Monday, April 15, 2019

Tales from My Funko Pop Shelf 1

Target Exclusive Aggretsuko (Date Night) and Fallout 76 Mothman boxed...
Tchotchke, whether ceramic figures, thimbles or salt and pepper shakers, each Funko Pop in my burgeoning collection has a story behind its purchase. Sometimes it is an extension of appreciation for a recent comic book title or film or, more often than not, it is because the character appeals to a sense of nostalgia. Occasionally it is simply random purchase due to its design. More anecdote or vignette, than full bore "story", as a means of writing practice, I thought I'd share some of the personal backstory behind some of the more interesting Pops in my collection beginning with two of my more recent additions.

Though not of the Point Pleasant variety, I came across the Fallout 76 Mothman at a small boutique-style store in a local mall. Background regarding the character within the context of the game was not included on the box, so in my head it will continue to be a tribute to one of America's premiere cryptids. As a child, copies of my father's Weekly World News were required breakfast-time reading, so my appreciation of this American original began at a young age. I am unfamiliar with Fallout 76 and it's accompanying line of Funkos, so it was nice to come across something new and distinctive in the wild. Additionally, because I always seem to miss out on reasonably priced versions of the multitude of Bigfoot/Sasquatch/Yeti exclusives released as part of the "Funko Myths" line (at increasingly exorbitant third party prices), I did not want to pass this up. More insectoid than the slightly more humanoid Mothman of cryptozoology legend, the bright red eyes and imposing stature remain consistent with the Mothman of Virginia folklore thereby deserving of a spot on my shelf.

Not too long ago I came across the anime-esqu stylings of the Evan with Higgedly Funko Pop of the Ni No Kuni: Revenant Kingdom line on the discount table at a local rpg store. On a recent stop at Target, the Aggretsuko (Date Night) exclusive caught my eye. Since my manga collecting days of youth (okay, more like my early twenties) I have always appreciated the anthropomorphic chibi design of some Japanese characters. Perhaps unsurprisingly given the character design, Aggretsuko was developed by the same company that spawned Hello Kitty, Sanrio. Season 1 of the web show on which this series of Funkos is based, Aggretsuko, currently streams on Netflix, so I was able to catch a few episodes following my purchase. The narrative background provided therein only increased my appreciation of Aggretsuko. The descriptions from the Sanrio website follows almost word-for-word that on the Funko box that describe her as "a single, 25 year-old red panda. Yet despite her cute appearance, something deep within her is filled with rage." That perfectly describes the show. The juxtaposition between the overall character visual designs, post-collegiate angst, and death metal is an incredibly entertaining one. That fact that Aggretsuko carries her own mic to nightly decompression sessions of karaoke only takes things the next level of excellence. Of course, now I need to tack down the Aggretsuko (Rage) Funko to balance out my own collection.

... and unboxed!

Monday, February 04, 2019

Never Give Up (On a Book)

I have many shelves, boxes and piles of books, magazines, and comic books throughout our home. Cumulatively, they comprise a massive "Read List". Most I begin to read upon receipt. Many I begin and read through along with two or three titles simultaneously. A few, I read cover to cover exclusively. Some I even read the first eight pages, fail to be hooked, and set them aside to eventually be plucked from the stacks at a later date. When I do begin the start-stop-start-stop dance with a title, it may go on for weeks or even years before it finally hits me (or I, it) in a way that sticks. These demonstrations of show of patience can provide the most entertaining (and rewarding) reading experiences. It often pays not to quit on a story.

Take Borne by Jeff VanderMeer for instance. After devouring his Southern Reach Trilogy in a two week binge in August 2017, I looked for another helping of VanderMeer's mix of ecology, sci-fi and thoughtful character development. Which brought me to Borne, a post-apocalyptic survival tale set in a futuristic landscape ruled by a gigantic flying bear. On a number of different occasions over the past year-and-a-half I have taken a series go at Borne. Each attempt ended in my failure to allow myself to be drawn into the narrative strongly enough to commit to it's story ahead of other books on my to-read table. Eventually, however, the student was made ready, and as foretold in countless episodes of Kung-Fu, the teacher, or in the case, novel, appeared.

A week ago, in the wake three months of folklore and comic book reading (reading for pleasure) and classic American literature (for teaching which is also pleasurable), I had a hankering for a sci-fi palette cleanser. Wandering the stacks at my local public library, I once again came found Borne waiting for me. This time I was ready and could not put it down. Turns out, Borne is that breezy, emotional follow-up to the Southern Reach Trilogy I had hoped it would be. Even if it took me a while to see (and read) it. In the afterglow of having digested a well-written story, I am especially glad that I hadn't given up on Borne. That is not to suggest I am yet ready to tackle James George Frazer's The Golden Bough, a tome that's been pecked at and thumbed through for going on 12 years...

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Read It: Deathless

Each morning for a few weeks, Bertie and I would catch up with Marya Morevna, 
heroine of Catherynne M. Valente's Deathless.
Please note that is not a review in so much as some thoughts about a book. I mention very few of the characters by name, and reveal even less about the plot of Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente. It is a novel I highly recommend for those who enjoy action, adventure, romance and folk lore. Yes, it is that bountiful a text...

I am very fortunate to teach a subject, English, in a school district that allows for a degree of leeway when it come to texts covered in class. I am not obligated to teach novels, poems or stories that I myself don't have an appreciation of. Though selections do need to be approved for class instruction, I also enjoy taking suggestions from my students, as well as letting them known what I am currently reading. I even occasionally share things with them for their own enjoyment. As a result, I have begun to seek out titles from genres I like with the thought of finding texts that might also be of interest to my "Young Adult" students. Happily, this has taken my reading in some unusual directions that I might otherwise not have been taken. Recently, while looking for books in the folk horror genre, I came across Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente.

More romance than horror, I have found the reading of Deathless over the last few weeks to be an incredibly satisfying journey and one, now that I have completed it, I look forward to sharing with my students. A beautifully written story of female empowerment using characters from Russian folklore, Deathless is that rare book that begs to have sections of it re-read before moving on. The imagery crafted by Valente is so lush, and the language so delicate and descriptive, that its reading was something to be savored rather than rushed. For much the same reason I don't enjoy binge watching newly discovered television shows, Deathless benefits from taking one's time with it. The introduction of  variety of Russian folk elements both slightly familiar, Koschei and Baba Yaga for example, and unfamiliar, the leshy and domovoi, had me pausing for more history as I read. It was rewarding to meet these new-to-me folk characters who, in the context of Russian folklore, have English literary analogs that aided, along with the text, in visualizing each character. In my imagination, Deathless plays like a mash-up of Howl's Moving Castle, The Hobbit, Wuthering Heights, and a textbook about the Russian Revolution. Not a boring textbook but one that paints a picture that is equal parts light and dark.

Digital image of a domovoi (Russian
 House Spirit) by LMaize, DeviantArt.
DeviantArt, n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2015.
Whiel reading I could not help but dog-ear pages that held lines which I wished to return to, such as "Marya [the novel's protagonist]  pinned out her childhood like a butterfly" (23) and "... the woodsmoke hung gold and thick and the snow tested the wind with white fingers..." (171). There is so much beauty in Valente's words that even in isolation they connect. As part of the expansive larger narrative which includes magic bird-men, yarn soldiers and automobile horses, Deathless quickly coaxed me into it's world. Carefully following the multitude of characters and ideas seeded early in on come back around with greater significance was as rewarding as it was inviting me to a re-read in the future.

Late in the novel Marya's housemate, Kseniya Yefremovna, recaps our heroine's journey to date while describing a house on Decembrists Street as "a house they painted with all sorts of things from fairy tales, so that it would wonderful and people would bring their children to see it, just as we brought Sofiya today. You can see there a firebird on the door, and Master Grey Wolf on the chimney, and Ivan the Fool scampering over the walls, with Yelena the Bright in his arms, and Baba Yaga running after them brandishing her spoon. And that's a leshy creeping in the garden, and a vila and vodyanoy and a domovoi with a red cap. And there--they"ve put a rusalka near the kitchen window. Kseniya turned to Marya. "And Koschei the Deathless is there , too, near the cellar. …" (265) A guiding question returned to throughout Deathless is "Who is to rule?" As a writer I had not had the previous pleasure to read, it is difficult not to suggest after thoroughly enjoying Deathless, that it might be author Catherynne M. Valente.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Old Order Changeth!

My very first short box circa 1984... and yes I was the person who actually 
bought DC's Guy Gardner Warrior!
Some comic book collectors have spinner racks (lucky!) while others have beautifully designed shelving to display their collections. I am old school, and no carpenter, so even 40 years into my fandom, I still use long, and as I have become more "seasoned", primarily short, boxes for storing and organizing my collection. This requires quite a bit of space and, fortunately, we have a sort-of finished third floor attic where I read and store them with other collectibles.

Shazam! #1 variant 
cover by Gary Frank. 
It is during these winter months when we are "trapped" inside for the majority of the day that I will shift the organization of my collection. Often it is a change in publication the prompts a change, For example, DC's recently introduced Geoff Johns and Dale Eaglesham joint, Shazam! (2019, $4.99 per) title necessitates the movement of Jerry Ordway's incredible The Power of Shazam (1995-99, cover price $1.50 per issue) series into an active box. Though represents a significant departure from the characters as depicted in Power, with all pre-New 52 continuity erased, I like having access to previous narratives.

Conversely, the conclusion of the most recent Suicide Squad (Volume 5, 2016-19, Issue #1 was $2.99 and the final issue, $4.99) series means that title will shift to an "inactive" box, stored in the back part of the attic, until the teams eventual return to action. Then, once again, the old order will changeth!

Local comic book shops organize titles on the "New Releases" table, as well as on "Recent Releases" racks and their own "Back Issues" long boxes, first by publisher (Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse, etc.) and then alphabetically by title (Action Comics, Aquaman and so on). Decisions regarding the specific organization of titles in collections are more personal. When it comes to "Big Two" titles (DC and Marvel for the uninitiated), putting these titles by character families (Wolverine alongside Uncanny X-Men or Justice League Dark next to Justice League Odyssey). There are families in the smaller publishers as well, most notably (and expansive) the "Mignola-verse" titles from Dark Horse. These are comic books set in the world of Hellboy, a universe of titles created by Mike Mignola that includes Abe Sapien, Lobster Johnson, Witchfinder and many others.

Zeke Deadwood: Zombie Lawman 
cover by Thomas Boatwright.
Those smaller publishers beyond the Big Two, though given quality and quantity of titles it's past time to start thinking of Image Publishing as a "Big Three", are much more willing to take creative risks with creator owned titles, especially those in the Horror, Western and Science-Fiction genres. Because of this, many of my shorts boxes are organized alphabetically by genre families rather than publisher or creator.

For example, I currently have five boxes which are organized as "Westerns" that include a wide variety of characters from large and small publishers. This means that DC's Jonah Hex extended series (2005-10, 70 issues) is organized with the now-defunct Topps Comics Lone Ranger and Tonto miniseries (1994, 4 issues), IDW's 3 Devils (2016, 4 issues) and SLG Publishing's Zeke Deadwood: Zombie Lawman (2009-11, 2 issues) series of one-shots in my short boxes.

Interestingly enough, this brief post about organizing my comic books also has me organizing y thoughts. The inclusion of Zeke Deadwood among more traditional Westerns alone has me considering my next reorganization project to further disaggregating Westerns into a Horror-Western Mash-up section. That project, however, will have to wait for the next snowstorm...

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Random Funkos: Ni No Kuni Trio

My name is Jean-Paul and I have way too many Funko Pops. While hardcore "collectors" will argue that one can never have too many of any given collectible, I am confident that I indeed do. Just ask my wife. But that self-knowledge has yet to stop me from picking up random plastic figures that I come across.

A personal "first": individual plastic baggie 
around Tani's ponytail possibly to deter 
rubbing against the "buddy" while shipping?
For example, the trio of Ni No Kuni: Revenant Kingdom Funko Pops I recently acquired via post-holiday discount table at my local gaming shop. While visiting the store with my brother, who lives out of country, I came across these three anime characters with whom I had zero prior knowledge of them or the fantasy world from which they came. I simply liked their design, so I took them home on a lark, a decision that was aided by my brother kindly "donating" a portion of the gift certificate for the store my wife and I had gifted him the previous day to the cause. The reduced pricing, roughly 60% off retail, only increased the appeal of an impulse buy...

The initial aesthetic appeal of Tani, Evan and Roland was based solely on the Miyazaki vibe they elicited. In fact, it occurred to me that Tani might be the closest we get to a Princess Mononoke figure given the war paint and animal skin attire. A quick check of Wikipedia confirmed that I wasn't that far off.

Apparently, Ni No Kuni is a series of role-playing games set in a fantasy realm with characters that employ magical abilities during gameplay. The smaller characters that came with each Pop, dubbed “Higgedlies” on the packaging, are familiars that can be tamed for suitability during battle. The animated sequences and artwork for the games were both inspired by Studio Ghibli's other productions. Not surprisingly, "[T]he character development was intended to make children empathize with the characters and for adults to relive their adolescence." It is probably too late in a post about toys to be embarrassed about that fact that I first saw Princess Mononoke in theaters during its initial U.S. when I was in my late twenties.

In all likelihood I will never have the opportunity to experience the rpgs and videogames that spawned these beautifully designed characters, I will continue to appreciate both their Funko Pop translations as these three take their places on my rotating wall of figures.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Hallow-Reading: Green and Pleasant Land

Over the past few months my personal reading has taken a turn down an unusual rabbit hole resulting in a turn from fantasy and non-fiction to horror short story, "folk horror" in particular. A rainy October morning seems as good a time as nay to blog a touch about my most recent literary diversion.

Though I have long been a reader of Romantic (Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, for example) and cosmic (works of H.P. Lovecraft) horror sub-genres, folk horror is something of a new direction. Folk horror is defined by members of the Goodreads Folk Horror Revival Group as "a subgenre of horror fiction, but its roots go back at least into the 19th century. The horrific element in a folk horror story traditionally arises from a source associated with European pagan folk traditions." Think of the tropes and settings of either the original 1973 The Wicker Man or 2018's Hereditary movies (among numerous others), and you are on the right--or very wrong--track.

As with most literary genres, there is quite a bit of room for interpretation when it comes to considering what exactly meets the necessary folk nature of a text thought to meet the criteria. For example, a number of popular American folk horror reads reference the local folk lore of familiar spooky states such as Louisiana or Maine, drawing on the regional rather than the European. For my first venture into the genre, however, I went native and read Great British Horror 1: Green and Pleasant Land, a collection of modern short stories published in 2016 by Black Shuck Books and edited by Steve J. Shaw. As it announces on the back cover, the collection features "eleven previously unpublished stories of small town, rural and folk horror."

In addition to being an excellent primer for the genre, Green and Pleasant Land offers some  downright creepy reading, perfect for autumnal evenings. While I had not read any of the authors' previously, I was fascinated by their combined ability to draw me into their distinctive mythologies which remained grounded in a very discernable modern, real world context. Two personal favorites include:
  • "The Castellmarch Man" by Ray Cluley. With nods to modern elements of geo-caching and stay-cation culture this standout introduces the reader to a couple, Charlie and Lyndsey, who learn "getting romantic" in unfamiliar stables might have unintended consequences. Throughout the story, Cluley intermingles touristy information about British landscape and lore which offers possible backstory to the journey our characters are on, as well as the origin of their antagonist. I've returned to this story twice and it's eerie tone, complex characters and the ancient dread in builds to still resonate. An excellent mix of the modern and archaic and therefore a strong entry in British folk horror.
  • "Strange As Angels" by Laura Mauro. "It's a delicate little mannequin, tiny limbs curled and foetal, skin bloodless and rice paper thin." (54) And so begins the story of a broken couple who crash into a creature they refer to as an angel. As their relationship crumbles, Frankie grows closer to the creature they've adopted, while Jimmie begins to see it the angel as a competitor for his affection. While the initial encounter with the angel takes place in a natural setting ("dark and foreboding woods"), the story quickly moves to the modern confines of Frankie's apartment. A fascinating look at a fractured relationship that decays as quickly as the "angel" grows.
The other nine stories are also of high quality, each with a different approach tp transplanting the mythic or imaginative into the modern world. Small touches such as clearly British settings and nuances of spelling ("foetal", "arsehole", "programme") and grammar are the sole indicators of being British as the universal relationships reverberate throughout the collection. The collection is not necessarily for the very young reader due to the occasional expletives and mature content (none of which is gratuitous). Green and Pleasant Land has me looking very forward the next offering of Great British Horror, which should be arriving by mail soon.

Monday, August 06, 2018

Summer Reading: Your Black Friend

From My Black Friend, page 2, panels 1-2.
After seeing the extended collection of Ben Passmore's online comic strips, Your Black Friend and Other Strangers, recommended in the past few weekends' New York Times Book Review, I took the small step toward reading the entire collection by first ordering the single issue version online, Your Black Friend. The choice of the shorter, 11 page version was two-fold. First, I was looking to read with an eye toward sharing with my junior and senior high school students this coming school year (and as such it might be more affordable for their purchase). Secondly, given the subject matter and that first purpose, a direct succinct delivery of the message might serve more useful and accessible.

More a graphic-essay than novel, what we comic book collectors might call a "one-shot", Your Black friend is best described as "sharp, informed social commentary in the form of an open letter on race and being black in America." (Goodreads) Indie publisher Silver Sprocket, in a formal description picked up by other online sources, tells us that this is Passmore‘s "necessary contribution to the dialogue around race in the United States, Your Black Friend is a letter from your black friend to you about race, racism, friendship and alienation."

Perhaps not surprisingly, despite it's brevity, Your Black Friend is very challenging reading, and experience that is very likely to be shaped by one's own background and openness to facing difficult realities. Both Passmore's contemporary, colorful and engaging art, as well as a natural, organic, writing styles combine to craft a dialogue that resonates for the reader looking to engage. At the risk of sounding like that white friend that Passmore astutely suggests "express their undying enthusiasm for 'Black Lives Matter," Passmore objectively illustrates (in words and pictures) the self-defeating thoughts by many sides of the conversation that result in meaningful communication failing before it begins.

As a 49 year-old, white male reader auditing my own experience, Passmore has me pegged. In doing so he has my attention. The missteps Passmore presents, I think, are not intended to further deepen the white guilt that he astutely notes as problematic, but rather to prompt these moments of genuine reflection. For example, as a high school teacher of a primarily white student body with a (thankfully) growing level of diversity, I do find myself sliding into 'black' presentations thoughtlessly." This is a mistake, as Passmore notes I may have been "totally unaware of." I am now.

So where does this take us? As Passmore shows in the closing pages of his essay, which mirror the events in the open, often it seems to leave us as a community and culture right where we were in the first place. In between the framing device, Passmore opines insightfully, but the commentary appears to ultimately have little impact. At the end of the day, the "nicely dressed white woman" with the "Eat, Pray, Love vibe" and the white friend reading a Yoga Book remain peacefully blind (and mute).

Oddly this reminds me of my past experiences at school district opening days. Annually, teachers start the school year with a tremendous presentation preceded by "professional development" attended by a small group of administrators and select teacher-types. The entire district takes two hours before students arrive for the school year, to set the theme for the year to follows. Smaller building level trainings are sprinkled in for the whole body of teachers to participate in... and by June little is meaningfully changed within that system. Briefly though, maybe we feel better about ourselves...

I strongly recommend this graphic essay for all audiences, but especially white folks, well-intentioned or otherwise. I don't know about you, baby, there must be a better way. As the author notes in the panels above, "What white ppl fear most is making things awkward'" and perhaps the first step is accepting the invitation to be awkward.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Summer Reading: The Dreams in the Witch-House

Just as with certain superior recording artists there are “no B-sides”, some writers seem to hit on all cylinders regardless of the piece. While “At the Mountains of Madness” is understandably viewed as one of his masterpieces, H. P. Lovecraft wrote many other stories that despite slightly less literary love, seem, to this reader, equally impressive. More than just my restating the obvious (“Lovecraft is a great writer”), with each new story I read buried deep in anthologies of his work, I am sure I have not always appreciated just how “great.”

Take “The Dreams in the Witch-House” for instance. (Note: Upon researching some information on the story, I was surprised to discover that many reputable Lovecraft scholars deem this particular story to be one of his lesser efforts.) As a fan of Lovecraft’s mythos, as well as those other works clearly influenced by his writing, I found the description of the cosmic environments to be illuminating. Perhaps it is too overt in its depiction for those who like more nuanced horror, but the “vast converging planes of a slippery-looking substance” (At the Mountains of Madness and Other Tales of Terror, page 153) populated by geometric creatures bathed in violet light and “iridescent bubble-congeries”, made concrete for this reader that which has not always been so clear. This approach is as effective as the more subtle approach, albeit in a different way. Much of the content and details in “The Dreams in the Witch-House” also provides a “Who’s Who” of Lovecraftian ideas. In some ways this is an excellent follow up to “Mountains” as it takes some of the cosmology eluded to in the first and grounds it in a more accessible folklore (witchcraft). In addition to the expected supernatural/fantastic elements inherent in the horror, familiar settings such as Arkham and Miskantonic University connect the story to the Cthulhu Mythos by grounding the action in a real-er world.

My favorite new comedic creature as
visualized by digital artist
 Carlos Garcia Rivera.
Few writers are as closely associated with their literary creations as Lovecraft is with his Great Old One, Cthulhu. In addition to vividly capturing the cosmic nature of Lovecraft’s aesthetic, “The Dreams in the Witch House” also introduces a terrifying creature, though of much smaller in cosmic and physical stature than Cthulhu, Brown Jenkin. “That shocking little horror,” Brown Jenkin, is described as being “no larger than a good-sized rat”, having “horribly anthropoid forepaws”, and a “tiny, bearded human face.” (145) Unlike some of Lovecraft’s creature creations, due in part to its rat-like nature, visualizing Brown Jenkin is much easier to do than others. The familiar of the witch of the title, Keziah Mason, Brown Jenkin enters the small room of the story’s protagonist, Walter Gilman, via a series of rat holes. As a familiar, he serves the role of Mason’s herald, visiting Gilman without his master at varying points of the story, often terrorizing Gilman in his sleep. For the reader, Brown Jenkin also plays serves as comic-relief, even if gruesomely so. “The sinister old woman and the fanged furry little animal” are quite the duo. If the evil witch is the "straight-man", Brown Jenkin is the comedic player. While requiring a leap, this dynamic is not one I generally associate with Lovecraft’s work so was pleasantly surprised by it. Perhaps it is Brown Jenkin’s tendency to “titter” maniacally throughout the proceedings that gave me a vision of the wisenheimer side-kick archetype. Of course by the story’s conclusion, no one’s laughing at Brown Jenkin or his “four tiny hands of daemonic dexterity”! So taken was I by this monstrous little creature that upon meeting him in the story, I immediately texted a friend of mine who has also read a few Lovecraft stories: “Where has Brown Jenkin been my whole life?”

The lesson here (beyond the coolness of Brown Jenkin) is that like those aforementioned B-sides, it pays to read deeper cuts by authors you enjoy. I know that as a result of this experience, I am going back through those other anthologies looking for any more gems.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Summer Reading: Afterlife with Archie

A few covers from the series (from top left to right) Tim Seeley,  Dave Devries, 
and Francesco Franacvilla. 
True confession: I have never been a reader of Archie comic books. That is, until now. I, like most, have always possessed a passing familiarity with the cast: Archie Andrews, Jughead, Bettie, Veronica, Sabrina, Hot Dog and others. Without having spent much time thumbing through the Archie Digest Comics at the supermarket check-out lane, I have somehow come to know these characters. I also know that I am not alone. Thanks to the success of the current CW Riverdale television show (also streaming on Netflix) a whole new generation of viewers may well insure the Archie empire spanning for another 70+ (!) years. The television show’s success combined with the 2015 relaunch of the flagship series, Archie, likely will at the very least keep these characters within the cultural zeitgeist.

The publisher of Archie comics has long been aware of the iconic status of their characters and unlike other cape-centered comic book publishers, they have used this to their advantage for many years, the recent update notwithstanding. Whereas Batman, Spider-man and Superman are frequently being “re-made” to suit the plotting of their respective writers, “Archie-kins”, and the dynamics of his relationships with secondary characters, has been something of a constant. Which brings me to the most recent expansion of, and my first formal foray into, the Archie-verse: Afterlife with Archie.

Had never heard of Archie's dog Vegas prior to this series, 
but won't forget him now.
Afterlife with Archie is that rare comic book that is likely best read in trade (though I remain committed to the single issue format) if only for getting the complete story in one piece. The sum of the pieces might take a while to make whole though. The first issue of Afterlife with Archie was published back in 2013 and after almost five years, only nine of twelve originally solicited issues have seen publication. But what a run it has been this far!

From the first page, storytellers Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla craft a unique vision of the familiar Archie cast as survivors of a zombie apocalypse with its beginnings in Riverdale. Both creators are known (and respected) commodities through their individual work in other comic books, Aguirre-Sacasa as the writer of the complete 30 issue run of Marvel Knights 4 (2004—06) and artist Francavilla from a multitude of variant covers such as those for Dynamite’s Lone Ranger series as well as his own pulpy The Black Beetle (2012).

Each issue includes a secondary 
reprint of classic supernatural stories. 
The chief narrative difference between this Archie and the traditional comic book series, and one shared by other titles in the “Archie Horror” publishing family, is that no character is safe from being (literally) eaten alive. To reveal too much would ruin the surprise, but from issue 1 on, people die violently. Even those characters that one may not know well, such as Archie’s dog Vegas are given strong, if small, character moments. Because Francavilla’s stark and stylized artwork is not particularly detailed, his use of (limited color) and Aguirre-Sacasa’s dialogue is used to maximum emotional effect.

As mentioned, the inconsistent publishing schedule of Afterlife with Archie can frustrate if you are impatient, especially for single issue readers. (I avoided this by buying up the ten issues of the series over a few weeks from my local comic book shop.) The first five issues of the series are available in trade paperback entitled Escape from Riverdale. A second trade, the very-spoilery titled Betty: R.I.P., was solicited (as were issues 11 and 12) but all three have been subsequently cancelled. Based on what I have seen in issues 6 through 10, Cthulhu and Sabrina fans will not be disappointed.

Here's to hoping that Aguirre-Sacasa and Francavilla soon return to conclude the current arc. Given the easy accessibility of these iconic characters, even in a unique setting, as well as the high quality of the content, waiting patience will surely be rewarded.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Summer Reading: Logan's Run

Like most 40-50 somethings, the 1976 movie Logan's Run starring Michael York, Jenny Agutter, and Richard Jordan (who also played favorite literary character from Frank Herbert's novel's Duncan Idaho in David Lynch's movie version of Dune (1984)!), was a very important part of my nascent science fiction fandom. Despite being the tender age of 7 at the time, between the film version, Marvel comic book (which ran seven issues in 1977), and equally short-lived television series (14 episodes), Logan and Jessica's search for Sanctuary was a big part of daily neighborhood games of "guns".  (Back-in-the-day, my friends and I would gather with all of our plastic arms, break into groups and simulate life-and-death chases of one-another throughout a three-block radius of our hood... these were very different times.)

Logan's Run #2 cover by comic book legends
cover by George Perez and Al Milgrom.
Recently a summer school colleague stopped to share his excitement at hearing that Logan's Run was once again in the Hollywood hopper for a potential blockbuster remake. After sharing memories of Logan's Runs past, I mentioned that I had heard that the new movie is to be based on the original novel rather than the more familiar iterations. I expressed a desire to read the original novel by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson, but had always had difficulty finding an affordable edition. Later that day he sent me a link to a recent re-release he'd come across on Amazon. Three days later it arrived in my mailbox and I jumped right in...

Released as part of Vintage Publishing's "Vintage Movie Classics" collection of "novels that inspired great films" in 2015, this edition of Logan's Run includes a foreword Daniel H. Wilson as well as publication details for the original novel and the movie adaptation. The differences between the familiar film and the original movie are many, ranging from key characterization to the scope of the world in which the action takes place. The general plot and narrative drive remains the same in all version of the story: in a secretly dystopian future, policeman Logan "ages out" and as a result of first trying to find a mythical utopia ultimately joins another runner in seeking the right to grow old all while being followed by former partner bent on bringing both he and his lady-friend to justice.

Given that the 1976 film is so familiar, the easiest way to share thoughts on the novel are to point out two key differences between the two.
  • In the movie, when characters turn 30 years-old, an event communicated to those around them through the change in color (red to blinking red to black) of the crystal imbedded in the palm of their right hands, they are expected to participate in the Carrousel celebration. During this public display, their lives are extinguished. If one fails to participate, individuals become "runners" who are then targeted by policemen called "Sandmen." The future-cops are tasked with apprehending and killing runners on the spot, thus maintaining the social construct that no one lives past 30. This is actually a pretty significant point of deviation from the novel. In Nolan and Johnson's book, the age of termination is 21, an aspect that better communicates an important part of the novel's world controlled by youth theme. The movement through a prescribed color-themed lifespan is further developed and Logan's personal at each seven year increment are shared via flashback.
  • Just as Logan's backstory, as well as that of the culture he resides in, backstory is more fully developed, the world of the novel is much more expansive. This aspect of the novel is among the more intriguing elements. Rather than quickly moving from the Dome City to Washington, DC, with only a couple stops along the way, in the novel, we follow the runners from Los Angeles to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean and across the United States. I enjoyed the use of actual historical locales like the Crazy Horse Memorial in South Dakota as an important locales. Additionally, the inclusion of robotic Civil War re-enactors in Virginia. These touches gave the story a much broader feel and a clearer American tone. 

It is clear that most of the decisions made in adapting the novel in 1976 were made for budgetary reasons including the hiring veteran actors who could no longer pass at 21 rather than less marketable teen unknowns. For the time, the special effects in Logan's Run (1976) were very impressive, even earning an Academy Award. With the unlimited budget afforded novelists, characters and setting could be much more imaginatively depicted. A prime example is the character Box who controls the icy area called Hell. In the movie, Box is a not-so-menacing chrome robot, in the novel a grotesque combination of machine and human parts.

William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson's Logan's Run is a very slight volume, clocking in at a breezy 166 pages. The narrative is presented in a serialized structure using a conversational writing style that includes few creatively modernized words that are easily understandable given their context. As advertised on the back cover, this novel is indeed a "page-turner", and I read a few entertaining hours.

The challenge now would be to track down the two sequels penned by the first's co-writer, Nolan: Logan's World and Logan's Search. Published to coincide with the release of the movie, neither has been re-published since and are only available on E-Bay and Amazon for up to $60 apiece. Until I come across the for a more reasonable purchase price at a used book store or garage sale, I'll need to access the guns game brain of my childhood to envision the further adventures of Logan and Jessica...