Archive for October, 2013

The Best Day of the Year!

It’s finally Halloween! Break out the costumes, dim the lights, fire up the horror movies. It’s the best day of the year.

You ever noticed that everyone seems to think that old movies and old stories aren’t scary, or at least aren’t as scary as more recent movies and stories? It’s not true, of course, as anyone who’s watched old movies or read old books can tell you.

But what really seems odd is the fact that, though everyone thinks old movies aren’t scary, everyone agrees that old costumes are the scariest.









Well, okay, they’re not all old pictures. And come to think of it, they’re not all costumes either…

A very merry, very scary Halloween to everyone!

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Damn Everything but the Circus


Hellboy: The Midnight Circus

If it’s Halloween, it must be time for a new Hellboy graphic novel. This one is written, as always, by Mike Mignola, with illustrations by Duncan Fegredo and lovely coloring by Dave Stewart.

Our story is set in 1948, when Hellboy was just a little kid. He’s stuck in the BPRD’s headquarters all the time, and everyone treats him like a baby — and he’s decided he wants to get out, for just one night, and do his own thing.

And then Hellboy runs across a circus — A.T. Roth‘s Circus Spectacular! “From the clock strikes midnight — to the fearful crack of dawn!” A whole big circus, operating only at night, with almost no publicity, out in the middle of nowhere. Sounds wholesome, doesn’t it?

It’s pretty obvious that this isn’t a normal circus, as the clown who starts the festivities does so by causing the demonic performers to appear out of thin air in the middle of the big top. He’s enticed by a sultry succubus, but rescued by the ringmaster. Hellboy tells the ringmaster about reading the story of Pinocchio — the artificial boy who wants to be real, turns into a donkey, and is then restored when he’s eaten by a fish.

While Professor Bruttenholm and the rest of the BPRD look for him, Hellboy is shown nightmarish visions by the ringmaster. He flees the circus, pursued by demonic animals — and then gets cornered by evil spectral hobos. Can Hellboy survive the night? Will the forces of Hell turn him to their side?

Verdict: Thumbs up. A great multi-layered story by Mignola. The bit about Pinocchio seems like a throw-off bit, but the theme keeps reappearing in ways both obvious and subtle that make great sense for the story.

And Fegredo’s art is just absolutely monumental. The center ring of the circus, with the flame and lightning and demonic elephants, is stunningly beautiful. The undersea voyage, the hobo camp, the attack of the animals — all simply gorgeous. You’ll want to read this over and over just so you can glory in the artwork.

And it’s Kid Hellboy. In a circus of fear.

That’s what Halloween is all about.

Go bug your local comic shop ’til they order you a copy. You won’t regret it, children.

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The Uncommon Zombie



There are so many zombie comics out there right now. So very many. Ever since before “The Walking Dead” came out, there have been so many zombie comics, and the success of Robert Kirkman’s comic and the resulting TV show have just ensured that even more zombie comics would get released. So when Tim Seely and Mike Norton’s “Revival” series was announced, I thought the previews looked interesting, but not enough for me to add it to my pull list. That was a mistake, because it’s plenty interesting and entertaining.

Our setting is small, rural Rothschild, Wisconsin, which is your typical sleepy small town until one day, unexpectedly, inexplicably, the recent dead are returned to life. But they’re not ravening, brain-eating zombies — they’re intelligent, they remember who they are, their personalities are intact. They’re not even evil. They’re just people. Not that they’re normal people — all of them heal from all injuries at an astonishing rate, and they’re a lot stronger than they used to be. The “revival” didn’t happen anywhere else — just in this little Wisconsin town. So the government has the town under a quarantine ’til they can figure out what’s going on. And the town is surrounded by curiosity-seekers and religious fanatics who think there’s a conspiracy to keep a miracle from the masses.

Enough background? Our main characters are Dana Cypress, a police officer and daughter of the town’s police chief, and Martha Cypress, Dana’s sister, a college student, and — as we learn at the end of the first issue — a secret reviver. Martha was murdered, but she doesn’t remember who killed her, so she and Dana are concerned with discovering the murderer.

And there are concerns that the revivers may not have come back entirely right. One of them, an elderly woman, is soon driven mad because she can’t wear her false teeth anymore. Her teeth keep growing back, no matter how fast she pulls them, and the unpleasant sensations eventually drive her to murder. Martha’s self-destructive urges are growing stronger. Someone in the community — possibly a reviver — is killing other people. And there’s something running around out there in the wilderness — possibly a ghost, possibly an alien, possibly something entirely other — and no one really knows what it is. Can Dana and Martha discover what’s happening around them, what caused the dead to rise, who killed Martha the first time… or are things just going to get bloody?


Verdict: Thumbs up. This has been promoted as a “rural noir,” which I mostly don’t get. Yeah, there’s some cop work, and everyone seems to have secrets, but that’s not enough to make it noir for me. This is horror with the nice added twist of the zombies being pretty normal people.

The art and writing are both fantastic, and the characterization — over a whole town, with dozens of major and minor characters — is just superb. Unlike lots of comics with large casts, you don’t really lose track of who all the characters are. They’re all distinct people, and they all make sense.

The horror is, for the most part, the slow burn variety. Yeah, we get plenty of good, bloody, terrifying moments where various people get carved up by other people — and then heal themselves up again so they can carve up some people on their own. But the horror that drives this story forward is behind the scenes, under the ground, under the skin. What separates life and death? What separates sanity and madness? What separates good and evil? Where is the line, and how close can you get to the edge without going too far, past the point where you can get back? A little blood and guts is nothing compared to that.

The series is available in a couple of trade paperbacks, as well as the ongoing series. Visit your local comic shop and pick ’em up.

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Best Friends Forever. And Ever and Ever…


Anya’s Ghost

It’s Halloween Week! Got more room for ghosts? Heck yes, we do.

This graphic novel by Vera Brosgol comes across, at least initially, as a typical teen coming-of-age story. Anya Borzakovskaya is the daughter of a Russian immigrant. She’s frustrated with her family, frustrated with school, frustrated with her (kinda sorta) best friend Siobhan, frustrated with her body and her (lack of) love life and everything else around her. And then one day, Anya falls into a hole in the park and finds a skeleton. And the skeleton comes with a ghost attached — a skinny little girl named Emily who’s been stuck in the hole for 90 years.

When Anya gets rescued, Emily ends up tagging along. Anya doesn’t much want a ghost in her life, but she is helpful in certain ways. She can help her with answers during tests. She can find out when her crush will be out of class. She gives her tips on being popular. Emily wants to be Anya’s friend forever. And that could be a problem, because Emily is keeping secrets, and she’s a lot more dangerous than she lets on…

Verdict: Thumbs up. I’m not sure I was expecting a lot from this. It really starts out as the way we’ve seen a couple dozen other graphic novels — misunderstood geek girl, unhappy with her life, grows up, becomes more mature, learns to appreciate the friends and family she has and maybe makes some more friends, too.

This one? It follows the familiar path for a while, and then, slowly, it turns into fairly straightforward horror. The end goal is still the same — personal and emotional growth for the protagonist — but it’s interesting how much the tension and fright ramps up, and how serious and powerful the threat becomes. There’s no gore or anything like that, but it’s still a nice piece of low-key horror.

The characters are great, too. Anya and Emily are the obvious focal points, but Anya’s mother and brother are also very well-created. Everyone else is fun, too — there’s not a dull character in the bunch — snarky Siobhan, geeky Dima, skeezy Sean, beautiful but miserable Elizabeth, even the school principal at the end.

Vera Brosgol’s art is moderately cartoony — but as I know I’ve said plenty of times before, cartooning helps make the characters and situations more universal, more appealing, and more emotional. And the art does a fantastic job of conveying the humor of the story, as well as the eerie shenanigans going on behind the scenes.

It’s a genuinely frightening comic. So go pick it up.

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Friday Night Fights: Dine in the Spirit!

It’s less than a week ’til Halloween, and there’s still a few spooky battles we can highlight for… FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

Tonight’s battle comes to us from 2006’s New Voices in the Dark and the story “Anything But a Ghost” by manga fear-master Junji Ito, best known to most of us as the creator of the dementedly awesome horror series Uzumaki. Shigeru is a guy who started an affair with a woman named Misaki, but ended the relationship because he decided she was just too creepy, and because his pregnant wife, Yuina, found out about it and committed suicide. But Misaki won’t let go — and she soon demonstrates one of the ways in which she’s just spectacularly creepy — she eats ghosts. In fact, she eats the ghost of Shigeru’s wife!









Delicious. Anyone getting a craving for a pre-Halloween plate of ribs?

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Monster Mash


Daredevil #32

The Jester has lured Matt Murdock into a trap, but he’s frustrated when he doesn’t react the way he expected. The Jester assumes that Daredevil is a sighted superhero pretending to be blind, but since Matt really is blind, his radar sense can’t tell that the hanged dummy is supposed to look like Foggy Nelson, and he can smell the cyanide on the supposed suicide note. Frustrated, the Jester sends in a couple crooked cops to kill him — and of course, they get their butts whupped. Later, Matt’s research with the real Foggy reveals that the Sons of the Serpent might have had quasi-mystic origins, and that sends Daredevil on a visit to Dr. Strange.

Doc Strange tells Matt to visit a small town in Kentucky. Turns out, it’s a hotbed of activity for the Sons of the Serpent, and while trying to stop them from lynching someone, he also runs afoul of…the Legion of Monsters! Can Daredevil make friends with the Werewolf by Night, N’Kntu the Living Mummy, Satana, the Monster of Frankenstein, and the Zombie Simon Garth? Or is he about to join them in undeath?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Even aside from the great story by Mark Waid and the great art by Chris Samnee, there’s just nothing I love more than classic comic book monsters. Especially when we’re getting this close to Halloween.


FF #13

Scott Lang has saved all of the Future Foundation from the machinations of Doctor Doom, Alex Power, and Maximus the Mad by teleporting everyone to a place where Doom can’t track them. Doom is infuriated, of course, and takes his wrath out on Kid Immortus and Ravona. So where is the Future Foundation? They’re hiding in the Impossible Man’s pants. He teleports them all to the Blue Area of the Moon, where Scott gets Uatu himself (and his girlfriend Ulana) to surrender by threatening him with the Ultimate Nullifier. And then a bunch of alternate-timeline versions of Red Ghost and the Super-Apes appear — the kids make friends with all the apes by offering them bananas, and then kick the tar out of all the Red Ghosts. Well, this is all great, but how does Scott plan to stop Doctor Doom?

Verdict: Thumbs up. So many funny moments in this one — She-Hulk’s horror at discovering where they’re all hiding; Bentley-23’s realization that Uatu’s name makes its own pun; the kids’ reactions to word that Uatu has a girlfriend; Uatu needing to visit the bathroom; the entire sequence with Red Ghost; and much, much more besides. Tons of great lines and wonderful art. It’s a grand story and a great lesson on how much fun comics can be when they embrace their inherent sense of humor.


Young Avengers #11

Kid Loki discovers that Leah has allied with Mother and captured Hulkling, and Mother plans to unleash the evil alternates of our heroes on the Earth to wreak mass destruction. In an attempt to build up enough mystical power to break Mother’s spells, Wiccan magically turns turns Kid Loki into Teen Loki — but he’s still not powerful enough. So the new plan is to invade Mother’s home dimension, age Wiccan into the Demiurge, and recruit other teenaged superheroes on Earth to stop the invasion of the Evil Young Avengers. That’s a lot of stuff that can go wrong, ain’t it?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Great art, great writing, fun dialogue, desperate situations, awesome characters. I just enjoy every issue of this comic so much.

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Viral Vector


Like a Virus

Here’s an interesting little supernatural-themed comic that heads a few places you might not expect. It got a lot of publicity as a Kickstarter project of Ken Lowery, Robert Wilson IV, Jordan Boyd, and Thomas Mauer. The story focuses on Felicity, a young woman who has the rare ability to sense spirits and ghosts. She’s staking out an apartment in New Empire City because of a rumor of a suicidal ghost. Once a week, Felicity hears a body strike the sidewalk, but no one else hears a thing. She finally makes it into the apartment, where she meets Marie, an older woman who’s relived her suicide every single week since her death decades ago. Why did Marie kill herself? And can Felicity bring any comfort or release for the spirit?

I don’t actually know if this has hit the stores yet. I’ve had it for a few weeks, but I got it in the mail for backing the Kickstarter. I haven’t seen it in my local comic shop, but that don’t mean it ain’t out there. I’m gonna assume it’s hit the stores, though, and be done with it.

Verdict: Thumbs up. There’s a lot to love here. It’s not really a scary comic — Marie isn’t portrayed as a supernatural threat, just as a lonely and deeply sad woman who happens to be a ghost. It does have a lot of eerie glory, though, especially early on when Felicity is investigating the haunting. But what really drives the comic forward is a meditation on suicide, what brings it about, and how the idea of it seems to worm its way into your life. As Lowery’s postscript states, it’s a very personal work. And despite the heavy subject matter, it was still a lot of fun to read. I hope you’ll pick it up when you see it in the stores.


Pretty Deadly #1

A new first issue — a bit of a horror western, or maybe a western with a few horror elements worked in. Much of the tale is told through a song by some strange traveling performers, about Death falling in love with a woman who tries to kill herself, and leaves him with a baby. And once the performance is over, one of them steals some sort of parchment off an outlaw, who’s soon pursued by a woman in black named Big Alice. And once she learns the parchment is gone, the performers find themselves pursued, too.

Verdict: Thumbs up. An interesting first issue by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios. As always, the first issue is all about setting our stage, meeting the characters, and getting the first hint about what’s up. I hope future issues will be as interesting.


Velvet #1

And another first issue — this time, a spy drama by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting. Our setting is 1973, and most of our characters are James Bond-style superspies, working black ops on a black budget with more flair and finesse than anyone else could reasonably manage. And ARC-7’s top operative has just been ambushed and murdered by someone wielding a common shotgun. Such things are just not done, and there’s plenty of suspicion that there’s a mole in the organization. In the middle of all of this is Velvet, a woman who is supposedly the organization’s secretary, the secret lover of almost all the operatives, and an even more secret operative herself. When a retired operative is eventually identified as the murderer, Velvet has her doubts and starts her own investigation — and soon finds herself set up and framed by whoever is killing ARC-7 operatives…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Action, intrigue, fantastic dialogue and characterization. And holy wow, is Epting’s art absolutely fantastic here. Just gorgeous, gorgeous work. Classic ’70s espionage thriller in comic book form — might wanna add this to your pull-list, folks.

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Peel Away the Skin


Mask of the Other by Greg Stolze

Man, it’s getting closer to Halloween, and I’ve barely reviewed any good horror stories yet. So here’s this fun novel, a keen mixture of military fiction and the Cthulhu Mythos, by Greg Stolze.

The story jumps around a lot in time, though we follow a small team of soldiers/mercenaries — Rick, Dirty John, Hamid, Doug, and Bandit — for most of the tale. We follow them throughout the Middle East, Japan, Australia, America, and Turkey as they come into contact with the powers and horrors hidden where no one knows to look.

Among other things, we discover Saddam Hussein’s secret occult weapons program. We watch over a monstrous being buried in Turkey, completely immune to every attempt by the Turkish army to destroy it and perfectly content to look for a way to seep out of its underground prison.

We tag along as an American rock band visits an isolated Japanese island to film a music video — and is quickly devoured by something hidden in the ruins. We witness the destruction of an Afghan village and a company of private security consultants because of a single unorthodox, terrifying weapon.

And we get to see what happens when the things hidden in the dark corners of the world meet the terrors from beyond space — and who survives the chaos.

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s an outstanding book, exciting, terrifying, bizarre, and just plain fun to read.

Gotta give a lot of credit to how great the characters are in this book. Our team of mercenaries are wonderfully appealing characters — Dirty John is probably the most fun, but you feel a lot of affection for all of them. And even the minor characters are strong, too. The doomed rock band, as well as their entourage, are outstanding, as are the star-crossed lovers in Turkey, the crusading investigator tracking the soldiers, and pretty much everyone else we meet.

We get three different monstrous threats — I won’t spoil who they are, because it’s more fun to see how they get introduced. But they’re presented in such unique ways that you may not immediately recognize them — in fact, there’s one that I suspect may be completely original to Stolze’s fiction. I don’t remember reading anything like it in H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction, but perhaps it’s just disguised very well. But it’s great to look at these Mythos monstrosities through less jaded eyes. It’s makes them stranger, more original, and scarier.

And the terrors here aren’t limited to the supernatural. These guys are soldiers, and they have to deal with IEDs, snipers, ambushes, and most terrifying of all, bureaucracy. It’s a great blending of otherworldly scares with gritty, real-life perils.

It’s a vastly fun book, perfect for anyone who needs some offbeat Halloween chills. Go pick it up.

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Batman ’66 #4

Batman and Robin fly to England when they realize that one particular hat-obsessed criminal is committing crimes there. After they deplane (to enthusiastic, screaming crowds), the Dynamic Duo (and Alfred, supposedly here on loan from Bruce Wayne because of his expertise driving in London’s streets) meet up with Detective Inspector Gordon of Scotland Yard but are just barely too late to stop the Mad Hatter from stealing the Crown Jewels! A frantic chase through London ensues, with Batman dangling from underneath a gigantic, hovering chapeau. In the followup tale, there’s more crime afoot in London, as the Clock King is up to no good from his secret headquarters inside Big Ben!

Verdict: Thumbs up. If the ’60s Batman series had a much, much larger budget, I’m pretty sure they would’ve done an episode where Batman went to England and chased down a bunch of flying hats. Lots of funny stuff going on here — it’s been a lot of fun to read this series.


Hawkeye #13

Clint Barton is in mourning over the death of his friend Grills and having trouble holding things together. Putting together a funeral, talking to the cops, fighting supervillains with the Avengers, losing his “sidekick” (Kate Bishop doesn’t really count as a sidekick, does she? She’s a lot more level-headed than Clint is…), losing his dog, meeting up with his ne’er-do-well brother — and he still doesn’t realize there’s an assassin stalking him.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Not a lot of action this time out, but a ton of outstanding characterization as Matt Fraction and David Aja put our sad-sack hero through the emotional wringer. I love the way this series so consistently surprises us and defies expectations. Hope you’re enjoying reading it, too.

Today’s Cool Links:

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Friday Night Fights: My Pet Demon!

Baby, it’s mid-October, it’s the weekend, and we need some comic-book violence to get things started right. Break into your secret stash of Halloween candy, children, ’cause it’s time for… FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

Tonight’s battle comes to us from October 2010’s Hellboy/Beasts of Burden: Sacrifice by Evan Dorkin, Mike Mignola, and Jill Thompson, as Hellboy, with ample encouragement from the monster-fighting pets of Burden Hill, goes to town on a monstrous golem!








Boom indeed!

That should do it for us for this week. I’ll see y’all back here on Monday.

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