The Martian Monster and Other Stories – Jack Kamen & Al Feldstein – (Fantagraphics)

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The chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one, he said. Well, the odds have shortened because The Martian Monster is here, embodied in all its tentacled and suckered glory in the eponymous tale of the latest offering from Fantagraphics’ ongoing series, the EC Library. Sitting – or should that be sucking and slithering? –amongst twenty-one other similarly bizarre 50s-esque imaginings, this new collection showcases the work of illustrator Jack Kamen, and adds yet another – by no means lesser – talent to the considerable stable of artists/writers already granted their own volumes of retrospective oeuvre. Jack who? I hear some of you cry, and nod understandingly. For while Kamen’s name might trip easily from the tongues of comic book aficionados, it perhaps struggles from the lips of your average reader. Suffice to say Jack Kamen began his career on romance titles but truly bloomed upon becoming from their very inception a stalwart of those iconic titles so indelibly linked with the early days of the genre, Weird Science and Weird Fantasy.

Kamen was known for his clean style and cute yet strangely voluptuous women, and there are plenty of those within the various misadventures penned by Al Feldstein and Gardner Fox gathered herein. There’s the disturbing Experiment… In Death – fatal air bubbles injected into dogs and humans so they might be brought back to life – to I Created A Gargantua! -a scientist meddles in things he doesn’t understand and creates a … well, you’ve got three guesses – through to my personal favourite, Divide And Conquer, in which a jilted lover clones an army of miniaturised naked girlfriends. Yeah, I know. It’s probably my personal favourite for all the wrong reasons.

Kamen’s style is easy-on-the-eye and pleasing, even if the rationale of much of what he illustrates you’d do best not to question. Because as Kamen’s women walk a strange line betwixt innocence and sleaze, the scripts walk a similar line between shock and silliness, far-out freakiness and familiarity, including an example of time-travel mechanics that, shall we say, stretches credulity a tad. But one has to remember that what might seem corny or clichéd now was new back in the back when – this was weird science and fantasy, damn it! – and as with anything that contains a Physio-Chemical Decomposer And Re-Aligner, therein lies its appeal and very much its charm. Book-ended by the usual story breakdowns, biogs and EC histories, The Martian Monster with its back cover blurb of “Puny Minds! Atomic Explosions! Unknown Forces!” is a must for any B-Movie graphic novel fan, of which I’m sure there are plenty, including me, whether we be cloned or otherwise. Mike Wild

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