Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Heavy Metal magazine June 1985

'Heavy Metal' magazine June 1985

June, 1985, and on the radio and on MTV, 'Don't You (Forget About Me)', by Simple Minds, is in heavy rotation.

The latest issue of Heavy Metal magazine is out, with a front cover by Jim Cherry.

The Dossier section for this issue shows all the telltale signs of an 80s periodical whose staff have gotten access to PC-based 'desktop publishing' software. ....visible somewhere amidst the "...hey ! Look at this cool effect !" confusions are interviews about low-budget zombie movies; reviews about even more low-budget, obscure videos; word of a Stephen King newsletter; and an advertisement for the old-school art book by Roger Dean, Magnetic Storm.

The graphic / comic content of this issue is middling in terms of quality.There are further installments of Moreno's 'Rebel', Findley's 'Tex Arcana', Corben's 'Bodyssey', and Torres's 'Whisper Mystery'. 

Charles Burns's 'El Borbah: Bone Voyage' series is the best of these, and concludes in this issue. I've pasted this installment below.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Book Review: Lost Worlds

Book Review: 'Lost Worlds' by Lin Carter

2 / 5 Stars

‘Lost Worlds’ (176 pp) was issued by DAW Books (as No. 398) in August 1980. The cover artwork is by Enrich.

All but one of the eight stories presented in this volume were previously published, in the interval from 1967 – 1976. All are pastiches of one pulp author or another.

The stories in ‘Lost Worlds’ are organized by the mythical continents in which they were set; these include Hyperborea, Mu, Atlantis, Lemuria, Valusia, and Antillia.

The two ‘Hyperborea’ stories are pastiches of Clark Ashton Smith tales; these include ‘The Scroll of Morloc’ and ‘The Stairs in the Crypt’. They are more horror stories than fantasy, and both are written faithfully to Smith’s prose style: overloaded with purple prose, and utilizing some of the most obscure words in the English language.

‘The Thing in the Pit’ is a Lovecraft pastiche; a foolhardy wizard calls forth an Abomination which threatens the very existence of Mu.

Lemuria is the home to two of Carter’s ‘Thongor’ stories. ‘Thieves of Zangabal’ sees our hero making a dangerous foray into the lair of an evil wizard, while ‘Keeper of the Emerald Flame’ has Thongor investigating a lost temple within which eldritch mysteries lurk to harm the unwary. Both of these stories are the better ones in the anthology; they are Conan clones, but reasonably well-written in a pulp style.

‘Riders Beyond the Sunrise’ is a King Kull story, set in Valusia; as with the Thongor stories, it’s a competent pastiche of Howard’s original fiction. This tale sees King Kull pursuing a rival into a forbidden territory, where Kull discovers, to his misfortune, that magic has provided his quarry with unforeseen powers.

In his Introduction to ‘The Twelve Wizards of Ong’, set in Antillia, Carter states that with this story, he was attempting to evoke the literary stylings of James Branch Cabell, Clark Ashton Smith, and Jack Vance. Whether or not you think this is wise (and I certainly don’t), the story is nearly unreadable due to its clotted prose.

The final entry, ‘The Seal of Zaon Sathla’, is set in Atlantis and deals with a self-confident wizard who desires the fabled Seal; alas, he lacks the means to pay for it…….

Summing up ‘Lost Worlds’, well……at the time it was written, fantasy was still an emerging genre, and Carter one of its foremost practitioners. There wasn’t a great deal of material being published, and thus, Carter’s sheer output of fiction– however mediocre much of it was – meant that he was showcased by default when it came to publishers like DAW Books.

I doubt there is much here that would interest contemporary fantasy fiction fans, but DAW Book completists may want to get their copy.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Frank Miller's Robocop

Frank Miller's Robocop
Steven Grant (script) and Juan Jose Ryp (art)
Avatar, 2003 - 2006

trade paperback compilation, Boom! Studios, August 2013 

The Robocop franchise has bounced around several comic book publishers since the original movie first was released in July, 1987. Marvel was the initial franchisee during 1987 - 1990, followed by Dark Horse from 1992 - 1994, and then Avatar from 2003 - 2006. 

In 2010 Dynamite took a turn, and more recently, Boom! Studios has been the publisher.

The best of all these Robocop comic book series are Dark Horse's Robocop Vs The Terminator (1992), and Avatar's Frank Miller's Robocop (2003 - 2006). 

Acquiring the individual books in Frank Miller's Robocop is rather expensive, particularly when you take into account the existence of numerous cover variants, which the fanboys have held onto in the hopes of receiving exorbitant resell prices. Probably the best way to acquire the series is to pick up the trade paperback compilation, titled Frank Miller's Robocop Volume 1that Boom! released in 2013.

The story goes that Frank Miller's initial script for the film was deemed 'unfilmable' (whatever that means), and the script used in the actual filming had been subjected to considerable re-writing. Accordingly, Frank Miller's Robocop relies on the 'original' script and deviates in many aspects from the film. 

I won't disclose any spoilers, save to say that it does share with the film the epic confrontation between Robocop and the super-powerful 'Robocop 2' cyborg, within which is implanted the brain of an amoral, homicidal personality.

I thought Robocop 2 was a great film, with plenty of black humor well-served by the over-the-top violence. Does Frank Miller's Robocop do a good job in its particular version of the story ? The short answer is yes, it does.

First and foremost, this comic series is all about the work of Spanish-born artist Juan Jose Ryp, one of the most talented artists working in comic books nowadays.

With all nine issues of Frank Miller's Robocop, Ryp's unique draftsmanship is on full display, aided and abetted by an impressive coloring job from Nimbus Studios.

To call Ryp's pencil work 'meticulous' and 'detailed' is an understatement.....it often takes me several minutes to completely take in the contents of a single panel, much less an entire page........! 

When Ryp draws a gunshot wound - as he does in the center panel above - he doesn't just draw a gout of blood. He draws little fragments of skull bone and shreds of tissue travelling outward from the exit wound - !

Curs snarling at each other in the street have patches of mange on their fur. Little puffs of smoke accompany the friction of a police car's tires scraping the asphalt.

Explosions and fireballs are carefully rendered to show individual plumes and contrails of flame, accompanied by fragments of atomized limb...

Ryp provides plenty of Easter Eggs and in-jokes for the discerning reader. For example, look carefully at the bottom portion of the back cover to issue 6.....

Do you see Homer ? 

Note the detail of the warping and pitting and discoloration of the rebar just to upper left of Homer's head. It must have taken Ryp an entire day - if not longer -  to draw just this bottom portion of the back cover of this one issue. Insane !

The 'sequential adaptation' (as opposed to writing or scripting) by Steven Grant does the right thing in adopting a 'European' style, minimizing sound effects and limiting the superposition of text to spoken-word balloons. There are no narrative boxes or thought balloons. There is little in the way of distraction from Ryp's artwork.

Avatar is one publisher that is very conscious of printing its comics with high production values, and the issues of Frank Miller's Robocop benefit from this approach, as the books use a glossy, high-quality paper stock with very good color reproductions.

The comic book series has its share of laugh-out-loud, satirical humor. One of my favorite sequences is this one involving 'Johnny Rehab':

Summing up: whether you're a Robocop fan, or simply someone who appreciates great graphic art, getting a copy of Frank Miller's Robocop is a very worthwhile investment. It'll be a long time before anyone tops this deliverable from the franchise.......

Friday, June 19, 2015

Dead Run by Jeff Jones

Dead Run
by Jeff Jones
from Vampirella No. 32, April 1974

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Book Review: Destroying Angel

Book Review: 'Destroying Angel' by Richard Paul Russo

5 / 5 Stars

‘Destroying Angel’ (230 pp) was published by Ace Books in July, 1992, with cover artwork by Peter Gudynas.

This is the first volume of what is known as the ‘Carlucci’ trilogy, with the succeeding volumes ‘Carlucci’s Edge’ (1995) and ‘Carlucci’s Heart’ (1997).

'Angel' is set in an early 21st century San Francisco, a cityscape Russo used in his 1989 (unrelated) novel 'Subterranean Gallery'. This San Francisco  is modeled heavily on the cityscape imagery - including the incessant rain showers - depicted in the movie ‘Blade Runner’.

In ‘Angel’ Carlucci is a supporting character to the main protagonist, an ex-cop named Tanner.

As the novel opens, Tanner witnesses the sight of two corpses being pulled from a waste pond; the corpses have been chained together, a sign that the so-called ‘Chain Killer’ is back in business. More than two years previously, when Tanner had been on the SFPD, he had investigated a string of 37 murders by the ‘Chain Killer’ before circumstances had forced him off the case, and out of the force.

Tormented by post-traumatic stress disorder, Tanner consults with Carlucci, the Homicide detective assigned to the newest murders, about temporarily being assigned to the case as an independent operative. For Tanner wants to pursue the one lead he had years ago when he was assigned to the Chain Killer case, a lead that might lead them directly to the murderer.

But pursuing the lead will involve entering the seediest and most dangerous environs of San Francisco: the Tenderloin District, and beyond that, the lawless tenements of the Core. Tanner doesn’t relish being forced to interact with these dens of thieves and murderers, and as he is about to discover, there is a bounty on his own head…..and no shortage of homicidal deviants with an interest in collecting.........

‘Destroying Angel’ relies on just about every detective novel cliché and archetype you can imagine…..there is very little about this novel that is innovative, as it simply melds the private eye genre with sf, in much the same manner as the Blade Runner film did.

And it works: ‘Angel’ is very readable and engrossing, helped by a clipped, declarative prose style, short chapters, a fast-moving plot, and just the right stylistic overlay of world-weary cynicism and despair. 

This is a second-generation Cyberpunk novel that is well worth adding to anyone's collection.

Saturday, June 13, 2015


Steve Perry (writer) and Tom Yeates (art)
Cat Yronwode, Sam Parsons, Tom Yeates, Steve Oliff (colors)
Gaspar Saladino, Janice Chiang, Ed King (letters)
Epic / Marvel, October 1984 - March 1986

In 1979 the English author Douglas Adams published his first book, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which was based on a comedy series he had produced on BBC radio starting in 1978. At the time of Adams's death in 2001 (at the age of 49), the series consisted of five volumes, all of which had become international best-sellers.

The Hitchhiker's Guide and its sequels took a free-form approach to sf humor, taking well-known tropes in the genre and tossing them altogether into one giant mix of 'absurdist' storytelling.  

Previous to Hitchhiker, full-time sf writers had tried to write humorous sf in an absurdist vein, particularly during the New Wave era. These dedicated sf writers included Philip Jose Farmer, R. A. Lafferty, and Ron Goulart, who wrote a slew of DAW Books all centered on humor. For various reasons, these efforts never progressed much beyond fostering a small, sub-sub genre of sf.

Perhaps it was a case of being in the right time, and the right place, but Hitchhiker - and its considerable success financially and critically - was the inspiration for the quick emergence of all sorts of 'humorous sf' novels, short stories, comics, and movies in the 1980s. 

Arguably the most influential of the works inspired by Hitchhiker was Terry Pratchett's The Colour of Magic (1983), the initial volume in what would become the publishing juggernaut of 'Discworld'.

...............which brings us to Timespirits.

The 8-issue miniseries was released by Epic / Marvel bimonthly from October 1984 - March 1986.

In the first issue, set in Maine in 1633, we are introduced to Doot, a young Indian boy of the Wawenock tribe. Doot's older brother, King Freddie Three Birds, has embarked on a campaign of resistance to the English settlers streaming into Wawenock territory. During a violent encounter with the palefaces, Doot is saved from death by a mysterious apparition: an elderly Indian man wearing a fedora, and toting an array of artifacts and gadgets recovered from all over time and space.

This elderly man is named Cusick, from the Tuscarora tribe. Cusick is a Timespirit, a shaman gifted with the ability to instantaneously travel through time and space, to strange worlds that exist in alternate realities. 

Writer Steve Perry patently models Cusick on Carlos Cataneda's Don Juan Matus, save that Cusick is much more expressive, continually delivering aphorisms and bits of Native American Wisdom disguised as one-offs and wisecracks.

Cusick recognizes that Doot is in fact an innate Timespirit, and recruits him to a life of travelling the time streams. As issue one concludes, the two embark on what will be an array of wild adventures. 

I won't disclose any spoilers, but over the course of the eight issues, Doot and Cusack encounter bumbling wizards; a vampire; dinosaurs; Custer; Yeti; Jim Hendrix; and a blue-skinned cat girl named 'Thornypaws' who wears only a g-string, and is likely the inspiration for the aliens in the James Cameron film Avatar.......

Steve Perry's narrative sticks pretty closely to the humor-centered attitude of the Douglas Adams / Terry Pratchett genre, although there are rather incongruous scenes of violence and bloodshed that pop up every now and then and presumably, keep things from getting too hokey. 

Some installments of Timespirits rather awkwardly stray from the 'madcap' humor approach; for eample, issue 5 adopts an overwrought exposition about how Rock and Roll, and its rebellious qualities, is all that stands between the relentless corporatization of society..... 

I am definitely not a fan of humorous sf nor the Adams and Pratchett novels. But what made me pick up Timespirits was the exemplary artwork by Tom Yeates, who continues to be one of the best draftsmen in comics.

The colors, primarily done by Steve Oliff, are serviceable, no mean feat since it was likely that Timespirits was printed - like many other 80s comics - on a flexographic press. The flaws of this process are too noticeable to be overlooked - Doot and Cusack frequently have dark gray skintones - but it's not Oliff's fault.

Summing up, if you're a fan of humorous sf, and particularly the style of Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, then Timespirits will appeal to you. Even if you're not a fan of the humorous sf subgenre, if you appreciate fine graphic art and illustration, then the series also may be worth acquiring. Entire sets of all eight issues can be had for reasonable prices from your usual dealers.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Book Review: The Religion

Book Review: 'The Religion' by Nicholas Conde

3 / 5 Stars

‘The Religion’ was published in hardcover in 1982; this Signet paperback version (377 pp) was issued in March, 1983.

‘The Religion’ was made into the 1987 movie The Believers, starring Martin Sheen, and directed by John Schlesinger.

Nicholas Conde was the pseudonym used by Robert Rosenblum, who, along with Robert Nathan, wrote another novel that dealt with the confrontation between modern life and ancient religious customs, ‘The Legend’ (1984). ‘In the Deep Woods’ (1992) was suspense / crime novel.

As ‘Religion’ opens, Cal Jamison, an anthropology professor, has moved to New York City from Albuquerque, along with his 7 year –old son, Chris. Jamison is still recovering from the tragic death of his wife due to a household accident, and sees the move from New Mexico to the city as an effort to start anew.

While walking through Central Park on a Summer afternoon, Cal and Chris stumble upon a grisly scene of ritual sacrifice involving animals. His professional and personal curiosity piqued, Jamison begins to study the source of the sacrificial tableaux – the ancient religion of Santeria, imported into the environs of the Big Apple by Puerto Rican and Caribbean immigrants.

Jamison’s curiosity leads him into a new and disturbing direction when he chances upon a murder scene in a slum neighborhood. McTaggert, the jaded, cynical, world-weary cop investigating the murder, reveals to Jamison that it involved the ritual disembowelment of a young boy – and that five other such murders have taken place in various locations in the city.

Jamison is stunned to learn that a malevolent form of Santeria is being practiced in the modern metropolis. As he pursues his scholarly investigations into Santeria, he agrees to provide McTaggert with any information that might help illuminate the cultists behind the child murders.

As the narrative unfolds, Cal Jamison’s decision to learn more about Santeria gradually leads him to contact otherwise rational, cosmopolitan residents of the city who practice the religion as part of a clandestine ecology of Believers. These interactions, as well as the advent of supernatural events in his own life, erode Jamison’s skepticism and replace it with a vague, but growing, fear.

For there is to be a seventh and final sacrifice…and his son Chris may have been selected by the Gods to be the offering…….

As a modern horror novel, ‘The Religion’ does some things well. It’s an interesting portrait of New York City in the early 80s, as the Big Apple sank faster and further into decay. As Whitley Streiber did with his 1978 novel The Wolfen, Conde presents the urban wasteland of the South Bronx as an abnormal, cancerous territory embedded in the surrounding metropolis, its abandoned tenements the site of primitive customs and unholy acts carried out under the ignorant noses of the population of Manhattan.

The initial chapters of the novel are well-paced and allow the reader to share in Cal Jamison’s discoveries of Santeria and its customs, all the while gradually building an awareness that underneath the herbs, candles, charms, and artifacts is a real, and potentially deadly, supernatural power.

Unfortunately, the middle chapters of the novel are less engaging. Conde devotes too much of the narrative to belaboring the psychological trauma that grips Jamison, as he discovers his atheism crumbling in the face of the supernatural forces that are acting on him in accordance with the whims of the Gods from ancient Africa.

The narrative regains momentum in the final 75 pages, as the confrontation with the Believers grows in intensity and Jamison finds he must fight the occult with yet another form of the occult. The novel does end on an ambiguous note, but it is not contrived, and stays in keeping with the overall tenor of the story.

[I remember seeing The Believers back in the late 80s and thought it a good film, although it differs in some aspects from the novel.]

The verdict ? I doubt ‘The Religion’ will find many adherents among modern horror fans. As a novel from the early 80s, the book lacks the intensity and graphic violence that marks modern horror media like Saw, Hostel, The Walking Dead, and The Strain. But if you’re a more patient reader, who is willing to tolerate some degree of over-writing and melodrama, then ‘The Religion’ well may be worth investigating.