It was a dark and stormy night when I stumbled into the mysterious shop in one of the city's winding side-alleys, seeking shelter from the pouring rain. The lights seemed to be out, but a sole candle was burning, its flickering flame sending shadows racing up and down the jumbled heaps of books.
"Yessss? What do you require"?
Omitting a startled yelp, I whirled in the direction of the hoarse whisper, in the process knocking over some books from one of the countless shelves. Suppressing a shudder, I crouched to pick them up.
"Sorry! Ah, I mean, I didn't mean to startle you, ah, you startled me, eh… I mean, I mean I was just looking for…"
The gaunt figure stood up, mostly hidden by shadows, and pulled its long limbs and many joints into the semblence of a man with eyes that seemed to shine a dull red. Its voice was no louder, but somehow more penetrating.
"Oh, never mind what you were looking for. Why don't you follow me into the sanctum? We can discuss it there, yessss?"
There was something tempting about the offer. It seemed to suggest warmth and darkness and tranquility. Still frozen in mid-crouch, I was about to dreamily obey.
The thunder was almost instantly followed by a flash of lightning that threw the store into sharp blacks and whites, revealing the face of my host.
Only four blocks down the road did I notice I was still screaming as I ran, and that I couldn't stop. I attempted to put my hand over my mouth and suddenly understood I was clutching the book I was in the process of picking up.
This is how the curse came upon me. This is how I entered the pit. This is how I came to be in possession of Michael T. Gilbert's Mister Monster: His Books of Forbidden Knowledge, Volume One.
Well, not really. But if I was living in Mister Monster's world, it could have happened much like this – only it would have been funnier.
Mister Monster- known to the medical world as doctor Strongfort S. Stearn – lives atop Slaughter Mountain, where the rain never stops. He's that kind of guy, you know. His stately mansion is shared only by his assistant, the voluptuous Kelly Friday – and the occasional visitor in need of assistance. Our story opens with one of these visitors – Myron Clotz, an I.B.M employee who just happened to be bitten by a werewolf. Lycanthropy, it turns out, is the dumps – it's wrecking havoc with Myron's efficiency ratings, the mean guys at the were-devils athletic club demand he joins them and his romantic relationship with Millie Feinstein is off to a shaky start (he tried to rip out her throat, you see).
Luckily for Myron, this is just the sort of problem Doc Stearn solves before he even has his breakfast cereal. Not so luckily, though, he usually solves it with his 45s. Things soon get hairy, as it turns out the were-devils were following Myron, and their leader, a giant albino werewolf by the name of Crudlick, has every intention of getting rid of the pesky Mister Monster. And now, yes, you guessed it – all hell ensues.
And this, dear readers, is just the first story. Mister Monster moves on to fight a laboratory experiment gone horribly wrong in 'The Hemo-Horror', is transported to a different dimension in 'No Escape from Dimension-X', fights a rabid mutated cell when (yet another) experiment goes (again) horribly wrong in 'The Demon of Destiny Drive' and more. And he does it with style.
Mister Monster is Michael T. Gilbert's creation. Gilbert has worked for Disney for many years, but hasn't really managed to make a name for himself as a prominent comics writer. This is also the case with Mister Monster, which has been around for twenty years, but didn't get regularly published anywhere – hopping from Pacific (they crashed) to Eclipse (they crashed too) to Dark Horse (they're okay) and then to Atomeka (not doing too well, actually). And this is a pity. It's a pity because Gilbert deserves more; it's a pity because Mister Monster deserves huge success; it's a pity because it's a testimony to how intolerant the comics field has become to non-standard stories.
- Oh, no! He's back!
But Gilbert – or, perhaps, Doc Stearn – is a stubborn fellow. Mister Monster keeps popping up from time to time – his latest book, World Wars Two, was released in 2004 – and this brings his publishing history to at least three published books. This is not too bad for an independent character – that is, a character that inhabits his own continuity (and not, say, the Marvel Universe shared by all Marvel-published characters) and where the rights for the character belong to the creator. In this case, the creator is also the artist, as Gilbert provided pencils or art for almost all of the stories in Volume One, with the help of William Messner-Loebs doing the finished art for all but the last two stories.
At any rate, Mister Monster is a treat. His Books of Forbidden Knowledge, Volume One has several stories written by other writers – including one written by the illustrious Alan Moore, who also wrote the enlightening introduction – but none manage to strike the wonderful balance Michael T. Gilbert seems to pull off so effortlessly. This balance is a heady elixir of slapstick, action, tongue-in-cheek humour and genuine horror – an over-the-top parade of genre cliches that, somehow, seems to re-invent both the genre and itself every few pages. The other writers tend to make Mister Monster's world too campy, or the character too idiotic, and it's an easy mistake to make – since, come on, who puts on underpants to fight mutated blood-cell?
Michael T. Gilbert's Mister Monster, that's who!
Sadly, Mister Monster: His Books of Forbidden Knowledge, Volume One seems to be out of print, so you'll have to settle for a used copy. However, Mister Monster: His Books of Forbidden Knowledge, Volume Zero, showcasing some of the later Mister Monster stories published (in black and white) by Dark Horse is still available.
But Don't make the same mistake I made. Don't follow me into the pit. At all costs, avoid reading Mister Monster – or you will be doomed to hours of fun.
Doomed, I say.