Superhero Workout Progress Report – Week 3

So three weeks down, nine to go. I finished Phase One this week, so I’m into new territory. Phase Two is the tricky one, because there are five different workouts, and four of them will only be done once each. So there’s no way to measure progress by improved performance, only by what you see on the scale and in the mirror. Here’s the vid…

See you in a week.

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Superhero Workout Progress Report – Week 2

I really need to remember to white balance my camera. Also, I’m learning how to use Lightworks editing software as I go along, so with luck, the videos will get better as I go.

On vacation for a week, which will continue to screw with my diet and workout schedule, but next time I check in, I’ll be finished with Phase One, which will be a nice milestone.

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Superhero Workout Progress Report – Week 1

So after 1 week of the Superhero Workout, here’s a progress report.

I’m thinking of starting up with new content again. Just have to settle on what I want to commit to.

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Three Days In – Superhero Workout Review Part 1

I wasn’t planning to update this more than once a week, but I wanted to write a sort of first impressions review before settling down to weekly progress reports. After three days, I’ve pretty much experienced what Phase One of the training will be like, and I feel hopeful that I can complete it. I’ll talk more about that in a bit, but first, a little information about the workout plan for those thinking about buying it.

First off: it wasn’t easy to find. It is advertised on John Romaniello’s Shop page as being a current product, but the link is dead, which makes me suspect he’s stopped marketing the program actively to concentrate on Man 2.0: Engineering the Alpha or maybe he got some nastygrams from DC’s and Marvel’s legal departments concerning the artwork he uses to illustrate the program. But I did find a link to a page on another of his sites, and it took my money (quite a lot of it), so it seems he’s still selling it, or at least satisfied to leave the links up for whatever free money trickles his way. The site charged me $10 less than the price on the page, though–$87 instead of the listed $97–so I have no idea what you might pay if you were to decide to try buying the program. I also ponied up an additional $19.95 for the nutritional plan and some other supplementary materials.

So what do you get for the money?

The basic program consists of four e-books–Training Manual, Training Log Sheets, Quick Start Checklist and Supplement Guide–plus access to an online video database demonstrating different exercises listed in the plan. The supplemental material consists of the Nutrition Plan and a guide to adapting the plan to the TRX Suspension Training System. That’s right–the basic program talks about supplements while the supplement talks about basic nutrition.

The training program itself is a little complicated, consisting of four phases over twelve weeks. In Phase One, you build strength and power with heavy lifting days for low reps alternating with moderately heavy days performing “complexes” (a series of four or five exercises performed with the same weight without resting in between). In Phase Two, you build endurance with circuit training. In Phase Three, you use the strength and endurance you’ve built in the first two phases to lift for growth. You also adjust your diet to allow for growth. In Phase Four, you revisit parts of all three previous phases to hone your results.

Let me say right away that this program is not in any way designed for beginners. Although the marketing material downplays the difficulty of the program, you do need to be in reasonably good starting shape to jump into this workout. You also need a good grounding in proper form on several basic lifts.

Once again, the marketing copy on the sales page is a little slippery; it says you gets an online database demonstrating the form of the exercises, but it doesn’t actually cover all of them. In the intro to the video page, they mention that they’re not demonstrating the most basic ones, but their idea of “basic” may differ from yours. You can find numerous video demonstrations of the missing exercises on Youtube, but watching a video a few times won’t help you much when you’re on your ninth set and exhausted. You need to have a good feel for the basic form on things like deadlifts and squats from practice for the times you’re too tired to think.

Talking about the database leads to one of my major reservations about the program: the authors seem to be a little too infatuated with variety for its own sake. Each of the four phases of the program has at least four workouts that you cycle through, with a completely different set of exercises in each one. Having paged through all of the workouts, I can tell you that if even one movement is repeated exactly in two different workouts, I couldn’t find it.

In one sense, it’s a cool idea that for almost every workout you hit that muscle group in a slightly different way–e.g. doing split squats one workout, hack squats the next, front squats the next. But it means that if you’re not a lifelong gym rat who has had time to get good at all these movements, then you’re spending precious time struggling with a move you don’t know well, when you won’t use it enough to get good at it and really push yourself.

For instance, in today’s workout, I had to start my second group of complexes with the dumbbell overhead squat, which sounded easy enough, but I had never done it before. Turns out, it’s a bitch to squat with your hands over your head, and even harder with weight. I tried to get it several times, reducing the weight and trying again and failing until I just bailed on the exercise and moved on to the next part of the complex without achieving a single good rep. My next set, I squatted completely without additional weight, and my final set, I squatted with 5 lb weight plates in my hands.

I’m pretty certain that on my next iteration of the workout, I’ll do better on the overhead squat. However, I’m only going to do that exact movement one more time in the entire rest of the program. In the 12 weeks of the program, there are exactly 40 workout days, and there are 17 workouts included in the system, so you’re not going to any of them very many times–you’ll do the Phase Three workouts four times each, but most of the Phase Two workouts, you’ll only do once apiece. Looking ahead, I’m thinking this program could benefit from some serious simplification.

On a related note, the editing is horrendous. Not so much the prose in the training manual itself–other than some punctuation-type stuff, it seems pretty well written–but the details of the plan. For instance, Phase One Workout Two (the one I did today) has this note to start off the first complex: Perform A1, A2, A3 and A4 are sequentially, with NO rest between them; do not even set the barbell down between exercises.

It looks like the sentence was originally supposed to say something like “Exercises are to be performed sequentially,” then rewritten to be more active. But they forgot to cut out that rogue “are.” Also, it is not really possible to perform those exercises without setting down the barbell. Not counting the Power Cleans where many people are taught to drop the bar rather than lower it under control, you have to switch from an overhand grip to an underhand one for one exercise and back to overhand for the next one. If you’re using any kind of challenging weight at all, it’s not safe to change grips like that without setting the bar down. Not to mention that the accompanying Log Sheets (which it seems are intended to be printed out and used to log the workouts as is) list rest periods between the exercises that you are to perform with “NO rest.” Also, the Log Sheets provided do not have enough spaces to record all the sets you are told to perform. I printed the Log Sheets, but I’m actually logging the workouts on my own custom spreadsheets, with space for all the sets and no erroneous information.

There are lots of examples of these kinds of details that don’t mesh from one workout to the next, or from one document to the next (like the Supplement Guide recommending Blue Star Neutraceuticals’ Iso-Smooth Protein, while the Training Guide refers to Nature’s Best’s Isopure–actually, the Supplement Guide makes the same mistake as well). Some of it is careless proofreading, while in other places, it looks like a sloppy job of cut-and-paste. Most of the stuff you can figure out on your own, but for the money you’re spending, you shouldn’t have to.

And you will be spending some money, and not just for the program itself. The supplements Romaniello suggests don’t come cheap, and the structure of the workouts requires either a well-equipped home gym or membership to a well-equipped, but lightly attended health club. The wide variety of movements requiring different equipment and the short, strictly regulated rest periods mean that you want to have all your weights pre-set and ready at hand, and bummer for you if someone else refuses to let you work into their set.

So there’s lots of room for improvement, I think. But I still like the product and plan to follow it as closely as I can. The writing style in the training manual is zippy and fun and gets in lots of obligatory superhero references. The two workouts I have done have left me sore, but also exhilarated. That, plus the supplementation and diet have me thinking I can already feel some results. My chest, lats and triceps especially feel fuller already. It may just be water retention from the creatine, but I’m really looking forward to seeing where this goes.

My main takeaway right now is that, as many reservations as I have about the program based on my initial reading and preparation for it, I’m having fun so far actually doing it. The final verdict will come 11.5 weeks from now, when I actually finish it and see what the results are.

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A New Era Begins

Okay, the headline might be a little bombastic, but I’m thinking about what to do with Hero Go Home now that I haven’t written much of anything fiction-wise in a year or more. So it occurred to me that there’s a big wave of interest in superheroes in the general culture right now, and given that this is my bread and butter, I thought I might explore some more aspects of it.

First up: a 12-week undertaking! The Superhero Workout 2.0, by John Romaniello, promises to give you the physique of a superhero in 12 weeks by exploiting the miracle of body recomposition (i.e. losing fat and building muscle simultaneously). I have been working out for 5 months now, but while I am feeling better and fitting my clothes better, progress has been slower than I’d hoped. So I thought I’d try a more structured program, and with a name like “Superhero Workout,” you know I’m all over that.

The workout was pretty rough, although I’m sure it will get better as I get more used to lifting heavy again. And dang, but it seems like all I did was cook and eat today. The first phase of the plan has me eating about 3/4 of the calories I have been eating on non-workout days, then eating half again as many on workout days (that means tomorrow–technically later today–I’ll be eating about half of what I did today). I need to sleep pretty soon and hope I can walk tomorrow.

A little background: I have been letting myself get out of shape for several years now. The last time I was in pretty good shape was something like 7 or 8 years ago. I have tried several times to get back into the swing of exercising in the last few years, but for some reason, it just wouldn’t take. I just couldn’t keep myself motivated.

Then in December of last year, I had an experience that opened my eyes to just how far I had fallen. I determined to really do something about it this time, but my determination had to be put on hold for a few months as I transitioned to full-time at work and received new training. Finally in April, I took the plunge. Switched to a low-carb diet, took up strength training with light weights and later switched to an all-bodyweight program, and started running again thanks to the fitness app, Zombies, Run!

Five months later, I’ve gone from this…

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PIC_0066PIC_0068PIC_0069to this…

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Which is not where I want to be, but is a nice improvement (actually, the difference is greater, because that first set of pics was actually taken at the end of May, when I had already been going for two months).

So if I can keep myself on track for the next 12 weeks, I’m hoping to see an even more dramatic shift in the pictures. In fact, I’m hoping to be in better shape than I’ve ever been before. In times past, when I have gone on a fitness cycle, I have never gotten all the pieces of the puzzle–exercise, rest, motivation, diet–all working together at the same time. This time I am determined to do it right. So keep your fingers crossed.

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Miss Myst Mysteries — The Case of the Naughty Nightingale

Hi again. Sorry I haven’t written in so long. Life stuff.

Not to sound like some old fogey, but seriously, fans today don’t know how great they have it. I spent last evening watching my daughter watch a fan-made video extensively deconstructing a two-part “My Little Pony” storyline. When I was her age, there was a lot less information available about your favorite novels and shows, and what you could get was often sandwiched into random articles in fanzines that covered a wide range of stuff–comics, movies, tv, pulp novels. You took what you could get back then.

Even those were often hard to come by, unless you were a dedicated fan who lived on correspondence. You were pretty much limited to what you could find locally. For instance, there was a particular convenience store we visited a few times that was the only place I ever found Castle of Frankenstein magazine on the racks. When I was a kid, I would save my spare change in a Pringles can, and then dump it out and sell it to my mom to have thirty bucks or so to take to the one convention that would roll through in the summer.

And because I wasn’t a dedicated collector, but a kid who didn’t really know what I liked yet, I would often come home with a weird assortment of fanzines I’d never heard of or what cheap “collector’s items” I could discover in the dealers’ bins, like an animation cel of Captain America from the Marvel Super Heroes TV series, or the one and only issue of Simon and Kirby’s Captain 3-D, which plummeted in value when someone discovered a crate of mint condition issues in a warehouse in the late 70′s.

And then there was Titillating Suspense Stories. I had read about the pulps’ influence on comics in Jim Steranko’s History of Comics Volume I, and wanted to get a copy of my very own. So when I went to a convention in Oklahoma City in 1975 or 1976 (called MultiCon, I think), I looked for pulps in the dealer’s room. But they were all way out of my price range, until one dealer pulled out a box from under his table that had some ragged copies of off-brand titles. The one he was willing to sell me for practically nothing didn’t even have a cover anymore, just a contents page so yellowed it was almost brown and a strong acidic smell that made your eyes water if you inhaled too deeply while holding it.

I took it home and gamely tried reading it, but it didn’t do anything for me. The first story was a novel called Desert Gambit, a plodding tale about Major Tom Kidd fighting an Arab slave ring in the Middle East. I never finished it and never read any of the other stories. And so I missed an amazing discovery.

I ran across it again a few months ago when I got some boxes of stuff out of Dad’s vault (long-time readers will remember that the Out of the Vault feature on both this site and the Frazier’s Brain blog referred to an actual vault where my dad stored my comics for several years while I was away in the Army). And having a renewed interest in pulps, I decided to give it another go.

The stories were no better than I remembered, dreadfully written. But one in particular, a mystery featuring a character called Miss Myst, was astounding. Which sounds like a total exaggeration, but stick with me.

The Case of the Naughty Nightingale, by Irv Killeen, is a pretty pedestrian mystery about a nightclub singer who gets caught up with gangsters. She’s on the run, accused of stealing a ledger which can provide evidence to put a mob boss in jail, and turns to Miss Myst for help.

Miss Myst is Susan Hellman, a female private detective with a special gimmick: a perfume atomizer containing a special formula. She spritzes herself with it and turns invisible, which comes in handy in her line of work. The formula was invented by her boyfriend, Dick Reeves, a chemist who is described as “a tall, lanky scarecrow of a man.” Killeen is really bad about repeating the physical descriptions of his characters. That “lanky scarecrow” thing gets repeated a lot, as well as constant mentions of Susan’s “icy blue eyes.” Susan is helped in her investigations by Dick and by her little brother Johnny, a freckle-faced red-headed fourteen-year-old who idolizes Dick and also studies chemistry, although his interests run more to explosives.

But then, about halfway through the book, comes the scene that changes everything. Miss Myst, chased by gangsters, decides to call on a friend for help, a mysterious ex-mobster who apparently owes her a lifetime of favors. Although I’ve never seen another Miss Myst novel, I got the idea that this was a recurring character, a large, ugly brute of surprising intelligence and compassion, at least where “Suzy” is concerned. His name? Mister Grimm.

And suddenly, everything else in the novel began to seem oddly familiar. A woman named Susan who turns invisible. Her little brother Johnny, who’s constantly playing with matches. Her tall, skinny scientist boyfriend, Richard Reeves, whom Johnny refers to as “Stretch.”

This was the Fantastic Four, twenty years before there was a Fantastic Four. And though I can’t prove that this was in any way the inspiration for the comic, we do know that Stan Lee read pulps, because he cites the Spider, Master of Men, as one of his inspirations for Spider-Man.

But the really fascinating thing here is that if this was the inspiration, even unconsciously, for the Fantastic Four, it was a Fantastic Four in which the woman was the lead character. How different would the comic have been if it had stuck to that?

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A Serendipitous Discovery

I have not been on here in a while, because I’m taking a break and deciding what I want to do next. Also because my attention has been diverted to a role-playing game I’m developing for some local friends using the Fate system. The game takes place in the 30′s, so I’ve been collecting a lot of images for inspiration, including this image of Times Square in 1935 (I think).

TimesSquareAtNight

So I have this photo, which nicely shows the hustle and bustle of New York, and also shows lots of period stores and movies and products and what have you, and I even put it up as my desktop wallpaper, just to soak it in. And then I realize something.

This bit off to the left of the photo…

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Is the Automat where the opening scene of Death Wave takes place. I knew there was one there when I wrote the book, but I’d never seen a photo of the outside, so I didn’t really know where it fit in the panoply of Times Square. Now I do.

Oh, and as a special bonus, here’s a photo of the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas, where the book’s final confrontation takes place.

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If you haven’t read Death Wave, I suggest you click the link above and buy a copy as soon as possible.

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The Halloween That Didn’t Quite Happen

So my apologies. Every year, no matter what else has gone wrong in my personal life, I have made special efforts to celebrate my favorite holiday here on the blog with extensive Halloween-themed comic and movie features, as well as original fiction and an annual original audio drama. I dropped that ball this year.

I planned some elements of this year’s Halloween farther out than I ever had before, settling on a theme for the audio drama as well as some of the comics I would feature. But it has been a hard year, with a lot of stressful events: job changes and power loss and financial problems. As well, this website as a showcase for my fiction never found its audience the way I hoped it would, a fact compounded by technical problems with the commercial WordPress template I purchased to refurbish the site. The template was just using too much bandwidth, leading to access problems for people trying to visit the site. Meanwhile, I was trying to force myself to put out more work faster than I had before, and the quality was suffering. It all started feeling not only futile, but counterproductive.

But Halloween has always been a special time for me, so I tried to come back. Having gotten out of the rhythm of the site, though, it was hard to get back into the swing. I did feature one comic and two movies, but other movies I was prepping to post didn’t get done, and I ended up taking not one, not two, but three swings at the audio drama script before it became clear that even if I finished the scripts, there would not be enough time to do the production any justice.

So that’s that. Halloween 2013 was a big bust, but on the bright side, I have a hell of a head start on Halloween 2014, at least on the audio drama scripting side.

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Scary Movie Monday: The X From Outer Space

ScaryMovieMonday

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Like last week’s film, this one is available via the Criterion Collection on Hulu Plus. The X From Outer Space is an oddball Japanese film from 1967, produced by Japanese studio Shochiku. Shochiku is a very old studio that actually got its start in the 19th century as a kabuki production company. Here in the States, it’s not as well known as Toho, or Toei, or even Daiei.

Like The Blob, The X From Outer Space opens with a peppy song over the opening credits. It then moves on to set up the basic situation: Earth is preparing a manned mission to Mars. To that end, they have constructed a super new atomic-powered spaceship, the AAB Gamma, also known as the Astro-Boat (I’m guessing AAB stands for something like Atomic Astro-Boat). We meet the four-person crew in the opening scenes.

XOuterSpaceCrew

They’re a pretty standard collection of types. There’s stalwart lady-magnet Captain Sano, studious Doctor Shioda (who also does double duty as the crazy one, later), comedy relief Signal Officer Miyamoto, and hot blonde space biologist Lisa (who has a crush on the captain). Peggy Neal, who played Lisa, had a brief career in Japan during the mid-1960′s playing exotic blondes. She has no credits outside of Japan.

The crew is warned that every expedition that has been sent to Mars so far has been stopped by mysterious UFO’s. Their mission seems to be not so much to get to Mars as to figure out the nature of the UFO’s when they hit the inevitable resistance.

Countdown and liftoff. The space scenes are pretty typical of Japanese films of the 60′s, lots of shots of miniatures being lofted on wires through space backdrops. The colors in this one are really rich, though. In the early scenes, especially, the space travel looks pretty cool.

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Trouble arises before they have even reached the moon, though (which in movie-space seems to be equidistant between Earth and Mars). First, they encounter a glowing blob-shaped UFO, and then Doctor Shioda loses control, prompting the AAB Gamma to make an emergency stop on the moon.

While there, they spend some time frolicking in low gravity, taking baths, and having a cocktail party before they depart with a new ship’s doctor, Dr. Stein. They also meet Michiko, who also has a huge crush on the captain. Her jealousy is tempered, though, by the fact that she and Lisa seem to be best friends. Besides, the captain exhibits no romantic interest in either one of them.

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Before long, they’re back in space, on their way to Mars, when they suddenly encounter the UFO again, which passes close by their ship. Not long after, their atomic reactor begins losing power. Lisa notices some odd glowing nodules attached the engine housings. She and Captain Sano go EVA to clean them off, and she collects one for further study. The mission to Mars is scrapped, and the crew must wait for Michiko to bring them more nuclear rocket fuel before they can limp back home to Earth.

They place the nodule in a special sealed chamber for study, and everyone goes out to get drunk and celebrate their safe return. But the party is interrupted by word that the strange nodule has disappeared. A hole has been broken in the containment vessel, leaving nothing but a few scraps of the nodule’s outer coating, and there’s a big footprint in the metal floor that looks like the claw of a giant chicken.

And soon, that’s exactly what they’re dealing with: a giant space chicken, which they name Guilala.

XOuterSpaceGuilala

Seriously, a giant space chicken, with all the powers of Godzilla. Suddenly, the UFO’s, the mission to Mars, and the mysterious connection between the two are forgotten. The movie becomes a fairly standard kaiju story, with the scientists analyzing the scraps of the shell to create an energy-absorbing foam that reduces Guilala back to an egg again. It becomes pretty obvious that the UFO’s are adult versions of Guilala, although it’s never stated outright, and we never do learn where they come from or why they keep harassing Earth ships.

Also mostly forgotten is the romantic triangle between Michiko, Lisa and Captain Sano, at least until the final scene, where Sano finally goes crazy and takes Michiko’s hand. The last thing we see is the rocket bearing Guilala’s egg back into space as we hear a song about how small two people are compared to the universe.

It’s a weirdly disjointed movie, which on the one hand has a slick look and some gorgeous colors, but on the other has a story which goes in too many directions, shifts gears abruptly in the middle, and never really answers the central mystery it set up in the beginning.

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Out of the Vault – Ripley’s Believe It or Not #14

RipleysCoverSince we’re approaching Halloween, I’m reviving Out of the Vault for some monstery goodness. First up: Ripley’s Believe It or Not #14, which bears the subtitle on the cover “True Demons and Monsters.” The issue is dated June 1969, and it’s not only heavily spine rolled, but several of the middle pages have torn away from the staples.

But here’s the thing that surprises me. I had always felt growing up that Gold Key comics and the like were quite simply inferior products to the Big Two comics publishers. Looking back at this issue, though, the art compares quite favorably with what the majors published in most of their issues. I mean, there is nothing here that has the flair of a Neal Adams or a Berni Wrightson, or the energy of a Kirby or Ditko monster story, but compared to the general run of artists who usually worked the horror books (which due to Comics Code restrictions were never all that scary), this issue of Ripley’s stacks up well. And that cover painting is awesome.

The first story in the issue is the cover story, “The Demon of Beachy Head.” Seven-year-old me was very disappointed that we didn’t get the giant demon rising out of the surf as promised on the cover, but the story is pretty good nevertheless. It tells the tale of a nobleman, Sir Robert, who betrays the monks from a local monastery who are being hunted down by Henry VIII. The abbot curses Sir Robert as he is being led away in chains.

Not long afterward, due to a series of misfortunes befalling the town, the locals declare that Sir Robert is the source of the evil and hurl him over the cliff at Beachy Head. Sir Robert’s spirit rises as a vengeful demon, luring people to their doom on the rocks, until 1952, when spirit medium Ray De Vekey conducts an exorcism. The art during this sequence is really dramatic, splashed with blacks, giving an ominous cast to the action.

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The next story is “The Horror of Lincoln’s Inn,” about a bird-like phantom that kills a man and terrorizes two newspaper editors sent to cover the story.

After that is “The Foxes of Doom,” about a nobleman, Viscount Gormanston, who cruelly kills a vixen and its kits on a fox hunt. Later, the Viscount’s servants find his body in a field, apparently dead from a fall off his horse. But his body is surrounded by hunderds of foxes. From then on, hordes of foxes congregate at Gormanston Castle to presage the death of each generation of Gormanston.

The final story in the volume is “The Monster of Croglin Grange,” about a young woman who is attacked in the night by a monstrous manlike creature. Her brothers drive the creature away, after which the family goes abroad to get over the shock. They return several months later and live in peace until it happens again. This time, the brothers wound the beast and follow the trail of blood to a cemetery, where they find an open coffin with a shriveled body inside–a shriveled body with a broken thigh bone, just where the brothers shot the fleeing beast.

It was a nicely creepy coda to the issue, with once again, some pretty decent artwork, although I must admit, I found this story a lot more interesting in my early teens.

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Notice the coloring in this story, with large swaths covered with a single color. Gold Key did this a lot. I think it might have been a time-saving measure, but it also works with the mood of this story really well.

But here’s the really interesting part that I hadn’t known at the time. See, even though the title of the comic is Ripley’s Believe It or Not, I just took these stories as the same type of horror fluff that you saw in any other horror book from the other comics companies. But now, with the help of the Internet, I could check to see if any of these were supposedly true, and what do you know?

Ray De Vekey did conduct an exorcism at Beachy Head in 1952, although he said the spirit he struggled with was dressed in monk’s robes, not a nobleman cursed by monks. And it didn’t seem to change anything, since lots of people still kill themselves by jumping from the cliffs there.

The Lincoln’s Inn story matches this account of the “phantom bird” almost verbatim.

The Gormanston foxes were a real thing, although this page describes them as paying their respects to the family, perhaps because of an act of mercy by the Viscount or his wife, rather than vengeful omens.

And the many accounts of the Croglin Grange story that I could find plainly depict the creature as a vampire, not the werewolf pictured in the story. Here’s a very readable one.

Believe it or not.

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