For the past few weeks (by which I mean a month) I've been working my way through the PS3 game Marvel Lego Super Heroes, which has been a whole lot of fun. The problem is, having now finished the game, I keep wanting to play just a little more and collect just a few more playable characters - yesterday I unlocked Ghost Rider and this morning I'm on the way to unlocking Blade (who you get to race in a pizza cart!), and although the game is really simple to play, I keep wondering - should I quit before I realize that somehow, somewhere in this game I can potentially unlock The Punisher? Aw darn it. ...I think I may have a problem.
Hi Everyone, Just wanted to wish a quick Merry Christmas to everyone from your old pal Bookmonkey. Christmas here was a pretty great affair as we followed our usual traditions and had some pretty great surprises to boot. Here's hoping you all has a great a Christmas as I did. Bookmonkey
Over the last few weeks I've received some very lovely early Christmas gifts from friends and wanted to brag about them a little. First off, my friend Ron got the me the 2013 documentary film, Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th on Blu-Ray - which clocks in at just under SEVEN HOURS in length and is an in-depth, film-by-film look at the Friday the 13th series from part one straight through to the recent reboot. Created by the same people who did the Nightmare on Elm Street documentary Never Sleep Again, the film is a really interesting look at not only the a making of each film, but also who they were received by both fans and critics at the time, as well as a lot of behind the scene info I was completely unaware of - I'll admit it here - I used to think I was a pretty big fan of the series, but I have nothing on the people who put this film together. Next up my friends Mike and Trish got me both the film Insidious and the video game, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed - which I've only played a little of so far (I'm still unlocking characters in Lego Marvel Super Heroes) but so far I've got to play a stage as Darth Vader - which was pretty fan-freaking-tastic, and definitely has me interested in playing the rest of the game over the holidays. My friends are pretty awesome. Thanks everyone!
So here I am, a huge fan of the recent Hobbit films - I mean no, not quite as big a fan of them as I was of The Lord of the Rings, but definitely a big enough fan I would like to have them for my own collection (singing dwarves and all). The problem comes down to the whole extended edition/complete collection box set issue. When we first saw The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, back in 2001 I knew I wanted to own it on DVD; luckily enough, my wife had heard there would be an extended edition coming out so we might want to wait until it became available, in case it was better than the theatrical release (not necessarily better, but for long-time Tolkien fans like my family, a beloved edition). Fast forward a few years and after The Return of the King: Extended Edition, came out, there was an inevitable boxed set including all three films - so we sold off our copies of the first two films, and bought the boxed set (which sits very nicely on our shelves to this day). Now that the first Hobbit film has released its extended edition, the question gets a little more complicated - do we wait until all three extended Hobbit films come out on DVD to purchase them as a boxed set? Will there be an even bigger Hobbit/Lord of the Rings boxed set if we wait? Should we be getting it on Blu-Ray rather than DVD? It's pretty tricky, so for now we're waiting to see, and who knows, by the time the last film comes out all extended-like, maybe there'll be a new medium to purchase it on - micro-Blu-Rays or some kind of crystal?
Over the month of December this year, my family has been enjoying some of our fondest Christmas movies, first up was Elf, then came Love Actually, and last week was one of my personal favourites, Joe Dante’s 1984 film Gremlins. For those of you who have never seen the film – stop reading now, and go check it out (maybe make sure your kids are old enough to see it though, as Gremlins (along with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) was the reason for the creation of the PG-13 rating in the United States, although it isn’t as violent as some films, certain sequences are pretty darn terrifying).
Are you back? Great – let’s talk about this week’s genre character, that adorable little Mogwai, Gizmo.
In the film, the main character, Billy is given Gizmo as a pet by his father for Christmas. Gizmo may be one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen on screen – seriously, his facial expressions, movements and voice (performed by Howie Mandel) work together to make him incredibly engaging and sympathetic to the viewer. He’s spunky, heroic and genuinely loves his friend Billy.
In many ways the film is sort of a reverse of the standard “Boy and His Dog” story, as it works a little better as a “Pet and his Boy” story – Billy watches and reacts to a lot of what is happening, but Gizmo is one who (mild thirty-year-old spoiler) saves the day and spends the whole film concerned about what evils may come about due to the introduction of the Mogwai called Stripe.
The film is really fun, but kids should probably be out of elementary before they watch it as the scenes do tend to be a little more intense than expected. Otherwise, this is a pretty great Alternative Christmas film.
I've been seeing them since I started getting into horror fiction back in Junior High, while looking through the horror section at bookstore for the newest Stephen King or Clive Barker, they've always been patiently sitting on the shelf, knowing that at some point I would inevitably get around to trying them out. Well, today is that day (or yesterday, to be more precise). I've finally started reading Brian Lumley's horror series, Necroscope. I'll happily admit that a big part of what has kept me away but interested all these years is the bizarre cover art by George Underwood (see left), which shows both a skull with tendrils moving through it and a man lit in blue in the background with his eyes closed. As a kid, the cover images for the series (almost twenty titles), were both fascinating and horrifying, so much so that I could never quite give the series a chance, even while I was picking my way back and froth through some other pretty horrific stuff as the mood took me. Last year while on a used-bookstore trip with my BFF Mike I finally picked up the first book as a trade for some titles I was getting rid of, and it's sat on my "to be read" shelf ever since. Until yesterday when I decided to finally give the book a shot. So I'm now about 200 pages into the title and it's pretty great - the whole thing is a strange Cold War era battle between agencies in Britain and the USSR between psychics - kind of a proto-Nightwatch if you will, and follows two psychics with some pretty disturbing abilities as they make their way through life. Oh yeah and those skull tendrils on the cover the unnerved me so much as a kid? Yup, that's actually a pretty good representation of something one of the psychics in the book can do - Yikes!
I'm not finished book one yet, but so far it's a pretty fast and fun read, so there you go.
A few days before my wife and I went to see an advanced screening of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Thanks Tribute), I read the original James Thurber short story (published in 1939) and absolutely loved it. Honestly, if you’ve never checked out the short story before it is only six pages and is a delight to read.
On to the movie – first of all, it isn’t really a true retelling of the story, some characters have been changed (the original Walter is married) and the film, at just under two hours goes on much longer than the original story, which takes place over an afternoon shopping trip.
Secondly – I absolutely loved it.
First of all Ben Stiller is really great in this film. Over the years I’ve seen most of his film and television work (right back to his first appearance in an episode of Kate & Allie), and he fits into the character of Walter so completely he almost disappears. Walter begins the film as an incredibly quiet, soft-spoken man, drawing virtually no attention and living his life in his very active imagination. When forced by circumstance to step outside of his routine, however, we begin to see the vibrant person living inside, and I was shocked by how wonderfully Stiller shows this throughout the course of the film. The movie has a wonderful sense of humour and considering just how beautiful it is to look at and listen to (amazing soundtrack, by the way); it really comes off as a very personal character piece.
This may actually end up being one of my favourite films of the year, and I strongly recommend checking it out in theatres if you have the opportunity.
Over the last week I’ve been working my way through the PS3 game Beyond: Two Souls, wherein you play two characters, a girl named Jodie Holmes (played by Ellen Page) or an astral being named Aiden (pronounced Eye-den, and not having a physical form, isn’t played by anyone). The game follows the two characters over maybe fifteen years in a non-linear format; wherein the player can choose to play either Jodie or Aiden interchangeably. As I don’t think I’ve ever come across an astral being as a player character in a video game before, I thought it might be neat to look at Aiden as this week’s genre character.
Aiden is never (up to the point in the game I’m at) shown as a complete entity – from the player’s point of view he is a kind of purply-blue cloud of light with a tether attaching him to Jodie – when she is younger the tether is quite short (maybe 10 feet or so) but in the stages where she is an adult Aiden can travel quite far before he hits the end of his tether. When you hit the end of the tether the screen goes dark and the sound goes low, except for Jodie saying something like “Not so far Aiden – it hurts” or the like.
What I really like about the character is that you can play him any way you like – he is not just a manifestation of Jodie’s psychic abilities, he is a person all his own and has the opportunity to act for or against Jodie as he wishes, although most characters in the game assume Aiden’s actions are actually being done by Jodie. This makes for a really interesting dynamic in the game as you can decide scene-by-scene whether you want to be helpful, harmful, or indifferent to Jodie depending on mood (usually I picked helpful, but found I defended Jodie against those who have wronged her much more severely than I would have if I were playing a human character).
Although the game does have some limitations – it’s a narrative rather than a sandbox style game, so you are pretty limited to the plot and don’t have as much option to explore as you do in other games, the graphics and sound are pretty amazing. I can definitely see why they hired known actors for the various parts as the images are much more lifelike than in earlier games I’ve played.
So for the game is definitely worth trying out, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it ends.
So I was asked to take part in a panel interview today with a bunch of scholarship winners and we were doing the interview on Adobe Connect, which I am sure is a wonderful piece of software that when, used correctly does all sorts of amazing things.
For me however, the loading screen took about 10 minutes to load and then my connection was choppy at best. I was able to say a few things using the text chat window, but my audio connection really didn’t work at all.
The crazy thing is that I prepped my computer for this yesterday, making sure my software was up to date and that the system recognized me, and even popping onto the “meeting room” this morning to make sure my connection at work was doing fine.
In the end, I guess you just have to do the best you can with what you’ve got – and I hope I got my points across using the text window with the time I had.
At least I’ll now have more sympathy for future presenters suffering from technical difficulties – they can really throw you.
A couple weeks ago my 2008 iMac desktop computer probably died. The image went all crazy and then when I rebooted the computer I couldn't ever get past the grey loading screen. We took it in to a local Apple retailer (not The Apple Store - as the local ones are a bit of a trip for me) and although they weren't helpful in pretty much any other way, they did collect my data from my old computer and put it on an external hard drive I had purchased. So now I've attached my external hard drive to my lap top (which I'm on now) and am in the process of slowly, but surely gathering up all the various info I'd stored on my computer since 2008 (which includes all the info I'd stored and transferred from my 2004 computer) and am putting it together for easier access. Now I'm just trying to decide whether I'd like a new desktop computer or not - my laptop is doing me fine, but I'm still a little nervous going entirely mobile rather than stationary (I still have a land-line after all).
Being a father of two girls who can best be described as young adults (21 and 16) I’ve found my Dad skill set has had to change over the years. When they were very little, I had to put up with a lot of fidgeting, yelling, laughing and the occasional hospital trip, as they got older I had to worry about homework, making sure they did their chores and acted nice in front of company.
These days it’s more about letting them do their own thing, and being supportive where I can, which is why I recently found such a great comic book character, I wanted to share him with you – may I introduce this week’s genre character, Barr of Wreath, from the comic book series Saga, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples.
Barr is an armorer, and the father of Marko (one of the series leads), he first appears in the sixth issue of the series after coming to the aid of his son. It is here he meets Marko’s new wife, Alana, and his first grandchild, Hazel.
In the world of Saga, Marko and Alana’s people have been at war for centuries, and the two leads are army deserters who found love with each other and then skipped out on the war altogether. In the first issue Alana gives birth to their daughter Hazel (the series is narrated by an adult Hazel speaking in past tense), and the majority of the series focuses either on the new family on the run from both sides of the conflict, or on back story elements for the characters. When Barr and his wife Kiara first appear in the series (sorry for the mild 16-month old spoiler here) he accepts his new in-laws with a great sense of decency and immediately begins to work to better their lives, which in the end, is how I hope I’ll react to the future spouses of my kids (although it might be nice to meet them before I get any grandkids – hint hint!)
If you’ve never read Saga before, it is totally worth a look, as it is an excellent example of great Science Fiction and Fantasy.
Over the last few months my friend Ron has been introducing me to various Bollywood films (Filmed in Hindi, watched by me with English subtitles, lots of singing and dancing, etc.) and this weekend I saw the 1987 film Mr. India. Directed by Shekhar Kapur (who would later direct Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age), and starring Anil Kapoor (the game show host in Slumdog Millionaire) and Amrish Puri (who played Mola Ram in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) the film focuses on a young man named Arun (Anil Kapoor) who takes care of a young group of orphans and happens to live in a house that is desperately needed by the evil mastermind Mogambo (Amrish Puri) to enact his plans for world domination.
Most of the film involves Arun’s various plans to keep his home up and running, while the world seems bent on evicting him and the kids from their home. To offset costs he takes on a young woman as a boarder (played by Sridevi), and inevitably she falls for Arun and the children as well.
Also Arun happens to come into possession of a bracelet which has been scientifically modified to make the wearer invisible.
Upon his possession of the bracelet, Arun becomes Mr. India, an invisible superhero who fights for the common man in India. In fact this is where a lot of the fun of the film comes from as it plays on a common man versus basically a villain out of a James Bond film to save a delightful group of orphaned kids (also as the film was made in the mid-80s a couple of the kids break dance, which is AMAZING).
Although I was a fan of Amrish Puri in Temple of Doom (Cover your heart Indy!) Mola Ram has nothing on the Evil Mogambo, who rules his minions so well that they willingly diving into a pool of acid for him and also has the films best catch phrase (Mogambo Khush Hua! – literally Mogambo is pleased) which he uses regularly throughout the film.
The music is pretty great, and I loved the mix of superhero action and romance both in the main film and played out through the various musical numbers.
In the end, the best I can say is Bookmonkey Khush Hua!
Whew - I'm almost at the end. Although I still have one more class to attend on Tuesday, I've handed in all of my required assignments for this term which puts me seven eighths of the way through my Masters Degree. This is actually pretty cool as I've been working at this degree since I started the program back in the fall of 2011 and have been taking courses year-round since then. Also I got to do both of my "if only" courses in the program - meaning "if only I have the time and opportunity, I wish I could take these courses" being one focusing on Multimedia Literacies and one focusing on Comic Books and Graphic Novels in School and Public Libraries. Also it means I've got my last month off between courses, as the new ones don't start up until the beginning of January, so my plan now is to catch up on books, movies and games I've borrowed from friends and family.
Since last week I've started re-reading my collection of Bill Willingham's Fables to get myself caught back up as one of my other current comics, The Unwritten, has a pretty major crossover with Fables and I'm really looking forward to reading that when the trade comes out (July 2014). This week's character is also the star of the first major Fables spin-off, Jack (also known as Jack of Jack and Jill, Little Jack Horner, Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack the Giant Killer, etc. etc. etc.). Like the rest of the characters in the series, Jack was chased out of his own realm when an invading army arrived and has since moved to our world and taken up residence here. Like the Jack of various fairy tales, this Jack is not above bragging about his own exploits (in the spin-off series, Jack of Fables, he actually writes the final caption of each issue, usually explaining all of the amazing things he is planning to do in the next issue - which usually do not come to pass) and he may not be the brightest bulb in the room, but what Jack is, is a pretty amazing trickster - he can usually talk his way in or out of any scenario and although he doesn't always succeed at his various schemes, he does became a very loyal friend to those who stand by him (not that there are many of them) . If you've never read Fables, I would strongly recomend giving it a try, and Jack is one of the main reasons I love this strange world he inhabits so much.
Last week I managed to get the new PS3 video game Lego Marvel Super Heroesfrom my local library, and so far it's pretty fun! Although the game itself is pretty simple - run around, smash things up, make new lego things out of them and run around some more, the game has a pretty great sense of humour, and offers me something I've never seen in any of the great Marvel Cinematic Universe films that have come out over the past few years; the Marvel Universe. Yup, in this game Spider-Man can totally ignore the fact that he's owned by Columbia pictures and hang out with The Avengers (Disney), and even the X-Men (20th Century Fox) or any number of characters who haven't made it to the big screen yet. Which is totally amazing; for the first few levels you pretty much play the Avengers (Hulk and Iron Man in level one, Captain America in level two, and Hawkeye and Black Widow in level three), but throughout you get to play as Spider-Man and even Mr. Fantastic for a while. So far I'd say the game is pretty simple and aimed at young teens - most of the jokes are puns and the Lego theme keeps everything very family friendly, but as a guy in my late '30s, I'm still having a lot of fun playing the game and I get pretty excited every time a new playable character is added, because once you beat a level you can go back and do it again with any playable characters you have collected so far - and in the end the game includes dozens of characters (and yes Mike, that includes both She-Hulk and Squirrel Girl). The game is pretty fun, and I think a lot of it comes down to exploring the Lego New York setting and just seeing all the neat ways in which these characters interact. Definitely worth trying out.
One of my favourite parts of blogging has always been the fact that whenever I run out of stuff to talk about, I just have to scan through a few others blogs and I’m bound to find something neat to comment on.
Earlier today I was reading the blog “The Written Word” - which is itself a pretty fun read, sharing a lot of interests with my own tastes (I actually got there by looking up a good reading order for all of my Fables trades), so I thought I would both send a thanks to that blog for the list and then I found something pretty neat – a reading-themed A-Z survey – so here goes:
Author I've Read The Most Books From: Although friends may guess Stephen King or Neil Gaiman, it is actually Louis L’Amour – hands down. I’ve read all 89 of his novels, 14 story collections, 2 books of poetry and his autobiography. Man that guy could write!
Best Sequel Ever:The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three, by Stephen King
Currently Reading: Fables #4: March of the Wooden Soldiers, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Craig Hamilton, Steve Leialoha, and P. Craig Russell
Drink of Choice While Reading: Fresh Brewed Coffee, first thing in the morning.
E-Reader or Physical Book: Physical book, but to be fair I have almost no experience with E-Readers
Fictional Character You Probably Would Have Dated in High School: Carrie White – although to be honest I’d probably have run when I met her mother…
Glad You Gave This Book A Chance: Seventh Son by Orson Scott Card – I don’t care if it’s basically a fantasy retelling of the found of the Mormon Church – it’s pretty amazing
Hidden Gem Book: Brooklyn Dreams by J.M. DeMatteis, one of the funniest, honest looks at remembrance, childhood and the teen years I’ve ever come across.
Important Moment in Your Reading Life: Realizing a book could talk directly to me while reading The Monster at the End of This Book: Starring Lovable, Furry Old Grover by Jon Stone
Just Finished:Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living, by Nick Offerman
Kind of Books I Won't Read: None – unless my wife says it’s horrible.
Longest Book I've Read: Probably the Bible.
Major Book Hangover Because: If I’m reading older paperback where the font size gets so tiny I need to use a magnifying …..
Number of Bookcases I own: approximately ten – but that doesn’t count the boxes in the basement or garage, or the DVD shelves I use as convenient book storage.
One Book I have Read Multiple Times:American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Preferred Place to Read: Leaning against the kitchen counter in the morning and smelling coffee brewing.
Quote That Inspires You/Gives You All the Feels From a Book You've Read: “Once Upon a Time…”
Reading Regret: I wish I had read Catcher in the Rye when I was younger
Series You Started and Need To Finish (All the books are out in the series): Currently working my way through Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series – limiting myself to one title a month so I can enjoy them
Three of Your All-Time Favourite Books:The Talisman, by Stephen King and Peter Straub, The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Unapologetic Fanboy For: Nora Roberts Gallaghers of Ardmore Trilogy. Although Romance novels don’t tend to be my thing, I dare you to read these and not get swept away in these stories of destiny, love, and magic.
Very Excited For This Release More Than All The Others: Neil Gaiman’s upcoming sequel to American Gods
Worst Bookish Habit: Collecting series before I read them, not a great habit when you crack open book one and realize that it’s not really your cup of tea…
X Marks The Spot: Start at the Top Left of Your Shelf and pick the 27th Book: The Complete Tales & Poems of Winnie-The-Pooh, by A.A. Milne
Your Latest Book Purchase: The Walking Dead Volume 19: March to War, by Robert Kirkman ZZZ-Snatcher Book- Book That Kept You Up WAY Too Late: Ironically, Doctor Sleep by Stephen King.
Over the last few weeks I've worked my way through the five episodes that made up the 2012 video game, The Walking Dead. Unlike pretty much every other zombie game I've ever played, the 2012 game, created by TellTale Games focuses almost entirely on the interactions between people in a world based on Robert Kirkman's comic book series, The Walking Dead. In the game, you play a character, and this week's Genre Character, named Lee Everett (voiced by Dave Fennoy). It's tricky to say why I like the character of Lee so much, as the way he acts and reacts in the game was pretty much up to me - rather than focusing on how many zombies you can kill, the game changes the focus to how you (as Lee) deal with a number of other survivors and try to either get along with them, ignore them, or act horrible towards them. The first person you meet in the game (after the zombies take over) is a young girl named Clementine (voiced by Melissa Huchison), and together the characters travel across Georgia in an attempt to stay alive in a world overrun by the walking dead. For my first time through the game, I basically looked towards the kid and whatever she seemed to like was the way my character chose to act - it seemed like kind of a strange way to go through the game, but at the same time, I felt pretty good being honest to this kid throughout the horrible events of the game. If you've never tried a zombie game before, I would highly recommend it, and as very little of the game requires you to move with lightning speed, even newcomers to video games should be able to navigate their way through the game.
Although I've read a lot of manga over the years, the vast majority of it was either science fiction or fantasy based, so when I recently had to study a manga for my comic book course, I thought I would look for a good horror-themed manga. Although the title I found wasn't recent enough for the assignment, the concept sounded so interesting I thought I should give it a try anyway. Let me introduce you to Uzumaki, by Junji Ito. The series follows a young girl named Kirei who begins to believe her small town is slowly turning into something horrible. Her boyfriend Shuichi believes that the town is changing due to the insidious nature of spirals. For some strange reason people in the town begin to become fascinated with the shape and then… things… start to happen. I don't really want to get into any specifics, but let me put it simply - this 3-part collection really unnerved me - I've been enjoying horror stories for the last 30+ years, so believe me when I say, there is something truly unsettling about the story as you work your way through it. The artwork is great, the story is entrancing, and it is a great example of why I try to find new stories from around the world, rather than simply sticking to what I know best. Fair warning however, the imagery can get quite graphic and the concepts are very disturbing.
Last week I picked up a few new titles from my local comic book store and as I was shelving them at home I realized, I’m falling behind on Fables! Not in collecting it, mind you, but in reading the darn thing! When I first started collecting the title I would read each trade paperback collection as it came out, but for some reason or other (maybe Grad School, maybe a new job), I’ve fallen behind in the last few years and now have almost TEN collections I haven’t touched! To be fair, I’m including all three spin off series: Jack of Fables, Cinderella, and Fairest, in my total, but still, that puts me pretty far behind the current storylines.
The worst part is, I really like this series – I list it all the time as a personal favourite, I’ve read the tie-in novel Peter & Max and I got righteously indignant when Once Upon a Time first came out and stole all of Fables potential to become a television series in its own right. So now I’m about to revisit the first trade collection Fables #1: Legends in Exile for my current course on comic books and graphic novels in libraries, and I’m realizing I’m not as up-to-date a fan as I could be!
Luckily I do have a little bit of time between now and when I take an in depth look at the series for school, so step one is to figure out what order to read each of these titles in – as the various spin-off series also include crossovers, I want to make sure I’m not spoiling plot points for myself as I go along. So I make a quick stop at Trade Reading Order and then check out their list for Fables – even though the list isn’t quite up to date, it does get me 80% of the info I need, and once I register for the site myself I’ll see if I can bring it up to date.
So there you go, a little embarrassing, but at least I have a starting point for getting myself back on track.
For our anniversary last month, my wife and I spent the day running various errands and then got to take in a matinee of the film Gravity. For those unfamiliar with the premise, the story follows Dr. Ryan Stone (played amazingly by Sandra Bullock), on her first mission in space, when a freak occurrence leaves the doctor and another crew member stranded in Earth's orbit, with no obvious way home. Although the film has some of the most amazing effects I've ever seen, and the story kept us on the edge of our seats the whole way through (my wife described the film as delivering a terrifying mix of claustrophobia and agoraphobia at the same time), what really held the whole film together was the lead character, and our genre character of the week, Doctor Ryan Stone. Although the film is set in space, in many ways it is a pure survival story, like 127 Hours or Castaway, and as with both of those films, the power of the film definitely comes from the way the story connects you to the character. Although I'm very sure this film is going to be added to my home collection, I can't stress enough that this movie deserves to be seen in theatres, the movie works best as an immersive experience, and although I'm not generally a fan of 3D, it was pretty darn amazing.
All right, to be fair when it comes to this story, I'm pretty biased. Although the novel came out in 1985, I didn't get around reading it until the mid-90s and it sits pretty high on my list of favourite science fictions stories.
Yesterday I took my daughters out to see the new film, and I've got to say it was pretty great. For those unfamiliar with the original story, 1) go read the book, as fun as the movie was, the book a fantastic read, and 2) the story follows a child who is put through military training with other kids to prepare for a potential war with an alien race that has already attacked Earth in the past.
Although my favourite part of the book series comes after Ender's Game, the first story is a pretty amazing one and I'm glad my kids got to see it in theatres, as the visuals were pretty darn amazing.
So I've been sitting for about five minutes this morning installing the game data for Batman: Arkham Originsfor my Playstation 3 (which I just got from my local library by the way - I love epl) As the game takes its time to load up I'm wondering exactly how far I'll be able to get over the weekend. I've finished up much of my school work at a frantic pace specifically to be able to focus my weekend on this new game (and hopefully a movie) so now I'm simply waiting for the load to finish and get going on the new Batman Game. I sure hope the game is worth the wait - not the wait on the hold queue at the library, but this amazingly long time spent loading the game onto my machine. When I was younger and loading games on my old Mac or at friends houses watching games load up on the 386s, we could spend an afternoon watching a bar slowly move across a screen before we could start playing our Dungeons & Dragons or Civilization game. This is actually taking me back, and not necessarily in a good way. I'm now at 65% loaded… … … 67% …anyway, I think I'll head off to drop my daughter off at her party and hope the game is up and running when I get back. Batman!
The story follows a young girl (and our genre character of the week) Anya, a young Russian Immigrant living in the United States who is trying to make sense of school, her family and life, and then she falls into an abandoned well.
In the well she meets a ghost named Emily, who has been trapped in the well for decades and might be just the friend that Anya needs.
What I really loved about the book was just how relatable Anya is as a character, her life is very recognizable (and I'm saying this as a non-immigrant guy in his thirties) and you can't help but feel for her the whole way through the story as she works to better her life and help her new friend.
The artwork is also pretty incredible; it's straight-forward and does have a sort of Disney-esque feel, which in a coming of age story, fits very nicely.
If you haven't read the book yet, it is definitely worth a look.
The Shining was one of the first adult horror novels I ever read – coming before it were Carrie (I chose it because it was really short), Salem’s Lot (Vampires!), and Firestarter (because how can you beat a title like that?), but the more of these books I read the more I needed to read. I read The Shining for the first time in grade eight, and I’ve got to say, the book really stuck with me.
I don’t know if it was the idea of this creepy hotel, or the claustrophobic feel the whole novel quickly began to build, but at the time it really unnerved me, especially as the lead was a five-year-old boy with some telepathic powers (called The Shining in the novel), desperate to save his family from the horrors of The Overlook Hotel.
By the way, if you’ve never read The Shining, you should definitely pick it up. Although the 1980 film has a lot in common with the original novel, the book is much, much scarier.
So decades later and in my late 30s, I pick up Stephen King’s newest book, Doctor Sleep, which follows Dan Torrence, the now grown five-year-old from the original novel, and his involvement with a deranged family that hunt for other kids with The Shining – and not to help them out.
I really don’t want to give away plot points for the book (It’s been on shelves for a few weeks at the point I’m writing this post), but it is well worth the cost and not just to see how things worked out for Dan. The new villains in the book are some of the more terrifying I’ve come across in recent fiction – except for Charlie Manx from Joe Hill’s NOS4A2 (which also has connections with this book), and it was incredibly hard for me to put down when I needed to be working or visiting with friends and family.
Having just spent a month focusing entirely on one topic, Hack/Slash by Tim Seeley, I'm back to do the regular bloggity-blog stuff now! In some ways I view my theme months as vacations - even through I spent a lot of time focussed entirely on one topic, whether a comic, a YA vampire series, or a style of movie, what I also do is build up a backlog of posts to write in November. Last month I saw more than a few great Horror movies I hadn't seen before, read the new Stephen King novel Doctor Sleep, and finished the PS3 Game The Last of Us. So now, even though I've still going to have to write each of these posts, I've now got a whole bunch of raw material in my reserves, and all because I've spent my last month focusing elsewhere. Which is pretty great. So there you go - if you haven't tried a theme-month for your blog, it has all sorts of bonuses.
Having spent the last month reading and blogging about Hack/Slash, I thought I should finish by going back to the beginning. As a life-long fan of the horror genre, I’ve often wondered how best to handle these stories within the guidelines of library work. In school (Kindergarten through grade 12) horror stories are often limited due to graphic content, and as good horror “…allows the reader to feel the action and fear with all their five senses, and [comic books] use of illustration to help tell [the] story adds a new element to the appeal” (Spratford, 2012, p. 133) it is even easier to quickly pass judgment on a title and consider it inappropriate for young readers.
My first interaction with horror fiction, and not just YA fiction with scary bits in, was back in Junior High (middle school for my American readers) when I was sitting in the school library reading fantasy fiction and noticed another teen return a book called The Shining to the librarian, who immediately slipped it behind her desk. Gathering up the courage to talk to her, I was informed that although the school had a small collection of Horror novels, they were kept behind the library desk to ensure that they didn’t alarm uninterested students. Of course, finding out that my library had a secret library collection, and that it was deemed too dangerous for the average student, had me interested in seconds, and within a few months horror was the genre for me. Over the next few years I became a fan of the stories, plays, games and films of the genre, and yes, that included the Slasher film.
Looking at the mechanics of Hack/Slash, I loved the crossovers, involving Cassie and Vlad with characters from film, fiction and both print and web comics in a way that made sense and probably introduced a lot of new readers/viewers to the crossed over material. The series played with horror movie concepts ranging from horror movie logic, sequels, and trailers, and then moved on to questions of how a horror movie-themed world would really work and what regular people could and would do in incredibly tense situations.
What I love most about Hack/Slash is the honest love it has for the genre, and specifically the slasher sub-genre. Considering that slasher movies are often considered to be bottom-of-the-barrel films, this series treats its source material with great care, pointing out some errors yes, but working the whole way to increase the emotional connection the reader will have with Cassie, Vlad, and every other human character it introduces, and getting the reader to care about what happens to these characters, and in the end, what else do you want from any story?
The Geography of Hack/Slash Geography can play an interesting role in comics books. While the DC Universe has made a number of false cities in their world for their heroes to inhabit (i.e. Superman - Metropolis, Batman - Gotham City, Green Lantern - Coast City), Marvel Comics has decided to go almost the other way entirely and have their heroes inhabit a world virtually identical to ours, which a New York, Chicago, Lost Angeles, etc. (not to say they mirror the real world perfectly, as they include the dinosaur infested Savage Lands and Doctor Doom's beloved homeland of Latveria). In Tim Seeley's Hack/Slash virtually every issue begins with a descriptor of where in the world Cassie and Vlad are for the issue. Even the crossovers which travel into the worlds of other comic book characters like Images Bomb Queen or the Webcomic Halloween Man, ensure that Cassie and Vlad have a start point in a recognizable location (Manhattan, New York and San Antonio, Texas respectively). While I've spent the last month reading through the series, I decided to create a google map showing me where the majority of each issue's action took place and then (hopefully) be able to draw some conclusions. NOTE: In the linked map - which you can view directly at http://goo.gl/maps/aPGUC - I have not plotted each location as some of them take place in other worlds (Nef, an Intergalactic Women's Prison, etc), or even off of our own (the Trailers story ORBITuary, for example), also in some cases I've had to guess at the location due to its obvious connection to a horror movie/story already in existence. Also I've linked to any crossover titles or blog posts related to the covered issue if appropriate in the descriptions for each location. 1) Cassie and Vlad never visit my homeland (Canada) at least in any issues of the series; I suppose I can take this to either mean my country is relatively Slasher-free, or perhaps we need our own home-grown Killer of Killers to take care of our Northern problems. 2) Although there are a small number of events that happen in the western United States (and in the case of the Re-Animator crossover, some very important events) Cassie and Vlad stick to the Eastern United States for the most part. The series only travels outside of the US twice (a Trailers mini-issue in Tokyo and the four-issue Monster Baiting story arc set in Guyana) 3) If you wanted to avoid Slashers, Florida, Massachusetts, and New Jersey should be on your list of states to avoid, but Utah, Idaho and the Dakotas seem like some nice places to visit. I've left the map open to the public, so feel free to let me know if I've got some of the spots wrong (as in all things, proof-reading can be invaluable), and for the Hack/Slash fans out there I hope that if the map shows you anything interesting you might share it in a comment on the blog.
The addition and expansion of characters in superhero comics is a standard phenomenon for any long running series, both Superman and Batman began to expand their respective families within a decade of their creation, and this wasn’t just limited to siblings, cousins and alternate versions of themselves; with“…the introduction of recurrent pets in 1955 – Ace the Bathound and the super-dog Krypto, each with his own “costume” to visually identify his ownership by a superhero” (Best, 2005, 90) animal sidekicks became a standard of the superhero genre, and in the case of Hack/Slash the “super-pet” has a very interesting twist to it.
First introduced in issue three of the first ongoing series, Pooch is a hell-hound of sorts. After Cassie makes her escape from his world he is sent to Earth to track down and kill her. Pooch may be one of the most disturbing creatures I’ve ever come across in comics, he appears as a sort of skinless dog with the (unfortunate) ability to speak English, so instead of barking he literally says the word “Bark”, also he speaks of himself in the third person, often calling himself “Most Humble and Pooch”. Although he is initially sent to earth to find the “Most Hated Cassandra Hack” he quickly gives up his quest and moves in with two of Cassie’s allies, Chris Krank and Lisa Elsten, both survivors of earlier issues of Hack/Slash and the two principal members of Hack/Slash Inc., Cassie and Vlad’s support network throughout the series.
Although he begins his part in the series as a villain, Pooch is played as comic relief throughout the series, asking for Cassie and Vlad’s (and the audiences) sympathy throughout while acting as hideously as possible.
IMAGES USED Image of Pooch from Issue 3: Shout at the Devil part 2 (of 3)
Moving through the series I’m hit with a dilemma; either I can give more detailed information on the storyline, potentially spoiling some of the surprises for people who are reading my blog before the series, or I can write about overall themes and concepts, but as the storylines get more complex I end up writing less about the series and more about the Slasher sub-genre in general. So I’m going to compromise.
As the main series is complete (currently there is a six-issue post-series crossover with the Sam Raimi film Army of Darkness (1992)), but featured many stand-alone stories, I’m going to focus on one key story arc from 2008, which has Cassie meeting her father for the first time since her childhood. The story is fairly straight forward, and takes place in the first third of the overall series, so although there are spoilers, keep in mind that the series still goes a long way after this specific arc.
In issues 14-17 of the series Cassie and Vlad become involved in a standard horror convention, the sins of the fathers will be visited upon their sons. It’s important to remember that in the Horror Genre, and especially the Slasher sub-genre is that many of the concepts used are both ancient and primal. Classic Horror writer H.P. Lovecraft began his 1927 essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature” by stating “THE OLDEST and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” (Lovecraft, 1927), in these four issues, Seeley connects Cassie, her mother, and father with yet another figure from both classic and modern horror; Doctor Herbert West, created by H.P. Lovecraft in 1922 and adapted to film in the 1988 film Re-Ainmator and its sequels, Bride of Re-Animator (1990), and Beyond Re-Animator (2003). The character is a doctor looking to defeat death, which he attepts to do by bringing various corpse and corpse-parts back to life.
In the series Cassie’s father, Dr. Jack Hack is one of the government scientists who have been examining the phenomenon of Slashers, the reanimated killers that Cassie and Vlad spend most of the series tracking down and destroying. In issue 15 Cassie comes into contact with her father for the first time in years and finds he has been on the run from his old job with the government and is now working with Doctor West on a number of strange experients. What neither Jack or Cassie are aware of is that Doctor West has managed to get his hands on the remains of Cassie’s mother, (Delilah, better known as the Slasher The Lunch Lady, who was Cassie’s first kill), and plans to use his reanimating serum to bring her back to life.
The story arc shows through flashbacks that Jack met Delilah through his work in Slasher-research, typing her as a likely candidate for becoming a Slasher later in life – in the world of Hack/Slash Slashers often reappear in the same bloodline, and although their relationship starts out professional, they fall in love, get pregnant and go on the run to protect themselves and later their daughter Cassie.
As I don’t want to explain everything about the storyline I’ll leave it there, but I will bring up the fact that even though explaining exactly how a monster works in a horror story usually damages, rather than helps the story, (as the unknown has become the known), this story arc helps show more of Cassie and Vlad’s world, and works as set up for even bigger things to come.
In addition to crossing over with popular horror characters from film (Chucky and Herbert West), the series crosses over with the real-world goth modelling website Suicide Girls (Cassie has a profile page) the Evan Dorkin characters Milk and Cheese (pictured left) begin to make appearances in Cassie’s dreams and, Cassie and Vlad end up having crossover events with the webcomic series Halloween Man where Cassie and Vlad “…go to-toe-toe with Drew Edwards's Halloween Man in a free webcomic called “Hackoween,” available for download at halloweenman.com. “Several years ago, Drew Edwards had asked about doing a web-print comic crossover. And since ‘Halloween Man’ is a pretty fun, horror humor comic, I thought it meshed perfectly,” Seeley explained. (Richards, 2008)
Crossovers in comics are nothing new, they bring different types of readers together and introduce them to characters they may otherwise be unfamiliar with. The first crossover in comics was in Marvel Mystery Comics in 1940 where Namor the Submariner fought the Human Torch. As horror comics don’t tend to have the audience size of superhero comics, crossovers can be a benefit to both titles as they increase the exposure to another audience. Being a long-time fan of the horror genre myself, I’ve found that the crossovers in Hack/Slash have exposed me to a number of titles I had either never heard of or had decided weren’t my style.
Personally, one of the most delightful crossovers in Hack/Slash is with Author Tim Seeley’s earlier creation Love Bunny & Mr. Hell. A bizarre pairing between a cute super-hero and an H.P. Lovecraft-style demon who end up as roommates and friends. The 2002 series is an obvious precursor to Hack/Slash in many ways, but as it only lasted a few episodes, I had always wondered what happened to this strange duo. Although their appareances in Hack/Slash don’t specifically answer that question, it may introduce new readers to the title.
The story of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" was written solely to please children of today. It aspires to being a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heartaches and nightmares are left out. – L. Frank Baum in his Introduction to The Wonderful Wizard of OZ (1900)
It’s strange to think that this was the sentiment behind the story that became the film that gave me nightmares as a child. The Wicked Witch of the West, the flying monkeys and the initial “floating head” version of the Wizard shown in the 1939 MGM motion picture each worked effectively as nightmare batter for my young mind, and as a young boy with bad eyes from the start, very familiar with lengthy and painful eye examinations, Dorothy’s question to the estheticians in the Emerald City “…Can you even dye my eyes to match my gown?” resonated with me in a way I’m certain was not the intent of the original author.
So In Hack/Slash #14: Over the Rainbow, Cassie and Vlad are attempting to track down a Slasher who is plaguing the film set of a remake of the classic 1939 film The Wizard of Oz.
Now I’ll admit that at first glance perhaps no one immediately thinks that a horror-based story is going to inevitably crossover with either the classic 1900 L. Frank Baum novel The Wonderful Wizard of OZ or the 1939 MGM film The Wizard of OZ. But to be fair, the story, and especially the MGM film have become so influential in popular culture that I’ve seen it prequelled, deconstructed and even had that deconstruction turned into a musical. It has also been referred to in everything from the popularity of the quote, to reimaginings, and even a reference in the horror film Saw II.
So adding a Slasher-twist to the story is, in my mind, nothing short of genius. The story follows both two women on the set running from the Slasher (who has possessed the productions Tin Man and speaks only in lyrics from the classic “If I Only Had a Heart”) and Cassie and Vlad as they race to the set to put an end to the Slasher himself. IMAGE USED Hack/Slash of Oz Alternate Cover. Retrieved online from http://www.newkadia.com/?HackSlash_The_Series_Comic-Book-Covers=1111127128
One of the interesting things of any continuing series is you get to ask the question of how the series effects and is affected by the larger world. In the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, for example, there comes a point where the original victims of the killer have all run out (mild 20+ year spoiler) as the killer was targeting the children of the people who had killed him years before.
In the world of Hack/Slash, wherein a number of killers have risen from the grave and then proceed to kill all sorts of victims, the question has to be asked? Hasn’t anyone put this together other than our protagonists Cassie and Vlad?
The answer is a definite yes, both in a good and bad way.
The good way is the creation of an organization (starting out as two people) called Hack/Slash Inc., which is basically made up of people who have been saved by Cassie and Vlad over the years and are now working to network with other survivors and help Cassie find more Slashers as she travels the world.
The bad way (and a really common way in Science Fiction and Science Fiction-themed Horror, seen in films ranging from Alien (1979) to The X-Files (1993-2002) and Resident Evil (2002)) is that of government and corporate agencies looking to somehow capitalize on the phenomenon of Slashers, which they have renamed Revenants, for personal gain. “…These are organizations populated by utilitarian capitalists, power-hungry careerists or selfish research scientists” (Parker, 2000, 81) In the world of Hack/Slash, this begins as a private company, then becomes a shadowy agency and later may even involve Cassie in a way she could never expect.
As the series moves form one-shots to a continuing storyline, the world of Hack/Slash began to grow into new and intriguing ways, and a big part of these involve making Slashers a phenomenon that exist beyond Cassie and Vlad's experience.
WORKS CITED Parker, M. (2000). Manufacturing bodies: Flesh, organization, cyborgs. Body and organization. London: Sage Publications, 71-86.
For the first three years of Hack/Slash the title was a series of one-shot comics, coming out a few times a year and although the stories connected with each other, previous issues were not necessary to follow the action in the series.
With the success of 2006's Hack/Slash vs. Chucky in which Cassie and Vlad fought popular horror movie character Charles Lee Ray (better known as the possessed doll "Chucky"), it was decided to move the series into an ongoing format from that point forward. Also, the ongoing series featured penciller Emily Stone, who gave the series a more cohesive look overall, as compared to the many different pencillers and illustrators used in the earlier issues. Different pencillers would work on specific issues of Hack/Slash as an ongoing title, but the artwork becomes much more uniform from this point forward.
In the original one-shots series Cassie fought Slashers which included a number of straight-forward "kill, but won't stay dead" types (like Halloween's (1978) Michael Meyers), a Slasher who attacked his victims through their dreams (like A Nightmare on Elm Street's (1984)Freddy Kruger) and even a Slasher who used her commands over another sleeping Slasher to kill her intended victims (not unlike the 1920 German film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari).
With the ongoing series, Seeley was looking forward to "...introduc[ing] more supporting characters, and have crazy little things like subplots!..and...finally hav[ing] the space to tell the story of Cassie's dad, which we've never really touched upon in the space of the one-shots." (Richards, 2007) At this point in the series Seeley also begins looking at other aspects of modern horror films, beyond the Slasher sub-genre with concepts like the rise of torture horror (like the Saw and Hostel series), and even classic concepts like the Faustian bargain (deal with the devil) and more.
It's also interesting to note that even as far back as 2007, Seeley had an overall plan for the series; "I do have an end," he said. "But the hope is that I don't have to get to it anytime soon. I can see myself doing a Garth Ennis or [Neil] Gaiman and going for 60 issues. So, ya'know, make sure ya buy it, so I can do all the cool stuff you won't get in any other book!" (ibid.)
Hack/Slash Omnibus #2 Cover. Retrieved Online from
The White Elephant in the Room… or if you will, the Blonde Cheerleader.
A few days back I was talking to a friend about my blog this month and our conversation went as follows:
Me: So yeah, I’m spending a month examining a horror comic series called Hack/Slash
My Friend: Never heard of it, what’s the gist?
Me: It follows a girl who hunts down and kills the various Slasher killers in her world, like Freddy or Jason
My Friend: So a sort of R-Rated Buffy?
And then I realized that there is a lot in common between Cassie and Buffy, at least in basic concept.
For those unaware, Buffy Summers is the main character in the film/television/novel and comic book franchise, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In the original film she starts out as a self-involved popular high-school girl who finds out she is the reincarnation of “the slayer,” basically meaning she is destined to fight vampires and protect humanity. The rest of the franchise expands on this, moving her to a town which sits above a “hell-mouth” through which all sorts of demons and monsters can access our world, and with the help of a number of friends and allies, Buffy spends seven television seasons, dozens of novels, and a comic book series finding out more of her destiny and saving the world.
Both characters come from a twist on Horror Film Tropes, but unlike Cassie, who is clearly meant to be the continuing adventures of a Slasher Film’s Final Girl – Buffy represents either the Final Girl’s best friend or the first girl killed in the movie – the popular blonde friend (examples range from P.J. Soles in Halloween (1978), to Amanda Wyss in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and Rose McGowan in Scream (1996). Joss Whedon, creator of the character stated the concept came about from “…see[ing] a lot of horror movies which I’d loved very much, with blonde girls getting themselves killed in dark alleys and I just germinated this idea about how much I’d like to see a blonde girl go into a dark alley, get attacked by a big monster and then kill it” (qtd. In Buttsworth, 185), which does describe a standard character in horror, but not the same one represented by Tim Seeley’s creation, Cassie Hack.
Looking up comparisons between the character’s online, I found a lot of Buffy vs. Cassie sites, asking who would win in a fight (as Buffy has a significantly larger fan-base and a fourteen-year head start on Cassie, most of these sites assume Buffy would win. In my mind, it’s sort of beside the point, like some early comparisons drawn between Harry Potter (1997) and Neil Gaiman’s Tim Hunter, the protagonist of the comic book series The Books of Magic (1992), where fans of the comic book character believed that author J.K. Rowling had plagiarized his already existing character.
Gaiman has publically stated that “…no, I certainly *didn't* believe that Rowling had ripped off Books of Magic, that I doubted she'd read it and that it wouldn't matter if she had: I wasn't the first writer to create a young magician with potential, nor was Rowling the first to send one to school. It's not the ideas, it's what you do with them that matters.” (Gaiman, 1998)
As I see it, both Buffy and Cassie and taking long-used character archetypes from Horror Films and using them to examine larger stories. The only difference I see is that of intended audience; as a (primarily) television series, Buffy is more accessible to a wider audience, while as a violent, often gore-filled comic, Cassie appeals to fans of the sub-genre that she represents.
Buttsworth, S. (2002). “Bite Me: Buffy and the penetration of the gendered warrior-hero” in Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies. 16(2) 185-199.