On “On Stranger Tides”


Author Tim Powers has confirmed that Disney optioned his novel On Stranger Tides and is planning to use elements from it for the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie.

I find this really interesting, because right after I saw the first Pirates movie I went looking for some ghostly pirate fiction to quench my newfound thirst for ghostly pirate fiction, and the only thing I found (somewhat to my surprise) was Powers’ book. It’s a great novel, like most of Powers’ work (if you’re an H.P. Lovecraft fan, I recommend Declare–which would also make a great movie).

If I remember the story correctly, On Stranger Tides also offers a perfect chance to replace Orlando Bloom’s character with another straight man–preferably one who can be more evidently the straight man and not the ostensible hero (Norrington notwithstanding, Jake), but I suspect his character will simply be replaced by Jack Sparrow.

Still, it’s great that Powers is getting some notice. I highly recommend you pick one up–try On Stranger Tides (which, incidentally, was long out-of-print when I went looking for it), Declare or The Anubis Gates.

No one to blame but myself.

I admit it–I don’t read as much as I used to, and when I do read, it’s often not “great literature.” As I chronicled recently, I’m working my way through the old Doc Savage paperbacks from the thirties and forties. I also read a lot of comic books these days.

When I do read a novel, it’s often…not that great. Once upon a time I used to read great works of literature for fun, but that was mostly in late high school and through college. Fantasy and science fiction have always been my literary bread and butter. And I’m also a lifelong fan of…(deep breath)…tie-in fiction. (more…)

Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze

(What’s this?! A new Biggerboat post? No, your eyes do not deceive you!)

Talk about being late to the party. For the first time, at the hoary old age of 29, I finally read a Doc Savage story.

Doc Savage, along with the Shadow and the Phantom and an assortment of other pulp heroes, are the ancestors (fathers, really) of the modern superhero.? And yet, while many people might recognize the name “Doc Savage,” few people–including, until recently, me–knew anything about the character.

I’d been meaning to track down some Doc Savage novels for a while, but I wasn’t in a hurry. While I’m a fan of pulp literature, I’ve been burned by too many experiences with poor writing.

While H.P. Lovecraft (creator of the Cthulhu Mythos) and Robert E. Howard (creator of Conan the barbarian) were good writers as well as good storytellers, other pulp authors have disappointed me. I was never able to get into Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars series, and I just couldn’t get through Armageddon 2419 A.D., the first Buck Rogers novel.

The problem may be the science fiction setting as much as the writing; all the pseudo-science and antiquated ideas are too much at odds with what we’ve learned about the universe since. It becomes distracting, particularly when a character goes on and on about some scientific concept that’s been completely discredited since. (more…)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Yesterday I blasted through Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to finally put an end to the constant shushing I’ve had to do to people who’ve already finished it. (Ed has already written on the phenomenon of HP speed-reading, and I posted my thoughts over there.)

I read the first three Harry Potter books back in 2000 while spending a summer in England. I had avoided them until then mostly out of laziness and a general antipathy toward the mega-popular that I had at the time. When I finally read them, my verdict was that they were good, but not quite as good as Roald Dahl. I enjoyed the fourth book, Goblet of Fire, immensely, but it took me almost a year to get through the depressing Order of the Phoenix. Half-Blood Prince I remember only for its climax.

And where does that leave Deathly Hallows? I’ve decided to keep this a relatively spoiler-free review (we’ll confine the spoilers discussion to the comments below). Overall, I found Deathly Hallows satisfying. Not immensely satisfying; too many of my predictions came true, there was a tad too much of use of di ex machina, and too few major twists.

Actually, that’s as far as I’m going to review it, I think. I could start nitpicking, but if people really want to get into that they can do it in the comments. I think Stephen King’s essay in Entertainment Weekly pretty much sums up my thoughts on the novel.

One thing I would like to mention is that, back in 2000, pompous windbag Harold Bloom issued an ill-favored screed against the Harry Potter books. Three years later, in a bizarre tangent when he was supposed to be attacking Stephen King, Bloom actually suggested it would be better for children not to read at all than to read Harry Potter.

While working on my Masters a few years ago, I wrote an essay defending Harry Potter (and J.R.R. Tolkien) from Bloom and his spiritual predecessor, Edmund Wilson. I wouldn’t dare punish you by reprinting the essay in toto here, but if you’re interested in reading me argue why it’s okay to read popular fiction, you can download the PDF.

And remember: spoilers in the comments!

The Zombie Survival Guide

Since the millennial fever leading up to the year 2000, there have been many catastrophic scenarios played out in the media, from movies about alien invasions and meteorite impacts to novels that sensationalize the Rapture and documentaries about global warming. There’s a lot of talk about a clash of civilizations, avian flu, dwindling natural resources, and the fact that there are tens of thousands of nuclear weapons floating around Russia secured with no more than a padlock and a piece of scrap paper that says “Do not touch—spasiba!” in felt-tip marker.

But the real threat isn’t the hole in the ozone layer, or the irrational politicians, or even the terrorists. It’s zombies.

I’ve been trying to warn people about the zombie menace for years. Many people dismiss zombies as the featured villains in a few disproportionately popular low-budget horror flicks, but I’m here to tell you there is a clear and present danger from the living dead. I’ve never seen a zombie personally, but if you do the right searches on Google News and read between the lines, it’s easy to see just how real and imminent the threat of a zombie armageddon is. With the current ease and speed of international travel and the tendency of major governments to dismiss and ignore zombie outbreaks, the world is no more than a week away from a near-total conversion to a planet of the living dead.

Astonishing stories

I finally got around to reading McSweeney’s Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories last week. I’d read the first volume, McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasure of Thrilling Tales. Both books begin with a well-written defense of genre fiction by Michael Chabon (of Kavalier & Clay fame). Chabon argues that the “revelatory short story” and literary fiction as a whole constitute a genre as much as science fiction, fantasy, or horror. The essays are well-argued and both enjoyable and satisfying to read.

Blurbs: Da Vinci Code, Mirrormask

Finished reading The Da Vinci Code this morning. It’s one of those books you read faster the closer you get to the end, until you’re skimming whole paragraphs just to get the important points of each chapter (which, by the end, were coming on the last line of each chapter like clockwork). The book felt less like a novel than a screenplay, with each chapter ending on a point of high tension before whisking the reader to another scene. It should make a pretty good movie, especially with Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen and Jean Reno involved.

Next up is The Anubis Gates as I continue to work through the canon of Tim Powers.

DG and I watched Mirrormask over the weekend. I attended a panel at the 2003 San Diego Comic Con where screenwriter Neil Gaiman described how the film came about. Supposedly, someone at Columbia Pictures noticed The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, while box office disappointments, were perennial sellers on DVD. So they asked Jim Henson Productions to create a movie in the same style and spirit as these two. JHP turned to Gaiman to write the script, and Gaiman recommended his longtime collaborator Dave McKean, an illustrator and comic book artist best known for his covers to Gaiman’s comic Sandman, to direct.

Unfortunately, Columbia gave McKean a rather paltry budget of just $4 million. This made it necessary for McKean to make heavy use of cinematic trickery and inexpensive CGI.

The result is profoundly…weird. The story centers around a girl named Helena, whose family runs a travelling circus. In an amusing twist on the old cliche, Helena longs to run away from the circus and join real life. She fights with her overbearing mother and wishes her dead; shortly after, her mother falls ill. As her mother is taken to the operating room, Helena–sick with guilt–falls asleep and finds herself in a bizarre alternate realm.

Mirrormask is dense with symbolism and incredible artistic imagery. It’s also pretty incomprehensible at times. The visuals are often cluttered and mystifying, and there are so many lens flares I had to wonder whether McKean was trying to hide the seams of his shoestring-budget CGI.

There’s no question that McKean has an incredible visual imagination; many of the sights in Mirrormask make the films of Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Delicatessen, The City of Lost Children) seem straightforward and facile. But this is not a film for children; it’s certainly not in the same vein as The Dark Crystal or Labyrinth. Alienated teens and art students might find the film’s dense digital phantasmagoria a feast, but for those looking for an enjoyable story along the lines of the aforementioned films, Mirrormask will disappoint.

Next on my Netflix queue is A History of Violence. Further bulletins as events warrant.


Yes, susurrus was Dictionary.com’s word of the day a few days ago–and yes, I pull more than a few of these entry from that website–but this one is particularly apt, as autumn has arrived here in New England.

I love autumn in New England. It’s not just beautiful, it’s sublime. The cold, crisp air; the multicolored trees; the swishing sound of feet moving through fallen leaves. I feel a surge of happiness, tied closely to memory, when I walk down a New England sidewalk in the fall; the sunlight filtering through leaves of orange and yellow, a soft breeze against my cheek.

Winters are cold and windy here; spring is wet and often miserable; summer is humid and miserable. I accept this, grudgingly. But from September to the end of December, New England is my favorite place on earth.

With that bit of attempted poeticism out of the way, on to some comic reviews. Note: My “reviews” aren’t so much reviews as they are discussions of the comics, so if you don’t want spoilers, don’t read the review.

The Fog
The Fog
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I gave The Fog remake a middling review in my last post, but I was doggedly determined to find something of worth in the franchise. As such, I picked up writer Scott Allie’s graphic novel. The cover drawn by Mike Mignola was a big incentive for the purchase, but I felt there must be something to this Fog deal, and that perhaps the relative creative freedom of a graphic novel would validate that suspicion. And it does, to a degree.

Allie’s Fog is a prequel of sorts to the new film, though as Allie points out in his afterword, it can serve equally well as a prequel to the original John Carpenter film. The story involves a group of Chinese immigrants living on the coast of America (I wasn’t clear where–I think it was somewhere in the antebellum South) in the mid-1800s. Amid growing tensions between the immigrants, the rich landowner who employs them, and the landowner’s sadistic half-brother, a mysterious curse comes back to the haunt the Chinese refugees; a curse involving–you guessed it–fog.

The comic is well drawn by Todd Herman and colored by the inimitable Dave Stewart. However, Stewart attempts a strange sort of effect to create the sense of fog–it’s difficult to describe; almost like the vestiges of a watermark on a light gray background. I don’t think it quite works, and ultimately I was more interested in Mignola’s idiosyncratic depiction of fog on the cover than the one in the book.

BPRD The Black Flame #3
BPRD: The Black Flame #3 (of 6)
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This issue made me realize that events in the “Hellboyverse,” for lack of a better term, are moving really fast–perhaps too fast. Between the hints given in “The Island” (see this entry) and the current story in BPRD, there will be an apocalyptic reckoning relatively soon. In fact, unless Mignola decides to really drag it out, I can see Hellboy’s story being over within ten years.

The world of Hellboy was always a bit of an parallel universe. In the comic (unlike the film adaptation) Hellboy is a public figure; everyone knows who he is and what he does and who he works for, and consequently, everyone knows the supernatural exists.

But it’s still a very similar world to ours–people know the supernatural exists, but they try to ignore it. When the plots of the Hellboy comics remained fairly small in scope, it was easy to identify with Hellboy’s world. But events in this and upcoming issues of BPRD make it clear that our world and the world of the BPRD are diverging.

Personally, I don’t like this. I’m not making a distinction of quality between stories set in “our” world and stories set in alternate universes–alternate universes aren’t “bad”–but I prefer it when I can imagine these characters (and monsters) existing in my own universe.

Then there’s the “End of the World” scenario playing out in this story arc. I think it’s a shame Mignola and Dark Horse decided to go with miniseries rather than a continuing BPRD comic. Unlike Hellboy’s solo adventures, I think BPRD would have been perfect as a sort of comic version of The X-Files, with atmospheric standalone stories and single-issue character studies mixed in among the greater “mythos” storyline.

Between “The Island” and BPRD, I have no idea what Mignola sort of universe Mignola is creating. To elaborate: I was reading some comments by S.T. Joshi last night about H.P. Lovecraft’s novella At the Mountains of Madness. Joshi claims that in this story, Lovecraft “demythologizes” all his previous tales; i.e., he “retcons” all his earlier supernatural fiction (which often involved witches, ghouls, and vast dreamscapes) to fit the rules of “science,” or rather, materialism. Essentially, all that macabre stuff suddenly became the result of humanity brushing up against other dimensions and the inconceivable entities that thrive therein. God and the Devil as sources of the supernatural were exchanged for “science” and extraterrestrials.

According to comments made by Mignola and his editor, Fog-writer Scott Allie, there was a general decision to move the post-BPRD Hellboy, in his solo adventures, away from the “Lovecraftian” conception of the supernatural that ran through much of the comic and into the realm of folklore, while the BPRD continued to develop the eldritch side of the Hellboy mythos. So far there’s still quite a bit of crossover, particularly in “The Island,” though that story may represent the end of Hellboy’s involvement in the Lovecraftian world for now.

In an interview, Mignola said,

“The whole first chunk of the Hellboy adventures is about avoiding having any kind of mission in life, other than ‘Yeah, my job is to fight monsters.’ What the next chapter of Hellboy ends up being about is, you have a very specific mission – a very specific goal. And this first chapter has been a lot of Lovecraft kind of stuff. We’ve introduced the folklore elements, [and] my own kind of Lovecraft mythology that is being dealt with in the BPRD. This new chapter of Hellboy is very, very folklore-oriented. So this story, in a way, is me making my big statement about the kind of fake ‘Lovecraftian’ mythology [featured in Hellboy to this point].”

Mignola appears to be trying to have it both ways–the mystical supernatural world of folklore and the materialistic mileau of Lovecraft. Hellboy lives in the one, and the BPRD in the other.

I can’t decide whether I think mixing these two conceptions of the preternatural is smart or sloppy. I suspect it was something Mignola wasn’t too worried about initially; and if I had to guess, I’d say Mignola is more interested in the folklore than the Lovecraft stuff, and we may owe as much of Hellboy’s Lovecraftian themes to John Byrne’s involvement in the first Hellboy graphic novel (Seed of Destruction) as to Mignola’s own tastes.

In think it’s that “demythologizing” (or perhaps “scientificizing”) aspect that draws me to Lovecraft and originally drew me to Hellboy (or rather, to the film, which I saw before reading the comic). I liked the notion of this traditional red-skinned devil creature being explained as a creature of another dimension or universe.

Many of my favorite Lovecraft stories, such as At the Mountains of Madness, “The Dreams in the Witch-House,” and “The Call of Cthulhu,” feature this use of scientific principles to “explain” ancient superstitions and supernatural phenomena. For a twentieth-century, post-Relativity reader, it’s the perfect way to create at least the veneer of reality necessary to believe any of the creepy things in Lovecraft’s tales are possible.

Mignola never seemed interested in going that route. In its early years Hellboy, like The X-Files, veered constantly between science fiction, folklore, religion, and the mystic supernatural, with no unifying thread tying them all together. Lovecraft may not, as purists claim, have created a true “mythos,” but in his later work he did create a kind of logos, a unifying principle of the world, in which humanity is insignificant and the earth and its intergalactic brethren are tossed about by incomprehensible cosmic forces like leaves in a storm.

That’s what I enjoy about Lovecraft, and it’s what I enjoyed so much in the Hellboy movie. It’s there in the comics, too, but it came to a head in the graphic novel Conqueror Worm, and by Mignola’s own admission, it’s not the direction Hellboy (in his solo adventures) will be going anymore.

But I don’t really mind that. I love Hellboy and will continue to read the comics with pleasure. Most writers can look at someone else’s work, even that of their favorite authors, and say, “This is great, but it isn’t quite how I’d do it…” The world of Hellboy belongs to Mignola, and I accept that. Mike’s one of the best comic artists out there and a true heir to the writers of the Weird Tales era.

Getting back to the issue at hand (pun intended), BPRD has been pretty securely anchored in the Lovecraftian side of the Hellboy mythos, and The Black Flame #3 is no exception. Zinco, the evil corporation of the Hellboyverse, continues its Nazi-like melding of the scientific and the occult, while its manager Pope goes insane.

The big news in this issue is that Roger, the human-sized homunculus much loved by fans, is dead, blown to smithereens by the Black Flame (a.k.a. Pope). The last sequence of panels zoom in on Roger’s circular “gas cap” which he uses to power up, and the upcoming cover to Black Flame #6 features the little ancient Native American knob or dial that Roger came across in–well, I’m not sure what issue it was. But I’m wondering whether that dial fits into Roger’s gas cap.

Conan #21
Conan #21
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The second part of the “Tower of the Elephant” storyline continues as Conan and the Rubenesque master thief Taurus enter the eponymous structure.

I’m impressed that writer Kurt Busiek was able to spread this story over three issues. I also think it should have been two at most. I’ve also never warmed to Cary Nord’s art, but I still enjoy seeing my favorite Cimmerian in action.

Where Monsters Dwell
Marvel Monsters: Where Monsters Dwell
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The second in the Marvel Monsters series and probably the last one I’ll buy. This one features three new stories and one reprint.

The first story, “Bring on the Bombu,” writ by the oft-amusing Mike Allred and drawn in retro-60s style, features the laughable monster of the original 1960 short “Bombu: the Witch Man,” who is in fact an alien, not a witch doctor. In an attempt to gain credibility among the natives of Earth, he threatens New York with his weapons of mass destructions, which he calls “Ting Tang” and “Wallah Wallah Bing Bang.” As you might predict, the story ends in tears for poor Bombu.

“The Return of Monstrollo” is a Hollywood parody by Peter David, in which the hero of the original 1960s tale finds himself destitute in La-La-land and in need of a helping hand–which he gets in the form of aliens and a reanimated Monstrollo himself.

Then there’s “The Shadow of Manoo” by Jeff Parker, which features a more subtle and disturbing kind of humor than the previous stories, with a surprise if not entirely believable ending.

Finally, the last story is a reprint of a Joe Sinnott/Jack Kirby story, “I was Trapped by Titano!”, featuring a colossal lobster. The story is brief and more interesting than the one from “Devil Dinosaur.”

Oh, one final note, the cover is draw by Eric Powell of–

Goon 25 cent issue
The Goon 25¢ issue
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The Goon fame. In an effort to boost sales, Dark Horse has released this reprint of an early Goon story, one that serves as a pretty good introduction to the character and the comic. Selling for just 25¢, it also features a brand-new back-up story starring the Unholy Bastards, Powell’s answer to the Little Rascals.

As a missionary of the Word of Powell, I bought a bunch of issues of this comic, and I will send a copy–free of charge!–to the first four (4) people who email me and ask nicely.

Mr. T #2
Mr. T #2

In the interests of full disclosure, I will include this in my list of comic reviews. Yes, I’m reading the Mr. T comic. No, it’s not that bad; yes, it’s not that great.

In this issue, Mr. T beats up some drug dealers and goes after the Head Honcho of the dealers, where he meets his match–a ‘roided up thug named Stare Roy. Yes, Stare Roy. No, it’s not Jason Giambi.


Phew. The discussion of The Black Flame #3 alone is longer than many whole entries I’ve written for this thing.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these lengthy reviews of comic books you probably don’t read, but in the case of at least BPRD and The Goon, you should. For those of you who don’t like to buy individual comics, you can always buy the trade paperbacks–Dark Horse has tons of ’em.


Okay, so I didn’t exactly turn around and get another update up right away, as I’d planned to do. I’ll try harder next time.

ToyFare 100

Before we begin, a brief plug: I’ve got two pieces in this month’s ToyFare magazine (#100). The first is an interview with the design group The Four Horsemen, and then there’s my usual “What’s In Store” in the price guide section. You can find ToyFare at comic shops and pop culture stores (like Newbury Comics), or you can order a copy online here (link may not work for a week or so).

Hellboy: On Earth as It Is in Hell

Hellboy: On Earth as it is in Hell by Brian Hodge.

I finally caught up with the various Hellboy lore (graphic novels, graphic anthologies, prose anthologies, prose novels, and the movie) a few months back, so it was nice to have something more to read. Hodge’s novel is the first of a number of planned Hellboy books by various authors.

Hellboy was created in 1994 by comic artist and writer Mike Mignola. I actually liked Mignola’s artwork long before I became aware of Hellboy; he drew a relatively obscure graphic novel titled Wolverine’s Jungle Adventure (1990), which was written by Walt Simonson and is much more mature than its title would suggest. Mignola’s art appealed to me even then; it featured clean, sharp lines, solid colors, and none of the distracting hyper-detail and cross-hatching of that era.

I’m afraid I didn’t read the Hellboy comics until after I saw the movie last year, but I quickly rediscovered what I’d loved so much in Mignola’s art–as well as discovering that Mignola and I shared a love for the pulp authors of the early twentieth century, such as H.P. Lovecraft.

For those who don’t know, the Hellboy stories detail the adventures of the title character, a demon who appeared in an old church in England in 1944. The product of a Nazi occult ritual gone awry, Hellboy was found by Allied soldiers and adopted by a secret American government organization called the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD). They raised Hellboy and he eventually became the Bureau’s best agent, fighting supernatural threats all over the world (while dark hints begin to appear of what his role in the world really is–or will be).

Mignola has carefully controlled his creation. Other than his own work, only a few Hellboy stories are “canon” (the film is decidedly not). The novels, however, are developed with Mignola’s input, and as such can be considered canon (by Mignola’s own admission).

There are two previous Hellboy novels, The Lost Army and The Bones of Giants, both by Christopher Golden. Both featured black-and-white illustrations by Mignola himself. Sadly, Mignola’s art is absent from Brian Hodge’s On Earth as it is in Hell, but what we do get is the best Hellboy novel to date.

The story begins when the Vatican’s library is attacked by angels. Or more specifically, seraphim, the legendary Old Testament incarnations of God’s righteous wrath. It seems the angels were after a specific ancient text that could shake the foundations of the Catholic Church. As luck (or design) would have it, the text survives the conflagration, and Hellboy and the BPRD are flown into Rome to investigate.

Hodge’s story “Far Flew the Boast of Him” in the Hellboy prose anthology Odd Jobs was one of the better pieces (and my personal favorite), so it comes as no surprise that he’s done right by Mignola (and Hellboy) here. While he includes the requisite monsters, dark evil forces, and paranoid conspiracies one expects from a Hellboy story, Hodge also offers good characterization and even a few literary touches. I know from experience how tricky it is to translate the colorful, larger-than-life characters of comic books to the more realistic style of prose (especially when they have names like “Hellboy”), but Hodge’s novel is one of the best such efforts I’ve read (he even addresses the name issue in one amusing exchange).

While I recommend one read the comics before moving on to the prose works (you can start here), if you’re intrigued by Hellboy but don’t like comics, this novel is probably the best introduction to his world outside of Mignola’s work.

And speaking of Hellboy’s world…

Black Flame #2

BPRD: The Black Flame #2 (Dark Horse Comics)

When Hellboy officially quit the BPRD a few years back (Hodges’s novel is set in 1996), Mignola, in effect, quit it as well. While he continues to draw Hellboy’s solitary adventures (though even that will change with the next miniseries), other creators have filled the demand for Hellboy-related material by continuing the adventures of the BPRD in its own series.

So far, BPRD has been more-or-less monthly, but each storyline is broken up into separate story arcs. After a couple of miniseries, the book settled into to a fairly regular schedule with the same writing and artistic teams. The first of the current run was Plague of Frogs, followed by The Dead, and now, The Black Flame. All three series have been drawn by monster-artist extraordinaire Guy Davis (whose “Marquis” comics are superb).

The main characters in BPRD include Liz Sherman, a pyrokinetic; Abe Sapien, a kind of a polite, intelligent version of the Creature from the Black Lagoon; Roger, a human-sized homunculus with a child-like intelligence; Johann Kraus, a disembodied spirit (ghost) contained in a special suit; and my favorite, Kate Corrigan, a former NYU professor and specialist in folklore and mythology who has no supernatural powers whatsoever.

The running theme through the three series has been the growing threat of the “frog monsters”–half-man, half-amphibian creatures who have a habit of infecting humans and turning them into new frog monsters. The creatures are spreading across the U.S. and the BPRD is working desperately to contain them.

The Dead took a break from the frog monster threat to examine the Bureau’s haunted new headquarters in Colorado and delve into Abe’s personal history, but the frogs are front-and-center once more in The Black Flame, as a familiar name from the BPRD’s past–the Zinco corporation–begins to raise its rather skin-impaired head.

It’s difficult to summarize what’s going on in BPRD without giving away the plots of the first two series (and probably the whole of Mignola’s Hellboy-related corpus), so I’ll just review this issue specifically.

As always, Davis’s art is top-notch. It’s tough when an artist creates a signature comic book that becomes associated with his style–especially a style as distinctive as Mignola’s–then hands the reigns over to another artist (though Mignola still plots the series).

But sometimes, if the artist is the right one, it’s great. I’m still not fond of Davis’s faces–everyone looks the same, and their noses are all too big–but there’s no denying the man knows how to draw monsters. Davis draws the best Lovecraftian beasties I’ve seen in comics. And aided by Dave Stewart’s beautiful color work, BPRD is one of the most attractive-looking comics out there.

As for the story itself: in this issue we meet Zinco’s new owner (the last one having met an unfortunate fate in the Hellboy graphic novel Wake the Devil) and find out a bit about his Evil Plan™. It’s a bizarre amalgamation of science and sorcery, which has become a staple of BPRD even as Mignola takes Hellboy himself in a more folklore/mythology direction.

But Hellboy and the BPRD are still in continuity, and those who have read this summer’s Hellboy miniseries “The Island” will know a little more about what’s going on with the plague of frog monsters than the members of the BPRD do (too bad HB can’t check in with someone).

On a side note, one of the most exciting bits in this issue was the discovery that a certain fan-favorite Hellboy villain is apparently still alive or, at least, intact (look carefully at pages 2-3).

The Goon #14

The Goon #14 (Dark Horse Comics)

There were two things that led me to The Goon. First, there was a Hellboy/Goon crossover in Goon #7, which led me to pick it up. And second, Mezco, the company putting out the Hellboy action figures, announced they were going to do Goon figures in the same scale.

At that point, I assumed there must be something to the hubbub, so after enjoying the Hellboy/Goon crossover, I picked up the first Goon trade paperback, Rough Stuff. And when I got to the part with the giant talking fish quoting Quint’s various lines from JAWS, I knew I’d found something special.

The Goon is the brainchild of writer/artist Eric Powell. It centers around the title character, a hulking thug with an overbite and a scally cap who doesn’t go in for zombies.

Yes, you heard right, zombies. The Goon is a wonderful stew of pop culture, mostly from the ’30s–’50s period. There’s a lot of influence from the old EC Horror comics and the works of artist Wally Wood, but I’ve always seen the comic as a sort of twisted cross between Popeye, Dick Tracy, and George Romero zombie movies.

The series takes place in an indeterminate time period, a sort of mélange of the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s as they’re remembered in greeting-card nostalgia. Until recently, Powell’s art style was fairly cartoonish (especially in his depiction of Frankie, Goon’s hilariously pugnacious sidekick, whose pupil-free eyes recall Little Orphan Annie), but recently Dark Horse has improved the paper the comic is printed on, allowing Powell to use more pencils and develop the almost Rockwellian style he’s been moving toward (the comic has featured a number of Rockwell parodies).

But back to the issue at hand (pun intended): in #14 we discover the secret of the Zombie Priest, Goon’s arch-nemesis. This issue also features the welcome return of Buzzard, one of the series’ most fascinating and tragic characters.

The main story is fairly short, so the issue features two amusing back-up stories, one drawn by Neil Vokes and the other by Kyle Hotz (as well as a bizarre one-page short by Powell at the end, featuring what I’m guessing is a real-life acquaintance of Powell’s).

Why two back-up stories in a single issue? Perhaps because Powell was busy working on…

Devil Dinosaur

Marvel Monsters: Devil Dinosaur

I don’t read any Marvel Comics these days (mostly just Dark Horse, if anything), but I had to pick up this one-shot. Not only was it drawn and co-scripted by Eric Powell (with Tom Sniegoski), but it stars one of my favorite obscure Marvel characters, Devil Dinosaur.

I first came across Devil Dinosaur when he and his sidekick, an ape-man called Moon Boy, appeared in a couple of issues of The New Mutants (which I was reading for their connection to Cable, whom I loved in my adolescent unawareness of quality). I found the notion of this semi-intelligent red Tyrannosaurus so cool that I immediately painted my Tyrantisaurus toy red, making a pretty good approximation of the character while costing myself hundreds of future eBay dollars.

Marvel is pushing a whole bunch of monster-related titles this month as part of a Halloween-themed celebration harkening back to their early (pre-Spider-Man) days, when their bread-and-butter was the monster comics created by the legendary Jack Kirby. As it happens, Devil Dinosaur was one of Kirby’s last creations for Marvel, so he’s a fitting character to start the Marvel Monsters series.

That said, this comic feels a lot more like an issue of The Goon than a Marvel comic. Powell’s influence is everywhere, from the Goon-ish look of the Hulk to the Dr. Alloy-like dialogue of Devron the Celestial.

The story is pretty simple: on his home planet, Devil Dinosaur has helped Moon Boy’s friendly Small Folk defeat the vicious Killer Folk. Two Celestials, Devron and Gamiel (think Q from Star Trek: The Next Generation) have been watching all this, and when Devron teases Gamiel for being wrong about the superiority of the Killer Folk, Gamiel decides to even the odds by importing the Hulk from Earth and plopping him in the middle of the Killer Folk as their new champion.

Of course, lots of fighting ensues, helped immensely by Powell’s wonderful art. Powell obviously remembers the time when comics just tried to be fun. It’s good that comics have moved beyond that and evolved into “an original American art form,” but sometimes it’s great to just read a goofy, colorful comic book.

The issue also features a back-up story in the form of an old Jack Kirby comic from 1960 that introduced “the Hulk”–not the familiar green-skinned behemoth of ’80s television and bad Ang Lee films, but the original Marvel Hulk, who was apparently a furry alien monster not unlike Gossamer from the old Marvin Martian cartoons. I didn’t find the comic that interesting; Kirby was working a mile-a-minute in those days, and it shows. Still, it’s always interesting to see ’60s-era art in a glossy contemporary comic.


Vampires. I’ve never been that fascinated by vampires. They’re just one sort of monster among many. In terms of physical appearance, your traditional vampire isn’t even interesting: a human with fangs and a pale complexion. Now, with a werewolf, or a lake monster, or a living corpse made from stitched-together body parts–now that’s a physically interesting monster.

Yet, despite my lack of enthusiasm for the subject, I find myself immersed in vampire-related media. My girlfriend has me watching Buffy: the Vampire Slayer. My two most recent Xbox game purchases were a Buffy game and Bloodrayne. I recently re-read Dracula and watched Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 film version. I also read a Buffy tie-in novel as well as an original novel about vampires by the same author. Then there are the Blade movies, which I’m fond of.

It might seem that I’m actively seeking out this vampire material and, perhaps, actually do like vampires. But in truth, I’ll take your average Lovecraftian tentacled beastie over some greased-up trenchcoat-wearing poseur with nasty pointy teeth any day. Frankly, I have no explanation for the ubiquity of bloodsuckers in my life at the moment.

I decided to re-read Dracula because I’d seen an interview with Hellboy creator Mike Mignola. Mignola claimed the novel inspired his career when he read it in fourth grade; then and there, he knew he wanted to make monsters his career. I vaguely recalled Dracula as being rather boring, so I decided to try it again.

I went out and bought the Norton Critical edition of the text, thinking, in my snooty way, that this would have the purest version of the text. But this purchase proved to be a mistake. The Norton Critical series publishes “literary” texts that are usually part of the generally accepted Western Canon. There are only two horror novels in the Norton Critical series: Dracula and Frankenstein. I’ve read both, and while Norton gives Mrs. Shelley her due, Mr. Stoker comes in for something of a beating.

The annotations in the Norton Dracula constantly call attention to errors in the manuscript, and sadly, most of these are legitimate complaints. For instance, the novel is epistolary, and Stoker makes a number of mistakes in the dates of the journals. The editors also note several points on which Stoker contradicts himself. These are mostly related to Van Helsing’s various claims about vampires.

Reading the Norton edition, one gets the sense that Dracula was included in the collection very reluctantly, and the annotations seem to reflect a certain unforgiving attitude on the part of the editors. Both the copy on the back of the book and the introduction make a point to tell the reader that the Victorians considered Dracula just another potboiler. The implication is that Dracula owes its reputation not to Stoker’s skill, but to that of his cinematic successors–the filmmakers who used the story to create such films such as Nosferatu, Tod Browning’s Dracula, the Hammer Horror of Dracula and Coppola’s aforementioned extravaganza.

After re-reading the novel, I’m inclined to agree with the editors. There are a number of factors that make Dracula a not-so-thrilling read. First off, it’s epistolary. I’ve often argued with fellow writers that I don’t like first-person horror or thriller novels because, by having a first-person past tense narrator, a level of suspense has already been removed–if the narrator’s telling the story, then obviously he or she is alive (and if the narrator is killed at the end of the novel anyway, the reader feels cheated). An epistolary novel works similarly: whoever is writing in the journal (or recording on the Victrola) is obviously alive.

But at least in a first-person novels, events are narrated in “real-time”; while the verbs may be in the past-tense, the story progresses in a way that feels natural and forward-moving. An epistolary novel doesn’t even have that; the events of each section are related with a very clear awareness that they’ve already happened.

But the epistolary aspect is only part of the problem. As an aspiring writer, I’m calling Stoker out: Dracula is a sloppy novel.

There are numerous inconsistencies. I suspect Stoker wrote the thing in a rush and didn’t bother to go back and check what he’d written in earlier sections. There are also many redundant scenes. How many times do we need to see Lucy get a blood transfusion? (And with each one, the implausibility of all these men having the same blood type as Lucy becomes ludicrous–though it’s not really fair to blame that on Stoker, since he only went with what science knew at the time.) The sloppy plotting is often distracting, especially when the annotations are pointing them out at every turn.

But what bothered me the most, by the end, were the speeches. For a purported Gothic thriller, Dracula is pretty light on the action, atmosphere, and horror, and pretty heavy on the jawing. The worst offender is Van Helsing, who goes on and on in most of his scenes. Stoker clearly loved the character, and Van Helsing is wonderfully bizarre (only Anthony Hopkins’s performance in Coppola’s version has come close to capturing Van Helsing as Stoker wrote him). But the good doctor talks too much. I suspect Stoker’s aware of this–there are a few scenes where the other characters make note of how over-the-top his behavior is–but Stoker still can’t seem to help himself. And so we get three or four pages of Van Helsing praising Mina’s virtues and the virtues of women in general.

On the other hand, after the first fifth of the novel where Jonathan goes to see Dracula in his castle, we get maybe ten more pages with Dracula himself. For the rest of the novel he’s simply a vague presence, hovering on the fringes of the story as our hapless Victorian heroes strive to overcome their credulity and ally themselves with an arguably insane Dutchman to defeat the supernatural menace.

The various film adaptations–culminating in Coppola’s lavish production–have recognized the obvious: Dracula himself is much more interesting than the other characters. While I tend to prefer a certain degree of faithfulness in film adaptations of literary works, I think films like Nosferatu and Stoker’s version do a lot more with the material than Stoker did.

Stoker works his ass off to make the reader believe that vampires could exist in the real world. For this reason, he eschews showing much of Dracula–lest we notice the stage trickery–and fills the novel with as much up-to-date science as possible. The idea isn’t dissimilar from the way fantasy authors tend to ground their material in as realistic a style as possible. By emphasizing up-to-date technology–and keeping the folklore monster out of the picture, for the most part–Stoker tries to minimize how much disbelief his readers have to suspend.

Stoker created an indelible connection between horror fiction and technology. Later authors, such as H.P. Lovecraft, would use science as a way of grounding their horrific menaces in reality. The most deliberate attempt to do this with vampires is Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. Many vampire stories have taken their cue from Matheson’s novel. Most modern vampire fiction splits into two categories: supernatural vampires (such as those in Buffy and the works of Ann Rice) or “scientific” vampires (Blade, Underworld, and various other comics).

Personally, when it comes to vampires, I prefer scary, ugly things like Count Orlok from Nosferatu to the brooding, Anne Rice-style goths who run rampant through much modern vampire fiction.

And I would have hated Dracula in fourth grade.

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