I'll Be Right Back

As far as i know the old Zuda version of the first instalment of Dave Flora's Doc Monster hasn't been available online for a while now... the old Doc Monster site was taken down and Zuda no longer exists.

I thought it would be nice for people to be able to compare the old and new versions of the comic... besides which i have a soft spot for those old pages... so here they are for you lucky folks to enjoy.

Many thanks to Dave for supplying the pages.

Also i'm reposting the following review from the old blog.

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Doc was entered in this month's Zuda contest, and the first eight pages of his first story have been up for a few weeks now, so i think it's to check out the results...

"In 1954, reports flood in of mysterious lights and strange airships that appear and disappear without a trace, sometimes taking animals or people with them! Suspecting some form of advanced, Russian spy initiative, the CIA’s 'Counter Insurgency Unit' enlists the aid of super-scientist DOC MONSTER to help. A man of mystery, built like a linebacker with a genius IQ, Doc is tasked with uncovering and capturing the suspected communist vehicle behind the sightings. He is assigned an Agency “keeper” by the name of Carson Clay, whose job is to facilitate any needs Doc Monster may have during the investigation… and to keep an eye on him at all times. With his career as well as his marriage on the rocks, Clay grumblingly follows Doc Monster across the country until one terrifying night when all of Carson’s doubts and concerns are torn away, and the unbelievable truth of the UFO sightings come to surface. They are real. They are here. And their alien power comes to bear down on the free world. As their sinister goals are revealed, the nation cries out for Doc Monster to save them. The question is… will he?"

Okay to start off let's just ignore the pulp aspects of Doc Monster. A lot of people are wary of pulp... it has a bit of a reputation for being hackneyed and cheesy and aimed at nostalgia geeks and out-of-touch geezers, which in some respects is true unfortunately.

So let's put the pulp aside for the moment, and look at what Doc Monster has to offer the average reader.

It turns out there is a little bit of something for everyone. We have UFOs and aliens and a hint of government conspiracies for the sci-fi fans... high concept epic set-pieces for the action fans... a larger-than-life not-quite-human charismatic protagonist for the superhero fans... and likeable interesting characters with witty dialogue for the drama fans. Flora weaves all these elements together with seemingly little effort to create something that is both original and thoroughly entertaining. It's no small feat to make an audience connect with two unique protagonists and introduce a major world-class threat and find room for a fun action scene, all in the course of just eight pages.

Of course the art is absolutely gorgeous... you can see that for yourself, so i won't waste too much time spelling it out here. All i'll say is check out the page where the alien craft first appears, and then ask yourself how you can not vote for this?

If i can make one slight criticism at this point it's that some of the panels feel a little cramped or cropped, making the action a bit hard to follow in places. I noticed this too in Flora's Ghost Zero comics, and i'm going to put it down to the space restrictions of having to cram so much story into so few panels. I think he does an excellent job with the room he has, and i'm sure these little issues would be ironed out if he switched to "full-size" comics. As it is it's just a small issue that doesn't lesson the enjoyment of the art or the story.

Doc Monster is one of those characters you get a buzz out of reading. You want to see this guy in every panel of every page. He is a mystery of a man, who may not even be a man at all. A lot of comicbook characters today are lumbered with ridiculous names and costumes and powers and origins in an attempt to make them memorable or unique, and more often than not it just makes them look a bit of a desperate mess. Not so Doc Monster. Flora has created a character that feels simple and elegant and classic. Everything about him works, without being flash or showy. And let's be honest: most pulp characters are unimaginative clones of each other. But altho his name might recall the iconic Doc Savage and his look reminds one of Rip Kirby, Doc Monster is a pulp character that doesn't feel like any other pulp character, and that is really refreshing.

And then there is Doc's CIA handler, Carson Clay. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Clay is almost as interesting and fun as Doc himself. As the narrator of the story he turns out to be a world-weary cynic with a dry sense of humour a bunch of personal issues that are much more earthly than UFOs and giant bugs and babysitting some spooky crackpot scientist. Clay is the human heart of the story, grounding all the bizareness in some sense of reality with his incredulous attitude and sardonic observations. He makes the perfect foil for Doc Monster, and the seeds of a fantastic buddy-buddy pairing are evident in this initial story.

So Doc Monster is all-round good entertainment for those who might be a bit wary of the pulp genre, but it is still a pulp story, so let's take a look at that side of it.

I read a lot of pulp comics where the writer and/or artist hasn't done enough research and their story looks or feels all wrong. It's lazy and offputting. Dave Flora knows his pulp. His research is meticulous and authentic and it really adds something to the story.

Part of the fun of the pulp genre, for me at least, is that the setting and fashions and language and stuff give the stories a unique and exotic flavour that set them apart from modern stories. After a while all these modern gangster movies for instance start to run into one forgettable mess of sameness... but i'll always remember the Untouchables and Miller's Crossing. I think this is a big part of the appeal of Doc Monster... from the drive-in to the horn-rimmed spectacles to the old cars and suits and corny expressions... this feels different than the slew of other interchangeable alien invasion stories i've seen in recent years.

But it's more than just cosmetics. I don't see the point in doing a pulp comic if the pulp elements are just going to be window dressing. If you are going to write a pulp story then IMO the pulp setting should be essential to the story, and this is what really sets Doc Monster apart as, unlike a lot of modern pulp stories, you can't seperate Doc Monster from his setting. Communism, atomic-paranoia, the emerging UFO hysteria, the cult of science... Flora has woven these staples of the 1950s throughout the fabric of his creation to the point where Doc Monster is the 1950s. It's a tactic which opens up a whole bunch of future story possibilities that would not be possible in a modern setting, and it is yet another reason this character stands out from the crowd of wannabes.

Doc Monster is unashamed pulp... big fun crazy wierdness from another time.

So to finish up lemme just say that Flora takes old familiar elements and filters them through sophisticated modern storytelling and art techniques to create something which feels different and fresh. It's pulp... but it's pulp with more originality than the genre has seen since the heyday.

Rating - 4/5

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Check out Dave's blog here for the new ongoing Doc Monster.

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