Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Charnel God Redux:

The entire time I was re-reading Clark Ashton Smith's The Charnel God, I kept thinking, "I bet Robert E. Howard liked this one."
A little research proves that true. On page 197 of Volume 3 of The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard, REH writes to CAS of the Charnel God:

"That story is really a tremendously powerful thing, sinister figures moving mysteriously against a black background of subtle horror. I don't know when I've read anything I admired more."
Fall has finally arrived. 55 degrees Fahrenheit out there this morning with lows in the 40s expected by the weekend. Now, the restlessness I always feel in Autumn is upon me. It had been sniffing around like an old hound dog, waiting for the first leaves to fall, but now it's here, scattering my thoughts and making me think of far horizons.

The Charnel God

In a comment for my post about The Hand of Nergal, my pal Al Harron, proprietor of the awesome Blog that Time Forgot and an REH scholar not to be trifled with, mentioned the Clark Ashton Smith story, The Charnel God. I had a vague memory of the story but it had been years since I read it, so I dug into my CAS volumes and found it and sat right down to read it. It's great, and it certainly fits into my pre-Halloween reading of creepy stories. The set up comes in the first few paragraphs. Under the editorship of Farnsworth Wright at Weird Tales, Smith had learned how to write for the pulps.

"Mordiggian is the god of Zul-Bha-Sair," said the innkeeper with unctuous solemnity. "He has been the god from years that are lost to man's memory in shadow deeper than the subterranes of his black temple. There is no other god in Zul-Bha-Sair. And all who die within the walls of the city are sacred to Mordiggian. Even the kings and the optimates, at death, are delivered into the hands of his muffled priests. It is the law and the custom. A little while, and the priests will come for your bride."
"But Elaith is not dead," protested the youth Phariom for the third or fourth time, in piteous desperation. "Her malady is one that assumes the lying likeness of death. Twice before has she lain insensible, with a pallor upon her cheeks and a stillness in her very blood, that could hardly be distinguished from those of the tomb; and twice she has awakened after an interim of days."
The innkeeper peered with an air of ponderous unbelief at the girl who lay white and motionless as a mown lily on the bed in the poorly furnished attic chamber.
"In that case you should not have brought her into Zul-Bha-Sair," he averred in a tone of owlish irony. "The physician has pronounced her dead; and her death has been reported to the priests. She must go to the temple of Mordiggian."

The city of Zul-Bha-Sair has no cemeteries, no tombs or mausoleums, because the god of the city literally devours all who die. Commoner or King, all are the food for the god. The weird Priests of Mordiggian arrive soon to take the girl, who apparently suffers seizures that make her appear to be dead, and though young Phariom resists, the priests seem stronger and faster than human beings should be, and they easily pummel him into semi-consciousness. When he regains his senses, the priests and his wife are gone. Now the real horror begins as Phariom must brave the temple of Mordiggian before the Charnel god can devour his wife or before she wakes and is driven to madness by finding herself among the decaying corpses in the temple. (Apparently Mordiggian often likes his meals somewhat ripe.)
While generating quite a feeling of horror and dread, The Charnel God is actually one of Clark Ashton Smith's more straightforward stories. His usually Byzantine prose seems more restrained here, and the plot moves along at a faster pace than a lot of his work. I've said before that I don't consider Klarkashton (as H. P. Lovecraft called him) to be a sword & sorcery writer, but The Charnel God comes close to an S&S story. In fact I'm a little surprised that Roy Thomas never adapted the tale into an issue of Conan the Barbarian or Savage Sword. Toward the end of the run of both comics, Thomas was occasionally adapting stories by CAS, C.L. Moore, Clifford Ball, and others.
It wouldn't have taken a lot to drop Conan into this one. Make Phariom a former comrade of Conan, like the young warrior in Drums of Tombalku, and have him run into Conan while on his way to the temple and off you go.
Anyway, The Charnel God is great October reading, as is much of the work of Clark Ashton Smith. Presumably, the fifth and final volume of Nightshade Books' Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith will be out in November. Can't recommend the entire series enough. The Charnel God is in volume four which is availble now, but it's been reprinted before and it's also available online at the link provided below.

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/short-stories/22/the-charnel-god

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

NOT The Hand of Nergal

The late crime writer John. D. MacDonald used to tell a story that every summer he would get his grill out and burn all his unfinished manuscripts. I don't know if that's true or not, but then again I haven't seen any "new" John D. MacDonald stories since his death. If Robert E. Howard had had any idea what sort of fuss his unfinished and unpublished manuscripts would cause, he might have followed MacDonald's lead.
Anyway, like most REH fans, I'm glad Howard didn't visit the grill because I find his fragments fascinating. Two in particular. One is the Solomon Kane fragment 'Death's Black Riders' and the other is the Conan fragment that has come to be known as 'The Hand of Nergal." The Conan fragment contains no mention of Nergal, a Mesopotamian deity, and as near as I can figure, the only reason anyone calls this fragment by that title is that Lin Carter "finished" the fragment and gave his story the title The Hand of Nergal. In the current Del Rey Conan collections, the fragment is simply called untitled fragment.
The story begins on a battlefield where a wounded Conan (We assume it's Conan, though his name isn't actually used. The character is called 'the Cimmerian' through the short first chapter but the physical description is certainly Conan.) is wandering around among the corpses, checking for any that haven't been looted. Always the opportunist, our Conan. His attention is drawn by a moaning voice coming from some high reeds near a river. Investigating he finds a young girl who appears to be seriously wounded. The Cimmerian considers killing her to put her out of her misery but decides to try and help her instead. End chapter one.
In chapter two we get to the part that I find most interesting. The city of Yaralet is being haunted by some unseen terrors that stalk the night streets. Howard describes them thus:

"In the City of Yaralet, when night came on, the people barred windows and bolted doors, and sat behind their barriers shuddering, with candles burning before their household gods until dawn etched the minarets. No watchmen walked the streets, no painted wenches beckoned from the shadows, no thieves stole nimbly through the winding alleys. Rogues, like honest people, shunned the shadowed ways, gathering in foul-smelling dens, or candle-lighted taverns. From dusk to dawn Yaralet was a city of silence, her streets empty and desolate.
Exactly what they feared, the people did not know. But they had ample evidence that it was no empty dream they bolted their doors against. Men whispered of slinking shadows, glimpsed from barred windows - of hurrying shapes alien to humanity and sanity. They told of doorways splintering in the night, and the cries and shrieks of humans followed by significant silence; and they told of the rising sun etching broken doors that swung in empty houses, whose occupants were seen no more.
Even stranger, they told of the swift rumble of phantom chariot-wheels along the empty streets in the darkness before dawn, when those who heard dared not look forth. one child looked forth, once, but he was instantly stricken mad and died screaming and frothing, without telling what he saw when he peered from his darkened window."

Darn spooky, eh? Artist/Writer Timothy Truman, in his afterward to the collected Dark Horse adaptation/expansion of The Hand of Nergal, speculated that perhaps REH was considering writing a true horror yarn with Conan. Not that many of the Conan stories aren't horror stories to some extent, but yeah, this one sounded particularly creepy.
Truman did a nice job of turning the fragment into a story arc for the Darkhorse Conan comic, pulling in more elements of Mesopotamian mythology as well as some Lovecraftian touches. His solution to what was creeping around the dark streets of Yaralet could certainly have sent a child into a seizure.
Lin Carter, on the other hand, dropped the ball pretty badly when he took a swing at the fragment, ignoring almost all of the hints contained in Howard's fragment and substituting his own ideas. Now keep in mind, I'm a fan of Lin Carter, not one of his detractors, but even I can't really defend Lin on this one. He apparently had his own story to tell and just shoehorned the fragment into it instead of extrapolating from what Howard provided. As a side note, this is, I think, the only story from the Lancer/Ace pastiches that is credited to Carter and Howard with no involvement from L. Sprague de Camp.
It's still fun to wonder what Howard had in mind for the night horrors of Yaralet. Truman combined the 'hurrying shapes alien to humanity' with the splintering doors and the phantom chariot-wheels in his adaptation, but I always thought it interesting that Howard had separated the two. The shapes slithered through the streets at night but only shortly before dawn was the rumble of phantom chariot-wheels heard. And the term "phantom chariot-wheels' makes me wonder if perhaps REH was considering something more ghostly than his adapters came up with. Still, I suppose that is the fun of fragments, speculating and wondering what might have been.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Hits Keep Coming

Wow, I've posted a lot in September. This month has been more like the early days of the blog when I was very prolific. The primary reason for the flurry of activity is the release of a lot of books, I think. I've had a lot to talk about. And it's not over yet. This week should bring the release of a biography/study of Bill Everett, the creator of the Submariner, much in the vein of the Mort Meskin book I reviewed a few posts ago. I also haven't taken the time to talk about the new Art of Neal Adams hardback. I'll try to get to that soon. I was joking with Cliff that the publishers of books about comic books were trying to break me here at the end of the year. In one week alone I got the Simon and Kirby Superheroes, Conan: The Newspaper Strip Volume One, Mighty Samson Archives Volume One, and Sword's Edge, a book of paintings by Sanjulian, inspired by the works of Robert E. Howard. That same week I passed up a new collection of Al Williamson's Secret Agent X-9, mostly because I'm running out of room on my bookshelves again and I need to be a bit more picky. The following week, the Mort Meskin book hit the shelves. Last week it was the Neal Adams book.
The first Doctor Spektor volume will be available this week in Comic Shops (But not at Bookstores until Oct 12) along with the Bill Everett book, so I have at least two hardbacks to buy. I may still be short on novels, but the non-fiction is coming fast and furious. Good thing I've been working all this overtime...

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Nice Surprise


Last autumn I was reading the horror stories of the late Joseph Payne Brennan and I also read a couple of his mystery short stories featuring psychic sleuth, Lucius Leffing. I'd been meaning to order a copy of the only "new' Leffing book available at Amazon, The Adventures of Lucius Leffing for some time but I didn't get around to it until last week. Amazon had it listed as 'In Stock' and sure enough I got the book on Thursday.
Now here's where things get a bit weird. I didn't realize that the book had originally come out in 1990, so though Amazon still had a shrink wrapped 'new' copy, the book was actually two decades old. I also didn't realize it was a Donald Grant book. Grant, of course, put out some of the nicest limited edition volumes ever of many of Robert E. Howard's books. But wait, it gets better. I also didn't know that The Adventures of Lucius Leffing was a limited first edition of 1000 signed copies. When I got it out of the shrink wrap I found that it had Brennan's signature in it. Very cool.
I went back to Amazon today to see if they had any more copies and now its status has been changed to 'Usually Ships in 1 to 2 months.' So I guess I got the only copy in stock. A couple of after market sellers are still listing new copies so there are some out there, but I guess I just got lucky when I got my copy. A nice surprise.

The Woman Who Left


Volume three of Dark Horse Comics' The Chronicles of Kull came out this week, continuing the trade paperback reprints of the Marvel Comics version of Robert E. Howard's Kull. This one picks up with Kull the Destroyer issue # 21, the first issue written by Don Glut, creator of Doctor Spektor and more importantly for this post, of sword and sorcery hero Dagar the Invincible. I've talked about Dagar before in previous posts. He was Gold Key comics answer to the success of Marvel's Conan the Barbarian Comic and I always found his adventures well written and a lot of fun. Dagar is also part of one of the stranger crossovers in the history of comics.
In Mark Finn's introduction to Kull volume three Finn quotes Don Glut as saying:

"Roy (Thomas) pretty much left me to my own creative devices in writing the Kull stories for Marvel. At the same time I was also writing Dagar the invincible, a sword and sorcery character I created over at Gold Key. In fact, if you 'read between the lines' (or panels) you might notice something that more or less unofficially connects the two series in a 'shared universe' sense."

The thing that connects the two series is a woman named Graylin. Graylin first appears in Gold Key's Dagar the Invincible issue #3, where Dagar rescues her from vampires. She becomes his lover and companion, traveling with him until issue #15, where, heartsick and worn out by Dagar's lust for gold and his life of death and violence, she finally decides she must leave him.
Jump over to Marvel Comics Kull the Destroyer issue #22. Kull and his minstrel Ridondo are riding through a forest at night when they come across a group of robed men who are about to offer a young woman tied to a stake as some form of sacrifice. Kull rescues the woman, but when he asks her for her name she says she cannot remember. But what she does remember is that she had a lover, a warrior like Kull, whom she left because of his life of death and violence. You can see the dialog from Dagar 15 and Kull 21 in the comic panels I've provided above. So here we have a lovely brunette woman who leaves a barbarian at one comic book company and ends up with a barbarian at another comic book company.
These days, official comic book company crossovers are common. In 1976, that wasn't the case and it was rather daring of writer Glut to make his own unofficial crossover. I am proud to note that I actually caught it way back when because I was reading Dagar and Kull and I noticed when Glut began scripting Kull. I suspected that the woman who Kull would come to call Laralei, after a figure from legend, was actually Dagar's Graylin. I wouldn't get that confirmed for many years though until I began talking to Don Glut at an online forum.
Of course this shared universe thing brings up all kinds of fanboy speculation. By combining the two series was Glut saying that Dagar's adventures were happening during the same historical period and on the same world as Kull's? Or had Graylin somehow crossed from one dimension to another? And what had caused her to lose her memory? Glut also began to refer to the Dark Gods in Kull. The Dark Gods were sort of Glut's version of Lovecraft's Elder Gods and both Dagar and Doctor Adam Spektor would come into conflict with them. Plenty of room for speculation. Oh, one more thing. Sharp eyed fans of old horror movies might catch another kind of crossover if they look carefully at the cover of Kull the Destroyer issue #23. But I'll let you figure that one out for yourself. I can't tell you everything.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Spektor-cular


I'm starting to feel like Stan Lee here, shamelessly shilling all of these new books, but hey, I can't be a shill because I don't work for any of these people. I'm just enjoying all the cool new books that are becoming available and trying to keep everyone in the loop. So anyway, last Halloween I was waxing nostalgic about the Gold Key comic series The Occult Files of Doctor Spektor and how cool the painted covers were and about the great stories from Don Glut and the terrific artwork from Jesse Santos and now, just in time for this Halloween, Dark Horse Comics is publishing the first of three volumes collecting the entirety of Doctor Spektor. Even though I own all the comics I'll be picking these volumes up, because in addition to the full run of the series, the hardcover volumes will also feature every appearance of the good Doctor in any other comic books, no matter how small, plus some never before seen sketches and stuff provided by Don Glut himself. It will be nice to have this series on my bookshelves and I won't have to worry about the original comics anymore. So if you're looking for some great Halloween reading, pick up Volume One of the Doctor Spektor Archives, available October 12. Nuff said.

From Shadow to Light: The Life and Art of Mort Meskin


Back in the early 1970s, when I first began to seriously read and collect comic books, DC Comics, the publishers of Superman, were putting out what they called 100 page Super Spectaculars. These were, as the name implies, 100 page comic books and they were usually filled with reprints of comics from the long history of DC. If memory serves, the first Super Spec (as fans called them) that I purchased was one featuring Batman's early clashes with Two-Face from the 1940s. Most of the Super Specs spotlighted a particular hero; Batman, Superman, whomever.
But to fill out the rest of the 100 pages, DC editors would often reprint stories of old DC characters who were no longer appearing in current comics or even characters who had never appeared in a DC comic. (DC had bought up the rights to several defunct comic companies.) So you might get a story featuring Doll-Man or Kid Eternity or Wildcat or the Golden Age Green Lantern.
I loved these glimpse of old comics, and bought up all the Super Specs I could find. Later, when DC made an ill-advised move to make all their comics 100 pages (a move they reversed less than a year later) they would pull even more stuff from the reprint files. And as I read through all these various old stories I started noticing the art style and the byline of a man named Mort Meskin. I'm pretty sure it was a Johnny Quick story that first brought Meskin to my attention. Johnny Quick was another super speed character like the Flash, but Meskin had a unique approach to drawing Johnny's super stunts. Where flash was usually drawn as a single figure with speed lines feathered in behind him to suggest movement, Meskin would draw Johnny Quick as a group of figures working through a series of motions. It must have been a lot of work to draw six figures in a panel instead of one, but it did give the impression of Johnny Quick being fast enough to be everywhere at once.
So what was it about Meskin's style that attracted me? Several things. His figure work was dynamic, with the kind of loose limbed anatomy that Jack Kirby's early work had. His sense of composition was astounding. When he inked his own work, as he often did, his ink line was vigorous and stylish. I've always been impressed by artists who can get a lot of vitality into their brush work and Meskin had that ability in spades. He was just a very good artist. One thing that also caught my attention as a kid, I think, was that Meskin's heroes smiled a lot when they were in action. They seemed to be having a great time fighting crime and the good humor was infectious.
Once I learned to spot Meskin's style, I started finding it in characters as diverse as Wildcat, The Vigilante, and Starman. I even thought I saw it in a few Batman reprints and it later turned out that I was right as Meskin sometimes worked with Bob Kane "assistant", Jerry Robinson. (Apparently being Bob Kane's assistant often meant you drew everything and he signed it.)
Over the years I began to find examples of Meskin's work in comics from other publishers. Meskin drew The Black Terror and Fighting Yank for Nedor. He did some work at the studio of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby on Boys Ranch and Captain 3-D. He also did a ton of stuff that I was, until recently, unaware of.
My new knowledge came from the just published book From Shadow to Light: The Life and Art of Mort Meskin, a lavish illustrated history of Meskin and his work. There are examples of his artwork going all the way back to cartoons he did for his high school newspaper and going forward to his later years working on story boards for TV advertising and his work as a painter. In between you get pages and pages of Meskin's comic book work, some shot in high quality from rare original art. Aside from the art, I have to say that I found the text fascinating because even though I had admired Meskin's art for years, I knew next to nothing about Mort Meskin the person. He apparently had some fairly serious mental health issues over the years, making his life a series of high and low periods.
Since Meskin passed away in 1995, the biographical details come mostly as a series of interviews and quotes from friends, family, and fellow comics artists. Meskin's children remember him as a fond and doting, if somewhat unpredictable father. His fellow comics professionals have nothing but praise for his drawing skill and his work habits. This isn't a 'behind the scenes things were falling apart' high drama kind of biography, just the story of a talented and hard working man who had some problems. A must read for all students of the American comic book and a lot of fun for anyone who enjoys the comics medium.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Mark Bagley's Conan


Mark joined the gang for dinner last night and I got his okay to post the Conan illustration. Pretty sharp, eh? And the scan doesn't begin to do it justice.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I'm taking a vacation day today. Need a bit of a break. I officially declare this a be nice to me day. I plan to take me to lunch and to a bookstore or two and enjoy the fall weather and maybe watch a movie and to do nothing productive whatsoever.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Bargain Horrors

While browsing the bargain books section at Barnes & Noble yesterday, I came across a hardback anthology called The Screaming Skull and other Classic Horror Stories. I thumbed through the contents and found that it contained several stories that made it to my Book of Horrors lists and others that I've reviewed or raved about here, including Robert Chambers' The Yellow Sign, Algernon Blackwood's The Willows, and Perceval Landon's Thurnley Abbey.
Best of all, there are stories by classic horror authors that I haven't read yet. Folks like Guy de Maupassant, M.R. James, J. Sheridan Le Fanu, and E.F. Benson. There are also a bunch of stories by authors I'm not familiar with, so possibilities for new favorites and new stuff to track down. And it was only eight bucks! Needless to say, I snatched this one up.
The hardback edition is from Fall River Press but a quick Google search shows me that the book was originally published in paperback by TOR back in 1995. You can get the TOR book for a penny and postage from any number of aftermarket sellers at Amazon. Or you can just go browse the Bargain Books like I did. If a reader had The Screaming Skull and last year's Fall River volume, H.P. Lovecraft's Book of Horrors, he or she would have a great foundation for the history of the horror story. Worth thinking about as Halloween approaches.

P.S. I also noted that Barnes & Noble had remaindered copies of Rudyard Kipling's Tales of Horror and Fantasy. Another great deal.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Simon and Kirby Superheroes


It's taken me a couple of weeks to get around to reviewing The Simon and Kirby Superheroes, partly because my schedule has been hectic and partly because it took me that much time to work my way through this gigantic 480 page Omnibus of classic comic book work. You've heard me sing the praises of seminal comics artist Jack Kirby many times in the past and recently, thanks to last year's The Best of Simon and Kirby and to reprints of DC Comics' Sandman, Boy Commandos, and Newsboy Legion, I've been able to talk more about the long and impressive partnership of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.
The Simon and Kirby Superheroes gives readers a look at much of the super hero work that S&K did for companies other than the big two, Marvel and DC. There are heroes here that the more casual comics reader may not be familiar with, such as Stuntman and the Black Owl. There are examples of S&K's work for MLJ (later Archie Comics) such as The Fly and Private Strong. And there's pretty much the entirety of Fighting American, which began as a 1950s retake on Captain America but turned into more of a parody of the Superhero genre. Amazing Stuff.
Being a long time fan and collector of Kirby I already owned a lot of this material in other forms. Fighting American was collected a couple of decades back (though the reproduction in the new book is much better) and I own the originals of The Double Life of Private Strong, The Fly and Captain 3-D. I also had some of the Stuntman material. However there's stuff in The Simon and Kirby Superheroes that has never been reprinted anywhere before and even I didn't have some of the more obscure stories. Besides, having all of this in one place is too good a deal to miss.
The great thing about the book is the sheer amount of gorgeous Simon and Kirby art. Figures leap and stretch across the pages, often seeming to threaten to break free of the panel borders. Kirby's art hadn't reached the level of personal expression that it would later find in the 1960s but you can see that style developing, especially as you reach the second half of the book. And speaking of personal I noticed something in a couple of these stories that I hadn't seen before and that's how much some of Kirby's female characters resemble his wife Rosalind. People have noted how some of Kirby's heroes resembled Jack over the years but that's the first time I really caught his wife's features on a couple of characters.
From a technical standpoint this is a fantastic package. The publishers, Titan Books, went to the trouble to size the book at 11" by 7-1/2" so that the comic pages could be printed at their original size. They used high quality paper and the restored color is vivid. There's some stuff I wasn't expecting, since they included the Captain 3-D story that S&K didn't draw, this one penciled by Mort Meskin and inked by a young Steve Ditko. (I'll have much more to say about Meskin soon, having just read a biography/study of this often overlooked comics talent last night.)
Anyway, I've noted in previous posts that the sheer amount of Jack Kirby (and Simon and Kirby) material being reprinted has allowed me to dedicate an entire shelf on one of my bookshelves to Kirby and with the addition of this huge and wonderful collection it looks like that may soon spill over to a second shelf, especially since Titan Books has further titles planned, featuring S&K's work in other genres such as Horror and Romance comics. If you're a student of the history of comic books or if, like me, you just love comics, you'll definitely want to pick up The Simon and Kirby Superheroes.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Running Low II: What I'm waiting On.

I decided to check the release dates for novels I'm waiting on.

James Enge: The Wolf Age-Oct. 5th

F. Paul Wilson: Fatal Error-Oct. 12th

Andy Remic: Soul Stealers-Oct. 26th

(Say, next month is looking pretty good!)

Michael Moorcock: Doctor Who The Coming of the Terraphiles-Nov. 9th

Robert Crais: The Sentry-Jan. 11th

Joe Abercrombie: The Heroes-Feb. 7th

The Multiversal Archie


I was never a big reader of Archie Comics. Somehow, when I was a kid, the high school hijinks just didn't appeal to me. Oh sure, I thought Betty and Veronica (as portrayed by Dan Decarlo and Stan Goldberg) were cute, but my interests in comics ran pretty much to super heroes. The things I did enjoy from Archie tended to be the weird, almost parallel universe stuff. The kid versions of the Riverdale cast in Little Archie. Archie as super spy The Man from R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E. Archie as Superhero Pureheart the Powerful. Jughead as Time Police agent. Stuff that didn't fit into the regular continuity of the teenage adventures of Archie Andrews. Or did it?
The new Archie:The Married Life Magazine features two Parallel Universe stories in each issue. In one story, Archie is married to Betty Cooper and in the other he's married to Veronica Lodge. The magazine is a follow up to two very successful mini-series, Archie Marries Betty and Archie Marries Veronica. Both stories are set sometime in the future when Archie has graduated high school and both feature the future lives of the gang from Riverdale. Some elements are the same in both stories. Jughead is preparing to buy Pop's diner. Big Moose has anger management issues and has broken up with longtime girlfriend Midge. Other elements vary. Betty's Archie is trying to make it as a singer. Veronica's Archie has taken job with father in-law Mr. Lodge's company. In both universes, Mr. Lodge is something of a villain.
But the most interesting aspect of the first issue of the new magazine for me was the disappearance of Dilton Doiley. A newspaper headline in the Archie/Betty story announces that scientist Dilton (once the resident nerd at Riverdale High) has disappeared shortly after claiming that parallel universes exist. A full page collage shows Dilton in the middle of images of the various incarnations of Archie Andrews. Pureheart, Little Archie, The New Look Archie, and more. The implication seems to be that all these versions of Archie are valid in alternate realities. Pretty heady SF stuff for an Archie comic, eh?
Anyway, toward the end of the story, Archie ends up in an out of the way diner where he runs into the grown up version of 'Little Ambrose", a character who only appeared in the Little Archie comic and hasn't been a part of the Archie teenage continuity. A few panels later we see Professor Dilton Doiley is outside the diner, observing the meeting. So what's going on here? Are the various Archie universes merging? Is Dilton traveling between dimensions and is that why he vanished? I dunno, but I think it will be fun to find out. I'm glad that Cliff pointed this magazine out to me, because otherwise I'd have passed up on some fun comics reading.

Running Low

I'm running dangerously low on novels to read. Part of that, I think, is because my interests have narrowed somewhat in terms of fiction. I used to read mostly mysteries, but over the last few years I've lost a lot of enthusiasm for whodunits and now that Robert B. Parker has passed away, there isn't really another private eye author that I'm terribly interested in. In the fantasy field I'm still looking for harder edged, action oriented stuff. No friendly dragons need apply. I've actually had to turn to Historical Fiction for my sword fighting fix a lot in recent months. Not that I mind, really.
There's stuff in the pike. New F. Paul Wilson Repairman Jack book and new Robert Crais Joe Pike novel on the way. Joe Abercrombie has a new book out soon. The sequel to Kell's Legend should be available in the near future. Meanwhile I'm trying new authors left an right. Unfortunately Sturgeon's Law (95% of everything is crap) holds true it seems, so I have to wade through a lot of stuff to find the books I really enjoy.
Fortunately I have a lot of non-fiction and short stories and comics related stuff. And there are definitely books I want to re-read. I have things to read. But my supply of new novels is as low as I've seen it in some time. Makes me kind of nervous...

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Charles Rutledge's Book of Horrors II

Last year, about this time, I put together a table of contents for a non-existent anthology of short horror fiction. I had such a good time that I've decided to do so again, and I wanted to get it in before October so interested parties could track down any of these stories in time for the Halloween season. Just like last year I've tried to get a wide range of horror, past and present. I try to steer clear of labels like 'best', so these are some of my favorite horror stories, the ones that creeped me out and lingered in my mind after the lights were out. Feel free to send suggestions for your own favorites and if you haven't read some of these, give them a try. Once again, 13 is the unlucky number of stories for this collection of the macabre.


Manly Wade Wellman/ Where Angels Fear...

Elizabeth Gaskell/The Old Nurse's Story

Karl Edward Wagner/In the Pines

Robert E. Howard/ Pigeons From Hell

H.P. Lovecraft/ The Shadow Over Innsmouth

Joe Hill/Voluntary Commital

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle/The Captain of the Pole Star

Joseph Payne Brennan/Canavan's Back Yard

Arthur Machen/The Novel of the Black Seal

Stephen King/The Man in the Black Suit

Algernon Blackwood/The Willows

Clark Aston Smith/The Return of the Sorcerer

Bernard Capes/An Eddy on the Floor

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Subject Seven

Subject Seven is the first young adult novel from author James A. Moore. Moore is best known as a writer of horror fiction with books such as Deeper and Blood Red. His novel Serenity Falls was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel. He's also written for Marvel Comics, White Wolf, Cemetery Dance, and many other publishers.
Now Moore (Jim is actually a friend but I'm trying to keep this review distanced by treating him like any other author.) shows he can write a fast paced suspense novel with elements of science fiction aimed at the YA market. The titular Subject Seven is a genetically engineered boy with amazing capabilities. He's faster, stronger, and smarter than average humans. Seven's creators make the mistake of treating the boy like a lab specimen and he escapes from their underground compound, wreaking havoc and setting the book's main plot into motion.
I can't tell you much more about Seven because the slow reveal of exactly who and what he is is perhaps the most fun part of the book. Suffice to say that while Seven is unique, he isn't the only one of his kind. Things really heat up when Seven finds the rest of his "family".
I was sufficiently taken with the book to read two thirds of it at a sitting, when I had originally planned to just read the opening chapters. The plot moves quickly once things get going and just pulls you along. There's quite a bit of action and the violence level is fairly high, but I see that more in YA books these days, and Moore told me that even he was a bit surprised by what he was able to get into the book. The YA market has come a long way since the days when I was reading The Three Investigators books and the like.
One of the things that I particularly liked about the book is that the lines between heroes and villains are sometimes blurred. There were times when I didn't know who to be rooting for because the protagonist isn't always the nicest guy in the world, and sometimes you find yourself wondering if things might be safer if he were caught. But then it's also a lot of fun to see he and his friends cut loose against the people who are hunting them. That paradox is actually appropriate to one of the central themes of the book, come to think of it.
As I said, Subject Seven is a lot of fun. It's presumably the first book in a series, so I hope It does well. Not just because the author is a pal, but because I'm already ready for the next volume. According to Amazon the book will hit the stores in late January. Check it out.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Not Your Father's Sword & Planet


This is the "Cover' for my short story, Slavers of Trakor, appearing in a couple of months in the anthology Strange Worlds from Space Puppet Press. Each of the stories in the anthology gets its own cover. (The compiler/editor Jeff Doten is also the artist.) This is the first time somebody other than me has illustrated a scene from one of my stories and I think Jeff did a great job.
Slavers of Trakor is a modern spin on John Carter, featuring an Earth man on a distant world battling aliens and savage monsters. There's some martial arts stuff as you'd expect from me as well.
The book will be available as a printed book and an ebook, and each of the stories will be available as a separate ebook. Ah, technology. More details as the publication date gets closer. Check out more art here:

http://www.strangeworldsanthology.com/

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Kell's Legend


About a decade or so I was browsing in a bookstore and spotted a book cover featuring a big guy with an ax and that's how I discovered Druss the Legend and David Gemmell. Friday I was browsing at Barnes & Noble and I spotted a book cover featuring a big guy with an ax. The Book was called Kell's Legend. The author's name was Andy Remic. I'd never heard of him, but then again I'd never heard of David Gemmell on that fateful day in 1999, so I thought what the hell. Give the new guy a shot.
Turns out that the book is dedicated to David Gemmell and, at least in parts, reads a lot like one of Gemmell's books. In fact the hero, The eponymous Kell, is pretty much a Druss clone, an old, gray, soldier with a demon cursed ax. Kell calls people laddie (like Druss) and he is teamed with a foppish dandy who is actually a deadly swordsman and likes to refer to Kell as "old horse" a nickname that Druss's clotheshorse dandy sidekick, Sieben, favored for the burly Druss. So yeah, I think Remic was going for a Druss homage. I got no real problem with that since its all surface detail and as the book moves along you see pretty quickly that Kell is a very different character from the Silver Slayer.
Besides, if you want originality just wait until you meet the book's villains. Kell's Legend is subtitled 'Book One of the Clockwork Vampire Chronicles' and that's exactly what the bad guys are, partly human creatures with clockwork bionics, called the Vachine, who need a mixture of blood and oil to survive. This is a really creepy idea and Remic never backs away from the more gruesome aspects of his steampunk cyborgs. The chapter describing the origins of these creatures is particularly chilling. The mixture of heroic fantasy and weird horror really makes the book feel unique and different, banishing any worries about this being just a David Gemmell knock-off. Remic borrows a few of Gemmell's tropes but he takes them in his own direction.
One thing Remic does share with Gemmell is the ability to write a slam bang, tooth loosening, bone crunching fight scene and there are plenty of fights in Kell's Legend. Since I'm always looking for more action oriented fantasy, this one made my day. I read about half the book in a sitting and then the second half in one more. That's always a good sign. The sequel, Soul Stealers comes out this month in the UK and next month here in the US. I can't wait. I will note that this might not be a good fantasy for younger readers as the violence is pretty over the top and the language, while not quite in Joe Abercrombie's league, is somewhat rough. Otherwise, highly recommended.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Conan the Unexpected

Got a major surprise when I got to the comic book store tonight. My pal, comic book artist Mark Bagley (Ultimate Spiderman, Trinity, Justice League) had left a present for me, a huge pencil illustration of Conan. I called to thank him and he said he had just been in the mood to draw something fun over the weekend so he did this very detailed drawing of Conan and then thought, "What am I going to do with this? I know, I'll give it to Charles." And he did. I didn't think to ask Mark if I could post the drawing on the blog, but I'll check with him soon. It's truly awesome.