Alabaster and Onyx

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Alabaster: Pale Horse by Caitlin R. Kiernan

Hopefully, you enjoyed Dark Horse’s “Alabaster: Wolves” miniseries that came out two years ago. I figured I’d never get a chance to read Caitlin R. Kiernan’s original short stories about Dancy Flammarion, the weird Southern monster-hunting possibly-crazy albino girl who starred in the series. But as it turned out, Dark Horse decided to collect Kiernan’s previous tales in this nice softcover.

So we get a series of six stories, most of them fairly well connected to each other, covering the weirdness and terror of Dancy’s life from her childhood to her monster-stalking young adulthood. She meets up with were-creatures, vampires, angels, demons, and things that are so much worse. And for the most part, she’s very, very lucky. Things are just not very easy for Dancy Flammarion. She’s an albino walking around in the hot Georgia sun, every monster in the state knows who she is and wants revenge on her because she keeps killing monsters — even though everything she meets tends to be a lot tougher than she is.

Dancy’s the star, but a very strong supporting character is the Deep South atmosphere. It’s blazingly hot everywhere, even in the shade. Almost every location is run-down and filthy and corrupted and falling apart, aside from the occasional vampire-infested mansion. Everyone’s a monster, especially the people. In fact, just about the only really decent people are animals who Dancy may be hallucinating.

Verdict: Thumbs up. I really was kinda overjoyed when I saw this in the local shop. I’d never dreamed there was a chance I’d get to see all the Dancy Flammarion stories all in one place, and I loved the comic series so much, this one was kinda a zero-hesitation buy.

Dancy’s an outstanding character — quite clearly insane, except for the fact that she keeps fighting monsters and talking to dogs and angels. Unless those are just normal people she’s killing. She comes across as low-grade white trash, broken inside, wandering aimlessly and miserably around the South, getting screamed at by the voices inside her head. But she’s got a weirdly hyper-moral core of her personality — she doesn’t seem to particularly hate monsters — in fact, she generally acts like she’d just as soon leave them alone, especially because they keep trying to kill her.

But she keeps going, partly because her angel keeps screaming at her, partly because she’s on a holy crusade. Dancy’s a doomed character — you just can’t imagine any way she could ever get out of this life or find happiness or even survive much past the next year or so. But it’s absolutely clear that she’d keep right on going, no matter what, because she can’t imagine life without her crusade.

And one more point to recommend this one — it ends with a fantastically creepy afterword from Kiernan recounting a moment of her life along a Georgia highway that helped inspire the horrors of the Dancy stories. Don’t skip the afterword. It’s very good and very spooky.

If you like wonderfully visceral, grim, dirty horror with a sweet Southern twang, starring an amazingly, awesomely weird female protagonist, you’ll definitely want to pick this up.

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Devil in Disguise

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A Voice in the Dark #6

Zoey has decided that she really wants to kill someone again, and she’s settled on manipulative sorority queen Mandy Jenkins as the target, because she’d tried to expel her friend Ash and considered charging Zoey with assault. So Zoey has to start spying on Mandy, trying to discover a time when she’d be by herself for long enough to get the murder done. Unfortunately, Mandy is very rarely alone — and worse, Zoey doesn’t know the layout of her house, so she doesn’t know the best way in and out. She hits on the idea to disguise herself for Halloween and attend Mandy’s party to scope out the entrances and exits. She meets a mysterious friend in a hockey mask — and discovers a very good reason to add Mandy’s boyfriend to her hit list.

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s a bit of a tense story, with some great dialogue and some seriously no-fun situations. If you’ve got problems with depictions of an attempted rape, you may want to pass on this one.

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American Vampire: Second Cycle #2

Calvin Poole offers Pearl a position in the Vassals of the Morning Star, warning her that serious crises are on the horizon. And he’s right — the Gray Trader, an impossibly powerful and evil vampire. It’s coming for Pearl’s neighbors, it’s coming for Calvin, and it’s coming for Pearl and her young charges, too.

Verdict: Thumbs up. The first serious look we get of the Gray Trader, after a fairly long period of buildup — and it definitely does not disappoint. It’s monstrous and creepy at the same time, which is a very nice trick.

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Friday Night Fights: Holding the Bridge!

Well, it’s been another long, horrible week of working at our horrible jobs instead of maxxin’ and relaxxin’ at home where we belong. But we get a much-too-short break now, thank goodness, so we’re going to kick the weekend off as violently as we can with… FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

We’re going with a true classic tonight — December 1985′s The Mighty Thor #362 by Walt Simonson. Skurge stands alone at Gjallerbru.

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It’s always a good thing to read as many of Simonson’s Thor comics as you can.

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Growing Pains

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Ms. Marvel #3

Kamala Khan isn’t sure she’s enjoying her new superpowers at all. She’s already gotten grounded, and she’s just not sure what they really mean to her. She gets in trouble at Sheikh Abdullah’s weekly youth lecture, she’s fighting with her friends, and she gets in trouble when her shapeshifting powers go haywire and she wrecks up a locker room. And then she stumbles onto a convenience store robbery — which may not actually be a robbery at all — and she gets into the most trouble of all.

Verdict: Thumbs up. I’m really, really enjoying this comic. Kamala is a wonderful character. Love her look, love her attitude, love the way that getting superpowers is completely freaking her out. Love the art — and especially, I love all the funny background bits in the art — the signs on stores, the background characters, you name it.

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Lumberjanes #1

Heard enough people talking about this last week, so I figured I should pick it up. Our stars are a bunch of teenaged girls at a Lumberjanes Scout Camp. They’ve gone sneaking out of their cabin late at night after seeing some weird stuff, and they soon find themselves attacked by a bunch of weird three-eyed foxes. And so there’s a tremendous fight sequence! Once the girls run the foxes off, unfortunately, their camp counselor catches them and drags them all off the get lectured by the camp director. But the director is completely cool with it — especially when she hears some of what our heroes experienced.

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s a cute, funny story, with art that’s both adorable and seriously spooky. Will I keep reading it? I dunno, really — I’ll probably pick up a few issues and give it a chance to grow on me.

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The Empire Diaries

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Evil Empire #1

Okay, the premise of this sci-fi comic is a look back at a world in which America has become a hardline fascist dictatorship to discover how it changed from a normal 21st-century media-driven democracy into a society where brownshirts murder you for helping homeless people.

After a brief look at the fascist future, we drop back a quarter-century to meet Reese Greenwood, a rebellious, status quo-hating pop star who raps about tearing down the system and how much she hates both political parties. After a concert in Washington, D.C., she meets one of the presidential candidates, Sam Duggins, a young, single liberal running against Kenneth Laramy, a married family-values conservative. After Duggins tells Reese he’s a fan of her music, both of them learn that Laramy’s wife has been savagely murdered, stabbed in the neck by an unknown assailant. Reese ends up getting serious criticism — one of her best-known songs refers to stabbing a politician in the neck — and Sam Duggins takes some heat off her when he interrupts her MTV interview. Reese and Duggins end up attending the funeral together, where everyone discovers something absolutely shocking…

Verdict: Thumbs up. I’m probably hooked on this series for a while. The characters are interesting and the art is pretty nice. The cliffhanger is a pretty big shocker. I’m still dubious on how this is all going to lead to a fascist dictatorship in 25 years, but I wouldn’t expect them to tell the whole story in the first issue…

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Coffin Hill #7

A done-in-one issue starring Eleanor Coffin, who, if I remember correctly, is Eve’s mother. The year is 1958, and Ellie is roaming the Coffin Hill woods trying to find the infamous Coffin Witch to beg for her help. She’s being stalked by her father — but her father was murdered by her mother just days ago. As he chases her through the forest, she finds brief respite with a girl named Evelyn, but she can’t escape from her undead father — but does he actually want what’s best for her?

Verdict: Thumbs up. A nicely spooky short story full of ghosts and evil and temptation. Not sure the story is quite as good as you might expect from that title — but on the other hand, it’d be hard for anything to live up to an awesome title like “The Sole Unquiet Thing,” which should probably have been attached to a few of my more epic nightmares…

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Oh, Come on! It’s Blade! Everyone Knows It’s Blade!

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Mighty Avengers #9

There’s a short bit at the beginning and the very end where we learn who Ronin really is — but there’s absolutely no suspense or surprise about this because Marvel leaked that he was Blade months and months ago.

But the bulk of our story focuses on the Blue Marvel, whose son Max Brashear has become a supervillain called Dr. Positron, hoping to open the Neutral Zone to rescue his long-lost brother. But exposure to the energies of the Neutral Zone has turned Kevin Brashear into a gargantuan extra-dimensional monstrosity whose emergence into our reality could end up blowing up the entire solar system. And he’s composed of energy that could kill the Blue Marvel if he’s exposed to it. Can She-Hulk and Monica Rambeau manage to team up to resolve the situation?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Yes, even with Greg Land back doing his tracework. The whole story is pretty good, but maybe the most fun is seeing what adventures the Marvel and his son Kevin were up to over the years. (Although it’s plenty weird that according to this comic, the Fantastic Four fought Galactus for the first time sometime after 1999. Maybe that little tidbit should’ve been kept vague or just omitted, don’tcha think, Marvel?)

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Astro City #11

Raitha McCann has a very nice job as the personal assistant for a busy executive — namely, the Silver Adept, Astro City’s version of the Sorcerer Supreme. The Silver Adept is maybe a bit of a flake, but she’s very good at her job. But there’s so much work to do when it comes to stopping magical disasters across multiple planes of reality, and she really needs Raitha’s help getting everything coordinated. But when the Adept is unavoidably off-planet when a trio of mystical bigwigs called the Nightflying Lord, the Queen of Dust and Decay, and Tumorr show up on the doorstep. Can Raitha keep them happy before they decide to wage war on our corner of reality?

Verdict: Thumbs up. The story is alright, but not particularly outstanding. It’s really a couple excellent character studies — overworked but hyper-competent Raitha, trying to keep up with the impossible tasks she has to deal with, and the wonderfully non-serious Silver Adept, who I’d love to see in as many other stories as possible.

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Captain Marvel #2

Carol meets up with the Guardians of the Galaxy. Hijinks ensue.

Verdict: Thumbs up. I know, it’s not much of a plot, but the hijinks are great, the art is great, and it’s great to have an all-fun issue, especially with future movie stars.

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Friday Night Fights: Vamp Violence!

We’ll keep it short and simple tonight, not ’cause we’re short of time, but just because I need the weekend too badly to bother coming up with anything clever for… FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

Tonight’s battle comes to us from October 2010′s Spitfire #1 by Paul Cornell and Elena Casagrande. The British aristocratic vampiresque speedster has been sent to eliminate a vampire who aided the Nazis during World War II. Things definitely don’t end well for the rival vampire.

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We’ll see you guys back here on Monday — ’til then, have a great weekend!

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Shutter Island

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Shutter #1

Kate Kristopher is the daughter of one of the most famous explorers in the world. Her father discovered wild and bizarre miracles across the planet and worked hard to instill his own sense of enthusiastic curiosity into her. But at the age of 27, Kate is a professional photographer — she gave up the exploration biz years ago, despite her own colossal fame. She really seems to crave normalcy, despite living in a world of almost endless wonders. But when Kate is unexpectedly attacked by ninjas and defended by electro-telekinetic steampunk robots, it seems her life will never be boring.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Very fun storytelling and art by Joe Keatinge and Leila del Duca. Kate and her father are excellent characters, but the best thing about this comic is just plain checking out all the absolute weirdness going on in the background, whether on the monster-filled streets of New York City or in the framed photos on her father’s wall. I’m hoping this comic is going to be a lot of fun.

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Daredevil #1.50

Number 1.50? Marvel, you’ve really got to quit the stupid numbering stunts.

What we’ve got here is a trio of odd little stories, two set in the future, one in the past. In the first, Matt Murdock has just had his 50th birthday, his son is sighted but has his sensory powers and a bad case of permanent jumpiness, and Foggy Nelson is alive, healthy, and skinny. And then almost everyone in San Francisco suddenly goes blind. Who’s behind it? The daughter of the Owl, who apparently has a weird case of the hots for Matt. Can Matt save San Francisco? Not without a serious sacrifice.

The second story is a text story about Matt’s future wife, and the third comes in the form of a video recorded by Mike Murdock, who was apparently a stunt pulled by Matt years ago in which he pretended to be his own twin brother to keep people from believing he was Daredevil. That’s just weirder’n spit, man.

Verdict: Man, I don’t know. I wasn’t a big fan of the Mike Murdock story or of the text story. The first story was pretty good, but I’m not a big fan of these “Here’s how we’re going to screw with the hero’s life in the coming years” stories. Just surprise us — don’t try to make predictions that we know will eventually be tossed down the memory hole.

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Manifest Destiny #6

The Lewis and Clarke expedition is beseiged by plant-zombies from all possible species. They’re able to use Greek fire to stop some of the monsters, but the zombies take their own toll on the group. And even worse is what Lewis and Clarke themselves encounter — a giant, hyper-intelligent alien flower that wants to digest the explorers alive. Can anyone save them from destruction?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Lots of zombie killin’ and an unexpectedly Lovecraftian end to the first storyarc. The series will continue in a month or two — hope it stays fun, creepy, and faux-historical.

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Green Doom

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She-Hulk #3

Jennifer Walters has her first client — Kristoff Vernard, the son of Victor von Doom. And he wants to defect to the United States. The problem is that he doesn’t want to be Doom’s puppet, either now or someday when he inherits his father’s throne, and he’d rather be his own person in America. And the problem for She-Hulk is that he’s been in the U.S. exactly a year — and that’s the cut-off point for filing a legal claim for asylum. And the other problem is that there are a heck of a lot of Doombots between them and the courthouse. And even if they can get hold of a judge, there’s one more problem — where Kristoff goes, Dr. Doom is probably close behind.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Grand art, fun storytelling and dialogue, and wonderful action, both on the physical and legal levels. It’s a fantastically fun comic, and one more example of how Marvel is doing almost everything right. I mean, can you imagine DC making a comic like this?

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Veil #2

Veil somehow made a bunch of thugs kill themselves — but she did it at Dante’s apartment, so they’re both on the run from the cops. But the problem with running from the cops is that they catch up with you eventually. Meanwhile, there’s something unpleasantly supernatural going on — a ritual spellcaster called Cormac performing sacrifices on behalf of a crooked politician. He has some sort of connection to Veil, but what is it? And what is Veil anyway?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s not as good as the first issue, to be honest — Veil suddenly stops talking in her weird sing-song rhyme and starts speaking perfectly normally, which takes half the fun out of the whole thing. But it’s still a good story, with cool, stylized art and lots and lots of mystery. I ain’t giving up on it yet.

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The Red-Headed League

Y’all up for a bunch of comics about redheads?

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Red Sonja #8

Sonja has successfully corralled Gribaldi, the world’s greatest chef, on the orders of a corrupt emperor, who wants to experience the talents of the greatest artisans in the world before he dies. Gribaldi is obsessed with cuisine, which doesn’t endear him to Sonja, who sees food only as sustenance — and she’s also frustrated because she can’t convince Gribaldi to help her satisfy her more carnal hungers.

Anyway, Sonja and Gribaldi are now off on their second quest — to obtain the services of Kalayah, the world’s greatest animal trainer. Unfortunately, Sonja would really rather see him dead, messily, because of his sadism and cruelty to the animals in his shows. But when attends a show in which a trained bear is savaged by starved dogs, Sonja mercy-kills the bear, and she and Gribaldi are thrown into the dungeon. Even if Sonja can escape execution, how will she obtain the Beast Lord’s services?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Great art and story, wonderful characterization, and an outstanding villain given an appropriate comeuppance. I hope you’re enjoying this comic, people.

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Black Widow #5

Natasha is on the trail of a terrorist killing machine called the Hammer of God, a former Russian Orthodox monk. She tries to stop him from blowing an airplane out of the sky, but he still manages to get it on the ground. He’s killed when he’s sucked into the airplane engine, and Natasha learns that the airplane had only a single passenger. Who is he? Who paid for a whole flight just for him? What does he know, and who wants him dead?

Verdict: Thumbs up. A nice mix of action and intrigue, though it’s frustrating how the Black Widow’s leads keep getting killed off so quickly. But this is finally feeling like an exciting comic, and that’s definitely a good thing.

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Hellboy: 20th Anniversary Sampler

Yes, Hellboy is obvously a redhead. And definitely as dead sexy as the other two.

We get an excellent collection of short stories here. First, Mike Mignola and Fabio Moon tell a tale of Hellboy’s fight against the Coffin Man, a demon who raises and steals the dead, and his shapeshifting demon donkey. And yes, this is entirely as funny and awesome as you’d expect it to be. Next, there’s a tale written and illustrated by Mignola about Hellboy going up against a poetry-quoting ghoul who has previously masqueraded as a normal family man to hide his hunger for dead bodies. We also follow Abe Sapien and Johann Strauss as they face a zombie plague with an unusual genesis. All that, plus a bunch of wonderful cartoons about Hellboy by R. Sikoryak — in the form of Peanuts, Popeye, Garfield, Dilbert, Ziggy, and more.

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s grand, glorious fun, with all the strongest, most enjoyable aspects of Mignola’s Hellboy storytelling on display. And that definitely includes the humor — aside from Sikoryak’s wonderful cartoons, I haven’t enjoyed a line in a comic in months the way I did Hellboy yelling “SIT DOWN, DONKEY!” at a shapeshifting monster mule.

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