Sunday, July 24, 2011
I’m a little disappointed in myself that I only just recently learned about Screamland by Harold Sipe, Christopher Sebela, Hector Casanova, and Lee Leslie. I love monsters (and have a particular soft spot for the classic Universal guys), I love stories about Hollywood sleaze of yesteryear, and I love comic books. So the fact that a comic book series that delves into the sleazy backstories of classic movie monsters trying to scrape by in today’s CGI-enhanced, youth-obsessed Hollywood eluded me until the debut of the new ongoing series a few months back is, frankly, more than a little embarrassing. Thankfully, Image Comics has released the original 5-part miniseries in a new trade paperback, so I’m finally up to speed.
Screamland takes place in a world where the famous movie monsters are real and they all portrayed versions of themselves on screen in their heyday, appearing in multiple horror sequels until they were put out of work by the science fiction craze of the 1950s. In the original mini, the gang is (mostly) reunited when they are offered parts in the big-screen adaptation of a manga series called Monsterhunter 3000. The monsters are a pretty sorry lot; Frankenstein’s Monster is an alcoholic with a combover, the Wolfman spends his days signing autographs on the fantasy convention circuit and sleeping with as many groupies as possible, Dracula fights a never-ending battle against the tabloids to conceal his sexual identity, and the Mummy is involved in a protracted legal struggle to recover treasures raided from his tomb by greedy archaeologists (that is, when he’s not too busy ducking Homeland Security, who see him as a suspicious, possibly hostile foreign national). The ongoing Screamland series, now two issues in, follows the Wolfman and several other new characters (an Invisible Man, a Blob, and a faded sci-fi TV star, among others) as they try to halt the release of an epic porno film they all participated in back in the cocaine-fueled 1970s.
The scripts by Harold Sipe and Christopher Sebela (who co-writes the ongoing series) pack a one-two punch of biting Hollywood satire and dead-on comic timing, while the art--Hector Casanova illustrated the original mini, while Lee Leslie takes over for the ongoing, faithfully maintaining the book's established visual style--combines the rough, simple linework of Jeff Lemire with the murky textures of Ben Templesmith or Ashley Wood. The trade paperback of the original series serves as a solidly funny introduction to the cast of characters and their litany of personal and career woes (although the conclusion to the Monsterhunter 3000 storyline does seem a bit rushed). The ongoing series is off to a promising start, with lots of jabs at the current state of horror movies, sci-fi conventions, and a murder mystery to boot. Screamland shows that you can’t keep a good monster down, but you can find plenty of humour in the wreckage of his career.