American Vampire Volume 1
Scott Snyder, Stephen King (writers)
Rafel Albuquerque, Dave McCaig (art/color)
Scott Snyder has become something of a household name in the comics world now that he’s taken the reins of one of DC Comics’ Trinity with the New 52 reboot of Batman. Before Batman though Snyder worked on a creation of his own: American Vampire. Published under DC’s Vertigo line American Vampire received the attention of veteran horror legend Stephen King who agreed to pen the origin story (a backup feature with each new issue) for the comic’s lead character: Skinner Sweet.
Exiting the dwemer ruin, laden with pieces of dwarven metal, I quickly dispatched two wolves before they could charge me. Creeping forward I noticed a large tower like structure in the distance and below a cliff to my right the prowling form a snowy sabre-cat. I should know better. Really, past experience should have showed me by now but with an inexplicable compulsion I nock and draw an arrow. I feel regret and dread as soon as I loose the string With a snarl the cat charges. I loose arrows but to little effect. After a brief hesitation I turn and run. I head towards the tower I saw earlier.The cat nips at my heels during the brief chase to the tower’s front door but eventually I burst through the door of the tower, a lighthouse, and slam it behind me. My sigh of relief is cut short as I note the scene revealed in the tower’s dim light: blood spatters the walls and floor, debris is everywhere, in the center of the room the mutilated form of a woman’s body, and near the fireplace the severed body of an insect-like creature. I pause hearing now the faint scuttling sounds from somewhere beneath me. Vicious snow-cat outside, unknown horrors beneath me…at least there were no dragons flying around. Welcome to life in Skyrim.
I’ve things to bake, turkeys to eat, and dragons to slay so I’ll be back on Monday! I’ll be kicking next week off with some thoughts on Skyrim and catching up on my last couple of horror-centric reviews (American Vampire, Predatory Instinct, and Borealis). I polished off Wintertide in just about 2 days so keep an eye out for that one as well! In the meantime have a Happy Thanksgiving peoples and enjoy a little bit of Turkey day fun courtesy of The Oatmeal.
Mulholland Books, 2011
Patrick Melton, Marcus Dunstan, and Stephen Romano
Black Light by Patrick Melton, Marcus Dunstan, and Stephen Romano (hereafter the Writers) is a gritty and over-the-top tale of supernatural noir. The Writers are the same guys who brought us the Saw franchise but (if you’re like me) don’t let that influence your decision to give Black Light a shot. Black Light is the story of Buck Carlsbad a private investigator with the gift of being able to see the dead and absorb them for later disposal. His gift comes with the side effect of being able to see the titular black light; the dead world around us. Orphaned at a young age Buck is haunted by the fate of his parents who disappeared into a dangerous triangle of black light activity. A triangle that a entrepreneur plans on building a super-speed railway straight through.
I am not always a fan of hard science fiction. It is a sad truth but a true one. Blame the fact that I came to science fiction via fantasy and Star Wars. In fact I’ve read very little hard science fiction and placing novels within this sub-genre is not the simplest process. I mean Alistair Reynolds Revelation Spaceis hard science fiction in one sense but it also most definitely a space opera that is not completely grounded by today’s reality. On the other hand Ben Bova’s The Precipice is a hard science fiction novel strongly grounded in today’s reality and informed by the authors views on the industrialization of space. I absolutely loved the former and have started and stopped the latter more than once. So, when I started M. J. Locke’s Up Against It there was some trepidation as to whether or not it was really the right fit for me as a reader. Thankfully that trepidation was completely unfounded as Locke’s novel combines hard science fiction with political drama and crime thriller elements to create a unique and engrossing blend. Continue reading “Review: Up Against It by M. J. Locke”→
John Hornor Jacobs
Night Shade Books, 2011
John Hornor Jacobs’ Southern Gods blends blues culture with Lovecraftian horror to create an entertaining brew. Bull Ingram, a giant former marine is hired by a shady record producer to track down a missing employee and find the source of a mysterious pirate radio station that plays the eerie and otherworldly music of a blues musician known as John Hastur. The blues is not stranger to the supernatural and Jacobs’ story is influenced just as much by Robert Johnson’s Cross Road Blues as it is by H. P. Lovecraft. The myth about Robert Johnson (a myth later fictionalized/sensationalized by Walter Hill in 1986’s Crossroads) selling his soul to the devil for mastery of the guitar is one endemic to blues culture and one of the more well known American myths of the 20th Century. In a clever twist Jacobs’ take on the myth of a blues man selling his soul ditches the Judeo-Chrisitan binaries (in part, more on that in a bit) in favor for the mythos of Lovecraft’s cosmic horrors. It’s a combination that wins me over on concept alone.
Nick Spencer (writer)
Joe Eisma (art)
Rodin Equejo (covers)
Nick Spencer’s Morning Glories is what you would get if you crossed Lost with Tower Prep (sort of obscure but I did enjoy that show). There are no tropical islands here instead there is a prestigious private school, Morning Glory Academy, where all the students seem to share a birthday and the teachers may enforce a lesson by trying to drown you in a flooding room trap. Spencer has gone on record saying that there is a planned 100 issue arc and, assuming the whole isn’t just the afterlife, I can’t see being disappointed (we’re only 13 issues in).
Seriously this is the best “New 52” title out there. You can ignore all other DC books and be happy to read this title. My question regarding Batman (at least two issues in): is Batman the main character? I admit that I am not the most adamant of Batman readers but in my brief run ins with various creative teams over the years is that none have placed Gotham City in the spotlight quite the way that Snyder has done here. While the cast of Batman is certainly familiar Snyder has made Gotham into a character in its own right (not to be confused with the Gotham seen in Stormwatch #3).
The story of this arc isn’t about Batman (at least two issues in), it’s about Gotham City. I absolutely love that. Snyder has catapulted the Bat to the top of my read pile. Greg Capullo has a very kinetic art style that suits Batman’s high impact fights and his ability to craft a detailed environment is certainly impressive. That being said he isn’t my favorite artist particularly when he pulls back for the wide angle shots where the loss of details leaves the art feeling somewhat unfinished. Capullo’s light pencils are thankfully enhanced by solid inkwork by Jonathan Glapion. If there is a title where a good inker is needed Batman is that title and Glapion’s work enhances Capullo’s work immeasurably. FCO Plascensia does a bang up job with colors using a dark/dingy pallete that enhanced the brooding air of Batman that we all know and love.
Issues #1 and #2 are on the stand now and Batman #3 will be hitting your LCS on November 16th.
Harland’s The Fear is another of my favorites from this collection. It borrows elements of traditional horror fiction and utilizes the current “found footage” motif to craft a taught story. An Australian fan club of Australian horror director Lucas Roe uncovers footage of an unfinished early film and decides to find out more about as a summer project. What they find out isn’t quite what they expect and is slightly more than they bargained for. Perhaps one of the most interesting parts of The Fear is how easily Harland manages to convey a sense of the fictional film that is so central to the story. Partly this is a result of found footage films that have cropped up over the last few years and part of it is how perfectly he captures the rapt attention and voracious zeal with which his characters take to the film. That immediate attraction to a film, that sense of wonder and terror and elation that a good horror movie evokes is difficult to evoke at the best of times and Harland’s ability to so readily capture the emotional high of that experience helps sell the story. The Fear is a story about the journey, it never explains anything in detail and is not cheapened by that fact. A story that is the very definition of chilling The Fear has a well-deserved place in this anthology.
Til the Morning Comes by Stephen Graham Jones
Jones’ story is yet another that features children front and center. Something about this story didn’t quite feel right for me. It is ambiguous in a sense, but that isn’t something that usually bothers me with horror. Perhaps I’m just not sure where the threat is coming from in the story. I will say that the way that threat is introduced accurately captures the contagious nature of fear in children. How one small thing can so radically and completely change the way the world looks particularly when you are young and conveys how that shift in perception can persist even into adulthood. An interesting and well told story that worked for me on some levels.
Shomer by Glen Hirshberg
The title of the story refers to the Jewish bereavement custom in which a deceased body not immediately buried must be watched over by a relative. Hirshberg’s story is a mediation on grief and life and love. The horror has less to do with the supernatural elements that occur but rather deal more with the emotions and relationships between the living and the deceased. This was an interesting story with only light touches of horror.
Oh I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside by Christopher Fowler
Another story with children at the forefront (perhaps the most frightening monsters of all: teenagers) Fowler’s crafts a very strong setting. He deftly sketches a dilapidated and failing seaside resort town within a scant few pages. It is a place that seems to have a sort of strange magnetism; drawing people to itself and unwilling to let them go. Much like in Til the Morning Comes there is a sort of regrettable ambiguity here that left me feeling somewhat confused by the stories conclusion. This is an entertaining story buoyed by its strong sense of place and some creepy characters but with a twist ending that comes bizarrely out of nowhere.
The Obscure Bird by Nicholas Royle
This is one of the more fascinating and original stories. Indeed I had no idea how it was going to end at all. I don’t want to spoil things too much and Royle does an excellent job at providing slight misdirection in order to keep readers guess as to what comes next. Once the climax hit (we’re talking paragraphs from where the story ends) I was pretty sure I knew where things were going but that foreknowledge did little to lessen the sick twist at the story’s end.
Transfiguration by Richard Christian Matheson
I’m a big fan of arctic settings in horror fiction so I was all in the minute I started reading Transfiguration. The protagonist is a Ice Trucker and I was pleasantly surprised to realize this might be the only time I’ve seen that profession employed in fiction. Matheson does an excellent job a blending reality and delusion. He carefully obscures the truth given the isolation and tension the protagonist faces. The protagonist’s belief is so strong that it is difficult not to believe as well and even as the truth behind his actions is revealed you are still left wondering, at least a tiny part of me was, what was true and was delusion.
The Days of Flaming Motorcycles by Catherynne M. Valente
While there has been a seeming overabundance of zombie stories of late Catherynne M. Valente manages to provide a rather unique take on the walking dead. Much like Stephen King’s work in Cell or George Romero’s in Land of the Dead Valente’s story involves undead whose behavior falls outside the expectations of the reader defying the conventional zombie mythology we have all come to know. The horror here isn’t so much what has already happened but rather the mystery of what is to come. Valente’s variation on zombies feels less forced than either Romero or King. The organic feel of these new zombies is primarily a result of Valente’s ability to create a strong connection between our narrator, her environment, and what remains of her father. The Days of Flaming Motorcycles evidences a palpable sense of sadness and an overarching sense of unease that makes up for any outright terror.
The Folding Man by Joe R. Landsdale
The Folding Man is pure horror pulp at its best. A couple of kids joy riding around Halloween engage in some tomfoolery only be pursued by a horrific monster. Landsdale easily riffs on a familiar trope borrowed from countless horror films of the 70s and 80s. Its twisted monsters and anything goes flare recalled films like Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm. Like that film its off-the-wall crazy is firmly contained within a vaguely outlined setting hinting at a preconceived mythology just beneath the surface. Landsdale easily crafts a strong sense of place and history amongst his characters. While not necessarily new there is a certain comfort in the familiarity of The Folding Man and fans of horror and short fiction can find little to dislike in its near perfect structure and pacing.
Just Another Desert Night with Blood by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.
I should probably read this story again. Its crafted somewhere between poetry and prose and I’m not ashamed to admit that it may have gone straight over my head. It certainly is unique amongst the stories in this collection.
A Black and White Sky by Tanith Lee
A Black and White Sky is an expertly crafted though ultimately disappointing story that will draw many comparisons to Hitchock’s The Birds. While an unceasing exodus of birds is an unsettling notion I still found it rather difficult really get into as a primary focus for the story. Lee crafts a well drawn slice of British country town but the firm setting locale doesn’t quite pay off in terms of atmosphere and chills.
At Night, When the Demons Come by Ray Clulely
Another post-apocalyptic story about a world overrun by demons that plays nicely alongside the earlier Lesser Demons. Cluley’s story has the benefit of allowing for a deeper reading that can be looked at as dealing with the repression of femininity or female sexuality. It can also be read as a simply an interesting take on a post-apocalyptic story. At Night, When the Demons Come really did little for me in terms of atmosphere focusing more on crafting a surprising human tale of horror instead of crafting a sense of outright dread a fear. An interesting story but not up to some of the best in this collection.
The Revel by John Langan
Another story with a somewhat experimental structure. To be honest I wasn’t really a fan. It feels more like an exercise in horror writing than actual horror story. It does manage to encapsulate the elements of horror fiction and film fairly accurately. Burried beneath the obtuse structure of the story is a familiar story with characters that manage to feel interesting even if the way their perspectives are introduced is a bit odd. I do wonder if the story, if told straight, would have been more interesting. This meta-fictional story feels very out of place in this collection.
I won’t lie I have a think about mines and basically anything underground. Day to day I am not a claustrophobic person. Not at all. But something about all that stone above, the complete and utter dark just absolutely terrifies me on a deep level. Fallen Boys (note the child centric story again) taps into that fear a little bit by using a field trip to an old mine to tell a ghost story. It isn’t a perfect story and I wish it had taken advantage of its setting a little better. As it stands the supernatural/horrific elements of the story are bit too strongly telegraphed for my taste. You see them coming from miles away thus robbing the story of some of its potential power. Again, this isn’t a bad story but one that doesn’t quite utilize its elements to completely tap into the fear centers of my psyche.
Was She Wicked? Was She Good? by M. Rickert
Here we have another child-centric story and a pretty wicked one at that. Faeries don’t always (I might be willing to say never) have a place in horror fiction but Rickert manages a unique twist on the fae that is chilling. Rickert establishes a strong implied backstory the helps lend a certain emotional weight to the story. The parents of the child in the story have obviously been through the same song and dance more than once and by starting in the middle Rickert is better able to craft an engaging conflict between husband and wife as well as parent and child. As I mentioned there seems to be some sort of implied childhood trauma that prompts the child to act out the way she does (the she of the title) and the story is in a way a rather twisted take on loss of childhood. It is an exaggerated metaphor for growing up that seems to highlight the terrible fact of how we lose our innocence while simultaneously taking a dark look about how the innocence can be just as horrific. An excellent entry and one of the best in this volume.