"Blood Oaths and Band-Aids" Part One
"Whatever Happened in Ulstadt" Part One
Writer/Artists: Les McClaine
Publisher: Amaze Ink
Les McClaine's Highway Thirteen did not start out with a clear premise--at least not one that was revealed to the reader. The book began as a twist on the Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? formula with Garth a werewolf taking the place of Scooby, and Rick Rogers filling in for Shaggy. Maybe this is why the book never caught the eye of the discerning reader. It seemed to be done.
Mr. McClaine revealed a stronger premise later in the series. Rick and Garth travel down Highway 13 with the hopes of finding Rick's legendary ghosthunting Uncle or at least discover his fate. Along the way, we learn their nemesis Burgess had a strange shared history with Rick's Uncle and Garth's origins.
Mr. McClaine's imagination has been infected with Weird Tales and Hammer-styled horror, and in no way can that be considered a bad thing. The monsters and the men and women who worship them while usually originally crafted often give off a Lovecraftian feeling. This encounter involves also the hints of the Tai Seng Brotherhood from The Phantom. The mixture of horror and adventure traditions smelts something that while new seems familiar, and that helps strengthen the idea that these things Garth and Rick face and sometimes run from have been in existence for an eternity.
Garth and Rick are an interesting pair. They're not quite heroes. Rather, once they find trouble and if it threatens the innocent they have to deal with it. They feel it's their responsibility. To be sure, these two are coward like Bud and Lou, but they also face up to their fears like Bud and Lou and become heroes who fight off Glenn Strange.
Maybe it was the cartoony nature of Mr. McClaine's artwork that cost the series a readership. Personally, I love it, and it was a pleasure to see the artist become more certain with his work as the book progressed. Highway 13 is a little cartoony. The style is also distinctive and expresses the many moods needed for the story. There's visual comedy in Garth's baggy pants and assuredness in the line work paying homage to urban legend expert Jan Van Brunwald. The scenes with monsters still startle, and I cannot imagine Highway 13 being done in any other way.
Like the more recent issues, Highway 13 is split into two stories. One involves Rick Rogers, and the other one examines the past of John Rogers, Rick's Uncle, and his ghostbreaking days with Garth and Lucinda. Together they are The Explorers into Mystery.
Here again is an author who understands his audience. We know the well-trod werewolf legends. We know that when a hunter goes into a forest and shoots a very large beastie, he will come home to find his bleeding newly wed wife. We know this so don't trot it out again! Les McClaine does not. Instead, he takes the werewolf existence as read and comes up with something original and curious.
The tale exhibits Mr. McClaine's talent for detailed but different characterization. Rick shares very little in common with his Uncle apart from a fondness for facial hair. Lucinda and Garth though both lycanthropes also have different personalities.
Mr. McClaine honed Highway 13 into an entertaining blend of screwball whimsy and horrific dark fantasy. This issue exemplifies the best of what Highway 13 had to offer. I'm really going to miss this series. If not already a faithful fan, pick up the trade paperback when issue twelve completes the journey. You'll not be disappointed.
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