Happy Fall, Y’all! It’s Andy Larson here with another entry in my never ending quest to read all the comics ever. Yeah, lofty goals I’m sure, but you know what they say, you gotta aim big so that when eventually you miss your mark completely, you can always just blame it on the fact that you bit off more than you could chew. That’s a pretty universal and understandable excuse for failing so you’ll always get still a pat on the back for it.
In any case, now that October is upon us and the inevitable repeats of “It’s a Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” start flooding our airways, of course it’s time to start talking about the spooky and macabre as we prepare for Halloween. Being no slouch to jump on the band wagon of exciting century old trends, I’ve decided that all this month, my read pile entries are going to all have an either horror or supernatural bent to them. That doesn’t mean I’m going to just steal all my brother’s copies of Eerie and drone on about them. But hopefully by month’s end, you’ll have an better appreciation for the rich collection of these types of books out there on shelves everywhere, many of them mainstream.
First on the list is the “opening” feature to a fairly recent series released by Dark Horse back in 2014, Grindhouse: Doors Open at Midnight. The series was written by Alex de Campi whose Smoke/Ashes series was nominated for an Eisner for best limited series in 2013.
For those of you not hip enough to know what a grindhouse is, it was hallmark of the urban scene of the late 60s and 70s, offering patrons double, triple, and “all night” bills on a single admission charge while at the same time showcasing what could be at the very least considered films of dubious nature. Films shot for and screened at grindhouses characteristically contain large amounts of sex, violence, and/or bizarre subject matter such as sadism. Some of the more famous sub genres of cinema featured were slasher pics, blaxploitation & sexploitation films, and Hong Kong produced martial arts pictures. Although quality varied, most of these films sported low budget production values and poor print quality.
However all of this has just added to mystique surrounding these films and many have gone on to acquire either cult followings, critical praise or both. This is especially true since the Quentin Tarantino style of film-making hit Hollywood causing a even more rabid interest in this once thought disposable art form.
All of this adds up to Mr. De Campi trying to capture the magic of the grind-house experience and translate that into the comic book medium. Attempting to recreate even the feeling of the famous grind-house double or triple bill of “films”, the entire series is broken up into four 2 issue long stories.
That means there isn’t a ton of time for exposition or character development in any of these stories, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I feel like if you are the type to pick up this series anyways, you are consciously buying into the notion of watching a grind-house picture, some of which are notorious for cutting corners and just delivering the goods as it were. Sure that might be an major artistic conceit, but I feel like it works here.
In any case, on to the meat and potatoes of this read pile, which is a review of the first “movie” in this series: Bee Vixens from Mars. With downright voluptuous art by Chris Peterson, this mix of slasher sci-fi and Russ Meyer titillation does deliver on the type of story I was expecting from the series with the title of “grind-house”.
It’s no secret that of all those on the Ghost of the Stratosphere podcast, I’m the one with the dirty mind more often than not, especially when it comes to the comic book ladies. Guilty as charged when I say I do love me some good ol’ fashioned “pin up” art and when it comes to cheesecake, I’ve never not asked for seconds. And this tale of an alien bee hive infecting young women with devilish mutant honey which transforms them into ravenous, sexually savage bee creatures hell bent on devouring men and laying their eggs inside of them is…well…just that. It’s a vehicle for delivering the kind of story I swear I saw on a cable access station as the late late night movie back when I was 14. Complete with the gratuitous and overly sexualized scene of two busty ass chicks licking honey off each other.
I mean, c’mon, we all know why those panels are there, shame on you Mr. Peterson, but at the same time Bravo! If I was reading a comic called “Grindhouse” and I didn’t get stuff like this, I would have demanded my money back!
However, at the same time we are given images that would make the marketing department at Carl’s Jr. blush, Bee Vixens does also deliver a solid female protagonist in Garcia, a no nonsense law enforcer with a eye patch and a kick ass motorcycle. In fact in a story in which most of the men become insect food as a result of their sex addled brains, Garcia never loses her steel riveted resolve and that true grit really endears you to this character as the story progresses. Like the toughest of any Texas ranger that you might see in a John Wayne picture, Garcia is more than capable of ending the “curse” of this extraterrestrial apiary.
Now again, I shouldn’t really comment too much on this given I’m not a female, but I thought it was pretty empowering that in a book that is based in the raunchy sexploitation of the villains, some sort of femme fatale meets porn star, the heroine actually is rejected by their hive as not being an appropriate specimen. It’s like Garcia exemplifies a woman’s true strength of character and compassion for protecting others more than any of the other women caught up in the tangled web that were subsequently reduced to bloodthirsty jiggle fests. It’s like the book is saying point blank “Hey, real women need not apply to the cults of darkness. We need you gals fighting for what’s right!”
Of course I’m not going to go as far as saying Garcia is any Elizabeth Warren or something. At the end of the book she does after all rip open her flaming jacket exposing her chest and the “Bad Ass Chica” tattooed across her breasts. So even with our more independent self determined female lead, she can’t fully escape the sexualized nature of the grindhouse genre.
Nor is Garcia given a ton of characterization beyond a general sense of justice and morality which is somewhat reinforced just simply because she’s introduced as a police officer. Again, with only two issues of exposition and most of that being either battle scenes or the aforementioned titillation, Garcia is just kind of thrown into the heroic deep end and told to sink or swim.
But I will say she succeeds just as well as many other action heroes from B movies to big budget blockbusters. She’s got the swagger, the narrative induced immorality, the near super human strength, and of course any good action movies best friend: clever dialogue (especially when delivering that righteous death blow to a worthy foe).
So, in the end, the big question is whether or not in the face of some pretty sexist and chauvinistic artwork and campy sci-fi horror writing, did I like this book?
Well, let me start by reminding everyone that reads my blog exactly who I am: A child of the 80s that grew up into dirty old man. So of course, I liked this book. I like shapely females, tons of over the top cartoonish violence, and cheesy dialogue. It’s mindless, cheeky, and for the most part harmless. A good book to read while drinking a beer or 3 some evening when nothing good is on the TV.
And I applaud Alex De Campi and Chris Peterson for getting that. This is not supposed to be Citizen Kane. It’s not supposed to be some high flalooting morality play or super serious exposé into humanity’s deepest inter nature. Nope, this is supposed to be super stylized cornball trash. Empty calories, like gummie bears for your mind. That’s what even the best Grind-house movies boil down to. That’s what makes them fun to watch with your friends. Nobody takes it seriously to the point that it’s ingrained into the culture. It’s just something to tune in and drop out for a bit.
And when it’s done in way that Bee Vixens is in which it’s not exactly parody or satire of that genre but instead of loving tribute to the fun that is gained by watching some of these cult classics, it really is something special.
Andy’s Read Pile Grade: B+