Tuesday, 30 December 2014

God Is Dead - Vol 1, by Jonathan Hickman

3.5 stars

I love the idea behind this graphic novel, with the old gods returning to Earth (this time, it's personal!) to claim dominion over mankind, which they turn out to be rather good at.

As the remaining human population gets mostly sacrificed and the gods start a Battle Royale for control over all, a small band of people known as The Collective have gone underground, looking for a way to fight back.

While I enjoyed the way the gods were depicted, I have to admit that one of the humans made my shit start to ever so slightly itch - The Collective, made up of pudgy scientists, skinny nerds, old men and the physically impaired, also happens to have a girl in it. A girl who, of course, has breasts bigger than her own head which are forever straining to free themselves from the strip of material she wears across them, and who finds pudgy scientists with whom she's had little interaction or chemistry insanely arousing. 


Storm, by Tim Minchin

5 stars

Tim Minchin's Storm is the response I wish I could give whenever anyone around me starts banging on about homeopathy, psychics, auras, or worrying about when The Rapture is due to start, instead of the oh-so-mature eye-rolling and proclamations of 'Yeah, well Gandalf says...' that I usually tend to indulge in.

A brilliant beat-style ode to critical thinking that works just as well in graphic novel form as it does when performed, with the wonderful illustrations flowing as well as the words and underscoring Minchin's arguments well, if you've not yet encountered Storm you can do so here:
For iPhone/iPad click here.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Killer Clown, by Terry Sullivan

3 stars

Proof that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, inside the shrieking, tabloid style cover of Killer Clown lies a sober account of the investigation into and prosecution of John Wayne Gacy for the murders of at least 33 young men and boys. Co-written by Terry Sullivan, a State Attorney who was involved in the case from the very beginning when the case simply appeared to be the disappearance of 15 year old Robert Piest, he then lead the investigation which eventually saw the recovery of the bodies of Gacy’s victims (26 of which were discovered in the crawl space beneath his home), before serving as a member of the prosecution team at his trial.

Clear and precise (no doubt thanks to Sullivan’s experience in front of juries), we get lots of information on legalities such as what to specify in search warrants to ensure that any evidence recovered is admissible in court, the painful process of retrieving records pre-computers, how to make someone think they can’t leave a police station without ever actually detaining them, the effects of constant, overt surveillance on both the surveillance teams and the suspect, the bizarre behaviour exhibited by a manipulator who thinks he’s far cleverer than he actually is, and the legal chess games played by both sides (Gacy would first try (and fail) to exhibit signs of multiple personality disorder, and then his legal team attempt to have him found not guilty by reason of insanity - he’d apparently been temporarily insane on 33 different occasions, slipping back out of insanity once the murders were committed and the bodies buried, alternatively they would also claim that the deaths were 33 cases of accidental auto-erotic asphyxiation. Thankfully, the jury decided this was all bullshit.)

Mr Sullivan thankfully isn’t interested in trying to put you into the victims’ shoes or into the mind of the killer, thereby saving the material from becoming too harrowing and upsetting (if that’s what you’re after, trying listening to Sufjan Stevens’ John Wayne Gacy Jr instead) and instead presents a clear and detailed illustration of the work that goes into trying to catch and put away terrifying people. 

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Danse Macabre, by Stephen King

2 stars

There’s something terribly wrong with me – it has just taken me three weeks to finish a Stephen King book. A Stephen King book in which he riffs on one of my favourite genres, no less, giving us his take on the books, films, television and radio shows that populate the world of horror – or the world of horror until the early eighties, at least (when Danse Macabre was written). 

Taking a look at common horror tropes and why we find them so deliciously scary, I would have thought that Stephen King would be the perfect person to walk me through this topic. In this I was sadly disappointed.

Part of my problem was entirely my own – December is always a distracted and stressful month for me as I frantically try to reach a thousand deadlines while simultaneously struggling to fit in bouts of panic-buying with the few social obligations I have remaining now that I’m mostly a curmudgeonly hermit, leaving me a scanty few minutes in which to squeeze a bit of reading. King’s chatty, informal style didn’t help me here as the riffs and tangents he’s always been prone to embarking upon led to a rather loose and woolly whole that I struggled to get a firm grip on.
The early eighties cut-off also worked against the book for me, particularly when it came to film. Whilst name-checking a few truly great horror films, King’s taste in horror movie tends to skew heavily towards the schlocky, obviously a bloke-in-a-monster-suit, B (and C and D) movie which he grew up with but that I’ve always struggled to take seriously (I realise this is a bit rich coming from a woman whose own taste skews heavily towards that starring Bruce Campbell, but hey ho) and I couldn’t help but spend most of that time wondering what he’d make of the movies made since – and particularly the influencing of Hollywood by the truly spine-tingling terror of Japanese horror films (like the utterly brilliant and terrifying Audition, which I once made my Boxing Day guests sit through, much to their cushion-grabbing dismay), although I did also clock his disapproval of Kubrick’s version of The Shining (which may not be as true to the book as King’s own highly unnecessary TV adaptation, but is easily several thousand times better) and so it’s highly possible that he wouldn’t think much of it at all.

At its best when considering why we read/watch horror (for me, it’s the only genre that really gives my imagination a proper work out in a reality that’s rather mundane and routine where I often have to act counter to my instincts, and it gives my brain the same jolt of life that my body gets while hurtling towards the ground on a roller-coaster) but I think that the very thing King professes inside to wanting to avoid - the pinning down and dissecting of what makes it work – was probably the very thing I was after with Danse Macabre, and missed getting.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Warrior of the West, by M.K. Hume

1 star

If this book had a face, I would happily punch it every day until next Christmas. As it doesn't, I'll have to settle for ranting about it instead. 

Its predecessor, King Arthur: Dragon's Child, was a decent bit of brain-candy imagining the younger years of Artorex that I enjoyed despite its flaws. Warrior of the West, catching up with King Artor twelve years later, compounded those flaws and nearly drove me to complete rage more than once - throughout the second half I had to take frequent breaks in order to swear at it profusely, nearly break my kindle in fits of temper, and wish a violent death upon virtually every character within.

Now High King of the Britons, Artor has spent the last decade murdering every Saxon he comes across. When his emissaries are killed while negotiating a truce, he mounts an assault on the Saxon stronghold of Glamdring Ironfist. The first half of the book builds slowly towards this, showing a little of how Artor has changed in the intervening years and introducing Ironfist and a few of his compatriots, including the slave Bedwyr. Considering the amount of time spent on him, Bedwyr would appear to be an important new character but it turns out that as soon as Artor has his victory he's promptly forgotten about and never mentioned again.

Unfortunately, this victory also kicked off the deeply problematic second half of the book, during which its focus on characters brought the problems of the first book into the spotlight. While Uther may be long dead, Artor's foster-brother Caius is still around and so subtly drawn that he may as well be called Rapey McStabs-a-lot and have the Death March start up whenever he walked onto the page. But Rapey has nothing on Wenhaver, Hume's version of Guinevere. There was really no need for Hume to mention her dislike of Guinevere in her accompanying notes, as her contempt shone through in one of the most flagrant examples of character bashing that I've ever come across. You could, in fact, replace the whole second half with this and you'd find no real discernible difference:
"Dear Wenhaver,

Love Hate,
M.K. Hume"

I have no problem with unlikeable and flawed characters, but I do have a problem with those obviously set up solely for unfavourable comparisons to a character the author does like. The Wenhaver of this book isn't really appalling for her own sake or that of the story, but so that we'll also worship Nimue (or as I soon came to call her, Fucking Nimue).

Having been saved as a baby in Dragon's Child and brought under the protection of the High King, Fucking Nimue is now grown up and serving as the apprentice of Merlinus, and is the most beautiful, most elegant, most interesting, most intelligent, most caring, most wonderful woman to have ever walked the earth. I suspect that not only do her farts smell like freshly baked cookies, but that she shits sunbeams too (and that eating them would probably cure world hunger and stop all wars forever). She's so fabulous that no-one (including the book) can stop themselves from commenting every five minutes on how bloody wonderful she is, and comparing her to Wenhaver who is portrayed as being every awful thing that has ever been said about a woman. Petulant, spiteful, rude, abusive, promiscuous, immature, irrational and thick (amongst many other awful things), no-one (including the book) can stop themselves from calling her a cow, a bitch, a slut or, more often, a whore any time her name is mentioned. Even when noting her beauty the book can't help but mention that her dress clashes with her skin making her look shit compared to Fucking Nimue (rhymes with Mary Sue!) who, of course, looks like a supermodel even while wearing a sack. 

It's at this point that I started sounding like Samuel Jackson having a vicious fit of Tourette's...

...which the stupid serial-killer sub-plot that sprang up here made even worse. While Merlinus shows off his psychological profiling and forensic skills and generally acts like he's a heartbeat away from pulling out a pair of sunglasses and a bad pun, it soon becomes apparent that even the serial killer is obsessed with Fucking Nimue, though he sadly doesn't succeed in murdering her before he's unveiled as - surprise! - the one bloke that we're constantly reminded is a shit.

If I do read the last in this trilogy (unlikely, although I'd already stupidly bought it after Dragon's Child) it'll only be so that I can root for Wenhaver to screw every man, woman and beast on Cadbury Tor and give Artor such a raging case of syphilis that his face falls off just in time for the Saxons to arrive and, hopefully, kick everyone's teeth in.