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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