Saturday, December 31, 2016

I, JOKER by Bob Hall

What if Batman was the bad guy and Joker was the good guy?

That simple idea is the basis for this short graphic novel, an idea that evolves into this fascinating concept about a dystopian future version of Gotham City, ruled by a religious cult that worships the supposed descendant of Batman as a god. This man, called The Bruce, holds gladiator-style combat shows every year that involves the brainwashing of innocent civilians, surgically altering them to look like Batman's villains of legend, so that followers can hunt them down and kill them for sport, get the chance to challenge The Bruce, and become a god themselves. But this year's Joker is a bit different, and he has to survive the night and try to stop The Bruce once and for all.

Great idea right? And there are some truly cool moments in this one that I would've loved to see fleshed out more. But many aspects of the story are rushed over or the writer took cheap shortcuts getting to certain plot points. And the artwork leaves much to be desired, with some of the action being a bit hard to follow. But the final image is pretty great and it's only about 50 pages long so it's a quick read to at least just see where they go with the concept.


Friday, December 30, 2016


I thought I'd get a re-read in before the year was out.
He's done it with the western and he's done it with the post-apocalyptic novel. And now Cormac McCarthy tackles a crime thriller and does what he usually does, turns it into something else that's part of a whole different genre: "Cormac McCarthy Fiction."

It starts as a simple noir. Llewellyn Moss is out hunting game when he stumbles onto a botched drug deal complete with dead Mexicans, dead dogs, dead trucks, and a satchel of 2 million dollars. He decides that finders keepers, so he does what any hot-blooded human would do and takes it for himself, setting off a chain reaction of violence across Texas, as a multitude of enemies search for him.

I prefer the more recent McCarthy novels, like this and The Road, to his earlier work. It feels like he's been able to really hone his style and become more disciplined and economical, straying away from some of the distracting bloat without losing any of the trademark lyricism and rumination he's famous for. And this book has some of his best characters. I think that Moss is a great "hero," a simple but resourceful man of straight action while still being charming, while with his lady Carla Jean, I at first got the sense that she was a bimbo, but she turns out to be much stronger, resilient, and acute than I initially thought. McCarthy really surprised me with her character. And then there's Anton Chigurh, the enigmatic figure doggedly chasing Moss. He's less of a person than a force, similar to the Judge in Blood Meridian. He's the embodiment of unstoppable judgment and inescapable fate. His character is pretty unsettling.
Anything can be an instrument, Chigurh said. Small things. Things you wouldn't even notice. They pass from hand to hand. People don't pay attention. And then one day there's an accounting. And after that nothing is the same.
But then you have the character of Sheriff Bell, whose character is what provides the soul and transforms this crime noir into Cormac McCarthy fiction, and turns a four star book into a five-star book. He's the real main character here, providing a point of view for the reader, as he muses on the nature of violence and his horror at the way that evil has evolved into something that he's unable reckon with.
Things happen to you they happen. They don't ask first. They don't require your permission.
Another stunning, instant-classic McCarthy novel.


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

CRIMINAL VOL. 1: COWARD by Ed Brubaker

This year, I decided to download the Comixology app and jump back into reading graphic novels and comic books, which I was a big fan of when I was a wee lad. Back then, I was more into the superhero reads but now I wanted to venture into more reality based, "non-super" stories. In my search, the name Ed Brubaker kept popping up, and I thought, "Hey isn't that the dude that wrote some Captain America stuff and a few Batman stories?" Then I decided to drop some dough on his work and give them a go, the first of which is his first book in the Criminal series.

For the few that don't know, the series is a set of stand-alone but loosely connected noir tales that take place in the same city. This first volume, Coward, is a heist story about a meticulously picky career thief and pickpocket who reluctantly takes a shady armored car job, and of course it all goes to hell in a hand basket.

For those who dismiss graphic fiction as simply colorful books about Avengers, Superman, and skimpy Japanese anime, I submit this as Exhibit A as to why you're wrong. This is classic crime noir, a pulp offering of burnt-out criminals, crooked cops, regrettable pasts, and a whole lot of desperation. The writing is solid, and I could definitely see more first-time comic readers  really enjoying this story if they tried it. At first, I didn't like the artwork, having gotten used to the crisper, sharper, more colorful 1990's art that I grew up with, but then by the end, I grew to love it. The rounder, rougher, grungier artwork is perfectly suited to the atmosphere and I can't wait to jump into the world of Criminal again for the next installment.


Monday, December 26, 2016

THE LAST DEEP BREATH by Tom Piccirilli

There's something sneaky about Tom Piccirilli's writing. His plots, such as in this novella, were deceptively simple. Here, we have a brooding drifter traveling across country from New York City to Hollywood in a search to find the man who put a 4-inch knife in his sister's side. It seems like a pretty straightforward crime thriller, but as everyone should come to expect from Tommy Pic's work, by the end of this short book, you discover that it's all a ploy, a simple vehicle (as most good crime fiction should be) to touch on complex topics like violent natures and the meaning of family and why you choose to include certain people in that category. And even then, you get the sense that the story is about even more than that. It feels like these later books by Piccirilli can't be fully appreciated in one reading. But I haven't been dissatisfied with a Piccirilli book so far. With each book, he quickly climbs higher on my favorite authors list.
She had an easy way about her, an effortless laugh that sounded just a little too natural. It was the soft melody of every woman you wanted to lie beside, your head resting in her lap while she stroked your forehead. You look up into her eyes and she leans down, gives you the killer grin, her bee-stung lips parting to meet your own.

Saturday, December 24, 2016


You think you may know what Santa Claus does on Christmas Eve while you're sleeping, but you have no idea! Here, in just 50-something pages, author Edward Lorn takes old fables, established Christmas lore, and his own mischievous imagination, mixes it all in a pot and comes up with an entirely new Christmas mythology that's ripe for a whole slew of stories beyond this one!

On Christmas Eve night, Santa and his team of reindeer are going about their usual Yuletide business, when they fall for a no-good trap and are bushwhacked by the Naughties (the little demons that possess children and make them act like little shits sometimes). And when Santa discovers that his beloved Mrs. Claus has been kidnapped, he and the team spring into action, ready to kick ass and take names!

Lorn is a talented storyteller that I discovered when I got thoroughly creeped out by his novella Crawl. He's an equally effective tale-spinner in this novella collection of three serial short stories he's released every Christmas for the last few years. He really knows how to maintain pace, does an impressive amount of world and myth building in a very short amount of time, and it seems like he had a damn fun time writing it as well! There are a handful of surprises here that made me grin while reading!

Like I said, there's so much potential material here in Lorn's mythology and I would gladly read anything else. I'll also be waiting for the War on Christmas movie as well. Obviously starring Chuck Norris because Chuck Norris is such a badass.

 Or maybe this guy:


Friday, December 23, 2016


Steph Post's debut novel is a solid piece of southern crime focusing on a solitary mechanic who travels back home to Crystal Springs, Florida after his mom sends him a postcard with news that his father blew himself up in a tangerine grove. James gets there too late for his dad's funeral, but just in time to try to help his younger brother Rabbit get out of some trouble with the Alligator Mafia following one of Rabbit's latest schemes.

It's southern grit that's less about James and company blasting away with guns and more about him coming to terms with the strained relationship with his family and the self-imposed exile from his childhood home (although the gun blasting scenes are pretty well written). James is a man that's shut himself away emotionally due to his regret of his criminal past and his failure to follow his dreams, but his trip back home forces him to confront it all.

Post's work here feels similar to Walter Mosley, in the sincere and tactful way that she allows sensitivity, sentiment, and anxiety to find it's way into her tough hero. I love the way she portrayed his attraction to Marlena, the local bar owner, and I love that she avoided the usual played-out, courtship tropes that you see in many novels these days.
They traded demons and devils as the electricity and the atmosphere brawled above them, the fistfight in the sky mirroring the struggle their hearts were playing out, blow by blow. 
I enjoyed this and wanted to get to it before reading Steph's second novel, Lightwood, which comes out next month.


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

BLACKSAD by Juan Díaz Canales

This volume collects the first three graphic novels in the award-winning Blacksad series, which follows the adventures of cool cat private detective John Blacksad as he navigates the 1950's, fighting crime, righting wrongs, and bedding down some sexy pussycats while he's at it. It reads like the classic hard-boiled tales of Chandler, Hammet, and Spillane, with many familiar genre conventions on display.

In the debut story, Somewhere Within The Shadows, John investigates the violent death of a beautiful actress, who also happens to be an old flame of his. It's a decent intro to the character and the world, even if it's a little too simple and pretty derivative by design.

The next story, Arctic Nation, is an overall improvement with higher stakes and deeper themes, as Blacksad searches for a missing child in a town brimming with racial tension. It's the best story in the collection.

And the final story, Red Soul, finds our hero in the middle of a conspiracy involving Communist witch-hunts and the nuclear fear that was everywhere during that time period. I like that Canales tries to expand his stories beyond just detective tales and tackle bigger issues.

Although storywise there really isn't much that's new and original here, the real star is the drop-dead gorgeous, Eisner-Award-winning artwork by Juanjo Guarnido, who laces every page with lovingly detailed watercolors. The whole thing is a real pleasure to look at.


Tuesday, December 20, 2016


I've owned this book for years but kept putting it off until now. I got about 50 pages in and knew that I should have gotten around to this earlier and was peeved at myself for wasting time this year on more disappointing reads. This is the type of book that doesn't come around too often. A book that finds the perfect balance between it's attention to detail and research, it's sensitivity to character, and it's great structure, all wrapped up in passionate prose.

Imagine a mix of Traffic, Sicario, and Narcos, with elements of The Godfather and then multiply it by 3, then you'll get a sense of what to expect from The Power of the Dog, which details an epic battle during America's unwinnable War on Drugs, a 30-year battle between DEA agent Art Keller and Mexican cartel lord Adán Barrera, who were once good buddies. We witness the rise of both men within their respective ranks, and as the feud strengthens, they struggle to stay one step ahead of the other, dragging others into the trenches with them, into a war that neither side can truly win.

This was one of the longest books I read this year, but it felt like I sped through reading it. It was endlessly engaging and one of the most compulsively readable books for me this year. Every character was fascinating and I found myself rooting for all of them, especially Art Keller and his unwavering drive to bring down the Barreras, and Sean Callan, a young New Yorker whose fateful actions to protect his buddy leads him into a life of violence where he faces a constant struggle to keep his morals. And it's all very tragic, because all of this violence and death is part of a silly "War" on Drugs where the priorities and the objectives have been skewed big time, a war that should've ended a long time ago.

You know those addictive tv shows that you can't help but binge-watch on Netflix, Prime, or HBONow all weekend? Well, here's one in book form. And guess what? There's a sequel.


Wednesday, December 14, 2016


In this debut novel, a surly, crazy old man named Fielding reflects on an eventful summer in 1984 during his childhood in rural Ohio. It was the summer that brought one of the biggest heat waves in history. The summer when Fielding's family invited the devil into their home.  It's a cool concept and a great idea for a coming of age story.
The heat was making people behave on their most terrible side. Maybe it even gave them the confidence to act foolishly, rashly, without real reason. Hands in such heat bloom to fists. Fists are the flora of the mad season.
Many positive reviews are mentioning their surprise that this is a first time novelist. Now I'm not an expert or anything but there were many times when I recognized things that felt like the symptoms of a first novel, and many of these things got in the way of the story really reaching it's full potential. Besides the overbearing nostalgia that gets distracting, the book is also pretty long-winded. McDaniel is clearly a great word slinger, but I'm attracted to writing that finds a better balance between poetry and efficiency, and this could've been half the length and would've been even more effective. At first, I was enamored by the prose, but eventually I was constantly tempted to skim entire passages, especially the seemingly endless stories and fables that the character Sal would start spewing, bringing the pace to a screeching halt. It was as if McDaniel tried to fit as many ideas as she could into the book. I think many readers will find a lot to like in this book, and I think that McDaniel has great promise, but next time she simply needs to just get out of the way a little and let that great story fly.


Thursday, December 8, 2016

FOUR DAYS by Iain Ryan

This rugged, hard-boiled noir is a solid debut for Australian author Iain Ryan. It's a short, moody crime novel about a broken and self-destructive Brisbane detective with one foot forcefully out the door to retirement, who decides to go all the way out on his own terms and not only solve a haunting murder case, but also confront his demons and the corruption that he's been a part of for years.

It's a gloomy, fatalist story and I really enjoyed Ryan's use of language to illuminate it's flawed hero in Jim Harris. I only wish that less time was spent on the murder mystery element and more time on Jim himself, his backstory, and his struggle for redemption. Because when Ryan does focus on Jim's internal, personal struggle, that's when the book really shines!
The late night phone calls kept coming.
Harris knew this was it this time. It didn't matter who was on the other line or what the world thought of him. He was home now and all the ghosts were interconnected. They all knew where to find him. They were all calling. And they all had the same body.
He waited.
And she eventually came.

OFFLINE by Kealan Patrick Burke

The concept here is perfect for a short format, as it's a standalone tale that can't really be expanded on, but feels like it's tailor-made for the short form like this quick story. Yes, it's a gimmick, but who cares, it's a great one. The whole thing is told in a series of a Facebook conversation between a high school girl and her admirer that's been transcribed into official evidence by the police. It's an enjoyable read, the same way I felt about the unexpectedly entertaining Skype horror movie Unfriended.

It's an epistolary story for the millennial age!