl notes, it's well-realized as an actual dream with the gibberish dialogue and all.

The characterization is pretty solid - the Kolchak/Vincenzo relationship is there and it goes in a pleasingly different, if not unexpected, direction. Again, I don't think anyone is surprised by how the story turns out or how the characters relate, but to paraphrase another Moonstone/Kolchak title, "the devil's in the details" and the details here are interesting. Miss Emily gets some good material, particularly on page 18, although Ron doesn't have much to do this time around. We finally meet Carl and Tony's boss with the Dispatch, Morgan Slate. There's nothing really unique about him (yet), but it's nice to see a bit more of the organization that Carl works for. The Moonstone comics to date have kind of short-changed the whole "Carl in L.A. at the Dispatch" angle, relying on Mark Dawidziak's work in "Grave Secrets" without really referencing it or expanding on it. So it looks like Mr. Ulanski is finally getting around to working with and expanding Carl's work environment. Besides Lorelei herself, the only other character we get something substantial on as a potential regular is Father Lewis, a cigar-smoking rather sardonic priest who hopefully we'll see a bit more of down the road (see "The Future" below).

We also get more of Los Angeles, Carl's base of operations, this time around, with Seattle only a brief visit. This does rush the initial failed investigation and then the successful "assisted" investigation into five pages (and one page of that is a Carl/Lorelei conversation), but it does give the writer more time to do some stuff with Los Angeles, the Dispatch office, and the supporting cast (such as owner Morgan Slate) without resorting to telephone calls (as was the case in Tales... #1).

The story itself is solid, although I'm not sure if the final denouement with "Kari Ellison" is clear enough. I got it, and I'm sure many readers did, but it might be a little oblique to some.

The narrative is much more solid, without the puns and such from the first issue. it sounds more like the Kolchak we've heard previously, but...there's still a lack of the time/date/place/"fact" stuff used in the novels, movies, and series. While the narrative here gives some excellent insights into Carl's character, and the comic book environment and the longer-term plans can let Ulanski & Co. use the narrative to do a variety of things, I hate to see them stray from what Carl does best: narrate his investigation. Kolchak, as a character who has remained popular for 30+ years, is a guy who in his narrative uses cold hard facts to tell a story for posterity. Complete with personal insights and notations, sure, but the facts should still be there in the narrative.

There are one or two minor glitches - Carl is awake at the bottom of page 20 without anything on his chest, but a letter has materialized one panel later on page 21. Overall, the story is free of the typos that plagued issue #1 (and that Ulanski apologizes for in his column).

One thing I'm a little disappointed with is that as in Tales... #1, Carl doesn't do a lot of...well, investigating. In fact, the one investigation he does do is (unassisted) a failure. For a character who was voted Best Amateur TV Detective in a published poll of mystery readers a while back, Kolchak's track record in Tales... so far hasn't been too good. Granted, he can't be a successful detective all the time, but it might be better to establish him as a skilled investigator before showing him striking out and then needing help. The prestige squarebound Moonstone issues do this, but I'm not sure how much Moonstone is counting on regular fans to carry over between its two Kolchak series. As noted, there's definitely some crossover with Tales... to Moonstone's prestige-format series, but I'm not sure if it's going to go both ways, or how much Moonstone is counting on cross-marketing between the two.

The Future: "Kyrie" sets up some interesting plotlines - it defines the Kolchak/Vincenzo relationship more, and there are any number of ways that could go (and it looks like it will get more of a spin in Tales... #4 when the two investigate a haunted house together). I also have to wonder if Carl's newfound fame will carry over into future issues. There doesn't seem to be any reason why it wouldn't, and it's not like the priests he used his fame to recruit are going to forget him or anything. The aforementioned Father Lewis, a kind of Edward G. Robinson-ish sort of character, has some potential and there's no reason to believe the police in Seattle would forget Carl's help either. I'd hate to see Carl's newfound fame entirely dropped in future - even if he's not a celebrity every issue it'd be a nice bit of continuity if occasionally someone would remember and help him out.

Overall I'd consider Tales... #2 a solid effort and a substantial improvement over issue #1. The next two issues, particularly #4, look promising as well and I look forward to keeping up with the series and seeing if it continues it's steady upward progression.




The Creatures of Habbit (Issue #3, 32 pages)
Creatures of Habbit
Story by: Dave Ulanski
Pencils: Roy Frenz
Inks: Keith Williams
More Creatures of Habbit
Story by: Dave Ulanski
Illustrations & Letters by: Chris Burnham

Cover: Monte Moore & Dave Ulanski
Publisher:
Moonstone
Price: $3.50

Plot: Carl travels to Habbit, Oregon to meet with a beautiful young real estate agent who has an abandoned old house infested with flesh-eating little beasties. In the second story, Carl wanders into the woods to check out the story of Sasquatch, and gets more then he bargained for.

The Cover: I got the A cover by Monte Moore for once. It's a nice gold-tinted piece (which Mr. Moore seems to prefer) that captures the feel of, and conveys the basics of, both stories. Cover B by Dave Ulanski and Ken Wolak gives us a close-up on a creature from the first story with Carl's face reflected in its eye. Both are solid pieces of work that catch the eye while sitting on the shelf.

The Layout: Thirty-two pages, comic-format. Page 32 has a full-page ad for Moonstone's "The Silencers," and there is advertising work on the inside and outside back cover, but nothing to interrupt the story itself. There's also a editor's "Welcome to My World" column on page 31. Same sturdy cover stock with firmer paper then your usual comic book format.

The Artwork: On the first story, Ron Frenz art here bears some resemblance to Chris Marrinan's, giving a nice sense of continuity, but with a bit more detail and a little more angular. There's a nice range of facial expressions and he pretty much "gets" the Darren McGavin look. His Vincenzo is okay although in the one clear shot of Ron Updyke makes him look a lot skinnier and older then Jack Grinnage was at the time. The one new character, Lorraine Whitten, gets a good amount of detail work. There's an odd shot on page 11, panel 1 where Lorraine appears to be shrugging to the audience rather then Carl standing next to her, and some odd positioning - a panel later the two characters' faces are about 2" apart! Overall however it's solid work.

On the second story, Chris Burnham has a more..."shaggier" style, for lack of a better world. He tends to focus a bit on Mr. McGavin's rather bulbous nose, which is a bit more accurate to the actor a but occasionally kind of distracting. The closer facial shots are detailed enough but there's a sense of simplicity to some of the other panels. There's really only three characters here so it's hard to get a good assessment of the work.

The Story: "Creatures of Habbit" is a 16-page piece that is more of a character piece. There's some follow-up continuity-wise from Tales... #2 with Carl's brief stint of fame and his relationship there with Lorelei, and we see the contrast between the more "pure" truth-seeking Carl and the in-it-for-the-money Lorraine. Unfortunately the story relies mostly on the Lorraine character and how she comes across, and she's a bit hard to pin down. Oddly, Carl himself notes this a couple of times, but overall it's hard to tell if we're supposed to sympathize with the character or be glad she gets her (apparent) comeuppance in the end.

The story flow is overall pretty good if a bit abrupt - the story really just goes from Point A to Point B. The foreshortened length because of the two-story split doesn't help, but even so there's some seemingly unnecessary padding, like on page 4 where the first four panels don't really seem to do or convey anything. As far as Kolchak himself, and this being a Kolchak kinda story...it seems like a bit of reversion to the stuff I noted on Tales... #1. The opening narration is a solid kinda Kolchak thing (except for the lack of the time/date/victim info Carl inevitably includes in the TV series), but the rest of the dialogue is a more standard voiceover. Otherwise Carl is pretty much...well, Carl. We've got another femme fatale who hits on Kolchak (page 9, panel 4) although it's relatively mild compared to some of Carl's sexual exploits (such as in Pain Most Human). It's not clear if she's attracted to Carl (on very short notice) or just trying to play him.

Again as per Tales... #1, the creatures don't make much of an impression. No origin or back story or anything - they show up, they kill someone, they get more-or-less wiped out at the end. There's a brief "call-in" office sequence, and a name check on Carl's boss' boss Morgan Slate, but otherwise it's pretty much Carl on his own. Generally the story comes across as a character piece that develops Carl a bit more, but I wish he'd had someone with a consistent characterization to develop against.

And finally...once again, there's no indication here that Kolchak is a detective. An amateur detective, to be sure, but a detective nonetheless. It'd be nice if he'd successfully do some detecting. Here he just wanders into the stories - literally, in the case of the second story. Which brings us to...

More Creatures of Habbit - In this 14-pager, Carl literally just wanders off and manages to come across another story in Habbit. After getting chased by a sasquatch, he knocks himself out, runs into a local Indian who briefs him on the story of the creature, and then Carl pokes around a little, finds out what's going on, and there's a twist ending. There's really only one other character, Gene Runningbear, who is kind of quirky - I like how he puts on Carl's hat late in the story for no real reason other then to just be kinda weird. The banter between Carl and Runningbear is amusing and has a definite Kolchak "feel" to it. However, in the final analysis, Gene's ot-nay oo-tay art-smay and comes across as a Scooby Doo villain. The piece relies on a little too much on coincidence, particularly how Carl gets involved. Again, Carl really doesn't do anything other then stumble over a piece of evidence. The last two pages give us some more insight/development of Carl and ties the two stories together thematically, ending the whole thing on a fairly strong note.

The Future: The two "Habbit" stories give us a bit more development on Carl and do some further progression with what we had in Tales #2. I think Ulanski has a good grasp on the character, and some definite ideas of where to go with our intrepid reporter. But...I'd like to see a nice solid Kolchak-style story. I don't mind a variant-story - otherwise it'd just be rehashing the past. But so far all we've had with Tales... is variant-type stories. Carl doesn't detect or investigate - he just kinda stumbles along. The fact he's a reporter plays a significant part in the Tales... stories, but he's not shown to be a good reporter. Over on the prestige-format line they're hewed closer to the TV movies and series and presented Carl as a talented reporter. With Tales... it seems like everyone's trying to avoid doing the kinda stuff that got fans interested and kept them interested over the years. It's almost like the assumption is that since the readers know Carl's a good reporter from what they've seen in the past, nobody has to show it here and Tales... can start developing other stuff. New developments are good, but it seems kinda iffy to just be relying on the past, especially if Moonstone is trying to attract new fans to Kolchak (or counting on the prestige-format to do it for them).

Overall I'd consider Tales... #3 an average effort - better then #1 but not as good as #2. The next issue looks to be another "character development" issue without the mystery and the Kolchak-the-investigator angle - Carl as the guy who puts together the clues and tracks down the killer. But we'll see.




Scratch (Issue #4, 32 pages)
Story by: Dave Ulanski
Pencils: Pat Olliffe
Inks: Keith Williams
Colors: Ken Wolak with Dawn Groszewski
Cover: Monte Moore & Dave Ulanski
Publisher:
Moonstone
Price: $3.50

The Plot: Carl ends up having to go to a haunted house with Tony, his boss, and his boss' assistant. What starts out as a lark turns deadly serious when a ghost in the house's mirrors decides to claim a few more victims...

The Cover: I got the A cover (see image to right) by Monte Moore which is a nice representational piece. It's another piece where the main characters have an aura, which makes it stand out and catch the eye but Monte Moore might want to try something a bit different. The B cover by Dave Ulanski and Ken Wolak shows the four characters in the book in the bottom half, while the monster's hand slashing open the top half. It's a little dark but unique enough to catch the eye.

The Layout: Pretty standard - 32-pages unnumbered, advertising on the last three pages. Same paper and cover stock. Editor's column on page 31 talking about the upcoming cons, art for sale, and info on upcoming issues.

The Artwork: Guest penciller Pat Olliffe steps in. Olliffe's work looks fairly similar to that of the preceding artists, Frenz and Marrinan, to give the series some continuity appearance-wise, but there are some distinct touches. There's not a huge amount of detail work but certainly enough to distinguish the characters clearly throughout. The monster is fairly creepy looking although we don't get a lot of clear looks at it.

The Story: Moonstone switches back to single stories for at least one issue - #5 and #6 are going to be a two-parter. The story continues the events established in #2 (although there's a spot-check to #3) as Carl wins a bet and ends up with Tony, publisher Morgan Slate, and Slate's assistant accompanying him to a haunted house inhabited by a mirror-ghost. There's some strengthening of the Kolchak/Vincenzo relationship and we see a little more of Slate. The story is set almost entirely within the house as Carl & Co. become trapped there during a heavy storm and approaching tornado.

The monster itself, the perhaps unfortunately named "Mary Worth" (similar to the comic book old biddy and as such a bit distracting) has a fairly impressive Kolchak-style monster-killing modus operandi, albeit one a little reminiscent of the Candyman (which in turn borrowed from older stories). We don't find out any background on the killer, really, and while there are some intriguing hints at the end it doesn't seem as if we're going to find out anything further. Carl's method for defeating it is . . . uniquely Kolchak-like.

This story is more of a characterization piece which means that there's even less of Kolchak the investigator/reporter then usual. No name/date/fact bits, which would have been ideal at the beginning - we never find out the full name of the victim. Carl knows a lot about how to defeat the mirror-ghost but it's all previous research and stuff - he doesn't dig up any clues or interview anybody within the story itself.

Carl himself is pretty standard - he's definitely a take-charge kind of guy here as he mobilizes the troops. We also discover for (I think) the first time outside of maybe Rice's original novels that he smokes cigars (pages 2-3). The narrative once the story gets going, when Carl isn't doing any investigating, sounds mostly like him. No huge flights of narrative fancy except at the end when Carl does the wrap-up. Does anyone remember the episodes where Carl would quote F. Scott Fitzgerald or go on about summertime and all?

Skipping Vincenzo for the moment, Ron Updyke shows up and basically causes a lot of trouble - he's portrayed as a sniveling coward which seems a little harsh. Slate's assistant Eric Stalton is pretty much cannon fodder. Morgan Slate . . . hmmm, it's hard to say. He's got a general respect for Kolchak going, based on the events of Issue #2. However, it seems that his opinion of Carl is going to take a downward spiral after the events here. His personality goes back forth - sometimes he's almost giddy but other times very practical. The bag he brings with him to the house has bandages and spare batteries - he must have been a boy scout as a boy.

And finally, we have Vincenzo. As promised, we get more understanding of the character. Well, specifically we find out one key piece of knowledge about him - the reason he doesn't publish Carl's more...esoteric stories. It's interesting and gives us a piece of the puzzle about the characters' relationship. But...where does the series go from here? If Tony doesn't want to publish Carl's stories after what he sees here, then he probably never will. Carl doesn't seem to realize this - he's wondering if Tony will publish the "real" version of events at the end of the piece. Hmm? What part of Vincenzo's denial did he not get?

Vincenzo's portrayal here makes him out to be somewhat of...well, not exactly a coward. But he seems to let his own feelings (and, in all fairness, the presumed feelings of his readers, although if they're reading a rag like the Dispatch how sensitive are they? :) ) get in the way of putting the truth out there. And his going along with Slate at the end comes across as more of a betrayal of Carl on a personal level then a desire to protect his readers.

The Future: As a personal story this was good but we're still not getting nice solid "Kolchak-style" stories. Maybe the next issues' two-parter will give Moonstone the time and space to develop some stuff that shows Carl as the skilled reporter/detective he is in the movies, TV, and the prestige-format series. Tony says Kolchak is a "helluva reporter" here (with a nice touch of a qualifier), but we haven't seen anything in this series to really demonstrate it this time. He's more of a Mulder type here, with a series of intuitions (all that turn out to be right) on what's going on. Also, you have to wonder where the Carl/Tony relationship goes from here. Vincenzo's actions here are pretty definitive - he isn't going to accept Carl's stories and never will. In a sense it's not anything different then we saw in the series - as a dramatic necessity Carl was never going to get substantiated and his stories published. But the seemingly flat-out declaration here seems to limit a series that wants to expand on and move beyond what has come before.

Overall I'd consider Tales... #4 an above-average effort - seems like the even issues tend to run a little better then the odd ones (shades of the Star Trek movies). It's nicely characterized and does indeed give us a more personal story. But it seems to cut off a few avenues that the series had available to it - Carl and Vincenzo coming to a reconciliation of some sort, and Carl gaining a wider readership. That could be changed in the future, but this episode doesn't seem to set up anything like that.

The Plot: Carl ends up having to go to a haunted house with Tony, his boss, and his boss' assistant. What starts out as a lark turns deadly serious when a ghost in the house's mirrors decides to claim a few more victims...




Proximity Pt. 1 (Issue #5, 32 pages)
Story by: Dave Ulanski
Pencils: Kirk Jarvinen
Inks: Keith Williams
Colors: Ken Wolak w/Dawn Groszewski
Cover: Harry Roland (A); Dave Ulanski & Ken Wolak (B)
Publisher:
Moonstone
Price: $3.50

Plot: Curse of the mummy? Maybe... but this is no ordinary mummy. Just what makes the dried, hollowed corpse of Imjah Ra so different from the other crusty stiffs from ancient Egypt? That's what Kolchak would like to know...because this ancient evil is slowly draining his life force while he sleeps by feasting on his dreams! Kolchak discovers a local museum employee in the same predicament... but can the two of them together find a way to break the curse before they're driven insane? Features two covers shipping in a 50/50 split, by classic "Famous Monsters" cover artist Harry Roland; and Dave Ulanski.

The Cover: I got the B cover (see image to right) by Ulanski and Wolak, which I actually prefer. It captures the mood of the story pretty well, and has a few cute little detail touches - the vampire bobblehead and the drawer of vampire-hunting implements. I'm not sure whose right foot that that is under Carl's desk - the angle's wrong for it to be Tony's. Maybe it's the leftover shoe from "The Ripper"? The A cover is a more general piece and its...okay. It's not quite as detailed (Monte Moore which is a nice representational piece.

The Layout: Pretty standard - 32-pages unnumbered, Moonstone advertising on the last four pages now. Same paper and cover stock. Editor's 2-page column on page 31 talking about the Chicago con, other projects like G.R.A.V.E., and a few hints on upcoming Kolchak projects.

The Artwork: Kirk Jarvinen steps in for the two-parters, and brings his own unique style to the proceedings while maintaining the consistent "look" to the series from the previous issues. The supernatural stuff is fairly creepy throughout and just plain bizarre - from the more realistically horrific to the somewhat cartoony, such as the strange green-skinned creature on the last page. We get to see all of the regulars and they're pretty well rendered and recognizable. The guest characters are distinctive and detailed - perhaps a bit too much so. I could have lived without Kolchak's' doctor spitting (on page 11, panel 5).

The Story: Moonstone goes with a two-parter this time, which proves a wise decision - we get a lot more development and build-up in part 1 until the action (presumably) kicks in next issue. The story is strong on continuity - it follows up on Carl's travails with his boss-publisher Morgan Slate after the death of his assistant last issue. There are hints at future developments - Carl's potential involvement with supernatural investigators Otto and Mo Brerhaurer, and the threat of Morgan Slate turning against him after Carl established his reputation in "Kyrie." The Slate threat is repeated three times, which might be a bit much. Presumably it's going to pay off down the road.

There's also some nice touches of continuity within the Kolchak mythos - references to previous issues of this series, the prestige format, and the TV series. More rewardingly, there's a reference back to "The Spanish Moss Murders." Not that the dream-creature there is tied in to what's happening here, but it's nice to see Kolchak (and the writers) make connections to what has happened before without making sequels. This seems a logical part of the character, and human beings in general - if, say, you have problems with a dream creature, hey, you spare a thought blurb to remember a previous dream creature you've encountered.

We don't see much of the monster this time out - it manifests in Carl's dreams more then anything and it looks like we're going to see more of it in the flesh (so to speak) next issue. As noted above, the renderings of the dream manifestations is good. We also have several new characters introduced - the rather quirky museum curator and his ant obsession, his assistant (immune to the Kolchak charm), and Carl's doctor, a guy with the odd name of Regis Ba. They all have their moments and a decent bit of characterization. Monique Marmelstein makes a brief appearance (with an explanation), such as it is, of why she and everyone else have migrated from Chicago to L.A.).

Carl is pretty solidly characterized - he doesn't have a whole lot here to investigate here (again), but talks to a few people and reacts very...well, Kolchak-like to losing dream-sleep (which might have warranted a brief thought referring back to "Firefall" when he had a related problem) and having hallucinations. There's a bit of bonding between Carl and Tony at the funeral at the beginning, but otherwise Vincenzo spends his time warning Carl about Slate. And then warning Carl about Slate. And then warn him again.

The Future: Since this is a two-part story, we have mostly build-up here. Carl traveling to Egypt next issue seems a bit out of the blue (and rather unlikely), but at least he's dressed for the place. Overall this is a nice mix of the old and the new. While the main story isn't a "Let's do something new with Kolchak" piece (make him famous, give him a *ahem* hot girlfriend, explore his and Tony's relationship), those kind of stories get boring after a while. "Proximity" is a nice all-around "traditional" Kolchak story - the first they've really done in the regular format, IMO. It may be the page count - the two-part format really seems to make a difference here. Without seeing part 2 it's hard to tell, but the covers for #6 and the hints we see here promise pay not only a decent payoff for #6, but some storylines (with Slate and the Brerhahrers) for down the road.




Proximity Pt. 2 (Issue #6, 32 pages)
Story by: Dave Ulanski
Pencils: Kirk Jarvinen
Inks: Keith Williams
Colors: Wally Lowe
Cover: Dave Ulanski, Ken Wolak, & Harry Roland
Publisher:
Moonstone
Price: $3.50

Plot: Is he mummy, is he vampire, or is he... both? The spirit of Imjah Ra continues to plague Carl Kolchak and an L.A. Museum employee. Now, they must travel around the world to Egypt to find a tomb about to be forever buried, and replace some stolen artifacts in hopes of lifting a terrible curse. Failure means that the creature will drain enough of their life force to return to life, and walk the earth again! Hey, Carl... how do you stake a vampire that's had its heart removed centuries ago...?

General: By now you know the drill. Moonstone. Kolchak. Comic book. Regular format. Set in the modern day and part of an ongoing storyline, with Carl Kolchak located in Los Angeles but still working under Tony Vincenzo. The 32 pages are unnumbered and with six pages of letter column and advertising, the story runs 26 pages.

The Cover: Cover A by Harry Roland is a depiction of the events within - Kolchak seems a bit youthful but it captures the mood of the story. Cover B by Dave Ulanski and Ken Wolak is an cute allusion to a popular movie franchise, although it doesn't have anything to do with the story itself.

The Artwork: Kirk Jarvinen continues his run with part 2, with Keith Williams inking. The characters are recognizably themselves (except for Miss Emily on page 26, who could use some work...), and there's a good deal of relatively detailed art. Generally it's a solid bunch of work and Moonstone could do worse then to use Jarvinen as their standard artist for "Tales..."

The Story: Primarily this is a wrap up to the two-part Proximity storyline. There's a couple of pages dedicated to the ongoing Morgan Slate subplot, but again it's just the characters recapping what happened (again) and Slate making noises about bringing Kolchak to heel (again). The rest of the story is set in Egypt as he and his associate Professor Hernandez try to get rid of the curse that is causing them sleepless nights and horrific dreams. They arrive, meet up with Bill the Egyptian, and after a few brief delays enter the tomb for a standoff with Imjah Ra.

The final showdown is a bit difficult to follow in spots, and unfortunately on page 19 panel 4 it descends into outright farce. Although Carl improvises a quick solution, it's a little puzzling. He grabs the urn that holds Imjah Ra's heart. And as Carl notes, it was the urn Hernandez showed Carl back at the museum in Los Angeles. In the last issue they established the Los Angeles urn had the heart so...how did it get to Egypt?

Certainly the idea of an Egyptian mummy-vampire is good, and Carl and his erstwhile allies make an impressive stand as they have to keep trying different things to get it to work, while Carl draws on his knowledge of the vampires he has dealt with.

The Characters: The regulars are solid and Bill and Santiago remain relatively entertaining. Carl is in his action-hero/mosnter-hunter mode more then a reporter/investigator - see the B cover for where that's coming from! Morgan Slate is his usual ominous bad-guy self. Other then that, not really much to say. There's not a lot of major character development or anything, but every issue doesn't need to feature development either.

Overall: "Proximity Pt. 2" wraps up the two-parter in workmanship like manner, using the extra page space to give the story a bit more detail and character bits. Overall there's a sense of set-up with the Slate and Brerhahrer subplots and the monster story...well, isn't exactly a secondary backdrop to them. However, it comes across as a placeholder - something to establish the subplots against while entertaining the reader, rather than a critical piece in the continuity. It's no less enjoyable for that - it's just a good basic story.




The Saggath (Issue #7, 32 pages)
Story by: Dave Ulanski
Pencils: Kirk Jarvinen
Inks: Keith Williams
Colors: Wally Lowe
Cover: Dave Dorman, Dave Ulanski & Ken Wolak
Publisher:
Moonstone
Price: $3.50

Plot: Carl gets a call from a contact in Louisiana - the plant monster that he thought he'd taken care of is back again. Worse, there seem to be more related deaths. And what about the shadow monster? And how does Peremalfait play into all of this? It looks like someone wants to kill the plant monsters...and Carl was turning into a plant too, putting him right in the middle.

General: Moonstone. Kolchak. Comic book. Standard format. Set in the modern day as part of the ongoing Kolchak/Moonstone continuity. The comic runs 32 pages, unnumbered, with four pages of letter column and advertisements at the back.

The Cover: The A cover by Dave Dorman is a nice mood piece capturing a scene from the interior. The B cover by Dave Ulanski & Ken Wolak is a busier piece that is more of a straightforward rendition of a scene from the inside. The A cover seems to stand out a bit more on the racks.

The Artwork: Kirk Jarvinen continues on the series with inks by Keith Williams and inks by Wally Lowe. There is some nice detail in spots and occasionally the art is a bit cartoon-ey. Generally the artists capture the Kolchak style.

The Story: This is a sequel to Moonstone's first issue and does a so-so job of bringing readers up to speed even if they're unfamiliar with that issue. Even with a couple of footnotes to #1, it's a bit confusing even to someone who read that issue. Carl talks about having "all these fresh facts" on page 4, but it's not clear if he's recapping the story in issue #1 or talking about...well, fresh facts and new killings. There's also references to people that might be from the original story (like Joe Gibbons, on page 11), but that's not clear either.

Fortunately much of this background proves unnecessary (and perhaps a bit intrusive), as the basic story of "evil corporation experiments with plant creatures - voodoo shadow-creature shows up to eliminate them" works okay on its own. There's also a nice nod to the TV series with a "cameo appearance" as it were of Peremalfait (from "The Spanish Moss Murders"). And Officer Charlevoix makes a nice Kolchak ally. There's a few bits where Carl gets a bit buffoonish, as with his newest disguise, but generally it's a solid story with a twist ending. Sometimes there's just a bit too much dialogue that gets in the way of the story- this issue works best in the spots where there's not that much dialogue, such as pg. 11 with the monsters revealed or pgs. 23-24 with Carl versus the plant monster.

Overall the story has a feeling of being more of a bookend to the first issue of the series and a wrap-up of the first seven issues. It not only resolves the story from #1 but gets Carl fired yet again at the hands of the totally unsympathetic Morgan Slate. And a pity, as he actually came across as more of a normal human being back in #4. The rest of the Kolchak supporting cast don't get much to do and Tony seems a bit unsympathetic.

The Characters: This is pretty much a Kolchak story with only brief bits of Tony and Miss Emily. Carl is pretty well represented, varying between the somewhat self-deluded "master of disguise" and the heroic crusader. He doesn't seem to do a lot of investigative work, but he does get a big story at the end...even if it's not clear why the Hollywood Dispatch would run a story about a "podunk Louisiana chemical plant."

Overall: With the announcement that there's going to be "a slight little break in the schedule here for Kolchak Tales," one can look at the first seven issues as somewhat of a complete work. They represent somewhat of a mini-story, chronicling Carl's rise to (relative) fame and his equally quick descent after the events of #4. My main complaint is that it seems a bit padded, with repeated, "Morgan Slate is out to get you" warnings leading to the obvious conclusion, and that #7 seems to basically toss out the Los Angeles/Hollywood Dispatch that Jeff Rice and Mark Dawidziak took some care in setting up (and that the anthology writers draw on so heavily).

Basically the seven issues unravel that and one gets the impression that whatever new set-up will take place (involving the Brerhahrers in #5, presumably) will take longer to set up. We were just getting introduced to the new "modern" Kolchak, with the admittedly awkward ignoring of the span in years and the shifting of the TV show's cast to LA, and now it's gone. Like Kolchak, it seems like we just got here and settled in and now we're being asked to pack up and move on to whatever new direction Tales... takes.

Overall, I'd recommend the issue and the first seven issues as a whole. It took them an issue to really settle in, and the storytelling still seems rather awkward in spots. Issues 2 and 4 are the standouts, but there's never an issue that's a complete waste. I must note however that after seven issues, this still doesn't seem like a comic that anyone but a Kolchak fan would want to read. Maybe as a Kolchak fan myself I have trouble getting into the mindset of a non-Kolchak fan, but I find the standard-format comics a bit inaccessible. It seems like there's a heavy reliance on what's been established, but it's never quite explained what has been established. Mark Dawidziak's Grave Secrets really sets up the comic series more then anything...but that's not really referred to or explained.

On the other hand, maybe the nostalgia market is strong enough to support sales of the book. I'm just not sure what a non-Kolchak fan would see in these.

Regardless, I look forward to seeing what Moonstone can bring to the table with Kolchak down the road. It seems as if the first seven issues were a mini-story arc to set up whatever it is they really have in mind for Kolchak...but I could be wrong.





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