Thursday, August 20, 2015

Creepy Comics, Volume 1 by various writers and artists

(pb; 2011: graphic novel, collecting issues #1 - 4 of the Creepy comic book series)

From the back cover:

"What's that huge, terrifying thing clawing its way onto your bookshelf? It's the biggest, bloodiest, most creepy collection of new terror tales you'll find this year! Creepy Comics Volume 1 gathers all of the new material from the first two years of Dark Horse's celebrated new Creepy series and collects it into one gargantuan book.

"This 184-page monstrosity features a spellbinding assortment of gory stories about all your favorite terror-inducing topics including: cannibals, lurking demons, werewolves, zombies, psychic trauma, and psychotic murderers, illustrated in glorious black and white, following the great tradition of classic Creepy. If that's not enough to make you scream with delight, we're also adding a special color section featuring the two Creepy stories that helped re-launch Dark Horse Presents on Myspace. You'll get all of this tantalizing terror for under twenty bucks - it's a killer deal."

Review:

If you are a fan of the old EC Creepy comic book-magazines, with their twisted, clever and (often) icky morality plays, there is a good chance you will appreciate the spirit, writing and the mixed/updated artwork of this resurrected and welcome series. I am thrilled that Dark Horse Comics brought this back.

This is a collection worth owning, one that lives up to its back cover description.

Followed by Creepy Comics, Volume 2.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

X by Sue Grafton

(hb; 2015: twenty-fourth book in the Kinsey Millhone mysteries)

From the inside flap:

"X:  The number ten. An unknown quantity. A mistake. A cross. A kiss.
"X:  The shortest entry in Webster’s Unabridged. Derived from Greek and Latin and commonly found in science, medicine, and religion. The most graphically dramatic letter. Notoriously tricky to pronounce: think xylophone.
"X:  The twenty-fourth letter in the English alphabet.

"Sue Grafton’s X: Perhaps her darkest and most chilling novel, it features a remorseless serial killer who leaves no trace of his crimes. Once again breaking the rules and establishing new paths, Grafton wastes little time identifying this sociopath. The test is whether Kinsey can prove her case against him before she becomes his next victim."



Review:

X is a sometimes chatty, entertaining entry in the Kinsey Millhone novels, with a few effective but not earth-shattering twists thrown into its triply-mysterious tale. It lacks any white-knuckle moments (for this reader, anyway). (Note that this is not a criticism, merely an observation.)

One of the things I enjoyed about X  was that Grafton, in this book, has abandoned the multiple point-of-view chapters. It was all Kinsey, this time out.

Another thing I liked is how Grafton allowed the "bad guys" -- some of whom were not entirely "bad" -- to talk like regular people, making them more interesting and relatable and making X more realistic. Grafton has done this before, of course, but it is still an effective writing choice. (On the flip side of that, Ned Lowe is an especially slimy character, and that characterization is effective, too.)

X  is a good read, worth checking you are a Grafton fan who is not on the "why doesn't Grafton write shorter, terser novels?" bandwagon. (Again, this is not a criticism of those readers. It is a friendly caveat to those who fit that description. Cheers.)
 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Bane of the Black Sword by Michael Moorcock

(hb; 1967, 1970, 1977: fifth novel in the Elric series)

Review:

Warning: possible spoilers in this review.

Like The Sailor on the Seas of Fate, The Weird of the White Wolf and The Vanishing Tower, Bane is divided into a series of connected stories -- this time, a quadrilogy, not a trilogy.

The first tale, "The Stealer of Souls," takes place three years after the events of The Vanishing Tower; it has been five years since Elric led his fellow Imrryrians as their emperor.

"Stealer" begins in Bakshaan, a city "rich enough to make all other cities in the North East seem poor." Four merchants hire Elric to kill a rival merchant (Nikorn of Ilmar), whose dirty tactics have outraged them -- it seems that Nikorn has employed a private army, as well as Theleb K'aarna, a treacherous wizard, to do his bidding.

K'aarna, as Elric-familiar readers know, is one of Elric's most elusive and bitterest enemies, since his first appearance in Weird.

Elric, with help from his fellow Melnibéans (led by Dyvim Tvar) and Moonglum (Elric's companion since Weird), battle the slippery, treacherous K'aarna by attacking Nikorn's castle. Also aiding the ex-emperor are "Misha and Graoll, [elemental] Kings of the Wind," also called "Wind Giants," who deal with K'aarna's elemental, "Kakatal, the Fire Lord."

Queen Yishana (another character sprung from Weird) further livens up this story.


"Kings in Darkness," the second tale, begins in the Forest of Troo, a dark and deadly forest. Elric and Moonglum agree to escort Zarozinia Voashoon, a rich "daughter of the Senior Senator of Karlaak," through this forest.

The threesome find themselves at odds with the forest-familiar Orgs, a crude people led by the  especially-imperious King Gutheran. Thrown into this unpleasant mix are the Doomed Folk, the ghoulish undead citizens who live beneath the "looming Burial Hill," near Gutheran's citadel.


"The Flamebringers" takes place three months after the happenings of "Kings". Elric and Zarozinia (now Elric's wife) are living in her home city of Karlaak, a trading city ("not a warrior's fortress"). The physically weak ex-emperor is content and strong, his soul-thirsty black sword replaced with natural healing drugs he got from the forest of Troo.

Elric and Zarozinia's peace is broken when Moonglum, disheveled from his desperate ride across the nearby Weeping Wastes, bursts into their castle to inform them that Kaarlak is under threat. The source of this threat is the cruel barbarian Terarn Gashtek (a.k.a. "the Flame Bringer") whose massive, brutal army is augmented by the sorcerous magick of a kidnapped wizard (Drinij Bara), who has been prevented from using his knowledge against Gashtek and his men.

Because of this, Elric is forced to wield Stormbringer anew, to confront Gashtek. Dyvim Slorn, a Melnibéan and Dragon Master like his dead father (Dyvim Tvar), commits himself and his dragon-riding army to help the ex-regent and Moonglum (whose homeland has been ravaged by Gashtek, two years prior).


"To Rescue Tanelorn. . ." revolves around Rackhir the Red Archer (from Elric of Melniboné and The Vanishing Tower) and his further adventures, sans Elric.

Like the other books in this series, Bane is an intense, lean-prosed and hard-to-put down read -- one worth owning.

Followed by Stormbringer.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Reliquary by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

(hb; 1997: second book in the Pendergast series)

Review:

Like The Relic before it, Reliquary is an icky, slick b-movie read with freakish monsters, scary moments and tunnels, and plenty of twists -- it is worth borrowing from the library or purchasing at a considerably discounted price.

Followed by The Cabinet of Curiosities.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Vanishing Tower by Michael Moorcock

(1970: fourth novel in the Elric series. An alternate version of this novel, titled The Sleeping Sorceress, was published by Lancer Books in 1972, "without reference to the author.")

Review:

Warning: possible spoilers in this review.

Elric's grim pursuit of the Pan Tangian sorcerer Theleb K'aarna, begun in The Weird of the White Wolf (specifically the tale "The Singing Citadel"), continues. Along for the ex-emperor's dark ride is Moonglum, a devil-dog killing warrior, whom Elric also met in Weird ("While the Gods Laugh").

Like The Sailor on the Seas of Fate and Weird, Vanishing is divided into a trilogy of connected stories.

In the first of these stories, "The Torment of the Last Lord," Elric and Moonglum encounter the seductive Myshella, also known as the "Dark Lady of Kaneloon," who has been imprisoned in castle-bound sleep by K'aarna. If Elric and Moonglum can defeat the Pan Tangian sorcerer and his ally, Prince Umbda (the Chaos-serving "Lord of the Kelmain Hosts") and Umbda's monstrous army, Elric might not only get his revenge on K'aarna, but receive further peace from Myshella, who resembles the kinslayer's dead beloved, Cymoril (from Elric of Melniboné and Sailor).

"To Snare the Pale Prince," the second story, pits the elusive K'aarna and Urish the Seven-fingered (greedy king of Nadoskar, whom Elric has supposedly wronged) against Elric, Moonglum and Rackhir the Red Archer, when K'aarna and Urish send Urish's hellish soldiers to attack Rachkhir's supply caravan, en route to "tranquil Tanelorn".

(Rackhir originally appeared in Elric of Melniboné -- he was with the albino ex-monarch when Elric became bonded with his black demonic sword, Stormbringer. Once a Warrior Priest in the Eastlands and a servant of Chaos, Rackhir now serves Chaos' antithesis divinities, under the aegis of Law.)

The third story, "Three Heroes with a Single Aim," takes place a month after the events of "Snare".

Elric leaves his companions (Moonglum and Rackhir) in Tanelorn to commit suicide in the Sighing Desert. While he is there, delirious, Myshella -- rescued by Elric and Moonglum in "Torment" -- appears to him and tells him that the Lawful city of Tanelorn is still under threat from K'aarna and his most recent allies, an assortment of Chaos gods. Elric goes to end that threat and, after an interrupted battle with K'aarna, is accidentally transported into a strange, alternate world.

In this alien world, Elric meets Prince Corum, an anti-Chaos hero who "must banish the domnation of Chaos from the Fifteen Planes of Earth," otherwise known as the multiverse. He and Elric, in order to fulfill their convergent quests, work with another warrior, the amnesiac Erekosë, to do so.

Voilodion Ghagnasdiak is the main villain in this piece. Ghagnasdiak, an evil "dwarf clad in puffed multicolored silks, furs and satins," lives in the Vanishing Tower, which randomly appears and disappears in different realms every few hours.

Within these brief hours, Corum, Elric and Erekosë must defeat Ghagnasdiak's treacherous magick and rescue Corum's kidnapped companion, Jhary-a-Conel, before resuming their separate quests.

The writing in these tales is, once again, action-intensive, cut-to-it-lean, fantastic in its imagery and supernatural beings, and reader-hooking. What makes this Vanishing stand out from the other excellent books in this series is that it introduces the idea of alternate selves and worlds (the Fifteen Planes of Earth), an expansion that promises to take Elric beyond his soul-harrowing goal of absolution -- whether it be death or something less grim.


Followed by The Bane of the Black Sword.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Batman, Volume 1: The Court of Owls by Scott Snyder and various artists

(pb; 2011, 2012: graphic novel, collecting issues #1 - 7 of Batman. Prequel to Batman, Volume 2: The City of Owls)

From the back cover:

"Batman has heard the tales of Gotham City's Court of Owls. Meeting in the shadows and using the nocturnal bird of prey as their calling card, the members of this powerful cabal are the true rulers of Gotham. But the Dark Knight dismissed the stories as rumors and old wives' tales. Gotham was his city.

"Until now.

"A brutal assassin is sinking his razor-sharp talons into the city's best and brightest, as well as its most dangerous and deadly. If the dark legends are true, his masters are more powerful predators than the Batman could ever imagine -- and their nests are everywhere. . ."


Review:

This reimagining of the Batman universe is a mixed bag of bad and good. Characters who have died in earlier versions of the Batman legend are still alive and that is mostly good (I can still do without the irritating brat who is Damian Wayne, a.k.a. the new Robin). The lethality, action and intensity of the writing and characters is especially high, considering how invasive the Owls are, and with their revealed entrenchment, so is the level of alarm that was aroused in this reader. This reworking of the Wayne family's violent past and present is truly bold and adventurous, and -- up to a point -- that is admirable.

I write "up to a point" because in his eagerness to further layer the backstory with elements that will include supporting characters, Snyder goes too far, with at least one of the supporting characters: it feels forced, too comic book-y, and it jarred me out of the story at several points.

I know some long-time Batman/DC Comics purists are put out by DC's rebranding and reworking of its characters (called "The New 52"), and while I am not, I can see where they might be. If you are looking for an Old School version of Batman, you probably should not be reading Court of Owls or its two sequels (the aforementioned Volume 2: The City of Owls and The Night of the Owls).

Court is an exciting and occasionally goes-too-far read, one worth checking out from the library. I would not want to own it, even at a discounted price, but I mostly enjoyed it.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

(pb; 1995: first book in the Pendergast series)

From the back cover:

"Just days before a massive exhibition opens at the popular New York Museum of Natural History, visitors are being savagely murdered in the museum's dark hallways and secret rooms. Autopsies indicate that the killer cannot be human. . .

"But the museum's directors plan to go ahead with a big bash to celebrate the new exhibition, in spite of the murders.

"Museum researcher Margo Green must find out who -- or what -- is doing the killing. But can she do it in time to stop the massacre?"


Review:

The Relic is a fun, blast-through-it, b-movie read. It has got bad guys worth hissing at, a monster who harkens back to those blood-thirsty, rubber-suited monsters of the Fifties and (somewhat) updated science to lend read-it-with-popcorn credence to its gory, violent proceedings (as well as Relic's high body count).

This is an especially good read for its slick, cinema-minded writing and breakneck pacing. If you are looking for something beyond that -- e.g., a book that transcends cookie-cutter storylines and characters -- do not read Relic.

Followed by Reliquary.

#

The film version was released stateside on January 10, 1997. It was directed by Peter Hyams, from a script by Amy Holden Jones (billed as Amy Jones) and John Raffo.

Penelope Ann Miller played Dr. Margo Green. Tom Sizemore played Lt. Vincent D'Agosta. Linda Hunt played Dr. Ann Cuthbert. James Whitmore played Dr. Albert Frock. Clayton Rohner played Det. Hollingsworth.

Chu Muoi Lo played Dr. Greg Lee. Thomas Ryan played Tom Parkinson. Audra Lindley played Dr. Zwiezic. Don Harvey played Spota. John Kapelos played McNally.

Vincent Hammond and Brian Steele played Kothoga. Gary A. Hecker (billed as Gary Hecker) provided the "Kothoga Vocalization".