Archive for Horror

Batman vs. Cthulhu

Batman-DoomGotham

Batman: The Doom that Came to Gotham

This is normally something I’d prefer to review before Halloween. But DC, in its infinite anti-wisdom, chose to release this last week instead of in October, and I’d rather not wait ’til next Halloween to review this. Heck, it took us 15 years to even get this collection, so who knows if DC will leave it in print for the next ten months.

So the plotline? Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham City after years exploring the world and discovers a secret conspiracy stretching back years that threatens to destroy the city, if not the rest of the world. So far so typical? Sure, sure, almost every Bat-storyline reads something like that.

But in this case, everything’s been crossed over with H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. You’d think that’d be a strained concept, but it works out amazingly well.

Oswald Cobblepot is a mad professor, waddling naked around the Antarctic with a bunch of tumor-covered penguins. Mr. Freeze has more in common with the cold-dependent Dr. Munoz from Lovecraft’s “Cool Air.” Killer Croc is a mutated Deep One. Poison Ivy shows up as a seductive plant monster. Barbara Gordon is a literal Oracle, interacting with the spirit world to see the future. Ra’s Al Ghul shares an origin with the Mad Arab Abdul Alhazred. We get appearances from Jim Gordon, Harvey Dent, Jason Blood, Oliver Queen, and more, all twisted around the axes of pulp fiction and cosmic horror.

Verdict: Thumbs up. If you’re not a Lovecraft fan, you’ll get a very good pulp horror story. If you are a Lovecraft fan, you’ll get shivers of joy every few pages whenever a new permutation on HPL’s creations appears. It’s really pretty amazing how perfectly some of Batman’s rogues gallery fit into Lovecraft’s archetypes.

This was written by Mike Mignola and Richard Pace, and though the art is by Troy Nixey, it’s clear that Mignola dropped some heavy hints about what the art should look like, ’cause it’s very Mignolian (Mignolanian? I don’t know.). Of course, Mignola specializes in pulp, especially pulp horror, and some of the images we get here are just gloriously creepy — Cobblepot wandering in the Antarctic, Wayne’s ship frozen in the bay, Harvey Dent’s transformation.

The only villains we don’t get are the two we might most expect — there’s no Joker, and there’s no Cthulhu. Perhaps Mignola planned them for an eventual sequel?

Again, this series has been colossally rare for the past 15 years — the few copies for sale online would cost you about $50 for each of the three issues. But here it is, all collected into a single volume at last. If you let this one slip away from you this time, you don’t need cosmic horrors to drive you mad.

No Amazon link this time — it’s brand new, so check at your local comic shop.

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Sailing the Seas in Lost Carcosa

WhileTheBlackStarsBurn

While the Black Stars Burn by Lucy A. Snyder

Y’all know by now that I’m a fan of Lucy Snyder’s books, and she’s got this new collection of short stories that just came out. As expected for a horror specialist like Snyder, there’s plenty of scary stuff. There’s also a number of stories from other genres, particularly science fiction and medieval fantasy, and there’s even a story about a time-traveling alien doctor who runs around in a police call box…

Some of the stories we find inside are:

  • “Spinwebs” – a weird little fantasy tale about a family encountering prejudice because of the giant telepathic spiders that live in their home.
  • “The Still-Life Drama of Passing Cars” – a quiet tale of a woman and her children driving in the car — but something isn’t right about any of them…
  • “Through Thy Bounty” – an old favorite — the aliens invade, and a captive is ordered to cook for the invaders. Their favorite dishes? Let’s just say they prefer all kinds of human meals.
  • “Cthylla” – the untalented daughter of a computer genius and a celebrated actress befriends an artist marked for death by a doomsday cult.
  • “While the Black Stars Burn” – a talented but tortured violinist is used to open the way for the terrible King in Yellow.
  • “Jessie Shimmer Goes to Hell” – in which the lead character of Snyder’s Jessie Shimmer novels goes to Hell, faces a monstrous demon, and must claw her way back home.
  • “Fable Fusion” – a story originally written for a Doctor Who fiction anthology, this features the Seventh Doctor and his companion Ace investigating creatures of myth running around Prague.

Verdict: Thumbs up. If this collection has a theme, it’s the disintegration of families — and Lovecraftian monsters.

Lovecraftian horror tends toward the nihilistic — but in this case, what really carries that nihilism banner is the rampant destruction of family units. Sometimes, the ends of these families are deeply sad — the families, no matter how small or poor, were loving and caring, and the survivors will be left without their loved ones and the people who they turned to for support. And in other cases, the destructing families should’ve been put to the torch years ago. Sadistic fathers, cultist parents, two-faced spouses, and more. And the end of those families still leave the survivors in bad places — and the non-survivors in much, much worse places, too.

But there are plenty of great monsters in here, too. And while not all of them are Lovecraftian, quite a few are. And actually, more than you’d expect have deep connections to Robert W. Chambers’s “King in Yellow” mythology. Chambers’s turn-of-the-century surreal horror has been a big thing for the last few years, and it’s great to see that Snyder is able to make lost Carcosa’s favored son work so well. I’ve been a huge fan of Chambers for years, and it’s always a thrill to see well-done stories about the King in Yellow, the Yellow Sign, and all the associated figures.

On top of all that, I’d just like to say that, as a non-Doctor Who fan, I really enjoyed the Whovian “Fable Fusion” story.

So you like grim nihilist horror? You like the King in Yellow? You like Jessie Shimmer and Doctor Who? Go pick this up.

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The Woods are Dark and Bloody

ThroughTheWoods

Through the Woods

There are so many different ways to create horror, especially in comics. If you’re Richard Corben, you go with surreality, cheesecake, and backwoods decadence. If you’re Bernie Wrightson, you go with lifelike detail and emotion. If you’re Mike Mignola, you go with thick lines and hints of antiquity. If you’re Junji Ito, you go with body horror, spirals, and fish.

If you’re Emily Carroll, you go with subtly complex simplicity, negative space, vivid colors, and fairy tales.

Many of y’all are already familiar with Emily Carroll, whose webcomics can be enjoyed on her website. She published a collection of stories just last year, only one of which — the masterful and near-legendary “His Face All Red” — is available on her website. The rest are gloriously new and wonderfully diabolical.

We get “Our Neighbor’s House,” in which three young girls are left alone in a winter storm — until they encounter a strange man with a broad-brimmed hat and a full-face smile. We get “A Lady’s Hands Are Cold,” a ghostly variant of the Bluebeard legend. We get “My Friend Janna,” in which two friends dabble in spiritualism and discover something spectral and predatory. And we get “The Nesting Place,” in which a girl visits her brother and discovers that his wife is hiding a gruesome secret underneath her skin.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Carroll does an amazing job of creating stories that seem both timeless and ancient, and utterly new and shocking. I think my favorite story in this one is the first — “Our Neighbor’s House” — because it never shows you anything horrific and lets your imagination do all the heavy lifting — which I still think is Carroll’s greatest strength.

But that doesn’t mean the others aren’t all fantastic, too. “My Friend Janna” brings us subtle terrors we’re not even sure if we can see clearly and definitely can’t possibly understand. Is Janna being haunted at all? What’s the significance of the pulse inside the ghost? And “A Lady’s Hands Are Cold” is more gruesome but also a slower burn. The song sung throughout helps a story already rooted in the past feel even older, like it’s something pulled up from antiquity.

“The Nesting Place” is the tale that seems to break most of the rules one expects from Carroll’s work — it’s much more modern, there’s more dialogue, less omniscient narration, and the horrors are downright gory. But I loved the hell out of this one, too. The surreal shapeshifting monster in this story has horribly human motivations, and that makes the story more powerful and more frightening.

You love horror, don’t you? You love beautiful artwork and splended little stories and fears both subtle and overt, both quiet and shrieking, both chilling and gore-caked? Go pick this one up.

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The Dark is Rising

ThenItWasDark

Then It Was Dark: A Paranormal Anthology

It’s Halloween week, and I ain’t done near enough reviews of scary stuff, so let’s remedy that now with a nice fat graphic novel/anthology of spooky stories.

This book, edited by Sarah Benkin, collects short stories from a wide variety of independent comic creators, all telling (supposedly? possibly?) true stories of brushes with the supernatural and paranormal. There are demons and ghosts that attack sleepers in the middle of the night; scientific experiments with seances that don’t go as expected; ghosts that help out at summer camps; reincarnated twins; ghost children playing tag; UFO sightings; floating, severed heads; historical hauntings; and much, much more. Some of the stories are entirely unexplained — just weird experiences that no one ever figured out what was happening. Some have actual scientific explanations — one tale about a haunted mansion in the 1920s ends with the revelation that the house’s furnace was in terrible condition and was belching carbon monoxide into every room of the home.

As I said, there are a ton of creators who contributed to this, including Molly Ostertag, Diana Nock, C.B. Webb, Dirk Manning, A.R. Lytle, Henry Gustavson, Sarah Dill, Sarah Winifred Searle, Jen Hickman, Karen Kuo, Cody Pickrodt, and many, many more. There are even a few non-traditional comics creators like Wesley Sun, a minister who writes (with Simone Angelini illustrating) about performing an exorcism on a friend in college and his fears that his inexperience may have left her permanently possessed by a demon.

Verdict: Thumbs up. There’s a lot of spooky stuff in here, in a ton of different artistic and storytelling styles.

There are a lot of these tales that are clear night terrors — essentially waking up while your brain is in REM mode, so you’re paralyzed, not breathing great, and basically having waking nightmares that feel incredibly real. I had these for several years and only broke the cycle by never sleeping on my back. So the descriptions of these nighttime encounters with demons and ghosts sitting on your chest, keeping you from moving, and scaring the holy howling hell out of you were very familiar to me, and didn’t really scare me. I wanted to tell the creators to sleep on their sides and they’d feel better. A lot of the other stories were about things that I suspected were just extremely vivid dreams.

But you know, the fact that I could find rational explanations for them doesn’t mean they aren’t still nicely eerie tales, especially told in the volume we get here. You get four or five stories in a row about nightmares and night terrors, all illustrated with astonishing creepiness, and you’ll still find yourself flipping a few extra lights on at night.

And there are quite a few stories that didn’t seem like bad dreams and didn’t come with easy explanations. Tales with multiple witnesses are harder to dismiss, of course. And some of the stories are just fantastically weird. There’s a very short story by Lauren Ashizawa about a man forced to use a rural outhouse. He suddenly realizes the cat that’s been watching him through the slats of the walls is actually something way bigger than a cat. The tale doesn’t end with any sort of explanation — but it does feature the best gag in the entire book.

This is a very fun anthology, wonderfully creepy and perfect for the Halloween season. For now, it’s only available digitally, though I’ve got a physical copy because I backed the Kickstarter. But however you get it, make sure you go pick this one up.

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Skin Deep

HarrowCounty1

Harrow County #1

Come on, now, with a cover like that, there’s really no chance I’d be able to resist this new horror comic by Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook, right?

After the citizens of Harrow County capture and prepare to destroy a formerly helpful witch who’d turned to dark forces to increase her power, she pronounces a curse upon them — even while she burns from a noose, she promises to return someday and see all the townspeople again. Years later, we meet up with Emmy, a country girl about to turn 18. Even with her father’s livestock dying mysteriously around them, she’s got a way with animals, sometimes bringing them from the brink of death. She feels stifled inside her home but gets a greater sense of freedom from the woods outside her house, even though she fears the old rotten tree not far from her window. And sometimes, she sees haints out in the woods, and she wonders what they have in store for her.

Verdict: Thumbs up. A wonderfully slow but creepy story, alongside glorious art that mixes the beauty of nature with the monsters hiding in the dark. This first issue promises some epic horror — get on board early.

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Injection #1

And another new horror series, this time by Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, and Jordie Bellaire, the creative team behind the amazing first set of issues of the recent “Moon Knight” relaunch.

We start off with Professor Maria Killbride, a patient at grim Sawlung Hospital, a woman with a cane and a overpowering with for a sandwich. The company she used to work for is calling her back into action to investigate a missing persons case, whether she wants to or not. The former members of her team haven’t quite landed in insane asylums yet, but they’re not the people they used to be — Brigid Roth is unhappily running high-end tech support, while Robin Morel has tapped into powers he’s not even sure he wants to deal with. And Maria finds herself exploring a very large space that shouldn’t be there at all.

Verdict: Thumbs up, at least for now. It seems interesting, but I can’t say I can really tell you what’s going on. But it is a first issue, after all, and sometimes, these take a little time to get cycled up to top speed.

LadyKiller5

Lady Killer #5

Josie has a plan to deal with the Company targeting her for elimination, with the help of fellow assassins Ruby and Reinhardt. But does Josie have a chance to prevail against the deadliest killers on the Company’s payroll?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Great art and story, lots of bloodshed, lots of keen ’60s flavor. And it’s even left open at the end for a sequel…

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The Rats in the Walls

RatGod1

Rat God #1

Oooooh, what’s this? New horror from Richard Corben? Yes indeedy doo, I will have all of that.

It’s an amazingly twisty story, too, starting with a pair of American Indians in the Pacific Northwest on the run from either the Tlingit tribe (which is a tribe that actually exists) or the Cthanhluk (which is a lot more eldritch and fictional). One of them is killed by the Cthanhluk, but the other manages to escape — only to make a very brief appearance on the East Coast in the 1920s. From there, we meet up with Clark Elwood who picks up a hitchhiker named Chuk — who seems to be the Indian who was killed in the distant past. Clark Elwood is a colossal racist who claims to be a pure Aryan, despite the fact that he’s almost as dark-skinned as Chuk is. In fact, Clark is in love with Chuk’s sister Kito, who he believes is white. Clark’s insulting ways lead to him getting beat up and thrown out of his own car — just as a snowstorm starts. And around the time, Clark runs face-first into a corpse stuffed into a column of snow, he gets attacked by a panther. What’s a bookish New Englander to do?

Verdict: Thumbs up. We get Corben’s amazing horror artwork wrapped around a bizarrely Lovecraftian tale of rats and time travel. We don’t know a lot about where the story is going to go from here, but what we get in this issue is a ton of creepy unease. Looking forward to more of this.

Wytches4

Wytches #4

Sailor Rooks’ disappearance continues to fuel turmoil. Her father finds a word (“Here”) written on his stomach which he thinks is giving him a secret message to travel to the nearby Here Coast, where a hurricane wrecked a theme park they used to go to. While he remembers his former problems with alcoholism, when he nagged Sailor into climbing a broken Ferris wheel with him, he travels to the remnants of the park and meets the old woman who attacked him in their home. She reveals that the Wytches aren’t even human, and that they have the ability to control minds — in fact, they’ve exposed her to a substance that’s inducing her to commit suicide. She tells him there’s no one he can trust, and his daughter is probably already dead. But where is Sailor? She’s trying to escape the Wytches, who have their own special tricks for ruining the Rooks’ family.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Intensely creepy stuff. Not just Sailor trying to crawl out of a pit in the ground after waking up on a pile of children’s clothing. Not just her dad demanding she climb up an old Ferris wheel for no reason. Not just an old woman killing herself while rattling on about monsters and mind control and getting her legs eaten when she was seven years old. Pretty much every page is creepy and weird — and the last page is one unholy shocker.

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Retail Hell

Horrorstor

Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix

I love a classic haunted house as much as anyone. There’s something wonderful about an old abandoned house (or mansion or castle or hotel or insane asylum), dilapidated, decaying, overgrown, crumbling, filled with creaking doors, dark shadows, creepy dolls, and something sinister that whispers from the attic.

But there’s also a place in my heart for a modern, clean, brightly-lit building that’s nevertheless crawling with the unquiet spirits of the dead. The suburban home built over an Indian graveyard, the supermarket with bloody handprints appearing mysteriously on the freezer cases, the trendy nightclub plagued by unusual deaths and fashionable vampires. Horror writers love this stuff, too — you can find horror wrapped around modern suburban and retail settings in films like “Poltergeist” and “Dawn of the Dead” (and many other early-outbreak zombie movies) and in books and stories like Stephen King’s “The Mist,” Anne Rivers Siddons’ “The House Next Door,” and Mark Z. Danielewski’s “House of Leaves.”

And now there’s also this book, “Horrorstör,” a short horror novel (with strong humor elements) written by Grady Hendrix and published a few months ago. Its focus is on a haunting at an IKEA-style big box retail store.

The lead character in the story is Amy, a slacker in a thoroughly dead-end job working retail at ORSK, a furniture and housewares store designed from the ground up to look and feel like an IKEA store. It has the same winding pathway through the store, the same “Magic Tool” required to put every piece of furniture together, the same style of faux-Scandinavian names for all the products. Amy wants to transfer back to the ORSK store she used to work at, mainly because she thinks she’s about to get fired by Basil, an assistant manager and gung-ho ORSK fanboy. But as it turns out, Basil actually wants to ask Amy and another co-worker, Ruth Anne, an older long-term employee who lives for her job, loves stuffed animals, and is adored by everyone on the staff, to take on a special duty — patrolling the store at night.

You see, the store has been suffering unusual vandalism. Some of the glassware has been broken, furniture has been soiled, and there are odd smells in the building. Basil wants Amy and Ruth Anne to join him on a secret late-night patrol, after everyone has gone home, to see if anyone is breaking into the building. They soon find some interesting problems. There are rats in the kitchen showcases, even though there’s no food there and no water hookups. Everyone keeps getting lost, which might make sense if they were just customers and not employees trained to find their way around the store quickly. And the mysterious grafitti messages in the restrooms referring ominously to “the Beehive” are multiplying rapidly.

And they do find some unexpected interlopers. Matt and Trinity are a couple of fellow co-workers at ORSK who have sneaked into the store because Trinity thinks there are ghosts in the building and wants to start a career as a reality-TV ghost hunter — and Matt is there because he’s got a lot of camera equipment and wants to get into Trinity’s pants. And there’s also a homeless man, Carl, who has been secretly living in the store for a few weeks.

So Carl is obviously the vandal, right? He’s in the store all night, frustrated by his low position in society, maybe he goes and craps on the occasional sofa and busts up a cabinet, you know? But no, Carl insists he’s not the culprit, and he doesn’t seem to be a particularly malicious guy. So what’s going on?

Trinity has an idea. She still thinks there are ghosts in the building, and what’s the best way to contact ghosts? Let’s everyone hold a seance!

And how do they keep the circle intact, to keep everyone connected and to create an interesting visual for the tape Trinity and Matt want to shop to cable TV?

They use handcuffs.

And then everything goes straight to hell.

Because the ORSK store wasn’t built over an Indian burial ground. It was built on the site of an ancient, notorious prison, run by Josiah Worth, a warden obsessed with his personal punishment fetish, believing that the way to turn the wicked to goodness was to torture them, no matter how minor their offense, to keep torturing them past the span of their sentence, and ultimately to torture them forever.

And Worth now has a foothold back into the corporeal world so he can use his own eerie abilities, his other-dimensional dungeon, and his army of tortured, mind-crushed minions to bring the miracles of his prison, his beloved Beehive, to the hapless wage slaves of ORSK.

Can Amy and her coworkers survive the night shift at ORSK? Can they escape the store? Or are they doomed to toil forever in the stone walls and iron restraints of the Beehive?

Horrorstor-product

Verdict: Thumbs up. I really enjoyed this book. I burned my way through it as quickly as I could, and a couple nights, where I made the mistake of reading it too close to bedtime, it actually kept me up late. I did think that the very best parts of the novel were fairly early on, when the scares were subtle and more creepy than heart-stopping. The seasoned employees getting lost in their own store? That was weirdly realistic — you could imagine it happening, but you could also see why it would be really unnerving. The odd sounds after the store closes, combined with the sudden unfamiliarity of the environment of the store was also spooky — and definitely familiar for anyone who’s ever had to work late in their office, where darkness and emptiness make the comfortable surroundings feel strange and dangerous.

Even better than that was the graffiti in the restroom. The dozens of scrawled names and scratched-out years, all referencing the mysterious Beehive, feel intensely eerie, a perfect element to place in a modern retail ghost story. There are also some very effective moments when the employees discover that the purely decorative doors in the showcases now open into dank, cavernous hallways leading deep into the earth.

And everyone getting handcuffed together for the seance? That may have been a monumentally stupid move on the part of the characters, but it’s an original and wonderful thing to have in a horror novel. It’s simultaneously terrifying — because you know what’s going to happen — and hilarious — because you know what’s going to happen.

Once Worth makes his appearance, and especially when he captures Amy for the first time, the story starts moving away from being a ghost story and edging more into torture porn. The story shows some serious cracks in this section, in part because it’s too long — I just don’t enjoy reading multiple pages about someone being strapped into a torture chair that tightens to the point where she loses sensation in her limbs and can barely draw a breath. (This may also indicate that I have never enjoyed torture porn.) But it’s also a bit too short — we’re told that Amy’s mind breaks almost entirely not long after she’s strapped in, to the point where Stockholm Syndrome sets in and she starts worshipping Josiah Worth. And then, when she’s released from confinement, it’s not too many more pages before her mind has completely recovered to its previously healthy state — and even improved, as she’s much braver and more resourceful for the rest of the novel.

The characters are mostly well-done, interesting, and charismatic — but we never even find out what happened to two of them at the end of the novel. It may be more realistic — when the Hellmouth opens up underneath you, you may end up losing track of some of your coworkers in the chaos and never see them again — but it still feels like the story is unfinished because of the lack of closure.

It must be said, though, that one of the real selling points of this novel is the fantastic graphic design by Andie Reid and illustrations by Michael Rogalski. The book cover looks like one of the big, glossy IKEA design catalogs — with a few subtle and not-so-subtle differences to give some visual cues to the horrors within — and each chapter opens with a page from the fictional ORSK catalog spotlighting one of their products, complete with IKEA-style art, a faux-Scandinavian name, and upbeat flavor text. But after the supernatural terrors start climbing out of the woodwork after the seance, all the featured furniture gets replaced with medieval torture devices. It makes the story a lot more fun and a lot funnier, while still giving a nice dose of the chills to readers.

All in all, it was pretty fun. Go pick it up.

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The Monster Inside your Skin

SoftApocalypses

Soft Apocalypses by Lucy A. Snyder

I review Lucy A. Snyder’s books a lot, and that’s for a very good reason — I love horror, and she writes extremely good horror. She has a new collection out — let’s take a look at it.

This is a nice mix of new material and (slightly) older stuff. We start off with “Magdala Amygdala,” the story for which she won the Bram Stoker Award for last year. It starts out looking like a revisionist zombie story — until it suddenly isn’t a zombie story at all. After that, we get “However…” which originally appeared in a Hellraiser anthology in significantly altered form — the editors thought the original version was too extreme even for the Cenobites. Luckily, the original is what we get here. We get “Repent, Jessie Shimmer!” — a short story featuring the star of Snyder’s “Spellbent” novels.

We also get science fiction, steampunk, shorter slice-of-life tales, comedy — all of them shot through with Snyder’s special brain-skinning style of literary shock-and-awe. A couple of rednecks discuss corporal punishment — but they’re not talking about spanking. A serial killer stalks a new victim, unaware that he’s in more danger than she is. A future apocalypse means bizarre life changes for a woman and her bestial sister. We get plant monsters, haunted paintings, weightlifting vampires, zombie tigers, and much more.

Verdict: Thumbs up. This is gonna end up being a fairly short review, ’cause sometimes, all you need to say is, yeah, it’s a really good book, and maybe you should shell out some dough so you can read it.

We hear a lot about edgy writers, and they generally come off like preschool kids who shock their classmates by repeating out-of-context cuss words. Snyder doesn’t do grade-school shocks. She doesn’t just tell you stories that get under your skin. She tells stories that start out under your skin, tunnel in deeper to chew on your nerve endings and hollow out a few organs, and only crawl back out into the sunlight after they’ve laid eggs inside your spinal cord.

You like horror? You like horror for grownups, willing to delve into the deeply forbidden corners of our psyches and societies, while still indulging in the occasional fun of exploding vampires? Yes, y’all are going to want to go pick this up.

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Peel Away the Skin

MaskoftheOther

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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Get Ghosted

Ghosted1

Ghosted2

Ghosted3

Ghosted #1, #2, and #3

I’ve heard some recommendations of this one, but figured I’d never manage to get it. I hate getting in on a series halfway through, and I figured there was just no way I’d be able to get all the issues of a series after it was already three issues in, right? Nope, I managed to pick up all three issues yesterday, so let’s see what we got.

Basically, it’s a caper movie. Jackson Winters gets broken out of prison by a creepy rich bastard so he can pull off a daring heist in a limited amount of time. The catch? He’s not stealing cash, gold, jewels, bonds — he’s supposed to steal a ghost.

See, the creepy rich bastard is Markus Schrecken, who has a vast and impressive collection of occult artifacts, and he figures a real live ghost would complete the collection wonderfully. And he thinks the infamous Trask Mansion, once home to a large family of psychopaths who murdered almost a hundred people, should be chock full of ghosts worth stealing. But the mansion is due to be demolished in days, so he’ll have a very short deadline to deal with. So once Jackson agrees to the scheme (because if he didn’t, he’d go right back to prison), he starts to build the team of experts he’ll need to swipe a specter.

Schrecken insists that his security expert, a dishy, deadly blonde named Anderson Lake, go along on the heist to keep Jackson honest. The rest of his team includes: Oliver King, keen-eyed skeptic with a knack for sniffing out the truth; Robby Trick, down-on-his-luck stage magician and occult black marketeer; Jay and Joe Burns, professional ghost hunters and reality-show stars; and Edzia Rusnak, psychic and professional medium with a few dark secrets hiding under her skin.

The Trask Mansion is plenty creepy, and though Jackson isn’t sure he even believes in ghosts, its reputation is dire enough that he insists that no one stays in the mansion after dark. And even then, there’s a lot of scary, deadly stuff Jackson and his team are going to have to deal with. Are they going to be able to capture a ghost? Will they ever learn what Schrecken’s game is? Can they trust all the other team members? Will they even be able to survive?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s a ghost heist story. It’s a GEIST. Am I all up in this? Yes, I’m all up in this.

The characters and dialogue are very well done. The writing and art are nice. The mood is there — and I’m not just saying it’s spooky, ’cause it is. The mood is tense and scary and suspenseful, and every time someone goes off on their own, you worry about what’s going to happen to them, because that’s the right kind of mood for anything set in a haunted house.

But it’s also got heist-movie style. As part of the agreement to pull the heist, Jackson specifically demands a nice, tailor-made suit. “’50s style,” he says, “Something Sinatra would have worn.” Yeah, this thing has heist-movie style all over the freakin’ place. And because we know how all heist movies go — perfect planning except for one little detail that causes the whole scheme to blow up — we know it’s not going to end well, and there’s going to be ghosts everywhere.

Halloween is just a month away, and I’ve been craving some high-quality horror. And the perfect horror for Halloween ain’t aliens or zombies or vampires. It’s haunted houses. And this definitely fills the bill. Go get this one, folks.

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