Saturday, October 22, 2011

Getting My Read On

I went into something of a reading frenzy on Thursday night. I pulled out a bunch of comics I hadn't yet read, and some books that I'm in the middle of, and stayed up until the wee hours of the night getting my read on. Considering I had to be up at six the next morning, it probably wasn't a wise choice, but I don't have a time machine so, whatever. I then hit the library with my son yesterday with the intention of letting him browse around for some drawing books, and somehow I ended up grabbing a whole schwackload of trades and a Joe Kubert biography which, over the course of the day, I've been having trouble putting down.

I think it is entirely possible that my brain is trying to purge the Star Wars that I've been stuffing into it for two months.

So, with all the new reading material around, I thought I would mention a few of them here, give some thoughts on them, and then be on my merry way.

First up is Simon Oliver and Tony Moore's The Exterminators, which is a strange, disgusting, yet strangely compelling read. I don't know where Oliver got the idea for this one, but I had heard through the grapevine that it was a worthwhile read and I decided to grab it when I saw it. Glad I did, too. It was also a treat to see Tony Moore's stuff in colour. I've only ever seen his stuff on The Walking Dead before this, and it was nice to see another side to Tony's work. Not for the squeemish, though. If you don't like bugs, or exploding organs, stay clear of this one.

I also read Stan Sakai's original GN Usagi Yojimbo: Yokai, which was very nice book to look at (Sakai did it all in watercolour), and a pleasant read, overall, but I think I was expecting something with a little more punch to it since it was a special 25th anniversary book and it just didn't live up to some of the great Usagi stories that have appeared in his monthly book. I'd still pick it up in an instant, and the presentation of it is beautifully done from cover to cover, it just didn't blow me away.

Next up is Harlan Ellison's Dream Corridor, a collection of stories from the five (or six, if you count the special as part of the numbering) issues of the Dark Horse series of the same name. I don't know why this was something I ignored when it first hit the stands in the mid-1990s. Could have been the price point, could have been an ignorance of Harlan's work, or maybe I just wasn't into anthologies. I honestly don't remember, although I distinctly remember seeing these original books on the shelves at the comic shop. Regardless of that, I'm about sixty pages into the first collection and I'm enjoying the heck out of it. The stories are decent, sometimes a little bit on the broad side, but the artwork is quite good, the adaptations are well done and the interstitial bits written by Harlan and illustrated by Eric Shanower are fun to read.

The last one I'm going to get into right now is Man of Rock, the aforementioned biography of comics legend, Joe Kubert, by Bill Schelly. I've only just begun to read this one and am about 60 pages in. From a chronological standpoint, I'm around the early 1940s in Kubert's life and he has just been given the job to do Hawkman under Sheldon Mayer. I'm not a huge fan of the writing style or the organization of the information, but I do love me some Kubert so I am thoroughly enjoying learning more about his life and early works. I wasn't planning on picking up and reading another biography for a bit, but this one has kind of grabbed my attention and refuses to let go.

Anyway, those are a few of the things that on my mind and on my reading table at the moment.



Thursday, October 20, 2011

Walk With the Dead...Again

I realized that the season two premiere of The Walking Dead was airing last Sunday and, although I missed the 'live' broadcast of the show, I did manage to catch an encore presentation that same night. The timing worked out really well, actually, with Jen and the kids all going to bed about ten minutes before it started, which was nice. There's sort of a spoken rule that I can't watch anything too gross or terrifying while there are people who may object to it in the house or conscious.

Anyway, I watched the first season, in its entirety, on Blu-ray so it was kind of a treat to see it 'as it happens', and have that anticipation for watching it again the next week. The episodes (they aired the first two as an hour-and-a-half event) were quite good, both having their share of tension and a few surprises. It felt very much like the comic book where you really don't know who is going to survive and who will not. [POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT] There's a scene early on where the group encounters a herd of walkers and have to hide from them and, honestly, I didn't know how it was going to play out. It's a long scene, too, and the whole time you just sit there, breathless, waiting for something to happen, but also hoping that nothing happens. It was really well executed.

I'm also a little surprised that I'm so into the show again because there was a time, there, where I very much considered giving up on it. I was a little shaky at the end of season one, and then when they re-released the season set on home video as a 3-disc set with new features and commentaries on every episode, I was pissed. I bought season one at a time when I didn't really have the means to do so, but I made an exception to have it, watch it, and support it, and remember lamenting at the time how few good features were on it. I figured they'd make up for it on season two, but lo and behold, they toss another one out there on the market just in time for Halloween and season two.

Yeah, I'm still a little bitter.

Needless to say, I didn't give up on the show, despite everything. I'm very glad that I stuck with it, though, and I'm looking forward to this Sunday's episode. I've even started reading the comic book again, polishing off four volumes yesterday in an effort to catch up. I think when I do manage to get up to speed, I may start buying the book monthly, too. We'll see. What I won't be doing, however, is buying the home video release until well after it hits store shelves in the event that they decide to pull another one of these ridiculous double-dips.

And, with that, I leave you with the season two premiere which is now streaming on the AMC website, which is all kinds of awesome.



Wednesday, October 19, 2011

100 GoodReads and Counting

Well, having just finished Tales of the Slayer, vol. 2, I dutifully went over to my GoodReads page and tagged it as only to discover that it was my 100th book read/completed this year. I know for some people that's only a drop in the bucket (my wife, for example, has probably read ten times that much for her PHD program, alone), and I'll be the first to concede that they have not all been 800 page novels, but this has been a heavier reading year for me than normal and it was nice to see that triple-digit number there.

I think that GoodReads has probably helped out with that, too. Ever since signing on it's been easier to track what I've read, when I've read it, and all the books that I've started but left sitting on the shelf unfinished. For most people, this probably sounds like it would serve no real purpose for you, but for me and my borderline OCD tendencies, it's like a constant challenge to keep reading, not get too distracted, and to go back and finish off some of those lingering books. It's oddly satisfying to be able to go on and add something as having been read, and to browse other people's reading lists, as well.

I'm pretty sure I've also commented somewhere on this blog (yeah, I looked but can't find the post) how cool it is for me to be collating all of these books and dating them in terms of when I got them, where I bought them, when I started reading them and when I finished them. Not only does this appeal to the aforementioned OCD part of my brain, it has prompted me to dig through bookshelves, boxes, memories and blog posts to establish the correct times for all of these things. In the process of doing so, I've run across a lot of cool things I forgot I had or hadn't seen in ages, or passed by blog posts that jogged some interesting memories.

Good times.



Tuesday, October 18, 2011

F. Scott the Vampire Slayer

A few years ago, I had a dream in which I was on the set of a movie being filmed that was based on a zombie story written by none other than F. Scott Fitzgerald. I don't know where it came from, why I was dreaming it, or what significance it has on anything. It did plant in my head, however, the idea that flappers and monsters might make for an interesting mix.

Apparently, I wasn't the only one with that notion, as today I had the unique pleasure of reading a short story by Rebecca Rand Kirshner called "The War Between the States". It's included in the second volume of the Tales of the Slayers collection and is, essentially, a vampire slayer story had it been conceived of, and written by, F. Scott Fitzgerald. It takes place in 1922, features an innocent girl from the south moving up to New York and all the excitement that entails. She discovers the party atmosphere and is swept along in its wake, risking her reputation and, ultimately, her life. For, of course, there are vampires afoot, and if one of the characters didn't happen to be a pre-Buffy slayer, things would have gotten messy. Or messier, I guess, seeing as how there's always fighting and slaying when there's a slayer around.

Kirshner may not have been trying to ape Fitzgerald, here, but I highly doubt it. There are way too many similarities in style and tone, and there's very much an "Ice Palace" vibe going on here. Seeing how Fitzgerald's story was originally published in 1920, and there are many similar story elements, it had to have been planned. Kind of like when Jane Espenson did a Jane Austen style slayer story in the Dark Horse Tales of the Slayers anthology book.

I hope to one day get the opportunity to ask her that question and confirm it. I suppose I could also search online for interviews or any comments she may have made to that effect.

In any case, it was a bright spot in my day. Also a well written and entertaining little story. Almost gets me in a Buffy mood after all that Star Wars.



Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Here's My Thing...

As I'm typing this I'm listening to the absolutely stunning score to John Carpenter's The Thing by Ennio Morricone. I was familiar with the music from the film previous to this, but only as a backdrop or an audio only track on the DVD. I had never sat down and just listened to it before tonight. Honestly, I'm a few tracks in and I can say, with some authority, that this is one of the best scores I've heard in a very long time. And all the more interesting for the fact that it feels like I'm hearing it for the very first time.

I guess, in some ways, I am hearing it for the first time. I've read that Morricone's score was not used in its entirety in the film, with Carpenter favouring only a few of the pieces, and subbing in some of his own work where he felt necessary. The soundtrack, features 10 tracks which comprise all of the music Morricone created for the film and none of the additional pieces by Carpenter.

What surprises me the most about this music is how orchestral it feels/sounds, which I'm sure sounds kind of dumb to say. Most of my memories from the film, however, are of the tracks "Humanity (Parts 1 & 2)" and a few other tracks which I'm not 100% sure are from the film or the DVD menus. Anyway, the "Humanity" pieces are very much in the tradition of Carpenter's style. It's very simple, rhythmic, and provides the background to a haunting, repeating, melody played with synthesizers. So, hearing the full breadth and scope of the music here is both jarring and tremendously cool.

The temptation to grab the DVD and pop it in is overwhelming, but I promised myself I would go watch the 'prequel' film on Friday and then watch the Carpenter version to see how well they line up. I've heard that they reverse engineered a lot of the '82 version in regards to the Norwegian team's involvement at the beginning of the movie, so maybe it would be rewarding to have all those little cues fresh in my head. Like when they explain how the axe got in the wall, for example.

Ah, well. All things to consider while I sit here listening and patiently await the October 14th release date for the new movie.



Sunday, October 09, 2011

Clone With a Heart of Stone

I was going to finally post my long-overdue U2 coverage but have found myself totally wrapped up in playing Republic Commando this weekend. I picked it up for the PC a month or so ago and popped it in to show my son one of the extras off of the disc. Then I played the first level. Then I couldn't stop and most of my day went to the game. I took a break to watch Howl's Moving Castle with the family, but went back on for a few missions before bed.

Normally I'd feel pretty guilty letting myself get consumed by a video game like this, but I play so few of them, and do so very infrequently, so I'm not beating myself up about it too much. Honestly, I don't remember the last weekend where I felt so relaxed. Maybe I need to make some time for gameplay in my schedule. It is, very possibly, therapeutic.

And as for the fact that this is yet another Star Wars related post, does this really surprise you these days?

Anyway, Delta Squad awaits, so I'm signing out.



Thursday, October 06, 2011

Taking the First Steps Into a High Definition World

September tends to be a big, busy month for the Jozic household, primarily because we have three kids starting school around that time every year, and also because it is the birth month for myself and my wife. This works out nicely for me, too, because I can usually count on something cool to be released - be it a book, CD, film, or some other pop culture-related event - that coincides with one, or both, of our birthdays. Last year, for example, we went to see Resident Evil: Afterlife, the year before that was the release of Whiteout (where I discovered I'm one of probably 10 people who doesn't hate that movie).

This year has proven to be particularly interesting, in that regard, for two reasons: September 9th (my actual birthdate) marked the release of Contagion which was directed by one of my favourite directors, Steven Soderbergh, and is the closest I think I'll ever get to seeing an adaptation of Richard Preston's The Hot Zone, so that was kinda cool; the other reason, Star Wars.

I know it's not cool to like the Star Wars movies anymore but I just can't help it. Even with the changes, the prequels, and all the controversy over the years, I still love these things in all their flawed glory. So, when I heard earlier this year that September would also mark the release of the complete saga on Blu-ray, I knew right then and there that the set would be mine. I told my wife not to sweat over birthday presents or anything like that because it was already settled.

Things got even better when I read the announcement that on the same day the Blu-rays were coming out, September 16th, we would also see the long-awaited premiere of the fourth season of Clone Wars, a show avidly followed by myself and my three kids.

In the days leading up to the release, I have to admit that the level of anticipation was high. We all kind of got into the mood to watch some of the movies but a moratorium was called on watching anything before the HD versions arrived. The cease-and-desist, however, only applied to the films themselves which left all the other licensed material and Clone Wars series up for grabs. A couple of weeks or so before the 16th I decided to dabble.

I recently came into possession of a Kobo eReader and had a copy of the Darth Maul short story, Saboteur, on it. Written by James Luceno, it revolved around industrial espionage and Maul's role in facilitating it. It was a surprisingly well-crafted little story and that inspired me to check out a number of Star Wars short stories available at the online store that were free to download. The Lost Tribe of the Sith is not normally the kind of thing that would interest me in expanded universe material but I found the first part of John Jackson Miller's tale pretty engaging and the rest is history.

It's been about a month, now, on a steady diet of Star Wars. I've been reading books, listening to soundtracks, podcasts, watching documentaries, and poring over the Blu-rays and their 40 hours of bonus features.

Now, if you've stuck with me this far, on to the subject of the Blu-rays.

I've read a lot of different reviews with a lot of differing opinions on the changes, the features, and everything else under the binary suns. The one thing they all agree on, however, is that the transfers are impeccable, the audio is stellar, and as HD presentations go, these discs are definitely demo material. You want to sell someone a BD player and a hi-fi stereo system to hear it on, one of these babies will probably do most of the work for you. The films look great.

I don't want to turn this into a defense of George Lucas so I'll skip any commentary on the changes for political reasons. Yes there are changes, no, they're not all bad ones.

As far as packaging and features go, I think they could have done a little better with the art direction considering some of their past efforts, but the book-like cover (similar to the one Fox used for the ALIEN ANTHOLOGY) displays nicely, is relatively durable, and holds all 9 discs without any issues. Each 'page' holds one disc and features episode specific artwork by Cliff Cramp. When not in use, it sits in a slipcase mirroring the artwork on the books cover.

Feature-wise, the ads all say "own every moment" and that's an out-and-out lie. From the get-go Lucasfim said they would not be including features from previous DVD releases, so how they came up with that tagline is a mystery to me. What is on the three bonus discs is pretty cool, though, don't get me wrong. Deleted and extended scenes, a collection of interviews with cast and crew, interactive archival material, the list goes on. The ninth disc includes all the classic making of documentaries (they even restored the voice-over by William Conrad, which is cool) and an hour-and-a-half of Star Wars spoofs culled from television shows and movies over the last 10 or 20 years. Probably the least of the features unless you don't have access to YouTube.

For all the griping online about this release, my opinion is that the good far outweighs the bad here. Having the previous releases, I'm not missing out on any bonus features. The only thing I think would have made for an exceptional collection would be if they included a solid transfer of the OT, as people remember it (circa 1984ish?), available to the public. I swear to God, most of the naysayers would probably shut up and it wouldn't matter how many changes GL made after that. I do have the OT on DVD (even if they are Laserdisc ports) so I'm not sweating it too much, but it would have been a nice surprise.

Oh, and speaking of surprises, one really cool feature is the full-length animated short that accompanied the Holiday Special broadcast featuring the first appearance of Boba Fett. The animation was done by a very young Nelvana and its inclusion here on the set is a rare treat, indeed.

So, that's the Blu-rays, from a certain point of view. No regrets here and I plan to revisit these movies again many times after this. If any of you naysayers happen to have friends who have the set (and considering it's the biggest selling BD catalogue title, it's highly likely you do) I would recommend sitting down with them sometime and giving the discs a once over. It's worth checking out.

As for the other side of my Star Wars mania, it's lessened, somewhat, but still going pretty strong. Among other things, I'm currently in the middle of re-reading Heir to the Empire (20th anniversary edition with annotations), I have the Dark Horse Empire run on hold at the library, Clone Wars is still running every week with new episodes, I'm tackling the Jedi Apprentice series to get some early Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan action, and am grabbing issues of Jedi: The Dark Side and Dark Times, two of the best Star Wars comics on the racks. I also recently wrapped The Force Unleashed and am thinking of revisiting the Tartakovsky Clone Wars DVDs.


And with that, take care and may the force be with you!


Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Talking About Dead Mann Walking

A little while ago I received an ARC of Stefan Petrucha's latest novel, Dead Mann Walking, and I had fully expected to have it done and have a review of it up on the blog prior to its October 4th release date. As of this writing, I'm about half way through the book and at least a day late on the post.

The best laid plans of mice and men.

Still, not wanting to stay entirely silent on the subject, I figured I'd post some general thoughts, anyways, and maybe do a wrap up post when I do finish the book.

I've actually been a fan of Petrucha's work for a few years, now. I've enjoyed much of his comic book work, dabbled with some of his novels, and still consider his run on The X-Files with Charlie Adlard for Topps Comics a crowning example of how a licensed comic should be done. So, when I received my copy of Dead Mann Walking I felt like this was a known quantity. In all fairness, I didn't expect to not like it and, so far, I haven't been proven wrong.

The story revolves around a private detective named Hessius Mann, who was put to death for the murder of his wife but was later returned to life when supressed evidence was discovered and he was cleared of the crime. Yeas, that's right, he was brought back to life using a process called a Radical Invigoration Procedure developed by a company who expected to cash in on rich folks who would want to bring back their loved ones. What they ended up with was a new sub-class of 'people' (zombies) that nobody wanted around, but once you've brought them back you can't just get rid of them again. Not unless they go all George Romero feral. They call them chakz instead of zombies, and the chakz (those who can speak) call the living livebloods.

Anyway, in typical noir fashion, Hessius is approached by a client find a deceased person who has been named in his father's will. Since Hessius is still a high-functioning member of the undead community and knows the world of the chakz, he is uniquely suited for the task and takes the job. Then things get interesting.

For what it's worth, I'm really enjoying what I've read so far. Petrucha does a really good job of balancing the noir elements with the horror bits, and most of the humour in the book derives from the combination of the two. The plot appears to be pretty straightforward with all the hallmarks of a good mystery/thriller story, but Petrucha breathes new life into the old tropes by approaching them with an undead perspective. Everyone knows how these detective stories work but when you expect the familiar scenes to play out, you get them, to be sure, but slightly askew, and that's where the charm of this book, ultimately, lies.

There's also an oddly amped up tension to the proceedings. You would expect to not worry about your protagonists life when he has already lost it once, but as Petrucha makes it abundantly clear in the first chapter, there are fates worse then death when your a chak. Death itself has some finality to it, but those who have been through the RIP go on after limbs are detached and bodies decay. It's also a chore-and-a-half for these guys to maintain themselves on a daily basis because they're constantly fighting rot, memory loss, and the fear that at any time they may go feral. Oh, and they also have to deal with a living population who generally views chakz as not deserving of any rights and routinely enagage in violent attacks on undead communities.

This is probably a good place to mention that the world Petrucha's created here is really well thought out and there's a lot of interesting things he could mine here, if he wanted to. I'm sure there's a lot of backstory he could explore but he wisely shies away from it, for the most part, in favour of advancing the plot. In fact, Petrucha recently posted on his website an excised chapter, or portion of a chapter, that served this exact purpose but found that it slowed down the plot enough that it had to go. For anyone interested, I'll be posting that excerpt at the end of this review.

Overall/so far, I'm really digging Dead Mann Walking. I'm engaged, I'm interested, and it's a great October diversion.

I've also heard that a sequel may have been approved, so it may not be too long before we're discussing A Hessius Mann Novel #2. Me? I'm looking forward to it.

If you're curious, Petrucha has the first chapter previewed at BoomTron, and the following is the aforementioned excerpt discussing some zombie history according to Hessius Mann:

Dead Mann: The Missing Chapter

Crowded, surrounded, attacked, the chakz gave the people what they wanted, proof that they were dangerous. It was as though that group-mind the LBs worried about had actually kicked in. Maybe the ferals just never had the numbers before, or maybe you had to be far enough back to see the patterns. I saw them now.

Flashes of chak-bodies moved in elegant waves, like flocks of migrating birds. The livebloods, for all their higher functions, fled without grace. The big picture pulsed and throbbed. But the personal tragedies played out in tiny spaces, as if the two had nothing to do with one another. In the center of the swirls stood the fair-haired cop I’d seen from the window, bullets spitting from his AK-47. They tore some dead flesh. Mostly, he was hitting livebloods before the ferals took him down.

So was this Ezekiel and his dry-bones rising in the valley of death? Was it then, or later, now, or the future? The edges were arbitrary, the beginnings and endings likewise. But as I watched, this was the shit I remembered.

In 1929 W.B. Seabrook wrote about voodoo cults and resurrected slaves in a novel called The Magic Island. It made sense that Haiti, whose population had recently thrown off their shackles, would have plantation slaves for their monsters. White Zombie

In 1932, Victor Halperin’s White Zombie took it to the white Europeans. The island lust of Murder Legendre, played by Bela Lugosi, put a white virgin’s virtue at risk.

But these were early, proto-forms. There was no blood yet, not like there was on the Fort Hammer plaza. My eyes singled out a male teen, all buff and dressed to shock with Mohawk, tattoos and piercings. He ran half-heartedly, grabbing at the side of his head where his ear had been once. Red liquid dripped between his fingers. Eventually, he slowed and then, simply stopped.

In 1943 Jacques Tournier’s I Walked With a Zombie gave us a dead-eyed scarecrow. It was more a symbol. No savagery, just foreboding. It was Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend in 1954 that took it up a notch. The book was sort of about vampires, but they were so much like zombies that the 1964 Italian film version with Vincent Price, The Last Man on Earth, became the prime inspiration for George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.

1968, the zombie had arrived. Romero was the first, really, if you don’t count Ezekiel and all the others. What took so long? Well, in those days, the dead moved slowly.

On the plaza, groups formed and collapsed like cauldron bubbles. I watched two families band together. The mothers carried the little ones, forcing the older children ahead. Weirdly, the fathers carried doors, using them as shields. Two danglers and a gleet banged at them. They even tried the knob.

Romero made it biblical again. Cannibal corpses, old friends and lovers among them, children chewing on parents. The condition spreading like plague, and no one knew why or who to shoot. His sequel, Dawn of the Dead, used the same idea, but more directly as social critique, played out in comic-book colors so gaudy you had to get the joke.

I hoped the family made it. Something should survive, and it didn’t look good for anyone else. The elegant swarms had surrounded the LBs, and as they squeezed in, began to lose their pretty shape. Together now, ferals and livebloods pushed and pulled en mass, so many, so close together, they could barely move. Limbs tangled, the center of the blob tumbled, all together, all at once, like football teams in a joint tackle.

Romero, what could you say? A horde of lesser efforts followed, Fulci’s Zombi 2 notable for an underwater battle between zombie and shark. Then decades passed. 28 Days Later brought some class back to the movies. That was more about plague than the dead, but close enough, and its monsters were fast. The Dawn of the Dead remake followed suit. The books and comics got better – Monster Island by David Wellington, The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and later Charlie Adlard (now on TV!). By then people played video games like Rebel Without A Pulse and Left4Dead, shooting and being shot, eating and being eaten. The great democracy of mass media.

The mob in the plaza had formed a single creature, like one of Colby Green’s orgies, many limbs, many mouths, some screaming, some chewing. Stray Livebloods and ferals tried to pull the bodies free, but for different reasons.

The cop with the flamethrower stood at the edge of the mass and stared, unsure what to do. He tried to help, used his free hand to grab a hand and yank, but when a feral came free, a chunk of dripping meat in its mouth, he’d had enough. He let loose with the thrower, turning it on the writhing pile. Before the cop could barbecue the lot, a liveblood clonked him with a crowbar, then dived into the smoldering mess, screaming that he had to find his girlfriend.

I’d like to say all the books and movies fade against the reality, but maybe it’s the reality that fades. After all, who could forget the surprise hit, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? This is the shit that gives us shape, that let’s us understand the world, even build it from scratch. Shakespeare told us. We are such stuff as nightmares are made on, and our little life is rounded with a scream.

The plaza had reached critical mass. The blob broke and scattered. Bodies, some moving, spilled across the street, then onto the long black hospital entrance ramp that had kept the scene arms distant. The tide was coming in.