Thursday, December 20, 2012

My Fave Horror & Fantasy Reads of 2012

Locke & Key by Joe Hill
Turns out that Hill, Stephen King's son, has good a good thing going in graphic novels. Great art, great writing, great fun. Best horror comic book out there.

The Guardians by Andrew Pyper
Tight, efficient writing using a classic gothic motif of three high school friends returning to Grimshaw, Ontario. There, they try to figure out what the hell went wrong with all their lives and struggle with modern male identity. Pyper gets extra points for featuring a hero experiencing the onset of Parkinson's Disease.

The Killing Circle by Andrew Pyper
Astonishing story-within-a-story, and a single father's fears for his son, including loads of angst about being a failed writer and the perils of the publishing business.

The Drowning Girl by Kaitlin R. Kiernan
Intoxicating mix of myth, schizophrenia, dark fantasy, and stories-within-stories. Metafiction was big 2012, apparently.


Friday, December 7, 2012

Anthony Bidulka's Dos Equis Book Review

My review of Dos Equis, Anthony Bidulka's eighth Russell Quant mystery novel, appeared Dec. 6 in the Winter Reads edition of  Xtra: Ottawa's gay & lesbian news. Bidulka's work is, as always, fun, charming and humorous. This time, the disarmingly human Quant works on a case that showcases the series' minor players.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Book Review: I'm Perfect, You're Doomed: Tales from a Jehovah's Witness Upbringing

Kyria Abrahams' I'm Perfect, You're Doomed: Tales from a Jehovah's Witness Upbringing is a brave, marvelous and astounding memoir. The fact that Abrahams broke away from being a Witness and, moreover, wrote a funny, tragic, and insightful memoir about the experience is both inspiring and admirable. The trick that she pulls off, and a difficult one at that, is imparting enough information about Witnesses (which, I might add, does indeed require a book-length project, unless one wants to stereotype Witnesses), while still garnering sympathy for the narrator and thus explaining her departure from the sect.
In hilarious but often sad scenes, Abrahams describes growing up in a Witness family whose constant visits of encouragements from elders and parents wildly swinging from being devout to lax members of their congregation. Her unhappy home life leads her to impulsively get married at 18. By 19 years old, she is realizes she is in a loveless marriage, manipulated and controlled by her religion, and tries to get out, either through daytime drinking, initially laughable attempts at affairs, cutting, and trying to think for herself. Why does she have misgivings about feeling sorry everyone who is not a Witness, because they will perish shortly after the Armageddon?
The only obvious drawback to Abraham's accomplishment is that she turns to drugs, boozing and sex in her efforts to break away from her congregation. Drugs, of course, and any abuse of the body are anathema to Witnesses, as is sex before marriage. They are allowed to court, marry, and then sex becomes acceptable between two people sharing the bond of holy matriomony and who who love each other. Drinking, contrary to popular belief, is allowed for Witnesses, so long as they drink in moderation. However, by using these means of escape, Abrahams may, unfortunately, confirm devout Witnesses' deeply-held belief that those who turn away from the only true religion are doomed to a life of sin in a world controlled by the devil.
However, I digress. This book is a maddening and brilliant vivisection of a very controversial religion. Why can't JW's give blood? Why can't they celebrate birthdays, Halloween, or Christmas? If anyone was ever curious about any of these facets of the religion, they can find answers to these queries, and much more, here. As well, Abrahams humanizes Witnesses. They are not robots. They agonize with the religion's views on topics such as homosexuality. For those who are curious, gays and lesbians are supposed to be able to study the Bible and build up enough moral fortitude to ultimately become good, end-of-the-world-fearing, heterosexuals.
Author photo of Kyria Abrahams. As she has survived her own self-destructive youth, but also the Jehovah's Witnesses, one feels the need to congratulate her on both counts. Congratulations, Kyria Abrahams. You made it through.
To top off her engrossing story, Abrahams spices every page with pop-culture references, including the JW fear of the demonic Smurfs and how Smurfs are supposedly tools of the devil out to corrupt children. I wonder if Abrahams has heard of Tattoo This Madness In, Daniel Allen Cox's searing novella. In his rough-and-tumble tale, Cox makes an in-your-face, Cronenberg-esque attack on Jehovah's Witnesses. His protagonist turns other witnesses away from the sect, putting them through life-altering, traumatic experiences, and then tattooing each new disfellowshipped member with a Smurf tattoo.

As for I'm Perfect, I have to go with Janeane Garofalo’s blurb on this one–this is certainly the funniest book I have ever seen done by disfellowshipped Jehovah’s Witness from Pawtucket. In all seriousness, however, Abrahams has done something truly astounding and enlightening here.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Review of Ray Bradbury Bio in Rue Morgue

A quick mention-or Better Late than Never:

My 350-word review of Becoming Ray Bradbury, Jonathan R. Eller's fastidiously-fashioned and rather fascinating biography of Bradbury's formative years, appeared in the Ninth Circle section of the  Oct. issue of Rue Morgue: Horror in Culture & Entertainment. This is one of my more fitting and accomplished reviews, seeing print in October no less, a month that Bradbury celebrated and drew inspiration from throughout his career.

In Becoming, Eller shows how Bradury, working with a series of different mentors, broke into the pulps in the 1940's, including the famous Weird Tales, as well as the "slick" mainstream magazines. Eller also  describes how Bradbury navigated both critics and editors who were perplexed by a writer who crafted  both literary fiction and horror, fantasy and sci-fi fiction shot through with a literary sensibility and a sense of whimsy. Although Eller is the director for Center for Ray Bradbury Studies at the University of Illinois Press, his is no dry academic biography, but a colourful, humanizing portrait of Ray in his beginnings, before he became the white-haired media darling of later years.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

My First Podcast is Online

My first podcast in online! Along with Unreasonable Action founder, Brad Doiron, I do a 32-minute review of Ex Machina, a comic book written by Brian K. Vaughan and drawn predominantly by Tony Harris. Ex Machina features a protagonist who is the mayor of New York City. It's 2003 and Mayor Hundred, a former super-hero, can talk to machines. Using this scaffold, writer Vaughan works all manner of current political themes into his narrative, from same-sex marriage, to cracking down on crime, to 9/11. These are atypical  topics in what is ostensibly a super-hero book, hence my my interest in the series. Readers familiar with Vaughan will know that he also wrote Y: The Last Man, also an epic series peppered with pop culture references, snappy dialogue, and featuring an anti-hero. You can find my podcast at the Unreasonable Action website.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

My interview with Sky Gilbert

My latest assignment appears in the Oct. 11 online issue of Oct. 11 online issue of Xtra: Canada's gay & lesbian news. I interviewed Sky Gilbert, playwright, novelist, poet, and drag queen extraordinaire, about his new novel, Come Back, a critique of gay theory and contemporary gay mainstream culture.
Sky Gilbert, author photo.
The Come Back in question.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Book Review in Print: Bruce Duffy's Disaster Was My God

I have news of my most recent assignment in print. My book review of Bruce Duffy’s Disaster Was My God, which depicts 19th century French symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud as having a strained relationship with his mother, appears today (Aug 30) in the national section of Xtra: Canada's gay & lesbian news.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Go Juan With Ya’: A Review of Juan of the Dead

Irreverent, cocky and languid, the Cuban zombie flick, Juan of the Dead, is satisfying, funny and crammed with homage. Sure, the protagonist, the deadbeat dad Juan, played by Alexis Díaz de Villega with a masterful laidbackness, is a steretopical Latin man. A womanizer, surely, a drinker, undeniably, this lackadaisical leader nonetheless looks out for his grown daughter, Camila, the radiant Andrea Duro (think Twilight’s Kristen Stewart with a sexier, non-whiney charisma), his best friend Lázaro (Jorge Malina) and his cadre of petty street criminals. Certainly, the film won early points for including La China, a cross-dressing whore, as a main character, portrayed by Jazz Vila with street-smart sassiness and charm. An effete stereotype, surely, but a welcome addition to the horror milieu.

If one were to use the term “extreme homage”, they would not be far off in describing this giddy horror yarn with nods, winks and even, clearly, blown kisses to a plethora of zombie and non-zombie cinematic fare. Such celluloid includes but is not limited to Shaun of the Dead, anything directed by George A. Romero, not to mention Leo Fulci of Zombie film fame, the current T.V.s series, The Walking Dead, but also Bruce Lee, and action fare in general.

Don’t be fooled by my comparison to Shaun; Juan is darker, with a Tarantinoesque sensibility of splatter-shed, and immensely watchable action scenes. Underpinning the whole works is the Malecón, an esplanade, roadway and seawall along the Havana coast, and the echoes of Cuba's own bloody revolutions. Juan's refrains and monologues about Cuba's revolutionary past and himself as a survivor steering though the river of history hold the film upright, keeping it from tipping over the precipice into disrespect.

I watched Juan with my horror film club, (Not The) Masters of Horror. Co-founder, Mr. M. enjoyed it, as did Miss Jay. Mr. M.’s father-in-law was visiting from Cuba, as was his sister-in-law, also orignally from Cuba. Admittedly, my exchange with said father-in-law was limited to something along the lines of "Usted no habla español." (Translation: "He doesn't speak Spanish."). That's literally about all he said to me.

Luckily, Juan of the Dead is in Spanish, with English subtitles. Thus armed to bridge a cultural and linguistic divide, we all sat down and watched Juan.

We laughed at the sight of Lázaro groping himself at the first sign of an attractive female. Here, I should clarify. It turns out that Lázaro is a chronic public masturbator who has trouble keeping more than merely his genitals in his pants once he starts baring firearms. But further to the point, we were entertained and distracted, watching Juan and company dispatch zombies (and sometimes non-zombies!) in various ways. Juan lazily at first, and then with passion (said with a Spanish accent, but spelled the same as in English, incidentally) fights the hordes of the undead invading his Cuba libre.

To summarize, for horror-goers, I cannot recommend Juan highly enough, for its mix of infectious humor, camp, personality and fun. Perhaps even brave non-horror-goers might want to, er, take a bite out of the film.

Vladi California (Lázaro's son, portrayed by Andros Perugorría), Camila, Juan and Lázaro go a walkin' in Juan of the Dead.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Back to School with the Latest Teen Fiction Part 2 of 8: Catherine Austen's All Good Children

All Good Children
Catherine Austen
Orca Book Publishers
October 1, 2011
312 pages
Library binding, $19.95
On April 16, All Good Children won the 2012 Young Adult Book Award, given by the Canadian Library Association.

Set in the not-too-distant dystopic future in Middletown, All Good Children features kids who are turning into obedient zombies. Teenaged graffiti artist and prankster Maxwell Connor and his friend Dallas are not happy about it. Connor, a rebel, decides to look beyond his small town to solve the mystery. The author originally planned this book as a Stepford Wives or Invasion of the Body Snatchers for middle graders.

“I’ve always had a soft spot for disruptive kids who are good at heart,” Catherine Austen wrote from Gatineau. “The ideal reader might be any teen who feels under pressure to be a certain way, who feels let down by adults, especially a labelled kid or a self-absorbed kid who needs a kick in the pants to look at the world around him and take a stand on something.”

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Back to School with the Latest Teen Fiction Part 1 of 8: Don Aker's Running on Empty

 With the lazy, hazy days of summer upon on us, young teens can chill out to some great, award-winning YA novels from Canadian writers across the country. Whether kids are growing fairy wings, solving a mystery in between surfboarding the waves, saving cash for their first car, or harbouring secrets, there is something for even the pickiest reader. Here is a sampling of what’s hot off the press on the bookstore shelves.

Running on Empty
Don Aker
HarperCollins Canada Ltd
May 1 2012
272 pages
Paperback, $14.99
Aker won the Canadian Library Associatin's 2008 Honour Book Award for The Space Between.

When Ethan Palmer finally gets together enough cash to buy his own car, he crashes Dad’s Volvo into the garage. All the money he has saved goes toward fixing the car for good ol’ Dad, who also happens to be a lawyer and politician. But Ethan wants a car so badly that he devises another way to raise the capital that could cause even worse problems.

Award-winning Don Aker, resident of Middleton, Nova Scotia, was prompted by a story he heard about parents fronting their son a cash stake to gamble with over the summer in order to make money.

“My ideal reader is male, no question, a teenager who’s struggling under authority, who feels misunderstood by his parents,” Aker said. “The most ideal reader would be the son of a divorced couple.”

“If you ever dreamed of something that you wanted it so badly you could taste it, you could feel it in your hands and have something rip it away from you—that’s what this story is about,” Aker added.

Story about Young Adult Novels (Intro to Eight-Part Article)

I recently attempted to pitch a story about young adult novels to a number of Canadian daily newspapers, both local and international. However, the freelance market being what it is, I was not successful in getting my feature into print. The pitch? Here it is for your perusal:

"As school lets out and the lazy summer days begin, young teens should get excited about reading, particularly YA books penned by writers from across Canada who are producing notable, award-winning work. Parents who read this article can sample books to buy their kids to read at the cottage - or to simply keep the teens out of trouble for a few hours."

So, in essence, I wanted to highlight eight Canadian authors across the country who are doing some notable YA novel work. I also hoped parents would read the article and then present their kids with possible reading options for the summer. I talked to Don Aker in Middleton, Nova Scotia, Catherine Austen in Gatineau, Quebec, and Jeff Ross in Ottawa, Ontario. My Toronto contingent includes Kenneth Oppel, Leah Bobet, and Kelley Armstrong. My West Coast representatives are Ivan E. Coyote and Kit Pearson.

Having failed to have this story in newspapers, however, does not me deter from printing the whole article here, in blogland. I consider the piece a nice cross-sampling of what teens can get into nowadays. On that note, I will present my story in eight parts, starting in eastern Canada and heading west. The story necessitates dividing because I have discovered that cutting and pasting the whole works does away with all formatting.

Notes on Audrey Niffenegger's The Night Bookmobile

Firstly, I want to say outright that I truly wanted to enjoy The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger. However, from the outset I noticed that the art was, well, slipshod, the level of comic-book drawing you would find in early high school. Hoping to get past this aspect of the thin graphic novel, I gave it a read, which was very quick.

Niffenegger admits, in the afterword, that the idea for the comic came to her as a teenager. The premise is intriguing- everyone has a library somewhere of every book they have ever read in their lives. Niffenegger states plainly that she has more Bookmobile stories in mind. As a standalone story, however, the Night Library is still only a nascent concept.

Niffenegger originally intended this is a parable examining the sacrifices that avid readers make for their obsession, and the often precarious balance between reading and living in the real world. She meant Bookmobile as a cautionary tale. Unfortunately it is not cautionary enough, nor are the characters developed enough or easy to sympathize with. This is largely due to a protagonist who loves books, as well as walking around in the wee hours, but who gives the reader little else to root for. Thus, whatever happens in her life and relationship with her boyfriend has little impact.

Unfortunately, the story also doesn’t quite breathe. The art remains mediocre to the point of distraction. While the idea was interesting, I am certain there are more exciting things one could do with the idea of a night library. Personally, I am less interested in seeing a library with every book I have ever read (after all, I’ve already read them) than a library that might contain an entirely different collection that is somehow related to my life (insert imaginative corollary here).

As for why I wanted to enjoy this comic, the reason is simple. Having read The Time Traveler’s Wife, her astonishingly difficult to categorize novel involving a love story, time travel, all shot through with elements of literary prose, sci-fi, horror, romance and humour, I somehow expected more here. But, as a sage teacher once wrote on my report card in high school, if one is talented in one area, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re talented “across the board”. This is my longwinded way of saying that perhaps the author’s ideal medium is novel writing, not comic book writing. That said, I eagerly look forward to whatever novel Niffenegger is now working on.

After having written the above, I did a check and discovered Niffenegger's second novel, Her Fearful Symmetry, a ghost story set in in London, came out in Nov. 2009. This work warrants further inspection. And, again, I want to see what Niffenegger creates next, in novel form.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Postscripts to Darkness 2 launched!

On Sat, Aug 11, the Darkness returned to Ottawa. The Postscripts to Darkness 2 launch, organized by co-editors Sean Moreland and Aalya Ahmad, went exceedingly well at the Imperial Pub. Mr. Moreland did a top-shelf job of hosting in front of the hearty crowd of about 40. The audience also watched two short horror films, including James Greatrex's "Heaven over Earth", and listened to readings from the new horror anthology.

The five featured readers read to an enthusiastic crowd.  Zachary Abram opened, with the PhD. candidate from the University of Ottawa sharing "In the Hotel", which features characters who run an establishment housing extraordinary clientele. Rhiannaon M. Dawn came from North Bay to read "Blood Moon", designed to wrankle even the most staid vampire. Daniel Lalonde, a published guidance counselor, drove from Kingston to read "St. Gertrude Boys' Choir". a zombie yarn containing black-than-black humor. I threw in my effort, "Carl's and Monty's Prairie Wager", regarding two old friends who make a bet. PSTD 2 co-editor, Aalya Ahmad, standing in for contributor Tisha Moor, who was unable to attend, read "The Piss Monster", which is actually much better than the title leads one to believe.

I might also add that PSTD 2 includes my e-interview with U.S. horror novelist, Lee Thomas, a notable new talent. The anthology also includes 16 other horror stories and accompanying artwork and is available for a not-so-frightening price of ten dollars.

The launch also attracted ChiZine Publication's Communications Director, Matt Moore. Derek Kunsken, who is involved in the upcoming Canadian Conference on Canadian Content in Speculative Arts and Literature in Ottawa occurring Sept 21-23, also attended.

Kudos to Sean Moreland and Aalya Ahmad for publishing another PSTD, and launching the anthology at a solid event, both enviable feats in Ottawa in early-to-mid August. As Sean mentioned, PSTD 3 is open for submissions for a limited time, due to the tremendous amount of response from prospective contributors.
To buy this issue of Postscripts to Darkness, or others, go here.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Postscripts to Darkness 2 launches Aug 11!

The Postscripts to Darkness 2 launch party is next Sat, Aug. 11 in Ottawa. PSTD II is an anthology of short, weird and uncanny fiction and art from contributors around the world. Sean Moreland, inspired by our collaboration in organizing the Canadian premiere of the Rolling Darkness Revue (RDR), assembled the first chapbook, along with editors Aalya Ahmad and Dominik Parisien. RDR is a travelling roadshow showcasing the finest in American horror writing. Through a variety of funding, I brought L.A. horror authors Glen Hirshberg and Peter Atkins to Canada, performing in North Bay and in Ottawa and the Ottawa International Writers Festival. For PSTD II, I had a hand in selecting the pieces, and also contributed my interview with U.S. horror author, Lee Thomas.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Film Review - Some Guy Who Kills People

Undeniably the best B flick I've seen in a while, this low-budget effort features a protagonist who is purportedly offiing his high school tormentors. The cast sings here, loudly. Kevin Corrigan draws tentative sympathy as the lonely Ken Boyd, fresh from the asylum. He looks dishevelled and disheartened while working at the local dairy bar and still being heckled by bullies. When said bullies are dispatched, however, the killer moves in for the kill, ninja-style. Barry Bostwick is uproarious as Sherriff Walt Fuller. At one point, Sherrif Fuller compares the state of a corpse to minimialistic artwork and yet he is still stymied by the question of the killer's identity or motive. To say that the gangly, white-haired actor is a poor man's Leslie Nielsen would be to underrate his comedic delivery. The teenaged Ariel Glade as Amy Wheeler, Boyd's daughter, soars in her engaging portrayal of curiosity, teen angst, and earnestness. Karen Black, of Shaun of the Dean, among othe films, is always reliable, and does her usual good job.

While SGWKP owes much to the HBO show Dexter, featuring a serial killer who dispatches what he deduces are evil people, the film possesses a darker, albeit humorous, heart. This film won me over. It surprised me often, and surpassing my admitted lack of expectations. It's as though the filmmaker, directory Ryan A. Levin, worked harder because he had a lower budget. Funny, odd, and gratifying, this B-sider was far better than many more financially endowed cinematic projects out there. John Landis, director of the rather superb 1981 film, An American Werewolf in London, was executive producer. Recommended.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man film: What Went Wrong (No spoilers here)

Image from The Amazing Spider-Man film. Garfield looks uncannily like the Peter Parker from the 1960's and 1970's comic book. At least as much as anyone can resemble a fictitious character.

The Amazing Spider-Man fails in more areas than it succeeds. The inherent problem is that the emotional foundation of the film is flimsy. While Peter Parker learns about responsiblity from the harrowing experience of rescuing innocent bystanders, he does not learn the same lesson from Uncle Ben. This is signifcant because not only are his first lessons as a masked vigiliante learned as a revenge-seeker, but because Uncle Ben, one of three paternal authority figures in the movie, does not quite have the proper impact on the teeanger.

That would be excusable if the film did not also riff on the Ultimate Spider-Man comic, slightly altering Spidey's origin, his first foray as Spider-Man, and omitting the inclusion of the Daily Bugle and the figure of J. Jonah Jameson from the picture, literally. Where the movie works is in the action sequences. This brilliantly-kinetically-depicted Spidey births classic comic imagery onscreen and looks arguably far more real than Sam Raimi's Spider-Man. Examples of iconic scenes include Parker reluctantly removing the mask and Spider-Man fighting underwater in the sewers.

To elaborate on my comment on the problem with the emotional fundament, I wasn't quite convinced that Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) would fall in love with Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield). It's a shame. Stone is a radiant actress of Zombieland and Crazy Stupid Love fame, but she has little to do here. At first she is a strong female protagonist, until she and Garfield reverse roles about halfway through Amazing and she becomes a wet nurse and errand runner. Garfield's egregious quirks and ticks become grating. Or, as my close friend exclaimed afterward - "Most introverted guys are quiet and awkward around girls; he was a four year old!" In essence, Garfield's portrayal is too frantic, which undermines any believablity in his rapport with Stone's character. Who would go for a guy who spun around and displays nervous tics every 10 seconds?

The plot is also too busy, blending several elements that, combined, taste bad - the mystery of Parker's parents desertion when he was an itsy-bitsy pre-Spider, the rise of the latest villain, the thorny relationship with Captain Stacy (Dennis Leary, not the pipe-smoking, white-haired, suit-with-the-patched-elbows Captain of the 1960s and 1970's comic). The inherent flaw here, as in Spider-Man 3, is combining too many storylines on top of - it bears repeating - a weak emotional core. The story of Parker's parents was a several-issue narrative in the comic and his romance with Stacey even longer, spanning several years, alongside the development of his friendship with the overly curious Captain Stacey. Back then, Stacey was a sort of an NYPD Sherlock Holmes in the comic and not the very funny Leary portrayal.

I really wanted to like this film, but such an unsuccssful mix made this like a friend who just goes too far. You want to be there for them, but once they perform that one imcomprehensible and illicit act, you can't.

Of course, I readily admit that I found most of the action scenes invigorating and easy to follow. Another good friend, however, took issue with the good people of New York trying to help out just a little too much -and he was bent over with laughter for the duration of that moment of the film (once again- no spoilers).

In the end, Amazing deserves a DVD rental if only for the adrenaline-stoked acrobatics of Spider-Man leaping around. I also found the charcter development of the bully character, Flash Thomspon, quite interesting. This is one of the few elements that stayed utterly true to the four-colour version of Spidery, albeit it in two hours and not over the span of several years and dozens of comics. As a closing note, Garfield as Spider-Man is far funnier, with quick-witted wisecracks and retorts, than Tobey Maguire's version, who was all business once he put on the super-hero suit. Also, director Marc Webb can, admittedly, shoot great 3-D sequences.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

To summarize - some good, bad and neutral Marvel animated shows

To summarize:
Good Marvel. Good.

The Spectacular Spider-Man: The Complete First Season. Thank you, Marvel, for compiling it all in one set, unlike the second season, which is sold separately as four - count 'em, true believers - four disc sets. Cancelled after two seasons for the reboot below.

Oh . . . bad Marvel. Very bad. I don't know why Spidey is listening to a little angel or a little devil. Perhaps one is trying to convince him the show is good and the other making the case for the show being bad. While the animation is solid and unlike the Anime style of Spectacular (think characters with overly large, round eyes), Ultimate Spider-Man is too plain silly. It is full of slapstick and asides to the viewer, and lacks that Marvel balance of humour, character, and pacing.
                                         Image from Ultimate Spider-Man T.V. show

Again, good Marvel. Very, very good. And, I might add, available as a single collection, Earth's Mightiest Heroes: The Complete First Season. While Blu-ray is readily available, finding this set on DVD is proving to be a challenge. Alas, Marvel also cancelled this series after two seasons in order to start the reboot depicted below.
Image from the Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes T.V. show

I dunno', Marvel. Could be good or bad, although it looks very much like a cover for the Ultimates Avengers comic book.drawn by the talented Bryan Hitch and penned by the delightfully feisty Mark Millar.
Image from the upcoming Avengers Assemble T.V show

Open Letter to Marvel Entertainment

Axel Alonso
Marvel Entertainment, LLC
135 W. 50th Street, 7th Floor
New York, NY 10020

July 19, 2012

Dear Axel Alonso:

Oops - you did it again, Marvel Comics. You took a great premise, that of Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, transformed it into a successful T.V. show for two great seasons, and then canned it.

We viewers and fans alike would really, really like it if you stopped. It's just not healthy for our relationship. And it just keeps on happening.

You see, it happened before with The Spectacular Spider-Man series that debuted in 2008.

Like SSM, Avengers took great characters, along with lesser known minor characters, and built up the stories over time, developed the heroes' personalities, and worked in classical and contemporary story arcs from the titular comic books. For Spidey, you introduced Peter Parker's romance with Gwen Stacey, but also a grab-bag of origin and confrontations that included such great rogues as Venom and the Green Goblin. For the Avengers, you introduced the Kree-Skrull war as well as less-exposed characters including Power Man and Iron Fist. Pacing, writing and humour were crucial in the success of both shows.

Also, at 22 minutes a pop, the shows suited the serial nature of 22-page comic books nicely and eased their adaptation into animated series. The shows both contain hidden delights and funny moments. For example, Spidey called the Vulture "Beaky" simply to jilt him. Thor threw his hammer in a villain's face just to shut them up in mid-threat. Thus, that Marvel sensibility was abviously at play here, along with Spider Sense. It should be noted that all of Saim Raimi's Spider-man films had humour; however, when Parker suited up, Spider-Man was all business, not the wise-cracking hero of Marvel lore. While the webhead's story arcs built over two seasons, so did the Avengers.

All this is to say that these animated shows were Marvel at its finest. Both did an admirable job of mimicking the slow-burning story arcs of particular comic book storylines.

But you cancelled the webhead's vehicle and now you halted the Avengers' first credible foray into television.

O, why, great House of Ideas? To paraphrase Sally Field, you make us like you, you really do, and then you pick up all your toys and go home.

And, to make things worse, while Spectacular Spider-Man Season 1 is available on a two-disc set for a reasonable price, not so for the second season, which is interspersed on four differents DVD sets. At least you learned, though, that fans want the whole enchilada; you did, after all, release Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes The Complete First Season few months back.

Now, I know you will say that you are rebooting the Avengers as a new show called Avengers Assemble, and that Spidey has been reminted as Ultimate Spider-Man. But Ultimate is too much pratfall and Ferris Bueller-esque asides to the viewers, and not enough Dito/Lee/House of Ideas Marvel character chemistry magic. As mentioned the Avengers had never been a show before this attempt - and still you want to end a good thing.

For our part, we must say: Why, o why now, when you finally hit your mark, have you forsaken us?
And what shall we do with you now?
I know that Avengers film was great - slightly imperfect, but great. Granted, fans were relieved. But even so, perhaps you should have a time-out to consider what you are doing to us youngish Marvelites who are just happy to see you finally make good. It is like dating someone for a few months, just enough to get hung up on them, only to hear them say - "It's not working out. I'm not having any fun. How about I introduce you to my second-cousin? They're single - and they're waiting outside in the car."

Ah, yes, the second cousin that is Ultimate Spider-Man.



Sunday, July 15, 2012

Capsule TPB review, Beasts of Burden Vol. 1: Animal Rites

Jill Thompson's beautiful artwork and Evan Dorkin's script are irresistible. The writing is reminiscent of Neil Gaiman's treatment of felines in the Sandman opus, in particular Sandman # 18 entitled "A Dream of a Thousand Cats". As for Thompson's illustrations, you can just stare at a particular panel for a while, without any outside illicit stimulation. The resut of this witch's brew is a series of interlocking and compelling supernatural stories as seen through the eyes of dogs and cats. If it sounds weird, it is weird, but Beasts works. Think Kolchak The Night Stalker meets its illegitimate son, The X-Files, meets Watership Down. The animals become the unofficial guardians of Burden Hill, ferreting out mysteries, monsters, and developing as characters as well as in any other good fiction. Thompson is also know for the Scary Godmother children's books.

Capsule review, Blacksad TPB 1, Quelque part entre les ombres

In the French graphic novel Blacksad, Juan Díaz Canales takes the familiar tropes of the film noir detective and adds a twist - the sleuth in question is a cat named Blacksad. By anthropomorphizing (assigning human characteristics to animals), Canales imbues the form with a new life. Juanjo Guarnido's beautiful artwork doesn't hurt, either.

En tout cas/In any case, this French murder mystery is worth reading and enjoying more than once.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Praise for Older Brothers, Roger Waters in concert, Syd Barrett

It's always interesting to return to works of art that so captivated one in their youthful, impressionable years.

When I was 18, I discovered Pink Floyd's The Wall, both the concept album and, shortly afterward, the film. This was in thanks mainly to my close friend at the time. His older brother had left a pile of vinyl records behind when he moved out. Older brothers be praised. I also made several other worthy discoveries this way. These were not mere albums, but infusions into my pop music mediocrity of high school in the late 1980's and early 1990's. My discoveries included Kiss' Destroyer, The Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms, The Police's Synchronicity, Men at Work's Business as Usual and Sheik Yerbouti by Frank Zappa, to name a few.

As for Pink Floyd's The Wall, to my younger self, the idea of a character enduring a complete emotional breakdown was very appealing. This is the whole concept of The Wall.  However, now that I am not 18 (let's go with youngish instead), and know of Syd Barrett's history with Pink Floyd, the appeal has lessened signifcantly for me. For the uninformed, Barrett was a founder of Pink Floyd who dabbled way too much with LSD. He was also a paranoid schizophrenic, a condition exacerabated by his overuse of acid.

The Telegraph has an enlightening 2006 obituary about Syd Barrett here:
You can also find an amazing British documentary on youtube if you search for Syd Barrett.

Another Pink Floyd founder, Roger Waters, was once quoted in an interview as saying that a lot of The Wall film was about Barrett - in particular, the scene where the protagonist shaves his head, face, and eyebrows and organizes the entire minutiae of his life in obsessively-compulsive order. Obviously, Waters liked to ponder Barrett's schizophrenia through Pink Floyd's music. The band has also readily admitted that Wish You Were Here was a  tribute to Barrett. They also emulated his psychadelic lyrical style in Dark Side of the Moon

That said, The Wall is still a brilliant concept album. I remember camping in a provincial park with my close friend and another of his brothers and their wife. His wife remarked that she thought my best friend and I liked The Wall because of lyrics of "We don't need no education" and that this anti-academic theme appealed to us. Actually, it was the whole bloody album that knocked us back.

I guess the difference is that when you are older, The Wall is a little more discomforting if you are familiar with the source material. Admittedly, the idea of a character being deconstructed was one of my peccadilloes, particular Frank Miller's "Born Again" story arc in the Daredevil comic book, and the Superman exiled-in-space narrative that appeared in the late 1980's and crossed over into all the monthly Supeman titles.

I say all this because  my friend and I saw Roger Waters in concert on Mon, June 23. Waters re-uses the album concept, including much animation from the film and plentfiul anti-war imagery, such as photos of casualties of war - and not merely soldiers.

My close friend was actually very uncomfortable with Water's anti-everything stance (anti-war, anti-authority, anti-bomb-making, anit-government, anti-people-who-have-more-than-12-items-in-the-express-aisle-at-the-supermarket - this last one was my addition, neither my friend's, nor Waters' - etc.). To me, this seems a logical leftist progression for Waters. However, I could undersand such misigivings. It ain't entirely the same concept as the original album and movie. Whether Waters has modified his whole performance to suit current times or whether he is against so many things (although his ibomb, and ilearn gimmick, in which he flashes the itunes logo along with such slogans on a giant screen, was very clever) or is simply making a very, very good living off the anti-everything posturing is another question.

The Ottawa Citizen also has a more mainstream review of said concert, that is gushing to say the least.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Capsule TPB review Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill, art by Gabriel Rodriguez

Beautiful artwork from Gabriel Rodriguez, a stunning first comic-book script by Joe Hill (his pseudonym, of course, as he is the son of an equally obscure writer named Stephen King), and a great idea make this series sing. Recommended.

Capsule TPB Review, Batwoman: Elegy by Greg Rucka and J. H. Williams III

Worth the trip, and certainly worth the GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) award it garnered, Batwoman: Elegy is dynamic comic book storytelling, beautifully drawn, incredibly panelled, and driven by Rucka's suspenseful prose. Readers also get to enjoy discovering how Katherine Kane (aka Batwoman) met her lover, Detective Renee Montoya. The flirtatious meeting of Kane and Captain Maggie Sawyer, a longtime gay character of the DC Universe, is another gem.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Priest, Capsule Review

One can summarize the 2011 film Priest in three words - derivative, laughable and hodge-podge. Not only does Priest steal from sci-fi tropes (including but not limited to Star Wars  and the Matrix) and horror tropes (mediocre fare such as the film adaptation of I Am Legend which turns the protagonist into an American Finding a Cure instead being seen as serial-vampire-killer), but the film can't seem to hold its own story together. In one riotously nonsensical throw-away scene, Cam Gigandet's rough-and-tumble character decided to a kick a chicken out of his way, for no particular reason. Paul Bettany, who has done much better work, can't save the movie from itself. Christopher Plummer also finds himself in the midst of this tomato. Perhaps he was seeking directions for a way out of the script.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

"Living Under the Conditons" published in Megapack

My sci-fi story, "Living Under the Conditions" has been published in The Fourth Science Fiction Megapack (epub or Kindle). I am in good company. Fiction from Isaac Asimov, Ayn Rand, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. and Philip K. Dick appear in the anthology. Other contributing luminaries, for those who know the business, include Theodore Sturgeon and Henry Kuttner. Kuttner was one of Ray Bradury's mentors. At a price of only 99 cents, The Megapack is worth purchasing.

"Living Under the Conditions" originally appeared in On Spec: The Canadian magazine of the fantastic in 2007 and made the longlist for the Writers' Trust/McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Feature - Jeffrey Round's Lake on the Mountain

The latest assignment off my desk - my feature on mystery/thriller/literary author Jeffrey Round appeared on the national site of Xtra: Canada's gay & lesbian news on Thursday, April 26. Round possesses an eye for literary asthetics and observations, but also an enthusiasm for a great caper and mystery, as evidenced in his latest novel, Lake on the Mountain.

3:10 to Yuma Capsule Review

Notes on the 2007 film 3:10 to Yuma, starring Russell Crowe, Christian Bale and Ben Foster

This contemporary western, the second remake of an Elmore Leonard novel (the first was in 1957), grinds out a low, character-establishing pace at first, but compensates for this overindulged classical feel in the second half. Ben Foster stars as ambiguously gay, tough-as-nails Charlie Prince, while Russell Crowe, as outlaw Ben Wade, winks, nods and flirts with Christian Bale's character (Dan Evan) throughout. Evans is supposed to put Wade on the proverbial 3:10 to Yuma train. It is like Crowe, playing the obviously bisexual Wade right down the middle, is making up for being unable to play the John Nash character as openly bisexual in the film A Beautiful Mind. With a marvelously surprising ending, Yuma has a lot to offer, either way the viewer looks at it.