Monday, September 8, 2014

Review: Seekers of the Weird Marvel Comics series

Nope. I'm not going to apologize this time. I've just accepted the fact that I am a ridiculously inconsistent writer, and you all should too. Just think of me as the George R.R. Martin of horror blogging. You may have to wait months or years for something new, but it's always worth it, amirite?

"In the next book, I kill off Dr. Who, the Avengers, and your best friend. I HAVE THE POWER TO DO IT."

Obviously, I've kept up with all the various horror-related news and trends while I've been away, and made sure to watch as many new releases as I could spare time for. It seems like we've got another batch of sequels and demon possession flicks on the way, and I'm decidedly underwhelmed about those. Lately, I've been doing more comic reading than movie-going for my regular helpings of scary and silly. I'm particularly keen on the 5-part series from Marvel and Disney entitled Seekers of the Weird.

Just look at that cover art. That thing is beautiful.

Seekers of the Weird is unique, and takes a bit of real world back-story to understand fully. Back when Unca' Walt was still alive and developing new attractions for his still young Disneyland park, the Haunted Mansion was more or less in concept limbo. An (over)abundance of Imagineers were contributing their ideas and theories about what the spooky old house on the hill should be: is it a ride? A walking tour? Is there a story? Do we have too many stories? Are we going for a Gothic feel, or something more American Colonial? Will there be witches and monsters in addition to the ghouls? How about the Headless Horseman as a constant threat to the guests' safety?

In the midst of all this confusion was a man named Rolly Crump. Rolly came up with some exceptionally twisted designs. A candleman burning away to nothing. A chair that came to life. An animated gypsy wagon. An aquarium with "ghost" fish. Walt Disney reportedly loved Crump's art, but had no clue how to incorporate any of it into the finished attraction. It was finally decided that most, if not all of Rolly's work would become a standalone "Museum of the Weird" that guests could experience either before or after the Haunted Mansion proper, perusing the exhibits at their leisure. Crump was never given much credit for his work, even though it is widely believed that his concept art was directly responsible for the iconic "eyes" wallpaper guests see in the ride.

If you've ever been to the Haunted Mansion in Anaheim, then you know this plan never materialized. Now, 45 years later, we have Seekers of the Weird, a five-part comic series inspired by Rolly's unrealized Museum. So, it's a comic book about a Disney attraction that definitely exists, but was never actually built. Get it? Got it? Good, because we're moving on. Teens Maxwell and Melody are often roped into working the counter at their parents' occult bookstore after school. Max rather likes the creepy stuff, but Melody couldn't care less. They both have to learn a large amount in a short time however, because their parents have been kidnapped by an impossibly evil force, and if they don't retrieve a certain magical artifact before the Candleman burns down, the entire world could go up in smoke. The kids have to place their trust in their Uncle Roland, the black sheep of the family who points them to the knowledge (and weapons) they need. 

As a story, Seekers is passable. The series is definitely more "influenced by" Rolly Crump's designs rather than trying to use them in an original and thrilling way. Without the Disney ties and the artwork, this wouldn't be a bad book, but it would be less interesting on the whole. The art for the book is splendidly done. The Museum of the Weird is appropriately creepy and disjointed, and the creatures our heroes encounter are legitimately frightening. Marvel takes advantage of the opportunity to craft characters and villains for Disney that the Mouse House wouldn't normally do, and the results are great. 

Seekers of the Weird is only the first in the Disney Kingdoms line, which aims to craft new stories based on little-known and/or abandoned concepts and characters from Disney movies and attractions. If you're a Mousketeer, be sure to look for their upcoming Figment and Dreamfinder book. Yes, really. In the meantime, if you appreciate inspired spooky artwork or have been a fan of Disney's Haunted Mansion from way back, Seekers of the Weird is a fitting tribute to an incredible artistic talent who doesn't get enough credit as well as the amazing dark ride he helped create. The hardcover collection of all five issues is out now (use the first link above the cover art to download issue #1 for FREE from Marvel Comics. Just use promo code "WEIRD" after adding the issue to your cart).

For more info on Mr. Crump and his contributions to the Haunted Mansion, be sure to visit Long-forgotten, an incredible historical blog on all things Disney's Haunted Mansion. The author Dan Olson knows so much about the ride, I think he could tell you how many nails are in the building. 

Next time at the Drive-in: What are you asking me for? You know I don't know.

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