Wasteland #2 (January, 1988)
Writers – Del Close & John Ostrander
Art – William Messner-Loebs, George Freeman, & David Lloyd
Letters – Ron Muns & Steve Craddock
Colors – Lovern Kindzierski
Edits – Mike Gold
Cover Price: $1.75
Wasteland, eh? What an appropriate name for this book, if I take into account the stats at this here blog over the past week and a half! When I changed direction, I was honestly expecting a bit of a dip in views… however, the dip I received was far more severe than anything I’d seen coming.
In fact, I do believe we’ve dipped waist-deep into the “no longer worth anybody’s time” realm. I’d love to go “back to the drawing board” and try and figure out a different path to take… maybe find some sort of anthology series that a) I own, and b) people might actually care about… but, I think it might just be time to call it. I barely have the time to do what I’m doing here now…
In about a month, I’ll be hitting my 1,500th Daily Post… and, that might just be that “round number” I’ve been looking for all this time. It’s also around when the domain name on this place expires. I want to sincerely thank the handful of you who stuck around. I was hopeful that there was some sort of appetite for comics content that was a little bit off the beaten path. Seldom right… and wrong again!
So with that… Welcome to the first compilation post for Wasteland Chapters…
Now, if you’ve been following along over the past few days, it’ll come as no surprise that this… really hasn’t been my favorite thing. From a narrative standpoint (and in my opinion), all three of the stories we’re about to look at are… pretty weak.
That having been said, I come away from these stories with plenty of questions… not just about the stories themselves (which, again, don’t really lend themselves to analysis), but about some of the situations and concepts. These stories offer a lot in the way of “food for thought”… which I’ll be referring to throughout this piece. I feel like this might be the true strength (and purpose) of Wasteland. To make us feel sort of ill at ease… and curious as to the motives of our creative team.
It’s for that reason that I can’t outright tell anyone not to read this. It’s not likely to rock your socks… and, honestly, you might just hate it… but, I feel like you’re likely to come away from it with your mind racing. I dunno… maybe I’m not making any sense. Read on, and judge for yourself!
Our story opens with Dr. Dracula’s performance troupe broken down on the side of some desolate road in Kansas. Del asks the Doc to teach him how to eat fire… but, the Drac don’t dig the idea of sharing. Del then prods him on how he can swallow razor blades without carving up his mouth, to which, the Doc replies “I heal fast”. Del is relentless, and keeps on badgering.
Finally, the bum wheel on their rig is changed out, and they’re headed to the next stop… Clay Center, Kansas. Hold on to your heads… The Horror Show is coming to town.
That night, Dr. Dracula and the “Chasm of Spasms” is headlining at the State Theatre. The Doc himself drops off a reel of film for the Projectionist to run during the performance… but first warns that it is made of Nitrate Stock. This means that the stock is both likely ancient… and extremely flammable! Nitrate film is notorious for its ability to create its own oxygen as it burns… and is even said to keep burning even under water! So, this is a pretty risky deal. The Doc forks over two American dollars for the fella to look the other way… and it looks like that was enough.
The audience begins to shuffle in, including a broad-shouldered fella who is told he’s gotta check his “hog-leg” before entry. Now, that is a euphemism… but, not for what I was expecting. He just needs to leave his gun with the ticket-taker.
The show kicks off… and, ya know, it’s a theatrical magic show. No bigs. In one of the acts a woman is placed behind a screen, where she appears to transform into a beast. It tears through the screen and lunges toward Doc Drac… who shoots it dead!
The show continues… and the lights go out. From the ceiling, worms begin pouring into the crowd. This freaks out that big “hog-leg” fella so badly that he… messes himself. Whoops. Turns out these “worms” are just cooked spaghetti.
After the show, Del and the Doc are confronted by the pants-pooper… who has, in the interim, reclaimed his hog-leg. Ya see, he doesn’t take to being humiliated in public… and intends to perforate whoever it was that threw the “worms”.
He unloads his pistol… right into the Nitrate film!
The explosion causes some major damage to the theatre… and the Doc winds up having to fork over 20% of the take to keep the Projectionist’s mouth shut.
In case you’re unaware… or have never listened to any of my audio offerings… I might be known as a fella who can drone on when attempting to telling a story. Last Summer, I spent a good dozen or so episodes of Chris is on Infinite Earths sharing some of the more seminal events in my life. Stories ranging from dealing with weight issues, addiction, poverty… near-homelessness. A lot of personal stuff, that I’m not sure is interesting to anyone but me.
Sometimes these personal stories follow a linear narrative format… other times, they take the form of a series of semi-connected vignettes. Along the way, there were plenty of moments and events that popped into my head… things I thought would be interesting to share. However, the more I thought about it, the more these “events” in question began to feel like “No Occasions“… which is what I call those stories that don’t need telling. And so, I’d ultimately leave them out.
Now, I’m sure Del Close had lived a wildly interesting life… chock-full of amazing and engaging stories. This… was not one of them. This is a “No Occasion”, which Del even admits might’ve been embellished in the telling. You’d think that sort of thing would make a story even more interesting… but, you’d be wrong. This might be a great story to tell your pals while bellied up to the bar a few drinks deep… but, as a piece of sequential art… eh-eh. Not all that great.
I think we’re going to be getting one “semi-autobiographical” piece from Del in every issue of Wasteland… and while I didn’t outright dislike this one… hopefully, we only go up from here!
We open back in the long ago, where the Great Genghis and his army have taken over yet another land. He is delivered the Headman of this region… who refuses to pay him tribute. The Headman pleads with Genghis for mercy… and, it turns out our conqueror takes that as a slight. He feels this character is mocking him… taking him for a fool… all that jazz. And so, he orders his men, more or less, raze the land. Oh, and do whatever they want with the people, so long as they’re dead at the end of it. So, if we’ve learned anything it’s… don’t make the Great Genghis think you’re laughing at him. I wonder if that’ll come up again?
We shift scenes to… the present day! It’s a crazy faaaabulous yuppie party at the home of Actress/Singer/Dancer, Shirley McKee… hmm, wonder who that might be a reference to (I was going to put a link to Shirley Maclaine’s website here… but, it autoplays music… and I ain’t gonna put you through that). This lady has written a book called “Off On Your Own”, about something called “Trance Channeling”, wherein you (yes, you) can learn all about drawing your “past selves” from, well, the past, and letting them speak through your lips. She even decides to give a demonstration for the cameras. Any guesses where this might be headed?
Naturally, one of her past-lives is… the Great Genghis. Once in his body, she begins to sing! And dance!
Genghis’ men think this is a sign… a Goddess speaking through the lips of their leader! This melding of the selves is short-lived… but, long enough to make an impression.
When the Great Khan is back in his own body, he tells his men that he had been whisked away to another place… a place of madness, where they flashed lights in his face and… laughed at him! When asked how he responded… Genghis states that he “stopped their laughter”.
Which, brings us back to the “present”, where it would appear that li’l ol’ Shirley McKee murdered (slaughtered, even!) everybody at the book launch party! She attempts to explain, however, just like in real life, ain’t nobody buyin’ what she’s sellin’…
Wow, talk about “ripped from the headlines”. Not, uh, the yuppie massacre… I’m talking about ribbing on the square that is Shirley Maclaine. She has written many books of an, I dunno, “mystic” or “new age” bent? She is a believer in spiritual techniques, reincarnation, and, really, a whole lot of things that I personally do not put much stock in. I mean, your mileage may vary, but… I dunno. Not my deal.
One thing she’s pretty good at is sparking outrage. In my, admittedly shallow, research… I’ve found a few “odd” comments and excerpts from her books… even as recent as 2015, where she made some comments regarding the lives lost during the Holocaust. Another thing, which we have a clip of, is… I dunno, I wanna choose my words carefully here… is, “exploiting” the desperation of people. Telling people that those they’ve lost can return. I mean, again… mileage may vary, but that just seems irresponsible and, just not cool to me.
If you watched the video, you’ll undoubtedly see that she says a whole lot of things… that really don’t mean anything. A lot of “that is your truth”, and “what’s true to you is true” sort of non-answers. That non-committal probably bugs me most of all. I mean, if you’re going to push something… push it. If you truly believe the words you’re saying… don’t give half-answers.
I guess there’s a school of thought that might ask “what’s the harm?” I mean, in a way, she’s giving (usually desperate) people some peace of mind… and, perhaps even a measure of closure. So, is there anything wrong with that? Well… that’s probably a deeper subject than a humble little comic book blog ought to be tackling… but, definitely some “food for thought”.
Oh yeah… almost forgot that we are a humble little comic book blog… so, what’d we think of the story? It was… clever, I guess. A bit “on the nose”, as most parody and satire tends to be… but, serviceable… and far better than the opening chapter of this issue.
Our third and final story opens in a hallway, where three folks from Child Welfare are meeting with an Officer Krupke (likely fresh from the West Side) who brought in a boy for making some pretty wild claims. The boy is Jimmy Mitchell… and the claim in question is…
One of the Agents (Sandra) sits down by Jimmy to get some clarification. Is this “werewolf” thing just some sort of game he and his step-father play? That doesn’t appear to be the case, as the boy is rather adamant that he’d seen Step-Pop (Art) literally transform into a beast!
When asked if maybe he dreamed it, Jimmy presents his bruised arm. He tells the Agent that, when he saw this go down, he pinched himself to ensure he was awake. The Agent doesn’t like the way this is going… and asks if Art might have ever hurt or touched him. Jimmy says no! Art’s a good dude… it’s just, he’s a werewolf! The trio of Agents huddle up and decide they’re going to need to call in Jimmy’s folks.
The parents arrive, and are kinda mortified. They feel as though their guilt has already been decided. The Agents assure them that they just want to ask some questions… more of a “ruling things out” approach. Worth noting, Step-Dad Art looks kind of creepy… sort of like that Snyder from One Day at a Time… who always gave me the creeps.
We jump right into the interviews… and learn that Jimmy’s mother got pregnant, and was forced to get married. Jimmy’s biological father ran off… Jimmy’s maternal grandparents disowned them… just an all-round unpleasant scene. Art was a Marine, who kinda drifted after being discharged… he wanted a normal life… a wife and a kid… and, as luck would have it, wound up finding that here.
After the interviews, the professionals put their heads together and try to come up with a hypothesis. Jay thinks it’s Oedipal… as in Jimmy’s making all this up because he’s jealous that Art has taken his mother’s affection. He’d run Art through a battery of tests, and nothing really “pinged” to the effect that he’s some sort of predator (though, I’m not sure there’s any psychological test for werewolfism… then again, I’m still early in my post-grad studies) Sandra isn’t sure. All Norbert can offer is, the bruises on Jimmy’s body don’t seem out of the ordinary for an active boy.
Sandra wants to talk to Jimmy one last time before sending the family on their way. Second verse, same as the first… he feels as though Art’s a good dude… it’s just that he’s a werewolf. Hey, nobody’s perfect!
The Child Services Trio has no reason to keep the fam… so, they send them home. We learn via a little caption that Jimmy was dead one month later. Wait, what? That’s our ending? Ya kidding me?
Um… ya know… I’m thinkin’, maybe I just don’t like Wasteland. This was one of them “tackled on the one-yard line” sort of deals… where the story was decently told, and intriguing… but, that ending? Woof… what in the hell was that? What were we supposed to take away with that?
Jimmy’s dead, right? Well, in one-month’s time he will be. But… is that even relevant to this story? I mean, it’s called “Warning Signals”, so we might be able to assume… but, really… without any sort of context, who can say? Maybe he was beaten to death by Art… maybe Art actually is a werewolf? Though, then… perhaps it would have been more appropriate to end this with a caption that read “Jimmy died during the next full moon”? Maybe Jimmy just fell down a well, and there wasn’t a dog nearby to go alert the townsfolk? Yeesh.
Maybe this is a commentary on how handcuffed Child Protective Services can be? But, again… Jimmy’s folks haven’t given us enough of a reason to be concerned. All we have is a wild claim that Art’s a werewolf… but, otherwise, is a really good dude. Sandra and Company, even if they were in full agreement (which they weren’t), wouldn’t have a leg to stand on if they decided it would be in Jimmy’s best interests to separate him from his parents.
Just don’t know what to think about this one. Lots of great build-up… but, just like most episodes of the Twilight Zone, had an almost aggressively weak ending. Almost feels like all of the build was just time wasted. Good art though!
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