Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Everville by Clive Barker

(hb; 1994: second Book of the Art; sequel to The Great and Secret Show)

From the inside flap:

"On a mountain peak, high above the city of Everville, a door stands open: a door that lets onto the shores of the dream-sea Quiddity. And there's not a soul below who'll not be changed by the fact. . .

"Phoebe Cobb, once a doctor's receptionist, is about to forget her old life and go looking for her lost lover, Joe Flicker, in the world on the other side of that door, a strange sensual wonderland. . .

"Tesla Bombeck, who knows what horrors lurk on the far side of Quiddity, must solve the mysteries of the city's past if she is to keep those horrors from crossing the threshold.

"Harry D'Amour, who has tracked the ultimate evil across America, will find it conjuring atrocities in the sunlit streets of Everville. . ."


Everville is an excellent follow-up to The Great and Secret Show, progressing Great's character- and theme-focused epicity (love; the Art; cyclic creation, evolution and destruction) while deepening -- in cinematic-fantastic fashion -- the mythology of the first novel's Cosm- and Metacosm-based horrors and beauty.

This sequel's strong connection to Great is further maintained by many of its key characters, returning from the first book: Tesla Bombeck and Raul, the latter a dramatically evolved monkey, who share Tesla's headspace; Harry D'Amour, the supernatural detective, whose world-weary Christian understanding of the Cosm is continually being challenged; Jo-Beth McGuire and Howie Katz, whose war-resistant love has resulted in a daughter, Amy; Tommy "Death-Boy" McGuire, Jo-Beth's psychotic and incestuous brother, who still desires his sibling; Kissoon, whose sick and violent childhood may dramatically alter this second attempt at Iad Uroborous-aided apocalypse; and Grillo, whose database of weirdness, the Reef, may provide some of the previous characters understandings they might not have otherwise had.

Like Great, Everville is a novel waiting to be made into a cable miniseries, and a work worth owning.


In Everville, extensive mention is made about a painting, created by a friend of D'Amour's (Ted Dusseldorf), called D'Amour in Wyckoff Street. Readers curious about the events that inspired this work of art -- as well as the multipersonalitied hellspawn (Lazy Susan/The Nomad/etc.) stalking D'Amour -- should read Barker's story "Lost Souls," which has been extensively published. (It was originally published in Time Out magazine in December 1985. It most recently was republished in the story anthology Mammoth Book of Angels and Demons, edited by Paula Guran.)

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Young Avengers: Family Matters by Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung

(oversized pb; 2005: graphic novel, collecting issues #7-12 of the original series, as well as Young Avengers Special #1. Second entry in the original Young Avengers graphic novel series.)

From the back cover:

"The newly formed Young Avengers take on super-powered sadist Mister Hyde, the extraterrestrial Super-Skrull and a full-scale alien invasion, juggling their parents and their private lives at the same time. Meanwhile, some of the super-teens discover they have unexpected family ties to the original Avengers."


Immediately after the events of Young Avengers: Sidekicks, the  adolescent superheroes wrestle not only with whether or not to continue with their group activities, knowing that the Avengers -- namely Captain America and Iron Man -- don't approve of their activities (and are willing to "out" them to their disapproving guardians), but how to deal with all the baggage of being in such a high-powered and volatile collective. Things get even more intense and violent when the Super-Skrull (Kl'rt) shows up to kidnap the Hulkling (a.k.a. Teddy Altman), and, in doing so, starts killing those close to Teddy. Not long after that, the enemies of the Skrulls, the Kree (from whom Captain Marvel originates), also show up with similar designs.

Of course, with a Kree-Skrull war exploding in their city, the Avengers -- Captain America, Iron Man, Spiderman, Wolverine and Spider-Woman -- also find themselves in the thick of intergalactic combat, with the young superheroes caught in the middle. Even as these battles rage, so does confusion among the Young Avengers. Will Patriot, grandson of the original Captain America (Isaiah Bradley), forgive himself for deceiving his former teammates, and rejoin them? Why are the Skrulls and the Kree so keen on taking Teddy? Why does their most recent recruit, Thomas Shepherd, a speedster who can "destabilize atomic matter" by running, so strongly resemble  Asgardian (now called Wiccan)?

All of these matters and questions are resolved in a climax that feels familiar and fresh. This is a great set-up for future Young Avengers works -- of which there are a couple, penned by Heinberg and Cheung: worth owning, this.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Young Avengers: Sidekicks by Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung

(oversized pb; 2005: graphic novel, collecting issues #1- 6 of the original series. First entry in the original Young Avengers graphic novel series.)

From the inside flap:

"In the wake of Avengers Disassembled, a mysterious new group of teen super heroes appears with powers and names resembling classic Avengers Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and the Hulk. But who are they? Where did they came from? And what right do they have to call themselves the Young Avengers?

"When the Young Avengers' public actions draw the attention of Captain America and Iron Man, the old Avengers set out to learn the truth about their teenaged namesakes. Caught between a maniacal super-villain and their heroic idols, will the Young Avengers' first fight be their last stand?"


Sidekicks is a tightly plotted, tale-twisty series that recalls the past glories and characters of the Avengers-related Marvel Universe and promises to be an exciting update of familiar characters. When an "Avengers Failsafe Program" (set up by the now-dead Vision) inspires a new generation of superheroes who are somehow related to past Avengers -- the Ant-Man, Captain Marvel and others -- this fledgling group, grappling with their heroic identities (which are largely hidden from their families), must not only face down Captain America and Iron Man, but the villainous, time-traveling Kang the Conqueror, who has a personal interest in how the Young Avengers drama plays out.

In this first volume, the Young Avengers are: Hulkling, a.k.a. Teddy Altman, a shape-shifter whose Hulk-like powers hint at so much more; Patriot, a.k.a. Eli Bradley, whose domino mask and military suit recalls that of Bucky, one-time (and long-dead) sidekick to Captain America; Asgardian, a.k.a. Billy Caplan, whose resemblance to Thor and use of a lightning-blast staff often prove effective in battle; Iron Lad, whose Iron Man-ish, neuro-kinetic suit covers a deeper, tale-trenchant mystery; Cassie Lang, size-shifting daughter of the most recent (and recently killed) Ant-Man, Scott Lang; and Kate Bishop, whose physical prowess and abilities with a bow and arrow echoes those of a former Avenger, Hawkeye.

This is a fun, action-explosive and blast-through read, one worth owning. The ending, which closes out the first story arc of their origin storyline, is a not-quite-a-cliff-hanger one, so make sure you have the follow-up volume, Young Avengers: Family Matters, on hand while reading Sidekicks.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

The Great and Secret Show by Clive Barker

(hb; 1993: first Book of the Art; prequel to Everville)

From the inside flap:

"Memory, prophecy and fantasy -- the past, the present, the future, and the dreaming moment between -- are all one country, living one immortal day. To know that is Wisdom. To use it is the Art. . .

"Armageddon begins with a murder in the Dead Letter Office in Omaha, Nebraska.

"A lake that has never existed falls from the clouds over Palomo Grove, California.

"Young passion blossoms, as the world withers with war.

"The Great and Secret Show has begun on the stage of the world.

"And soon, the final curtain must fall."


This excellent novel is epic in tone, with all its distinctly human perversities, beauty and everything in between shown in full cinematic, metaphysical and myth-constructive glory. Its wide array of characters, from enemy entities Fletcher and the Jaff, to Kissoon (the perverse shaman in the mystical, time-ticking Loop) to paranormal investigator Harry D'Amour (also seen in the stories "The Last Illusion," in Barker's Cabal anthology, and "Lost Souls," in various publications) embody that range of humanity -- though some of that humanity has transcended what was previous perceived and realized, with sometimes catastrophic results. Its locales range from America to various mystical realms (Quiddity, a dream sea; the Ephemeris, islands in the Quiddity; the dark Metacosm where a cold and merciless foe waits to cross Quiddity and devour our collective consciousness, as well as our world, also called the Cosm).

Great is one of the best realized and ambitious-in-its-mythmaking works I've read. It is vivid, disturbing, uplifting and everything else that a novel with this scope needs to be, with its humanity and inhumanity driving its fast-moving and character-variable storyline. Worth owning, this.

Followed by Everville.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Silver Screen Fiend by Patton Oswalt

(hb; 2014; memoir / humor)

From the inside flap:

"Between 1995 and 1999, Patton Oswalt  lived with an unshakable addiction. It wasn't drugs, alcohol or sex. It was film. After moving to Los Angeles, Oswalt became a huge film buff, absorbing classics and new releases at least three nights a week at the New Beverly Cinema. Silver screen celluloid became Oswalt's life schoolbook, informing his notions of acting, writing, comedy and relationships. Set in the nascent days of the alternative comedy scene, Oswalt's memoir chronicles his journey from fledgling stand-up comedian to self-assured sitcom actor, with the colorful New Beverly collective supporting him all along the way."


Oswalt's memoir is funny, serious, cinema-geeky, relatable, briefly sad and always a good, focused read. It is relatively light in tone, but this deftly-written book never skimps on substance, its substance being what it's like to get caught up in something -- in this case, dreams, movies and (a lack of) action -- and letting it impede, at least for a little while, one's potential accomplishments, maturation and (other) "could have beens": worth owning, this.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Prone Gunman by Jean-Patrick Manchette

(pb; 1981, 2002. Translated from the French by James Brook.)

From the back cover:

"Martin Terrier is a hired killer who wants out of the game - so he can settle down and marry his childhood sweetheart. After all, that's why he took up this profession! But 'the company' won't let him go: they have other plans. Once again, the gunman must assume the prone firing position. A tour of force, this violent tale shatters as many illusions about life and politics as it does bodies."


This Gallic-in-tone thriller is underlined with a mordant and absurdist sense of humor. Its often cruel and cold characters' actions and near-the-end startling plot pretzels are funny (in a quasi-bleak way), even as Manchette's stripped-to-the-cinematic-bone writing chills and highlights the novel's aforementioned qualities.

Prone is not your typical hitman-isn't-allowed-to-retire work, so readers -- especially Americans -- perhaps used to politically rigid and brutally earnest action-political thrillers, may want to bear this in mind before picking up Prone up. Its brutal, succinct philosophy, when mixed with its other exposed-core qualities, makes this an excellent read, one worth owning.


Two films have resulted from this novel.

The first version, Le choc, was released in France on April 28, 1982. (It is also known by the titles Contract in Blood and Shock.) It was directed by Robin Davis and an uncredited Alain Delon (who also -- credited -- played the lead role of Martin "Christian" Terrier).

Catherine Deneuve played Claire. Phillipe Léotard played Félix. Etienne Chicot played Michel. Jean-Louis Richard played "Maubert, l'inspecteur de la DST". François Perrot played Cox. Féodor Atkine played "Borévitch, dit 'Boro'". Dany Kogan played Rosana.


The second version, The Gunman, is scheduled for stateside release on March 20, 2015. Pierre Morel directed the film from a script by Don MacPherson and Pete Travis.

Sean Penn played Jim Terrier (cinematic stand-in for Martin Terrier). Javier Bardem played Felix. Mark Rylance played Cox. Ray Winstone played Stanley. Idris Elba also co-starred in the film, but imdb hasn't listed his role (as of this writing).

Friday, January 23, 2015

Rash Door by E.S. Wynn

(pb; 2012: poetry anthology)

Overall review:

Rash is an excellent poetry anthology, whose images, themes and works not only complement each other, but flow and weave themselves in a natural-order rhythm that deepened the sense of immersion I got while reading it.

Most of the poems revolve around addiction, loss (of one's self, of a romantic partner), Nature, regret and the process of recreation, whether it's through accepting one's flaws and darkish history, romance or writing. 

What's striking about this collection is that even the relatively few poems (out of an impressive sixty) that didn't grab me were appreciable, in the sense that I could see why they were included in Rash: not only were they solid or good, they also contributed to the aforementioned thematic-flow of the overall work. (In an anthology of this size, it's a near-impossibility -- at least for this reader -- for every poem to become a personal favorite.)

Rash is a superb, worth-owning verseworks collection. If you're interested in purchasing it, here's a link where you can do so.

Standout poems:

1.)  "AA": Emotive and highly visual work about breaking one's addiction, self-wounding and -- hopefully -- the renewal of being. Excellent piece.

2.)  "A Weekend": Relatable versework about the discombobulation one encounters (and slow-and-swift polarities) with the passing of two weekly days.

3.)  "Kissing a Smoker": Flavor- and sensory-intensive poem that aptly describes its titular experience.

4.)  "Hangover Morning": Liquid spirits, history, mythology and literature run in celebratory and long-lined fashion before an inevitable, oh-too-relatable finish. Delightful and wise piece.

5.)  "Sh*t in the Shower": Nightmarish, short and sharp work that details a necessary transformation. It put me in the mindset of David Cronenberg's body dismorphic films (Rabid, Shivers [a.k.a. They Came From Within], Videodrome and others). Yes, that is meant in a complimentary way.

6.)  "Dream Blindness": A strong visual sense of yearning forms this poem, with its desperate, driving flow and rhythms.

7.)  "Seawitch": Stark, stellar and startling work about different multi-layered things. Great end-line, one of my favorite poems in this collection. Part of it reads:

"Mom's van
Ancient maritime mistress
Dull blue, gull grey
Primer and seashells
Mermaids and Playa dust 
Greasy drippings under tattered mylar
Musty inside,
Like a forgotten seaside cabin. . .
A place to rest, to lay your head
And wait out the long cold night. . ."

8.)  "Rash Door": Horrific, darkly funny (with its end-lines) piece that reads like a companion piece to the desperate, sketchy "Sh*t in the Shower".

9.)  "Sterilize the Dance": Chilling, stark work revolving around lust, interpersonal evolution, terror and innocence. This is another favorite in the bunch poem.

10.)  "Colors": The ghost-hues of an old relationship impel a man to question his present leanings and choices with women. Especially good poem.

11.)  "Visionaries": The wild, imaginative-soar second half of this versework is wow-good.

12.)  "All Is Folly": Especially dark and effective work that succeeds on multiple reading levels.

13.)  "A Moment in Memory": Beautiful, Nature-appreciative piece, this: serene, wonderful.

14.)  "Midnight Rain": Urban, noir-drenched and femme-fatale-as-a-frame-theme poem that is especially striking.

15.)  "Only Silence": A strong sense of personal nothingness suffuses this -- excellent work.

16.)  "The Sculptor": I love this one, a piece about the making of a truly-alive being.

17.)  "Tattoo": Stark, short and sharp-stanza'd versework. This is an especially effective follow-up/counterpart piece to "The Sculptor".

18.)  "Must": Relatable (for a lot of guys, I'm guessing), blunt poem about women and their curious, sometimes (unintentionally) insulting choices.

19.)  "Rage II": Macho attitudes and overall dumbness, along with break-up-inspired bitterness, suffuse this oh-so-GRRRR piece.

20.)  "Visitation": Urban life and its resultant noises form this versework. This is a fitting companion piece to "Midnight Rain".

21.)  "American Wishes": Another woman-as-a-car poem. Especially good, effective read.

22.)  "My Pen Is A Prophet": Relatable-for-writers, theme- and image-tight piece.

23.)  "The Best Soil": Excellent versework with a biting, heart-ouch end stanza. One of my favorite poems in this collection.

24.)  "Artifice Of A (real) Poem": Cut-to-it poem that nails what's wrong and right about writing stanza'd works. Again, excellent.

Steve Isaak has published two hundred stories and poems, and is the author of three anthologies: Behind the wheel: selected poems, Shinjuku sex cheese holocaust: poems and the forthcoming Horrorsex County: stories (which are, or will be, available at Lulu and Amazon).