Monday, November 4, 2019


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!

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!

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. 

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)
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


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, 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.