Monthly Archives: November 2014

Review: “Hellboy Vol. IV: The Right Hand Of Doom” by Mike Mignola

Title: Hellboy Vol. IV: The Right Hand Of Doom
Writer & Artist: Mike Mignola
Series: Hellboy
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse, 2004

As I mentioned ages past, I love Hellboy. And my library finally got another volume! Just a single one, for now, but that’s okay. I eagerly devoured it. This volume was another anthology set, collecting a number of shorter pieces along with a couple longer one-off stories. As I stated last time, I think this shorter format really gives the character his best workout… The stories included here are:

  • Pancakes (New Mexico, 1947). Young Hellboy is a picky eater. This one was done as a joke so that the Dark Horse people would stop asking for stories about young Hellboy. It was a surprising success…
  • The Nature Of The Beast (England, 1954). Hellboy faces down a dragon in the English countryside. But not all is as it seems…. Apparently this one was knocking about in Mignola’s head since he was first created, and he only got around to putting it on paper much later.
  • King Vold (Norway, 1956). Hellboy goes on a research mission with an old friend of Bruttenholm’s. Obviously, things don’t go as planned. This particular story was written up specifically for this collection, so that’s always fun.
  • Heads (Kyoto, 1967). Hellboy investigates reports of a haunted house in the Japanese countryside. They prove to be all too true….
  • Goodbye, Mister Tod (Portland, 1979). Hellboy deals with a medium who, shall we say, ventured a little too far into the open waters of the spiritual realms….
  • The Varcolac (Yorkshire, 1982). Hellboy tracks down a vampire he’s long hunted, only to find a bit more than he bargained for….
  • The Right Hand Of Doom (Sometime after Wake The Devil). Hellboy meets the son of one of those who most fear him and his potential, and recaps the important story beats thus far….learning a bit more about himself in the process. This is mostly Mignola poking his readers and asking them why they aren’t more curious about Hellboy’s stone right hand.
  • Box Full Of Evil (Soon after The Right Hand Of Doom). A troubling burglary leads Hellboy to a cult trying to raise the devil. Well, A devil, anyway….but with such ambitions, what might they do once the Beast of the Apocalypse is within their reach?

Content: Minor language, some stylized violence and gore. Little to no sexual content. A fair amount of occult content, however. In Hellboy’s world, everything supernatural would seem to exist in….well, not harmony, but a unified worldview. This includes the Christian God and the Devil as well as more Lovecraftian things such as the Ogdru Jahad. God and the Church have power, but there are other things abroad in the world that have power as well and were old long before Christ was born in his manger. Hellboy is brought to Earth from another plane–implied to be Hell–in a dark ritual performed by Grigori Rasputin. He later tries to use Hellboy as the focus of another ritual to free the Ogdru Jahad (similar to H.P. Lovecraft’s Great Old Ones) and bring an end to the world as we know it. One of the short tales implies that Hellboy himself is the son of the Devil and a mortal witch. Ghosts, vampires….the Beast of the Apocalypse…..

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Comics/Graphic Novels, Reviews

Review: “John Constantine, Hellblazer: The Family Man” by Jamie Delano, Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, David Lloyd, Dave McKean, Ron Tiner, & Sean Philips

Title: The Family Man
Writers: Jamie Delano, Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman & Dick Foreman
Artists: Ron Tiner, David Lloyd, Dave McKean, Sean Phillips, Steve Pugh, Dean Motter, Kevin Walker, Mark Buckingham, Mark Pennington, & Tim Bradstreet
Series: John Constantine, Hellblazer (Volume IV, Issues #23-33)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Vertigo, 2012

This volume of the ongoing Hellblazer comic series proved to be a mixed bag, not in terms of quality but in terms of subject matter. Much like the first volume, but in this case it was all tied together by a larger narrative. It was, I think, my favorite volume so far….which is a bit chilling, since this was undoubtedly the most messed up volume yet as well. At any rate, I’m finally seeing what everyone raves about with this series.

John Constantine knows how to handle a supernatural threat. Usually, that’s run like hell, but still. He faces down the things that go bump in the night on a regular basis, has stared into Hell and had Hell stare back. He bears the scars of these encounters, both physical and mental. But now? Now Constantine is up against his most unnerving enemy yet–a strictly vanilla human serial killer who specializes in slaughtering entire families. Fresh from the near-apocalypse caused by the government’s runaway “fear machine,” and needing a place to lay low, Constantine drops in on an old friend and finds himself in the middle of a mind-bending meta-fictional romp. A few weeks later, a mysterious figure shows up at the door in search of Constantine’s missing friend. This encounter will plunge Constantine into a deadly game of chess for his very soul…. In between the moves of that deadly game, we get some guest appearances. First off, Grant Morrison and David Lloyd spin a tale of nuclear horror as a town and the new missile base just up the road both fall victim to a sinister experiment. Then Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean take an issue to explore the human need for affection and just simply being noticed. Later, Dick Foreman spins a yarn about a madman’s dream to take over the world using an unlikely vehicle for his ambitions.

Like I said, this volume mostly holds together pretty well. We segue in from the previous volume, then move on to set up the chance meeting between Constantine and the Family Man. From there, Constantine tries to ignore the fact that he alone knows the killer’s identity, having a couple side adventures that allow for some guest teams and (I presume) Delano to catch up his schedule before the main showdown and cleanup. It meanders a bit at the end, perhaps, but that mostly serves to allow the next volume to start on cue instead of rambling about first. I’m fine with that. Random Neil Gaiman appearances are always appreciated, and Dave McKean’s style complemented the story being told quite well. I wasn’t quite as fond of the Morrison/Lloyd tale, but that may have been a byproduct of its very obvious political leanings, and I found the Dick Foreman story pretty forgettable, possibly because the art rubbed me the wrong way. At any rate, I’m sticking with the series for a while longer. I see we change lead writers for the next volume, so that will be interesting….

CONTENT: Some strong language, PG-13 grade. Some semi-explicit sexual content, including implied molestation, incest and rape as a city gives in to all of its suppressed desires. Strong violence, very gory in a couple places. Very little occult content this volume though, considering the series as a whole.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Comics/Graphic Novels, Reviews

Review: “Metro 2033” by Dmitry Glukhovsky

Title: Metro 2033
Author: Dmitry Glukhovsky
Series: Metro
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: 2002 (in Russian), 2010 (English translation)

I first became aware of this novel, as did most of the non-Russian world, because of the video game. I haven’t played it yet, but I hope to do so at some point in the future. Anyway, I ran across a short interview some gaming magazine did with Glukhovsky about the follow-up game Metro: Last Light, and determined that this was a book I had to get my hands on. How could I pass it up? I have a weakness for post-apocalyptic stuff in general (or at least I’ve liked most of it I’ve encountered thus far), and the premise was intriguing.

In 2013, the world ended in nuclear fire. The only survivors are those lucky few who managed to escape to the Moscow Metro system, which acts as a massive fallout shelter. (Other authors, with Glukhovsky’s blessing, have explored the Metros of other major cities across the world, which are ostensibly serving a similar function. I wouldn’t know personally, since so far none of the other material has made it into English.) Twenty years later, humanity still huddles in the tunnels of the Metro. Those who remember the surface are growing fewer every day, through the ravages of time, radiation sickness, or the depredations of bandits and mutants. Each station on the Metro has taken on the character of individual countries, with several empires and alliances being forged in the darkness. There’s a group of stations that have reverted to Communism, some that have taken up fascism, a group that have embraced capitalistic trade and the riches it brings, and a whole bunch of other stations caught between the quarreling powers. Above it all stands Polis, perhaps the only place in the Metro that they at least attempt to remember how man once lived. Artyom knows all this only from stories, of course; as long as he can remember, he’s never been further from his home station of VDNKh than the guard post at the three-hundredth meter. Well, except for that one night when he and a couple friends sneaked over to the abandoned station down the line and ventured to the surface, just for a moment. They got scared stiff by noises in the dark, and the door refused to close behind them….In the days since, a steady stream of nigh-indestructible mutants, the Dark Ones, has slowly assaulted the station, with the attacks growing more frequent with every passing week. Now Artyom has to leave VDNKh behind, venturing to legendary Polis with an urgent plea for help, before the Dark Ones overrun first VDNKh and then the entire Metro….

My reactions to this book were mixed. On the one hand, I really enjoyed the book. It was very atmospheric, placing you deep inside this darkened world and the head of Artyom, a young man who has never seen the sun or (at the start) walked under the stars. The world itself is very developed, even if we don’t always get a lot of information on certain sections. On the other hand, I get the impression that the translation was very hurried and sloppy, undertaken on a deadline to meet the game’s release date. Dialogue often felt very stilted and didn’t flow well (I’m giving the author the benefit of the doubt and blaming the unnamed translator for this out of professional courtesy), and there were a small number of typos and similar mistakes embedded in the book–always surprising to find in a professionally-published work. Other elements I felt more ambiguously about. The plot reads like an old-fashioned dungeon crawl, and is honestly pretty repetitive at times, but every step of the way we are treated to philosophical musings on everything from religion to human nature. I was also surprised at the level of mysticism present in the novel. I don’t have any real objection to that kind of thing, I just wasn’t expecting it here. Its not something usually found in conjunction with the aftereffects of a nuclear holocaust. Am I sorry I read it? No. I do think it would benefit from a better translation though, a proper one this time.

CONTENT: R-rated language. Some sexual innuendo, including a mother attempting to sell her son’s company to Artyom, much to his disgust. Frequent, occasionally gory and disturbing violence, both of the human and monster/unexplained varieties. There’s a strange mysticism underlying the novel, from a conversation with two mysterious old men in a station that is supposedly uninhabited to possible sightings of a god that was supposedly made up by a cannibalistic cult up to and including a battle with a hypnotic slime monster. Yes, you read that right.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Novels, Reviews

Mini-Review: “Star Wars–Reputation” by Ari Marmell

Title: Reputation
Author: Ari Marmell
Artist: Tom Hodges
Series: Star Wars (Technically Legends, but tied to the Clone Wars)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Titan Magazines, 2012

I was going through some old Star Wars Insider magazines the other day, and I ran across this short story. I don’t know how I missed it before, but I did fall pretty far behind there for a while and am only just catching up. Anyone who’s watched much of the Clone Wars series probably remembers the bounty hunter Clint Eastwood Cad Bane. You know, the guy with enough brass to stage a heist in the Jedi Temple itself, proceeding to kidnap several Force-sensitive infants, busted Ziro the Hutt out of the slammer on Coruscant by taking several senators hostage, and then proceeded to sign on for a mission to kidnap Palpatine himself? He’s a cool character, to be sure, and this tale picks him up as he’s just first trying to make a name for himself. War is coming, Bane is sure of it, and that means money up for grabs….if one has the nerves and the reputation to claim it.

For most of the story, from Bane’s musing on the state of the GFFA to his sparse dialogue throughout the tale, Bane’s voice is spot-on. I could almost literally hear it in my head as I read. The story also explains why he has so many gadgets that we see almost nowhere else in the entirety of the franchise, such as the rocket boots he’s rocking while everyone else wears heavy jetpacks.

Trying to place this into the timeline of the Galaxy Far, Far Away illustrates the slightly awkward position the division of the canon puts me in. Officially, anything published before the cutoff date that isn’t the films or the actual Clone Wars cartoon is considered “Legends” canon. However, the Clone Wars cartoon (and thus all related material) doesn’t fit with the previously-established “Legends” timeline for the Clone Wars. Thus, I’m choosing to be slightly rebellious and include the Clone Wars tie-in material in the official canon timeline. Cool? Cool. Anyway, this story is set just a scant two years before the outbreak of the Clone Wars. (That’s 24 BBY for my fellow Star Wars geeks….)

So far as I know, the only place to find this story is in Star Wars Insider #136, where it was originally published.

CONTENT: Mild profanity, mostly specific to the Galaxy Far, Far Away. Some moderately gruesome violence. No sexual content.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews, Short Stories, Star Wars

Review: “The Darkest Path” by Jeff Hirsch

Title: The Darkest Path
Author: Jeff Hirsch
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Scholastic, 2013

This is kind of a difficult one to review for me. Why? Funny you should ask. When I first finished this, I went into Goodreads to rate it (as I do) and was all set to give it three stars. Then I started thinking about the book and it’s merits, and had to adjust that to four. As most of the different reviewers out there have stated, the premise of the book feels like it’s been ripped from the headlines. (Whether it feels like it “could really happen” or not is a slightly different matter, but I’ll get to that later.) The plot moves along quickly, the action is fast paced, and the chapter breaks spaced diabolically in order to keep you reading. The characters are mostly fully-realized and three-dimensional. So why my initial three-star impulse? For all the things that the book does well, I still didn’t like it all that much. I can’t fully explain that, but I’ll do my best later in the review. Full disclosure: I received an uncorrected proof from the publisher in exchange for an honest review as part of the Goodreads FirstReads program.

In the world of The Darkest Path, the United States is a nation divided once again. The Glorious Path, a militant, technophobic cult, has seized control of the southern half of the country. Those living under their control are given a simple choice: join or die. Callum Roe was captured when he was only nine years old, and has spent the last six years doing whatever he has to do in order to protect both himself and his younger brother. Pretending to follow the Path is easy compared to some of the other things he’s had to do, especially his last mission to infiltrate a fort of US holdouts near the front lines. Things are looking up for Cal and his brother until a split-second decision makes him an outcast and wanted fugitive. Now the only hope he has is to cross the border between the Path and the US….but the path ahead of him is long and full of obstacles. It’s going to take an incredible amount of luck–not to mention all of his questionable survival skills–to emerge unscathed at the end of his journey.

Like I said, I’ve got wildly mixed reactions to this book. Cal was fleshed out and three-dimensional, but I found it very hard to actually like him. He’s pretty selfish, doing anything, saying anything, threatening anyone with anything if it gets him closer to freedom. I’m not saying he’s wrong, I’m not even saying I don’t understand him, but I found it kind of hard to like him sometimes. The plot was fast-paced and engaging, and a number of the issues that are dealt with are very timely, but I wasn’t buying the premise. An American veteran has an epiphany while over somewhere in the Middle East on tour and forms a militant cult when he returns? This cult then manages to take over almost half the country, and is poised to strike the final blow to the tottering, corrupt, decadent United States? I just don’t buy it. I also don’t buy the characterization of the US Military only being interested in protecting the affluent. In fact, while a number of similar elements merely annoyed me, I was genuinely offended by the depiction of the US armed forces. I’ll grant that the depiction of most of the individual troops was better than that of the organization as a whole, but that came too little too late. I was also annoyed by the obvious “Occupy Wall Street” (or its equivalent) bias evident in how the flaws in our society have escalated by the time the story occurs. Don’t get me wrong, the system needs some work, but dang! This author has a very dim view of where the next few years will take us, that’s all I’m saying. In all fairness, I recognize that this is solely my own political bias sneaking into my reactions, which is one reason I gritted my teeth and upped the review. If I were less annoyed, I might even praise the author for managing to depict a character caught between two very flawed governments at war with each other. Alas, I’m far too annoyed for that.

CONTENT: Some profanity, occasionally strong. I don’t recall it being R-rated though. Some strong violence, including animal cruelty at a couple points. Brief sexual innuendo, nothing too severe. The story features a cult, but nothing occultic, if you get my drift.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Novels, Reviews