0 comment Sunday, June 1, 2014 | admin
We join our cursed hero Andrew Bennett as he and his two human cohorts Deborah Dancer, the beautiful blonde, and Dmitri Mishkin, the grizzled man of the world, trek across the California coast in order to find Mary, the evil Queen of Blood. Mary was once a human, but one bite from the immortal Andrew transformed the woman into a heartless succubus who now seeks to destroy the entire human race through the help of her undead slaves that make up the order of the Blood Red Moon. Only a few panels into House of Mystery #297�s cover story "Zen Flesh! Zen Bones!" (the fifth installment of the "I� Vampire!" series written by J. M. DeMatteis) and already the tale smells of high-flying adventure saga!
Making their way through the hot August night and invasive brambles, the trio comes upon the abandoned yet still splendorous remains of a temple of the ineffable Tao. Andrew recalls a book that they had gained possession of in a previous story that named several groups and organizations that were under Mary�s employ, using them to spread her dark influence throughout innocent society.* Angered at the prospect of Mary corrupting something as sacred as a Tao temple (apparently Andrew takes his meditations very seriously), Andrew kicks the door in and the group goes in to investigate.
*Apparently one such group was a collection of white supremacists working under the name of the American Freedom Party. The bloodsucking undead and the KKK� does anyone else see a blaxploitation classic in the making here?!
The silence inside is suddenly broken by the mournful tunes of a guitar emanating from a back room. Taking a peek inside, they spot a young man plucking his dulcet strings (don�t get fresh now!) and weeping over his fate. Seeing Bennett sets the hippie off on an angered rant that just ends up with him getting a slap to the face for being a whiny rotter. Deborah calms the whippersnapper down and the Tao urchin, named Billy Kessler, narrates his tale of woe. Having journeyed to the land of the Orient for a little self-improvement, the golden-locked misfit was aided by the good Master Shoju (who told Billy "I shall Shoju the way to the path of righteousness.")
Billy helped the good sensei by moving his headquarters to America, only for the little old wizard to turn on him in a fangy reign of savagery. The poor Shoju had been turned into one of the walking dead by that diabolical Mary, who then took the master and some of his apprentices further up the coast to build a Lair of DOOOM to serve as their bloodthirsty stronghold. But Shoju didn�t leave before giving Billy a good nip on the neck, thus reversing a decade�s worth of practicing passive aggression.
So what�s a group led by a renegade member of the undead to do but head straight for that deathtrap down the road? They crawl and somersault across the fortress thanks to Andrew�s amazing Olympic abilities and the next thing you know the slavering canines are exposed and we�re treated to an all-out vampire/ martial arts showdown!
Wow, Billy sure is flexible.
The panels don�t necessarily explode with sweaty, bloody-knuckled, rotting skin action, but it�s an enjoyable enough fight scene that creates a nice, dynamic climax for the tale (Michael Bay fans: sorry, no random explosions or noisy robots). But just as the heroes are giving the toothy monks a few stakes to the chest, Andrew begins questioning his surroundings when the red-eyed Billy urges Bennett to deliver the final blow to the fallen Shoju.
Sensing the treachery that�s been thrown over his eyes like a velvet cape, Andrew turns on the sniveling Billy and instead buries the spike into the hippie�s heart with a good blow from the mallet. The traitor crumbles to dust, and a thankful Master Shoju reveals that it was Billy who was under Mary�s palm all along. Turns out Shoju and his disciples are indeed night-walkers, but they are of the placid and serene variety (think of Count von Count, only if he was as deadly with his fists as he is with numbers). Shoju had prayed that the good-hearted Bennett would make the right decision and the vampires resolve to finally crack down Queen Mary�s cult once and for all.
This being my first journey into the pages of one of DC Comics� horror staples, House of Mystery, I must say that I randomly chose a great place to start. How can you argue against an escapade containing both creatures of the night and fists of fury? "Zen Flesh! Zen Bones!" brings to mind films like the cult classic Mr. Vampire, minus all the slapstick comedy.
I have a weak spot for monster-ccentric adventure epics, and a good number of the horror anthology series from the 70�s had at least one dark character (or in the case of the later issues of Warren�s Eerie, a whole magazine�s worth) that was forced to face against their fellow companions in darkness, usually ending in an electrifying battle that had our horrific hero/heroine coming out on top and trudging wearily to next month�s issue.
Mmmm, destroy Nosferatu you must!
This story, like the other episodes of the serial, was illustrated by comics legend Tom Sutton, and there�s some great artistic work on display here. I particularly loved the single close-up shot of Master Shoju on the last page. The detail that Sutton instills in Shoju�s wrinkly visage conveys a nice sense of worldly wisdom. I also liked the moment where Andrew realizes that Mary has been behind the temple�s destruction� we just see the eyes of his face light up a livid scarlet, but it�s enough to get the point across that this guy is pissed.
Fans of vampires will be pleased, martial arts aficionados might be confused, and those looking for a good read after their Zen session should probably search elsewhere. I suggest flipping through this one by applying lethal karate chops to the pages (or your computer screen if you�re a digital reader� it�s probably more fun that way anyhow). Well, go on now. Don�t force me to Shoju the error of your ways! Alright, I promise to stop those terrible puns.
But I�ve been known to lie.
Um, hell yeah!