Wednesday, March 29, 2017


Not too long ago, I wrote a review of Brubaker and Phillips's The Dead and the Dying, gushing that it was my favorite volume in the Criminal series that I've read. Well I'll be damned, here I am saying it again! This volume is not only the best Criminal story so far and one of the best graphic novels I've read so far, but it takes this series to a whole new level, delivering a story of noir that's so ink-black and classic in it's development that Goodis, Brewer, Cain, Keene, and Thompson would all be impressed.

Bad Night focuses on Jacob Kurtz, the counterfeiter-turned-cartoonist who was a supporting character in Lawless, a loner and insomniac who's quiet life is upended when he meets a sexy, redheaded lush at a late night diner. To say more about the plot would spoil the unhinged, fascinating ways that this tale of murder, obsession, and sex evolves. Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips have always been partners in total sync, and Phillip's art here is a perfect fit for this grimy and brooding piece of graphic fiction. If you have any interest in noir or in any dark crime fiction in general, you owe it to yourself to check this out. It's like all your favorite books in the genres, but with pictures!


Tuesday, March 28, 2017


Most fans of crime fiction are familiar with the solid work put out by Hard Case Crime. But fewer might know that they've just recently started delving into the comic book world with the intention of bringing the same high quality work to the graphic fiction world, so far recruiting great authors like Christa Faust, Megan Abbott, Max Allan Collins, and legendary filmmaker Walter Hill. One of the Walter Hill stories is now the first complete graphic novel release from the company.

The story here is pure pulp, following a smooth hitman named Frank Kitchen who is kidnapped by the batshit crazy sister of his latest victim whose intention is to (umm, let's see, how should I say this?...)...permanently "transition" him. He is released into the world as a "changed" man but with a grudge and the will to track down the people responsible. Cue the bullets!

It's an action-packed tale similar to an entertaining B-movie that you can't help but finish. It's interesting to see Frank trying to deal with his new life, although it takes a bit of suspension of disbelief. The way that the writers treat the villain and the hospital scenes are a little awkward as well but the art pays a great attention to detail and this graphic novel is definitely worth a look! FYI, there's a reportedly-shitty movie adaptation of this directed by Hill and starring Michelle Rodriguez.


Saturday, March 25, 2017

FRAGILE DREAMS by Philip Fracassi

This novella is simple but shockingly intense. After an earthquake rips through the Los Angeles area, Matthew Calvert is trapped in a collapsed office building. As the rubble slowly crushes him to death, he tries to hold on to hope for rescue, as well as keep his grip on reality as he realizes that there might be something else down there with him in the dark.

Philip Fracassi might end up being one of my favorite author discoveries this year. His prose-style is both soaring and fiercely intimate at the same time. The language here is vivid and evocative as he places you right there under all that rubble with Matthew, in the pitch-black darkness, with a piece of wall slowly breaking your spine and something unseen scuttling around you in the void. Here's an example of Fracassi's word-talent as he describes the earthquake:
The building gave in to the earth's desires, and graceless as a dying giant, it collapsed in an implosion of glass and concrete and iron, heaping itself atop the bodies within, burying everything inside of it in a tangled black mass of clumsy, angry death.
Fragile Dreams is a pretty unsettling experience but also emotional due to Fracassi's efficient character development. I also loved how he kept certain elements vague and mysterious, recognizing that much of his story's strength lies in the hidden and the unfathomable. The book also includes an unexpectedly playful and charming short story called "Death, My Old Friend," about a boy's lifelong friendship with Death. This is recommended to anyone that likes unnerving horror, or dark or weird fiction. Fracassi has a few new book's coming this year and I'll be buying them all.


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!


Monday, March 20, 2017


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.


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*


Monday, March 13, 2017


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."

Saturday, March 11, 2017


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.


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.


Saturday, March 4, 2017


"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."