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Review: “Crown & Key: The Shadow Revolution” by Clay Griffith & Susan Griffith

Title: The Shadow Revolution
Authors: Clay Griffith & Susan Griffith
Series: Crown & Key
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Del Rey, 2015

You know me, always on the lookout for some good urban fantasy or steampunk. If said book happens to be set in the Victorian era, I’ll not complain. I’ve a growing taste for that sub-genre tentatively labeled “gaslamp fantasy.” My newest find? Clay and Susan Griffith. This is their first book that I’ve found, but I’m already on the hunt both for the remaining two novels in this trilogy and their previous endeavor, Vampire Empire.

Something stalks the gas-lit streets of London, hungry and hunting. Few would peg dashing playboy Simon Archer as a supernatural vigilante, but then there aren’t many aware that he’s possibly the last scribe in existence. Give him something to write with–pen and paper, clay and a stylus, blood and anything relatively flat–and you’ll never know what hit you. Simon is usually more interested in charming his way into high society’s boudoir than he is in chasing things that go bump in the night, his magical adventures more of a hobby than a serious pursuit. Until, that is, a slavering werewolf tears out the throat of an old friend. Now Simon is on the trail of a threat far bigger than he had ever imagined, and he’s going to need all the help he can get…Help like his mentor/sidekick Nick Barker, a magical jack of all trades who would rather kick back with a pint than endanger himself in thrilling heroics. Help like Malcolm MacFarlane, a strapping Scottish werewolf hunter whose father may or may not have killed Simon’s. Help like Kate Anstruther, beautiful-yet-brilliant daughter of the Empire’s foremost explorer and a talented Alchemist. Together, they just might manage to put an end to the impending onslaught. If they’re incredibly lucky, they might even survive….

The Shadow Revolution is a gaslamp fantasy rollercoaster of a thriller, a summer blockbuster in novel form, and this is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. The action never lets up, delivering a truly thrilling tale. Unfortunately, this breakneck pace leaves little time to take some of the characters much past their Central Casting descriptions. There’s some character development, to be sure, especially Simon and Kate, but a number of the interesting side characters get shortchanged. I’d like to know how Kate’s manservant Hogarth became such a beast, and the steampunk engineer Penny Carter is definitely intriguing as well. So far as that goes, we never do find out just what the villains’ endgame was, just that it was nasty and necessitated the removal of our protagonists as an obstacle. That’s enough, though, and you never really notice the omission until things are wrapped up. At the end of the day, if you’re looking for a fun, by-the-numbers thriller, look no further. That’s what the authors set out to deliver, and they do a masterful job of it.

CONTENT: R-rated profanity, if you’re British. If you’re American, probably PG-13. Moderate sexual innuendo, not too explicit. Strong violence, occasionally gory and/or disturbing. Rampant magical content, from necromancy to alchemy.

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Review: “The Dresden Files: Fool Moon” (GN Adaptation) by Jim Butcher, Mark Powers, & Chase Conley

Title: Fool Moon Volume I/Volume II
Original novel by: Jim Butcher
Adapted by: Mark Powers
Artist: Chase Conley
Series: The Dresden Files
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Dynamite, 2011/2013

By now, I shouldn’t really have to explain my absolute love of Jim Butcher’s masterwork, The Dresden Files. I think I’ve made that abundantly clear on a repeated basis, whether reviewing the last couple books in the series (Cold Days, Skin Game) or either of the previous graphic novels–the prequel Welcome To The Jungle and the adaptation of the first book in the series, Storm Front. And now we come to the graphic novel adaptation for book two: Fool Moon, again in two parts that I will review together here. The general consensus among fans of the series is that the first two or three books are merely good, while every book after that goes up in awesomeness by something like an order of magnitude, and I largely agree. It’s been quite a while since I read the actual novel version of this (which means it’s time to go back and re-read the entire series!), but from what I remember this seemed pretty faithful to the book.

Harry Dresden is having a bit of a rough patch. I know, what else is new? With their friendship still strained by the lies he told to protect her back in Storm Front, Murphy has been calling him in for jobs less and less, which means that Harry is having to scrape the bottom of the barrel to find money for rent. All the same, Chicago has been mostly quiet on the supernatural apocalypse front, and for that Harry is grateful. Alas, it can’t last. People are dying at every full moon, and even a rookie would know what that means–there’s a werewolf in town. Harry had better figure out what’s going on quick, before more people end up as dog food….but that’s not going to be easy with “Gentleman Johnny” Marcone on his tail, along with a crew of suspicious Feds watching his every move, Murphy still not sure she trusts him, and a lycanthropic street gang out for his head. Why can’t it ever just be simple? Oh, right….because that’s no fun….

Like I said above, this was pretty faithful to the book. The only thing really missing was Dresden’s snarky humor as he narrates, and I’ll admit that I missed it a bit. The real downfall here though, and what cost it that fifth star, is the artwork. It wasn’t atrocious, it wasn’t even really objectively bad, but I didn’t like it. Partially, yes, it’s the fact that I still miss the stellar work of Ardian Syaf. I recognize that, and I need to get over it. But then, I don’t tend to be a fan of this particular style of art anyway. There’s also the fact that half the time I can only tell Murphy from Tera based on their clothes, and the female characters tend to be over-sexualized even when that’s not a part of their character. Susan, I get that. That’s how she is. Tera, likewise. As much time as she spends without clothes on shifting back and forth or as a distraction, I can see why she would be sexualized. I’m less understanding of Kim’s neckline–that’s not the kind of relationship she has with Dresden–and I highly doubt that Murphy would dress quite so provocatively (even if she’s fairly conservative compared to the others). There’s never quite anything that would send the book into Vertigo territory (were this DC), but the shadows and foreground objects get quite a workout keeping this book PG-13.

CONTENT: Brief R-rated language. Some gory violence. No outright nudity, thanks to incredibly-convenient shadows or foreground objects, but so close it’s almost no difference. Also….Dresden’s a wizard. There’s gonna be magic. You’ve been warned.

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Mini-reviews: Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, part 1

This is a compilation of my review for the first three Hellboy collections. Why only the first three? Because that’s all my library has. I’m going to have to explore other avenues to get my hands on Hellboy’s further adventures…..

VOLUME I: SEED OF DESTRUCTION (****)
Story and art by Mike Mignola, Written by John Byrne

I’m a huge fan of the Hellboy films—the character, the world it creates, all of it. I didn’t realize until after watching it that there was a comic it was based on, and for a while I had no good way to access those comics even after discovering their existence. I did eventually get my hands on a collection of shorts, including the source for that talking corpse from the movie, but never the original miniseries they mainly drew from for the main thrust of the film. That eluded me….until now. The problem is, that first miniseries was created a long time ago and the character and world have had a long time to mature and grow since then. As a result, this first effort didn’t compare well. It’s good, don’t get me wrong, but not nearly as epic in scale as the film. A vast underground complex in Russia, accessible through Rasputin’s tomb? I’m sorry, but that trumps the comic’s crumbling lakeside manor. Though I suppose that manor is a bit more Lovecraftian, which was probably what Mignola was going for….Some other stuff kind of bugged me—such as the moment Hellboy and Abe identify someone from a photograph of a doomed expedition that has been talked about but never seen by the reader. It felt like we should have been able to make that leap too, and I spent five minutes hunting for where we had been shown that picture only to find it doesn’t exist. I’m told it all gets better as it goes, and there’s not a chance this disappointing start will get me to quit, but it saddened me nonetheless. On the other hand, there was some interesting material as well, such as the aliens monitoring the Ogdru Jahad’s prison. I’ll be interested to see if they appear again.

VOLUME II: WAKE THE DEVIL (*****)
Written and drawn by Mike Mignola

This is more like it! You may recall I was disappointed in the first Hellboy volume’s lack of scope. This volume, however, hits the mark without fail.

So you thought the death of Rasputin in volume I was the end of Project Ragna Rok? Think again! The rest of Rasputin’s cult is still at large and newly-awakened, and Rasputin himself is not so dead as Hellboy and company would like to think. In a Nazi castle above the arctic circle, plans are being set into motion to once more try and bring about the end of the world…..unless Hellboy and his friends can once more stave off the apocalypse!

We are introduced to more of the BPRD crew this time around, as well as getting more of an idea of Hellboy’s origins and destiny. On the whole, I love this series!

VOLUME III: THE CHAINED COFFIN AND OTHERS (*****)
Written and drawn by Mike Mignola

This is so far my favorite collection of Hellboy comics. Instead of a long, cosmically-significant storyarc, here we have a number of shorter works–vignettes, even. This collection is really an anthology, collecting various one-offs or short serials Mignola created as backups to other features. While I enjoy the longer storyarcs, I think for my money that Hellboy works best in this format. Introduce monster, give backstory for monster, have Hellboy fight monster, get his butt kicked, and finally win. Rinse and repeat. And yet it never gets boring or repetitive as Mignola uses each tale to build the occult-encrusted world Hellboy inhabits. This collection by rights ought to be read alongside the first two volumes, as some of the stories happen in the interim between Seed Of Destruction and Wake The Devil. The stories included are:

  • The Corpse (Ireland, 1959): Hellboy challenges the Little People for the return of a kidnapped child. Remember the bit in the first Hellboy film with the talking corpse Hellboy carries around for a while? That’s inspired by this story, I believe.
  • The Iron Shoes (Ireland, 1961): Hellboy takes on one of the Fae who does not share the usual faery aversion to iron.
  • The Baba Yaga (Russia, years before Wake The Devil): Mignola planned out this story as a backup feature in a canceled miniseries, so it never actually got published. The events therein, however, are referenced in Wake The Devil, so Mignola went ahead and wrote it specially for this collection.
  • A Christmas Underground (England, Christmas Eve 1989): Hellboy takes on an ancient evil and ends the curse haunting an English manor.
  • The Chained Coffin (England, immediately after Seed Of Destruction): Shaken by Rasputin’s allegations regarding his origin and fate in Seed Of Destruction, Hellboy travels to the ruined church where he entered this world in search of answers.
  • The Wolves Of Saint August (The Balkans, 1994): Father Kelly, an old friend and compatriot of Hellboy’s, is murdered along with an entire village. Hellboy wants to know why….and who he’s going to make pay!
  • Almost Colossus (Romania, immediately after Wake The Devil): This serves to tie up some loose ends from the Wake The Devil story–namely, the fates of Liz Sherman and the homunculous.

Content: Mild language. A fair amount of violence, some of it bloody, but given the stylized nature of Mignola’s art this is usually not too disturbing. Likewise the nudity that occasionally creeps in–female monsters are not going to wear clothes just because the Comic Code Authority thinks they should…..

Occult content: A fair amount. 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. Vampires show up, and the particular vampires in question are implied to be the unholy offspring of a man and the godess Hecate. In one story Hellboy has to find a burial place for a reanimated and talkative skeleton before dawn. The Russian…..godess? Superstition? How do you describe Baba Yaga?….anyway, Baba Yaga shows up. There is a werewolf tale that has its root in a curse leveled on the local nobility by a wandering priest outraged at their idolatry. The Colossus story in itself doesn’t have any real occult elements, but the characters do debate matters of theology and the role of creation.

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