Friday, March 24, 2017

ANIMOSITY VOL. 1 by Marguerite Bennett

One day, all of America's animals inexplicably gain human-like consciousness and the ability to speak English and talk alotta shit. They rise up and this leads to a new way of life where the human-animal relationship is shaky at best. But through all of this, a little girl named Jesse and her beloved dog and protector Sandor (cause he's a Hound...duh!) go on a journey to find Jesse's half-bro. Animosity has an eye-catching premise and some really inspired elements. For example, what would happen to all the meat lovers in this brave new world where a cow might be policing the streets? But this first volume was a bit inconsistent in tone and that was a little distracting. And the writers seemed to struggle with finding each character's voice. But hopefully those are the growing pains of a first volume and it'll all get rectified next time!





GRADE: B-

Monday, March 20, 2017

CRIMINAL VOL. 3: THE DEAD AND THE DYING by Ed Brubaker

When I looked in the mirror, I saw a girl too old for her years. Saw a face with no joy. A smile that had nothing left in it but empty.
Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips's Criminal series is proving to be impressively consistent, getting better with each installment, and this third volume, The Dead and the Dying, is my favorite so far. This time we jump back to the 60's/70's and take a look at how some of sins of Center City's "fathers" led to where their "sons" are today. Mostly it revolves around Danica, a damaged woman who has returned to the city after leaving under controversial circumstances, and the three men caught up in her web. Brubaker tells the story from three different viewpoints, providing varying perspectives to this riveting noir tragedy.
What I came back for is dumb and dangerous and probably doomed. I feel that as sure as the sidewalk beneath my feet.
This volume had the most well-realized characters so far, a great structure, even more impressive writing, cool art, and a compelling story. In the crowded world of graphic fiction, Brubaker stands out above them all.


GRADE: A

Sunday, March 19, 2017

THE RIDGE by John Rector

John Rector has written a handful of absorbing, propulsive thrillers through the years that moved like roller coasters. The Ridge, his latest, is different, but still engaging. Rector steps away from his usual relentless pacing with this one, maintaining a slow and steady buildup of paranoia that I really enjoyed as Megan Stokes begins to suspect that her perfect new subdivision community and her friendly neighbors are not what they seem.

This "Stepford Wives"-ish concept has been done many times before but Rector holds his own here. My only gripe is that at times I found myself ahead of the story. But other than that, it's a usual John Rector page-turner that I suspect will net him even more fans this year.

*I received an advance copy of this novel from Thomas and Mercer via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review*

GRADE: B

Monday, March 13, 2017

THE SECRET OF VENTRILOQUISM by Jon Padgett

It is best not to think about what must come next.
It might be too dismissive to call The Secret of Ventriloquism merely a short story collection. It's much more than that. It's more than just the sum of it's parts and as you experience each story more layers are built onto the themes, location and characters, and you'll realize that the stories form one cohesive whole. It's similar to what Laird Barron also did last year with Swift to Chase.

The book opens fittingly with a guided meditation on horror called "The Mindfulness of Horror Practice". It's a perfect primer that sets the disturbing tone and seems designed to put you in the right mindset to tackle the rest of the book. And from there you will journey into a strange dimension that is all Jon Padgett's creation. A place where reality is fickle and a "trifle," and the line between dreams and what's real is constantly blurred.
In my more lucid moments I know that this life, such as it is, will not last much longer. The man I once was would consider that a mercy, but I no longer even believe in the release of death. It is only a transition into yet another borrowed reality.
I'm not sure who Jon Padgett is or where he came from but he definitely left an impression with this one and I'll be on the lookout from now on for more of his work. There is a level of creativity and bravery here that I personally rarely see in story collections. Every story has an undeniably unique voice and perspective, and each one is impressive in the way that the tension and unease builds and carries over to the next.

There are things in this book that I'm almost positive that I recognize from my own nightmares. In that way, Padgett's work really is pretty unsettling and I would go so far to say that it's a masterpiece of horror and weird fiction and will probably end up on my favorites list at the end of the year. Any fans of dark work should decide if they are ready to gain the knowledge of Greater Ventriloquism. And if that is case, tune out the Static, buy this book, read it slow and let it soak, and while doing so, don't forget to count the fingers on your right hand.

Oh and don't worry:
"Being sick to your stomach now is perfectly normal."
GRADE: A

Saturday, March 11, 2017

GLITTERBOMB by Jim Zub

What a great cover! It's creepy, it fits the story, and really draws the eye.

This isn't the first time that someone has told a story about ambition, struggle, and failure in the soul-eating world of Hollywood and presented it as a horror story. Check out Nicolas Winding Refn's unsettling 2016 flick The Neon Demon as a good example. In fact, I'm not exactly sure why every wanna-be-in-Hollywood story isn't told as a tale of pure terror! But this graphic novel takes the whole "soul-eating" part to a new literal level though! Here, we follow Farrah, a 43-year-old actress past her prime and past her fame as a supporting player on a hit sci-fi TV show. She's a single mom struggling to make ends meet and to land auditions in the middle of an industry that's always after the young, hot, and new. But when she's down at her lowest point, that's when an ancient, evil, demon possesses her and feeds off of her rage and desire for revenge in order to satisfy it's own taste for blood and flesh!

Along with the graphic demon action and dismemberment, Glitterbomb also has genuinely poignant things to say about the Hollywood machine and the life of a struggling actor. The book shows it in Farrah's relationship with the great supporting cast, like her more successful actor friend Dean, Brooke, the younger actress who's outlook on the industry is Farrah's total opposite, or the babysitter who looks up to her. The work in Glitterbomb feels personal, as if the creators have been through similar struggles as artists and are trying to let out their own evil demons on the page in a way that won't cause anyone any true bodily harm.

GRADE: A-

Thursday, March 9, 2017

HOMBRE by Elmore Leonard

It's always a tricky thing reviewing an Elmore Leonard novel. His writing is usually so efficient and effortless that it doesn't seem like he's doing much but his stories sneak up on you anyway. I always struggle to go into detail about why I like the books, other than to say that I really enjoyed the story. He was able to buff and polish his style until the form became invisible and only story shined through. Donald Westlake was the same way in his work. Although there haven't been any Leonard books so far that have blown me away, I can definitely say I've enjoyed the five that I've read. Hombre, considered one of Leonard's classics, is no different. It's a simple plot, about a group of travelers in a mud wagon stagecoach who are stalked by road agents after a satchel of stolen money. Leonard's spare style and his use of first-person (his only novel to use that POV), is effective at lending the story it's mythic tone. It's deceptively uncomplicated and well-paced, right up to it's great final act.

GRADE: B+

Saturday, March 4, 2017

WILL THE SUN EVER COME OUT AGAIN? by Nate Southard

"Everything and all. There is a darkness below, and it rises."
The thing that struck me the most about this collection of novellas is Nate Southard's sharp imagination. Each story has an intriguing concept that begs to be expanded, whether it's the tale of a Compton street gangopening a door to Hell (or something even worse) in the first novellas He Stepped Through, or in Deeper Waters, the story of a redneck magician defending a diner from attack after a severe flood hits a small town, bringing with it creatures from deep in the Ohio river.

I also really enjoyed Southard's approach to horror: his build-up of atmosphere, his dedication to keeping the horror mysterious mostly mysterious and unseen, and his equal intensity with both the subtle suspense bits and with the balls-out gore. The two novellas in the middle of the collection suffered a little from being a bit meandering without a worthy payoff, but He Stepped Through and last story (Safe House), were haunting and very effective.
"The light? You know better than that, Jimmy. Ain't no light but the sun. It's all darkness past that. Heaven ain't shit but a myth the devil's scared of."
GRADE: B

Friday, February 24, 2017

LAST DAYS by Brian Evenson

I first discovered writer Brian Evenson after reading his reprinted short story, "Any Corpse," in Gamut Magazine. The story was a bizarre and dazzlingly original sci-fi/dystopian/horror that really defies explanation. It led me to seek out more of his work. This novel is just as original and it's actually rather startling in it's boldness and novelty. Last Days is about an undercover cop named Kline who's deep in depression after his hand is chopped off by a bad guy. He's then approached by a cult of people who believe that amputation brings one closer to God, and is forced to solve a murder in their midst. The book gets crazier and crazier as Kline falls deeper into the rabbit hole that is the Brotherhood of Mutilation.

Evenson not only does a great job at showing the gradual loss of sanity that anyone would understandably go through if thrown into this world, he also maintains a really singular atmosphere. I doubt that there were more than two people in the whole book who had all of their limbs! The world in which this book exists is filled with people with multiple body parts chopped off, which creates a vibe that I haven't really witnessed in other books. And through all of it, Evenson's relentless writing moves through the strange tale at a nice tight clip. I'm now even more curious to read another book by Evenson to see what other ideas he can come up with.

GRADE: B+

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

VELVET by Ed Brubaker

Well color me impressed!

Brubaker once again creates a graphic novel that can be used to show people that comic books aren't just all about flying superheroes and aliens, and this is his best work that I've read so far! This time, the story is about Velvet Templeton, secretary for the head of the elite international spy agency ARC-7. After one of their top agents is killed and she finds herself framed for the murder, Velvet must use skills that no one expected she possessed to clear her name. You see, Velvet used to be one of ARC's most skilled field agents before retiring to a safe desk job in secret. But it turns out she's still got the juice!


What follows is a fully action-packed spy thriller in the same vein as the James Bond and Jason Bourne thrillers, balanced with a lot of the same espionage intrigue as John Le Carré's stories. So if you have even a passing interest in any of that stuff you'll love this. Even if you don't you'll probably still love this.

It took me a while to read it not because it was slow or boring but because I kept taking ridiculous amounts of time to gaze at every page. It has some of the most gorgeous artwork I've seen in a graphic novel yet. I'm not super knowledgeable with the ways comic book production works so I don't know who to credit for the lighting in comics. Is it the colorist? If so, kudos to the MVP, Elizabeth Breitweiser, and her stunning lighting and colors here, in conjunction with Steve Epting's detailed drawings. Every page is lovely and filled to the brim with texture.


I read the story in its three individually released volumes and each chapter becomes more exciting than the next, with exhilarating set-pieces, a plot that moves so fast, if you blink you'll miss it all, and characters with shady intentions. And it's all grounded by Velvet herself, a resourceful secretary who can kick anyone's ass and hold her own against fellow badasses like Bourne, Jack Bauer, and Chuck Norris. This is the best work I've read so far by Ed Brubaker, this time working outside of his partnership with artist Sean Phillips, collabing with Epting instead, the artist from his Captain America run, who provides slicker edges to the art than the down-and-dirty Phillips, and seems like a better fit for this world of international spy-work. You can read it now in its cheaper three part releases, or wait until this deluxe hardcover edition, which will undoubtedly have a bunch of cool extras!


GRADE: A-

Saturday, February 18, 2017

WORD: STORIES by Edward Lorn

Consider this one a sort-of Lorn Literary Sampler!

Edward Lorn is mostly know for his work as a horror storyteller, and while this book can be seen as a departure by some and is a collection of stories that aren't horror at all, several of the stories definitely can qualify as horrifying, with one about a man dangerously taking part in a 30-pound burrito eating contest, and another about a dude obsessed with masturbating and spreading his man juice all over things that people will likely touch.

Each tale in the collection is different in terms of story and concept but the through-line here is the same talent that you can find in Lorn's other work: the general verve and maturity with the way he approaches story, characters, and themes. Almost all of the tales were pretty enjoyable, with the exception of the last one, "glamis" (which I found a bit tedious and boring). But none of them particularly blew me away. The closest was "lounge," a story of a varied group of survivors drinking away their sorrows at a bar in a war-torn American city. Don't start with this as your first book by Lorn, but definitely give it a go once you get into his work.

GRADE: B-