Welcome friends to another special Back to the Bookshelves! Not too long ago we took a magical trip back in time with Eerie magazine, and today we will be examining yet another unregulated, magazine-sized comics extravaganza: Fantagraphics Books’ Threat! #9. Full disclosure: I had not heard of this particular publication until that jolly ol’ lunch box Santa Claus left it under my tree (READ: some branches held together with duct tape) this past Christmas, so this should prove to be interesting since it’s a first for me. Oh, how I’ve been waiting to get this open…hmm, yes…old comic smell. Let us begin.
Man, what a cover on this magazine. A cybernetic vixen shackled in a dungeon surrounded by skeletons, complete with gloriously tacky florescent spray paint all over the wall? It this doesn’t scream 1980s then I don’t know what does, and I love it; it’s got that cyberpunk aesthetic to it that I simply cannot resist. The cover for this issue was drawn by Jay Geldhof, who some of you may recognize from comics such as Congorilla or Grendel. Check it out:
Threat! ran for ten issues from June ’86 to September ’87 and was published by Fantagraphics Books. The publisher itself has had an interesting history, starting off in 1976 with a little book called The Comics Journal, that featured interviews with comic creators as well as analyses and critiques of the medium. Fantagraphics has had a troubled financial past, to say the least, but it was fan response to their recent Kickstarter campaign that helped them to raise over $150,000.00 (USD) in less than a week’s time, thus allowing them to continue publishing. Pretty amazing if I may say so myself. Ah yes, but enough with the history lesson; let’s check out what’s inside Threat!
First up there’s Bob Mercenary which seems oddly familiar to me. A t-shirt I saw, perhaps? Or maybe it’s the fact that his appearance is strikingly similar to DC Comics’ own Deathstroke…except much goofier. Bob Mercenary is written by Dave Harrison with artwork by Jay Geldhof, and also features the very same character from the cover artwork, Zetta. Right off the bat I was impressed with this story for the simple fact that during Bob and Zetta’s conversation, a radio is “playing” a Depeche Mode song called “Fly On The Windscreen;” good stuff.
Bob Mercenary was an ongoing title in Threat!, like the rest featured in this article, but this particular story seems to be a good indicator of its entirety. The artwork is a product of its time, no doubt, but it’s very nicely done with cartoony characters like Bob looking fantastic while juxtaposed alongside the likes of more “human” characters like Zetta. There is a ton of humor throughout, but be wary of younger readers: Bob Mercenary contains a fair amount of innuendo and at least one drunken robot!
Next there is Zone by Mike Kraiger. I found this story especially puzzling, as it left many questions unanswered in the end. It’s possible that since this is issue nine of Threat! that it is somewhat out of context for me, but it was intriguing nonetheless. From what I can tell, Zone is about a strange being who has been displaced into a reality separate from his/its own, and that has some otherworldly connection to one of the story’s human characters.
Throughout the story the being is constantly evading the media, who call him a “monster,” as he travels with a talking crow. A crow, eh? That can never be good. The mysterious and elusive “Men in Black” are also on the being’s trail, which I thought was pretty neat. Some things worth mentioning: characters smoking cigarettes in Zone. Now, this is something that you don’t really see too much of in comics anymore, but it was much more typical of this time period. Not to mention the fact that Threat!, like Eerie, was published outside of the Comics Code Authority’s lame guidelines. Not that I’m promoting smoking or anything, because that’s bad. Don’t smoke.
Interestingly, Zone features yet another song; this time it is “The Monster Mash,” which I’m sure many of you have heard before, especially around Halloween.
In Jim Rohn‘s The Holo Brothers, we follow the exploits of…the Holo Brothers, ehem, and Prince Kevin as they plan to thwart the evil Lord Gekkus’ plans at domination of “Homeworld.” Gekkus’ plan doesn’t stop there, however, as he also wishes to take control of the entire “Galactic Empire” beyond Homeworld. Hmm, he might have some competition on that front, no?
Like Zone this story features a talking crow named “T.K.,” who speaks in some kind of strange, quasi-Mexican vernacular. I can see how comics of this type could be somewhat offensive to certain readers, but I didn’t get the impression that that was Rohn’s intention. Simply put, T.K. is just one of those crazy little aspects of the comics medium that one could expect to encounter when reading something like Threat!; by now it certainly isn’t mainstream, if it ever was to begin with.
Lastly we have Enigma Funnies by Gary Fields. This particular story is called “The Shredder!” and features the most bizarre design choices I have encountered in this magazine. For starters, the lettering is like nothing I have ever seen in comics before and looks almost like an alien language. Then there are the villains of the story, who wear gimp masks…yes, gimp masks, and look like something out of Mad Max.
Of all the comics in this issue of Threat! magazine, Enigma Funnies is the one that you would least want being accidentally read by anyone under the age of…let’s say sixteen or so; just my two cents. There’s a lot of risque stuff going on in the background in this one, so it’s best not to leave things like this laying around. Great comics and great responsibility, and all that.
Unlike Eerie, there are no real advertisements in Threat! outside of a couple one page previews of some of Fantagraphics’ other titles. So for those of you who absolutely love when I talk about advertisements in comic books, I apologize and I promise to do an article in the future that talks about old advertisements in comics exclusively.
So, with all that said, I hope that some of you are able to pick up a few old comics like this and check them out. They’re usually not too, too costly, and certain magazines like Tales From the Crypt can be found in collected editions. They’re often odd and always interesting, and seeing first-hand how comic books earned the ire of parents everywhere is certainly worth the price of admission.
Will you be taking the dive in the deep end of fringe comics? Let us know in the comments section and on our Twitter page!