Monday, February 19, 2018


This continues Garth Ennis's famous run on The Punisher, and saying he stepped his game up in this one is an understatement. I enjoyed the three story arcs in the first collection but this volume seems like it could've even been written by a different person. Frank Castle's personality and character shine brighter darker, I felt much more connected to him, the action is even crazier, and all of the stories are even more compelling. While at times the first book and it's character's and events felt a little cheeky, especially with some of the supporting characters, everything here seems way more genuine and confident and didn't feel like it was playing for jokes.

It begins with the "Mother Russia" story, which sees Castle on a rare mission to save a kidnapped little girl from a silo in Russia, a girl who happens to be carrying a deadly retrovirus in her bloodstream. It's like a blockbuster action movie that had me on the edge of my seat, with a lot of it due to it's breakneck pacing and the cutting of parallel action between Castle, the American generals, and the Russian generals. And it guest stars Nick Fury, who pretty much steals the whole show.

It then moves on to the insane "Up is Down, Black is White," which brings the return of crazed Mob guy Nicky Cavella, who has the dumb-as-nails idea to dig up The Punisher's dead family and piss on their skeletons just to draw him out. So you can obviously guess the violent insanity that happens subsequently. There are many returning characters here that really bring flavor to this one. Agent O'Brien and her relationship with Frank is one of the highlights of this story.

And finally we get to "The Slavers," the best story in the collection and considered by many to be one of the best Punisher stories ever written, where Frank stumbles onto a sex slave trade in New York and decides that he can''t stand around and do nothing about it. The story of the girls, the two well-meaning uniform cops, the nasty villains, and the morally-torn social worker are all richly-written and really make this story stand out. It's gripping stuff and very memorable, not only with the action but also with the reverence with which Ennis tackles the issue of sex slavery. And it's all topped off with a powerful ending.

This really impressed me and I hope the subsequent collections keep this same quality. And if not, both this volume and the first one (6 stories in total) will be collected in a complete omnibus which will be released this summer. If you're a fan of the well-received Netflix show, do yourself a favor and read this. This one's a stunner.


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

PRETTY MARYS ALL IN A ROW by Gwendolyn Kiste

Mary Mack. Mistress Mary. Mari Lwyd. Resurrection Mary. Bloody Mary. They’ve been the subjects of terrifying legends or strange nursery rhymes for ages. Have you ever wondered what’s beyond their creepy songs and sightings? In her haunting new novella, talented, on-the-rise author Gwendolyn Kiste aims to explore their stories more, not necessarily their origins mind you, because that’s boring, but explore where they go and what they do when they’re not disturbing us.
Once upon a time, the darkness stole my life from me. Now it's stealing my hereafter too.
Kiste uses the same twisted fairytale style that I loved in her fantastic debut collection, And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, to tell a story of the Mary’s as a reluctant family of spirits who must feed on the fear of the living for sustenance and what they attempt to do to break their curse. She twists these urban legends in a new way and once again gives us a memorable story wrapped in lovely prose and potent imagery. The action and resolution in the book might be a bit vague, but its emphasis is more on mood and atmosphere and it has that stuff in spades!
The voice will be there again in the ballroom, my unlikely partner as I dance to music no one else can hear. And I won't run from it. I'll stand here, firm and stubborn against the night. If the darkness wants me, I'll make it wait.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

FIRES THAT DESTROY by Harry Whittington

Pulpy Tagline: "A relentless, revealing search into the soul of a sinful woman."

Back in the 50's, the pulp paperbacks were filled with seedy noir tales of doomed men moving toward their own destruction through bad choices and usually as a result of the charms of a sexy and irresistible harpy preying on their sad weaknesses. With Fires That Destroy though, prolific pulp writer Harry Whittington turns this trope on its head. He focuses on the femme fatale herself and reverses the roles a bit, telling the story of a meek, mousy secretary named Bernice (think the Hitchcock secretaries, like Midge from Vertigo), who ends up killing her blind employer with the hopes of absconding with his 24,000 bucks, make herself over, and have everything that sexy girls have. So naturally she falls for the first pretty boy that winks at her, leading her down the path to hell.

This is like the "ANTI-feminist" novel, where Bernice spends so much of the novel pining and groveling after an asshole that does nothing but take advantage of her. But I loved that Whittington doesn't pull punches in making sure that a female noir protagonist back then would be just as sad and flawed as their male counterparts, falling ass-over-elbow for a dangerous man that will no doubt lead to her destruction. Bernice is an interesting character, guided by her insecurities and her expectations that money will buy her all the happiness that she believes you get when you're more attractive. But she soon realizes that murder money can only take you to one undeniable destination. And in this book, that destination is an ironic ending that I really adored. Time to read more Whittington!