Saturday, April 23, 2016

Wasteland #1 (1987)

Wasteland #1 (December, 1987)
"Foo Goo"
"Sewer Rat"
Writers - John Ostrander & Del Close
Artists - David Lloyd, William Messner-Loebs, & Don Simpson
Lettering - Steve Craddock, William Messner-Loebs
Coloring - Lovern Kindzierski
Editor - Mike Gold
Cover Price: $1.75

Here's another weird one I've wanted to talk about.  Wasteland was an anthology series that was primarily horror, however, kind of dabbled in black comedy and satire.  It was the brainchild of Suicide Squad creator John Ostrander and comedy improv master Del Close.  This was most definitely one of those "ahead of its time" books, as if it were released during the heyday of Vertigo Comics it would have likely lasted longer than 18-issues.  Although, if I'm being honest, I suppose 18 issues is a fairly healthy run for an out of the ordinary book such as this.

I remember this book not being so much scary, but still somewhat disturbing.  Some of the social commentary is rather biting, to the point where it is a bit off-putting.  You get a sense of discomfort reading through this... You remember that one kid in school... he was kind of different, dangerous.  Your parents didn't want you hanging around him, and you were almost thankful for that fact... because deep down, he scared the bejeezus out of you too.  That's Wasteland... that's Del Close.  Intriguing, and tempting, but overall something you know you shouldn't get involved with...

... and yet, here we are.


Foo Goo

The first of three stories in this issue has to do with the remains of what appears to be a suicide party.  A pair of investigators enter a dining room and find four corpses sitting around the table.  They claim that this is the third such party they'd encountered, and find signed waivers from all of the invitees.  Initially when I was reading this, I was expecting to see a Japanese puffer fish (or at least the remnants thereof) on the table.  Instead, the party cuisine consisted of a lone mushroom cap.

A brief bit of research brings up that in Finland they have a way of preparing a toxic mushroom that should... but doesn't guarantee... neutralizing the toxins.  It is compared to the way the Japanese prepare the puffer fish, in fact.

As the investigators circle the table, we get some insight as to the motives of the participants.  We actually watch their final discussion.  Initially, the party host, Beltrane gives his guests the lay of the land.  One bite of the foogoo will give you the greatest high of your life... and lead to an immediate, though painless, death.

Guest George Zern is skeptical and decides to partake first.  Zern is a "Teflon" criminal, who is constantly just getting away with something... he feels invincible, and knows he can beat the foogoo.  Just as Beltrane said, one taste was all it took.  He barely touches the mushroom cap with his tongue before slumping dead on the table.

The next to try is a junkie, Stanley P. Johnson.  He knows the risks, and doesn't care.  He is just out to chase the ultimate high, something that will make him "God for a second".  He takes a bite, and like Zern before him, drops dead in a moment.

The final guest is a young woman.  Beltrane attempts to talk her out of it, claiming she is free to leave if she so decides.  She refuses, saying she made an oath with first victim, George to do this together.  She asks Beltrane if he will actually go through with it after she's dead to which he answers in the affirmative.  He's bored of life, he's already done everything he wanted to do.  The young lady dives in to the 'shroom, and falls back... dead.

Beltrane looks around the table, viewing his deadman's party.  He takes pause, and ultimately takes a bite.  He dies with a terrifying smile on his face.

The detectives take their last notes, and as they're about to leave, the lead 'tec curiously picks up what's left of the mushroom... and takes a bite.


This is where we move into some social satire.  It is the future, people appear to be nothing but interchangeable integers, and the planet is terribly overcrowded.  One woman, Sal, decides she is tired of being alone and goes about the normal societal way to find a mate... video dating.

Sal dresses down to her bra and sits in front of her vid-screen... perhaps a commentary on digital culture, her desk chair is a toilet.  She logs on, and lists her parameters for her perfect mate.  The screen is being displayed at a bar where two men show interest... Hal and Mal.  Sal says she's a one-man kinda gal, to which Hal pushes Mal away.

The two hit it off, and 47 hours later they are married.  They move into the state mandated "two-person" unit and discuss procuring a child from the local Egg and Sperm Bank.  Hal's got a pal who works there (wonder what he does... no, strike that) and can get them a child in three years.  Among their wedding gifts is a shiny new CEO-ship for Mrs. Sal.

Three years later, much to their dismay a child is delivered to their door.  We watch over the next several months as Hal and Sal's courtship goes south.  They hate each other, and what's more... they hate their child.  They discuss divorce, but cannot decide on which one gets "stuck with" baby.

As they continue down divorce avenue, a man visits to see what they plan to do with the baby.  They still cannot agree.  The man asks if they'd ever considered a "R.ab." (hey, that's the title of the story!).  Neither of them knows what this means...

Well, ya see... R.ab. is shorthand for Retroactive Abortion.  Just backdate a few legal documents and it'll be as though the kid was never born.  They excitedly sign, and moment later the poor tot is chucked out the window of their three-hundredth floor apartment.

This act made the couple realize that they still love each other, and maybe they should give the whole "marriage" thing another shot... and what the hell, Hal's pal still works at the bank... maybe in three years they have another kid!

Sewer Rat

This is the first installment of the potentially "real life" stories of co-creator Del Close.  These sorta-autobiographical pieces continue the whole way through the series, and are among the most... I don't wanna say disturbing, but they make me feel a bit, well, gross.

A man with a welding torch taped to his head makes his way through the sewer, shooting rats all along the way.  He questions his actions, as in reality... he's actually quite fond of rats.  He briefly considers suicide, but it's just a fleeting thought.

He thinks about what drugs he's taken to put him in such a spot... he's taken more than often today.  He leans against a wall, and feels a half dozen hands grope him, he spins around and shoots another rat.

His attention turns to a marching band walking through the sewer, decked out in what I figure members of a Barbershop Quartet would wear.  Suddenly he is approached by himself.  He is then surrounded by nearly a dozen of himself as he takes solace in his drug-induced hallucinations.

He bends down thinking he's found himself a map out of the sewer... but then it's a wiring diagram... then a dictionary page... and finally just a candy bar wrapper.  There's an explosion, and he begins to panic... he runs into Whistler's Mother, no... his mother.  He sees a light... he approaches it.

He's not in the sewer, I'm not sure he ever was.  He's just meandering through the nighttime Chicago streets.  He finds a hat and puts it on, before... climbing down a manhole.  He comes out moments later only to be slapped in the face by the front page of the Tribune.  Beatles Invade America reads the headline... he questions what's what and roller skates away.

The issue (close)d out with a text piece discussing the concept.


Weird, right?

Like, I read this... and I'm not scared so much as I am disturbed.  I think I pride myself on having very few fears... like, fake fears... ya know, scary movies, ghost stories... stuff like that.  I'm cool with all that.  There is one thing that scares me, however... cannibals.  Cannibals just freak me the hell out... and hear me out, it's not because what they do.  It's the thought process behind it.  I'm not talking their motivation, or any potential urges they're trying to satisfy or quell.  It's their thoughts.  That's what bothers me.  That's why Wasteland bothers me, it's the thoughts behind it all.

I feel as though I'm not smart enough to truly appreciate this series for what it is.  I feel there has to be a deeper, darker meaning to the whole thing.  Something, that perhaps one day will 'click' in my head, and terrify me to my soul... and that's why I keep coming back.

There was a bit of a snafu with issue 6 of this series.  There was a printing error that put the complete contents of issue 5 (which had already been released) under the cover of issue 6.  This resulted in the following month, DC releasing a blank-covered Wasteland, that was listed as the "Real Number 6".  That bothered me... I always thought there was, I dunno, something more to it.  Something, perhaps meta-textual... maybe a commentary in and of itself... something I'm missing...

... and that's why I keep coming back.


Interesting Ads:

The 12 issue miniseries... that only went 7.
I don't remember the Man of Bronze having a mullet
Wonder if this will catch on?


  1. I had forgotten this series until I saw the cover, then it call came flooding back to me. I was actually a big Del Close fan at the time, and I am always hoping anthology titles will catch my memory, though, and particularly in later issues of this, the art got really shitty, and the stories were more "cute" than provoking. Still--bring back House of Secrets, DC! Fifth try is the charm!

    1. Reggie! It's funny you mention the decline in quality of this series... Despite having the entire run, and attempting to read through it several times over... I don't think I've ever read a "double-digit" issue of this title. I hate to trot out the "weirdness for weirdness sake" cop-out excuse, but that's kinda how it felt. These early stories, may not have had "heart", but at least it felt as though they were trying.

  2. Yeah, never read this series despite the house ad being so memorable. Sounds like a real precursor to the neat run of Vertigo anthologies from the late 90s (Strange Adventures, Gangland, Weird Western, etc.). Nice look back!

    1. Hello Mark! Yes, the ads were super memorable and are what really drew me into this one. I remember a fish in top portion of an hourglass that was filled with water... made me wonder just what in the world this book could be about.


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