Entertainment

Kansas City icons from this movie star’s childhood inspire new comic book series

David Dastmalchian has starred in blockbuster movie franchises, hit television series and his own award-winning indie films. But there’s one thing he’s been waiting to accomplish his whole life.

“I can’t wait to step into Clint’s Comics, figure out where my book is and hold a copy in my hands. That will be quite a moment for me,” Dastmalchian says.

Dastmalchian’s latest creative endeavor combines two of the obsessions from his childhood growing up in Overland Park: comic books and TV horror hosts. His debut print series, titled “Count Crowley: Reluctant Midnight Monster Hunter,” is getting a four-issue run by Dark Horse Comics.

He’s returning to his hometown on Saturday for in-store signings at Clint’s and at Lawrence’s Chops Comics.

Set in 1983, “Count Crowley” follows disgraced TV journalist Jerri Bartman, who reluctantly accepts a job hosting a Kansas City nightly horror show after her predecessor disappears. She quickly realizes that the role of the Count comes with the secret task of hunting monsters who are attempting to control the media.

“What makes Count Crowley really unique is we’re blending the Midwest of the vibrant roller-rink ’80s with the gorgeous tradition of gothic horror. And that includes all the Universal and Hammer inspirations,” he says of the iconic horror movie studios.

“On the surface, those elements are just absurdly entertaining and frightening. Then we’re shading in every corner with personal, psychological and even political explorations that pose important questions without ever being a ‘message’ comic book.”

Dastmalchian is already familiar to those in the superhero scene for his numerous onscreen roles, including good guy Kurt in Marvel’s “Ant-Man” franchise — starring fellow Kansas Citian Paul Rudd — and bad guys in “The Dark Knight,” the upcoming “Suicide Squad 2” and TV’s “The Flash.”

He has spent the last month on tour promoting his comic at various conventions. But it’s not just Dastmalchian the writer who is doing the gig. He has also invented his own faux horror host named Dr. Fearless.

Decked in all-black, fangs, heavy eye makeup and a pageboy wig, Dastmalchian comes across like a hipster Bela Lugosi. He hilariously captures the snarky, winking trait of the local television hosts he grew up watching.

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In the 1980s, Crematia Mortem (Roberta Solomon) hosted “Creature Feature” on Kansas City’s KSHB (Channel 41). Courtesy of Roberta Solomon

Thank you, Crematia

His biggest inspiration for Count Crowley (and Dr. Fearless) was Crematia Mortem, host of “Creature Feature,” which ran from 1981-1990 on KSHB (Channel 41). Nicknamed “The Ghostess With the Mostess,” she was played by voice actress Roberta Solomon, who gained a cult following by introducing both horror classics and fiendish flicks of dubious quality.

“Aside from Harrison Ford, I don’t know how many actual actors’ names that I knew or cared to know when I was growing up,” says Dastmalchian, who would go on to appear with Ford in “Blade Runner 2049.” “But I knew Roberta Solomon was Crematia Mortem. That was just the way I thought of things.”

So when Dastmalchian was putting together ideas for the comic, he decided to reach out to Solomon. He sent a fan message to her Facebook fan page. She replied by praising his work in the 2013 drama “Prisoners” as “creepily wonderful.”

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“Count Crowley” artist Lukas Ketner created this sketch of the comic’s lead character, Jerri Bartman, with former KC horror host Crematia Mortem. Lukas Ketner

“She introduced me to some of my earliest acting heroes: Lon Chaney, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre and Animals. And especially Oliver Reed in ‘The Curse of the Werewolf,’” the Shawnee Mission South graduate says.

Solomon recalls how Dastmalchian sent her an interview excerpt from a film magazine in which he described viewing her show every week.

“He also mentioned that he’d entered every contest we ever had on the show but had never won anything,” Solomon says. “At the time, I still had a handful of original — i.e. ancient and crumbling — T-shirts left over from the show, so I sent him one. He was just delighted, and we began a lovely conversation about monster movies and Kansas City and our weird creations. It was only this year that we finally met in person, but I think it’s safe to say we’re friends for life.”

In her guise as Crematia, Solomon adopted an aristocratic accent, a straight black wig and a tight corset. Renamed “Crematia’s Nightmare” and “Crematia’s Friday Nightmare” at various intervals, her show even attempted a live version. (“Now that was scary,” she quips.)

Do Crematia and Crowley share any specific traits?

“Well, I can’t say Crematia was a ‘reluctant’ horror host like Crowley, but she was an accidental one, for sure,” says Solomon, who earned the job after management adjusted the format of her previous late-night series, the more traditional “All Night Live.”

“I think Crowley and Crematia share the slow realization that they’ve entered a weird world they knew nothing about, and it’s full of strange characters who point them to a surprising destiny and become family.”

Dastmalchian even found a way to incorporate Solomon into his new venture. She narrates the entertaining teaser trailer he created to promote the comic. (It’s on YouTube.)

“I had all the spooky props we needed in my attic,” says Dastmalchian, who also recruited Collin Schiffli (who helmed his features “Animals” and the KC-shot “Peter Cushing”) to direct the piece. “Honestly, it was one of the most fun days I’ve ever had in my life.”

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The first issue of David Dastmalchian’s “Count Crowley: Reluctant Midnight Monster Hunter” debuts this month. Dark Horse Comics

A comic book kid

The future actor’s foray into comics began as a 7-year-old when he bought a copy of “Avengers No. 249” off a spinner rack in an Overland Park store.

He remembers spending hours tracing the characters such as Thor, Scarlet Witch and the Vision that appeared on the cover.

Years later, he discovered Clint’s South, the satellite location at the old Metcalf South Shopping Center. With the money he made lawn mowing and working at Waldenbooks in Oak Park Mall, he purchased his weekly array of comics and horror-related items.

He also developed a bond with Clint’s owner Jim Cavanaugh.

“I didn’t fully appreciate the environment he created until I moved away,” says Dastmalchian, now 42.

“When I started to do really cool things in the world of comic book film adaptations, it was awesome to go into the shop whenever I was in KC. To see Jim light up and understand how proud he was, it was a great feeling to know I had done something that meant something to someone who had meant so much to me.”

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David Dastmalchian, as Dr. Fearless, attended New York Comic Con in early October with his wife, Eve, left, dressed as his comic book’s lead character, and Lauren Affe, the comic’s colorist. Just Rich

Cavanaugh died in 2017 after being struck outside his store by a shoplifter’s car he was pursuing. While Dastmalchian is heartbroken the late owner isn’t around to be there for his return, he’s eager to repay some of the same kindness shown to him.

At his Clint’s appearance on Saturday, Dastmalchian will buy a batch of his favorite comic books from childhood and give them away to kids who attend the event. He wants to foster a love of the medium in those who may only know superheroes from the multiplex.

It’s just another way Dastmalchian gives back to his hometown. He’s been a regular guest the the Big Slick Celebrity Weekend fundraiser for Children’s Mercy Hospital.

It’s entirely possible that fans of “Count Crowley” may see Clint’s given a shout-out in future issues. Dastmalchian has already loaded his first installment with ’80s references locals will recognize, including the KC Renaissance Festival, Royals relief pitcher Dan Quisenberry and Ray Adams Toyota.

“I use a lot of words and wordplay that I’m hoping my Kansas City readers will get a kick out of,” says Dastmalchian, who was calling from North Carolina, where he is shooting the upcoming Hulu series “Reprisal.”

Having wrapped shooting “Dune” and still filming (but contractually unable to discuss) his role of Polka-Dot Man in the upcoming “Suicide Squad” sequel, Dastmalchian continues to navigate the realms of superheroes, fantasy and horror. But the comic book itself remains his favored hub of originality.

“This industry has its finger on something that is pure, unbridled entertainment. What’s happening in comics — and what is always happening — is a lot of immensely talented artists getting to create, shape and explore worlds both fantastical and grounded in reality,” he says.

“I’ve been going every other Wednesday to pick up stories that have been told about some of these same characters for almost 100 years. And there are millions of other people like me who will continue to show up and want to know what’s going to happen next with these characters.”

Jon Niccum is a filmmaker, freelance writer and author of “The Worst Gig: From Psycho Fans to Stage Riots, Famous Musicians Tell All.”

Meet Dastmalchian

David Dastmalchian will sign copies of “Count Crowley” at two locations Saturday:

11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Clint’s Comics, 3941 Main St.

2 to 4 p.m. at Chops Comics, 1410 Kasold Drive, Suite A8, in Lawrence.

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David Dastmalchian (left), who, like Paul Rudd, grew up in Overland Park, plays Kurt, the Russian hacker in Rudd’s “Ant-Man” movies. Marvel Studios
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