Wednesday, June 3, 2020

HORLA.ORG PRESENTS NEW FICTION BY MARK HOWARD JONES


Fans of intelligent, literary horror should definitely acquaint themselves with the work of Welsh writer Mark Howard Jones, who has written some of the best stories collected in S.T. Joshi's essential "Black Wings of Cthulhu" series of contemporary mythos fiction. It's one of my favorite current short horror anthology series, and if you pick up a couple (via the link I just provided), you'll soon find out why.

But back to Mr. Jones. His most recent short story, "Winter is Coming", involves neither the Cthulhu mythos nor Game of Thrones, but it is quite excellent, and it's free to read at Horla.org. So, if you've got 15 minutes and you're down for some shivers, why not give it a read? I highly recommend it!

Friday, May 8, 2020

PLANET OF THE HUMANS ~ A REBUTTAL


Turns out the Michael Moore-produced documentary Planet of the Humans is deeply, seriously flawed... almost to the point where one wonders if the filmmakers involved were behaving in good or bad faith.

Seeing as, looking a couple blog posts down, you can see that I was originally pretty gung-ho about the flick--and there's no denying its effectiveness as polemic, particularly with people who, like me, aren't well versed in all the latest matters ecological--I figured I owed it anyone who might have watched it on my suggestion to post a level-headed, fact-based, good faith rebuttal.

So here's one:


Here's another one, that gets even deeper into the technological and scientific issues:


By the way, while researching a number of rebuttal articles and videos, I also went back and re-watched Planet of the Humans, and I have to say, the second time around, I caught what felt to me like a number of anti-human, even eliminationist rhetorical tropes sneaking into the text, almost as if the filmmakers were angry at anyone working towards making less damaging forms of energy available to the masses because it pushes their preferred (but of course only implied) solution to the problem--an enforced end to global consumer culture, perhaps followed by some kind of mass, rapid depopulation effort--farther down the field. After all, the film begins with the following question:
"Have you ever wondered what would happen if a single species took over an entire planet? Maybe they're cute. Maybe they're clever, but lack a certain, shall we say, self restraint? What if they go to far? What if they go way, way, way, way, way too far? How would they know when it's their time to go?"
No direct answer is ever given. After viewing the film in toto, however, the implications are obvious.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

CAN YOU NAME ALL THESE MOVIES?


Cthulhu-core metal band Darkest of the Hillside Thickets have put together a video for their song "Yog-Sothoth!" that includes a large number of imagery and moments from films, shorts, TV shows and other bands' videos that are all somehow evocative of cosmic horror and Lovecraftian dread. See how many of the included clips YOU can identify! I can pretty much guarantee that you won't be able to spot them all!

Friday, March 27, 2020

BOB DYLAN PRESENTS PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED TRACK "MURDER MOST FOUL"


Considering the timing of this song's release, some of my more learned friends, bigger Dylan fans than I, are saying this is Bob's epitaph for America. Not sure I'm feeling that, exactly, but it sure is something.

Friday, March 20, 2020

GUY MADDIN'S FILM "THE GREEN FOG" IS A GIFT IN A TIME OF CRISIS

Here is the trailer for the latest offering from Canada's most unique and iconoclastic cinematic genius.


You can watch the entire film for free on Vimeo, at this link. Witness for yourself why Maddin has earned a reputation as Canada's answer to David Lynch!

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

STEP INTO THE WORLD OF THE NIGHTMARE ARTIST


Zdzislaw Beksinski was a Polish painter of the fantastique whose work reacted to the horrors of war that he saw all around him. The video above is a short documentary about his life and his work, and the video below is an extended exploration of his work. He was very prodigious, constantly working and constantly producing masterpiece after masterpiece. Enjoy discovering your new favorite artist!


Tuesday, February 18, 2020

MEDIA DIARY ~ FILMS, FEB 19, 2020

Yes, I know, it's been a while, so please excuse me if I just dive into this process head-first, without much in the way of explication or lubrication first. Suffice it to say that I've been having RIDICULOUS problems with blogger's AdSense functionality (haven't made a penny in two months, despite my blogs being over-run with an obnoxious amount of ads) and so my motivation hasn't been what it could be. Then I figured, I mostly use this blog as a way to keep track of what I've watched, read, and seen, so why not just keep blogging until the situation sorts itself out? So I guess that's what I'm going to try to do. Cheers! - Jerky

UPGRADE (2018) ~ The sci-fi noir revenge thriller Upgrade is a must-see for fans of all those genres, and definitely belongs on any list of the best SF films to be released so far this millennium. It ranks alongside Ex Machina and Dredd and Her. Fun, dark, ultraviolent, original, and surprising!



THE DEATH OF STALIN (2017) ~ Speaking of pitch-black satire, the latest film by Armando Iannucci—one of the key figures in the Britcom Renaissance and frequent partner of bona fide geniuses Chris Morris and Steve Coogan—The Death of Stalin presents a highly fictionalized account of the panic, turmoil and terror that gripped the Central Committee and other important elements of the Soviet government in the wake of Joseph Stalin's sudden death in 1953. Uniformly fantastic performances (Michael Palin, Steve Buscemi, Simon Beale, Andrea Riseborough and Jeffrey Tambor are all perfect) and help to elevate this film from high minded farce into something approaching (but not quite attaining) the level of a Dr Strangelove. Based on a French graphic novel, The Death of Stalin was banned in Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.


APOSTLE (2018) ~ An excellent addition to the Folk Horror canon, of which the prime exemplar is the (original) Wicker Man, which also happens to be a heavy influence on this film. It's been a good couple years for this genre-within-a-genre, starting with The Witch and hitting definite peaks with The Ritual, A Dark Song, and now Apostle. Although not as rooted in actual philosophies, beliefs and ritual practices as some of the best in occult cinema, Apostle does a good job of presenting what life must have been life in some of those far flung turn of the century religious communes, some of which you can still find in the darker parts of both North America and the Old World. As a horror film in the Western tradition, I consider it one of the best of the year so far... richly envisioned, convincingly acted, beautifully designed, and both thrilling and intriguing. Some might find it a bit long, somewhat confusing, and more gruesome than necessary. Horror fans should definitely see it and, if they like it, help to spread the word, because one takes from a work of art only that which one is capable of taking, and a lot of dummies are putting up bad reviews that sound a whole lot like the cracking of piggish teeth on the pearls cast before them.



POSSUM (2028) ~ Brilliant debut feature from Matt Holness, creator of the cult horror comedy TV satire Garth Merenghi's Darkplace. This film puts Sean Harris' uniquely disturbing and expressive looks to maximum use, kind of in the same way that David Cronenberg did with Christopher Walken in The Dead Zone. Possum features an ambiance redolent with dread and anxiety, and you can feel the pressure of sanity at its breaking point throughout, like the internal pressure inside a bottle forever pushing away at the cork stopping it up. Another Cronenberg film this reminded me of is the under-rated, underseen Spider. And also The Babadook, only with a far creepier imaginary baddie in the form of Possum. Just excellent.


HAGAZUSSA (2017) ~ The disturbing story of Albrun, a lonely goat-herding girl who lives with her mother in a secluded shack in the German Alps in the 15th century. People in the nearby village are cruel to Albrun and her mother both, apparently believing them to be witches. When Albrun’s mother falls ill—leading to some disturbing scenes in which you’ll start to think that maybe the villagers have the right idea—sexually assaults her, then dies. Cut to 15 years later. Albrun, still living in the shack and tending her goats, has a baby boy. A town priest gives her the gift of her mother’s polished skull, which Albrun takes home and uses as part of a memorial shrine. Another villager, Swinda, befriends Albrun, but we soon find out that her intentions are anything but good. Deception leads to Albrun once again being raped. She takes revenge on the village in a particularly gruesome way, then eats a magic mushroom that causes her to indulge in some strange cruelties and engaging in a number of taboos, ultimately leading to her apparently supernatural demise. A truly great folk horror film.


THE LIGHTHOUSE (2019) ~ A fantastic performance by Willem Dafoe and a decent one by Robert Patinson anchor director Robert Eggers’ black-and-white, Lovecraft-tinged follow-up to his magnificent The VVitch (2015), but for me, The Lighthouse ends up feeling like something less than the sum of its (admittedly superlative) parts. For instance, the conversations, though thoughtfully articulated and grandly performed, don’t ever really seem to go anywhere. And the hallucinatory elements, featuring mermaids and tentacles and angry sea-birds, felt detached from the narrative. I did like the way it ended, however. I’ll probably have to give this one another watch before I make up my mind about it.


ANIARA (2018) ~ A beautiful, poetic, philosophical science fiction film from Sweden in which a huge colony craft (the titular Aniara) carrying thousands of immigrants from a Sun-ravaged Earth to Mars gets knocked off course and has to dump all its fuel, leaving it unable to turn around until it encounters a celestial body that it can use as a gravity well to turn around, turning a planned month-long trip into what the captain informs his passengers will now be a minimum two year drift through empty space. Unfortunately, he’s lying. The truth of the matter is that the chances of encountering a celestial body at all are pretty much nil, and as more and more people cotton on to this fact, the more the passengers’ morale—not to mention the state of the craft—deteriorates. There’s a sub-plot about a hallucination machine that breaks down—or rather, has the AI equivalent of a mental breakdown—leaving the passengers without any means of escaping from the soul-crushing reality of their predicament, causing cults to rise up and suicides to skyrocket. Time passes. The main character we’re following does her best to stay positive, despite suffering some profoundly unjust situations and tragic losses. She finds love. Starts a family. More time passes. Entropy sets in. Things get dark. Then things get REALLY dark. Then more time passes. Before you know it, five million years have gone by and you’re asking yourself, WTF?! Just like life, I guess. A minor masterpiece, but don’t watch if you’re easily depressed.


THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER (2015) ~ When considered in combination with his followup feature, I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House (2016), this genuinely creepy and occasionally terrifying film establishes the director—Anthony Perkins’ son Osgood (Oz)—as a genre director whose work deserves to be taken seriously (although his most recent, Gretel & Hansel, isn’t faring too well with audiences or critics). The time-hopping story about two girls left behind at a mostly deserted private Catholic boarding school during the winter holidays has enough creepy nuns, heavy silences, and shadowy glimpses of superntural devilry to fill a dozen of your worst nightmares. The acting is fine, the twists are twisted, and the double-climactic denouement simultaneously feels novel, and yet somehow paradoxically classical as well. I have just one little quibble with it, which I will keep to myself, as it’s pretty minor and I wouldn’t want to influence anyone watching for themselves.


BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY (2018) ~ I didn’t like it. Cliché-ridden, sappy, boring and drawn-out… a real snooze-fest, especially considering it was about one of the most ostentatious and overtly “dramatic” rock bands of all time. So many of these musical bios seem to miss the point that the music created often has very little to do with the musicians who create it. They miss the point that music, at its best is, in a very real sense, a kind of magic (no pun intended). A whole that is greater than the sum of its parts… a kind of egregore, or collective yet independent consciousness, to the point where “Which one’s Pink?” is less like a joke and more like a Zen Koan that might put a streak of grey through your hair if you meditate too intently upon it.


CLIMAX (2018) ~ Gaspar Noe’s latest nihilistic descent into cinematic portrayals of drug-induced madness, only this time set in the world of professional dance troupes. The entire film takes place almost in real time, during the troupe’s wrap party, where someone spikes the punch with hallucinogens, and so after a very extended section of every dancer giving a solo performance over a driving techno beat, they all start to have bad trips, during which they all seem to want to “accentuate the negative” in and about each other. This of course leads to brutality, bloodshed, rape, suicide, murder, and all manner of Gaspar Noe style shenanigans. I won’t need to see this one twice.


UNDERWATER (2019) ~ Kristen Stewart versus Cthulhu and his star-spawn? I’m in! Actually a pretty decent PG-13 horror adventure movie in the vein of Leviathan, Deep Star Six, and The Abyss (kind of), with a good supporting cast, decent special effects, a few new ideas and a surprisingly effective ending. Your mileage may vary, but if you like monster movies (I do) and don’t have a knee-jerk, bandwagon-jumping hate-on for Kristen Stewart (I don’t), then there are definitely worse ways to spend an hour and a half on a weekend afternoon.


IN FABRIC (2019) ~ An inspired, giallo-tinged slice of surreal horror comedy (although the laughs are few, far between, and require a somewhat twisted sense of humor to appreciate) from Peter Strickland, a UK based auteur who wields a decidedly continental aesthetic arsenal. The first of his films to garner significant mainstream attention was the magnificent Berberian Sound Studio (2012), featuring Toby Jones as a foley artist for an intimidating director of Italian horror movies in the 1970’s. His next big film, The Duke of Burgundy (2014) was one of the best reviewed films of its year, but it took me three attempts to just sit through the damn thing, and it left me completely cold. In Fabric is about a very strange new department store that opens up in an unnamed city, from which an “artery red” dress haunts a number of the store’s customers, in turn, perhaps with the knowing assistance of the store’s witchy employees. The stories are also vaguely connected to a corporation called Waingel’s—where the dress’s first victim works, and where its next victim tries to secure a loan—which seems to be some sort of bank, but not really. Whatever it is, you apparently need to be on the “Waingel’s Wavelength” to navigate its byzantine corporate structures. Anyway, despite finding the first section a bit of a hard slog (ironically due to the fact that I empathized too much with the poor, put-upon divorcee, heart-breakingly portrayed by Marianne Jean-Baptiste), the subsequent sections, which move at a faster pace and involve increasingly bizarre set-pieces and performances, had me fully on board until the end, which proved the perfect catalyst for generating a gestalt admiration for the film as a whole. I will return to this film again, and will definitely keep my eye on Strickland’s future projects.

Monday, November 4, 2019

MEDIA DIARY, NOV 4, 2019 ~ COMIC REVIEWS


THE PLOT #1 (of 8)
Vault Comics
Tim Daniel, Michael Moresi, writers, Josh Hixson, art

“In order to receive… first you must give.” That’s the motto of Blaine family patriarch, expressed in the flashback scene that starts out this, the first issue of a paradoxically fresh-yet-old-school horror comic called The Plot. By the time you’ve finished reading this intriguing debut, you’ll have a sneaking suspicion that the comic’s creators will be wringing out a whole lot of sinister meaning from these eight simple words.

The Plot is the first series in Vault Comics’ planned Nightfall imprint, which will publish one new self-contained horror-related limited series every year, sort of like a comic book version of AMC’s hugely successful American Horror Story franchise. It’s a nifty concept that I’d like to see more imprints and creators try out.

The first issue sets up a pretty classic horrific Americana narrative, complete with a multi-generational curse, a big old remote family pile surrounded by swampy woodlands on Maine’s chilly, windswept coastline, and, of course, a monster… and I doubt I’m spoiling things by telling you this, as said creature features prominently on the cover.

After the intro, we jump ahead a couple decades, with prodigal son Chase having to step up and take charge after his brother and sister-in-law are brutally murdered by the aforementioned monster, leaving their children, McKenzie and Zach, in Chase's charge. By the end of the issue, we’re left to wonder whether Chase is the best man for the job, whether there’s something weird going on with the kids, and whether we can trust what we’re being shown via Hixson’s funky, chunky panels (which sort of remind this reviewer of an elevated, moodier, “adult” version of Steve Ditko’s work for horror titles by the likes of Gold Key and Charlton).

If you feel you simply must know more before deciding on whether or not to pick up this title, here’s a great, in-depth look at The Plot from our friends at Comic Book Yeti. It really tells you pretty much everything anyone could ever want to know about the book and its creators.


SILVER SURFER: BLACK #3, #4 (of 5)
Marvel Comics
Story: Donny Cates, Art: Tradd Moore

This series continues to amaze and delight in equal measure. If you are any sort of comic book and/or superhero fan at all, you owe it to yourself to be picking up Silver Surfer: Black. Although now that the series is completed (the fifth issue came out last Wednesday, and it’s waiting for me in my pull box at The Beguiling), you’re probably going to want to wait for the trade paperback collecting all five issues in a single volume.

Because I have yet to read this limited series’ final issue, I don’t have much to say about issues 3 and 4 for now, except to declare that a more perfect wedding of narrative and illustrative talents, I haven’t experienced in living memory; particularly not in a title from a mainstream publisher!

If you can still pick up all five issues at your local comics shop for cover price (or close to it), I would do so. I have a sneaking suspicion Marvel might not have known the potency of this work of alchemical comics genius when they first decided to put it out, and may have underprinted the first couple issues. I generally don’t worry about the speculators’ game, except when it’s instantaneous, like with that whole "Batman’s penis" scandal from last year that made my copies of Batman Damned #1 go up in value by 2000% pretty much overnight!


GHOST RIDER #1
Marvel Comics
Story: Ed Brisson, Art: Aaron Kuder

Speaking of a beautiful matching of story and art, cult favorite character Ghost Rider has rarely been served better than he is currently being served by the creative team of Brisson and Kuder.

In the inaugural issue of this newly minted title, we are treated to not one, but TWO flaming skull-headed badasses! With the original Johnny Blaze currently the acting King of Hell (which makes him more of a warden, considering how ornery his constituency can be), up topside, Johnny’s brother Danny Ketch has had to fill in by donning the mantle of Earth’s Spirit of Vengeance, even though all he wants to do is run his new bar, The Fadeaway, and drink himself into oblivion.

So that’s the setup for this, a sort of soft reboot of Ghost Rider's continuity, which has gotten pretty convoluted over the past few years. In this issue, we see that Johnny is having a bit of a rough time ruling Hell after successfully usurping the throne from Mephisto in the recently completed “Damnation” cross-title event.

On top of all the other big-time Lords of Darkness looking to steal Hell out from under Johnny’s wheels (as well as all the incredible powers that come with ruling Hell), lower-level demons are constantly trying to escape into the surface world. This issue sees Johnny asking for Danny’s assistance in chasing down the escapees.

It all makes for a lot of really gorgeously-rendered comic book fun, and I personally enjoyed every goofy, monster-stuffed page of it. And it seems like the creators are having a lot of fun with it, too. I’ll definitely be picking up this title for the next little while!


BLACK RIVER
Fantagraphics
by Josh Simmons

With my recent review of his collection of graphic short pieces The Furry Trap, I made no secret of my admiration for the work of Josh Simmons. 2015's Black River does nothing to dampen my enthusiasm.

Telling the bleak, often disturbing post-Apocalyptic story of a group of wandering women (and one man) in search of a city where rumor has it everyone helps each other out and the electricity still flows, Black River makes a perfect companion piece to Cormac McCarthy's novel, The Road. In fact, if there was a way to somehow get a copy out to McCarthy, I'd love to find out what he makes of this unique and unsparingly nihilistic chronicle. 

I don't want to say too much about this book, because it's my fervent hope that many of you will seek it out, buy it, and read it. And I don't want to spoil it for those hypothetical people. 

One last thing, about the book's title, seeing as there doesn't seem to be any particularly important "black river" in the story. I believe that it was Simmons' intention to use the title to describe life in the post-Apocalyptic world that he depicts as a river of black... a never-ending, unrelenting, unbroken continuity of ever-flowing darkness. 


VIVISECTIONARY
Fantagraphics
By Kate Lacour

According to the Fantagraphics page on this book: 
From "vivisection," the act of dissecting living specimens, and "bestiary," a compendium of real and mythical creatures. A series of visual sequential experiments in the physiological, the pathological, and the occult. A bizarre and mesmerizing investigation through the marvels of biology and myth to uncover the extraordinary in the ordinary, the magic in science, the sublime in the grotesque.
I picked up this book because I love this kind of thing... an intriguing, surreal, and beautiful presentation that touches on the occult and the horrific, all wrapped up in a gorgeous and unique package. The front cover, for instance, is mostly a hole!

Much like the book that it most closely resembles, that being the legendary Codex Seraphinianus (full PDF available here), there's no story here, therefore I have nothing much to say about it, except to declare that Kate Lacour is an artist with an admirably twisted mind. It's rare that I find art that offers me even the mildest of shocks these days, and Lacour succeeds in disturbing on more than a few occasions. Consider that either a recommendation or a warning, it's entirely up to you.

If you'd like to buy a copy of this book, you can do so through my Amazon affiliate link, or not. Again, it's entirely up to you. For now, I will leave you with some intriguing images from Lacour's bizarre (and quite affordable) tome...




HOUSE OF X / POWERS OF X (THE FULL SAGA) REVIEW


HOUSE OF X / POWERS OF X (the full saga)
Marvel Comics
Story: Johnathan Hickman, Art: Pepe Larraz, R.B. Silva

Well now, this is an interesting case. After years of neglecting (some would say flat-out sabotaging) the X-franchise out of spite over not having access to these one-time flagship superstars for their movies, Marvel’s comics division has finally decided to rehab, retcon and revamp everything mutant-related, coinciding with the moment Disney got the rights back to use all those characters in the MCU. What a stroke of luck!

To tackle the monumental feat of untangling the ridiculous mess they’ve made of things, Marvel cancelled every ongoing X-book and tasked their chosen writer—Johnathan Hickman—with creating a new foundation upon which all future X-titles would build. They also gave him carte blanche to do with these characters as he saw fit. Whatever he came up with would constitute the new Year Zero for Marvel’s mutants. So, here’s what Hickman came up with…

Two limited series, each six issues long, each featuring some of the best artwork yet produced by both Silva and Larraz, coming out over a twelve-week span between July and September of 2019. But they’re not just two separate series! Oh no. They’re two series meant to be read together in a special, specific, irregular rotation! 

You know what? Explaining the structure will take longer than just reading an issue, so if you want to catch just a glimpse of the lengths to which Hickman has gone in order to complicate that which needn't have been so complicated, check out this Wikipedia page on both titles—House of X and Powers of X—the latter of which should actually be read as “Powers of TEN”, which is yet another unnecessary over-complication that isn’t half as clever as Hickman seems to think it is… particularly when he’s making huge mistakes that throw the whole narrative out of whack.

Anyway, House of X covers the first few weeks of the new mutant “present”, which involves the establishment of a homeland for mutants on the island of Krakoa (which is, itself, a fully conscious mutant, and a member of the ruling council). Krakoa is capable of producing flowers that have incredible powers, and Professor X has come up with a plan to barter pharmaceuticals created with these botanicals (they extend life by a ridiculously precise five years, and cure almost all “diseases of the mind”) to get homo sapien sapiens to at long last leave homo superior alone. Of course, for mutants, these flowers have the power to create, like, buildings, or even entirely new landmasses in the middle of the ocean, as well as instantaneous teleportation jump-points (even to the moon!), among other things.

And then there’s a whole sub-plot about formerly minor-league mutants suddenly being elevated to elite, even Omega status, due to Hickman finding ways to make them super-useful somehow. Key among these being the ridiculous character Goldballs, whose power, up until recently, was the ability to emit golden colored basketball sized balls from his chest with a certain amount of concussive force, and who now, as part of a five-mutant squad—given the super-creative team name “The Five”—holds the key to literal mutant immortality, which itself is the end result of such precariously patchy, under-baked wish-fulfillment fantasizing that it makes some of Hickman’s worst decisions in his awful Secret Wars series seem philosophically sophisticated by comparison. It all pushes the whole suspension of disbelief thing to the absolute breaking point, and beyond.

But that’s the New Way now, dig? And hey, at least it allows Hickman to send a team of beloved, classic X-men characters (Cyclops, Jean Grey, Wolverine, Nightcrawler and a handful others) on a suicide mission into outer space, where those nasty old humans (with participants from SHIELD, SWORD—aka Space SHIELD—AIM and even HYDRA!) are hatching up yet another genocidal plot to annihilate all of mutant-kind in the form of a Sentinel that is even bigger than the Master Mold that murdered millions of mutants on Genosha not so long ago… a MOTHER Mold that shits out Master Molds for breakfast, or something. 

Anyway, this team of mutants, none of whom behave at all like the characters we’ve come to know and love, all get to sacrifice themselves heroically, only to be “brought back” in the goofiest way possible. And then the Krakoan council exacts “mutant justice” on Sabertooth. And then all the mutants party like it’s 1999. Seriously. It's even hinted at that Scott, Jean and Wolverine are now in an open, polyamorous relationship.

And, wow, does it NOT feel like everything is in its right place.

The other title, Powers of X, lets Hickman wave his freak flag even higher, because it is alternately set in the present, ten years from now, a hundred years from now, and a thousand years from now (Powers of ten! Get it?).

In many ways, Powers of X is the more successful title (at least, when it’s not dealing with any mutants that we may formerly have cared about). That’s because it features some genuinely interesting speculative concepts about the potential future of AI, the possibility of encountering alien intelligences embodied in such constructs, the consequences of being biological when confronting a hyper-advanced consciousness that is kind of disgusted by that, etc.

It’s enough to make me think that, if given the chance to create his own characters and build his own universe, Hickman might be able to produce work of lasting value and genuine worth. Unfortunately, giving him the X-men to play with—particularly considering that all this stuff is now considered canon—has resulted in an unmitigated mess that is, if anything, worse than what he started out with. 

My main reason for saying this is because these X-men books are not about the X-men. If you’re not now, and have never been, an X-men fan, then you needn’t worry about why that is. If, however, you are (or were) one, then you should go into these series understanding that the main characters aren't Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm, Beast, Nightcrawler, etc. Hell, Mister Sinister and some dude named Exodus get more face-time than the vast majority of past X-team superstars in this book. Instead, the main characters are Xavier, Magneto, and former secondary character made pivotal linchpin mutant powerhouse Moira MacTaggart.

MacTaggart’s evolution here is probably the best idea that Hickman came up with for these books, and it’s too good a surprise (and too over-complicating a story element) for me to describe in detail, here. Besides which, a pretty good summary is included in the above-linked Wiki page. Or, heck, why not just watch this Youtube summary of the whole debacle, as put together by someone who liked it a lot more than I did? It’ll give you a different perspective, at least. Besides, I’m tired of thinking about all this.


Oh! Two more things before I let you go. First, the artwork in both books is some of the most polished work I’ve seen in Marvel superhero books in recent years. The renditions of the Mother Mold and future Nimrod super-Sentinels in particular really captured my imagination. The other thing is Hickman’s trademark use of weird information-rich visual guides like pie charts, blueprint schematics, timelines, and other such things… I know people have complained about their overuse in these titles, but I felt they at least helped to let us know WTF was going on from book to book, so I appreciated them.

Now, enjoy the video!

Friday, November 1, 2019

MEDIA DIARY ~ FILMS, OCT 31, 2019

Yes, I know, these should all be horror films in honor of Halloween, right? Well, screw that, man. Just because I mostly watch horror movies, that doesn't mean I don't watch other kinds of movies, too. So now, without further ado, here are my bullet and bullet-ish reviews for a bunch of movies from a bunch of different eras, in a bunch of different genres, just as a way for me to remind myself that I've seen them. Let's go!


HORROR NOIRE ~ This 2019 documentary is currently only available to see on the excellent horror-themed specialty streaming service Shudder.com, which I hereby recommend to one and all. Shudder is currently offering a free trial offer, and the monthly fee is ridiculously affordable, so why not give it a try? Especially considering the quality of some of their exclusive offerings, of which Horror Noire, as I mentioned above, is one. 

Basically, this doc covers the arc of Black people’s portrayal and participation in horror film and fandom. The filmmakers and their many interview subjects (an impressive roster of talents indeed) guide us through every period, starting at the beginning of film history, when slavery was still within living memory for millions of Americans and the only Black people you would ever see on film were white people in Blackface. We then move through the days when Blacks were seen as either monstrous or as comic relief, through the earliest DIY days of an emerging Black cinema, past the first inklings of social awareness and into the revolutionary spirit of the Civil Rights era, which brings us to the single most pivotal moment in all of Black Horror cinema: George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead

That’s when things really get complicated… and truly interesting. As you can imagine, this film tells a story that is heartbreaking, enraging, thought-provoking, and ultimately inspirational and cautiously optimistic, culminating as it does with the paradigm-shattering Oscar-winning Jordan Peele film Get Out. A great documentary, and essential viewing for fans of horror, as well as students of Black cinema and art in general.


THE INFLUENCE ~ Although it trods upon familiar territory, this 2019 Spanish language offering—based on a novel by Ramsey Campbell, one of the world’s greatest living horror writers—the acting and production values are sufficiently good, and the scares sufficiently creepy and earned, that The Influence qualifies as elevated genre fare. And while it’s true that the story (which veers significantly far afield of the source novel) shares much with the basic plot of the 2017 masterpiece, Hereditary, which is a comparison that does The Influence no favors at all… there's still enough dread and suspense to keep even the most casual horror fan's attention throughout. The addition of a few really good, high quality freak-out scenes—and some subliminal elements destined to set your short hairs on end—make this an excellent choice for the Halloween season. Speaking of which, why don't we go ahead and just change the name of October to Halloween already?!


DOLOMITE IS MY NAME ~ My expectations were running high when I saw the first previews for Eddie Murphy’s supposed “comeback” film, especially when I learned that it was going to be a biopic of legendary Blaxploitation sensation Rudy Ray Moore, aka Dolomite. I first fell in love with Eddie Murphy, as so many of my generation did, on Saturday Night Live, and I’ve continued to be an admirer, even through the years when, let’s face it, Eddie became sort of a parody of himself. I mean, everybody knows how cringe “Party All the Time” was, but how many among you have heard “Love’s All Right”? I have, because I’m a glutton for punishment. 

Dolomite Is My Name, however, surpassed my expectations. It's funny, yes, with some truly inspired moments of true-to-life lunacy. But more importantly, it’s a beautiful, lovingly put together biopic that manages to focus on the tenderness, humanity, and sense of family, to the point where it shines brightly through the onslaught of misogynistic patter, cartoon violence and raunch that dominated the whole Dolomite act. 

Also, I admit to coming pretty close to tearing up when I saw that the movie was "Lovingly Dedicated to Charlie Murphy (1959-2017)", particularly as, at multiple times throughout my first viewing, I found myself thinking “Darkness would have loved this!” Dolomite Is My Name is a must-see for any Eddie Murphy fan, past or present, as well as anyone looking for just a really good movie in general.


MIDSOMMAR ~ Jesus Fucking Nailholes, is Midsommar ever good! The second film by Ari Aster, after his magnificent debut film Hereditary, is an absolute, unmitigated masterpiece. An instant classic. A glorious cinematic achievement on pretty much every conceivable level, right down to the sound design. Not only does Midsommar live up to the ridiculously high standard set by Aster’s first film... it exceeds them.

Once again, Aster provides a sophisticated philosophical meditation on the concepts of grief and loss, wrapped up in the garb of a highbrow "folk horror" film in the vein of The Wicker Man.  After a family tragedy, Dani accepts a halfhearted invitation by her boyfriend Christian to join him and his friends on a trip to Sweden, where they've been invited to attend a remote midsummer festival by their Swedish friend Pele. Christian has been meaning to end his relationship with Dani for a while now, but feels that he can’t, due to the massive loss she’s just suffered. 

So, it’s off to Sweden they go, with Christian’s fellow Anthropology PhD candidate Josh, their ne’er do well buddy Mark, and Pele, who originally hails from the village where the festival is taking place. The weirdness begins pretty much upon arrival, with free-flowing psychedelics, bizarre living arrangements, strange food, customs and traditions that serve to keep everyone at least slightly off balance for the duration. 

And that’s all you’re getting out of me. Just understand that no true horror connoisseur may skip this film and still consider themselves as such. Your future status as a genre know-it-all depends entirely upon your having seen, and grappled with, the monumental high-water mark that is Midsommar.


CAST A DEADLY SPELL ~ We’re going all the way back to 1991 for this ripe slice of cheezy noir! I’ve long wanted to see this movie, even if only because it stars Fred Ward as a hard boiled detective named H.P. Lovecraft, and it takes place in a late 1940’s world where humans co-exist with monsters and demons, and the use of magic, spells, potions and trinkets has become the norm. I suppose that makes Cast a Deadly Spell the cinematic ancestor of that Will Smith movie on Netflix, Bright

Try not to hold that against it though, because while Cast a Deadly Spell never takes itself too seriously, it holds back on the slapstick just enough to make the stakes actually feel like they count for something. That’s probably due in large part to the uniformly excellent cast, from Ward on down to the femme fatale, played by a so-young-it-hurts Julianne Moore, and Lovecraft’s dual nemeses, played by the always awesome genre stalwarts Clancy Brown and David Warner. 

The plot revolves around a stolen copy of the Necronomicon, and Yog-Sothoth makes an appearance, and other than the protagonist’s name, that’s about the full extent of the Lovecraft elements at play here. Still, it’s a really fun movie, which makes you wonder why it never got a DVD or Blu Ray release (only VHS so far, with one of the ugliest boxes you’ve ever laid eyes on). 

You can read more about the movie at Dan Stout's blog, if you’re interested. And if you know how to use torrents, Cast a Deadly Spell pops up semi-regularly at most of the preferred spots… but you’re gonna have to dig for it, like I did. 


ENEMY ~ The first time I watched Denis Villeneuve’s 2013 film Enemy, I did not like it. Like, at all. It seemed to me like a sort of anti-Dead Ringers, with Jake Gyllenhaal playing two characters that were, for all intents and purposes, barely differentiated (as opposed to the incredible dual performances Jeremy Irons gave in Chronenberg’s aforementioned film). 

Upon recently revisiting Enemy, I believe that, this time, I caught the method in the madness. I was also far more impressed by all the wonderful grace notes, including the incredible score, the deliberate pacing and floating camera work, the ingenious use of Louise Bourgeois’ giant spider sculpture as a motif representing… misogyny, perhaps? Or the ever-looming potential, the ever-creeping approach, of totalitarian tendencies in the Modernist remnant of our post-modern world? Both? 

As a Torontonian, I also really admired Villeneuve’s sense of both space and place, the way he shows us mostly empty public spaces—parking lots, parks, apartment lobbies—surrounded by the distant humming ribbons of highways packed bumper-to-bumper with omnipresent traffic. The looming beige and eggshell concrete. I can see how this film would make a really excellent companion piece to another Cronenberg film: Crash. Like Cronenberg did in that film, Villneuve really captures this city to a T. Very much recommended!


BLUE VELVET ~ I haven’t watched Blue Velvet since when it first came out on VHS, which I suspect was 1987. I didn’t much care for it at the time, but that’s probably because it flew way over my head. 

In the years since, I’ve become a great admirer of David Lynch’s work, both in film and on TV. This includes going back and reviewing his films, from Eraserhead, through Elephant Man and Dune, to Wild at Heart, then Lost Highway, that whole Twin Peaks thing, Mulholland Drive, and Inland Empire. And yet, I’ve always managed to avoid going back to Blue Velvet. I think I might have been afraid of it, to be perfectly honest. 

Well, I recently set that wrong to rights, sitting down with Blue Velvet for the first time in decades and giving it my full, undivided attention. And guess what? It’s fucking great. And even though it still isn’t at the top of my list of personal favorites of his work, I can still see how it earned its reputation. 

Blue Velvet is really something different and distinct from anything that was being produced back then, walking a fine line between standard neo-noir and WTF?-level batshit insanity. If you haven’t seen it recently, and especially if you’ve never seen it, I urge you to pay Lumberton a visit and really see where, in a great many ways, the whole David Lynch Americana thing kicked off in earnest. 


BLUE MY MIND ~ Slow-moving, heavy-handed Swiss (I think) “coming of age” movie from 2017 that once again uses the metaphor of mermaids to signify a girl going through puberty. But that doesn’t explain why she keeps eating Mom’s goldfish! I mean, they’re cheap as chips, girl! Go buy your own! 

Anyway, I guess I sat through the whole thing without fast-forwarding, which I suppose says something for it. But I’m becoming less and less tolerant of kitchen sink type family dramas that gussy themselves up as tales of the supernatural or the otherworldly, just in the hopes of attracting the pre-existing audience for such fare. You can always tell when those elements are just tacked on, or when the filmmakers’ hearts aren’t really into it, and this film comes perilously close to being a case in point. 

Also, everyone involved in this deserves a hard spanking for that title alone. I mean, Blue My Mind?! Come the fuck on. The lead actress was pretty good, though.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

MEDIA DIARY ~ SUNDAY, OCTOBER 13, 2019

It’s been a LONG time since I’ve published a media diary. It’s not that I haven’t been watching movies and shows, reading books and comics, listening to new music or whatever. It’s just that I’ve had a hectic two months, including a significant, tragic, personal loss. 

Some of you already know that my good friend Milton Zysman—a true Renaissance Man and an iconoclastic autodidact of the first order—passed away on September 1st, after waging a courageous battle against pancreatic cancer. He was 82 years old, had been totally blind for forty years, had been on thrice-weekly dialysis for almost as long, and yet he was stronger, smarter, hipper and more tuned in than the vast majority of my Generation X and Millennial contemporaries.

For the last four years, I’d been helping Milton put together his magnum opus, wherein he proposed to pick up the torch of Catastrophism, as best exemplified by Immanuel Velikovsky, and carry it further than it’s ever been carried before. This life’s work of his was to be condensed into a book called Unravelling Genesis, and since his terminal prognosis last December, we’d been working double time to finish before the arrival of the Grim Inevitable.

We gave it a game shot, we really did. But, unfortunately, we only managed to finalize six of the eight sections of his work. This leaves me and a handful of Milton’s learned associates with a lot of work to do, but do it we shall.

I’ll have a lot more to say about all of this in upcoming blog posts, but for now, I’d like to get back in the swing of things by posting a media diary. And so that is what I shall do. Let’s start with…

MOVIES


THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT ~ First things first, this film, the latest offering from inveterate controversialist Lars von Trier, is definitely NOT for everybody. As for myself, I have long admired von Trier’s work and consider him one of the great masters of contemporary cinema. I have found much to admire and value in everything that he does. Everything from his early work to his Dogme films, up to and including his more recent, harrowing output. Anti-Christ is one of the most misunderstood and undervalued films of recent decades, and I also firmly believe that Melancholia, one of his more restrained projects, is very much in the running for best film of the 21st century, so far.

Which brings us to The House That Jack Built. Right up front, I’ll say that I think it's one of his best films, period. Yes, it's grisly in parts. There are long scenes that, if you’re a sensitive soul (as I am), you will find excruciating to watch. Moments like the picnic scene, or when Jack's got Simple, one of his more sympathetic victims, bound and gagged, and he telegraphs what he's going to do to her (a shock motif that itself is borrowed from Bet Easton Ellis' shock novel and fellow “success de scandale”, American Psycho).

However, some of these self-same scenes are also moments of pure cinematic genius, building suspense brick by brick in a way that would have made Hitchcock proud. The film also contains moments of sublime beauty and, in the wraparound narrative wherein Jack relates his crimes and theories to a mostly unseen traveling companion named Virgil, some moments of profound, occasionally disturbing insight.

It’s also wickedly funny in parts. I am reminded of the people who thought Clockwork Orange was a horror movie. Like Kubrick's version of Clockwork, von Trier's House that Jack Built is among the blackest of satires. Its bad reviews I mostly put down to sheer cowardice on the part of today's milquetoast critiquing class, who are more interested in scoring Brownie points with a certain portion of their readers by cataloging the film’s myriad violations of basic, common decency. As if they really can't tell (or refuse to acknowledge) the difference between a movie having a misogynistic character and a movie, itself, being misogynistic.

Another frequent line of critical attack that I’ve seen taken against this film is to declare von Trier “arrogant” and “pretentious” for daring to suggest that his films have played a historic role in expanding the acceptable terrain of philosophical exploration in cinematic form. To that I say, you either accept that he’s right about the value and importance of his work, or you don’t. I do, so the scene in question (you’ll know it when you see it) not only didn’t bother me, it actually put a smile on my face. I appreciated von Trier’s willingness to set his hubris free, to allow it to take him where it took him.

As with Martyrs and Anti-Christ, I cannot in good conscience recommend this film to everyone. However, if you’ve got the stomach for a cinematic descent into Hell—in more ways than one—then The House That Jack Built is not to be missed. It’s a film that will be remembered and watched for as long as films are remembered and watched.


THE DAY SHALL COME ~ Speaking of satire, Christopher Morris is, in my opinion, a talent on par with Stanley Kubrick, and the Anglosphere’s single greatest satirist since none other than Johnathan Fucking Swift. His output has always been outstanding, beginning in the 90’s with surreal pranks and dada-style antics on the radio, followed up with some of the most revolutionary and controversial “comedy” television in the history of the medium (The Day Today, Brass Eye, the too-good-for-its-own-good Nathan Barley, and the absolutely terrifying Jam), leading up to 2010’s Four Lions, his magnificent debut feature film about bumbling Islamic terrorists in the UK.

And then… radio silence. Oh, sure, he directed a few episode of his pal Armando Iannucci’s excellent HBO series VEEP, and he’s made a handful of onscreen appearances (perhaps most memorably as the sinister boss-man Denholm Reynholm in The IT Crowd). But for six long years, we heard only snippets from the man. And then, a couple years ago, we learned that he was working on a new project. Another film! Slowly, information about this new project began to leak out in dribs and drabs. It was to be another terrorism-related film, but very different from Four Lions. It was to be set in the USA… Miami. It was to be shot in Dominican Republic. It was to be called The Day Shall Come. It was to star Anna Kendrick.

And then, last week, it came out. And I watched it. And I was underwhelmed.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not bad. And it’s quite funny. And it has some important and true things to say about the moral rot, hypocrisy and idiocy at the heart of the post 9/11 War On Terror. It is also incisive about both racism in the USA, and the inherent insufficiency of the rhetoric and the attitudes that have risen up to confront these problems. And the jokes are good, and land with admirable regularity. It deserves to be seen by as wide an audience as possible… and I think a Black audience in particular would appreciate what it has to offer.

It’s just that, on first viewing at least, unlike most of Morris’ previous work, it wasn’t an unparalleled work of staggering genius.

So, what’s it about? Well, “based on a hundred true stories”, it’s about how the FBI sets up vulnerable, damaged people by offering them loads of money and weapons, and when the targets of their schemes show up to pick up what’s been offered, they arrest them, tell the world they stopped the next 9/11, lock them up and throw away the key.

It’s worthy. It’s funny. It’s available online for relatively cheap. It just didn’t knock my socks off, that’s all.

Friday, October 4, 2019

"THE DAY SHALL COME" DIRECTOR CHRIS MORRIS INTERVIEWED


Christopher Morris, director of "Four Lions", the English world's greatest satirist since Johnathan Swift, and the man I like to refer to as "the Kubrick of Comedy", is usually pretty tight-lipped when it comes to discussing his projects and creations. That's why this wonderful interview about "The Day Shall Come", Morris' latest film, which opened this weekend in limited release across North America, is so special. Give it a look-see! Hopefully, I'll have a review of the film, itself, in the very near future.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

MEDIA DIARY, FEATURING 'THE BOYS' AND A BUNCH OF COMICS

Welcome to my latest Media Diary.  Today, we'll begin with TV, and a series I just binge-watched from beginning to end. Here it is!


THE BOYS
Amazon Prime

Based on the cult Garth Ennis/Darick Robertson comic book series, The Boys is about an on again, off again clandestine team of deep cover agents whose job is, ostensibly, to keep a tight leash on the nation’s growing community of superheroes. These “supes”, as the Boys refer to them, are mostly affiliated with Vought-American, a vastly powerful private corporation that has its tentacles wrapped around everything from pharmaceuticals and defense contracts to movie production and a 24-hour news channel.

All of Vought’s disparate entities operate behind a ruthlessly enforced, corporation-wide, culturally “conservative” facade, infused with the sort of pseudo-populist, phony Christian “friendly fascism” with real-world echoes that should be all too familiar to anyone whose powers of perception are superior to those of the average jar of mayonnaise.

The Boys consist of Billy Butcher (Karl Urban), the hot-headed, foul-mouthed leader, Frenchie, the weapons expert, Mother’s Milk, whom the others look up to as being the most pure-hearted, the Female (of the Species), who is a deadly dangerous, psychologically damaged young South Asian mute who was drugged by Vought as part of a treacherous plan to [NO SPOILERS FROM ME], and Wee Hughie, who longs for revenge against A-Train, a speedster supe (and member of the World’s Greatest Superhero Team, The Seven) who, while freaking out on a dose of the specialist supe pharmaceutical Compound V (as opposed to Compound W, America’s most popular wart removal system), ran straight through his girlfriend, accidentally exploding her like a water balloon full of blood and guts.

Meanwhile, The Seven are also important characters who get a lot of screen time in their own right, particularly team leader The Homelander, sort of a psycho-fascist cross between Superman and Captain America. There’s also the newest member of The Seven, the relatively innocent and swiftly disenchanted Starlight, who coincidentally—some might say a little too coincidentally—becomes Wee Hughie’s friend and love interest after a chance encounter in a park.

I have long been a fan of the comic book The Boys. It’s an intriguing concept—one that was tried a few years before, with far less recognition and far fewer laughs, with the 11-issue run of the DC series Stormwatch: Team Achilles (a series of which I appear to be the sole surviving fan)—and the Amazon studios version of The Boys feels like an unmitigated success to me, even if it isn’t slavishly faithful to the comics.

However, where the series truly excels, even exceeds expectations, is in how it takes the comic book’s portrayal of the prevailing political climate of illegitimate Preznit Dubya’s post-9/11, post-T.H.E.U.S.A.P.A.T.R.I.O.T.A.C.T., post-Shock-and-Awe America—the often justified paranoia and distrust engendered by all those no-bid multi-billion-dollar contracts and unaccountable mercenaries murdering carloads of innocent Iraqis and the phony rescue narrative cooked up around “kidnapped” soldier Jessica Lynch and the very suspicious “friendly fire” death of former NFL’er Pat Tillman, all of which led to the rapid rise of conspiracy theorizing as America’s new favorite pastime—and updating it for the even more horrific, post-reality, anti-truth, proof-allergic, New Fascist International(e) America, full of brainwashed, Bizzaro World, “alt”-media sheeple who think that repeating their favorite paranoid, raging, Pizzagating Q-tard Youtuber’s rants verbatim proves that they’re independent, original thinkers who “do their own research”, all of which are hallmarks of the even more illegitimate Reality TV criminal/traitor Preznit Donald Trump’s ongoing pornocratic kakistocracy.

Anyhoo, I binge-watched all eight episodes of The Boys in one day, and the entire series just flew by. Oh, and just for the record, I’m totally ready for Season Two, and hope they’ve already begun to film it, because Season One ends on one hell of a cliffhanger. RECOMMENDED!

***

And now, it's time for COMICS!

INHUMANS #1, 2, 4
Marvel Comics
Writers: Pacheco/Marin, Artist Jose Ladronn

Roughly three years ago, I asked the lovely folks at The Beguiling (my favorite comic book and art book specialty shoppe) to keep an eye out for a relatively rare, not-so-popular 4-issue miniseries, published in 2000, featuring Marvel Comics' THE INHUMANS. I wanted it for the art more than anything, an intriguing mix of European sensibilities (especially on the covers and splash pages) with a kind of George Perez style, economical, no nonsense approach towards propelling the narrative, punctuated with the occasional bravura action set-piece.

Well, this week, they found me three of the four issues (1, 2 and 4, as seen above)... and they let me have them for three bucks a pop! Talk about tenacity! Talk about a deal! Talk about customer service! Thanks, guys, I truly appreciate it.


MARVELS: EPILOGUE
Marvel Comics
Story: Kurt Busiek and Various, Art: Alex Ross and Various

I thought we were all done with Marvel Comics' reprint of their groundbreaking, Alex Ross painted miniseries MARVELS, but it looks like they decided to cap things off with an all-new epilogue, featuring another fully painted tale, set long after the finale of the original series' last issue.

The second half of this issue is jam-packed with cool extras that any fan of the series, the X-Men, Alex Ross or pretty much anything that has anything to do with Marvel Comics is going to want to have in their collection. And if you've held off buying this reprint series because you already have it as original copies and/or one of the collected volumes, you're at least going to want to have this issue to add alongside it, for completion's sake.


HOUSE OF X #1
Marvel Comics
Story: Johnathan Hickman, Art: Pepe Larraz

Well now, this is interesting. In the late 70's/early 80's, the Uncanny X-Men were front and center as part of Marvel Comics' resurgence into the forefront of comic book readers' and superhero fans' hearts and minds. They certainly played a big part in bringing yours truly back to the rack, thanks to their combination of spectacular heroics and diverse roster of characters, from the flamboyance of Nightcrawler to the grimdark heaviness of Wolverine, and from the softhearted powerhouse of Colossus to the relatable teen-aged angst of Kitty Pryde.

This was actually the tail end of the X-Men's heyday, after the awesome heights of the Claremont/Byrne era and before the descent into 90's cash grab proliferation of new X-titles (all featuring Wolverine of course) with their multi-cover foil variant #1 "collector's editions" (with print-runs in the millions, which actually made them the exact opposite of collectible). Personally, I haven't picked up an X-Men book in ages, with the only exceptions being Morrison/Quitely's New X-Men and Whedon/Cassaday's Astonishing X-Men.

Until now.

The hype around House of X (and its sister title, Powers of X) has just been so potent—with Marvel taking the unprecedented step of putting all its other X-titles on hold until these two series are completed—I couldn’t help but get sucked in. So I picked up the first issue, and now that I’ve just finished reading it… I don’t know how I feel about it. Surely that’s what the creators were going for?

First things first, for everyone who complains about how mainstream comics are too “politically correct” these days, House of X works as a pretty bracing corrective. This is a title that, with only one issue under its belt, has explored more politically incendiary and philosophically touchy areas than you’ll find in a week of the average 24-hour news channel’s programming. And the ambiguity of it all can be downright disturbing.

I don’t want to spoil things for anyone, but if you buy comics and you’ve ever had any interest in Marvel’s treatment of the whole mutant-as-metaphor issue, then you should definitely at least pick up this #1 and read it, then decide whether you want to keep up with these series. They’ll be coming at us fast and thick from this point on, with a new issue of either House of X or Powers of X being produced every week until September. Again, I’d love to know what y’all think, down in the comments section. I know it’s a pain to register, but come on, man… I want some COMMENTS!

SILVER SURFER: BLACK #2 (of 5)
Marvel Comics
Story: Donny Cates, Art: Tradd Moore

Wow. With the first issue of this five-issue mini (reviewed in this blog last month), Cates and Moore knocked it right out of the park, past the parking lot, over the interstate, and into parts unknown. If anything, the second issue of this series tops the first in every way possible. 

Visually, it’s even more gorgeous, with Moore’s over-the-top character designs and the fluid kinetics of his action scenes bringing Cates’ outrageously bravura ideas and notions to ultra-vivid life. This book is thrilling in the way that only superhero comics, at their absolute, rule-breaking best, can be. 

If you’re not already on board with this mini—which I suspect will come to be recognized as the single greatest Silver Surfer book ever, bar none, by the time it’s through—what the Christ are you waiting for?! An engraved invitation?! Buy this book! And get a hold of the first issue, now, before it becomes a collector’s item!


LITTLE BIRD #5 (of 5)
Image Comics
Story: Darcy Van Poelgeest, Art: Ian Bertram

From the first issue of this five-issue miniseries, I have made no secret of my love for Little Bird. The story, the artwork, the characters, the world-building, all of it. Now, as the series comes to its climax, although my admiration is undimmed, I can’t help but feel that all the disparate strands were singled up just a little too swiftly, leaving a certain level of uncertainty and confusion in its wake. 

Don’t get me wrong… it’s still well worth owning, sharing, and recommending. And yes, it still stands as the best comic book miniseries that I’ve had the pleasure of reading in a year or so. I’m also probably going to have to go back and read the entire series in one sit-down session to pick up on some of the details that I may have forgotten that would make my reading of the series finale more rewarding. I just find it’s kind of a wasted opportunity to have Little Bird finish out on what on first read seems like sort of a serious downer note. 

But who knows? Maybe I set my expectations too high. Or maybe my first read is somewhat of a mis-read. Please let me know what you all thought of the book, down in the comments section. Anyway, this still counts as a big time RECOMMEND from me. You’ll want to have this series in your collection. Also, the preview for Poelgeest and Bertram’s next offering—Precious Metals—looks pretty great, too.

Monday, July 22, 2019

MEDIA DIARY ~ JULY 22, 2019

Sorry it's been so long since my last Media Diary. I've been busy with personal stuff lately. Anyway, this blog post is to let y'all know that I've begun reading Black Wings of Cthulhu volume 5, and I'll be reviewing each story on an individual basis, a few at a time, over the next few diary entries. So let's get started, shall we?

***


BLACK WINGS OF CTHULHU 5
Twenty New Tales of Lovecraftian Horror, Edited by S.T. Joshi

“Plenty of Irem”, by Johnathan Thomas ~ Set in modern day Kingsport, the protagonist has decided to get a feel for the town before beginning his job as a “capital campaign manager and PR troubleshooter at Kingsport Community College” (formerly Kingsport Freemason’s College) on the morrow.

While checking out one of its ancient cemeteries, he spots an old barn type building with a sign identifying it as the “Mugford Museum of Quaint Kingsport”, and decides to investigate. Once inside, he finds the place empty of people, with just a few mannequins in colonial dress and a container with a hand-written sign requesting a donation of $10.

Feeling the place must not get too many visitors, he pays double out of pity, only to be surprised when one of the mannequins turns out to be Eldred Mugford, proprietor and museum guide, who thanks the protagonist profusely for his “liberality” and proceeds to interrogate him, in an oddly buzzing voice, about his familial background on both sides. Then, after forcing his guest to partake of a “jonnnycake” (or journeycake), he leads him down to the basement—hewn out of solid black granite—where the exhibits are kept.

Here is where the author lets his imagination (and the fruits of his arcane research) blossom into something truly beautiful, bordering on crackpot genius, for the exhibits are all chock-a-block with legitimate lashings of weird history. Among the items on display are “the formal sable tiara of the grandmaster of the furrier’s guild in Norumbega” and an elaborately scrimshawed “demon’s baby tooth from the Himalayan caves descending to the ghost-infested citadel of Agartha”. Borges would have loved it.

The other exhibits in this underground showroom are stranger still, as is, increasingly, the behavior of his guide, causing the protagonist to fear for his safety with increasing alarm. When it comes to the story’s ultimate revelation of a vision from beyond, Thomas’s writing style is effective and, when called for, terrifying.

This story has everything you could want from weird fiction: otherworldly creatures, inexplicable dark visions, mysteries beyond understanding, and even a diabolical mannequin or three. A truly excellent Lovecraftian tale.

“Diary of a Sane Man”, by Nicole Cushing ~ This intriguing short narrative takes the form of a diary charting the rapid descent into madness that befalls a loving husband and father of two after he takes a nasty slip and suffers head injury during a moonlit winter’s walk. Or was he really primed to lose his grip on reality from the start? And is that even what happens to him? After all, who are we to judge his shifting perspective on life, as described in this story? It can hardly be described as inaccurate, what with its firm grounding in evolutionary theory. A smart and captivating story that rewards multiple reads, and is short enough to justify them. Another excellent entry.

“The Woman in the Attic”, by Robert H. Waugh ~ This collection’s third first-person entry in a row, and its second that takes the form of a diary, “The Woman in the Attic” is an alternative, ostensibly feminist re-telling of the story of Abigail “Nabby” Gardener, the doomed housewife from the equally doomed family in HP Lovecraft’s legendary novella, “The Colour Out of Space”. An intriguing literary exercise that takes just a few too many unnecessary liberties with the original for my tastes, it nevertheless features some emotionally resonant passages relating to the status of women in the all-too-recent past (who were, in many ways, women in attics). However, if you’re a man trying to write a story in a feminist vein, maybe don’t have your main character have sexual congress with a space rock? Just a thought. The story remains a decent offering, despite my minor quibbles.

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TELEVISION


LIMMY’S SHOW ~ Have you seen this bonkers sketch show from Scottish comedian Brian Limmond yet? It first aired on Scottish BBC about eight years ago, and lasted three seasons. Every single episode is currently available on Youtube (you can start with the first episode of the first series, above), as well as on Netflix in a bunch of countries (I'm watching it in Canada).

However, viewer beware! Due to some music rights issues, almost every single episode of Limmy's Show features missing or shortened skits! I’ve actually gone to the trouble of cataloging all these missing skits on the episodes' respective Youtube pages (see comments from Mark Thibodeau), but if anyone expresses further interest, I’ll post those corrections here, too. 

Anyway, I’m addicted to this damned show, as I’ve never encountered a sense of humor quite like Limmy’s before… at least, not on television shows, or in the movies or anything. He truly appears to suffer from some of the same mental illness issues that I do, which makes his show utterly relatable. Maybe you’ll find it as engrossing as yer old pal Jerky does!

COMING SOON…

I’m currently in the midst of reading Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump, for which I will be creating a reader’s guide in the very near future… something not quite as in depth as my concordances for, say, In the Dust of This Planet, or Season of the Witch, but which will nevertheless contain all the most important information contained within this book, distilled down to a single blog post. In fact, the reason why I’m reading this book is because it serves as background research for my ongoing project, which I’ve been working on for over two years now. It's about my theory regarding the New Fascist International(e) conspiracy I keep harping on over at the Daily Dirt Diaspora blog. So keep your eyes peeled here, and at the DDD, for more updates, soon!