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Remina

A sentient planet is on a collision course with Earth!

A scientist, Dr. Oguro, discovers a rogue planet beyond our solar system and names it after his daughter, which leads to much public adoration paid to the teen Remina. But soon the planet starts to journey towards Earth, devouring all other planets and moons in its wake. Soon Remina’s fans turn against her, thinking her namesake planet is coming because of her influence. She is then on the run, with only a few of her most infatuated fans helping her escape from the mob, who are intent on crucifying her. Once the planet arrives at Earth, it is clear it is not a planet after all, but a strange giant organism intent on destroying all of humanity. Will Remina survive the mobs and the deadly alien?

Author and illustrator Junji Ito is well known for his distinctive and intricate black and white panels. I loved the macabre art in Ito’s classic body-horror manga Uzumaki, and enjoyed his short story collection Venus in the Blind Spot. I mentioned in both reviews that even if the narrative dips into absurdness at times, the art keeps you riveted. However, that was not the case in this book, for I could not overcome the needed suspension of disbelief. It would have helped greatly if I was rooting for Remina to survive, but she was purely a damsel in distress the entire time and had absolutely no personality. While the art remained as captivating and creepy as ever, which is always Ito’s strength, the narrative fell far short. I felt dissatisfied with a story I was counting on to be scary but instead found to be ridiculous.

-Nancy

The Sixth Gun: Cold Dead Fingers

As I am a big fan of Cullen Bunn, mostly because of his Harrow County and Bone Parish series, I have circled this title a few times but hadn’t found the time for it yet. Luckily for me, my Goodreads comics group choose this supernatural western for this month’s group read!

Set some years after the Civil War, we learn of six powerful guns, each containing a dark power. Confederate General Hume had discovered all six guns and divvied them up among his evil cohorts and wife Missy. But a priest was able to murder him and took control of Hume’s gun, as ownership only passes after the death of the owner. Dark magic is used to keep Hume in suspended animation, not truly dead, so his eternally youthful wife takes it upon herself to find the sixth gun and reunite it with her husband so he can use it to unleash further destruction. In a parallel journey, Drake Sinclair, formally one of Hume’s henchmen but who turned away from owning one of the other guns, wishes to obtain the sixth gun for himself. Missy’s Pinkerton detectives and Drake converge on the isolated farmstead of the former priest and his step-daughter Becky. Becky inadvertently grabs her step-father’s gun when he is killed in the shoot-out, now making her the sole owner of the gun. And now the battle for ownership of the gun begins!

The characters were intriguing- Drake was an anti-hero whose motives were a bit suspect, Missy was at first a damsel in distress but started gaining a backbone later in the story, Billjohn was a tough gunslinger who had a heart of gold, Missy was slavishly devoted to her husband, while Hume was a caricature of a crazed tyrant. There were several epic battles and a cliffhanger that points to more adventures for Drake and Becky.

The art by Brian Hurtt seemed much too cartoony at first, but I soon stopped noticing and I felt it fit the narrative. There were a lot of supernatural aspects to the story, and the loose art style represented it well, without having to get into realistically gruesome depictions. The action was depicted in four to six panels a page, one-page spreads were uncommon. As it’s set in the Old West there is an appropriately sepia look to the panels, along with red shading to represent the bloodshed and hellish landscapes. However, there was one very distracting art choice towards the end- writing out all the noise effects as words during one certain battle. Used sparingly, words can be used effectively in art, but it was overdone.

This proved to be a solid start to a long series- nine volumes with several spin-offs. While I don’t know if I will continue with it, this horror-imbued western appealed to me and I was glad that it was part of my Halloween reads this month.

-Nancy

Tales From The Crypt- Vol. 1

Dark Horse Books has brought back the cult classic Tales From The Crypt comics from EC Comics in all its cheesy horror glory!

The Entertaining Comics (EC) group was a comics line founded by Maxwell Gaines in 1945 and later run by his son William Gaines, that published popular horror, science fiction, and war-related comics. Sadly the comic line was torpedoed by the Comics Code Authority, and the publishers stopped printing the horror comics in 1956, instead devoting their time to the fledgling Mad magazine known for its humor and satire. But EC left behind many fond memories and a strong legacy in the comics world, thus this is the first volume in a series that reprints some of the best stories from that era!

The Crypt Keeper, which many readers might recognize from the tv series on HBO in the 90s (yet another legacy from EC), opens many of the tales giving a brief narration for the upcoming theme of the story. Keeping in mind these stories were published from the 40s thru the 50s the stories are quite tame with little gore and often incorporated a lesson in them. While there were supernatural beings such as werewolves, Neanderthals, vampires and zombies- the scoundrels typically met their doom, while the pure prevailed. There were also some cringe-worthy storylines that demeaned women with sexist attitudes, and there was an especially racist story about Black island natives. Well regarded author and illustrator Al Feldstein, who later edited Mad magazine, was credited with many of the stories found in this volume.

Some standout stories were:

Death Must Come- A doctor who has cheated death with a youth serum finally meets his end.

The Man Who Was Death- An executioner becomes too diligent with his work.

Curse of the Full Moon- The werewolf is not who you think it is!

Mute Witness to Murder- After witnessing a murder, a woman goes mute in shock, and the killer comes after her.

Ghost Ship- A newly married couple are stranded and climb aboard a ghost ship.

The Hungry Grave- A cheating couple who scheme to kill the woman’s husband has the tables turned on them.

Rx…Death- Be careful in taking the correct medicine, or else deal with the dire consequences.

Terror Ride- Don’t go on sketchy looking carnival rides!

The Vault of Horror- A curse dooms a family and should have been taken more seriously.

The illustrations are dated to modern readers, but were from the Golden Age of Comics, and have such a retro look to us today because of the clothes and hairstyles of that time period. Cover pages were especially well done- for they captured your attention and drew you into the story. Artists such as Johnny Craig (who also wrote some of the stories), Wally Wood, Graham Ingels, Harvey Kurtzman, George Roussos, Jack Kamen and Marie Severin gave their talents to EC and it’s a delight to see some of their gone-but-not-forgotten work. This was an enjoyable Halloween read, and while not as scary as I had imagined it might be, it was very worthwhile.

-Nancy

Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?

For my first Halloween read this year, I have chosen the new graphic novel about Eddie Gein who was a necrophile serial killer who inspired Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Silence of the Lambs! This true-crime story was horrifying, yet of course sickly fascinating.

Established author Harold Schechter who has written a previous book about Gein is paired with artist Eric Powell, known for his The Goon and Hillbilly graphic novels, and they proved to be a superb team to tell this tale. The story opens with Alfred Hitchcock in 1960 recounting how Psycho was inspired by Gein’s crime, just three years prior. The well-researched story then flashes back to Gein’s childhood in Wisconsin, born to mismatched parents- a weak drunkard father and a strong-willed and religiously fanatical mother. While young his parents move him and his older brother Henry to an isolated farmhouse where the boys can’t escape from their mother’s tyrannical rantings and they become warped by her teachings. Despite this, Eddie develops an unhealthy attachment to his mother, believing all other women are harlots.

The story continues chronologically, with the boys aging into strange men, still under the thrall of their mother. The father dies in 1940 and a few years later Henry (perhaps killed by his brother), leaving Eddie happily alone with his mother. A stroke leaves her in a weakened state, and some disturbing pictures show Eddie’s sick delight in helping her with all her personal care. Her eventual death in 1945 leaves Eddie alone to his own devices, and in his grief he seeks ways to recreate his mother, in shocking ways. Unchecked for a dozen years, Gein committed at least two murders and uncounted grave robbings, in which he then used the women’s skins to make himself a skin suit, facemasks, and other ghastly creations.

The evocative art by Powell, done in his trademark black and white illustrations, is inked and shaded to perfection. Each chapter opens with newspapers headlines, that guide you through the story, with the depictions of the Gein family and townspeople very accurate to photos of them and to that era. Some people have a touch of caricature to them, as Gein’s droopy eye and in later pictures the townspeople sharing their recollections seem exaggerated. In the midst of all this, Powell actually adds some whimsy, in guessing what Gein’s inner-thoughts might have been, finding dark-humor in Gein’s psychosis. It proves to be an interesting blend of pulp horror and non-fiction.

Darkly disturbing, and scarier because it is based on facts, this story is not to be missed for true-crime aficionados!

-Nancy

This picture isn’t actually in the book, it’s a promotional picture by artist Eric Powell for Kickstarter.

The Crossroads at Midnight

The Crossroads at Midnight is a collection of five creepy short stories written and illustrated by Abby Howard. It is a good introduction for an older YA audience looking for horror graphic novels, who are ready for some gore, but not too much.

The Girl in the Fields

A queer teen is outed when her private online correspondence is read by her conservative parents.  They threaten that their pastor will cure her, and living out in the country, Frankie has nowhere to escape to.  But she seems to strike up a friendship with a neighboring girl who she can’t see because of the tall fence. Determined to meet in person, she climbs over but can’t find her, but unfortunately runs across a farmer who is a religious zealot and who plans to kill her with his tractor. This was a heavy story to start off with, but it had an interesting blend of reality with the unexpected.

Mattress, Used

Christina, a frazzled college student who is crashing in a friend’s apartment snags a used mattress from a city street. Her roommate is rightfully disgusted, as stains are evident. But Christina’s nights become filled with nightmares with a large creature says he wants her flesh. Upon waking she is exhausted, feverish and develops a bad rash. After a horrific long hospital stay in which she loses a lot of skin, she is visited by the creature once she returns home. Is she doomed to lose the rest of her skin? The last panel shows the mattress out on the road again- who’s next???

The Boy From The Sea

Two sisters vacation with their father at a beach, when a strange boy befriends the younger sister. The older sister clues in that the boy means her harm and is on guard to keep her sister safe. But the older sister needs to make a heartbreaking decision when he comes to drag her sister into the ocean. Thirty years pass and another agonizing scene occurs with no recourse.

Our Lake Monster

The naivete of youth! A young teen reminisces about the days in which her family traveled with a lake creature, before a tragedy occurred, putting an end to their side-show income. She believes the lake monster is still kind as it was when it was young and much smaller, and waxes poetic to her little brother about it. She then makes a decision that has terrible consequences for the entire family.

Kindred Spirits

This melancholy story was strangely sweet, although it was the only story that did not include a young character. An older woman Norah who has never married or had children lives out in the country, which is adjacent to a bog. A bog woman mysteriously shows up at her doorstep and believe it or not, the two women strike up a friendship of sorts. Two other voiceless bog women join them, and Norah researches who they might have been in the past and the circumstances of their death. Later, after rejection after rejection by the townspeople during her time of need, she makes a decision that brings her peace.

Howard’s black and white art was powerful. Her crosshatching of shadows and effective use of white vs black gutters to hint at the changing tone was spot-on. Her art reminded me of Junito Ito’s work- both in style and substance. Body horror was forefront in most of the narratives, and you need to have a strong suspension of disbelief. These bittersweet tales are a perfect slice-of-life horror.

Thanks to NetGalley for an early online copy. As a teen librarian, I will definitely be buying a copy for my library’s collection!

-Nancy

Uzumaki: Spiral Into Horror

Happy Halloween! For the last few years I have posted a horror-themed graphic novel on Halloween Day, so this year I choose the classic three-volume manga series Uzumaki.

“Kurouzu-cho, a small fogbound town on the coast of Japan, is cursed. According to Shuichi Saito, the withdrawn boyfriend of teenager Kirie Goshima, their town is haunted not by a person or being but by a pattern: uzumaki, the spiral — the hypnotic secret shape of the world” is the premise of this eerie series that has definitely earned the acclaim it has been given. 

Kirie and Shuichi begin to notice their family members and townspeople’s strange fascination with spirals. It begins innocently enough, as many spirals are found in nature, with the teen’s fathers being the first to become entranced with the spiral’s power and beauty. Soon obsessed, people begin to experience terrifying body contortions and you will begin to need to have a strong suspension of disbelief as grotesque and unnatural occurrences happen that would have most people leaving the town for good. Kirie and Shuichi remain strong in the midst of turmoil, as they try to leave with their remaining family members when the town is destroyed by hurricanes, and then by the madness of the inhabitants who can’t escape. 

Each volume is divided into chapters, with eighteen chapters in all, and the final chapter The Labyrinth brings the story of Kirie and Shuichi to a close. While chronological, in volumes two and three the chapters begin to resemble short stories, so you can read a chapter at a time that is self-contained. The stories can spiral out of control, but that is part of the appeal in what makes this trilogy stand out.

The artwork is a masterpiece of time and effort by author and illustrator Junji Ito, with intricate black and white panels that show the town’s descent into insanity. The creatures are macabre and Lovecraftian in nature, so even if the narrative dips into absurdness at times, the art keeps you riveted. The spirals and the body horror found throughout the chapters will stay with you, even after you put the books down. Who knew that a simple spiral could become so treacherous and all-consuming? 

This series is not to be missed, as you too, should join other readers and dive into this whirlpool of terror!

-Nancy

Collage of Uzumaki images from Mother.Dot

 

When I Arrived At The Castle

I am a fan of Emily Carroll’s past work Through The Woods. This new graphic novel is very reminiscent of her earlier horror-inspired short stories, but this longer story is more adult with a lesbian erotica angle. 

A feline young woman arrives at the castle ready to do battle with the Countess, who appears to be a beautiful vampire. But she immediately falls under her spell and becomes more of a guest, than a warrior. Her passiveness makes the vampire despise her and toy with her. She is escorted to a corridor of red doors, where fairytale-esqe experiences await her. After a few frightening scenes behind the doors, the feline is ready to attack the vampire. Their erotic but macabre embraces end in an ambiguous manner.

Carroll’s art is rendered in only black, white and red to great effect. Few panels are used, instead, the art flows dreamlike from one image to the next. Some illustrations include intricate details, making the pictures sensual and Gothic-like. The red splash pages that included the text of the fairytales were striking. 

I came away from the story feeling it was atmospheric and unsettling, but with little in the way of plot. The dreamy aspect of it had some appeal, yet I felt dissatisfied with the story afterward. I don’t mind open-ended conclusions, but it needs to make sense. While seductive with lovely art, this story left me wanting.

-Nancy

The Low, Low Woods

The Low, Low Woods is an atmospheric and surreal horror story set in the dying coal town of Shudder-To-Think, Pennsylvania.

Elements of feminism and malevolence come into play, as two young women El and Vee realize something is terribly wrong in their town. Years ago a fire moved underground into the coal mines, forcing their closures and gutting an already fragile economy. In addition, women began to exhibit strange episodes in which they were losing large portions of their memory. When this seems to happen to the two friends on an evening at the movies, they want answers. Readers then discover there is already a layer of magic, as a strange deer/human hybrid is sighted, skinned men are hiding in the woods, and there are rabbits everywhere with human eyes. There is somewhat of a Paper Girls vibe in this story, further supported that El and Vee ride their bikes everywhere, but late in the story the narrative takes a sharp and confusing turn. A witch who is trying to combat the cruelty of the men in the region, as previous sexual assaults are implied in the story but not seen, but her spells don’t always work the way she intended. The remainder of the story is the young women trying to give agency back to the women affected by the dark magic.

The illustrations by artist Dani are dark with a color palette using a lot of black and red. The panels are varied, often with a large picture with smaller ones layered on top with black gutters. But the lines can be imprecise and lacking details. For example, El who is a larger woman is often drawn blocky. But I did appreciate that the various characters were given a diverse look. There was a lot of dialogue and information given in text boxes, with a small font that made reading challenging.

I have read a previous short story, Blur,  by the author Carmen Maria Machado through LeVar Burton Reads, and she is known for her LGTBQ+ storylines in the horror genre. While this story wasn’t exactly to my liking, I like how Hill House Comics is using a variety of authors to reach different audiences. I was pleased to receive an advance copy through NetGalley and I plan on reading more of this label’s graphic novels!

-Nancy

Basketful of Heads

Joe Hill is having a moment. With his Locke & Key series now on Netflix, and his novels and short-story collections in high demand, DC has given him a prestige project, his own label- Hill House Comics. While not all of the graphic novels under this label will be penned by him, this first story is.

Set in September 1983, on Brody Island in Maine, the story establishes an 80s horror flick vibe. June is visiting her boyfriend Liam who is wrapping up his summer job as a deputy before going back to college in the fall. But a prison break (with a homage to Hill’s father Stephen King) puts their reunion in jeopardy. The two head to the police chief’s palatial estate during a growing storm and are amazed by the chief’s Viking artifacts collection. A battle-ax comes in very handy when the convicts land on their doorstep…

There are some twists and turns as to who the convicts are and who they are connected to on the island. As June fights for her life, grabbing the first weapon in sight, the ax’s power manifests in that the decapitated head is still alive and can continue talking. But heads begin to roll (!!) as June tries to find Liam and has to fight off several more criminals. Many secrets of corruption on the island are revealed by these talking heads. A final show-down discloses some heartbreaking truths and June obtains justice for a young woman who had been used and abused that summer.

Artists Leomacs and Riccardo La Bella really captured the era and northeast region well. There were crude jokes with some characters getting an almost Mad magazine type of caricature treatment, especially three times when a character is drawn with two heads as they are reacting to news. I loved the chapter breaks, as June’s basket fills and how the chapter numbers are symbolized. These sight gags, plus others, matched the tone of the narrative and made me laugh.

I enjoyed the dark humor as the horror-aspect of it all was played fast and loose. Thanks to NetGalley for this advance copy, for with this graphic novel as the first in the collection, I am looking forward to the others coming out in the months ahead. Joe Hill, both in graphic novels and books, is now definitely a favored author of mine.

-Nancy

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