Sunday, May 25, 2014
We start out with the title story 'Zombies in Paradise' (originally published as 'Zombie Camp'). In the near future, the zombie apocalypse has come and gone. The virus that caused the zombie plague was identified and counteracted by government scientists. The only form of infection left, is now used to make a profit (!), allowing paying customers to try the zombie experience at a posh island resort. We are introduced to Frank and Cathy, a married couple whose domestic life has been less than perfect recently. Their presence at the resort is an attempt to reignite the spark in their marriage. Following their first stint as zombies, Frank is absolutely drawn to the experience, but Cathy has misgivings. Things of course, go downhill from there...
Next up is 'Fright Wig'. Janey and Brian are two teenagers, out on a date at the carnival. Drawn to a sideshow promising an "Authentic Haitian Voodoo Demonstration", Brian immediately takes on the role of skeptic (and smart-ass), trying to win points with Janey by exposing the show as a hoax. After his initial efforts are frustrated, he goes to greater lengths to prove that the "zombie" is a fake. His first mistake was buying the ticket of course... A distinct EC feel to this one, very much appreciated.
The last of the zombie entries is 'Foragers'. Set during the American Civil War, we are introduced to the unnamed narrator, and his friend Josh, both veteran Union volunteers. The narrator has contempt for the new men that have been press-ganged into the army, the Rebels, and pretty much anyone who has anything to do with the war being waged. After stumbling across a sinister figure in a drunken haze, the protagonist and his friend are next involved in a battle to take a Rebel fortification. Both are wounded and knocked unconscious, and in the aftermath... they experience the horror of the resurrected dead! Their only salvation may be in the hands of the Rebels that are narrator so despises... An excellent story, one of my favorites from the collection. Very well written, I'd love this made over into graphic form, and illustrated by someone like Russ Heath, Carlos Ezquerra, or Val Mayerik. Bang-up job, Richard!
The first of the vampire tales is 'Night Games' set during the time of the Roman Empire (more specifically during the time of Constantine the Great, before his decision to convert to Christianity). Constantine has been kidnapped, fresh after his reconquering of Rome. His rescue (after many arguments) are left to his Frankish mage, Ragnachar, and the unnamed soldier narrating the story. The tale is a great page-turner of a mystery, and you're never truly aware of who you should be rooting for. The newly minted Emperor has been taken by vampires, but there is much more going on in the background, that you gradually become aware of. No heroes to be found here, in my opinion, yet this story is also a favorite. I'd like to see Brian Bolland illustrating this... very nice.
Next, and last, of the vampire stories is 'The Wizard and the Dragon'. In this case, the title is referring to Thomas Edison (the wizard) and Vlad Dracul (the dragon). Edison is approached by a unnamed benefactor with a proposition; meet me in your old laboratory, and the new age will belong to you. He finds out that this new group of investors are vampires, wishing to convert him. He is tempted, and about to agree, when Vlad himself arrives to dispute their claim... he knows something they don't, and wont allow this to take place... A favorite, very nicely done. I could see this with visuals by Bernie Wrightson.
The last entry in the collection is 'The Guide', a corruption of the term if I've ever heard one. A psychically endowed flim-flam man combs the graveyards for newly passed souls. After finding one, he doesn't help them transition towards a higher plane, he instead finds a different purpose for them, dealing with fun and profit (and class warfare, in my opinion). A good story, demonstrating that the narrator is not always a good guy...
Should you be reading this? In my opinion, yes, yes, yes! Richard is an author that can weave an intriguing story, regardless of genre, and cross over genre lines. He got me back into reading fantasy, helped clue me into the New Pulp movement, and (currently) had me enjoying some old school horror. The man really knows how to spin a tale... His cross-genre tales are truly appreciated, by me, whenever I find them. There is a distinct flavor to his tales that hark back to the stories that inspired me to read, which I deeply appreciate. Take a look at his work, and judge for yourself! All I can say, is thank you sir! Another good collection filed away in the brain-box! With that, I'll leave you to your reading... Have fun, my friends!
Here's where you can get the collection. Here's Richard's Amazon page. Here's his blog... Get exploring!
Friday, May 23, 2014
|Truly outstanding cover art by Laura Givens|
We start out with 'From Within', by Jim Beard, in which we find Hawkeye up a tree, and not liking the situation one bit. The trio have been ambushed by a large hunting party of braves, his father and brother press-ganged, and Hawkeye himself beaten senseless. The main purpose of the hunting party was to swell the ranks of the Indians supporting the French army. After coming to, and thinking things out, Hawkeye fetches a French speaking trapper (so he may parlay with those that have taken his family), and sets out on their trail. Thus, we come to the tree which he does not want to be in, which is overlooking the camp of the kidnappers, and Hawkeye is not liking what he sees. Too many warriors between himself and his family. Hawkeye attempts to parlay, and is almost murdered. Fleeing, so as to remain free to rescue his family, his opportunity eventually comes. He is shocked, at first, that his father and brother choose to remain with their captors. They have come up with a plan to convince the braves to stop supporting the French, and it can only be accomplished from within their ranks... What can I say about Jim's entry? Oh, yeah... this author is just becoming more and more amazing, with every new story of his that I read. His description of the setting is spot-on; the frenzy of Hawkeye, after being separated from his family, is heartfelt. The plan, to save as many as possible, despite the possible consequences, is EXACTLY what Chingachgook would do. The story is well crafted, the tragedy prophetic (within the story and in the future), both for our heroes and the Native American population, as a whole, and the acceptance by the trio of the outcome, both heartbreaking, and representative of the characters. This is a heck of a story, and an absolute pleasure to read! Do yourself a favor, look up Jim Beard's name, find his books, buy them and enjoy! He just keeps getting better, and better... The man is a talent, and I thank him for giving me a piece of something I craved for two decades...
Next up we have 'Red Blizzard' by Ron Fortier. I've admired Ron's work for some time, both in the comic book field and in the New Pulp genre (point of fact, his publishing house turned me on to the New Pulp genre, for which I must add an extra THANKS). When I saw his name attached to this release, I immediately knew I was in for a good story. Ron definitely did not disappoint... We open with Hawkeye tracking a deer through heavy snowfall; his father and brother are on separate hunts, foraging for food. He is almost killed when he is ambushed by a group of Mohawk braves, striking at him under the cover of the storm. Fighting them off, the last live Mohawk brave and Hawkeye are carried away, as the wet snowfall gives way and they tumble down a ravine. As he loses consciousness, he sees three more braves making there way down the path towards him. Coming to under the ministrations of Chingachgook, he realizes his father and brother have saved him from his fate. After a bit of recuperation, the trio hasten to the village of their allies, the Delawares, to warn them of the Mohawk war party. After a harrowing trek, including a running battle between the trio and the Mohawks, they reach their destination. Warning their friends, they find that all is not right. The primary student of the tribe's medicine man has stolen away the bride to be of the chief's son. With the Mohawk looming, the village can no longer spare any manpower to search for the runaways. Our trio, naturally, volunteers to take up the search, and has no objection about the chief's son being included in the search. Possibly Chingachgook has a plan (as always), and possibly Hawkeye and Uncas can help this plan come to fruition... if they can survive the blizzard, the Mohawks, and the love-lorn son of the chief. As I've said above, I greatly admire Ron's storytelling, and this entry is no exception to that rule. A master of his craft, he demonstrates his agility with the written word throughout this entry. Opening with Hawkeye's hunt, he quickly throws us into the chaos of the ambush. Leaving us believing, in the aftermath (along with his protagonist, from his point of view), that Hawkeye is done for, he instead reunites the family... The running battle between our the heroes and the Mohawks, was particularly exciting, and just when you might think this is all about the action side of things... he introduces a new plot element, and pretty much takes you through the classic "Hero's Journey" in the small amount of space contained within this short story (naturally, I'm not talking about our trio, they are already fully formed heroes). Chingachgook's visions, and his overall reasoning about how things will end, for the Native Americans is both poignant, and of course, born out by history. Ron manages to convey all these themes within such a limited space, and I must take my hat off to him. Thank you, SIR, for this history of the wanderings and deeds of some of my favorite characters! You totally captured the essence of Chingachgook, Hawkeye, and Uncas, and for that I thank you most wholeheartedly!
The third tale in this collection is 'Test of Bravery' by Frank Schildiner. Of the four authors contributing to this collection, Frank is the only one that I was unfamiliar with... I have to say, after reading through his story, that I will need to rectify this as soon as possible! His tale fitted in seamlessly with the other three, and I greatly admired his entry, and the journey that he sent our heroes on. While following their own path, the family is drawn to a recently raided enclave of settlers by the smell of the burning settlement. Enduring the initial fears and hostile reaction of the devastated settlers, they slowly win over the people of the town, and manage to draw out the details of the raid. The raiders are identified as Mohawks, but the tribal council of the Iroquois League of Six Nations (including the Mohawk tribe) has made peace with the British, and has pledged not to harm the influx of settlers. Renegades are suspected by Chingachgook, but Hawkeye still has doubts about the identities of those behind the raid... something isn't quite right. Volunteering to find out who, exactly, is behind the slaughter, the trio enter their blood-enemies home territory... the tribe that they must now call ally, due to the recent treaty of the Iroquois Nation. They will be treated with surprising respect, by many... and endure treachery from a few. One of our heroes will undergo a true test of bravery (and they will all experience a test of their restraint, and of letting go of the past), but will he survive? Frank's story is gripping, and I rushed through it at break-neck speed. Although lacking some of the nonstop action of the first two tales, the story is enthralling with it's premise of having our band of heroes meet their blood-enemies, but under a flag of truce (and don't fret, the action is there, Frank just takes time to explore other elements of the situation). The theme of not vilifying an entire people for the actions of a few individuals is greatly appreciated. Hatred, of different types, is explored delicately within this story, and it is made all the better by this exploration. A really top-notch entry, by an excellent author... I need to go out and find other examples of Frank's work, I really do! You guys should too, just saying...
The final entry in the collection is 'Fort of Skulls' by I. A. Watson. I was already a fan of the author, due to his work on Zeppelin Tales and the Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective series, and looked forward to a well written tale. Suffice it to say, I. A. gave me that, and much more! We open with the trio acting as couriers for General Webb, of the British army. Coming across a floundering detachment of British soldiers, who have gotten their supply wagon stuck at a ford, they decide to offer their help. After enduring a rather close scrutiny from the soldiers, the unit's Captain quickly orders the three men to help them get to their destination. Working as army scouts, the three decide to acquiesce to the Captain's order. The group is charged with reinforcing the garrison at Fort Woburn, due to losses from French snipers. Hawkeye learns that the previous pathfinders have deserted in the night and this, along with friction between the trio and individual soldiers, is not a good sign for the coming journey. After arriving at their destination, they find the fort deserted, with no signs of why the garrison has left their post (harks back to the mystery of Roanoke). When the new batch of soldiers start disappearing (and worse), one by one, the pressure is ratcheted up. The remaining men start turning on one another, and still the mystery of Fort Woburn remains unsolved... The incorporation of mystery elements, and horror into this rather excellent tale rather demonstratively pushes it over the top. The action comes about in the last act, and until that point, you instead feel a sense of wondering dread. As more men vanish, our companions are left with few clues to solve the mystery, and you begin to wonder if it's beyond them... It doesn't help that their allies begin fracturing under the pressure of the events. I. A. has written an absolutely enthralling tale, melding adventure, mystery, and horror together in perfect measures. The story was all I expected, and more, and I was totally blown away. The last act was something to see, indeed! I'll give you guys two hints (spelled as they are in the story)... Miscatonic Valley, and whip-poor-whil. A rather outstanding end to a wonderful collection! I highly recommend this entry to anyone who loves well written tales of adventure, fans of the characters, and to readers in general! This was a true pleasure to read, and I hope you pick it up, and enjoy Pride of the Mohicans as much as I did! As usual, happy reading, and ta!
Here's the publisher's website. By all means, take a look. Here's the books Amazon page. Here's Jim's blog and here's his FB fan page. You can catch up with what I. A. has going on here. You can peruse all things Ron (and find some dang good reads from other authors, as well) here. And here's a good interview with Frank (not mine), where you can find out more about him.
Sunday, May 18, 2014
We start out with 'The Scarlet Courtesan Of Sovereign City', in which we are introduced to Fortune and company. In this story Fortune McCall blows into Sovereign city like a hurricane. He's a man on a mission; an old friend has gone missing, and Fortune means to get her back, He doesn't care what it takes, but he will find her and bring her home. He soon finds that a nefarious family is behind her disappearance, and that they are a force to be reckoned with. Mayhem ensues, but Fortune will not be deterred... Bullets fly, and the body count begins to mount, but he WILL bring his friend in safely; and possibly disrupt a worldwide threat, to boot. This opening salvo is absolutely riveting!
Next up, we have 'The Day of the Silent Death'. Our crew of adventurers have been persuaded to stay in Sovereign City by the powers that be; they've basically been given carte blanche to handle crimes of an unusual nature. When the entire clientele and workforce of The First Amalgamated Savings and Trust Bank mysteriously drops dead (all except for one man), the Mayor's office naturally calls in Fortune. The methodology and the reason for the mass murder are a mystery, and the threat of this silent killer has the city fathers quaking in their boots. Swinging into action, the crew eventually uncovers the man, the method, and the reason behind the murders... but comes face to face with pure evil! A very gripping entry...
'The Magic of Madness' deals with a subject I find fascinating; namely, the world of professional illusionists. Fortune makes the acquaintance of Benjamin and Penelope Lash, a married duo of master magicians. He is fascinated by Penelope; both for professional reasons, and a few not quite professional ones. Fortune and his new friends get on famously, and he has soon invited them out to his ship (an understatement; a yacht with many hidden capabilities is closer to the truth), The Heart of Fortune, for lunch and a tour. After our hero has taken his leave, the couple are set upon by a group of very bad men. Penelope manages to escape, and makes haste to The Heart of Fortune. So starts a race against time, to find Benjamin's kidnappers, and get him out alive. Things are not as they seem, however; and even when you think you know what's what, there is still one more twist, waiting in the wings...
Rounding out the collection, we have 'The Gold of Box 850'. Box 850 refers to the British intelligence agency SIS (also known as MI6), which is tasked with providing foreign intelligence to the British government. An old friend of Fortune's relays that, due to the rise of hostile foreign operatives in the U.S., Box 850 has been carrying out joint operations with American officials in the States. The growing number of actions also needed greater funding, and a local banker was given the task of restructuring the funding method. Unfortunately, this man became greedy, and embezzled a great amount of these funds, converted them into gold, and secreted the gold away somewhere in Sovereign City. To add to the problem, the banker has been found dead, beaten to death by sources unknown. Before he died, he most likely gave up the location of the gold to his murderers. Fortune deals himself in, and the search begins. Plenty of full-tilt action ensues, and we also get to learn the history of one of Fortune's friends. All in all, an excellent story to finish out the collection.
Containing some excellent examples of Derrick's fast-paced, always entertaining writing style, The Adventures of Fortune McCall was a pure joy to read, from the opening paragraph to the final punctuation mark. In Fortune McCall, Derrick has created a highly unique character, a man full of contradictions, a man full of mystery. The characters are all beautifully rendered, the dialogue flowing naturally, and at times laugh out loud funny (especially the sniping between Fortune and his cousin Tracy). The camaraderie and sense of family between the characters is also greatly appreciated. The adventures are suitably action-packed, with elements of mystery running throughout the story-lines. If you crave well written action and intrigue, then The Adventures of Fortune McCall is definitely something you should be reading. Fortune deserves an ongoing series, and I'm really hoping to see something along those lines, in the future. This is highly recommended, along with anything else that has Derrick's name on it. If I were you, I'd snatch up this release post-haste. With that last remark, I suppose I'll get back to reading. Happy reading, all!
Here's where you can pick up the release. Here's Derrick's Amazon page. Lastly, here is BLOOD & INK, a blog where you can keep up with what Derrick's been up to lately.
Sunday, May 11, 2014
First up is 'Blood Libel', in which we are introduced to The Rider, and the time period his story is set in. Set in the Old West, Rider is a former member of The Sons of the Essenes, who would travel the celestial realm, witnessing the Divine. The Sons, and The Rider, have been betrayed by his former master, Adon. Now The Rider wanders endlessly through the world, seeking to bring Adon to justice. Traveling down a lonely path, shunned by all but him, he arrives at the town of Delirium Tremens, Pop. 180. The townsfolk greet his arrival with both suspicion, and downright hatred. You see, there has been a bit of trouble going on in the town, as of late. First, the young hogs of the local pig farmers begin disappearing, then the calves of the ranchers are taken. Finally, the young children of a number of the townsfolk go missing. The blame has been laid at the feet of the residents of the local Jewish settlement, and a bloodthirsty posse is preparing to burn them out. The Rider will meet an old friend, and encounter an ancient enemy from the hidden realms, and possibly manage to save a few innocent souls...
In 'The Dust Devils', The Rider stumbles upon the town Polvo Arido, straight out of a roiling windstorm. Although the town seems deserted at first, his attention is drawn by a local man hiding in the dry goods store. Scared out of his wits, the man reveals that Polvo Arido has been taken over by bandits. Unable to leave to summon help due to the storm, he chooses to confront the gang head on. The mass of banditos is bad enough, but their leader, Hector Scarchilli, is pure poison. Add in Kelly Le Malfacteur, a brujo with powers rivaling that of The Rider, and our hero is in for a very bad day. One which he might not survive...
Next up is 'Hell's Hired Gun'. Weary from crossing through the desert, The Rider stops at a Catholic mission, hoping for rest and water. Instead, he finds the entire mission brutally slaughtered, down to the last man, woman, and child. A single monk clings to life, and with his dying breath utters the name, "Gadara." After burying the dead, he sets out to find Gadara (which turns out to be a town, high in the hills), and the force behind the slaughter at the mission. Waylaid in the hills by a snowstorm in the hills, and struck down by fever, he is tended to by a preacher who has been hiding from an implacable foe. He is soon to learn the story behind the atrocity he witnessed, and be brought face to face with the perpetrator. Will The Rider be able to overcome such a demented fiend?
The concluding episode of the collection is 'The Nightjar Women'. The Rider is unerringly drawn to the town of Tip Top, where he is suddenly overwhelmed by feelings of lust. He has felt temptation before, but never like this. After The Rider discovers that the newborns of the town are hideously warped at birth, he realizes that there is an ancient evil haunting the town. Is it his former master's doing? Could Adon be lurking in the town, furthering his own singular purpose? The Rider seeks to unravel the mystery, and what he finds, is a shock even to him...
This was my second time reading Merkabah Rider: Tales of a High Planes Drifter, and as I stated above, I was totally impressed once again. Edward has a knack for taking elements from different genres, mixing them well, and coming up with a totally original narrative. I'm a big fan of Western stories, and this is a wholly original and unique take, using the Western as a jumping off point. It takes us in truly imaginative directions, but still manages to keep the overall feel of a Western. The Rider is one of the most interesting characters I've come across, very well envisioned, and portrayed in a nuanced manner. Throughout the collection, we find out more about this mysterious man's past, and this has a distinct humanizing effect. Handled differently, the character could have easily ended up being a two-dimensional cutout. We are reminded throughout the stories that, despite the powers he wields, and the higher plane on which the battles take place, that this a thinking, feeling human being. If you look at the setting as a whole, this is present throughout. None of the mortal characters are solely good or evil, they are a mix of the two. Even the villains have a justification for acting as they do (however self-serving these reasons are). The setting is wonderfully imagined; as I read through, I was THERE. Like all the best tales, you could boil this one down to its core, strip away all the different genre trappings, and you would be left with what it is. An entirely entertaining group of stories, told by a master of the craft. I highly recommend picking up whatever edition of this entry that you can get your hands on, and diving in headfirst. It's that good. Happy reading, all!
Here's some links to start exploring. You can find Edward's blog here. Here's his Amazon page. Finally, here's his fan page on Facebook. Swing by, pick up a book, and say hello!
Sunday, May 4, 2014
We open with a brief interlude between our hero, Anth (That Bulletproof Kid himself), and his mother. After reading an article in the local paper, she voices her opinion that she believes that teenagers should not be allowed to be superheroes by the Tribunal (apparently an over-watch group that regulates supes). Little does she know that the teenage superhero in the post she is complaining about is her son. We then flashback 30 years, and witness the superhero Mr. Tremendous break out his brother, Dr. Formidable, from the Tribunal's holding center. Not everything is as it seems, however. Mr. Tremendous actually wants to take his brother back to their home planet to answer for his crimes. Dr. F is not too keen on this idea...
Back in the present, Anth is starting his first day of year 11 at school. Things are a bit complicated, in that his friends have noticed his numerous absences throughout break, and Anth is having trouble coming up with suitable explanations. He can't very well tell them that he was running around in a mask and fighting crime, now can he? The sequences where he is fighting crime is covered in a brief flashback. Add a bully to the list, and Anth's day just keeps going downhill... until the story kicks it up a notch, and the action starts to flow...
That Bulletproof Kid is a top notch indie comic release. Matt's writing chops are just as impressive as his artistic talent (Yes, he's an artist as well. Lucky devil.). He accomplishes what every writer of an ongoing series should aspire to; namely, showing you enough of the different plot elements to get you interested, but not giving you all the answers at once. That way they can be slowly built upon in upcoming issues, and the reader, basically, has to keep reading to discover just where the story is going. I'm impressed by how restrained and nuanced this is, especially for the superhero genre. Very nice.
Arthur's artistic style is bold, colorful, and assured. His renderings are quite believable in nature, and between his art, and Matt's writing, you come away with the feeling that you are dealing with everyday teenage students (except for the fact that won is a superhero, of course). His style is unique, and I was really having a rum go trying to figure out a comparison (there is something familiar about the art, not a heavy influence, but just a light touch around the edges of the character compositions). I finally hit upon it, and it's probably just me, as I said the similarities are very minor. If you take away the color, and add a bit more darkness, the art reminds me (slightly) of the much missed Barry Blair, whose independent press Aircel Comics was much loved by myself. That's all I got. Like I said, Arthur's style is unique to himself, and very much appreciated.
Well, here's where I tell you to read That Bulletproof Kid... Read it, dang it! You'll make myself, Matt, Arthur, and all involved happy if you do. Plus, and more importantly, you'll be picking up a really good adventure, and getting a lot of enjoyment out of it, if you do. A really rocking first issue, and here's hoping for many more. There are some links at the bottom of the page which I'm sure Matt and Co. would love you to take a look at. As for me? Back to reading, as usual... Bye, all, and happy reading!
You can get your hands on this book here, and here's the official Bulletproof Kid website.