Friday, June 1, 2018

Total Skull: Geiger and Archer Books, American Mary, Manifest Destiny, Conquistador

Things that brought me delight in May, 2018.

Geiger & Archer Books
On Free Comic Book Day I learned that there was a "new" used bookshop specializing in sci-fi, fantasy, and horror in town. It's exactly the kind of store I like: a cramped little wonderland of second-hand treasures. The picture to the left shows my book haul to date: Doors to the Unknown and Defilers and Preservers (both still in the original shrinkwrap!), Victoria Holt's The King of the Castle, Ramsey Campbell's The Parasite, Obsession, and Demons by Daylight, Hanns Heinz Ewers's Blood, Philip K. Dick's Valis, and Gahan Wilson's The Cleft. Will I be back for more? Absolutely.

Jen and Sylvia Soska, American Mary
This wasn't my first time watching American Mary, but it was the first time for many of my students--and they certainly found it to be an experience. I polled the class about which text we read or movie we watched they found most disturbing, and American Mary "won" with 35% of the vote. 

(Pauline Reage's Story of O and J. G. Ballard's Crash tied for second with 18% each, with David Cronenberg's Videodrome trailing behind at 14%. Neither Stephen King nor H. P. Lovecraft, two of the biggest names in horror, charted at all.) 

The Soska Sisters seemed to enjoy my students' collective intense response to their movie: "What a fantastic compliment! Thank you to the class for having such a strong reaction to the piece & thank you for including it in the course. Please send our thanks along to them & let them know they can tweet us if they wanna talk about the film." Nice ladies, great film.

The World Bewitch'd: Visions of Witchcraft from the Cornell Collections
Cornell's Kroch Library currently has an exhibit featuring books from their collection of witchcraft-related holdings. There are some absolutely amazing books on display as part of The World Bewitch'd; the books are mostly 15th- and 16th-century tomes ranging from the infamous Malleus Malificarum, court reports from witchcraft trials, books published warning against the excesses of witch-finders, and more.

Chris Dingess, Matthew Roberts, Tony Akins, and Owen Gieni, 
Manifest Destiny, Vol. 4: Sasquatch and Vol 5: Mnemophobia and Chronophobia
Manifest Destiny is the ideal hexcrawl in comic book form: a ragtag group of explorers comprised of soldiers, criminals, and strays heading into the wilderness to chart the great unknown. And, of course, they encounter supernatural horrors and the cruelty of their fellow man at every turn.

The plot has been thickening over the last few volumes. It's become clear that the North American wilderness isn't just teeming with strange, uncatalogued monstrosities--there's something diabolic at work connected to the land itself. The critique of American exceptionalism was formerly a contextually undercurrent, but at this point in the narrative it's just an obvious statement of purpose: this is a story about the ways in which the American project is founded on bloodshed and devil's bargains.

Dylan Carlson, Conquistador
Dylan Carlson, best known for his recordings as Earth, is back with a solo album he likens to an "imaginary Western." Conquistador is not unlike much of Carlson's other musical excursions; the album is constructed from slow, droning guitar work that is allowed to expand across indulgent tracks. Although the album risks meandering, it manages to pull off a deft act of wordless storytelling. Without the aid of lyrics, Conquistador feels sweeping and cinematic. You can listen to it here on Bandcamp.

Dimmu Borgir, Eonian
There is a pattern to new releases by Dimmu Borgir: in the estimation of the crowd, they're never as good as the "older stuff." This was true when Enthrone Darkness Triumphant was released; it was judged "not as good as Stormblast." Now, current releases like Eonian are judged to be "not as good as Enthrone Darkness Triumphant."

In my estimation, Eonian is a fun album. It's absolutely true that it isn't the most archetypal black metal album. It's an interesting album instead. It sounds, at times, to be a black metal take on making a Sisters of Mercy album. It's got that bombast that we're supposed to read as a fault, but it works, so we can't. And really, the complaint that it features too many choral elements means nothing to me--is it even possible to include too many choral elements?

Kentaro Miura, Berserk vol. 8, 9, 10
Interruptus: Berserk does this odd thing where it builds up to a tremendously insightful combination of writing and art, and then diffuses or abdicates from the scene by taking a complete left-turn into the prurient. For example, in the scene in vol. 9 where the King of Midlands has Griffith restrained in the dungeon after the Hawks' leader has deflowered the princess. The King gives an amazing speech while he is whipping Griffith--the words and the image of a torrent of blows falling on Griffith achieve a grotesque harmont. The King speaks of the meaninglessness of the world and the absurdity of the lives that are lost to find a peace that never truly arrives; the fury with which he beats Griffith is clearly a displacement of the fury he feels toward life as pointless struggle. It's heady stuff for a moment. But then, Griffith goads the King with an offhand comment implying that the reason that King is actually mad is because he wanted to take his daughter's virginity. Cut to: the King perving on his daughter. This is way beyond the usual anime trope of serious moments undercut by big eyed comedic slapstick; you could catch some whiplash off this.

Honorable mentions
Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes
Simon Strantzas, Nightingale Songs
Cameron Pierce, Gargoyle Girls of Spider Island
The Art of BioShock Infinite
Frank Miller, Sin City vol. 1: The Hard Goodbye
John J. Terra, Dark Sun: Forest Maker
Dori Jean Hein, Tim Beach, J.M. Salsbury, Planescape: The Factol's Manifesto
Solo: A Star Wars Story