Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Book Review: Night Winds

Book Review: 'Night Winds' by Karl Edward Wagner

4 / 5 Stars

‘Night Winds’ (286 pp.) was published by Warner Books in August, 1978. The cover artwork is by Frank Frazetta.

These Warner paperback editions of the Kane stories are long out of print, and command high prices; I was fortunate to pick this volume up for $2 at the Gordon St. Library booksale in Charlottesville last April.

“Night Winds’ compiles six short stories and novelettes first published from 1974 – 1977 in small press magazines such as Midnight Sun, Chacal, and Whispers.

All of the stories display purple prose and stilted conversations – Wagner was at heart a pulp writer. However, they are atmospheric, offbeat, and Kane stands firm as a distinctive type of antihero throughout each and every tale.

My concise summaries of the stories:

Undertow (1977): Probably the most poorly-written of the entries; Kane’s mistress enlists various soldiers of fortune and adventurers in an effort to help her flee from Kane's grasp.

Two Suns Setting (1975): wandering through a desolate, rubble-strewn landscape, Kane embarks on an adventure to find the ancient resting place of the King of the Giants. This is one of the better stories in the anthology.

The Dark Muse (1975): Opyros the Poet is desperate to write the best poem of his career; Kane obliges by assisting the poet to enter into a dangerous, but otherworldly, dream-world. A reasonably good mix of Lovecraftian ‘Randolph Carter’ – style adventure, and some more conventional sword-and-sorcery tropes.

Raven’s Eyrie (1977): On the run and in desperate straits, Kane and his band of cut-throats seek refuge in a decrepit inn. As night falls on the surrounding wilderness, the Lord of the Dead emerges from the depths of the Earth and stalks the night for victims. This story’s downbeat tenor and lively action sequences make it effective.

Lynortis Reprise (1974): Amidst the crumbling ruins and decay of a long-ago battlefield, Kane competes with a band of mercenaries to learn the location of a rumored hoard of treasure. Another tale marked by a cynical atmosphere, and a carefully crafted sense of allegory about war and madness; a theme not uncommon in fiction of the post- Vietnam era.

Sing A Last Song of Valdese (1976): A cold Autumn evening in the remote highlands; a priest finds himself forced to seek lodging for the night in a hotel filled with fellow travelers. As the night unfolds, criminals, and the consequences of an atrocity committed long, long ago, are revealed. More of a horror story than a sword-and-sorcery adventure, ‘Valdese’ is arguably the best of all the Kane tales.

Summing up, ‘Night Winds’ is a worthy collection of vintage fantasy / sword-and-sorcery fiction. Provided you can find a copy for a reasonable price, it’s worth searching out.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Where Monsters Roamed by John Bolton

'Where Monsters Roamed' by John Bolton
from John Bolton: Halls of Horror, issue No.2, June 1985, Eclipse Comics

The House of Hammer was a UK magazine, published from 1976 – 1978, that featured stills and articles about Hammer films, black and white comic adaptations of the more famous Hammer movies, as well as a variety of supporting strips, all on horror / occult themes derived from the films. It resembled an amalgamation of the Warren's magazines Creepy and Eerie with Famous Monsters of Filmland

The artwork in HoH was very well done, and this was true of the 'backup' features; the most memorable of these may have been the iconic ‘Father Shandor’ series that showcased as its hero the priest from the 1966 film Dracula: Prince of Darkness.The Shandor strips were later recycled in the early 80s in the UK comic book Warrior.

The House of Hammer magazine lasted until issue 23, after which time it went into limbo, before undergoing a seemingly unending series of short-lived revivals by its creator, the unusually-named Dez Skinn.

John Bolton, at that time in the late 70s still early in his career as a comic book artist, did some outstanding work for HoH. In June 1985 US comic book publisher Eclipse Comics obtained the reprint rights for Bolton’s HoH strips and printed them, in color, in two issues of the comic book John Bolton: Halls of Horror.

Bolton provided new illustrations for the comic book covers,
and added new panels, some of these featuring a character modeled on Vincent Price (serving as the EC-style Horror Host) who introduced each story in the anthology.  

Eclipse retitled the strips, presumably to avoid copyright and / or licensing infringement. Thus, the adaptation of the 1966 Hammer film One Million Years B.C., which appeared in issue 14 of HoH (November, 1977), was renamed ‘Where Monsters Roamed’ when published in John Bolton: Halls of Horror.

The murky coloring probably detracts from the original black and white artwork rather than adding any enhanced visual qualities, and the reduction of the original artwork to fit the confines of the comic book page means the illustrations are quite small and cramped. But Bolton’s draftsmanship still shines through, despite it all. 

Posted below in its entirety, here is ‘Where Monsters Roamed’, aka One Million Years B.C., by Steve Moore (script), John Bolton (art), and Tim Smith (colors).

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Book Review: The Secret Sea

Book Review: 'The Secret Sea' by Thomas F. Monteleone

3 / 5 Stars 

‘The Secret Sea (222 pp.) was published in May, 1979, by Popular Library; the cover artwork is by Clyde Caldwell.

Bryan Alexander is a physics professor who has bullshitted his way into a job as an English professor at a small college in Maryland. There, he enjoys a comfortable, but boring and unfulfilling, existence. Then he gets a letter from a lawyer in Vermont: it seems Alexander’s Aunt Agatha has died and left him her country estate, along with a sizable amount of money.

Alexander embarks for Vermont, planning to use his inheritance to embark on his lifelong dream of leading a life of adventure, much as would a Victorian-era gentleman explorer. But his ambitions soon take on a different cast when he discovers a chest stored in the attic of his Aunt’s house. Within the chest is a journal written by one Durham Kent; a Durham Kent who, in the 1860s, claimed to have traveled through an interdimensional gateway located in the far reaches of the Atlantic Ocean.

Kent’s passage through the gateway had led him to an alternate world, in which the submarine Nautilus sailed the oceans, captained by a man named Nemo. And, after returning to ‘our’ dimension, Kent had related his fantastic tale to an amiable Frenchman named Jules Verne……

Half-disbelieving Durham Kent’s journal, an intrigued Bryan Alexander decides to charter a sailboat and travels to the location in the Atlantic where Kent claimed the so-called ‘fluxgate’ existed. And to his mingled surprise and excitement, Alexander does indeed encounter a fluxgate….and in due course, he will meet Captain Nemo….and his sworn adversary, the maniacal Robur the Conqueror….

‘The Secret Sea’ represents an early work of Steampunk, although the sub-genre and its label didn’t really exist in 1979, the year of its publication. Author Monteleone stays true to the legend of Nemo and his submarine as outlined in Verne’s novels, taking some liberties with the identity and origin of Robur in order to provide the narrative with a suitable villain. The middle segments of the novel lag a bit, but things pick up in the last three chapters and the story finishes on a satisfactory note.

‘Secret Sea’ isn’t a memorable classic of sf, but it is an entertaining read, and displays an economy of length that is sorely lacking in the 600-page, series-fixated novels that dominate contemporary Steampunk. It’s worth picking up from the used-book shelves.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Art of Bryan Talbot

The Art of Bryan Talbot
by Bryan Talbot

'The Art of Bryan Talbot' (96 pp.) is a large (11.9"  x 9")  size trade paperback published in 2007 by NBM (Nantier, Beall, Minoustchine), a small press dedicated to publishing graphic novels and art.

Talbot (b. 1952) is one of most recognized graphic artists in the UK. This book provides an overview of his artistic output, starting with his work as an underground comix artist in the mid-70s.


Talbot's artistic skills enabled him to take on commercial artwork assignments for mainstream UK magazines and publishers.

Of course, Talbot's 'The Adventures of Luther Arkwright' gets deserved attention in this volume:

As does his work for 3000 AD comics, and such characters as Judge Dredd and Nemesis the Warlock:

In the 90s, Talbot produced 'Heart of Empire', the sequel to 'Arkwright':

As well as the graphic novel 'One Bad Rat'.

Some of Talbot's work in the 90s is less well known to American audiences, such his covers for the anthology series 'Neil Gaiman's Teknophage'..

The book closes with coverage of Talbot's work in the 2000s, most notably the 'Grandville' series of graphic novels. There also is a helpful 'Bryan Talbot Stripography' which lists his complete comic book and graphic novel output from 1971 to 2007.

'The Art of Bryan Talbot' can be found for affordable prices (i.e., under $10) at your usual online retailers, and it's worth getting if you are a fan of his work, a fan of the 'Arkwright' canon, or just someone who appreciates good graphic art in general. 

The book is well-produced, with the image reproductions at high resolution and the explanatory text assisting with, rather than competing with, the artwork. It's also sure to generate some severe 70s and 80s Nostalgia, particularly for UK readers.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Heavy Metal magazine July 1984

'Heavy Metal' magazine July 1984

July, 1984, and as I am driving from upstate New York down to Baton Rouge, Louisiana to go to graduate school at LSU. On the car radio, the single 'Boys Do Fall in Love' from Robin Gibb's new album 'Secret Agent', is in rotation.  

'Boys' wound up being a modest hit that Summer, but it remains a great song, and epitomizes the synth-heavy, eletronic drum sound of mid-80s pop. 

After the BeeGee's 1981 album 'Living Eyes' tanked, signalling the end of the disco era with crushing finality, it was Robin Gibb, as a solo artist (with some help from brother Maurice), who let the world know there was more to the band than the one-two disco beats and over-exposed Barry-Gibb-falsetto that had come to be associated with the band's music. 

So 'Boys Do Fall in Loce' is on the radio, and the latest issue of 'Heavy Metal' magazine is on the magazine racks, featuring a front cover by Dave Dorman, and a back cover by  Ron Lightburn.

The Dossier section is one of the more ludicrous to appear in the magazine, focusing on - likely enough - Heavy Metal music, and showcasing an up-and-coming singer named.....Thor. 

Other bands in the spotlight include 'Manowar' and 'Slayer'. It's hard to tell if the HM staff ('Rok' critic Lou Stathis, along with Tim Sommer, Josh Ribakove, and  Jess Schalles) who wrote the Dossier intended that their coverage be facetious, or if they were playing it straight, but only those who grew up in the 80s can truly treasure the wonderful awfulness of these bands and their clothing/ costumes.

Other sections of the Dossier review sf books, and there is an interview with aging comedian Jerry Lewis (!) about his genuinely awful movie, 'Slapstick of Another Kind.'

The graphic content of the July issue sees a new series from Jeronaton, titled 'The Great Passage'; ongoing episodes of Thorne's 'Lann', Druillet's 'Salammbo II', 'The Hunting Party' by Cristin and Bilal; 'The Railways' by Renard and Schuiten; and 'TexArcana' by FIndley.

Among the better of the singleton strips is Alfonso Azpiri's 'Daymares / Nightdreams'. I've posted it below.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Book Review: Legend

Book Review: 'Legend' by David Gemmell

4 / 5 Stars

This Del Rey Books edition (345 pp) of ‘Legend’ was published in November, 1994. The cover artwork is by Mark Harrison.

The British writer David Gemmell (1948 – 2006) was a prolific writer of fantasy literature, with 31 books to his credit. ‘Legend’ (1984) was his first book; it became the first volume in what would come to be known as the ‘Drenai’ series, which grew to 11 books.

The story’s premise is simple and straightforward: a half-million strong horde of Mongol-type barbarians called the Nadir are intent on invading the peaceful lands of the Drenai Empire. The sole obstacle to their advance is the fortress of Dos Delnoch, a ‘Helms Deep’ -style construction
designed to withstand a lengthy siege, built with multiple walls, gates, and redoubts.

Abalayn, the inept ruler of the Drenai, has neglected his armies, and as a result, only 10,000 men are available to hold the fortress. As the novel opens, Rek, a kind of less-heroic analogue to Strider / Aragorn, is debating whether to join the defenders and face certain death in a hopeless cause, or to simply light out for foreign territories and a safer existence.

In the course of making a decision to join the defense, he is influenced by the knowledge that Druss (the ‘Legend’ of the book’s title) has himself decided to come out of retirement to fight at Dos Delnoch.

Despite being in his 60s, Druss remains the match of any fighter half his age. Not only is Druss possessed of herculean strength and stamina, but when equipped with his axe ‘Snaga’ (unashamedly modeled on Elric of Melnibone’s magic sword ‘Stormbringer’), Druss is the combat equivalent of a score of fighting men. 

As the opening chapters unfold....and continue unfolding.....the cast of characters, heroes and villains, is assembled and set on their paths to Dos Delnoch.

Will Rek, Druss, and other heroes (including several lady warriors) succeed in holding off the Nadir masses long enough for the Drenai to field an army to come to their rescue ? Or will they fall to the last man and woman, and leave their homeland exposed to destruction ?

While it is virtually impossible to look at any store’s shelving of new or used sf and fantasy paperbacks and not see at least one entry from Gemmell, up until now I have not read any of Gemmell’s works; ‘Legend’ was my first introduction to his writing.

‘Legend’ is not perfect, but it’s decent heroic fantasy, and capable first novel. 

Needless to say the narrative takes its time arriving at the siege around which the plot is centered – it’s not until page 218 (!) that the fighting is joined between Nadir and Drenai, by which time my patience was starting to be tried.

The siege narrative itself is layered with frequent expository passages, in which the various characters ponder their fates and reasons for facing death (or dishonor), deep emotional interludes between lovers, morale-boosting speeches by Druss, superficial jests and jokes that cover up the deep-seated fear gripping each and every combatant, etc.

But the novel avoids a contrived ending, and left me willing to try the additional entries in the ‘Drenai’ saga.