Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Cthulhu Armageddon is now available for purchase on Kindle!

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Hey guys,

I have to thank the fine folk at Crossroad Press because they are absolute machines in getting things out in a speedy manner. Not only did they get out STRAIGHT OUTTA FANGTON in record time but they've also managed to release CTHULHU ARMAGEDDON- my post apocalypse Western set in H.P. Lovecraft's world.

“Under an alien sky where gods of eldritch matter rule, the only truth is revenge.” 

CTHULHU ARMAGEDDON is the story of a world 100 years past the rise of the Old Ones which has been reduced to a giant monster-filled desert and pockets of human survivors (along with Deep Ones, ghouls, and other “talking” monsters).

John Henry Booth is a ranger of one of the largest remaining city-states when he’s exiled for his group’s massacre and suspicion he’s “tainted.” Escaping with a doctor who killed her husband, John travels across the Earth’s blasted alien ruins to seek the life of the man who killed his friends.

It’s the one thing he has left.

What is CTHULHU ARMAGEDDON? It is my attempt to answer what happens next after the rising of the Great Old Ones. Poor Cthulhu has had his takeover prevented hundreds of times so it's nice to visit the world which he's unambiguously triumphant (not that he noticed humanity trying to resist).

Our heroes dwell in the shadow of a world destroyed by monsters where they eck out a living and try to figure out the meaning of it all when everything seems meaningless. Also, shoot monsters in the face. It's my idea of what happens when Fallout, Mad Max, and the Dark Tower meet Lovecraft.

Available here for purchase!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

An exclusive interview with Timothy C. Ward

Hey readers, we have a special treat today with author Timothy C. Ward of the Sand Divers series as well as the new Godsknife: Revolt. I reviewed his Scavenger: Evolution book on this site and really love his website. He's a great guy as well as very good author.
I love the over-the-top premise of Scavenger A.I.:  

If you discovered the technology that caused the apocalypse, would you use it to resurrect your child?

Hundreds of years ago a nanotech virus nearly wiped out humanity. The kernel of that technology was locked in a buried military base and guarded by a class of sentries. A tyrant has found a way to unleash it while trapping Divemaster Rush and his wife Star inside. 


When he arrives, he plans to use its replicating technology to rebuild America and procure life eternal. If the crew inside can escape, they'd like to use this power for good. But what seems too good to be true may also be too late to reverse. Some wouldn't even if they could, even if what they're becoming is much like the tyrants they're fighting.

As Rush and Star fight for their lives and marriage, they discover a way to resurrect their child. If they do, will he be the one they knew? If not, how far will they go to force what shouldn't be?

Inspired by the world of Sand by Hugh Howey and written with his permission. This stand alone series injects the action of Mad Max: Fury Road into a hostile environment catered to fans of Alien. 


And really enjoy Godsknife's too:

A fleet of enlarged praying mantises has invaded Des Moines, Iowa. Swarms of cicadas are turning survivors into winged soldiers. Orchestrating the warzone is a priestess of Order, who’s pursuing godhood, and the nation of followers who’ll get her there.

Caroline’s new friendship parts the veil between reality and myth, as a recruiter of Order needs her to hide him from capture. In their escape, the boss she’s loved like a father reveals his elevator into the Abyss.

In this new world, Caroline finds a usurped god and an angry ghost eager to make her their getaway back to power. What if the person her friends will need is heartbeats away from becoming the real threat?

Crazy sci-fi is my type of sci-fi! So is the same for fantasy! Without further hesitation, let's get to the interview!

1. So, what books have you got currently out?

I released my first fantasy novel, Godsknife: Revolt this month. I wrote a duology set in Hugh Howey's world of Sand, with Scavenger: Evolution and Scavenger: A.I. 

2. What can you tell us about Scavenger A.I.?

A.I. is a direct sequel to Scavenger: Evolution. The premise for the series is sand divers search for buried cities and uncover the nanotech cause of the apocalypse. It has the feel of Alien or Mad Max: Fury Road if they went underground and uncovered more advanced technology.The cast expands in A.I. from Evolution's single viewpoint of Rush the sand diver who's recently returned to his wife after two years of grieving the loss of his infant.
In A.I. we get his wife's viewpoint as the main driving force, plus his, and a few other characters--all of which helps to root us in the turmoil of their hearts. In A.I. the nanotech is out and rapidly advancing, and Rush's wife wants to use it to resurrect their child from memory and through this new technology.

3. What can you tell us about Godsknife: Revolt?

The pitch I'm giving from my dealer table at WorldCon is giant praying mantises invade Des Moines. It's also a modern take on my love for The Gunslinger, The Stand, and Dragonlance. The cast involves players from three magic systems that have been underground long enough that most people question whether their magic ever existed. An Order priestess aims to change that in a powerplay to attract the council of the gods and earn her place among them.

A prospective college student and the well-meaning, but foolish boy who recruits her must take charge in the new war to save the world. There's also a Chaos doctor with an elevator into the Abyss, which transforms our setting into the New Weird and my version of South Korea were it to be located in another realm. While there, they have to find the godsknife and slay the god of the Abyss, or take it and run so that the Order priestess can't use it for her benefit. 
 
4. How would you describe the world of Sand Divers?

It centers on a stretch of desert east of the Rocky Mountains in a town situated between a large dune and a wall to keep the westward driven sand from burying their city. Sand divers are in a desperate search for the lost city of Danvar and the riches that might free them from their bleak existence. Those who have fled north get captured or killed by brigands who control the area most people assume is where Danvar is, and those who flee east get captured by slavers run by The Gov. 

5. What is the protagonist of Scavenger A.I. like?

Rush is concerned about the plasma that he and his wife have become addicted to, a power source produced by the Twin Suns nuclear fission reactor stored in the base they uncover. He's also concerned about the nanobots in their system and how it is changing his wife. She gets empowered by her overdose and wants to increase their abilities and opportunity to get revenge over The Gov and the other threats inside the base. She also wants to use this new power to resurrect their son. Somehow they have to survive, and neither one knows for sure how and if this technology is a help or a danger. 

6. What is the protagonist of Godsknife: Revolt?

Caroline has been stuck running her family's farm after the successive deaths of first her mother and then her father a few years ago. She has been working as an unofficial nurse's assistant at a doctor's office run by an undercover Chaos doctor. The day we meet her, she's worked up the nerve to visit Iowa State and interview for their nursing program (something I have to acknowledge doesn't exist in our world, but which does in theirs where World War III has happened and the US didn't fare well).

She meets an undercover recruiter for Order, Anthon, who is 100% behind the philosophy that Order mages can help fix the world, but is less than 100% behind his priestess and how she might be attempting that outcome. He was rescued by an Order mage early in life when his parents tried to take him and his brother into a Chaos clan. The rescue failed to get his younger brother, and if he will never find him, maybe he'll be okay with just making the world a better place for wherever his brother is. 

7. What is your favorite genre to write into and why?

I don't have a preference between writing Fantasy or Science Fiction, but I do seem to always include monsters and impacting emotional conflict between family members--husband to wife, parent to child, etc.

8. Do you think you have a theme in your writing?

I sort of alluded to it above, but yeah, most of my stories take some emotional connection from my life as a husband, father, and somewhat failed career...er. I suppose we all have areas in which we feel like we've failed an opportunity and must push on regardless, but sometimes it feels like I've been especially bad. 

9. Who are your influences?

The books I mentioned above, Dragonlance, The Gunslinger, The Stand, etc. Dragonlance was a magical discovery that connected me from being an elementary school reader to novels and that I didn't have to play video games or just watch TV to get an adventure. Stephen King was the next level of maturity up from there. I love how his books get weird but also have such engaging characters. That's how I'd like to focus on my novels. For Dragonlance, I'd like to build the party of imperfect warriors that bring the readers along for the adventure, but in a modern setting.

10. What can we expect from you in the future?

I am now trying to pick up where I left off with two years ago when I wrote Godsknife: Revolt. Time to get that sequel written.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

STRAIGHT OUTTA FANGTON is now available on Kindle


Hey folks,

Great news! I didn't expect it to be released so soon but Crossroad Press (and specifically, it's Macabre Ink division) has released STRAIGHT OUTTA FANGTON this week. STRAIGHT OUTTA FANGTON if you remember is my horror comedy urban fantasy novel series where I attempt to send up the supernatural the way I did comics in the Supervillainy Saga.

Peter Stone is a poor black vampire who is wondering where his nightclub, mansion, and sports car is. Instead, he is working a minimum wage job during the night shift as being a vampire isn’t all that impressive in a world where they’ve come out to mortals.
 

Exiled from the rich and powerful undead in New Detroit, he is forced to go back when someone dumps a newly-transformed vampire in the bathroom of his gas station’s store. This gets him fangs-deep in a plot of vampire hunters, supernatural revolutionaries, and a millennium-old French knight determined to wipe out the supernatural.
 

Sometimes, it just doesn’t pay to get out of the coffin.

I hope people will pick up a copy!

Available for purchase here

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Fallout 4: Far Harbor review


    All Hail Atom! Atom is life! For when he is split, he unleashes immense power in every direction for which has created this irradiated world! *Ahem* Sorry, I got the opportunity to join the Children of the Atom cult which I have always felt was one of the best elements of Fallout 3 (as well as criminally underused). I likened them to the Servants of the Mushroom Cloud from the original Wasteland and consider them quintessentially Fallout despite not having been incorporated into the setting until Bethesda got a hold of them.

A lovely little radioactive town on the coast.
    Honestly, the lack of Atom content was one of my biggest disappointments about Fallout 4 after its awful dialogue system plus the changes to the skill tree. Okay, it wasn't even in my top five biggest disappointments but it was in the top fifteen. Making the Children of the Atom one of the major factions of Far Harbor wins definite points with me and it is one of the reasons I'm playing this DLC at all.

    Disturbingly, after finishing Fallout 4, I discovered I didn't really have any desire to continue. The game was a 10/10 but it felt like it was finished after the Institute took over/was destroyed with no real reason for the Sole Survivor to continue his wandering. Unlike the Lone Wanderer, the Sole Survivor never really felt like a scourge of evil and struck me as the sort of guy who'd settle down. Maybe because the game encouraged me to buy a dozen houses for him and his polyamorous companions.

The fog is beautiful and deadly. Amazing effect.
    The premise of the DLC is Nick Valentine, your lovable noir detective robot buddy, has been contacted by an old friend whose daughter has gone missing. Kasumi has had vivid dreams of being experimented on and believes herself to be a Synth. Journeying to the real-life island of Bar Harbor, now known as Far Harbor due to the B-sign wearing away, the Sole Survivor discovers an island irradiated by a permanent fog. Worse, the island is divided between three hostile factions ready to tear each other apart.

    In a very real way, Far Harbor is miniature version of the main game with the options of trying to achieve peace between the three factions or eliminating those factions which you don't like. There's the Synth-populated Accadia, the aforementioned Children of Atom, and the Harbormen who are simple fishermen in an unclean world. The developers at Bethesda outdo themselves as all of these factions have a history not only of inhabiting the island but also interacting with one another.

Mirelurks really fit the setting.
The Harbormen have inhabited the island the longest but the radiation on the island has gotten to the point they can't survive there without specialized equipment from Accadia. The Children of the Atom, by contrast, thrive in radiation but are run by a power-mad religious cultist. Accadia just wants to be accepted by humans but the Harbormen (good) loathe androids while the Cult of Atom (evil) accepts them.

    As in Fallout: New Vegas and Fallout 4, you have the option of traveling to each of the factions and learning what they're about. Really, I'm actually kind of disappointed with how entertaining each faction is because I can't help but think this could have been made into a full-blown game. They could have done Fallout 4: Far Harbor and sold it in stores since it would have been pretty damn good. There's great NPCs, dialogue, writing, and some genuine moral dilemmas about the ends justifying the means.


     The island is also populated with a large number of new monsters, including walking carp and hermit crabs which carry buses on their back. There's a definite fishing theme to the monsters and that works well for Fallout.

     The scaling is akin to Point Lookout in that a lot of the monsters have ridiculous damage reduction designed solely to make it so end-game content users can have a challenge. It's not quite as bad where Swamp Folk and Punga Tribals were shrugging off things which would obliterate Super Mutants but it's still noticeable.

    The island is also populated with a large number of new monsters, including walking carp and hermit crabs which carry buses on their back. The scaling is akin to Point Lookout in that a lot of the monsters have ridiculous damage reduction designed solely to make it so end-game content users can have a challenge. It's not quite as bad where Swamp Folk and Punga Tribals were shrugging off things which would obliterate Super Mutants but it's still damn noticeable.

Can you find the secrets of the mist?
    Far Harbor Island is notably the largest landmass ever produced for an expansion pack, another reason why I wish they'd just made it into its own separate game. Much like The Witcher 3's Blood and Wine, there's a point where Expansions really should just be video games in their own right as sequels have a right to be released as is.

    The setting is beautiful with the radioactive fogs actually dangerous and the beautiful forests being spooky in a way which is reminiscent of H.P. Lovecraft's writings. It is a Gothic New England island that is home to all manner of horrors and creatures which our hero may deal with. Indeed, the fogs invoke Stephen King's The Mist very well with every corner potentially holding some other sort of horror.
 
    Character-wise I think the Far Harbor residents and Dima are the most interesting. The Far Harbor folk really do invoke a fishing village in the future, trying to stubbornly cling to a life they long ago left behind. Dima, by contrast, is a prototype of the same model as Nick Valentine but re-envisioned as a kind of Synth messiah who rejects the Railroad's practice of brainwashing Synths into believing they're human. The interactions between Dima and Nick are quite good, which makes me glad I brought him to Far Harbor. I also love the Longshoreman, who is perhaps what happens when you have a player character who survives until old age--too badass to die.

A really fun little Vault.
    I'm also pleased to say Far Harbor does what no other expansion has done and includes a Vault. Vault 118 contains a parlor room mystery where the Sole Survivor must solve a murder committed by one of the 200-year-old robots living inside the luxury accommodations present.

     It's a hilarious and somewhat tragic story as Vault 118 is one of the few successful Vaults but it preserved a bunch of rich jerks. On the other hand, they're a bunch of entertaining narcissistic jerks and I think the entire thing is meant to make fun of the Sierra Madre adventure in Fallout: New Vegas: Dead Money. All of the actors and drama are here but they stumble over each other trying to be terrifying.

     Overall, I think this is probably one of the best expansions Fallout has ever produced but there is one major flaw. In the middle of the game there's an extremely annoying puzzle which feels like something out of Minecraft rather than Fallout. You have to move blocks around and build little machines to fight off attacking robots rather than fight them yourself. It's incredibly boring, frustratingly irritating, and takes far too long. Worse, it's essential to the plot and can't be skipped. I have to remove a point from the game for it. Otherwise, this is an amazing little game and I recommend it to all Fallout 4 players.

9/10

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Man with the Golden Torc review


    Simon R. Green and I have a special connection. Well, no, actually we don't but it's weird how he seems to write the books I want to write and always has ideas I thought I came up with first. Either way, the Secret Histories series has been compared to Esoterrorism a few times so I thought I'd give it a try and see if it was any good. It is.

    Shaman Bond, the alias of Edwin Drood, is the greatest secret agent in the world. Sort of. Edwin Drood doesn't work for any government but his family of former druids turned mystics. They guard the world from the vampires, demons, and other forces of darkness. However, after a routine mission ends up with him witnessing the suicide of the world's most knowledgeable occultist, Edwin finds himself in hot water with the family. So much hot water that he may be forced to go rogue and seek the protection of the Drood family's worst enemies.

    The thing about Simon R. Green's work is it's weird and fun. If you need to know anything about his books, they're that. There's a scene where a bunch of UFOs, elves, and professional assassins attack our protagonist as he's carrying an ancient Stonehenge relic. There's a nymph flower elemental, the immortal embodiment of serial killing, a trepanning Nazi, and various other oddball concepts played entirely straight. Did I mention all of the Droods have magical golden Iron Man-esque armor?

    Yeah.

    Simon R. Green books are wall-to-wall goofiness and that's part of their charm. The thing is, despite the fact he throws everything and the kitchen sink at the reader, the books never treat their ludicrous situations as anything but serious. The willingness for the characters to internalize the weirdness of their setting helps lend itself an authenticity that makes it kinda-sorta grounded. You believe in the characters and their motivations even when they're visiting an extra-dimensional cat burglar.

    I liked Shaman Bond and Molly Metcalf, the agent and anarchist who form the crux of the book's narrative. They form a good pair of modern-day Avengers with a decent bit of chemistry combined with contrasting worldviews which aren't so different underneath the surface. It was perhaps a little too easy for these two to fall in love given their circumstances but I was rooting for them to so I can't exactly complain, can I?

    The Drood family, itself, is a engaging and weird antagonist. A massive conspiracy of scientists, magician, and magically-empowered knights which is too stuck in a rut to really care whether it's serving the side or good or evil. All of us know something of family pressure and it's interesting to have the living embodiment of that as your foe. The family which will control everything in your life from beginning to end while insisting it is all for your good is a bigger nightmare to me than Cthulhu.

    I'm also a fan of Manifest Destiny as an enemy. In a world of the supernatural, it's very likely you'd have people who'd want everything to be safe and sane as well as scientific. Unfortunately, Manifest Destiny is unable to keep its truly vile elements under control as one you have a cause, it's all too easy to assume everyone who opposes it is evil. There's a nice bit of foreshadowing with one of the characters we later learn is a member being described in decidedly Nazi terms.

    The book is one long chase sequence really with our heroes following a lead, finding it doesn't answer their questions, then getting tracked down by their enemies. This isn't bad because it provides the book with pretty much cover-to-cover action. In addition to Edwin punching out Fantasy Nazis and monsters, we also get to see Molly make frequent imaginative use of her powers. The book really feels like a text-based comic book and that's pretty high praise given what I primarily review on this site.

    In conclusion, The Man with the Golden Torc is a fun little bit of urban fantasy which is actually fairly conclusive in its ending. While there are many books behind it, I think it functions as a stand-alone if you're looking for a fast read. It may be too over-the-top for some but I think it's great for those who don't take their fantasy too seriously.

9/10

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Suicide Squad (2016 movie) review


    Underwhelming, Arkham City knock-off. Alternatively, someone attempting to do Guardians of the Galaxy and ending up with bad Avengers fanfiction. It's a sad day when I, who has defended the DC Movie universe pretty fiercely, just can't muster much energy for this particular round of it. It's doubly worse because Suicide Squad was the movie I was most looking forward to.

    I wrote the Supervillainy Saga novels because I loved villainous protagonists and the black comedy of things like The Secret Six as well as the original John Ostrander Suicide Squad. I also had high hopes for this because they already did the definitive Suicide Squad movie in the Batman: Assault on Arkham animated movie (reviewed here). Do that! Only with live action!

    And they didn't.

Harley, because everyone loves Harley.
    The problem with the movie is it's a mess. There's all the elements for the movie fans wanted to see but it's fairly clear the writers, producers, directors, and probably actors did their best to try and make a movie which would appeal to the comic book masses without really understanding the elements which make them appealing.

    If The Avengers is a Twinkie, then this is a Twinkie which has been smashed up with a hammer into an unappetizing mess.

    You may think I'm being unfair but I'll let my summary of the movie speak for itself: The United States government as represented by Amanda Waller (as played by Viola Davis) wants to assemble an anti-Superman squad which they create from a bunch of Batman villains, a few of which have superpowers, and then immediately lose control over the one which actually could do damage to Superman (The Enchantress as played by Cara Delevigne). The DCU movieverse's Superman is dead at this time so this is doubly confusing but is perhaps the most believable part as government bureaucracy never lets reality get in the way of a acquiring funding.

Just a wee bit too big for a team with too few deaths.
    The Suicide Squad of Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Katana (Karen Fukuhara), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), and Slipknot (Adam Beach) as supervised by Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) proceed to shoot their way through Enchantress' CGI minions before getting interrupted by the Joker (Jared Leto).

    There's an extended flashback to Harley Quinn's origins which involves Batman (Ben Affleck). Eventually, the group has an existential crisis, gets drunk, and goes to kill the Enchantress as well as her evil brother-god-thing. The Joker rescues Harley Quinn, which I think we're supposed to be happy about and the movie ends.

    The term overcrowded is one which is applicable as there's just too many characters fighting for screen-time. If I were to redo this movie I'd say you really don't need anyone but Amanda Waller, Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, Slipknot, and Diablo. I add Slipknot because you really can't do the Suicide Squad without his role in it.

I want that car for my wife.
    The Enchantress is a character who is generic and one-note as well as a problem created by Amanda Waller, which makes her look incompetent. I wasn't a big fan of Jared Leto as the Joker but if you're going to insert the Joker into the story, they should have outright made him the main bad guy.

    It's not like the Joker hasn't threatened whole cities before. Have him gas the city to become a bunch of psychotic marauders or steal a magic doo-dad. I don't care, just give us someone we'd actually want the Suicide Squad to play off of.

Yes, I'm quaking in my boots here.
    I don't normally lecture how movies should have been created because I think they should be judged on what they are rather than how they might be but this is where I make an exception. There's so much good which could have been done here that it's maddening it's all blown like a guy who folds on a royal flush or at least an inside straight.

    Watching this movie is like a checklist of scenes from movies I'd actually want to watch. Ben Affleck's Batman vs. Joker and Harley Quinn, in fact, is pretty much a better 20-minute movie than the rest of the film and probably something I'd prefer watching by itself.

    The movie knew they had an easy victory with Harley Quinn and if they'd done her as part of the aforementioned Batman movie, this probably would have been a really well-liked movie. Margot Robbie does the crazy, sexy, cutsie, tragic thing which is the hallmark of the character and something which should rightly be considered the best part of the film. Even so, the relationship with the Joker is lacking its usual abusive elements so you almost think the movie is trying to tell us she should be with Jared Leto's Joker rather than someone we should pity having fallen under his Manson-esque sway. Not cool movie, not cool at all.

Jared is more The Boss from Saints Row than the Joker.
    Despite this, I enjoyed Jared Leto's portrayal of the Joker even if it's not really any Joker I recognize. Eh, he's a character who constantly reinvents himself so perhaps it's easier to make that kind of acceptance. Jared's Joker is a kind of bizarre carnival version of Scarface who oozes sleaze and murderous intent.

After decades of the Joker being a serial killer as well as nihilist terrorist, I don't mind one who actually functions as a barely functional ultraviolence-prone crime boss. In fact, he reminds me a bit of how Alex from A Clockwork Orange might have grown up in the DCU and that's not too bad a thing. Even so, he's basically a massive dose of energy to the film which appears then quickly disappears.

Will, I don't buy you as Deadshot at all.
    Viola Davis and Will Smith are wasted in this movie as the former does the best Waller we've seen on screen yet while the latter really should have had a bigger character.

    Why isn't Will Smith the new Green Lantern? John Stewart would have been the perfect character for him and his smooth easy charisma fits the Justice League better than the cold-blooded psychopaths the Suicide Squad are supposed to be.

    The movie was clearly rewritten numerous times as there's several plotholes, scenes which don't connect clearly, and places where characters are encouraged to do things they've already done in the movie. I really think Warner Brothers needs to talk to their editor, writers, or both because the their stitching together of scenes are more Frankenstein than surgical. I suspect the movie was originally going to be far darker but they decided to accent on the comedy, only it's still pretty damn dark and not in a funny sort of Joker-esque way.

    The pop soundtrack is overused and it seems like they were trying to use music to provide a sense of energy which the film itself was lacking. It sometimes works but quite a few of the songs don't really go together well and I think they'd have done better to stick with a purely 80s collection of pop tunes. They do, admittedly, spruce up the action scenes which seem to lack the humor and spectacle which a Suicide Squad movie should have. This is the sort of movie where you need to believe a man with a boomerang can kill a bunch of Special Forces operatives.

Why am I not seeing this movie?
    Really, I'm rather annoyed that the most movie character in the film is Diablo. He's about the only person other than Harley who has anything approaching a character arc. His quietly subdued performance is more interesting than a lot of the major characters chewing the scenery and provides an emotional heart which Deadshot's character completely fails to achieve.

    Which actually gets to another problem of the film that it doesn't really know where to set up characters. Rick Flag and Diablo get a lot of character building when I think that should have better been used elsewhere. If anyone should have serious family issues and a story arc about redemption in a Suicide Squad movie then it should be Deadshot.

    Anyway, I've ripped on this movie enough. I think its extremely disappointing and I left the film feeling frustrated because there were a lot of parts which almost came together but fumbled before they could make a touchdown.

4/10

Friday, August 12, 2016

Vampirella: Hollywood Horror review


    This is a premature review of the graphic novel since it won't be out until November 2016 but I've purchased all six of the issues which are to be collected into it and thought it'd be a good idea to give my thoughts on it. Hollywood Horror is part of Dynamite Entertainment's controversial plan to make their comics more female-friendly. Which, in simple terms, amounts to making some changes to the characters' costumes and personalities.

    Honestly, I'm all for this as I'm a great believer characters constantly need to be updated for new generations. The core of the character should always remain intact but there's nothing wrong with stretching characters and taking them in new directions. Complaints about removing her iconic costume are somewhat valid but for the fact Vampirella originally, you know, actually wore clothes in the original comic and the most recent version was made skimpier than its original slingshot bikini style.


    Times have also changed as Vampirella was meant to be edgy and shocking in 1970 but with the fall of the Comics Codes Authority and the Iron Age of Comics (a.k.a the 90s), countless female characters are dressed edgy and shocking. It's now more edgy and shocking to put Vampirella in a set of practical vampire slaying clothes (which her roller derby-esque outfit pictured above most certainly is not). I don't see the problem, honestly, and think it's a sexy new look which actually might get people reading the comic who'd assume the only purpose of the character was cheesecake with the old outfit.

    I'm actually more uncomfortable with the other changes which aren't so much bad as confusing. Issue 1# opens up (after some obligatory carnage to some innocents) with Vampirella, her live-in werewolf boyfriend Tristan, and her butler Coleridge buying a mansion in Hollywood. This sounds like a perfectly reasonable premise and it is but for fans of Vampirella (even the Dynamite version of the character), it's a bit confusing.

    How confusing?

    Vampirella has been in a (as comics go) stable relationship with another man, Adam Van Helsing, for about fifty years. Tristan is a character she used to date on another planet but they act like a stable married couple. It's like the new Superman opening up with him and Lori Lamaris living together. When the hell did this happen?

    Did I miss some issues? It turned out I did as while I was familiar with Vampirella vol. 1 1-38# by Dynamite, there was a Vampirella vol. 2 1-13# by Dynamite too.  Which, to me, means this is actually issue 14# but apparently no one cares about how confusing this is for a guy who wants to catch up. I mean, they're marked volume 1 and 2 with this being 3 but there were two Vampirella series before this.
Clearly not a sexy enough outfit.

    Sheesh.

    Still, as new status quos go, it's an okay one. To summarize the first issue, Vampirella kills a monster and it gets caught on Youtube. Fanboys being fanboys, they go crazy over her and Vampirella is recruited as an Elvira-esque hostess for horror movies. This brings her into conflict with Slade. No, not Slade Wilson, but the immortal sorceress ruler of the horror film industry. Teamed up with a lesbian demon-blooded agent named Juliette, Vampirella decides to free the world from the woman who made Friday the Thirteenth's remake possible.

    So did I like it?

    Yeah, mostly I did. It's weird seeing Vampirella happy and silly since it's been literal decades since she's last been allowed to be. I'm okay with continuity reboots but it does feel like this story could have used a few more connections to the old book. Why not bring back Sofia Murray? Pendragon? Hell, you could have used both characters in the reality as well as Adam Van Helsing rather than the new ones.

    The comic is a bit too silly, reminding me of the first couple of seasons of Buffy. It's the diametric opposite of the Crown of Worms TPB and about as good. I complained the Vampirella there was too angry while the one here is a bit too nice. There's very little sense of menace to the villains or the situations our heroine faces, which is odd for a horror comic. It honestly seemed more interested in Juliette and her girlfriend's relationship than the fact people are getting eaten (I like Juliette by the way and consider her a fun part of the cast even if I could take or leave her partner).

    Still, I'm sold.

    The art is beautiful and helps compliment the deliberately cheesy B-movie style. The designs for the many monsters Vampirella meets at a gathering of Hollywood monsters was also impressive, making me think this might be an excellent new continuity if they can get back some menace. I also liked the character of Slade even if she seemed somewhat dense getting the Vampirella was never going to join her. You can basically judge whether or not a villain is worth bringing back by whether or not you want to see her again and I definitely do. I hope she gets a power upgrade, though, as Vampirella pretty much owned her from the get go.

Vampirella's female foes are often blonde.
    The supporting cast is entertaining with Tristan serving as a supportive but fun monster boyfriend of the kind you usually find in paranormal romance. Coleridge, by contrast, clearly pines for Vampirella but is professional enough just to give the occasional bit of good-natured flirtation amidst his Alfred-esque snark. As mentioned, not a huge fan of Juliette and Guinevere since they kind of stop the narrative cold to talk about their relationship troubles as two supernaturals dating in L.A. but I've seen worse.

     All of the issues are funny and enjoyable even if they never quite reach a laugh-a-page enjoyment. The only issue I didn't enjoy from the book was issue 6#, which is about a bee-demon stalker who wants to get Vampirella's attention. I think we could have gotten a bit more action from the initial story arc in issues 1-5# and it felt like a breather from a story arc which wasn't that intense to begin with.

    Perhaps the best part of this comic and why I'm willing to cut it so much slack is that, despite the dramatic change to her costume, Vampirella feels more like her classic Warren self than she has in decades. Numerous comic book creators have portrayed Vampirella as a brooding anti-hero when she was conceived as a fun joking character who enjoyed life on Earth.

The classic outfit does make an appearance at Comic Con. I kid you not.
    This Vampirella reacts to fanboys perving on her classic outfit with wry amusement versus offense and is more irritated than horrified with the fact the monsters of Hollywood can't quite wrap their head around eating extras is wrong. Which, to be fair, makes them no worse than the majority of movie stars.

     Interestingly, I've got to say I think the alternate covers are worth as much as the magazine themselves. They do Vampirella in a variety of fun and engaging styles from realistic to action girl to anime-esque. It's worth buying the graphic novel for the dozens of stills you're going to get from these variants alone.

     In a comic book industry frequently polarized between traditional markets (heterosexual male geeks) and trying to appeal to new ones, I think the relaunched Vampirella definitely has potential to appeal to both sides. The formula is not quite right there but it feels like quite a bit of the urban fantasy and paranormal romance I read. I think if they inserted more of the classic Vampirella personality and characters with this new version, Dynamite could have a real success story on their hands. As such, it's not quite there yet but something I'll definitely be picking up the future installments of.

    Now answer me one burning question which was left unanswered by this book.  Is she an alien or not in this continuity?

8.5/10