Thursday, December 1, 2022

The Daughter of Doctor Moreau, Moonshine, and More

Things that brought me delight in November, 2022:

Silvia Moreno-Garcia, The Daughter of Doctor Moreau

I've been saving Silvia Moreno-Garcia's The Daughter of Doctor Moreau for a metaphorical "rainy day," but its time has finally come round at last. Moreno-Garcia's novel imagines that the Doctor Moreau of H.G. Wells's novel has moved his operations to an isolated house in the Yucatan. Moreau's dutiful daughter has come of age, which makes her a tool in Moreau's arsenal that he might marry off to a man who will fund his experiments. But what does she want, kept as she has been in a state of parental dependence in a world purposefully small and secluded?

The Daughter of Doctor Moreau is a slighter novel than Mexican Gothic, and its twist (if it can truly be said to have a twist) is fairly obvious straight away, but it definitely lived up to my expectations.

Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Rizzo, Moonshine Vol. 3 and 4

Well, I was wrong in my supposition that volume two was the beginning of the redemption arc, but there's only more pain, indignation, and misery to go around in volumes three and four of Moonshine. "Handsome" Lou Piro continues to struggle to keep his lycanthropy under control by self-medicating with booze, while Tempest Holt has moved to the big city to get a shot at taking down Joe the Boss--but instead gets lulled into accepting the easy life as a gangster's moll. I really liked the way these issues incorporated the Cleveland torso murders and Eliot Ness's razing of the Kingsbury Run homeless encampment into the narrative. Nice touch.

Crimes of the Future

I finally got a chance to see David Cronenberg's newest film! I found this film about an unspecified future where people are generating unheralded new organs and the powers that be are threatened by the implied redefinition of what it means to be human to be oddly relaxing. Buried within Crimes of the Future is a film noir mystery, but the languid pace and dream-like imagery never really gives the skulduggery the room to reach a point of narrative tension. This in itself is interesting; it is perhaps a way of gesturing toward the primacy of ideas and not action during moments of epochal change or epistemic shift.

Cadaveria, Emptiness

I've been waiting for quite a while for Cadaveria's Emptiness to filter down into the import sellers' inventory, as things being what they are, paying the shipping to get it from Italy proved prohibitively expensive. I am glad I finally got ahold of it though, as Emptiness is the strongest record in the Cadaveria catalog. The black metal fury is still there, but this is a much more layered, artistic, emotional, and exploratory album.

Kentaro Miura, Berserk vol, 41

The forty-first tankobon volume of Berserk is a bittersweet read, as it is the last we will get with Miura's direct involvement. Weirdly, and against all odds, it actually provides as fitting a conclusion to the series as could be hoped for under the circumstances. Although it doesn't give me as much of a resolution to Casca and Guts' relationship as I'd like, the way Guts struggles with wanting to be there for her and also wanting to confront Griffith feels like a decent place to end if that's the way the cards lay, but perhaps this is just a pause until Miura's team is ready to continue without him.

Zweihander Starter Kit

God-damn I gotta say that the Zweihander Starter Kit feels like the only modern beginner's box that is actually full of stuff. The box is surprisingly heavy and, when you open it, it isn't half-empty. The books inside might be a tad much for absolute rpg beginners, but you can't fault how comprehensive the overall package is.

Epica, The Alchemy Project

Ignore the insane cover of this album and instead marvel at the strange and beautiful collaborations between Epica and their guests on The Alchemy Project. Much like alchemical experiments, the combinations don't always work without caveat, but there are a number of collaborations that work well here. For example, Epica plus Fleshgod Apocalypse delivers maximum orchestral bombast, while Epica plus the singers from Delain and Myrkur really does feel like an embarrassment of Gothic symphonic riches.

Eric Powell, The Lords of Misery

The Lords of Misery is basically like "What if the Suicide Squad was a bunch of psychotronic weirdos headed up by the Goon?" Of course, that automatically makes it better than the actual Suicide Squad because the cast of characters is kept mercilessly short and the action actually gets underway in short order. 

I wouldn't mind seeing more of La Diabla; imagine that, introducing a cool, NEW character that the audience can get interested in. Capes comics, take note.

Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities

I enjoyed Cabinet of Curiosities overall, but in fairness I can't claim it as an unparalleled success. For one thing, each episode is about 10-20 minutes too long; as it turns out, one thing that surprisingly made the horror anthology shows of yore stronger was having to fit each episode into a standard-issue tv slot complete with commercial breaks.

There are also some strange choices that are made, particularly in the episodes that adapt H.P. Lovecraft stories. What's up with the accents in the "Pickman's Model" episode? And why is Brown Jenkin's name changed to "Jenkins Brown" in the "Dreams in the Witch House" episode? At its worst, as in "Dreams in the Witch House," the episodes sometimes feel like they would be better without even referencing the material that they are diverging so far from.

At its best, however, Cabinet of Curiosities serves up some fun Tales From the Crypt-style anthology horror. Oddly, critics didn't seem to like "Lot 36," but I thought that one was a lot of fun. 

Dio, Holy Diver, The Last in Line, Dream Evil, Lock Up the Wolves, Sacred Heart

Ever since we played that game of Tales From the Loop last month and Aos picked "Holy Diver" as his character's anthem, I've been on a Dio kick. Listening to old Dio records really does reveal how different the philosophy of arranging songs on an album used to be. There was a time when all the good songs weren't front-loaded on a record in hopes that you'd just skip a lackluster back half. Witness Holy Diver, where "Rainbow in the Dark" is a late-album cut!

Brown, Walker, Greene, Dodgson, Cowles, Bitter Root Volume Two: Rage & Redemption and Volume Three: Legacy

In November, I picked up where I last left off with Bitter Root, a comic about a monster-hunting family operating during the Harlem Renaissance. Having finished all of what's available for Bitter Root, though I hear it's coming back next year with a time jump into the 1960s, I'm left thinking that it's an interesting comic with fun art, but I always wonder if these books go in the wrong direction when they portray human evils (like racism) as something external instead of as a part of human nature that isn't particularly special or inexplicably--or even of that cloaking hatred's root cause as "supernatural" isn't a form of narrative abdication of dealing with the issue. The notion that otherworldly forces of evil are causing bigotry to transform people into monsters isn't that far afield from "the Devil made me do it." 

Agatha Christie, Murder in Three Acts

I'll have more to say about this one on Bad Books for Bad People, but suffice to say that buying a huge lot of Agatha Christie books was a really sound investment as I'm enjoying these mysteries immensely. One thing I can say about Murder in Three Acts, in comparison to last month's Hallowe'en Party, is that this one struck me as being quite funny. Perhaps not always intentionally, but there are some genuinely good lines in there!

Judas Priest

I've also been on a huge Judas Priest kick lately, revisiting all the albums before the split with Rob Halford. (Well, accept for that one album that everyone agrees isn't good.) It's honestly pretty refreshing to look back to an era where rock songs could just be about rockin'. There's something almost pleasingly naive to the Judas Priest discography, like it's music that comes from a metalhead Neverland.

Eric Powell, The Goon: Ragged Return to Lonely Street, The Deceit of a Cro-Magnon Dandy and Roger Langridge, Mike Norton, Marissa Louise, The Goon: Fishy Men, Witchy Women, and Bitter Beer

Hot off of finishing the omnibus editions of The Goon and The Lords of Misery, I'm back on my Goon shit. A Ragged Return to Lonely Street has the Goon and Franky slouching back to their old stomping grounds, where they are faced with the messy prospect of once again cleaning up the place and getting the supernatural/criminal element back in check. Things heat up in The Deceit of a Cro-Magnon Dandy, where the machinations of a behind-the-scenes villain threaten to ruin the Goon's semi-good reputation. Oddly, the last volume of Goon comics isn't by Eric Powell at all. Fishy Men, Witchy Women & Bitter Beer is decent, but it doesn't quite have the verve of the original recipe.

Dan Abnett, Ravenor

I know I started reading the Ravenor series at one point, but I have no idea where I fell off. Since I enjoyed Abnett's Eisenhorn books so much, I'm digging back in. Ravenor is pretty fun! None of the retinue characters have grabbed me yet (well, Kys has potential since I love a creepy icequeen), but Ravenor cuts an interesting figure as an inquisitor of the Imperium. Since he's incapable of physically leading the charge against Chaos, he's a much different inquisitor than Eisenhorn, but the way he is present psychically (and by sometimes possessing the bodies of members of his retinue) does make for an interesting dynamic. 

Therion, Leviathan II

Therion hasn't exactly been on a roll lately with their last few albums. Beloved Antichrist was interesting, but far too sprawling to really have a tremendous impact, despite its epic three-disc runtime. The first Leviathan album was good, but it didn't really have any songs that stuck with me. With those previous records in mind, I wasn't chomping at the bit to get my hands on Leviathan II. And yet, Leviathan II is great! I'd say it's definitely a return to form. Yes, the symphonic and choir elements are still quite complex, but this puts me in mind of Vovin, my favorite Therion album.

Tragedy in Three Acts

After finishing reading Agatha Christie's original novel, I found some time to watch the David Suchet-helmed adaptation of it, my first foray into the much-loved Poirot series. And it was quite fun! I think I could make a hobby of this: reading a Christie novel, then watching its adaptation.

Chin, Benitez, Ching, Montiel, Sotelo, Lady Mechanika vol. 6: Sangre and Benitez, Sotelo, Heisler, vol 7: The Monster of the Ministry of Hell

Sangre pits Lady Mechanika against...vampires! Finally! It's actually a pretty well-done tale about prejudice and discrimination, and I really appreciate the lively action scenes in Lady Mechanika. The Monster of the Ministry of Hell dips back into Lady Mehcanika's origins, telling the story of her treatment in a brutal Victorian asylum for the strange and unusual. Interestingly, this one shows exactly how warped by trauma she is; this may be the first time that we see Lady Mechanika as a deeply fallible character.

Hallowe'en Party

After having such a good time with Three Act Tragedy, I decided to watch an adaptation of the other Poirot novel I read: Hallowe'en Party. This one is a bit slower than the previous one I watched, and it's funny how they re-arrange the plot so that they don't have to film any scenes outside of the main settings, but overall I had a good time with this one too.

Grim Hollow: The Monster Grimoire

I am, admittedly, a sucker for well-done monsters books, but a well-done monster book that focuses on horrific, dark fantasy, and Gothic monstrosities? Easy sell. I especially like that there is a separate chapter on vampire villains at the back of the book; given the kind of lackluster vampire in the 5e Monster Manual, that's something I will definitely get some use out of that in my games. Also, I enjoy the "salvage" section of each entry that details the kind of treasure you get from a given monster or what you might do with the remains of the monster you've just slain.

Agatha Christie, And Then There Were None

My Agatha Christie binge continued with And Then There Were None. Rather than picking books of hers at random or because they felt seasonally appropriate, I decided to make a conscious effort to tackle one of her acknowledged classics. And Then There Were None definitely deserves its reputation, though I would hazard to say that it could have ended about two chapters earlier--without the full reveal--and I would have been just as happy with it!

Slipknot, The End, So Far

It's not unusual for Slipknot to throw a curveball at some point on their later albums, but I don't think they've ever made as bold a move as starting The End, So Far with a bit of indie neo-soul. No, really, check it out. The rest of the album is the kind of aggression you'd expect, but this one makes my mind churn.

And Then There Were None

Since Poirot isn't in And Then There Were None, there is no David Suchet-helmed adaptation. However, I was turned on to this absolutely perfect miniseries adaptation with a stellar cast instead. You really can't go wrong with anything with Maeve Dermody and Aidan Turner in the leads--especially when they have such tremendous chemistry with each other--but add the talents of Charles Dance, Toby Stevens, Burn Gorman, and Miranda Richardson and you can practically guarantee that it will dazzle. Darker and more erotic than Christie's novel, this is one of the few adaptations were every addition and alteration really works to bolster the themes of the source material.