All-Hallows Cesare

It’s been over a month since I last updated the ol’ blog, but I’ve been far from sedentary.

leatherface.jpg

Leatherface really wants that Video Night shirt I’m wearing. He could just order his own…

Took a road trip up to Rock and Shock in Worcester, MA earlier in the month and it was just as great as always, even better because Black T-Shirt Books had a huge table with all of our authors in attendance.

The Adventure Time Spoooktacular 2017 hit comic shops and seems to have been well-received with both critics and fans of the show (Paste Magazine called it “wildly entertaining” and Nerdist says it’s a “fantastic anthology that Adventure Time fans can’t miss”). If you still haven’t grabbed your copy you can call your local comic store or order direct from BOOM! Studios.

And on top of all that (and some top-secret stuff it’s too early to talk about), I’ve been a busy, stammering, bee on YouTube with my Project: Black T-Shirt channel. If you’ve missed me giving a tour of my movie shelves, discussing Chucky’s latest massacre, paging through Grady Hendrix new book Paperbacks from Hell, or wanted the festival-circuit heads up on Tragedy Girls, please click over there and binge-watch. Also hit those “like” and “subscribe” buttons if you don’t mind.

Horror movie collection tour thumbnail

Cult of Chucky Thumbnail

Tragedy Girls Review Thumbnail

Paperbacks from Hell thumbnail

Advertisements

And YOU were giving Sam Raimi a hard time?!

Disclaimer: The following review observations are based on a “preview” showing of the musical Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark. I’m sure someone would get huffy if I didn’t acknowledge that they are still working on some of the show’s technical aspects. When it opens in February there may be some changes made to the production.

That said, you would have to change a lot.

In the infamous 1979 film Caligula, there is a scene in which Caligula, along with a bunch of his subjects, sit in a coliseum watching executions. The method of the prisoner’s execution is not a traditional gladiatorial match or death by hanging or beheading. No, keeping with Caligula’s over the top flair, the men are buried in the arena floor up to their necks and have their heads chopped off via an enormous, ornately decorated, brightly-colored, lawnmower as it is pushed across the field towards the emperor who watches from the best seat in the house. The “lawnmower” is crewed by a large team of technicians and slaves, both seen and unseen. It is a state-of-the-art, overly-complex death machine (picture below, click for a better look, isn’t that a spiffy screen grab?).

What does Caligula‘s head-slicing lawnmower have to do with Julie Taymor’s mega-budgeted new musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark? Well, you’ve no doubt heard about the several injuries that have plagued the stunt-heavy production. The most recent of which occurred a few days ago and landed stuntman and dancer Christopher Tierney in critical condition (broken ribs and internal bleeding, the fall he took in front of a sold-out crowd nearly killed him). Mr. Tierney’s fall also resulted in the cancellation of several shows while the production was pressured to adopt and institute new safety measures.

I turned up to the theater last Wednesday to find a throng of camera crews and sullen looking theater goers and knew the cause almost immediately. The production’s scheduled “post-accident comeback show” had been canceled mere hours before curtain. The producers offered guests a full refund and shuttled star Reeve Carney (freezing his balls off, no doubt) out the door to sign autographs in an attempt to soothe the disappointed masses.

I doubt the refund made any of the hundreds of children left out in the cold with no Spider-Man feel much better, but hey: it’s better than rushing the show on unprepared and having another injury.

I had washed my hands of the experience, said my “aww shucks” and figured I wouldn’t be attending the sold-out show any time soon. But, as fate would have it, today’s blizzard (12/26) afforded me the opportunity of seats opening up. Lucky me.

The tone of the show and its execution (the sets, costuming, etc.) fluctuate wildly, as if nobody, from Taymor down to the company’s lighting department really had any idea what the hell this thing was supposed to be. One moment its design and dialogue is cheesy comic book pastiche (clothing that looks like it’s been “drawn” on the actors, pop-up book sets, and copious “Biff” “Slam” “Crack” signs ala the Adam West Batman television show) and the next it’s Taymor’s Lion King-puppet schtick. It’s all tied together with the expensive looking but antiseptically anemic city skyline and enormous digital screens. It all never meshes and, despite the noticeable differences in style, is uniformly tacky.

Aside from promised plot of web-slinging “biff ” “pow” action and Peter Parker/Mary Jane romance, Taymor also tries to legitimize and intellectualize (HAH!) the story by introducing a quartet of comic book loving young folk to be Spidey’s fanclub and Greek chorus. She also augments the web-head’s origin story to include Arachne, the figure from Greek mythology who is turned into the first spider. Of all the show’s missteps (which there are many) these additions are perhaps the most laughably stupid and cringe-inducing-ly self-indulgent. I’m no continuity obsessed comic-geek, change whatever you want Julie. But if you’re changes involve a scene in which your corseted, sequined chorus line of arachnoid showgirls (each having eight stocking-ed legs) help their mistress try on four different sets of stolen knee-high boots (I swear to God this happens, I couldn’t make this up). If this happens, Julie: then you’ve made a wrong turn somewhere.

The supposed point to this mash-up of Ovid and Stan Lee is that old chestnut that pseudo-intellectuals use when trying to simultaneously defend and dismiss the superhero genre. The idea that “Superhero stories are today’s myths!” If that is true and Taymor et al are trying to invite that kind of comparison then I must say that I’m at a lose to decode what kind of myth Turn Off the Dark is: it’s not really a creation myth and for the amount of whining and loafing our hero does it’s not much of a hero myth. Oh, I know. It must be a veiled metaphor for a train wreck. Bravo.

U2 catches a lot of flack from certain corners, but personally I don’t mind them. Joshua Tree is a great album, even if I don’t care for some of their newer stuff. That said: Bono and The Edge’s tone-deaf score makes minstrels like Nickelback look like a group of Steven Sondheims. Crummy, repetitive Edge-esque guitar riffs are coupled with lyrics that sound like the songwriting duo was just flipping through a rhyming dictionary at random, eager to have the whole ordeal over with and just get their names up next to Ms. Taymor on the Marquee.

As for the talent on stage: it’s a mixed bag. The matinee show featured Matthew James Thomas as the title character and Jennifer Damiano as Mary Jane. Both stars admirably rise above the music itself, even if their effort is in vain. Thomas is a competent vocalist and has to both sing and deal with cumbersome flying rigs through much of the production. Damiano, who is not the stand-in but the lead, fairs worse. At this performance her voice was spotty and line delivery was lukewarm, but hey, she’s been through a lot. All these actors have, they aren’t just sweating losing their jobs (a very real possibility if the show fails to take off) but losing life and limb.

This, the show’s 21st performance in front of a paying audience, was not as plagued with problems as some of the earlier previews. Although, there was an alarm tripped on one of the actor’s rigs during the Act 1 finale. The new safety procedures insisted that the action be stopped, Spider-Man and the Green Goblin dangling above the crowd with the house lights on for about 5 minutes. The actors seemed to take it in good humor, mugging for the crowd and getting awkward laughter in return. Their body language as they were hoisted back on stage by technicians seemed to say: “business as usual for your friendly neighborhood stuntmen.”

I’m being hard on this show, and regular readers know that I usually keep everything nice and cheery, but here we have something I feel is truly worthy of contempt and I thank you for indulging me.

For those looking to paint me as a Grinch: tearing apart a show whose target audience is kids. Let me leave you with a mental image that, for me, perfectly sums up the whole experience. At the intermission break, dying to stretch my legs I stood up and in doing so glanced at the row behind me. There, curled up on his seat in the fetal position, was a boy of about ten years of age. The young boy was sleeping soundly, gripping the show’s playbill against his Spider-Man t-shirt. It was 2:30 in the afternoon (the Sunday matinee began at 1 p.m.) and Spider-Man, the Green Goblin, and Julie Taymor had put this kid to sleep with a show “extreme” enough to hobble its cast members.

Compare with the above image from Caligula

*One last note: The show is budgeted at $65 million but Spider-Man’s webs are achieved with white party streamers and one of Spidey’s stunt doubles is a foot-long action figure on a string.

** This is too much fun, last note, I promise: At the beginning of Act II there is a super villain fashion show, complete with catwalk. Carnage’s costume is sequined, The Lizard is an inflatable puppet and the mostly-paper mache Kraven might be the most frightening thing I have ever seen.

For those of you worried that I misread the tone of this musical and read above thinking it’s clearly pure farce: the majority of Act II is comprised of boring, sappy Peter/MJ, Peter/Arachne love ballads.

Raiding the Racks for Horror

Greetings all, I’ve been doing a fair amount of reading and watching, but a woeful amount of blogging. Nothing’s really struck my fancy in a big enough way to get me typing. That is, until I went to my local comic book store this Wednesday and was struck by a pretty good idea for a post.

Here’s three things you can and should pick up at your own comic-slinging establishments.

I wrote up Garth Ennis and Jacen Burrows’ limited series Crossed a while back. Color me surprised to see Crossed: Family Ties #1 on shelves this shortly after the original series came to a definitive close. But fear not! Just because Ennis has handed the reigns over to another writer for this sequel/spin-off, does not mean that Family Ties is a knockoff/money grab. No, this is grade-A all the way baby. It’s written by the supremely talented David Lapham (Stray Bullets, Young Liars) and illustrated with a wonderful sense of motion by Javier Barreno.

Family Values focuses on a whole new group of survivors (a large Mid-Western family) and pits them against the “crossed” a deranged horde infected by an unexplained virus. Ennis had some scummy survivor characters in his original roster, but Lapham takes this idea of “humans are the real monsters” one step further by making the patriarch of the Pratt family just as despicable as the crossed themselves. The first issue was just as twisted and disturbing as Ennis’ original series and, luckily, never suffers from the much feared “been there, done that” feeling of most sequels.

Area 10 is a hardcover graphic novel that is part of Vertigo’s new “Vertigo Crime” imprint, and boy is it fun. Written by Christos Gage, Area 10 is part police procedural and part Seven-style thriller (or MPD Psycho, come to think of it) with an added psyche-out/supernatural element to spice things up. Despite the large page-count he has to fill (nearly 200), artist Chris Samnee (who has an awesome sketchbook/blog here) is more than up to the task, and turns in some truly terrific black and white compositions.

What Vertigo is trying to do with this series is admirable: bringing back crime comics in a high quality, one-and-done format. I’ve heard mixed reviews of some of the other titles in the series, but if Area 10 is any indication I will be picking up a few more as soon as I can spare the cash.

I could probably have spent a whole post talking about how cool this book is, but that would spoil the fun for you, and make me have to write more. So there.

There’s been a lot of Stephen King work in comics lately, but they’ve been adaptations (The Stand, Dark Tower) and none of them (I believe) have been written by the man himself. Enter Scott Snyder and artist Rafael Albuquerque’s new ongoing series American Vampire. In the series’s first five issues Snyder splits each page count with King and they both write stories taking place in a separate time period. In the first issue released last month, this worked absolutely flawlessly. Snyder’s half of the issue deals with a young actress dealing with the pitfalls (and fangs) of 1920s Hollywood while King’s half details the origins of a mysterious cowboy in the 1880s.

If #2 has a major flaw, it’s that it’s no #1. There are some growing pains and quite a few pages are taken up with clunkily delivered exposition. Despite this shortcoming the art remains top-notch and there are some interesting twists in vampire lore introduced.

It’s too early to tell how it will fair in the long run, but American Vampire is off to a very promising start. I wonder how King got involved with the project, but I imagine that Vertigo is seeing sales boosted immensely by his name. That said, I also suspect readers may prefer Snyder’s half of the story to King’s, which good news for Vertigo as is a strong reason for them to stick around once King’s tenure is over.

Joe Hill’s Locke & Key Brings The Horror and The Heart


“Joe Hill is some kinda genius.” That was the thought I had after closing issue six of Locke & Key: Head Games. Hill, the author of the excellent novel Heart Shaped Box and the even-better collection 20th Century Ghosts, is fast becoming a juggernaut in the horror field. He could stick exclusively with prose and still make a big splash in the genre, but it is his most accomplished work to date is in the much-maligned field of comics.

The unique structure of Locke & Key is almost as revolutionary as the content. Hill has constructed each six issue mini-series to represent half of an “Act,” with the entire story being told in three acts. After each mini-series Hill and artist Gabriel Rodriguez take a little time off, preparing the next series. This allows the story to be told smoothly without the months of waiting that usually accompanies a monthly comic that falls behind schedule. The first collected edition Welcome To Lovecraft acts as a prologue to the story proper and will have you hooked in the first few pages.

There is a sense of whimsy and magic found in Locke & Key that might draw comparisons to lighter works but it is Hill’s reluctance to sugar-coat that places the series with more mature works like Pan’s Labyrinth or The Stand. There are some rough and chilling sequences here but the book’s supernatural elements coupled with Gabriel Rodriguez’s perfect “never-too-dark,” borderline “cartoony” art keep (at least in my opinion) the work accessible to even squeamish audiences.

There are great characters, creepy villains and even some touching moments but I think what I love most about the book is just the feeling of sheer “freshness.” There may have been stories (kind of) like this one before, but none of them were ever told in this way. The comic book format allows for a much bigger story, and gives Hill time to linger on smaller characters and plot lines that really allow the story to “pop.” Aside from being “some kinda genius” Hill must also be one hell of a juggler because the sprawling nature of the story never undercuts the overall feeling of suspense that nags at the reader on every page. This synthesis of great writing and art makes Locke & Key a totally unique and rewarding experience.

If you’ve never stepped foot in a comic book store in your life, that is no excuse. If you like horror or have any interest in a story well-told you should run down to your local comic shop and stock up on either the collected editions or the single issues. Oh and while you’re there get the first volume of Scalped…and The Boys….and Ex Machina…..okay, I’ll stop now.

It Snikt Snikt Stinks: Three Alternatives to X-men Origins: Wolverine

It’s finals, I have papers to write and studying to do. I don’t have time to waste my breath on the new Wolverine movie. The theater I saw it in was packed, and they all seemed to like it, so my apologies if my headline offends you. There were a few things I did like about the film, but overall I think my headline is enough of an indicator where I fall “thumbs up/thumbs down”-wise. So here are three things that feature everyone’s favorite “Canuck with a stabbing addiction” that don’t blow:


1. Jason Aaron’s Wolverine: This one is technically more than one thing. Jason Aaron, writer of Scalped (hands down the best comic out now) has taken multiple stabs (ZING!) at the character. Aaron’s way with tough guy dialogue and hardboiled violence coupled with his certifiable genius plotting makes him the perfect candidate to write for Marvel’s biggest badass.

The best thing to come out of the new movie is Marvel’s push to promote the character, giving Aaron his own ongoing series entitled Wolverine: Weapon X. It’s only one issue in but it’s already bloody good fun.

If you don’t read comics and just want to grab a trade paperback the best of his stories is Get Mystique. One of the single bloodiest Wolvie stories ever told.

*As a Bonus for people who suffered through the new movie Get Mystique holds the “actual” (and satisfying) answer to the question: “What happens when you shoot him in the brain?”

2. Hulk vs Wolverine: Not the miniseries by Lost writer David Lindelof (but that’s good too) Hulk vs. Wolverine is a 45 minute straight-to-DVD animated movie. Possibly the first straight-to-video tie-in to be leagues BETTER than the movie it’s promoting. This short movie is Wolverine the way he should be: a violent, angry, morally questionable character. The animation is slick and the voice acting is top-notch.

The smackdowns of Hulk verses Wolverine are great, but the real star of this show is Deadpool. Deadpool appears briefly in the new movie as a severely altered version of the comic book character. He is played by Ryan Reynolds and just when it appears that the “Merc with a mouth” might save this movie, he disappears for an hour, then comes back and doesn’t talk. The Deadpool in the animated film is exactly the way fans want to see him, a hyperactive, schizoid with an itchy trigger finger.

The movie is available on DVD alongside Hulk vs. Thor.

3. Logan by Brain K. Vaughn: If you went to the new movie looking to see Logan in some WWII action, you left sorely disappointed (In all likelihood this happened anyway). Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina writer Brian K. Vaughn has you covered though. A story that flashes between the present day and 1940s Japan, Logan is a bloody and tragic story. It has plenty of moments for fans to revel in the “cool factor” of it all, but also brings some much needed pathos to the character. Here we see a lovelorn Logan far better than we do in the soap-opera-twist-filled mess that is the film. Logan features drop-dead gorgeous artwork by Eduardo Risso.

There you go: three viable alternatives to ease the pain.

Apologies to the horror fan’s finding the site through The Haunt… I’ll have some new horror stuff for you next post, promise.