Tag Archives: H.P. Lovecraft

Review: “Hellboy Vol. VII: The Troll Witch And Others” by Mike Mignola, P. Craig Russell, & Richard Corben

Title: The Troll Witch And Others
Writer & Artist: Mike Mignola
Additional Artists: P. Craig Russell & Richard Corben
Series: Hellboy
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 2007

That figures. I stated in my last Hellboy review that I couldn’t wait for the next volume to figure out where the story was going, and so of course the next collection was an anthology. Oh well, I like those best anyways….While he still handles most of the art, this time out, Mignola collaborates with a couple guest artists for special occasion stories.

We open in Malaysia, 1958 as Hellboy investigates a local creature known as The Penanggalan, a demon born when an old priestess accidentally kicked her own head off. (“That might be the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” “I did not say it was true, only that I believe it.”) A short, predictable, and delightfully strange tale. We then move on to Alaska, 1961 as Hellboy investigates claims of a monster haunting the grave of Hercules in The Hydra And The Lion. Mignola is the first to admit that this one doesn’t make a lot of sense, but in Hellboy’s world that really doesn’t matter too much. The Troll Witch takes us to Norway, 1963 as Hellboy investigates a series of horrific murders. This has the distinction of being one of the only stories where Hellboy doesn’t get to punch something, which leads to a bit of a subversion of your expectations. The Vampire Of Prague is set in 1982 and is Mignola’s first time writing for P. Craig Russell. This is some good stuff. I especially enjoyed the part where the vampire is chasing his own severed head down the street…. Dr. Carp’s Experiment takes us to New York, 1991 as Hellboy and the BPRD investigate a newly-discovered secret chamber in a notorious haunted house. This one was good, I always love a good time travel story. The Ghoul is set in London, 1992, and is one of the strangest Hellboy tales I’ve seen. It features our favorite demonic hero beating the crap out of a ghoul who speaks solely in creepy poetry, and a puppet theatre production of Hamlet. Makoma is another weird one, this time a collaboration with Richard Corben. Mignola draws the framing story set in 1993, while Corben draws the legend being narrated. I’m not entirely sure how to understand this one, but it seems to be about Hellboy in a past life. Sort of a “Wheel of Time” thing where everything repeats throughout time. If so, it sheds some light on Hellboy’s eventual battle with the Ogdru Jahad….

Content: Minor language, some stylized violence and gore. Mild sexual content, and some non-sexual nudity. 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…..

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Review: “Hellboy Vol. VI: Strange Places” by Mike Mignola

Title: Strange Places
Writer & Artist: Mike Mignola
Series: Hellboy
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 2006

“Don’t mess with me, lady. I’ve been drinking with skeletons.”

Seriously, how many characters do you know who could deliver that line in all seriousness? Pretty much just Hellboy, which goes quite a ways towards explaining his appeal. The entire series is so….over the top, ridiculous, ambitious….not really sure of the best word to sum it up, but you have to admit it’s pretty great. This time around in The Third Wish, Hellboy is pitted against the Bog Roosh, an undersea witch who wishes to save the world….by ending Hellboy once and for all. Sure, Hellboy has rejected his birthright as Anung Un Rama, the Right Hand Of Doom and devoted his life to saving the world, but so long as he exists someone could use the power of his hand to loose the Ogdru Jahad and burn the world. The Bog Roosh would end this threat once and for all. Then, in The Island Hellboy washes up on a forsaken island and is given a lesson in the origins of the world and all things that culminates in his death. Kind of. Maybe. Guess we’ll have to wait for the next book to see how that works out.

I won’t pretend that I understood everything that happened here, but I don’t think you’re meant to. Mignola is giving you an inside look at the creation of his world, true, but what is left out is as relevant as what is shown. We’ll see where the path Hellboy is set upon leads, I suppose. The book is filled with scattered moments of Hellboy being delightfully himself, and that is most definitely worth the rest of what is undoubtedly one of the darker entries in this series so far.

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…..

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Review: “The Iron Assassin” by Ed Greenwood

Title: The Iron Assassin
Author: Ed Greenwood
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: TOR, 2015

Ed Greenwood is a legend in certain circles, having created the immensely popular Forgotten Realms fantasy world that serves as one of the primary settings for the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game series. I’ve yet to venture into this universe, but I’ve heard a good deal about it from friends and fellow geeks. Now Greenwood is venturing into a new universe, trading in Sword & Sorcery for Steampunk (or, as he refers to it, Gaslamp Fantasy.) The good news? Greenwood’s genius for world creation is unabated. The bad news? The book itself could have used a bit more work to bring it up to the expected degree of awesomeness.

In a world parallel to our own, the Empire of the Lion vies with the Spanish-based Empire of Amirondro and the Indian-based Rajahirate Empire for supremacy over a patchwork world of steam-driven innovation. Victoria III rules from seclusion, kept stubbornly alive with steam-powered heart & lungs while her son shoulders the responsibilities of government in a London rife with conspiracy and intrigue as the Dread Agents of the Tower seek to thwart the schemes of the villainous Ancient Order of the Tentacles. One such agent is Jack Straker, a brilliant (or reckless) inventor of numerous devices for protecting the Crown. His latest masterpiece: a clockwork-driven corpse to serve as the Prince Royal’s bodyguard…if it can be controlled. And if one man can control it, well…the Ancient Order is very interested in figuring out how to wrest that control away from the Crown and put the Iron Assassin to their own use….

While Greenwood is an old hand at classical fantasy, The Iron Assassin is his first foray into the realm of steampunk. Greenwood’s genius is in world creation, and that experience and attention to detail is clearly on display here. The book was a ton of fun, and I will definitely watch for the inevitable continuation. Unfortunately, the book could have used a little more editing before publication. There are numerous fragmentary sentences scattered throughout, and not just in the dialogue where such things are more accepted. The Dramatis Personae section at the beginning is wittily written but overlarge, running ten pages and containing every character found within these pages—even those who appear only long enough to expire. In the end, it’s more harmful than helpful, especially since it gave away the identity of the Ancient Order’s leader (I assume this was meant to be secret, as he was only ever referred to by his title in those sections, and by his name when he was acting in public.) Another sore spot is the somewhat inconsistent characterization. One character is introduced as a complete badass, then dies with barely a whimper. Perhaps forgivable, as the scene itself paints her as caught off guard at the end of a pleasant evening…except that several scenes beforehand it was established that she had managed to deduce that her killer was a member of the Ancient Order, and so should be very much on guard while accepting unexpected dinner invitations from said villain. At another point a character assesses the situation facing him and decides to get out of Dodge…and then shows up pages later at an induction ceremony for the Ancient Order, very much the opposite of fleeing for his life. Finally, there is an unresolved mystery surrounding the former identity of the Iron Assassin, Bentley Steelforce. Or maybe not, as everyone seems to think they know who and what he is: the reanimated body of a chimney sweep by the name of Bentley Roper. Except that there is clearly more to his story–when a startled knight starts to blurt out something about Steelforce’s past to Straker and a group of assembled notables, Steelforce calmly rips out his throat without missing a beat. I kept expecting the matter to be revisited, but it never was. Like I said, I enjoyed the book, but it was merely good when it could have been spectacular.

CONTENT: Surprisingly mild on the profanity front, though the “PG” words get quite a workout alongside the more colorful genre/era-specific cursing that litters nearly every conversation. Strong, sometimes grisly violence, scattered all through the novel. There are not infrequent sexual innuendos, mostly non-explicit, interspersed with slightly more jarring instances of explicit material such as is usually not found in this particular genre (at least so far as I’ve seen), including a clockwork corset for improving the quality of a lady’s “alone time.” There is little occult content, aside from references to a bogus (or is it?) cult that worships an ancient deity that sounds suspiciously like H.P. Lovecraft’s legendary Cthulhu. The Ancient Order supposedly uses this cult to muddy the waters regarding their activities, but there’s a bit of evidence towards the end of the book that suggests there is more to that story than is being said….

This is a longer version of a review I did for the Manhattan Book Review.

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Review: “Hellboy Vol. V: Conqueror Worm” by Mike Mignola

Title: Hellboy Vol. V: Conqueror Worm
Writer & Artist: Mike Mignola
Series: Hellboy
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse, 2004

Yay! More Hellboy! Have I mentioned that my library is totally awesome? They got in another three or four volumes of the adventures of everyone’s favorite monster-fighting….er, monster. I’ve mentioned my affection for this rebellious demon before, here and here, and now there’s more to read! So without further ado, Conqueror Worm.

In the early days of WWII, while Rasputin was scheming to bring Hellboy to our world, Herman Von Klempt and some of his colleagues sought a more direct route to the apocalypse. There are non-corporeal beings living out among the stars, many of whom would love to end life across the universe if only given a body. The Nazis sent them one…a dead man, a hollow shell they could inhabit. Now that capsule is heading back to Earth, bearing with it the conqueror worm….

Not sure why, but this one just didn’t quite do it for me. I can’t put my finger on it–we’ve got Hellboy doing his thing, intergallactic Lovecraftian beasties, another appearance by Herman the Head-in-a-Jar, even an undead early superhero dispensing justice (though it’s never explained why he’s resurrected just at this point in time). What’s not to like? I don’t know. I enjoyed it, really I did, it just wasn’t quite as awesome as some of the other Hellboy stories I’ve read. It’s still a worthy addition to the series, and an important one too–we’re given a bit more insight into the Ogdru Jahad as well as those funky aliens we saw standing guard over their prison in the first volume. I look forward to seeing where Hellboy goes from here, especially since….well, that would be telling….

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…..

 

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Review: “Locke & Key Vol. I–Welcome To Lovecraft” by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez

Title: Welcome To Lovecraft
Writer: Joe Hill
Artist: Gabriel Rodriguez
Series: Locke & Key (Volume I, Issues #1-6)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: IDW, 2008

I think I might be a fan of Joe Hill. You may recall a month ago I read and reviewed Horns, and now I’ve read Mr. Hill’s first foray into the world of comics: Welcome To Lovecraft, the first volume in a new series. Put simply: I’m hooked. I’ve always been fascinated by tales of ancient houses with hidden secrets, all the way back to one of the first Boxcar Children books I read when I was but a wee lad, and Locke & Key has enough secrets to keep Mr. Hill busy for quite a while. I very much look forward to seeing where this goes….

They say that when it rains, it pours. It’s certainly been pouring on the Lockes recently, but things may be looking up. Their father was murdered by a couple of psychotic former students, but now they have a whole new life on the other side of the country. They and their mother have moved in with their uncle at Lovecraft Manor, nicknamed the Keyhouse, a massive estate on an island in Massachusetts with more secrets than the CIA. Tyler, Kinsey and Bode are all dealing with their grief in different ways. Tyler is considering suicide, weighed down by the guilt of multiple fights and a particular conversation with the would-be murderer. His sister Kinsey is just trying to stay under the radar while she comes to terms with what happened. Little brother Bode has poured all his energy into exploring their new home, including its magical elements. Their mother has turned to drink to drown the grief. The last thing they need is more trouble, but that may not be in the cards when word comes that the murderer has escaped custody and is leaving a trail of bodies across the country….

Like I said, I’m hooked. I appreciate when a writer trusts his audience enough to put the pieces together themselves, and there are more than enough disjointed pieces here to keep you guessing. Is it initially confusing? Yes, a bit. But the mysteries are introduced gradually, and most of them should make sense by the end of the volume. There are, of course, others that remain unresolved for the moment as seeds for future stories, but that’s to be expected. In truth, there are two stories being explored here. There’s the modern story of the Locke children, and the older story you have to piece together from clues concerning the childhood of their parents. The art is perhaps not my favorite style, but I have to say that it works really well for this particular title. I honestly can’t wait to pick up the next title from the library….

CONTENT: Some sexual innuendo, nothing too explicit and no nudity. R-rated language. Strong, gory violence. I don’t know if I would classify the magic here as occult, but some might. Basically, there are a bunch of keys that fit the different doors of the mansion and that allow magical travel or transformations. One lets you go anywhere. Another lets you change sexes. Still another turns you into a ghost, lets you travel outside your body for a while. There are others, but those are the ones we’ve seen so far…..

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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…..

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Review: “All You Need Is Kill” by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

Title: All You Need Is Kill (AKA Edge Of Tomorrow, to tie in with the film)
Author: Hiroshi Sakurazaka (Translated from Japanese by Alexander O. Smith)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Haikasoru, 2011

I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that my first contact with this book was the trailer for the film starring Tom Cruise. Think Groundhog Day, but with an alien invasion. The trailer was amazing, I thought, and I still intend to see the movie, but I somehow missed the memo where they mentioned that this was a book. Obviously I found a copy, and it was incredible. I’ll be the first to admit that my reading has not been all that geographically varied, if only because there are so many books I still need to read that were published right here at home, but this was incredible. I heartily recommend it.

The novel opens as Keiji Kiriya goes into battle for the first time. Keiji is a “Jacket Jockey,” operating a mechanized battle suit (think Iron Man’s armor, minus the repulsors and integrated weaponry) in the war against the alien Mimics. Keiji survives the first few minutes of combat while friends fall all around him, and he even manages to kill a couple Mimics before he is mortally wounded. The world fades to black…and he wakes up in his bunk, with the attack set for tomorrow afternoon. Initially, he thinks this has all been a really weird dream, but when everyone persists in following the script in his head he figures out that something far stranger is going on. No matter what he does, Keiji cannot seem to survive the battle….but every death is a lesson learned, and Keiji is a good student. Throw the Full Metal Bitch into the mix, and Keiji might finally have a shot at ending the loop.

Everything about this novel was well done, if not always original. After all, the time-loop plot isn’t exactly new ground, but Sakurazaka definitely throws a new spin on things and gives us a very fun sci-fi romp. That’s what we signed on for, isn’t it? Keiji and Rita “Full Metal Bitch” Vrataski are both incredibly well-rounded characters, and while certain actions may take you by surprise at the time, everything they do makes sense in the long run. Some of the bit players are a bit two-dimensional or stock characters, but this is mostly because they are never given the time to develop–keep in mind, the whole thing happens over a 48-hour period so far as anyone but Keiji is concerned. You can’t expect a side character to develop between loops when they don’t know they’re looping. The Mimics were a well-conceived enemy, rooted in our fears that if aliens do exist, they will be very much like us in their behavior. The alien inhabitants of an overpopulated planet have targeted our world for colonization, and the Mimics are their scouts and terraforming apparatus. In fact, I got a bit of a Lovecraftian vibe from them. Maybe that was just me though. There were certain elements where the Japanese heritage of the story came through–the robotic power suits, for one thing–but on the whole I thought it translated very well. Two thumbs up!

CONTENT: R-rated language, but I didn’t find it gratuitous. Instead it was used naturally, either to drive home a point or as characters face their death in combat. I can’t honestly say my language wouldn’t get salty in this situation either…. Brutal violence, sometimes graphically described, and sometimes with a heavy emotional impact. Some sexual content, not too explicit.

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Review: “This Book Is Full Of Spiders” by David Wong

Okay, so I recently read and reviewed David Wong/Jason Pargin’s first book, John Dies At The End. In that review, I basically took the position that the book was a definite “guilty pleasure,” incredibly fun but at the same time over-the-top offensive and not at all one I would recommend to the easily offendable. The same is true of the sequel, This Book Is Full Of Spiders (Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It.) **** If you’ve not read John Dies At The End and wish to avoid spoiling the ending, you might want to skip reading this review. It’s really hard to review sequels without spoiling their predecessors. Just saying.

When we left Dave and John, life had settled back down to what they consider “normal.” John was still bouncing from job to job. Dave and Amy got engaged, to no one’s surprise but Dave’s, and Amy started college classes a couple hours’ drive from Undisclosed.* Weird stuff still happens on a regular basis, but at least Korrok and his minions are no longer an issue. The Shadow Men, on the other hand….they’ve just begun their endgame for the fate of the human race, and surprise, surprise, it starts in Undisclosed. Specifically, in Dave’s bedroom, where he wakes up to find a nightmarish creature–body of a spider, legs everywhere, and a human-looking tongue–crawling up his leg. Needless to say, he freaks out. Long story short, these things are parasitic monstrosities that get inside you (without your noticing, nobody can see them but John and Dave. Sometimes Marconi. And Molly, of course….) and take over your mind, making you extremely violent. There’s an outbreak, and of course the internet labels those with the (invisible) spiders Zombies. The government throws up a full lockdown quarantine, all communication with the outside is cut off, and those still stuck in Undisclosed are….well, stuck in Undisclosed. What is the purpose of all of this? What do the Shadow Men hope to gain? Who is really running the show? And can John and Dave somehow manage to stave off the apocalypse again?

Whereas the first book kind of just rambled on (a side-effect of its genesis as an online serial, no doubt) this second volume is much better structured. Every so often you will jump back several hours to visit a different character and see how/why they happen to be in the situation they’re in, but on the whole the story is pretty straightforward. There are a few inconsistencies with the first book or even internally within this one, but this really isn’t the kind of book where that matters. If you care, however, I’ll point those out after the break. The writing continued to exhibit Wong/Pargin’s signature brand of humor, with the added element that near the end it is implied that this is a true story that he is simply writing up in the most ridiculous form possible (not so different from the first one where he admits to embellishing when he gets the impression people already don’t believe him). I’m honestly not sure how to take the author’s stance on Christianity (MINOR SPOILERS FOLLOW, as generic as I can make them), since Dave and John are definitely not Christians and yet the story does seem to demonstrate the power of God at the climax. Dave talks about how his adopted family crammed his childhood with Christian videos (and I can’t disagree with him on the general quality of those things, across the board, though there were exceptions), and so when the chips are down and he has to think of the most powerful thing he can use to counter the Shadow Men, what he comes up with is Christ. And it works, implying that the author (and thus Dave,) despite not being a part of the fold, realizes the truth of the Lord’s power. On the other hand, it’s a horribly done painting of Christ, so there may be less respect there than I’m implying. Or the fact that a mere painting has that much power could be a sly nod to just how much power Christ has, that even simply his name or his image (however poorly executed) can dispel the Darkness. I don’t know. I would be interested to hear other people’s take on this, honestly.

At the end of John Dies At The End we meet a character who basically saves everyone involved, then hints that he may have been Molly the dog all along. In this book, Molly is back to being a dog–no ordinary dog, certainly, but still a dog with a dog’s priorities. Inconsistent? Not sure. Then we have Amy and her missing hand. Amy was in a car accident as a child, losing her left hand. The pain from this, along with the side-effects of the pain meds, are what places her in the special needs room at the high school where she and Dave meet for the first time. It is later revealed that her hand still exists in spirit-form, and she can manipulate spiritual and invisible objects such as latches and doorknobs. This was essential to John and Dave’s assault on Shit Narnia in the first book, as well as their ability to get into the case and retrieve the fur gun in this book. Where am I going with this? Well, one of the more horrifying aspects of the Shadow Men is the ability to remove people from existence. Not kill them–make them so they never existed. Rewrite history. And it’s implied that up until a particular moment near the climax of this second book Amy had both of her hands before her history was rewritten to include the loss thereof. If that’s the case, how did certain things happen in the first place? How are the characters not all dead, since it was Amy’s “ghost hand” that allowed them to survive and save the day? Not sure. There’s no good answer, so don’t think about it.

Content: Again, VERY R-rated. Profanity galore! Blood and gore! What, you didn’t expect that to all disappear did you? The sexual innuendo and content is a bit more explicit this time, if a bit more purposeful and relevant than John’s rampant penis jokes from the first volume. Those still show up every once in a while, but nowhere near as often. Some content that would be considered “occult” by some, notably the spectral “Shadow Men” who are basically spiritual beings. They are from another dimension, not divine or diabolical, but their nature remains spiritual.

*David refuses to name the town he lives in, claiming that the tourist traffic would only make the town more “****ed up.” Given the fate of Forks, the setting of Ms. Meyer’s monstrosity, I can’t disagree with him.

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Review: “The Book Of Cthulhu II” edited by Ross E. Lockhart

I’ve been on a bit of a Lovecraft kick lately, first reading the man himself, then Alan Moore’s disturbing homage. And it all got its impetus from The Book Of Cthulhu II (*****), which I won via the Goodreads FirstReads program. (My review is not influenced by this fact, for the record.) I figured I should read the real thing before picking up either of the derivatives. Sad to say, I haven’t had any luck finding a copy of The Book Of Cthulhu I, but oh well. Most of these are authors I’d not heard of before, and all save a couple are ones I’d yet to sample. Kim Newman wrote the stellar Anno Dracula series, among other things, and I am a Neil Gaiman devotee. I’ve not read all of his work yet, but not for lack of trying.

This is an anthology of Lovecraft-inspired works from a wide range of authors. I’ll list and comment below, only commenting on plot when I think it necessary. Its a bit tough to mention plot for a short story without spoilers, so….

  • Neil Gaiman, Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar; I had read this one before in a collection of Gaiman tales (don’t remember which one), and it didn’t make much sense then as I had never read HPL. Now I have, and I had a much greater appreciation for the story. That said, not nearly as great as A Study In Emerald.
  • Caitlin R. Kiernan, Nor The Demons Down Under The Sea; The writing style here was a bit confusing at first–Ms. Kiernan is not afraid of a sentence fragment masquerading as a full sentence if it helps set her scene. But once the scene was set this proved a very evocative tale.
  • John R. Fultz, This Is How The World Ends; Fultz sketches a brief vignette of Cthulu’s rise from the deeps to swallow the world, and I must say his vision is frankly terrifying.
  • Paul Tobin, The Drowning At Lake Henpin; Most of these are Lovecraftian, but this is the first one I’ve seen that could have been written by Lovecraft himself.
  • William Browning Spencer, The Ocean And All Its Devices; I’m still not completely sure I understand what Spencer is saying about what lives in the water just offshore from this beachfront hotel, but I know I don’t want to meet it.
  • Livia Llewellyn, Take Your Daughters To Work; This one succeeded in disturbing me. That’s all I’ll say.
  • Kim Newman, The Big Fish; I love Kim Newman. Newman is a past master of the literary pastiche, here presenting a sequel to Lovecraft’s Shadow Over Innsmouth while at the same time doing a Sam Spade-type character (maybe Spade himself, the protagonist is never named….did Spade live in San Francisco?) AND roping in his recurring characters Edwin Winthrop and Genvieve Dieudonné from the Diogenes Club stories.* Which I am just reminded that I should get around to reading…..
  • Cody Goodfellow, Rapture Of The Deep; A corporate investigation into a potential source of endless energy on the seafloor turns to terror when an ex-Soviet psychic and his unwilling protegé take an astral visit to sunken R’lyeh….
  • A. Scott Glancy, Once More From The Top; An aged Marine recounts the horror he and his fellows experienced at the Battle Of Innsmouth. I quite enjoyed this one….though I don’t recall the Deep Ones having Shoggoths in the original story. Maybe that came from one of HPL’s stories I haven’t read yet…..Anyway, gonna try and track down the anthology this originated in.
  • Molly Tanzer, The Hour Of The Tortoise; An exiled young lady returns to her ancestral home, thought cursed by the surrounding villagers, to find her illegitimate father on his deathbed and something amiss about the house….
  • Christopher Reynaga, I Only Am Escaped Alone To Tell Thee; Christopher Reynaga recasts Moby Dick as a tale of Captain Ahab hunting Cthulhu in order to buy the world more time before his rise.
  • Ann K. Schwader, Objects From The Gilman-Waite Collection; A creepy though not unpredictable tale of a man entering a museum exhibit featuring the coral and gold jewelry from Shadow Over Innsmouth.
  • Gord Sellar, Of Melei, Of Ulthar; I’m still not sure I understand this one. Melei is visiting other worlds in her sleep, one of which appears to be post-Cthulhu New York. I can’t figure out, however, whether she exists in the far-distant past or the regressed future….in either case, it was an intriguing tale.
  • Mark Samuels, A Gentleman From Mexico; This was an outstanding idea, and I literally laughed out loud when I realized what was going on. I didn’t find the ending as strong as the middle, but it was very like what Lovecraft himself might have written as the ending.
  • W.H. Pugmire, The Hands That Reek And Smoke; Very creepy. Not really my thing, but creepy.
  • Matt Wallace, Akropolis; Behold, the Great Old Ones are returning, and they have sent their emissaries to prepare the way for them…..A great story here.
  • Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette, Boojum; This was one of my favorites, a real surprise find. Living spacecraft, starfaring pirates, evil aliens who collect human brains for their own sinister purposes…..it’s all here. Quality science-fiction! I’m going to track down the anthology it was originally written for….I was a bit hazy on most of the Lovecraft connections in this one, as I’d not read the relevant tales.
  • Jonathan Wood, The Nyarlathotep Event; Agent Arthur Wallace of MI37 goes up against Nyarlathotep, an ancient entity from a dimension representing humanity’s collective fears, and he does it with a snarky sense of humor and a hilarious narrative voice. I literally laughed out loud several times while reading it, and plan to track down the author’s other stories featuring the same protagonists.
  • Stanley C. Sargent, The Black Brat Of Dunwich; A surprising tale here, as Sargent turns the entire HPL story The Dunwich Horror on its head. Very fun, and HPL himself might be a fan of this one, but it would help to have read the original tale first.
  • Fritz Leiber, The Terror From The Depths; I actually forgot for a while that this wasn’t actually a Lovecraft story. I don’t think I’ve ever seen (by HPL or anyone else) so comprehensive and cohesive an ode to the Cthulhu Mythos….Well done.
  • Orrin Grey, Black Hill; A quick read, a mite predictable, but decent nonetheless.
  • Michael Chabon, The God Of Dark Laughter; A small-town sheriff investigates the ritual murder of a clown, possibly uncovering ties to an ancient and unholy cult. I really enjoyed this one, and I think I may have to look up more of Michael Chabon’s work.
  • Karl Edward Wagner, Sticks; An incredibly creepy tale of an artist who discovers an ancient abandoned cottage that continues to haunt his dreams….Again, I really enjoyed this.
  • Laird Barron, Hand Of Glory; Less actually scary, not incredibly Lovecraftian, but a good story nonetheless. Mobland hitman Johnny Cope has a problem. It seems that an old enemy of his father has sent goons to kill him. They weren’t incredibly successful, but they did manage to get his ire up. Now Johnny wants to know why….

On the whole, I loved this collection. A lot of the stories were excellent, but like with any collection you’ll have some that were better than others. I love Neil Gaiman, but given my choice I’d put in A Study In Emerald over Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar. Its simply a better tale–though, I’ll allow, perhaps not a better tribute to the original Lovecraft. Some of the stories I flat-out disliked, but that was probably a matter of taste. Certainly they are different than the ones cited by other reviewers as having fallen flat for them. A few of the stories, good as they were on their own, probably would have been enhanced by a more thorough knowledge of Lovecraft’s works. I’ve only read a very small selection as of this writing. I plan to remedy that in the near future….I very much recommend picking up this book if you ever get the chance. And in case you are interested, you can find the official website of Ross E. Lockhart, the editor of this book, here.

*Technically, the Diogenese Club stories happen in a separate world from the Anno Dracula novels, but they are mirrors of each other and feature the same characters. The prime difference seems to be that in the Diogenes Club stories Dracula was actually defeated as scheduled in his original book, whereas in the Anno Dracula world he was triumphant.

Content: This is a horror anthology, so from the get-go you know its not going to be appropriate for children. Bloody horror violence. Sexual references, including the implication that a couple characters are lesbians. The protagonist in another tale makes her living as a writer of Victorian-era pornography, and mostly non-explicit excerpts of her work are included. She also refers to several sexual encounters of her own, in generally non-explicit but incredibly suggestive terms. Language varies from story to story, but some at least are R-rated.

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Review: “Neonomicon” by Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows

I recently introduced myself to the works of H.P. Lovecraft, both because I was planning to read Neonomicon, Alan Moore’s tribute to Lovecraft and the first winner in the newly-created graphic novel category of the Bram Stoker award, and because I have another Lovecraft tribute anthology I won through Goodreads. I figured I should read the real thing first on general principle. I’ve decided not to give a simple overall star rating to this book because my opinion is very complicated. I’ll rate it a bit more in-depth and discuss several different factors instead.

First, the premise. This book collects both the earlier two-part story The Courtyard and its later four-part sequel Neonomicon, both written by Alan Moore and drawn by Jacen Burrows. Largely a tribute to H.P. Lovecraft, the book is itself an entry into that luminary’s Cthulhu Mythos. In The Courtyard an undercover FBI agent Aldo Sax investigates a seemingly-disconnected yet identical series of murders that all lead back to a Lovecraft-obsessed subculture. Two years later the case is taken up by FBI pair Brears and Lamper as they are plunged headlong into this same subculture….with predictably horrific results.

Now, the analysis. As a tribute to Lovecraft, I give it four stars. As a standalone work, I give it two. Anyone familiar with Alan Moore or his body of work (you can see just from his Wikipedia article that he’s a brilliant crazy man) knows that he’s a deranged genius with a keen sense of how his work will be perceived….and not afraid to make a statement with it. It should also be noted (some will care, some won’t) that his work is increasingly sexually explicit. The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen has an excellent concept*, and the first volume is good reading, but the sequence where they capture the Invisible Man haunting a girls’ school, impregnating virgins and being confused with the Holy Spirit carries a creepy S&M vibe completely aside from the fact that these girls are basically being raped. Subsequent volumes only get worse. In an attempt to “raise the literary status of pornography” Moore wrote Lost Girls, a graphic novel chronicling the erotic adventures of Alice (of Wonderland fame), Dorothy (of Oz) and Wendy (of Neverland). I haven’t read it, but I’d heard of its reputation. Neonomicon goes further, depicting graphically a woman raped by a fish-man creature as well as a more conventional orgy.

In Neonomicon Moore sets out to write a Lovecraft tale that is at once more faithful than most writers of similar works and goes beyond what Lovecraft wrote to reveal the world he envisioned. Lovecraft’s work is famously racist (a fact unnoticed in the collection I read, except for two notable instances), and while violently asexual carries on deeper analysis some disturbing sexual themes. Women almost never appear, and sex is never mentioned, but many stories deal with the inhuman spawn of humans and a wide variety of eldritch creatures. Most modern writers shy away from the sex and racism when they pay homage to Lovecraft. Moore decided to place it center stage.

The world Moore paints here is ours, one in which Lovecraft published his works, was unappreciated in his time, and has enjoyed a modern resurgence of popularity and respect. The bands in the club visited in both stories are named for HPL stories, and the entire environment is laden with references. I am very glad I read that anthology before picking this up, and wish I had managed a couple other stories that weren’t included (something about Red Hook is the only one I remember). Ostensibly, however, Lovecraft based his stories on real occurences. Trying to integrate this story into the Cthulhu Mythos might be difficult given the conclusion, but it at least proudly stands beside it and pretends it fits.

Was this a well-conceived HPL tribute? Yes. Did I find it completely repulsive? I must confess that I did. Apparently in Moore’s mind–or in his conception of Lovecraft’s, at least–the FBI is a bastion of racism and sexism. I was completely repulsed by the graphic rape sequence, but I will admit some well-executed elements of it. First, the facts. A woman is captured and forced to participate in an orgy before being raped by a large fish-man that is drawn to the group’s “orgone energy” (I can only assume its their sex hormones). I kept reading, expecting it to end that sequence much sooner than it did. There is lots of full frontal nudity and explicit/implicit sex during the orgy, and later we see her grabbed around the waist and taken from behind by the creature. Still later she gives it a handjob in order to spare herself a repetition of the experience. Repulsive and completely offensive to nearly anyone reading it? Yes. And yet I will give them a few kudos. 1: The rape was not eroticised. It was horrific, not arousing. 2: The character wears glasses or contacts, but is not wearing either during this sequence. The artist does some interesting visual things with giving us blurry panels from her POV to heighten the suspense of the creature reveal. The artist is incredibly talented throughout the book, but his work here was stellar. Both of these added to the artistic integrity of the book, and both served immensely to heighten the horror factor. This is, after all, a horror book.

Content: This is the most sexually explicit graphic novel I have ever encountered. As I mentioned above, there is a graphic rape scene that gets quite terrifying. R-rated language. Bloody violence. Lovecraftian magic, which is to say not really magic at all, but whatever.

*Every character that appears in the comic is a character lifted from Victorian literature, from Dracula to King Solomon’s Mines to The Pearl, which is basically the British 1890s version of Playboy.

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