Sunday, November 29, 2020

The Outriders of Gilead

The Outriders of Gilead
A faction in Krevborna

The Outriders of Gilead are a mystical conclave of gunslingers and rangers descended from an ancient order of knights sworn to protect pilgrims and penitents journeying to sacred sites. As an evolution of that purpose, the Outriders of Gilead often act as guards for caravans and other groups who travel through the dangerous wilderness. The Outriders of Gilead are particularly active in the wilds of the West Marches. 
    • Motto. “Not unto us, but unto the name of glory.”
    • Belief. The gun is our chosen weapon; it is a mystical extension of our faith.
    • Goal. Travelers must be shepherded and kept from harm.
    • Quest. Defeat a band of outlaws preying upon pilgrims journeying to a holy chapel.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Knock! now on Kickstarter

I've got a few small pieces in the first issue of Knock!, which is currently on Kickstarter.

Here's the blurb:

It took us two years from the initial email, but we did it! We gathered some of the most respected, most creative, and possibly weirdest minds of the old school roleplaying scene and compiled some of their best work to make this thick magazine.

We made KNOCK! the messy, stuffed to the gills bric-à-brac we wanted. The book that earns its place on the easy-to-reach part of your gaming shelves. Now, we need you to make the inaugural, proof of concept issue of KNOCK! Magazine a thing that exists in the physical realm. You know, the world of air, earth, dice, and unhealthy snacks.

This first issue is 212 pages (A5 format, slightly bigger than digest size: 5.9’ x 8.25’) in beautiful full colour, printed on quality paper (coated 130 gr, with a cover on coated 300 gr). 

It has everything you’d want from an old school slash adventure gaming publication: articles about the history of Dungeons & Dragons, reflections about genre and gameplay, some clever rules, a bunch of maps, tons of random tables and lists, 7 new classes, 7 new monsters, and 3 complete adventures. If you’re reading this, some of the names below will ring a bell, or five: Emmy Allen, Benjamin Baugh, Joe Brogzin, Caleb Burke, Brooks Dailey, Nicolas Dessaux, Paolo Greco,  James Holloway, Anthony Huso, Arnold K, Ethan Lefevre, Gabor Lux, Bryce Lynch, Fiona Maeve Geist, Chris McDowall, Ben Milton, Gavin Norman, Patrick Ollson, Graphite Prime, Stuart Robertson, Jack Shear, Jason Sholtis, Skullfungus, Sean Stone, Chris Tamm, Daniel Sell, and Vagabundork.

And you’ll recognise some of the artists too: Ivan Caceres, Didier Guiserix, Matthew Houston, Christophe Johnston, Li-An, Dyson Logos, Evlyn M, Tim Molloy, Luka Rejec, Michael Sheppard, Jason Sholtis, Dan Spencer, and Niklas Wistedt. We’ve used their art as inspiration for some fancy, bold page design.

Images of the interior spreads? Sure:

Monday, November 23, 2020

This Story Takes Place in the Distant Future

For my money, this opening image from the first Vampire Hunter D anime is the most powerfully succinct bit of world-building I've ever encountered. It does everything with very little. The ominous image of Castlevania-style castle paired with two blood-tinged moons screams Gothic, while the texts fills in the other important aspects of the setting: it takes place in the future, so get ready for incongruous technology; there are mutants and demons, so get ready for the monster mash; this is a world of darkness--and you know what that means.

All that in a single pairing of image and terse text. Brilliant.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Noise, Burning Bridges, Blood, Tears, Dust, Stellar Tombs

Howls of the damned to entertain and edify.

Nightwish, "Noise"

Delain, "Burning Bridges"

Lacuna Coil, "Blood, Tears, Dust"

Draconian, "Stellar Tombs"

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

The House of Vargori

The House of Vargori
A faction in Krevborna

The House of Vargori is a noble lineage of Lamashtu famed for the beauty of its members. Like many of the noble families of Lamashtu, the heads of the family are vampires—but unlike most, the House of Vargori only grants the gift of undeath to particularly beautiful women within their ranks. The members of House Vargori belong to a pleasure cult that venerates Zorya as the demonic Mother of Lusts. The house is currently led by Countess Yulia Vargori. 
    • Motto. “Pain and beauty are all.”
    • Belief. If we were not to drink so deeply of pleasurable pain, our senses would not have been made so acute.
    • Goal. Usurp the throne of Lamashtu by wielding intelligence as a sharp blade that severs Queen Alcesta von Karlok’s control of the realm.
    • Quest. Help a Vargori spy establish a foothold in an important household.

Monday, November 16, 2020

The Inheritance

I saw this on Twitter:
Challenge accepted.

The characters have been invited into the back room of a tavern by a lawyer, who has summoned them to a reading of the last will and testament of a woman they have never heard of. It transpires that this mysterious woman has left them the deed to her ancestral home just north of Chancel.

Unfortunately, the manse is perched atop a hillside cliff that is riddled with mazes of tunnels, dungeons, and catacombs occupied by inhuman monstrosities. The upper levels are absolutely haunted by spectral horrors and the unquiet dead.

The site is long as they are willing to cleanse it of the evils lurking within. Thus stipulates the will.

CONGRATULATIONS, new home owner. Now roll up your sleeves and get to work.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Something is Not Right in the House of Mald (Part 2)


Photo by luobulinka
This is the second half of an actual play write up of a Necro-Cavaliers of the Astral Galaxy game. The first half of the write up is here. Also, did you know that you can get the game on my page here?

Back to the adventure: Anomi used her necromantic magic to make the ward sealing the door to the basement disengage. Down in the basement, she discovered an alien creature that matched the drawings she had discovered on Micah's dataslate; the creature was being kept in a cage with laser-bars and it had some sort of wound in its side. Attempts to communicate with the creature yielded nothing. Deputy Durango was sent upstairs to make some tea while Anomi pondered her next move.

Unfortunately, when he returned he was vaporized by a laser rifle blast from Sperlington Mald at the top of the stairs. Anomi was able to talk Sperlington down and get a better picture of what was going on at the homestead. Sperlington said that the alien creatures had abducted Micah and Joela, and that he had captured the one currently in the cage in hopes of trading it back to the aliens for the return of his family. However, when Anomi questioned Sperlington about what was in the barn, his eyes glazed over and blood began to trickle from his nose; something was not letting him remember what was in there. 

Sperlington also informed Anomi that a trap by the back entrance of the house had claimed the life of a traveling Bible salesman. Thinking fast, Anomi convinced Sperlington to take the corpse of the Bible salesman to Captain Varrigan and pin the death of Deputy Durango on him. Sperlington loaded the corpse into his hauler and set off for the constabulary office. This gave Anomi time to investigate the barn on her own. Inside, she discovered crates of large, flat stones that were inscribed with the same symbols depicted in the woodcuts she had found while researching the strange alien creatures Micah had been drawing. There was also a laser etching machine in the barn presumably used to mark the stones.

As the storm intensified, lightning struck a spot out in the fields near the Mald homestead, leaving behind a humanoid figure. Anomi recognized the figure as Joela Mald. Anomi rushed out into the field to retrieve her; the woman had been left behind on a stone embedded in the field with the same markings as the ones she had found in the barn. Anomi got Joela inside and into a bath and began to question her. Joela didn't remember her time as an abductee, but she was sure that the creature claiming to be Sperlington was not, in fact, her husband. She noted his changed behavior, particularly his reluctance to have his son treated for whatever blood condition was afflicting him. As Joela dressed, she asked Anomi for a laser pistol; a confrontation with the creature calling itself Sperlington Mald was inevitable. 

As indeed it was. Sperlington arrived back at the homestead with Captain Varrigan in tow. As they exited the hauler, both armed themselves with laser rifles. Anomi asked Joela to stay hidden, and to come out firing should it prove necessary, while she got herself into position for an ambush. As Captain Varrigan came through the door of the house, Anomi leapt out and slapped necromantic handcuffs on him--effectively taking him out of the fight. Lightning flashed again outside; Anomi could see that another of the alien creatures had appeared atop the summoning stone out in the field and was now making its way to the house. A firefight broke out within the house between Joela and Anomi on one side and Sperlington on the other as the alien strode into the melee. After taking quite a few blows from the alien, which absolutely ruined her couture, Anomi buried her sword into it with ballet-like precision and managed to blast it into oblivion. 

Anomi and Joela dragged the body out to the summoning stone. Another stroke of lightning fell and Micah was exchanged for the alien. Anomi called for further aid and the farmstead was soon crawling with galactic agents. As the pieces fell into place, it was revealed that the Mald family (as well as others on Ogra V, such as Varrigan) had long been in league with the aliens--who were pursuing ways of hybridizing themselves with humankind to facilitate a hidden invasion of the Empire. Micah's blood disorder was evidence of their most successful hydridization to date; he was the template for the coming invasion--an invasion that had been disrupted by the actions of the sly and stylish Anomalisa Monalisa of House Satomi.

Director's Commentary

I stole the outline of this scenario from the movie Devil's Gate. Crap movie, but made for a fun session. 

Monday, November 9, 2020

October's Horror

What follows is a recap of the horror movies and tv I watched in October. Fair warning: there may be spoilers.


Fantasmagorias is a collection of short animated films that retell the supernatural legends and murderous tales of Latin America. And I do mean that the episodes are short; each one is about 2-4 minutes long, essentially the perfect length to get a nice quick dose of Halloween feelings. I loved Fantasmagorias; from the Sin City-esque art style to the grim folklore it details, it was a pitch perfect fit for my interests.

Girl on the Third Floor

A married man with a child on the way buys a fixer-upper to make into a home. This is his second chance at treading the straight and narrow path after being caught defrauding his financial customers of their life savings. Of course, the house is haunted. Obviously so, in fact. Look, if you don't realize that a house shouldn't be constantly jizzing all over the place and randomly shitting out marbles, don't try to do the home repairs yourself. The last third of the movie is complete bullshit; oddly enough, the most eerie part of the film is the opening credit sequence before the movie proper even starts. Girl on the Third Floor also wants to SAY SOMETHING about how MEN who TREAT WOMEN POORLY should be PUNISHED, but the moral is compromised by the way that innocent people (and a dog!) get caught in the crossfire.

We Summon the Darkness

Three teenage girls on their way to a heavy metal concert in the midst of a spate of Satanic ritual slayings meet up with three boys in band...surely the killings and this chance meeting couldn't possibly be connected, right? Well, they are, but with a twist you're likely to see coming a mile away. We Summon the Darkness is mildly fun, but it also feels like a series of missed opportunities; not enough thought was put into the characters' behavior or how to stitch the film's various tangents into a coherent whole. As always I want my Satanic murder sprees to be more Satanic.

The Vatican Tapes

The first rule of making a horror movie about demonic possession is that it can't be boring. The Vatican Tapes unfortunately pays that rule no mind. Everything in this movie can be found done better in a superior movie. There's a seen of uncanny vomiting...that absolutely pales in comparison to The Exorcist. Add a little levitation, a little bodily contortion, and what do you get? A by-the-book checklist of obligations that adds nothing new. However, there was an unintentionally funny riff here. The main character was selected for demonic possession because her mother was a prostitute, but her father insists that he wasn't a client; he was just giving her money to get her out of the lifestyle. Don't kid yourself, man. You were paying her for exclusive access to her services.


A young woman flees her toxic family and finds a room for rent in an exclusive apartment complex that seems too good to be true. It is, in fact, too good to be true. Despite a strong performance from the lead, this film just doesn't go anywhere interesting; it suffers from a malady common to the modern horror film: it just isn't willing to go to an extreme place, even thought the potential for real horror is there, which works against the genre it tries to claim some space in. Also, it is very weird how her aspirations as a fashion designer are noted in the film, particularly with lingering shots of her sewing machine, but that doesn't end up being a matter of any import in the movie.

Devil's Gate

Devil's Gate squanders a strong premise: an FBI agent is called in to investigate a missing woman and her child, while the husband and father is holed up in his trap-laden remote farmhouse standing guard over something unnatural kept in a basement cage. Unfortunately, the movie doggedly insists on getting steadily worse as each minute ticks by. By the time the resolution of the movie is clear, it's impossible to care about the convoluted mess on display. It doesn't help matters that every character in the movie acts in ways that fail to resemble recognizably human behavior. That said, I did rip off the plot line mercilessly for an rpg session that was quite fun, so I managed to get something of a return on my hour and half investment watching it.


A traumatized wife is convinced by her husband to move into an ultra-deluxe apartment building boasting cutting-edge security and internal surveillance. It turns out about as well as you'd think; she soon finds herself plunged into the world of conspiracy theories and the possibilities of technological mind control. It just doesn't really work; I think we're supposed to be thrilled by the ambiguous nature of the threat--is it real or is our protagonist mentally ill?--but it's super clear from the outset that whatever is going on cannot be blamed on her mental state. Also, I find it hilarious that supposed to believe that Christina Ricci is using the internet in a cafe and only has ONE tab open on her laptop. My suspension of disbelief can only handle so much.

The Appearance

I'm a simple man: you give me a moderately atmospheric horror movie set in the Middle Ages with ominous monks wearing plague doctor masks and a creepy witch lady and I'll be happy. On top of that, The Appearance is the rare Gothic-inspired horror flick where the agent of the Inquisition is the good guy. Called to an abbey to investigate a mysterious murder that has been blamed on a caged young woman who is suspected to be a witch, out heroic yet troubled Inquisitor finds himself embroiled in a far darker history than he had any reason to expect would be awaiting him.

The Tenant

A Polish man living in Paris moves into an apartment that suddenly became vacant after the previous tenant jumped from the balcony in an apparent suicide attempt. The former tenant's life begins to invade his own; for example, the owner of the nearby cafe insists on serving him the usual order of the now deceased woman. He starts to suspect that the people around him are trying to turn him into an uncanny replication of the former tenant. And yet, part of his replacement of the dead tenant is due to his own seemingly willful strangeness; why does he go out of his way to befriend a beautiful young woman who was friends with the former tenant? (And their relationship really strained my suspension of disbelief, although it does have the prefect date moment: making out while watching Enter the Dragon.) The Tenant had some really striking imagery and direction, as you would expect, but ultimately the movie just feels weirdly cheap and limp in comparison to Rosemary's Baby or Repulsion.

Books of Blood

Clive Barker's Books of Blood collections were absolutely formative horror short fiction for me. The good news about this mediocre adaptation of them is that they bear so little resemblance to the stories they're based on that you can't really feel all that disappointed by their many failings. Barker's stories pulled no punches, but their film versions seem obsessed with keeping things nice and watered down. Also, I laugh out loud every time these movies feature a professor character with an on-campus office the size of a small apartment. I suppose that's something that exists somewhere, but that is entirely alien to my personal experience.

The Invisible Man

There's an invisible man, sleepin' in your bed--who you gonna call? Well, don't call the cops because even after it's revealed that your genius ex has made an invisibility suit they won't believe you that he's been using it to stalk you and murder your loved ones. Elisabeth Moss kills it in the lead role, but The Invisible Man stretches credulity by granting the evil ex the physical strength and uncanny coordination of a Marvel villain, which actively works against the real horror of narcissistic, possessive former partners that the movie is ostensibly trying to delve into. Frankly, the mundane reality is more terrifying than the exaggerated monstrosity this movie plays with.


Monsterland is a horror anthology adapted from the stories in Nathan Ballingrud's North American Lake Monsters, a collection that I thoroughly enjoyed. Though not every adaptation in the series is successful, I thought that about half the episodes were fantastic; the remaining episodes range from poorly conceived to just a little flat, which is par for the course when it comes to a wide-ranging anthology series that is the work of diverse hands taking the wheel. The best of the episodes preserve the incisive intensity of the original stories. The worst of them lose the plot, especially when they jettison the context of Ballingrud's critique of toxic masculinity--the powerful through-line of North American Lake Monsters. Fair warning, though: many of the episodes in Monsterland bring a naturalistic bleakness to the table that won't be for every viewer.

Horror of Dracula

Horror of Dracula is the first entry in Hammer's long-running series of Dracula films. Although it takes some huge liberties with the source material, it's an exceptionally fun riff on Bram Stoker's ideas. Really, you can't beat Christopher Lee as Count Dracula and Peter Cushing as Van Helsing. And aside from the most iconic duo in horror movie history, everything else falls nicely into place: the side characters are well portrayed, the costumes are exquisite, and the backdrops are perfectly Gothic. The breakneck conclusion to the film still feels impossible after you've seen it; a quick glance at the clock and it will seem like things can't be resolved in the few minutes left in the film's runtime, but things fall neatly into place--what a ride!

The Wolf Man

I'm not sure how unpopular an opinion this is, but I sincerely think The Wolf Man is one of the best of the classic Universal horror movies. Dracula and Frankenstein are certainly more visually iconic, but they both suffer from being slow and overly talky in places. The Wolf Man, despite being a product of its fairly tame time, feels much more visceral and emphatic. It also feels like a movie with more to say; Larry Talbot's wolfish pursuit of Gwen, which includes violating her privacy by spying on her with a telescope and hoping to get her alone in the woods despite her avowed engagement to another man, eerily presages his descent into bestial bloodlust as a werewolf.

Friday, November 6, 2020

Layers of Time, Across the Sea, Victims of Contingency

Three howls of the damned:

Lacuna Coil, "Layers of Time"

Leaves' Eyes, "Across the Sea"

Epica, "Victims of Contingency"

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Great Old One Patrons in Krevborna

Mastery of the arcane can be gleaned through the study of heavy tomes laden with occult secrets, but some who seek power instead choose to become conduits for the power of entities that are beyond human understanding. The following four elder gods are particularly active in recruiting mortals to their service.


Forbidden tomes claim that the elder god known as Malistrad will not emerge from beyond the stars with the others of its kind—rather, Malistrad will arise from the depths of the sea, where it has slumbered for eons. Whalers, pirates, and other sailors are sometimes spared from death at sea by Malistrad’s whim; some of these rescued mortals then adopt Malistrad as their profane god. Though Malistrad sleeps, its dreams touch the mortal world—it sometimes imparts visions, omens, and dire prognostications to men and women as they sleep.

Appearance. A colossus of eel-like flesh, vaguely man-shaped, festooned with tentacles, and laden with chains.

Common Symbol. A horrific, wet-looking rune resembling a drowned man.


Menoch is elder god associated with eldritch scholarship, black magic, and the opening of gates to other planes of existence. He imparts unwholesome wisdom by offering grimoires and other unspeakable tomes to wayward scholars whose pursuit of the arcane has driven them down dark corridors of forbidden research. Menoch cannot tolerate the light of the sun; he only manifests at night. It is said he was worshiped as a god in Kharima.

Appearance. An imperious man with a face flayed of skin whose skull has been split to reveal a throbbing mass of boiling brain beneath.

Common Symbol. A rune resembling a hanged man.


Vora is an elder god who wishes to meld all sentient creatures into an unthinking, rotting colony under her sole sway. Vora promises a respite from the burden of choice and self-direction. Her fell influence is felt in the world through a variety of eldritch horrors designed to steal free will from mortals, such as fungal infections that make their victims slaves to Vora’s prerogative and foul rites of rebirth as mindless, decaying undead. 

Appearance. Either a decaying skeleton dressed in the tatters of rotten finery, infested with mushrooms and other fungal growths or a beautiful, red-haired woman with worms and beetles writhing beneath her translucent skin.

Common Symbol. An ouroboros.


Although Zirafel’s true nature is unclear, some arcanists believe that he is a former mortal who was infused with the occult power of the elder gods through a sacrificial rite that transformed him into something otherworldly. Zirafel traffics with desperate mortals, granting power and occult weapons to those who pledge themselves to his service. Shrines devoted to Zirafel are sometimes found in the slums of Krevborna’s cities, particularly in times of uncertainty and during outbreaks of pestilential disease. 

Appearance. A gaunt man clad in austere finery with void-black eyes.

Common Symbol. A black dagger.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Behold the Undead of Dracula, Walk in Darkness, Venus in the Blind Spot, and More

Things that brought me delight in October, 2020:

Behold the Undead of Dracula: Lurid Tales of Gothic Cinematic Horror

Behold the Undead of Dracula is a collection of Gothic horror tales inspired by the illustrious Hammer film production company. Although not every story in the anthology is a winner, you get the sense that every author involved had fun with the premise. 

However, that isn't to say that there aren't some great chillers in the book. Gwendolyn Kiste's "Over the Violets There That Lie," for example, is an engrossing riff on Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wall-paper" that draws on the exploitive gaze of Hammer's filmography while also working through some of the horrific implications of Poe's famous quote "the death, then, of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world."

Gemma Files's "The Filthy Creation of Frankenstein," the lengthiest story in the collection, is similarly a treat. It gives agency, cunning, and a fiendish intelligence all her own to an often neglected character in iterations of Frankenstein--Elizabeth. When Elizabeth, Paul Krempe, and the Baron-Doctor become embroiled in a plot to supply immortal soldiers at the dawn of a new kind of mechanized war, well, things become rather explosive indeed.

Walk in Darkness, Welcome to the New World and In the Shadow of Things

Walk in Darkness specialize in epic Gothic metal. Both Welcome to the New World and In the Shadow of Things are essentially Romantic in character; although the formula is familiar--soaring and emotive female vocals sometimes paired with growling male vocals, precise guitars, occasional symphonic embellishments--Walk in Darkness's music exploes the power of unconstrained passions. Their music has a marked Celtic ballad influence, which is odd for a band that I believe comes from Italy.

Junji Ito, Venus in the Blind Spot

I can't tell if the stories collected here were selected because they fit a certain theme the publisher had in mind for the book or if the stories share a theme because it permeates Junji Ito's horror comics, but most of the stories in Venus in the Blind Spot focus in one way or another on the theme of social isolation and the failure of society to enjoin its members into a coherent and healthy whole. Of course, the way Junji Ito explores that theme is through the extremes of perversity and monstrosity. There are some well known stories in this volume, such as "The Enigma of Amigara Fault" and "The Human Chair," but most of the stories were new to me. Ito's humorous ode to Kazuo Umezu comes at just the right moment, providing some levity before the collection plunges back into the valley of unforgiving nightmares. 

After Forever, self-titled

After Forever's self-titled album was also their final album. It feels like the last statement of a band with nothing left to prove; instead of going out with a radical change of direction or an attempt at a definitive, landmark release, After Forever turned in a fairly straightforward album of tight songs performed well. After Forever eases up on the bombast; the symphonic and operatic elements are used tastefully, the songwriting doesn't meander too much, and Floor Jansen's voice is given the space to be the main attraction without too much competition.

Ad Infinitum, Chapter I: Monarchy

I feel a bit bad for Ad Infinitum; they released their debut album and were all set to tour, but alas, we live in the pandemic age. It's a shame too because Chapter I: Monarchy is a really amazing album. If you like symphonic metal that edges toward Gothic metal, do yourself--and Ad Infinitum--a favor and check this release out. Here's my recommended first taste, "See You In Hell."

Katie Skelly, Maids

Katie Skelly's Maids is a graphic novel retelling the story of Christine and Lea Papin, sisters employed as maids in the household of the Lancelin family. On February 2, 1933, the Papin sisters murdered the wife and daughter of their employer. Skelly's comic doesn't really attempt to offer a definitive answer for why the pair killed the two women. Skelly dabbles in the popular conjecture of the day; yes, the notion of the killings being part of "class warfare" that had thrilled Sartre, Lacan, and Genet is hinted at as a motive, but so too is mental illness, incestuous codependence, and a history of trauma and abuse. 

And yet, we'll never know the truth of what came to pass on the day Madame Lancelin and Genevieve had their eyes gouged out in the family home. The Papin sisters kept their secret, and Maids is similarly silent--the book ends with their eyes watching us from the darkness, daring us to speculate, daring us to interpret the horrors they were capable of. Sometimes you just do something for yourself and world will never understand.

Kamelot, The Shadow Theory and Haven

I'm new to Kamelot, mostly unfamiliar with their back catalog, and definitely not knowledgeable enough to comment on their acquisition of a new vocalist, so I'm not sure how The Shadow Theory and Haven stack up against their previous releases. Both albums are extremely slick power metal with symphonic and progressive elements. I'm honestly not usually as into anything this pop and glossy, but something about their precise, ostentatious bombast has been working for me. This is perfect driving-around-town music.

Tim Lucas, The Book of Renfield: A Gospel of Dracula

Tim Lucas's The Book of Renfield revisits the plot of Bram Stoker's Dracula, filling in the gaps surrounding the accursed purpose of Renfield, the mysterious lunatic who acts as Dracula's mad disciple. The Book of Renfield is at its best when it's delving into Renfield's back story; Lucas presents Renfield's history as both visceral and haunting; the patient's "oral history" is by turns earthy and ethereal. Although the novel's incorporation of modified sections of Stoker's work isn't seamless, I really did enjoy the way Lucas uses the familiar story to mine the religious tensions that have always felt a little unresolved by the end of Dracula.

Daniel, Moreci, Hixson, Boyd, Campbell, The Plot: Part One

After the murder of their parents by a person--or thing--unknown, Zach and Mackenzie Blaine are taken in by their uncle Chase, a man most notable for running away from his problems. In his defense, he has some problems really worth running from: the family is haunted by a mucky creature that brings a dank bog with it wherever it manifests. The art in The Plot is solid throughout, but really comes into its own during those moments of manifestation where everything goes dank and murky. You can practically smell the swampy horror. Fair warning, though, if you're interested in picking up Part One of The Plot, you should know that nothing really gets explained or resolved in the issues it collects; this does feel like a four-part introduction. Also noteworthy: the cover gallery in the back is sublime, with several fun riffs on classic horror covers done over with The Plot's thematics.

Walker, Brown, Greene, Renzi, Cowles, Bitter Root, Volume One: Family Business

I kept thinking about Toni Morrison's expression of the idea of "the jungle" in her novel Beloved while reading Bitter Root. Through the character of Stamp Paid, Morrison points out that systemic racism is not just dehumanizing to the devalued subjects of racism but also to those who directly benefit from it. Bitter Root approaches the same concept metaphorically through the two kinds of monsters fought by the Sangeyre family: there are creatures created by the burden of their own hate and creatures created by the pain and degradation of being hated. 

A further bifurcation exists within the Sangeyre family itself that revolves around the focal point of how to deal with hatred; should racism be approached with purification and rehabilitation in mind or is it too vile, too intractable to require anything other than a fierce amputation? Big questions with no easy answers. And that sense of unease is perhaps more horrifying, more haunting, than the cartoonish monsters on display. As it should be. 

The comic is bolstered by a truly impressive array of back matter. You expect the variant covers (which are stunning), and even the fan art (which is also stunning), but I don't think I've ever read a comic that collects so much scholarly writing on race and genre as part of its total experience. Absolutely amazing stuff that will make you go back in and read the comic anew from the beginning.