Things that brought me delight in May, 2021:
Corominas, Dorian Gray
Have you ever bought a graphic novel written in a language you can't fully comprehend based solely on the strength of the art? Of course, when it comes to an adaptation of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, a novel I've read possibly a hundred times, the language barrier is no obstacle. But even if it were, Corominas's art would still manage to make the experience worthwhile. By turns elegant and lurid, Corominas absolute gets the source material on a visceral, fundamental level. Rarely have I seen a comic this unrelentingly beautiful. It would be remiss to deny you a glimpse into the book itself; click here to be whisked away to my instagram post showcasing a few interior pages of this adaptation.
Castlevania season 4
The only balm that soothes the sadness of a beloved series ending is for that series to get the ending it deserves. Castlevania's fourth season definitely delivers on that front. If the third season was ultimately about disillusionment, the fourth is about the possibility of rebuilding. Of course, not all visions of restoration are positive; true to the Castlevania games, a plot to resurrect Dracula is afoot. (I'm glad they included that as part of the overarching plot, it's such a central piece of Castlevania's history.) Despite crafting a wide-ranging cast of characters, the series manages to tie everything together in a satisfying way. Also, this season had some of the best epic fight scenes and action sequences.
Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft
I probably don't need to mention that I'm a huge fan of Ravenloft at this point anymore, right? Well, it is with a long-time fan's eye that I evaluate Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft. I'm going to say something that I didn't suspect I'd believe after reading it: this is the best single-volume presentation of Ravenloft yet.
Of course, not all of the changes the book brings sit right with me. I still believe Ravenloft works better as a more cohesive setting with its own internal interconnection. Some of the domains as presented leave me scratching my head as to what I'd do with them. That said, the positives outweigh the negatives for me. Some of the domains have been heavily revised and altered for the better. The sections discussing different kinds of horror are well thought out. There are widgets such as the new lineages, subclasses, monsters, and dark gifts that I could find a use for in any setting. Ultimately, Van Richten's Guide is the best kind of setting book: it presents ideas attached to genre conventions I like, but it also gives me the space to do whatever I want with them.
Carmen Maria Machado, In the Dream House: A Memoir
In the Dream House is Carmen Maria Machado's account of her experience being in an abusive lesbian relationship. The book is a memoir formatted as a series of vignettes--each told through the frame and lens of a different genre. The overall effect is kaleidoscopic; the uneven, and sometimes disorienting, shift between generic conventions brings new facets of abuse into the light. I'd posit that the over-arching genre is the Gothic novel--we have an imperiled heroine, a traumatic house, and we, as readers, end up haunted as well.
Do you know the palpable tick-tick-tick sensation that rattles through your body when you're on a rollercoaster on its way up to the first plummet? The early portions of the books feel like that; the rush of new, consuming love when you know that a fall is just on the horizon. After that, the free fall--all the different ways you find yourself robbed of breath when you want to scream. It never feels exactly right to say that you enjoyed a book like this, but it really is an amazing work--an absolutely essential voice speaking back the the archival silence that denies the reality of faulty queer relationships.
True Detective season 3
I know the first season of True Detective captured people's imaginations with its rampant Ligotti-isms, but as much as I enjoyed it, in the end I think it comes off a bit cartoonish in its expression of cosmic nihilism. (Keep in mind, however, that I also think that Ligotti comes off as a bit cartoonish in his expression of cosmic nihilism as well.) Season 3 might just be my favorite. There's something about the dueling mournful elegies--one regarding the unclosed case of a missing girl, the other about the main character's descent into senility as he's haunted by the unresolved case--that I found particularly effective.
Batushka's Litourgiya was a dark revelation upon first release, but the enthusiasm for the project took an irreparable hit during the drama that followed, with two Batushkas staking a claim to the name and labeling each other as pretenders to the pulpit. Hospodi is generally regarded as the output of the "false Batushka," but let's disregard that for the moment and treat it as a new album by a hitherto unknown band. Taken on its own merits, the album's combination of heaviness and Eastern Orthodox religious influences really works. Taken in a comparison with Litourgiya, the religious elements hit with less impact, though I do think Hospodi is slightly more successful as a heavy metal record.
Caitlin Starling, Yellow Jessamine
In the study of Gothic fiction, some scholars note a division between the "female Gothic" and "male Gothic" that is legible in both tone and content. The female Gothic tends to focus on women's issues, and dwells on psychological terror rather that gore. The male Gothic is bloodier and less restrained by notions of propriety. Yellow Jessamine makes me wonder if a similar division might be possible within the "genre" of grimdark fantasy.
Most grimdark fantasies written by men seem to center on war; they're tales of people who fight, and also of the people caught up in warfare as bystanders. Yellow Jessamine, a short novel about a dying empire riven by a military coup, doesn't focus on soldiers or mud and blood. Instead, it follows the maneuvers and machinations of a woman who is at the head of a wealthy shipping business. She's also a adept poisoner.
Yellow Jessamine uses its main character as a rejoinder to the "male grimdark." The book and its central character run contrary to the expectations of the "grimdark genre." There is a war going on, but the point isn't "war is hell" or even "people are fallible moral agents drawn to depravity in times of violence," but rather the more sinuous downer that "everything you love will be taken from you and frankly you deserve it, it's all your fault."
The Irregulars belongs to one of my favorite narrow genres: Victorian urchins embroiled in supernatural nonsense. There's also a connection to Sherlock Holmes, with Holmes and Watson figuring more and more into the plot line as the series continues, though these aren't quite the versions of those characters you might expect. The Irregulars isn't great; there's some iffy characterization, the apocalyptic stirrings feel a little mild, and the plot feels haphazard in places. (Also, I can't figure out where our urchins live...some sort of basement flat with an open sewer running through it?) That said, ultimately this was a pretty entertaining series. I hadn't watched a "monster of the week" show in quite some time, and the episodic formula still holds my interest. Alas, this is likely all we'll get of it as Netflix has already given it the axe.
Icy Sedgwick, Black Dog & Other Gothic Tales
Black Dog & Other Gothic Tales is a collection of short fiction written in conformity with the old school of horror stories. Although not all of the stories are set in bygone eras (though most are), they have the feel of late Victorian or early twentieth-century terrors. Some may find the style a little creaky, but I have much fondness for it! I especially liked the stories that featured a bit of historical interest, such as the riffs on Black Shuck and the Winchester geese. Not every tale in this collection landed for me, but I particularly enjoyed "A Woman of Disrepute," "The Cursed One," and "Something Wicked This Way Slithered."
Eleine, Dancing in Hell, Until the End, All Shall Burn, self-titled
Eleine's music falls squarely in the symphonic metal world, but they differentiate themselves in that crowded field with a ferocity that is often neglected in the genre. Although there are a variety of styles evident on their albums, I especially appreciate the tracks that aren't afraid to get a little thrashy. The band also has moments of unrestrained bombast, such as the overwhelming, and nearly claustrophobic, orchestration of "Die From Within." Eleine are highly recommended for fans of Epica and Nightwish.
Hernan Rodriguez, Black Fire
Aos of the Metal Earth blog recommended Black Fire to me a long time ago. I started reading it once, got about a fourth of the way through, then got sidetracked and forgot about it. Luckily, in time I remembered it and picked it back up. This is a comic I'd definitely recommend to fans of Brotherhood of the Wolf and Slavic horror. The premise is that a group of survivors from Napoleon's retreat from Russia end-up in a deserted village that imprisons something horrible. Fair warning, the story is fairly brutal and doesn't really pull any punches with what it's willing to depict on the page; the art sometimes reminded me a bit of certain stories from Epic's Hellraiser comics.
The 69 Eyes, Paris Kills and West End
Paris Kills is one of the great unrecognized goth rock albums. It hits somewhere between Vision Thing-era Sisters of Mercy and The Cult's darker moments. I don't know if hot goth summer will ever be a thing, but Paris Kills should be its soundtrack. West End is also a really solid album. It was hailed as something as a "return to form" at the time it was released; it's a little tame, fades into the background, but when you snap back to attention it's good stuff.
We have officially reached the point in the story were revelations are needed. In issue 15, we get confirmation that "the land" that Claymore takes place in is basically an isolated testing ground for biological monsters meant to be used in some larger war in a different part of the world. In issue 16, we learn that Clare's "handler" is actually a spy working against the Organization. Also, some really creepy zombie-women are introduced. In issue 17, we get a new pair of menaces greater than anything yet encountered! (This does begin to feel like an arm's race.) By issue 18 I was just praying that somebody finally kill Dauf. I hate that guy.
The Murder of My Sweet, Beth Out of Hell and Brave Tin World
The Murder of My Sweet go all in on the wild, carnivalesque on Beth Out of Hell, a synth-poppy symphonic metal concept album about something-something angels and demons. It's also worth noting that The Murder of My Sweet is the rare metal band where the guitars are not of primary importance; they do their job, but they're one color among a wider palette. The most track here is "Requiem for a Ghost," a proggy, Scooby-Do-esque crossover. I've also been spending some time with The Murder of My Sweet's latest, Brave Tin World. Brave Tin World manages to be even poppier. Just be happy I didn't post the cover art, as it's one of the worst covers in my collection, easily.
Scott Snyder, Scott Tuft, and Attila Futaki, Severed
Severed is a really excellent horror comic. It's got a lot going for it: a good kid turning hobo to ride the rails straight to an idealized father he's never known, a streetwise friend made along the way, and...a monstrous killer with sharp teeth and a taste for the flesh of children. Which is horrific enough, of course, but the real terror of Severed is in how easily it is for us to be lead by nose when someone dangles our hopes and dreams in front of us. The art is amazing, the writing is tight, and I'm so glad they went indie with this comic as it lets them get away with exactly whatever they wanted to do.
Now that I'm fully vaccinated, I've been returning to my old stomping grounds: antique markets and auction houses. One of the things I picked up on my first trip back was this sickle. It makes a fine addition to my collection of vintage rural murder implements. I think I'll name this one "Exhibit B."