Saturday, November 28, 2020

Book Review: Monstress, Vol 2: The Blood

book cover for Monstress volume twoMaika Halfwolf is on the run from a coalition of forces determined to control or destroy the powerful Monstrum that lives beneath her skin. But Maika still has a mission of her own: to discover the secrets of her late mother, Moriko.

Maika has traveled to the port city of Thyria to look for clues at a one of her mother's safe houses. Upon discovering a strange bone, she goes to see Seizi, a friend of her mother's and a civilized merchant pirate. She wants passage to the Isle of Bones, a place he took her mother to years ago. After warning her of the danger, he reluctantly agrees.

Most of the rest of the volume concerns Maika's journey to the island with Kippa and Master Ren and what they encounter there. There are flashbacks to Maika's childhood, more is learned about the Shaman-Empress, and the Monstrum that lives within Maika remembers a part of his past. Overall, I'm not sure how much we learned. There seem to be more questions than answers.

Maika is not to be trifled with in this volume. It seems like her temper has turned sharper. Even Kippa isn't exactly free from it—the Monstrum certainly isn't. She lashes out at anyone who gives offence, in one instance ripping the arm off a sailor. Were it not for Kippa, acting as her conscience, one wonders how quickly Maika would give in to the Monstrum's will.

The artwork remains fantastic. So much wondrous detail and a luscious color palette. The rendering of Blood Fox alone conveyed so much emotion and sinister intent. Takeda is outstanding.

4 stars.


Monday, November 16, 2020

Book Review: Space Eldritch

book cover for Space EldritchAn anthology of Lovecraftican pulp space opera or as the publisher puts it: "Startling Stories meets Weird Tales."

Being an anthology, I feel it is only fair to review each story individually.

“Arise Thou Niarlat from Thy Rest” by D.J. Butler. I didn't enjoy this one. Butler runs three storylines in different time periods that are somehow all connected because...I don't know. Everything that has ever happened, is happening, or will happen is happening simultaneously. Time is irrelevant? It was very disjointed. 2 stars.

“Space Opera” by Michael R. Collings. Got off to a rough start, but gradually improved and ultimately finished strong. Dark humor effectively employed. Haughty hive aliens of stupendous power colonize worlds with the offspring of their god, pre-existing life forms on said worlds irrelevant. That is, until they get to an Earth (at least, I think it was Earth) in the distant future. 3 stars.

“The Menace Under Mars” by Nathan Shumate. This is where the anthology really find its footing. Set in an alternate history where amazing ideas about physics came to fruition, humanity has started the process of terraforming Mars. Before its irrevocably lost beneath a sea, a pair of scientists set off to investigate a possible archeological site that could prove the existence of a long dead Martian race. Shumate utilizes elements of Lovecraft's style when confronting things that the mind struggles to comprehend but does so without being imitative. At one point it was so intense that my daughter unwittingly startled me when she walked silently up to me. 4.5 stars.

“Gods in Darkness” by David J. West is a pulpy, Cold War era tale complete with a chiseled chin protagonist, commies, and an elitist scientist. Although the characters were two-dimensional, the story was entertaining. Eldritch aspect was slight. 3 stars.

“The Shadows of Titan” by Carter Reid and Brad R. Torgersen was a creepy tale about the first human expedition to Titan and what they discovered. While you know that the proverbial shit is going to hit the fan, the authors write it well and offer an ending that I didn't see coming. 4 stars.

“The Fury in the Void” by Robert J. Defendi takes place in some distant future where civilization is circling the drain. Technical knowledge is preserved by religious orders that have merged faith and science in a disappointing fashion. A Russian ship is chasing a Greek ship as the latter has committed murderous atrocities against their people. As spaceships are sacred due to their scarcity, combat is carried out through boarding actions. Think of it as the eldritch version of "Day of the Dove" episode of Star Trek. 3 stars.

One of the themes in Lovecraft's work was that there existed forbidden knowledge which was too much for human comprehension and often led to an individual's descent into madness. Another is that our scientific skills far outpace our wisdom to properly utilize their discoveries. Howard Tayler masterfully blends these themes together in “Flight of the Runewright.” In the story, a man seeks to start a new life in a colony on a new world, but to get there, he must board a strange starship engraved with mystic runes. Tayler leads the reader down a path where bad things are going to happen, but until his big reveal, the reader doesn't know just how bad they're going to go. 5 stars.

Average of the stories: 3.5 stars. Like trick-or-treating, it's a mixed bag of mostly average loot with a couple scores that make it worth the effort. Of course, YMMV.

Unfortunately, I have to add that most of the stories needed another round of proofreading. I wasn't looking to take a critical eye to this, but the typos and grammatical errors leapt out of the page at me and proved distracting.


Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Book Review: Hellboy Volume 7 - The Troll Witch and Others

book cover for Hellboy Vol 7In this volume, we're treated to several stories from back in Hellboy's days at the BPRD. Most of these are Mignola's attempt to adapt a fable or myth into the Hellboy universe. The results vary.

"The Penanggalan" starts off this volume with Hellboy in Malaysia in 1958. It's a typical short Hellboy tale, but Mignola spoils it by giving away the ending before the confrontation with the monster begins.

"The Hydra and the Lion" is better. Mignola grabs a hold of the Greek legend of Hercules and places it in Alaska in 1961. This one plays out until the end.

"The Troll Witch" is an adaptation of a Norwegian folk tale. Hellboy is investigating a series of murders in Norway in 1963 and has come to confront an old woman about them. There's an emotional resonance that lifts up this story that one doesn't usually see in a Hellboy story. One of the best Hellboy short stories that I've read so far.

"The Vampire of Prague" is an adaptation of several local legends. Mignola wasn't able to do the artwork for this one. Not only didn't I like the story, but I didn't think the artist's style meshed with Hellboy. He made him seem too cartoonish.

In "Dr. Carp's Experiment," a BPRD team investigate a haunted house. After a bit of background in the intro, the artwork carries the rest of the story. Mignola makes full use of his color palette here and does a great job.

I'm not sure what to make of "The Ghoul." If I say anything about it, I'll give it away. I can tell you that the titular character speaks in verse. Not too sure this one works.

The collection ends with "Makoma," an adaptation of "The Story of the Hero Makoma," an African folktale perfectly suited to Hellboy. The story begins with Hellboy paying a visit to the New York City Explorers' Club whereupon he encounters a mummy who tells him the story of Makoma. At this point, Mignola hands over the artwork to Richard Corben who does a fantastic job adapting Hellboy into the Makoma saga. Not only does the penciling work, but the traditional Hellboy color palette brings Africa to life, unlike "The Third Wish" from the previous volume. A great story to end the collection.

3.5 stars overall.