In today’s Leaving Proof: Halloween season has us thinking of our favorite DC horror stories from the “Filipino Wave” era. ALSO: A concept sketch update from The Last Devil and a lengthy digression on last Saturday’s boxing matches on HBO.
Author’s note: The comics pages reproduced in this article are from currently out-of-circulation comics that, to the best of my knowledge, have never been reprinted since their initial publication. They are presented here in the spirit of fair use for the purposes of demonstration and commentary.
We’ve devoted quite a bit of time and effort in this space to bringing to light the “Filipino Wave” that broke on the shores of American comics in 1971. Led by pioneering artist Tony DeZuniga, Filipino artists like Alex Niño, Nestor Redondo, Alfredo Alcala, Ernie Chan (a.k.a. Ernie Chua), Rico Rival, Eufronio Reyes Cruz, Jess Jodloman, Rudy Nebres, Steve Gan, Gerry Talaoc, Romeo Tanghal, and dozens of others brought a detailed, illustrative aesthetic to DC Comics’ romance, horror, western, and war comics until their style fell out of favor in the early 1980s as superhero comics displaced the non-superhero titles on the racks. While many of these artists eventually found work at Marvel and Warren Publishing towards the late 1970s and early 1980s, it is perhaps their contributions to DC’s library of classic horror comics that most people will remember from the period.
It would be impossible for me to list every single DC horror comic contribution of the Filipino Wave artists here—almost a hundred different Filipino artists worked on DC’s various horror anthology titles between 1971 and the 1983 cancellation of House of Mystery. The highly prolific Eufronio Reyes Cruz alone illustrated over 100 shorts and full-length stories that appeared in the pages of DC’s Ghosts, House of Mystery, House of Secrets, Secrets of Haunted House, Tales of Ghost Castle, The Unexpected, Weird Mystery Tales, and Weird War Tales horror/fantasy comics anthologies. What I can do, however, is to share a list of five notable horror stories illustrated by members of the Filipino Wave. This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive “best of” list—I haven’t read all of DC’s Filipino Wave horror comics, and hardly any of them have been reprinted in trade paperbacks and back-issues are very hard to find—it’s just a more-or-less random list of horror stories I’ve read that I find notable for one reason or another, so if I miss one of your favorites, please don’t take it personally.
So without further ado, here’s the list:
“… and in Death There is no Escape” (from House of Secrets #109, July 1973), illustrated by Alex Niño: British comics artist and historian David Roach, writing for Comic Book Artist magazine in 2004, described Niño as “one of comics’ few genuine visionaries,” on par “with Kirby, Moebius, and Breccia.” Niño’s penchant for exaggeration of the human form, unusual perspectives, and dynamic page composition made him a perfect fit for the horror comics genre. “… and in Death There is no Escape” (written by John Albano) is one of his best horror-themed comics work for DC Comics, bridging his more traditional Filipino komiks work and the almost psychedelic material he would produce in the mid/late 1970s for Heavy Metal and Warren Publishing’s comics anthology magazines.
“Spawns of Satan” (from House of Secrets #113, November 1973), illustrated by Nestor Redondo): Some may find it quite ironic that Nestor Redondo, a devout Christian by all accounts (Redondo regularly worked with the Netherlands-based Open Doors foundation to create evangelical comics and even headed a Christian comics panel discussion at the 1992 San Diego Comic-Con), illustrated DC horror comics shorts with titles like “Spawns of Satan” and “Hell is One Mile High.” Rather than a case of dissonance, however, I think it’s proof of Redondo’s professional work ethic. “Spawns of Satan” (written by former EC Comics writer Jack Oleck) is a fine showcase for the all-around skills of Nestor Redondo, whom Roach describes as the Philippines’ “great classicist” and is considered by many fans to be the finest draftsman among the Filipino Wave.
“Act III: Eternity” (from House of Secrets #108, June 1973), illustrated by Jess Jodloman: A veteran of the Philippine komiks industry with almost two decades of experience by the time he began working for DC in 1973, Jodloman was one of Alex Niño’s mentors in the Philippines. “Act III: Eternity” (written by The Mighty Hercules animated series writer George Kashdan) is Jodloman’s first American comics work and features the detail-oriented, classically-informed rendering style he employed earlier in his American comics career—his later comics work would see a rather radical remaking of his style, a “sketchier” look that some fans found sloppy and unrefined.
“The Last Battle” (from Weird War Tales #9, December 1972), illustrated by Alex Niño: Not so much a straight-up horror story as it is a dystopian sci-fi tale, “The Last Battle” (written by Sgt. Rock co-creator Robert Kanigher) is a nonetheless powerful expression of the fear of mutually assured destruction that plagued the minds of people during the height of the Cold War. This story was one of Niño’s earliest American comics works, but it looks strikingly contemporary in its stylishness—younger readers may find it hard to believe that this was published over 40 years ago!
“The Immortal” (from House of Mystery #210, January 1973), illustrated by Gerry Talaoc: As a stylist, Talaoc is probably second only to Niño among the Filipino “First Wavers” (the Filipino artists who started working for DC Comics in the early 1970s). Talaoc illustrated over 60 horror/fantasy shorts and full-length stories on Ghosts, House of Mystery, House of Secrets, The Witching Hour, Weird Mystery Tales, Weird War Tales, The Phantom Stranger, Secrets of Haunted House, and Secrets of Sinister House. “The Immortal,” penned by Jack Oleck isn’t a particularly spooky story—it’s fairly unremarkable story-wise, actually—but it’s a good example of Talaoc’s blend of Redondo-esque draftsmanship and Niño’s bolder quirks. Like Niño’s material, Talaoc’s best works look timeless, they could easily pass for modern comics art.
The Last Devil update
Just a quick update of the rendering style we’re developing for our little comics project, The Last Devil:
Well, with his sixth round knockout loss to 28 year-old Jamaican featherweight Nicholas Walters Saturday night, it looks like boxer Nonito “The Filipino Flash” Donaire’s run as one of the sweet science’s elite fighters might be over. Long-time readers may remember that I’m a bit of a fan of the Filipino-American fighter—the 31 year-old Donaire has one of the best left hook counters that I’ve ever seen in the 25 years that I’ve been following the sport. He also has a rather unconventional style for a fighter of Filipino heritage. The traditional Filipino boxing style, if we can be so presumptuous to describe it in one sentence, is one weighted towards offense and it places a premium on striking first, striking hard, and striking often. It’s part of the stylistic legacy passed down by Francisco “Pancho Villa” Guilledo, the first Filipino (or Asian, for that matter) to win a recognized world title in boxing when he knocked out Jimmy Wilde in New York in 1923, a style perhaps best epitomized by the prime version of Manny Pacquiao who fought from 2008 to 2010. (Because of his somewhat tentative performances in recent years, it’s easy to forget what a relentless buzzsaw Pacquaio was earlier in his career—he averaged almost a hundred punches thrown per round in some contests!)
Donaire, who at one point seemed to be Pacquaio’s heir apparent as the next great Filipino boxing icon, is in many ways a sort of “anti-Pacquiao” in the ring. He’s comfortable fighting off of his back foot, prefers to fight more efficiently in spurts, and almost always as a counterpuncher and very rarely as the initiator of exchanges—it’s almost a more American style of boxing, although that shouldn’t be a major surprise to anyone familiar with Donaire’s biography. He did, after all, start training in boxing in earnest after his family had moved to the United States, and it’s inevitable that the counterpunching style favored by many of the most successful American boxers of the 1990s would rub off on the developing pugilist—forget about comparing him to Pacquaio, he’s more of a miniature (and less athletic) Roy Jones, Jr. than anything else. However one wants to define and dissect his style, though, there are a few undeniable aspects about Donaire the boxer: During his prime, he had terrific reflexes and hand speed, peerless even in the lower weight classes. He has fight-ending power in his left hook and underrated power in his straight right. He’s relatively big for a fighter in the flyweight, super flyweight, and bantamweight divisions where he initially plied his trade.
For several years beginning with his career-defining starching of flyweight champion Vic Darchinyan in 2007, Donaire’s combination of explosive counterpunching and one-punch knockout power kept him on most fans’ pound-for-pound lists and made him the one of the most exciting fighters in the lower weight divisions. His scary second-round TKO of bantamweight champion Fernando Montiel was selected by The Ring magazine as 2011’s Knockout of the Year. When Donaire knocked out former super bantamweight titlist Toshiaki Nishioka and four-division titlist Jorge Arce in bouts only several weeks apart in 2012 in defense of his super bantamweight title, he was probably as big a star in boxing as one could be without being a pay-per-view headliner.
Donaire never really developed that aura of near-invincibility that the truly dominant fighters have during their peak, however. There have always been questions about his defense and his conditioning. He has a bad habit of abandoning his jab early in fights, or never bringing it into play at all. Some fans wondered how he would deal with fighting opponents more his size. After his unspectacular win against the defensive-minded Omar Narvaez in 2011, a number of fans and pundits raised concerns about Donaire’s ability to succeed in situations where he would have to bring the fight to his opponent, instead of using his opponent’s aggression against him. For all his flashiness—Donaire has even fought as a switch-hitter at times—it seemed like Donaire could only win fighting a certain way, and that he wasn’t particularly adept at adjusting mid-fight to opponents he couldn’t score cleanly against.
Those doubts were put to the test and find confirmation during Donaire’s April 2013 fight against Cuban boxer and two-time Olympic gold medalist Guillermo Rigondeaux. Considered by many observers to be the best ring technician in the sport today, Rigondeaux absolutely undressed Donaire over twelve rounds towards a well-deserved unanimous decision win. It wasn’t just the fact that Donaire had lost for the first time in twelve years that was so shocking, it was also the way he lost. Donaire did manage to score a knockdown late in the fight—if nothing else, he still had that vaunted power in his left hand—but he was comprehensively outboxed by his opponent. He had no answer for Rigondeaux’s precision jab, he couldn’t penetrate the Cuban’s next-level defense, and he spent most of the night lunging at mirages and swinging at air. At times, he looked like an absolute novice who had no business sharing the same ring with the master boxer known as “El Chacal.” Donaire’s physical advantages—the power, the speed, his awkward brand of athleticism—simply weren’t enough to overcome Rigondeaux’s superior technique, fight IQ, and command of the ring.
Donaire’s response to the loss was to go up a weight class from super bantamweight to featherweight and reeled off two unimpressive wins in short order: a ninth round KO of a blown-up Darchinyan in a rematch the Armenian slugger was handily winning on the scorecards before Donaire uncorked a desperate left hand that temporarily separated Darchinyan from his senses, and a controversial technical decision win over Simpiwe Vityeka that netted Donaire the featherweight belt that he would eventually lose Saturday night to Nicholas Walters. In both fights, Donaire looked sluggish and in less than top physical condition.
But while Donaire seemed more motivated and in better physical shape Saturday night than in his two previous outings at 126 lbs., Walters was simply too big and too strong for him. Donaire was able to land his signature left hook to Walter’s head and body repeatedly early in the fight and he was able to wobble the Jamaican at the end of the second round, but the younger fighter recovered quickly and was never in any real danger after that, even knocking down Donaire in the third round. The end, when it came in the sixth round, was by way of a short right cross that left Donaire in absolutely no condition to continue.
This doesn’t have to be the end of Donaire’s career, of course. If he can still make the weight cut, I think he could still be a top contender and even a champion at bantamweight (118 lbs.) and super bantamweight (122 lbs.). That’s a big “if,” though. Fighters in their thirties have a harder time shedding weight and Donaire’s never had a reputation as a gym rat, and making it back down to a weight division where he can succeed with one-shotting his opponents may be near-impossible at this point, especially if the rumors are true that he walks around at 140+ lbs.
There’s also the fact that Donaire has seemed disinterested in boxing these past several months. And I don’t think fans can really blame him for that. He’s accomplished more in 13 years as a prizefighter than most pro boxers even dream of. He’s won 33 fights, most of them in scintillating fashion. He’s earned six major world titles in four weight divisions (not counting interim titles and the unofficial lineal titles conferred by The Ring). For a stretch of, say, three or four years, he was probably one of the best six fighters on the planet, regardless of weight class. If he’s been smart with his purses, he has probably put away a good amount of money for his family. He has interests outside of boxing: he’s dabbled in photography and acting in film. And every professional fighter wants to leave the game with their mental faculties still intact, before the neurological effects of repeated head trauma starts significantly impacting their present and future quality of life. If he decides to call it a career, it’s been a great run, maybe one that might even earn him a spot in the Hall of Fame someday. (No, I don’t think Donaire’s a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer—he’s a borderline case at best—but I think his career at this point compares favorably with that of 2002 Hall of Fame inductee Jeff Fenech, and hey, if Arturo Gatti is in the Hall of Fame… )
Of course, most people tuning in for Saturday night’s fights were probably doing so to catch the phenomenon of Gennady “Triple G” Golovkin. The undefeated middleweight from Kazakhstan has become something of a sensation in boxing circles these past couple of years because of his out-of-this-world punching power. His knockout ratio, which now stands at 90.3% (28 knockouts in 31 total wins) after his two-round drubbing of challenger Marco Antonio Rubio, is the highest of any middleweight champion in the modern history of boxing. Golovkin is also a perfect fighter for the Internet meme era: the Borat-esque accent and broken English, his tendency to refer to the opponent as a “good boy” in interviews (he did not disappoint in Saturday’s post-fight chat with HBO’s Max Kellerman), and the guileless, affable demeanor that stands in sharp contrast to his efficient and ruthless nature in the ring places him in good stead as Manny Pacquiao’s potential successor as boxing’s goofy international star and mascot.
I’ve heard some people compare Golovkin to all-time greats like Marvin Hagler and Julio Cesar Chavez and while I’m not quite ready to agree with them, I will say that there is no question that Golovkin is the best middleweight in the game right now: His power is his most obvious asset, but he is also one of the best at cutting off the ring and dictating where his opponent can go. He may only hold one of the four major titles (the WBA’s “super champion” trinket), but I can’t see WBC titleholder Miguel Cotto—who was knocked out by the smaller Manny Pacquiao when they fought at a catchweight of 145 lbs. five years ago—standing up to Golovkin’s prodigious power and I think he could actually kill current IBF titleholder Jermain Taylor (who has a history of brain bleeds) if he clocks him with a clean power shot to the head (the WBO title is currently vacant, if you’re wondering who holds the fourth major middleweight belt). And at this point, top contender Peter Quillin and WBA “regular champion” Danny Jacobs have too many holes in their overall game to present a serious threat to Golovkin. Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr.’s name has been thrown around as a possible opponent, but I don’t know if Junior—notoriously lazy in the gym and undisciplined in his lifestyle outside of the ring—can even get down to 160 lbs. at this stage in his career.
Given boxing promoter and cable TV politics, promoters’ tendency to “protect” their top earners through savvy match-making, and the inanity of the four major boxing sanctioning bodies however, I don’t think Golovkin will ever get to unify more than a couple of belts or fight more than a few real contenders in their primes, if at all. It’s very frustrating as a fan—imagine if the best NBA team in the Western Conference never got to be in a Finals showdown with the best NBA team in the Eastern Conference because of promoter, TV network, and sponsor conflicts: That’s what match-making at the highest level of professional boxing is like these days.
The fight against Rubio wasn’t really anything to write home about. Rubio looked like he was already resigned to losing when he stepped into the ring, although having been fined $100,000 from his purse for missing the 160 lb. middleweight limit by almost two pounds might have also played a part in robbing Rubio of his competitive fire, not to mention that missing the weight meant that he was no longer eligible to get the WBA “super champion” belt in the unlikely case that he could conjure up a win. After two rounds of being herded around the ring by Golovkin, Rubio looked like he was ready to get what was left of his purse and go home before taking any real damage. A chopping left to the top of the head deposited Rubio on his ass and even though he made a bit of a show of trying to beat the referee’s count, he “just” missed it. A bit of an ignominious performance from a fighter I’m normally a fan of, but given Golovkin’s power and his purse being docked almost 25%, I think Rubio made a smart play getting out of there early, all things considered. (Of course, the smartest play would have been for Rubio to make weight, not get fined a hundred grand, and actually have a chance of getting the title, but what are you gonna do?)
I don’t know what’s next for Golovkin at this point. There’s talk of him facing English middleweight Martin Murray as soon as his next fight. Cotto’s current trainer Freddie Roach is on record as saying that they’re open to a unification bout against Golovkin in the near future. An electrifying KO win over a pay-per-view draw and legitimate superstar like Cotto would do wonders for Golovkin’s marketability and career, but that fight happening is anything but a given. A move to super middleweight might come sooner rather than later, where the top fighters may perhaps be less intimidated by the prospect of getting hit by Golovkin as they will have a size advantage over the Kazakhstani, who is fairly average-sized as a middleweight. In any case, he’s definitely a fighter that even casual fans of the sport will like given his ability to keep dropping whoever gets in front of him, but I do wonder if a signature win in middleweight will forever elude him because of the way the boxing business works these days, and if that will affect how future fans and boxing historians will view his middleweight career and legacy.