Monday, October 30, 2017

The Creeps Book 3: Curse of the Attack-o-Lanterns

This third book in The Creeps series (I reviewed the first two books here) caps off their adventures. In this volume, our quirky quartet finds themselves up to their eyeballs in trouble again (with the local authorities as well as with a new supernatural menace). They not only have to deal with service detention, they also have to contend with an ages-long curse, a modern day witch, an unlikely romance, and murderous pumpkins with deadly bites.
The curse begins...

Like the other books in the series, this one was delightfully gruesome, with some legitimately horrible and scary moments. Also, it rewarded astute readers of the first two books, using many established character traits and situations from those books to pay off in some very touching, human moments as well as great jokes and dramatic scenes. This book features masterful storytelling as well as some masterful comics making.

This book was also the creation of Chris Schweizer, an impressively talented comics creator who has been nominated for multiple Eisner Awards and is well known for his work on the  Crogan's Adventures. Currently, he is providing the colors for Rock Candy Mountain, an action series about hobos in post-World War II America. He talks extensively about his work on The Creeps books in this interview.

I was unable to locate reviews for this book, which I think is somewhat strange and unfortunate because this book is at least as good and enjoyable as the second book, The Trolls Will Feast. That book had a much more inventive villain, though I feel this book has a more intricate and complex plot. It does have a four star rating on Goodreads, and there seem to be at least of couple of reviews here as well, though they are behind a pay wall.

Curse of the Attack-o-Lanterns was published by Amulet Books, and they have a preview and more here.

I tracked Schweizer down at HeroesCon this past year, and he was a swell guy who was also kind enough to sign and draw a little sketch in my copy:
Thank you!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Head Games: The Graphic Novel

A graphic novel adaptation of an Edgar-nominated novel by Craig McDonald, Head Games follows the exploits of Hector Lassiter, a fictional pulp novelist and adventurer who seems to find himself constantly in interesting, difficult spots. At the beginning of this book, he happens into possession of Pancho Villa's skull, which brings him all sorts of unwanted attention. There are treasure hunters who want it for a map that is supposedly hidden in/on it. There is the mysterious Skull & Bones Society who want it for their collection. There are shady businessmen, federal agents, and collectors who either want it for their own or to auction it off to the highest bidder. And all of these groups are not afraid to get rough or murder in order to get it.
Along the way, he falls in with poet/journalist Bud Fiske and the haunted, feisty actress Alicia Vicente, and together they dodge lots of adversity and peril. At the time of this book, Lassiter is more like a lion in winter, but still he is quite capable and athletic. His status sets up a hearty context for self-exploration, rumination, and reflection, and there is lots of personal drama to go along with the high adventure. Also, there are a bunch of cameos from famous people of the period, including Orson Welles, Ernest Hemingway, Marlene Dietrich, and even a young George W. Bush.

I am a big fan of books like this one and am particularly fond of the adventures of Travis McGee and Parker, as well as pretty much anything by Max Allan Collins or Lawrence Block. As it is, this volume is a thrilling tale that stands on its own, but I would love to see how other volumes in the series could follow in its wake. I know that this book is technically the 7th in a series of 10, and, without spoiling things, I was a bit shocked and amazed by how it resolved. I hope this book sells like hotcakes, because I really want to follow Lassiter's exploits in graphic novel form. I'm already adding the novels to my ever-growing to-read list.

The two people behind this adaptation are Kevin Singles and Les McLaine. I was not able to locate much info about Singles, but I do know that this book is his graphic novel debut. McClaine is a veteran of comics and animation, an Eisner Award nominee, and is best known for drawing the series The Middleman and the webcomic Jonny Crossbones.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been positive. Publishers Weekly called it "a breezy thriller designed to hit the sweet spot for crime fans and history buffs alike." Pharoah Miles summed up, "Overall, it feels like those old pulp novels that Robert Parker and Dashiell Hamlett used to write, a time capsule of very different men and women." Maite Molina wrote that it has "plenty of action and humor to keep you engaged from start to finish." Tom Batten proclaimed it "Good fun for fans of pulp, crime, or historical fiction."

Head Games was published by First Second, and they offer a preview and much more here. I don't think this book would appeal to younger readers, but I should add a small caution that it contains violence and some brief nudity.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Blood-Drenched Creature Double Feature

I had a chance to buy this book this summer at HeroesCon, but instead went with All My Ghosts. I really liked that one, and I was intrigued enough to buy this Blood-Drenched Creature Double Feature on Comixology. Like the title promises, it offers two stories (in a flip book format in hard copy). And I also must say that the title misses out on its other promise, as the book is sadly devoid of any creatures. Still, I found it a fun, if silly, romp through horror story genres.

The first story is a teen summer camp murder tale called Bee Sting. It is a fun, gory tale about a couple of teenage boys who decide to become camp counselors in order to meet and hook up with girls. Their plan seems to be working until a potential bee allergy leads down a path of unlikely twists that takes them to a convention of redneck cannibals.
Granted, this set-up is not the most novel or literary set of plot devices, but the story is still fun and energetic. There is an obvious love of the slasher genre that makes the book enjoyable and a sense of humor that sells a lot of ridiculous circumstances. I had a good time reading this story, even if it was not the most highfalutin kind of narrative.

For those interested, Bee Sting was made into a full length, indie film that led to a sequel called Bear Sting.

The second story in this book is The Curse of Stranglehold, and it is more of a horrific urban legend. The premise is that a teenage outcast mysteriously vanished 20 years ago, and he was presumably murdered by a mob of angry, jealous rivals. Two decades later, the teenage descendants of the townspeople dare to drive up to and make out in the infamous scene of that crime, and those who are sexually active pay a terrible price. They also learn much of the past misdeeds of their parents.

As with the first story, this one was a fun take on a hackneyed genre and has its charms, even it I saw the ending coming. I liked it less than Bee Sting, however, mostly because the end of the story devolved into many panels full of expository text rather than action played out via the images.

These stories were a collaboration between writer Matthew D. Smith and artist Jeremy Massie. The duo have another work under their belts, the current ongoing, all-ages series Amazing Age. Massie has a few solo titles to his credit, including the aforementioned All My Ghosts and a quirky superhero tale called The Deadbeat.

I was not able to track down many reviews of this book, and the ones I did find were somewhat negative. Jessie Sheckner concluded about Bee Sting, "Smith and Massie both have a great deal of talent – that much is plainly evident – however they’d do well to either channel their work into something with more originality and substance or, at the very least, avoid sleepwalking through clichés in a tired narrative that ends with a bad lesbian joke." Roby Bang called The Curse of Stranglehold "a decent comic," but felt that "the art is inconsistent and sloppy, dragging down the overall quality of the work."

Blood-Drenched Creature Double Feature was published by Alterna Comics, and they offer a preview and more info about the book here. Given the subject matter and gore, I recommend this book for more mature readers.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Moonshine, Volume 1

Moonshine is a high concept series, a period piece comic with lots of horror aspects. The main plot deals with the Mob in 1920s New York City seeking to get a supply of choice moonshine for its nightclubs. The source they seek is Hiram Holt, a scarred patriarch who defends his property with extreme prejudice against anyone who threatens him. That includes snoops, thieves, and even federal agents. What is more, he has at least one large, furry, ravenous, and viciously powerful creature at his disposal.
Lou Pirlo, a gangster with an appetite for vice, is sent down to persuade Holt to sell his liquor to be distributed in New York City. He does not exactly fit in in rural Appalachia, West Virginia to be specific, which leads to some incidents. Also, he does not exactly get on well with Holt, but he does end up making a deal with his children, which rains down some pretty dire consequences. One of Pirlo's vices is an eye for beautiful, dangerous women, and he finds two that fit that bill. One seems to want to help him, and the other appears to have more sinister motives.
This book is full of bloody violence, double crossing, and murder, and the supernatural elements add a degree of heightened menace to the noir setting. I also very much appreciated the unresolved mystery behind the identity and intentions of the wolf creature (creatures?). This book ends on a quiet note after a huge confrontation, but it also left me yearning to see how certain events will resolve. Also, it does not hurt that the artwork is phenomenally executed, with strong lines and many cutting figures.

The duo behind this book are writer Brian Azzarello and artist Eduardo Risso. The pair collaborated on the long-running and influential comic series 100 Bullets, which won multiple Eisner and Harvey Awards. Azzarello has also written a number of other comic series for DC Comics, most notably Batman and the New 52 version of Wonder Woman. Risso has also worked largely at DC, on many books with Azzarello. Both creators speak about their work on Moonshine in this interview.

The reviews I have read have been mostly positive, with minor quibbles about the general pacing or the use of accents. Chris Tresson opined, "It was slow, but a good kind of slow." Sam Wildman wrote, "It’s a well written book with fantastic artwork that brings Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso back together to tell an intriguing story of werewolves and bootleggers. Despite the somewhat slow build up, it has a satisfying conclusion and really makes me believe in the potential of future story arcs." Benjamin Bailey encouraged people to "buy this book to see Risso unleashed and creating some of the finest pages he’s ever crafted."

Moonshine Volume 1 was published by Image Comics, and they have a preview and more information about the series here. This book collects the first six issues of the series, which is still ongoing.

This book features a lot of violence, some nudity, occasional profanity, and adult themes, so it is suggested for readers mature enough to handle those things.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Cast No Shadow

The protagonist of Cast No Shadow is a slight high school student named Greg, and he has a few very relatable circumstances. He is dealing with the loss of his mother, who died a few years ago. He is uncomfortable with his dad's girlfriend moving in with them. His best friend Layla has always had his back, but lately has a crush on Jake, a really popular kid who used to torment Greg when they were younger. Jake keeps wanting to hang out with Greg, calling him "little buddy," which annoys him to no end. And they all live in a small town full of tourist traps, the latest of which is the largest hairball in the world.

All of these features are pretty normal for adolescents to deal with, but Greg is not exactly normal. He was born without a shadow, which might not seem like the most ground-shaking condition, but it does mean that something is different about him. What it seems to be is that he is somehow able to see ghosts, especially the one of Eleanor. She is a poltergeist who scares people away from her abandoned house, but she and Greg hit it off, becoming romantic. So Greg and she spend a lot of time together, which sets off something sinister within Greg that ends up threatening the entire town.
I am not going to spoil much more, because I most of the fun of this book lay in its gradual reveals along the way. I will say though that I felt this story was very engaging and interesting. There was a lot more showing and not telling at the onset of the book, which made making sense of the dual narrators a real mystery. However, as the plot got toward the end, there was a lot of information dropped in quick fashion that made for a bumpy ride. Still, I loved the artwork and characters. They were portrayed in a cartoonish manner, but still are very realistic and nuanced. In the end I was enchanted by the internal logic of this storyworld, with its unique take on ghosts and the afterlife. The ending may seem cheesy to some, but I liked this cheese very much.

Cast No Shadow was a collaboration between writer Nick Tapalansky and artist Anissa Espinosa. Tapalansky has a few other graphic novels under his belt, including A Radical Shift of Gravity, Samantha Loring and the Impossible World, and Awakening. This book is Espinosa's first graphic novel, though her work has appeared in a number of comics anthologies.

The reviews I have read about this book point to its strengths but also its hiccups. Dustin Cabeal summed up, "The story and art stumble in places, but ultimately find its way and presents a story that I enjoyed reading as an adult, but one I would have loved to have read as a child." Publishers Weekly concluded that "although Greg’s lingering pain over his mother’s death is keenly felt, the mysteries surrounding Nick’s shadow and Eleanor’s past are inelegantly and confusingly addressed in rapidly deployed info dumps, leaving the conclusion rushed and unsatisfying." Kirkus Reviews tersely summarized it as "Engaging but not without flaw."

Cast No Shadow was published by First Second, and they offer a preview and more info about it here.

A preview copy was provided by the publisher.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Wolf, Volume 1: Blood and Magic

Wolf is a detective book that has a lot going on, including a number of supernatural elements. The book's protagonist Antoine Wolfe is seemingly immortal. He is hired by an incredibly rich, racist, and crooked businessman to retrieve an adolescent girl who may be the antichrist. His best friend is a tentacle-faced demon straight out of the chronicles of Cthulhu. He also runs afoul of criminal vampires, multiple ghosts, apparitions, and spirits, not to mention a werewolf, too.


This book features many of the conventions of noir books, including a hip narrator, lots of double-crosses, shady characters who are up to no good, and revelations that complicate everyone's lives. I quite enjoyed reading this book, even if it was not the most ground-breaking kind of story. Some clever plot twists and novel interpretations of classic monster tales helped, as did the expressive and creepy artwork. The coloring is especially exceptional, as you can see from the excerpt. If you are a fan of noir detective tales with a dash of supernatural mayhem, this is a book for you.

Wolf is the creation of writer Alex Kot and artists Matt Taylor and Lee Loughridge. Kot has worked on a number of works from comics to video games for multiple companies. Taylor is a commercial artist and comics creator with a number of credits. Loughridge is a colorist who has worked on many Batman titles as well as some indy works like Deadly Class and Southern Cross. Kot speaks at length about his work and inspirations on Wolf in this interview.

The reviews I have read of this book have mostly rated it as solid, if not spectacular. Peter Marinari enjoyed it very much, stating, "Kot and his collaborators have conjured a bit of true magic with this ouroboros of a tale that forced me to pick it up for a re-read just seconds after I finished." Kieran Fisher liked it fine and opined about the series, "It’s not quite perfect yet, but it’s certainly headed in that direction." There are also a number of reviews of it on Goodreads, where it has an aggregate 3-star rating.

Wolf is published by Image Comics, and they have a preview and more information about the series here. I borrowed this volume using Comixology Unlimited service, and it is intended for mature readers.