Friday, June 30, 2017

PEEPLAND by Christa Faust and Gary Phillips

Peepland is the best of the graphic novels that Hard Case Crime has released so far as part of their new line of hard-boiled crime comic books. The book is written by acclaimed crime authors Christa Faust and Gary Phillips, and the story was spawned by Faust's experiences in her past career working in the New York City peep booths back in the day. It takes place in 1986 NYC and is about Roxy Bell, a peepshow artist working a booth at Peepland in Manhattan, who, after agreeing to stash a VHS tape for pornographer Dirty Dick, finds herself caught in a conspiracy that turns increasingly more dangerous every day.

This book does such a great job of dropping you into the world of pre-Guiliani 80's Manhattan (filled with porno theaters, pawn shops, and graffiti) and the people who roam the island. In their own way, Faust and Phillips touch a lot on what was going on in the society in that era as well, like the Central Park Five or the AIDS epidemic. The art by Andrea Camerini is effective and playful, with the saturated colors that we've come to expect from 80's stories.

There seems to be a real command of the story here. It's confident, well-structured, and a bit addicting actually. I found myself really caring about the characters in a very short amount of time and wanted to see where their story went. I loved the way the story developed in a way that all the lives surrounding Peepland were affected by this interconnecting plot. The dialogue is great, and each character was memorable and efficiently developed. And most important, despite its downbeat ending, the book is lots of fun to read. You can really feel the passion behind it all. By combining Faust's  knowledge of the time and place from her past life, Gary Phillips's experience of writing for comic books, and both of their solid crime fiction sensibilities, Hard Case Crime rocked it with this great release!


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

REVOLVER by Michael Patrick Hicks

This fierce, punchy novelette is is what we would get if Richard Bachman was still writing today during our social media age. It's reminiscent of his classic work in it's dystopian critique on society today. Hicks paints a picture of a world that's uncomfortably possible, where religious zealots and a rich family essentially take over America persecuting women, minorities, and homosexuals and where the masses morbidly watch poor people kill themselves on national primetime tv. It's passionate and well-written, and I love how it all took place in one room but you still got a sense of society outside. Using the increasing mob violence in the outside world really upped the tension. Good stuff.


Monday, June 26, 2017

SIN PIT by Paul S. Meskil

One of us would die. For the other, there would be Grace. I didn't know what she meant to him but, to me, she was worth all the risk.
Sin Pit was one of those cult pulp paperbacks that were notoriously difficult to find. But Automat.Press has come along and valiantly made it available again in e-book format, so I was stoked to get a crack at reading it! I was disappointed though to find that the book is more of a hard-boiled mystery than the sleaze noir that I hoped for. As a crime mystery, it's fairly enjoyable but at the same time, much of the developments and twists unfortunately were still pretty obvious. I could've done without much of the lagging bits featuring our unlikeable hero Barney Black pounding the pavement looking for clues and instead more of the interesting psychological touches of Barney confronting his hatred for women and himself, and how his infatuation with the aptly-named Randy Harding emphasizes it all.
A tiny warning bell sounded somewhere in my mind —the bell that had always meant danger. This time, I ignored it and told myself nothing mattered but this strange, catlike girl with the midnight eyes.

Sunday, June 25, 2017


With his first volume in the New 52 Batman rebranding, Scott Snyder brings the Caped Crusader back to the basics! I'm normally not a fan of the Batman stories that feature him going up against monsters, aliens, or other super fantasy bad guys. I gravitate towards the stories that are more grounded. So I really enjoyed Snyder's take here. In this story, Batman goes up against a secret society that has ruled Gotham from the shadows all the way throughout history. It's an organization that exists with the citizens as a myth, especially with Bruce Wayne, who seems to refuse to believe that there is a villain that has eluded him all these years, and still manages to rule his city.

I love that the story really focuses on Batman being what he started out as, a detective, going into deep investigation mode to track down the people responsible for a series of mysterious deaths in the city. I really enjoyed the focus on Gotham's history, the legacy of the Waynes, and their relationship with the Court, building more levels on the Gotham City mythology. The fact that the shadowy Court is, for the most part, grounded in reality but still feels like they could be a major threat to Batman, really sets a level of tension that really works. There are some cool ideas here and let's see what happens in the sequel!


Tuesday, June 20, 2017


This surprising crime story starts as a country noir tale about a man returning home and finding it difficult to escape his legacy, and it ends with a look at the desperate actions that some people take for their passions. This can stand right up there with some of the best of contemporary grit lit. 

It has a genuinely shocking plot twist/redirection at the end of the first volume that had me reeling, and after that I knew I was in good hands and that I should never expect anything formulaic from this series. With its hefty doses of violence, generational hate, football, dogshit, beer, and BBQ, Southern Bastards feels like a love/hate letter to the deep American South, and a series that's a must-read.


MAPPING THE INTERIOR by Stephen Graham Jones

This elegiac new novella by Stephen Graham Jones features a haunting in the way that I believe it would actually occur. Not with translucent, floating apparitions banging on walls, levitating over you while you sleep, or chasing you down the halls of your house, but a haunting by something much more personal, quiet, and understated the way it is here.

Jones uses weaves together elements of horror, superstition, family conflict, and Native American culture and lore to tell a coming of age story about a young boy searching for ways to connect with his dead father, who has begun to visit him and his brother late at night. In many horror books, the haunting is an external thing, a disturbance that our main character has to overcome. But here, I believe that the haunting is more interior, more a product of Junior's insecurities and fears than anything else. And to overcome it he has to overcome something within himself.

I do feel like it could've been a little more efficient in it's storytelling though. It feels extra-wordy and bloated and dulled the experience a bit.

Big ups to Netgalley and Tor Books for the Advance Reader Copy in exchange for this honest review.


Friday, June 16, 2017

SAGA: VOL. 3 by Brian K. Vaughan

Everything comes to a head now in this installment of Saga as all of our characters converge around Oswald Heist's lighthouse home on the sleepy planet Quietus. You can tell that the creators are more confident and comfortable with the characters and the story as things quiet down a bit and they focus on exploring them. But then it all blows up in grand action-packed form in the end. My favorite characters are still Prince Robot IV and The Will, the three-dimensional antagonists hunting our heroes. The series continues to be heartfelt and endearing and I can't wait to see where they take the story next! Tons of possibilities!


Thursday, June 15, 2017

LITTLE GIRL LOST by Richard Aleas

Richard Aleas's debut novel is a hard-boiled NY detective tale in the vein of Block's Scudder series but featuring one of the worst detectives out there. Seriously, it was kind of hilarious how this guy just couldn't get it together! He seemed to fail at even simple detective decision-making. But ultimately I think that was part of the point.

Our hero, John Blake is one half of a tiny detective agency and he is obsessed with solving the murder of his old high school sweetheart, a girl who went from pre-med studies to shaking her ass in a grimy titty bar called the Sin Factory. The story and its turns kept me fairly engaged throughout and Aleas keeps it all going at a smooth pace. But as a whole, the book never lived up to its potential, mostly due to the weak presentation of Blake's motivations. Despite a few flashbacks, I never really felt the connection between Blake and his deceased ex, a connection that's supposed to fuel Blake's dogged determination. If I really felt his emotional connection to Miranda, it could've made the events through the book and its ending much more affecting. But I still enjoyed it and it's another solid Hard Case Crime book!


Sunday, June 11, 2017


Yes, dammit. We're still stuck in Fairyland with Gertrude. But now she's in an interesting position after taking Cloudia's place as the queen of Fairyland and all the juicy authority that comes with it. But who would have guessed that being queen would be so boring and tiring? And Gertrude's maniacal search is still on to find secret ways of finally escaping Fairyland.

I enjoyed getting deeper into the world-building of Fairyland this go-round as Gertrude roams the land looking for a way out, and Scottie Young got a chance to flex his creativity even more. Although the story seemed a little less focused this time, this volume is funnier than the first one. It's become much more wacky and meta and with copious amounts of candy-colored ultra violence for our enjoyment! There's some crazy shit in here, like Gertie's dangerous adventure inside Larry's bottomless Hat of Holding where she's forced to fend off lint zombies. Not to mention the batshit final issue. I love it!


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

BAR SCARS by Nik Korpon

My life is a crooked deck of cards: all varying slightly, but basically the same and repeated endlessly.
Nik Korpon's short story collection exists in its very own Baltimore, a tough and uncompromising place that always seems to be shrouded in the dark of night and filled with sadness and ruin. And Korpon is the perfect person to give you the tour. He has this very singular, bluesy, atmospheric prose style that sets the mood and really finds the beauty in emotional wreckage. It's sharp, to the point, and uncompromising, while still being stylish.

I loved the way Korpon constantly peeled back different layers and pieces of information as each story moved forward, setting up expectations on what you think the story might be about at first, but subverting them at every turn, keeping you guessing about the characters and their motivations, whether they be a bootleg backroom surgical assistant in "His Footsteps are Made of Soot," a bagman on his way to propose to his girl in "Intersections," or a man in love with an underage girl in "A Sparrow with White Scars." Great little collection of contemporary noir. I love the way Korpon writes.
Pulling her close, we started dancing. Her breasts pressing on my chest, curves filling in the shape of my body, her fingers kneading mine, I took a chorus-length inhale, took in all her begonia and saltwater, her soft skin and our 2 AM laughs, our rough sex and quiet nights and everything we'd ever talked about and planned for, I took it in and held my breath.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

SOUTHERN CROSS: VOL. 1 by Becky Cloonan

This moody piece is a bit of cosmic horror and mystery set aboard a large passenger vessel on the way to the Saturn refinery moon Titan, where ex-con Alex Braith wants to find out the truth about her sister's suspicious death and ends up stumbling onto something terrifying aboard the Southern Cross. I enjoyed a lot of the atmosphere in this one and the way the cold artwork made the ship feel almost subterranean. I especially loved the creative panel work to show the geography of the ship and some cool imagery. The story itself wasn't as memorable as I hoped and the heavy first-person present narration is a pet peeve of mine. Especially in a comic book. I'd rather the makers show not tell. The constant "I wonder what's around this corner" or "What have I done?" type of narration tends to grate my nerves.

See a sample of this below:

I might continue to see where this all goes but this first volume was disappointing.


Friday, June 2, 2017


Wonder Woman has always had the reputation of being one of the most stable and well-adjusted of the comic book heroes as well as having on of the kindest hearts. What I liked about this most recent telling of her origin tale is the new take that Thompson takes on how she became that way. She portrays Diana as growing up as a spoiled brat and ultimately learning through her mistakes how to be the person we know her to be today. I've seen more than a few reviews that seem to be angry at this new approach, saying that it goes against everything that we know of Wonder Woman. That she's supposed to represent the best of us, that her role is to be an example for all of us. But I think that introducing this story's ideas makes her even more of an inspiration, showing that all of us can make mistakes and learn from them to be a better person. Plus, who wants to read a story where someone is always perfect.

The graphic novel is told in a storybook style that is a perfect fit for a mythical fable with magical lands and Greek gods, complete with a pretty watercolor-painted style and lots of "once upon a time" narration. Normally this might annoy me, but it really fits this story.

My only gripe here would be the circumstances around Diana leaving Themyscira. I believe that by taking away her choice to leave, it takes away some her choice to be selfless. But this new take seems pretty valid. Many seem to think that Wonder Woman wouldn't be a spoiled brat but I would expect any little girl with the knowledge that she was born from the tears of gods as a princess and pampered by everyone would grow to feel a bit entitled! And the fact that she makes tragic mistakes due to her arrogance and from those mistakes learned to selflessly fight for the weak is what makes her a true heroine. A true Wonder Woman.