Armagideon Time

Today I attended a funeral for a man I once tried to kill.

The December of 1987 wasn’t a great time for my family. My father was drying out in a court-mandated rehab facility, while my mother was slipping further into the booze-induced agoraphobia which would incapacitate her entirely.

Into this cheery holiday season came an notice of eviction from my grandmother’s lawyer, stating that we had thirty days to vacate our side of the duplex we lived in.

Me, being young and angry and full of panic went next door to confront her about it. I told her my grandfather would roll over in his grave if he knew about it, despite the fact that he was alive and in vegetative state at a hospice in Brighton following a massive stroke the previous summer.

“GRANPIE’S NOT DEAD, HOW DARE YOU SAY THAT” she wailed as she pushed me out the door.

A couple of hours later, someone began pounding on our front door and shouting. It was my mother’s sister and her fiance.

He was the archetypical Angry White Guy, a chronically unemployable and disgruntled loser who loved guns, martial arts, and blaming minorities for his self-induced lot in life. He’d been friends with my dad at one point, but had a violent falling out when he announced he’d started going to Klan meetings and my dad physically ejected him from our North Woburn apartment.

For some reason, he and my aunt decided to assume the role of my grandmother’s enforcers that evening. My mom, who was already brittle from the booze and mental health issues, went into full panic attack mode.

“Don’t answer it. Don’t answer it. Don’t answer it,” she kept mumbling right up until the asshole put his fist through the screen door.

Using the sound sense of judgment intrinsic to all fifteen year old boys, I went upstairs and grabbed the shotgun my dad gave me the previous summer.

It was piss-ant weapon even by grouse-hunting standards. Even if I had ammo for it, the mechanism for ejecting spent shells was broken. Yet it still implied a threat through which I could project my adolescent heroic idiocy.

I opened the door, leveled the gun at him and told him to leave us the fuck alone. He grabbed the barrel. We tussled on the front steps. For someone so keen into martial arts, he did not put up an impressive fight against a skinny, hysterical teenager.

I wrested the gun back from his grip and went back into the house. He did not follow.

Then the police showed up. My mom had called them.

This being a simpler time, they merely confiscated the shotgun and gave me a lecture about not being a fucking idiot. It apparently stuck, because I’ve had no desire to own or handle a firearm since.

Nothing came of the eviction notice, apart from my grandmother and I not speaking to each other until my mother’s death a year later…when she took de facto custody of my brother and me. We haven’t spoken of the event in the twenty-seven years since.

(My grandmother has a knack for rewriting family history to remove the unpleasant parts. It’s something of a necessity, given my family.)

As for my uncle, Jim Beam and Johnny Walker did what me and my unloaded shotgun couldn’t. Decades of drinking and hate devoured his brain, leaving behind a shambling husk that eventually succumbed to internal organ failure.

I take no joy in his passing, as he was more pathetic figure than an odious one in the decade before his passing. That incident on the front steps is something I try not to think about, but these past few days have made me wonder what would have happened if the gun had been loaded.

Could I have? Would I have?

I suspect I’m better off not knowing the answer to that.

Recommended listening: Screaming Dead – A Dream of Yesterday (from a 1985 12″)

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Nice track, but all my dreams of yesterday are soundtracked by a Quiet Riot cover band.

Given that its asking price works out to thirty-seven inflation-adjusted dollars and the relative preponderance of “scary” artificial jack o’ lanterns, the above ad begs the question of “who’d drop the kind of dough on an a latex attack pumpkin kit?”

The type of person who lived on a tertiary side street of the old neighborhood’s main drag, in either a paint-peeling post-war bungalow or the ground floor rear unit of a seedy duplex. The driveway would be occupied by the rusting shell of a ’69 Camaro with a mismatched front quarter panel or — barring that — a dingy Econoline van with busted springs and the eternally unfinished outline of a barbarian queen airbrushed on the side.

As remote and forbidding a place it may have been during the rest of the year, it was decorated to the nines on Halloween. The walk up to the doorway was lined with illuminated skulls, synthetic cobwebs, and cardboard headstones. The attack pumpkin itself occupied a place of honor on the cracked concrete of the stoop (on closer examination, a temporary-permanent mass of cinderblocks and grout arranged in a stoop-like shape).

The doorbell did not work, so you rapped your tiny knuckles on the dented metal door while shouting “TRICK OR TREAT!” There’d be the muffled sound of fumbling followed by blare of an ELP album and the scent of the finest weed capable of growing in a remote patch of the sand pits Down Back.

“A BOOGA BOOGA BOOO!” shouted an anemic man with shoulder length hair, a handlebar mustache, and imperfectly applied Alice Cooper face paint as he twirls his black cape in your direction. Your little brother began to bawl behind his plastic Batman mask. Your father put his hand his yowling get’s shoulder and grunted “Don’t be such a baby.”

“LET’S SEE WHAT TREATS I HAVE FOR YOU LITTLE GOBLINS,” said the man in the cape as he reached back into his blacklit lair to produce a bowlful of Clark bars and Zagnuts.

The man dropped a single nugget of candy into your brother’s holiday-requisioned pillowcase and then your own, before turning to your old man.

“Russ! Good to see ya, man!” His voice reminded you of that one character’s on Devlin. “Hey, you wouldn’t know if the warehouse at your place is hiring, would ya?”

You looked up away from the toes of your shoes long enough to notice your dad’s grip on your brother’s shoulder tighten a little.

“I don’t know, Jim. I’ll have to ask around and get back to you.”

“Yeah? That’d be great! You know where to find me!”

The door creaked shut behind you as you headed back out toward the road, but your mind was already preoccupied why what confectionery treasures the next house might hold.

Recommended listening: The Miracle Workers – Already Gone (from Inside Out, 1985)

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Amazing what fragments the relentless teeth of devouring years occasionally spit out for examination.

G. Gordon Liddy went as a plumber that year.

As the above excerpt from Hugh Sidey’s November 10, 1972 column in LIFE demonstrates, Young Andrew’s first Halloween was a truly macabre event…though it lacked the pyrotechnic elan of his first Easter.

Recommended listening: The Daylighters – Mad House Jump (from a 1959 single)

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Actual monsters may be more quotidian (and dangerous) than depicted.

I was, besides, endued with a figure hideously garbed in synthetic fibers and slathered with Brut 33; I was not even of the same nature as man. I was more agile than they and could subsist upon Whiskey Sours and Peruvian flake; I bore the extremes of night fevers and disco infernos with less injury to my frame; my hustle far exceeded theirs. When I looked around, I could not understand the New York Times effect on man.

Recommended listening: Hot Blood – Baby Frankie Stein (from Disco Dracula, 1977)

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Yet another monstrosity cobbled together from assorted scraps and given a semblance of life by a misguided visionary.


(from “The Secret of the Sea Monsters” by Writer Unknown and Mort Meskin in House of Secrets #25, October 1959)

Boy, those sea monsters sure were picky!

Get it? “Picky?” Get it?

Sigh.

Recommended listening: Résistance – Across the Ocean (from a 1989 single)

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Caution: Waves may be colder than anticipated.


(from “Halloween — It’s a Scream!” in Swing With Scooter #24, January 1970)

It’s a shame they didn’t stick to the original concept pitch for the Gotham TV series.

Recommended listening: The Birthday Party – Release the Bats (from Junkyard, 1982)

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Or you could spend the better part of a decade exhausting every ancillary part of their mythos without actually introducing the character that ties all that nonsense together.

L.A. had Vampira. Cleveland had Ghoulardi. Chicago had (and has) Svengoolie. In post-war Fawcett City, the small-screen maestro of the macabre role was filled by…

…the “Ghost Announcer” who thrilled audiences with tales of supernatural terror and proved to be a huge success for WHIZ-TV.

Or it was, until head writer I. J. Scarum jumped stations and the Ghost Announcer was confronted with the truly existential terror of being fired and replaced with an ambitious young kiss-ass.

Granted, the “Ghost Announcer” might not have been any great shakes in the branding department, but the decision to shitcan a colorful and telegenic persona in favor of fresh-faced twerp whose balls had yet dropped was an early example of the management skills which would eventually result in WHIZ’s sale to the Home Shopping Network in 1987.

So eager was Billy Batson to deprive a fellow employee of his livelihood that the intrepid boy reporter never considered whether he had the chops required for the gig. (It would still be a couple of years before Billy tricked Mr. Tawny into an open-ended writing contract which paid in “professional exposure” and cans of Fancy Feast.)

Short answer: He didn’t.

In his desperation to avoid the mid-season cancellation axe, Billy made an ethically dubious decision to send his heroic alter ego out on a tour of “real” haunted houses. Though an entirely viable plan for a 21st Century reality show bullshit slinger, it was less than successful in an era without night vision filters and shakycam technology.

Upon completing a fruitless survey of “17 haunted houses, 12 haunted graveyards, and two haunted pianos,” Billy was forced to wing it…

…with entirely unsurprising results.

With Billy’s status as corporate golden boy shaken, station owner Mr. Morris decided to woo I. J. Scarum back to WHIZ-TV’s fold with a fat check and a lifetime contract. Morris and Billy (and Captain Marvel) pitched their case by beating up Scarum’s butler and crashing at his requisitely creepy mansion until he acquiesced to the deal. (It may sound a little excessive, but I hear that’s how Paramount landed Bing Crosby.)

After a pair of S-P-O-O-K-Y occurrences — the most terrifying involving Mr. Morris strutting his dough-sculpted physique…

…the truth behind the writer’s reclusive ways comes out. You see, the enigmatic “I.J. Scarum” was actually — brace yourselves —

A REAL GHOST.

A genuine George S. COFFIN-man, a dedicated Dalton TRUM-BOO, a regular RINGU Lardner, a professional Preston CURSES, an actual A-SCARE-YA Kurosawa, a…okay I’ll stop now.

Using a negotiation technique commonly known as “blackmail,” the World’s Mightest Mortal locked the screenwriting spectre into an exclusive contract which made everyone involved feel pleased as punch.

Well, everyone except for the guy who played the Ghost Announcer, but that’s showbiz for you.

(from “Captain Marvel and the Ghostly Ghostwriter” by Bill Woolfolk and possibly Pete Costanza in Captain Marvel Adventures #68, December 1946)

Recommended listening: Your Funeral – I Wanna Be You (from a 1982 single)

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A taste of the ol’ Death Rocky Mountain high, by an all-female trio of Colorado doomsingers.

Fonzie’s mirror on the wall, who’s the most Bronze Age character of them all?

What’s that, mirror? You say the Bronze Age is best defined as a number of overlapping trends — from Kirby moving to DC to the relaxation of the CCA to a new generation of socially aware creators to the appropriation of exploitation cinema themes and tropes — which make it impossible to summarize via a single character?

Fair enough, but the judges would have also accepted Devil-Slayer.

The character was a Rich Buckler creation plucked from the ruins of the Atlas-Seaboard misfire (where he went by the handle of “Demon Hunter”) and thrown (open-masked) face first into the bizarre modern day epilogue of Buckler’s Deathlok the Demolisher run.

I won’t lie to you. My thirteen year old self thought this team-up was, in the vernacular of the era, the balls. My thirteen year old self also had a greasy rat-tail and listened to Quiet Riot, so make of that what you will.

Eric Simon Payne (aka Devil-Slayer aka Demon Hunter aka Imp Offer) was an army vet and assassin for the Agents of Fortune, a demonic cult who worshipped the dreaded B’uck D’harma. To ensure their chosen minion would never fear the reaper, the cult leaders helped awaken the Slayer’s latent psychic powers in addition to granting him a teleportation cloak and the finest fighting togs the Mighty Men and Monster Maker could provide.

After turning against his masters, Devil-Slayer waged a one-man war against the forces of the supernatural that logically began with battling a cyber-enhanced super-soldier from the dystopian 1990s and ended with assisting the Defenders thwart Satan’s (Mephisto, really) invasion of the mortal realm.

Having defeated The Not-Actual Devil, Payne found the salt of demon-slaying had lost its savor and sought solace in increasingly erratic behavior and the type of foul spirits that can purchased for five bucks a gallon at the local package store.

He found a new savior, however, in the form of the ghost of a hippie junkie (wearing a “Woodstock” t-shirt, because there nothing so obvious in the Jim Shooter Era that couldn’t be explicitly restated) who helped Payne reconcile with his estranged wife, rekindle his Christian faith, and find himself a nice comfy place in the “inactive” category of the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe‘s Book of the Dead.

He eventually returned to action as the star of some serialized filler in Marvel Comics Presents, followed by scattered appearances on the fringes of the “Midnight Sons” sub-imprint, and a “mature readers” (sorry, but that phrase will always appear in sarcasm quotes when it pertains to funnybooks) mini-series starring a legacy version of the character.

In recent years, the original Devil-Slayer — sporting a more generically contemporary superhero set of duds — has popped up in the Initiative books as one of Hawaii’s chosen protectors and a member of Wonder Man’s retro-extreme “Revengers” team.

He also made it onto the short list of possible candidates to replace Dr. Strange as Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme…presumably right below “throw the Eye of Agamotto out the window and hope for the best.”

Everything about Devil-Slayer — the off-the-rack costume, the lurid-yet-bland name, the uneven mish-mash of period tropes — screams “character created for a mock-up comic prop for a 1977 sitcom episode.” He represents the Bronze Age of Comics in its purest and tractionless form, knocking around the edges of a shared universe before getting kicked to the curb well after his effective sell-by date.

As such, there’s part of me that can’t help but like the poor doofus, but not enough to prevent me from casting him into the eternal pit of Nobody’s Favorites.

Recommended listening: Things to Come – Speak of the Devil (from a 1966 single)

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LOOK OUT! THE SOUNDS ARE COMING FROM INSIDE THE GARAGE!

First things first — I enjoy doing the Halloween countdown. It has, in fact, saved this site on a couple of occasions where I held back from calling it quits because I couldn’t bring myself to break the annual tradition. A theme month can be a great method for taking a break without going on an actual hiatus, because I can run in low-content mode for thirty-one days while my creative batteries recharge and my self-loathing abates. If folks happen to get a kick out of it, that’s just icing on the cake.

At the same time, my enthusiasm for the Halloween season has waned over the past few years. Fall used to be my favorite time of year. It’s the best part of living in New England, where the topography, history, and climate collude to create a truly magical environment. My pulse would quicken around the end of September as the days grew shorter, the air crisper, and the bittersweet scent of fallen leaves filled the air.

It was a time for dusting off my favorite works of horror fiction, digging out the most macabre selections from my music library, and breathing deeply of the autumnal spirit.

Yet October 2014 is almost halfway over and I haven’t so much as touched my tome of collected Lovecraft stories. Or felt the urge to revisit Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Or drop the 1960s bubblegum from my playlists in favor of some Bauhaus or Blood and Roses. (Honestly, the only “spooky” music I’ve listened to has been the stuff I’ve posted here or on my jam page, and those have been more chore than celebratory.)

For some reason, fall stopped being about for gleeful ghoulishness and started being about real life nightmares — ailing relatives, unpleasant surprises, and other quotidian horrors. Vicarious chills have given way to the existential dread of a late night phone call announcing that the other shoe has indeed dropped.

It has been especially true this year, an extended trip through hell which has done in any sense of equanimity I might have possessed. In a better world, the next few weeks would have been the happiest of my life, but it wasn’t to be…and the hits just keep on coming.

“I wish fall could be what it used to be,” says the wife after getting some unpleasant news from her family.

“I think we’re past the age where it could ever be that,” I respond. “Now it’s about marking time and watching the consequences thereof.”

The foliage is still nice, though.

Recommended listening: In Excelsis – One Man’s Heaven (from Prey, 1985)

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Not all men.

The way of all lawn furniture.

This is what autumn looks like at the House on the Hillside.

Recommended listening: Trance – Time Devours (from a 1980 single)

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And leaves nothing but bones in its wake.

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