Month: January 2017

Savage Pen of Ernie: Volume 20 or Imhotep and Conan go on a Road Trip

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Those few of you reading my musings, may have noticed by now that rather than do a typical review of something I have read I tend to ramble about some observation I have made or some thought that the work in question has provoked.

Here, my first thoughts are: John Buscema (artist) and Ernie Chan (inker) are an amazing team! Honestly, even without Roy Thomas’s text, these massive volumes would be worth buying if just to drool over the incredible artwork contained within.

Buscema is a master anatomist with a loose and flowing style. He captures action and pins it to the page, but his illustrations look as though they might wrench free and leap off the page at any moment. Even in repose, the characters look like they are about to burst into action. When he inked his own work, I found it a bit loose and lacking in detail.

However, Ernie Chan’s inks were incredibly detailed, and I find their combined efforts spell-binding.

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Nor was the inker, ER Cruz a slouch, either. Below is a sample page from an adaption of Conan and the Spider God by L. Sprague DeCamp.

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Moving past the most excellent artwork, and I should mention that this volume also contains work by the very talented Rafael Kayanan, I next pondered how the first cycle of stories contains a team-up, a road trip of sorts, of Conan and a demon known as Imhotep the Slayer, who likes to run around with a scythe.

Now, everyone will have their own perceptions of what is Howardian and what is not, but in my estimation Howard (the original author of the Conan stories), even if he had lived another fifty years, probably wouldn’t have written a story where Conan teamed up with a demon and went on a road trip across Hyboria.

I could be wrong, but it just doesn’t fit into my perception of a Howardian Conan story. Roy Thomas, who writes this series of tales and, it should be noted, is my favorite comic book author when it comes to Conan tales, justifies this team up by promoting the idea that Conan needs Imhotep’s help in order to free his crew of buccaneers and so in exchange Conan agrees to help Imhotep defeat the Black Circle–an organization of wizards residing in the dank depths of Stygia.

In my estimation, Conan might have found some other way to free his buccaneers, but Thomas does his best to sell it, and even he has Conan’s old acquaintance, Zula, bring up the fact that this behavior seems out of Conan’s character.

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Now, having registered my objections, I must say that it was helpful for me to view this as some sort of alternate world Conan. Once I did this, I had no problems enjoying this series of tales and being amused by the inherently funny idea of a Conan and Imhotep team-up. Plus, did I mention the mind-blowing artwork?

-Joel Jenkins
Author of Weird Action and Adventure Fiction

 

 

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Places of Denbrook: Murdock Wind

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Here the concentration of houses in the southern suburbs of Denbrook thins to larger lots and houses at the end of long dirt drives and hidden behind ancient stands of trees. Originally this area was called  Murder Wind—this because of seven corpses discovered in 1742 by a farmer, in a copse of trees near the edge of his property. The Wind portion of the street name is less sinister, so named because of the way the road winds through the hills.

In 1953 the street name was subtly changed by a developer who thought it might be more difficult to sell houses on a street named Murder than a street named Murdock. They showed up one day and without fanfare replaced the signs, hoping that no one would notice or that no one would care. There were a few complaints by long-time residents who were perversely proud of the streets strange heritage, but the developer was a contributor to the mayor’s reelection fund so nothing came of it.

Those who frequently use Murdock road report seeing spectral figures standing at the roadside or gliding across the street, usually in early morning or late at night. Skeptics point to the peculiar geography that includes some warm artesian springs and a breeze that pushes off the Hopkins River and up through the hills so that clouds of mist can be seen scudding over and through the hills. These skeptics suggest that these sightings of strange apparitions are most likely mist formations.

 

Dark Knight 3: The Master Race

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Though Frank Miller famously had Superman and Batman squaring off against each other, it’s nice to see them back on friendly terms and fighting the good fight together … against an implacable and overwhelmingly superior enemy, no less.

The first half dozen issues of Dark Knight 3 have come across a bit disjointed. This is an alternate universe and events are not quite the same as those of the universe most readers are familiar with and so it takes the average reader some time to gain their footing.

This isn’t helped by the fact that while simultaneously changing up the status quo, Miller depends upon the reader’s familiarity with Superman and Batman lore. For example:

SPOILER ALERT!!!!!

SPOILER ALERT!!!!!

In issue six of Dark Knight 3, Batman is slain. Issue seven commences with Superman rushing Bruce Wayne’s lifeless body to a pool somewhere, where he dunks him, and then Bruce Wayne miraculously lurches out, resurrected!

In the back of my mind, I recall that Batman had an enemy named Ra’s al Ghul (and I had to look up the spelling for that) who gained immortality via some sort of mystical pool called the Lazarus Pit.

Is this the same pit that Superman uses to save Batman’s life. I think so … but I’m not sure, and no explanation is given in the pages of Dark Knight 3 issue 7. Frank Miller leaves a lot of space for the reader to fill in the gaps. And, from a writer’s point of view, I wouldn’t suddenly introduce a mystical pool capable of resurrecting people only at the time when a hero needs it. The background for this mystical pool should have been laid long ago at the beginning of the story … otherwise, it seems to the reader that the author is cheating.

Frank Miller, it seems, is depending upon readers to be familiar with the works of previous Batman authors so that it doesn’t appear he is cheating by introducing a heretofore unmentioned miraculous cure.

As for art, Andy Kubert fills in, doing a marvelous impression of Frank Miller. It seems that Andy Kubert is like the Josh Reynolds of the art world. Josh Reynolds is capable of transforming his writing style to match the genre requirements and Andy Kubert is capable of matching art styles. If I remember correctly, I recall him also doing some X-men work in the style of Jim Lee.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have the legendary Klaus Janson inking your work.

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In contrast to the high-quality covers and paper that are used for the majority of these publications, each issue contains an interior, detachable mini-comic illustrated by Miller, which are made with cheaper cover stock. These contain stories which relate in some way to the central story, but it is not always clear how until somewhat later.

-Joel Jenkins
Author of Weird Adventure Fiction

Places of Denbrook: Eldredge Trestle

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This bridge on the southern edge of Denbrook, was originally built in 1804 and repaired numerous times since then. It spans the Crooked Water Creek—a tributary of the Hopkins River, which runs between three and six feet deep. During the winter the trestle becomes icy and more than a few vehicles have crashed through the side rails and a number have died in the chill river, unable to extricate themselves from their vehicles in time.

The architect of the bridge, Furnier Eldredge, is said to have hanged himself from his own creation after his wife took their six children and left him. Despite this early and unfortunate demise, his name and creation have persisted. There are a number of prominent architects both historic and current, who bear the Eldredge name and said to be his descendants, and many have buildings standing in Denbrook to attest to their skills and creativity.

More recently, bullet casings were discovered scattered across the bridge along with a pair of immolated bodies, which police were never able to identify.

 

To Hulk or Not to Hulk

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Author Mariko Tamaki has decided to try a new tack with the She-Hulk and instead of making her a fun-loving powerhouse, she is apparently suffering from sort of post-traumatic stress disorder from her battle with Thanos in which she was knocked into a coma. Also, she is suffering sorrow because her cousin, Bruce Banner, has been murdered by Hawkeye.  All this is explained in the handy preface and hinted at throughout the comic.

This might be an interesting way to add some depth to She-Hulk’s/Jennifer Walters character, but not much happens in this first issue. We barely get to see a glimpse of a She-Hulk, which Jennifer Walters restrains–causing the reader to wonder if her newfound anger has caused her Hulk alter ego to be uncontrollable like that of Bruce Banner.

In this first issue, we find Jennifer Walters moping around her apartment and giving herself pep talks as she braces herself for going back to work in a law firm. She goes to work, takes on a case of a possibly schizophrenic and hoarder client (who appears to have some sort of inhuman mutation) whose landlord wants her evicted. Walters goes home, prevents herself from changing into the She-Hulk in the elevator, and talks to herself some more in the apartment.

In today’s comic book environment, stories are often told at a more leisurely, decompressed pace which is conducive to trade paperback collections. Though the Nico Leon art is good, this single issue wasn’t particularly compelling. Perhaps the sum will be greater than its parts, however, so I will give it a couple more issues to grab my interest.

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-Joel Jenkins
Author of Weird Adventure Fiction

Listen to Occult Detectives

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Occult investigators are often shady sort of people with sketchy pasts–often scorned and shunned by society … unless there’s some sort of supernatural activity that’s been causing an annoyance or perhaps worse. Then, all of a sudden, occult investigators are in high demand and in short supply.

This collection of really cool stories (and I say that in the most biased way, since I have a Lone Crow story/novella* which appears between the covers) has been in print for a bit over two years (originally published in Dec of 2014).

I just got news today that Occult Investigators is now in audio format. So, for those of you who have a little more time to listen than to read, do swing over to Audible.com and pick up a copy.

*Lone Crow teams up with Mormon gunman Porter Rockwell to retrieve some embezzled tithing and they find more than they bargained for … a case of demonic possession.

One Last Book for the Year

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Alexandre Dumas is a literary genius, and this book is a confirmation of that. It was serialized in 1844 and 1845 and there is a reason it took so long to serialize–mainly because the book is humongous.

I’m pretty sure I read this book about three decades ago, but in finishing the book again, just before the death knell of 2016, I am also convinced that I must have read the expurgated and abridged version.

Dumas is a very capable writer (that’s an understatement) and he carries much of his story along with dialogue that evokes the gamut of emotions from sorrow, rage, to laugh out loud hilarity–such as when one Frenchmen, tongue in cheek, accuses a six-year-old boy of being the mass poisoner who has killed four relations in the Villefort household.

This story takes place in the post Napoleonic era, which was still fairly fresh history when Dumas wrote it, and Dumas makes this backdrop an integral part of the plot. In fact, this history was so recent that Alexandre Dumas’ father was a general who served in Napoleon’s armies–which was an astounding thing for the son of a slave. And while I’m thinking of it, there’s a nonfiction book called The Black Count which relates the story of Alex Dumas and draws some parallels between the life of Alex Dumas and the fiction of The Count of Monte Cristo.

The subtitle of the Black Count makes a big deal about revealing the truth behind the Count of Monte Cristo, but that is just a small speculative portion of the book, which stands on its own even without such fanciful meditations.

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