Sunday, August 1, 2021

Poison Flowers and Pandemonium, Witchcraft, 'Twixt Dog and Wolf, and More

Things that brought me delight in July, 2021:

Richard Sala, Poison Flowers & Pandemonium

Poison Flowers & Pandemonium collects the last four comics that Richard Sala completed before his untimely death. The first comic in this collection, "The House of the Blue Dwarf," is a lengthy sequel to The Bloody Cardinal; though Sala's comics are often strange, this one has a decidedly Lynchian feel to it. "Monsters Illustrated" reminds me of Rob Zombie's maxim that only two things in life are important: monsters and hot chicks. "Monsters Illustrated" isn't really a comic per se; it's a series of pin-ups in which beautiful women are menaced by monstrous creatures, bookended by a loose (although quite humorous) frame narrative. "Cave Girls of the Lost World" is an illustrated series about a plane full of college girls who find themselves stranded on an island full of dinosaurs, Neanderthals, and even weirder creatures. The last story, "Fantomella," feels like an uncannily prescient summation of Sala's work. The comic is about a beautiful, knife-wielding revolutionary who is eliminating the evil masterminds who rule her society--and yet, there's a moment that feels like Sala's version of Prospero's famed speech about the relationship between artist and art.


Nothing beats one of these creaky black & white horror flicks on a rainy Friday night. Witchcraft is a British Gothic horror film from 1964. Even with a running time that is in sleek fighting shape, Witchcraft packs a lot in: a dispute stretching back generations that is tied to accusations about witchery, a desecrated cemetery, star-crossed lovers, a witch returned from the dead, and Lon Chaney at his cranky best. Witchcraft is a movie that definitely deserves more appreciation; I highly recommend it for fans of The Old Dark House and similar fare.

C. F. Keary, 'Twixt Dog and Wolf

'Twixt Dog and Wolf is a brief collection of horror-themed tales written by C. F. Keary, an obscure turn of the century author better known for his study of Norwegian myth and history. The opening tale, "The Message from the God," creates a palpable feel of pagan dread. It would make a wonderful appetizer before re-reading Arthur Machen's The Great God Pan. "Elizabeth" is is one of the finest folk horror tales I've ever read. The fact that we don't have a cult film adaptation of this tale is proof that we live in a fallen world. "The Four Students" is a bleak tale of occultism amid the horrors of the French Revolution. The collection is rounded out by "Phantasies," ten strange, hallucinatory vignettes that emerge out of a lurid opium haze. Some of these nightmarish visions even seen to prefigure the peculiar terrors of Thomas Ligotti. Valancourt have done it again--what a fine service they've wrought making this available!

Rivers Solomon, Sorrowland

Rarely have I been as confounded by a book as I am by Rivers Solomon's Sorrowland. The novel feels at war with itself on an internal level. Great swaths of it have mounting literary ambitions. It wants to be lyrical, profound, and political, but it's forced to fight against action sequences that feel like they were cribbed from b movies, plot elements that don't really make a whole lot of sense, and characters whose actions and dialog beggar belief. 

Even just considering what's going on plot-wise makes my head spin. It's a lot. At first, Sorrowland is the tale of a young woman who has escaped the compound of the black separatist cult she grew up in. It then transitions into a story of survival in what feel like an almost allegorical forest patrolled by a "fiend" who leaves dead animals dolled up in children's clothing. And then the forest is left behind as the main character, already a too-liminal figure who is intersex, a Black albino, and possessing of a queerness that defies definition, begins to grow a monstrous fungal exoskeleton that grants her a suite of powers that would make the X-Men jealous. Then begins the techno-thriller tangent, as she is pursued by government agents, a rogue scientist, and another of her "kind." Vans are flipped over, hails of bullets shower everywhere, and there's more resurrections than one story can really handle. 

Sorrowland also has one of the most breath-takingly out there sex scenes I've encountered in recent memory. There is a complicated scene in which a ghost gives another ghost a rimjob. The ghosts are two gay men who died of AIDS. The main character, an intersex person, is describing what the two gay ghosts are doing to each other to her lover over the phone while they both masturbate. Eventually one of the gay ghosts starts also fingerbanging the main character, who is still on the phone, and the main character starts playing with her asshole as she watches the ghosts go at it, still giving play by play phone sex to her partner. 

Like I said, it's a lot. This feels like a book that wants to be counted among the likes of Beloved, The Left Hand of Darkness, The Parable of the Sower, and maybe even "I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter," but it contends too strongly against itself. It ends up feeling like a Bad Books for Bad People pick. Still, I'm including it in my monthly round-up because I'm still thinking about it weeks after finishing the book, and that counts for something.

Lord of the Lost, Judas

As I mentioned last month, I was greatly anticipating the release of Lord of the Lost's next album, but I was definitely not expecting Judas to be quite so compelling! The Gothic metal formula is still in place, but even after releasing a slew of albums over the years, the band has managed to find some new, bright-burning inner fire. Everything just sounds a little more intense. Judas is a good example of how "mellowing with age" isn't necessarily fait accompli.

Becky Cloonan, Brendan Fletcher, Karl Kerschl, Gotham Academy Volume One: Welcome to Gotham Academy

Despite the in-universe tie-ins, Gotham Academy is something I was probably predisposed to like. I love stories about kids snooping around their haunted schools and getting in over their heads, which Gotham Academy has in spades. It's a bit like Scooby- Doo, with plenty of red herrings, though of course in the end something strange is actually going on in the school. Also, I like that Batman is portrayed as a lame-o cop in this. ACAB, Batman, ACAB. Similarly, Gotham Academy has a really great take on a villain from Batman's rogue's gallery that I wasn't expecting.

James Tynion IV, Alvaro Martinez Bueno, Raul Fernandez, Brad Anderson, Justice League Dark Vol. 1: The Last Age of Magic

Justice League Dark, on the other hand, I wouldn't say I was predisposed to like. There's way too much continuity wank in this comic, several characters just seem sort of along for the ride, I'm not convinced at all that John Constantine or even Swamp Thing work in the DCU, and it's a really weird move to retcon Wonder Woman into a character with secret witch powers. Also, what a misstep to give the Upside Down Man pants--nearly defeats any otherworldly horror he brings to the table. Still, although the premise of a "world shaking event" posing a danger that can only be defeated by a team of heroes is threadbare, there is some fun to be had here. A sword-wielding Detective Chimp makes my soul sing.

Rodney Barnes, Jason Shawn Alexander, Luis NCT, Killadelphia Volume 1: Sins of the Father

In general style and tone, Killadelphia will satisfy fans of Image's other horror comics. The book doesn't range too far afield, but there are some noteworthy twists here. The vampire epidemic afflicting Philadelphia has its origins in none other than John Adams, second president of the United States. As the subtitle implies, there is also quite a bit of father-son drama, which potentially verges on a cop-thriller version of Oedipus in its way. The art is the big draw, with some really thrilling panels throughout. One thing I was definitely not ready for or expecting: Abigail Adams as a big tiddy vampire slut.

Seven Spires, Solveig and Emerald Seas

Solveig, the debut album from Seven Spires, keeps the symphonic formula fresh by adding sonic touchstones that are usually alien to the genre. The band aren't afraid to let elements of black metal or death metal seep into their concoction. "The Cabaret of Dreams" even has some swinging, well, cabaret influences on full display. Emerald Seas is apparently a prequel of sorts to Solveig, despite being its follow-up; it feels more sure-footed, if perhaps a little less hard-hitting on average. I'm eagerly looking forward to their new album to drop soon.

John T. Brennan, Ghosts of Newport: Spirits, Scoundrels, Legends, and Lore

When on vacation, I like to pick-up a book about the local ghost lore where possible. While in Newport, I purchased this book in the gift shop of one of the mansions we toured. I read it in July to prolong the good vacation feelings, albeit through tales of spectral evidence that condemned a man to death for the murder of his mother, the famous vampire hysteria of the late nineteenth century, local kooks such as paranormal investigators and mentalists, a werewolf priest (!!!) confined to an abusive asylum, and more.

Fear Street: 1994, 1978, and 1666

The Fear Street-branded slasher movies were surprisingly fun! The first movie in the trilogy, set in 1994, was a little disorienting with the number of 90s tunes it was packing into every conceivable crevice, but the surprisingly intense violence really made it land with some impact. The second film, 1978's entry, plays into more classic slasher film conventions in a satisfying way. The final film, set in 1666, was the one I was most skeptical of; that said, it doesn't really fumble the historical framework (although it does perhaps sidestep it), and it does bring a solid bookend to the series as a whole. Much better than it had any right to be.

30 Coins

30 Coins is a Spanish horror series made for HBO Europe, but you can watch it on HBO Max in the US. A sleepy town in Spain becomes the epicenter of strange phenomena: a cow gives birth to a seemingly human baby, a seance whisks a teenager away to some other mysterious realm, a magic mirror reflects a slightly different reality, a missing man suddenly returns home with no memory of where he's been for the last two years. At the core of the mystery is a cursed silver coin--one of the silver coins given to Judas as payment for betraying Christ. A monstrous faction within the Vatican will stop at nothing to get their hands on it, and all that stands in their way is a renegade priest, a beautiful veterinarian, and the town's beefcake mayor. Nice special effects (well, until the last episode) and strong performances make this a potential cult classic. Things are wide open at the close of the final episode in anticipation of another season, but we'll have to wait to see if we get it.

Scar of the Sun, Inertia

The combined aesthetics on display in Scar of the Sun's third album shouldn't work, but somehow they come together into a coherent whole. The combination of melodic death metal and Gothic metal is already a little eyebrow-raising, but add lyrical and thematic content with a heavy science fiction bent and it could have felt too scattershot in its approach. Inertia's finest moments are its most technical; there is some really great guitar playing and songcraft on display here.

The Green Knight

The Green Knight might not ultimately warrant inclusion here, as it suffers from the fate of many A24 movies: it is extremely beautiful to look at, but the pace is ponderous and the aesthetics are hiding a distinct lack of meaning. The poster is pretty indicative of the way A24 movies "subvert expectations": the poster for the GREEN Knight is rendered in RED and YELLOW. That said, the film really is gorgeous; the fact that I'd like to look at it again has pushed me toward noting it as part of the month's delights.

Norihiro Yagi, Claymore vols. 23-27

I couldn't hold off any longer; I just had to finish the series. At the end of Claymore, everyone is either a kaiju, a mecha, or a mecha-kaiju. Or, I suppose, a bystander. Claire and Raki are united against Pricilla. Clare and Teresa are also reunited against Priscilla, who ultimately comes off as a far more sympathetic villain than I would have ever guessed. Other than that, there are few surprises in Claymore's end game, which I am honestly fine with. I'm just pleased Norihiro Yagi didn't go for a downer ending, as I found that I had come to care about the characters more than I realized until the final pages were within sight. 

Anyway, mission complete: I read the entire season within one year--with five months to spare, no less! I went into Claymore looking for something to take the place of Berserk in the interim between volumes, but what I found instead was a great story that stands on its own merits.

Strahd Funko Pop

If you had told Ravenloft-loving me back in the 90s that there would one day be a mass-market Strahd von Zarovich toy, I would never have believed you. And yet, here we are.

Of course, the first thing I did was have Strahd make-out with Dracula from Castlevania.

Chibi Warhammer 40,000 Figures

Speaking of plastic bits that will likely collect dust in my home, I got this weird little kill team. What, no inquisitor figure? C'mon, Bandai!