Four Color Grind: Hellbound Trains & Men From Space




The work of Robert Bloch will live on thanks to Alfred Hitchcock’s adaptation of his immensely disturbing Psycho.  Every time the shower scene gets parodied in some lame Scary Movie spoof or sitcom homage a new Bloch fan is born.  But Psycho is only 208 pages and its sequels Psycho II, Psycho House, and the anthology Psycho-Paths read even quicker.  So after you’ve blitzed through the (SPOILERS for a film 52 years old and permanently scarred in the pop culture landscape) crossdressing slasher saga of Norman Bates where does the Bloch fan turn?  There are definitely some great novels to consume (Night World and Night of the Ripper being two of my personal favorites), but I’d probably recommend a marathon devouring of his short stories and a quick glance at his Star Trek giant cat vs Kirk Halloween episode, Catspaw.


Most of his short story collections are long out of print, but you can still find classics like “Yours Truly Jack The Ripper,” “The Midnight People,” and “That Hellbound Train” within every annual October themed anthology.  And now comic publisher IDW has hired modern master of the bizarre, Joe R Lansdale to adapt them into comics.  Bloch has been shoehorned into the comic form in the past (his stuff was thoroughly butchered in the 70s by Marvel’s Journey Into Mystery and Monsters Unleashed), but I dare you to find a pervious adaptation as solid as the work currently being conducted by IDW.



Joe R. Lansdale was quite the horror maestro in the late 80s and early 90s before the paperback gluttony-turned-depression pretty much devastated the entire genre leaving only Stephen King and Dean Koontz atop a pile of mid-level author corpses.  All you poor Bastards out there should grab a copy of The Nightrunners from your local used bookstore, and you rich Bastards should drop some of that hard cash you’ve got lining your mattresses for one of the highfalutin expensive Subterranean Press editions.  It’s a brutal little pulp horror tale that owes a lot to Robert Bloch’s Jack The Ripper obsession and it’s spawned some rather nasty God of the Razor imitators itself.


Lansdale is no stranger to adaptations.  He’s helped pen the screenplay to the crazy Elvis vs Mummy flick “Bubba Ho-Tep” as well as introducing the weird west of Jonah Hex into the classic 90s cartoon Batman: The Animated Adventures.  He gets what made these stories great in the first place, and he writes his adaptations out of genuine love, cramming as much of the original work into the panels as possible.  I honestly couldn’t think of a better writer to adapt Robert Bloch’s “That Hellbound Train.”


This is classic campfire storytelling.  Set sometime during the Depression when steam locomotives were essential for proper hobo narratives, the story centers around an orphan named Martin whose Railroad Man Daddy drunkenly wanders in front of a spectral train and is splattered across a good two panels of gore.  Martin, who always paid special attention to his Daddy’s ghost stories, grows up stumbling from one bum job to the next and eventually encounters the demonic conductor of That Hellbound Train.  A bargain is struck between the two, Martin’s soul for the train if he’s given the ability to stop time when he wants.  But like most Faustian deals, things go sour.  And bloody.



Joe Lansdale’s That Hellbound Train is an impressively fun adaptation of the original Robert Bloch story.  And Dave Wachtner’s dark art is the perfect chunky black fit for the story’s campfire style.  But at $17.99, this three issue story wraps up far too quickly; you sit down on the couch with the book and a cup of joe and fifteen minutes later you’re done with the book and you’ve still got an inch left of coffee.  That’s kind of an unsatisfying feeling.  Sure, it’s great that there’s another place for Psychophiles to turn to when the runtime is up, but I really wish IDW would collect their three Bloch adaptations (That Hellbound Treain, Yours Truly Jack The Ripper, and Lori) into one hefty tome.  Cut us Bastards a break with a 30 dollar price tag.


Special Bonus Review!!!



For whatever reason, I’ve never had much enthusiasm for Newspaper Comic Strips.  I’ve tried my hand at Calvin & Hobbs, Get Fuzzy, Dilbert, Liberty Meadows.  I just can’t absorb the short three panel bursts of so-called comedy.  And I have the same sort of problem when it comes to web comics.  There’s definitely some good stuff out there:  Matt Herms’ Sticky Floors, Player vs Player, American Elf.  But you’ve gotta wade through a lot of junk to find that gold and I don’t have the time to play prospector these days.  But the great thing about the internet is that you inevitably stumble upon all sorts or weird, wild stuff with just one click on Twitter.  That’s how I discovered Marc Jackson’s simplisticly bonkers Man From Space:  The Intergalactic Adventures of an Outer-Space Ass Hole.


The book (is it still a book if it lives inside my laptop?  Ah, Brave New World and all that) opens with our caped, bearded hero crash landing on a chunky green planet cuz he let Michael, his fingerless fish bowl friend drive the ship.  Michael BLOOPS and SCHLOOPS his conversation allowing Man From Space to shout dialog at the reader, slim exposition rattling off the page.  The charm of the comic comes from the unrelenting randomness in which our two heroes encounter the supporting cast.  One page they’re being startled by the pink dildo looking Whemblo (Sacre Bleu!), the next they’re running from terrorizing Voltbots, and THEN! they’re fighting giant sea monsters as they seek answers from some being called LARP.



Look, Man From Space is going to leave you scratching your head.  It’s random and it’s sophomoric, but that’s kinda the delight of it all as well.  There’s a kinetic pace to the story jumping from one nutso situation to another and once you blink the story is over.  But unlike That Hellbound Train, you don’t have that sad realization that you’ve dropped $17.99 for a fifteen minute read.  Man From Space might not be the best web comic I’ve encountered, but it’s certainly not the worst and it’s a light & frothy way to kill a few minutes.







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