ART: Stunning. Too good to glance over, so much detail. You’ll be forced to examine closely or miss the point of the story. But you’ll want to see it, even though you know you should look away.
John M. McIlveen’s latest novel, Hannahwhere, is a complex, haunting tale that straddles that fine line between the real and the supernatural. Social worker Debbie Gillan finds herself drawn to a child found abandoned and tossed in the street. As she’s lured further and further into Hannah’s strange existence, she discovers that the thin veil… Continue reading Review: Hannahwhere by John M. McIlveen
A World Out of Darkness
Title: Dark Star: H. R. Giger’s World
Director: Belinda Sallin
Year Released: 2015
Run time: 95 minutes
When one conjures to mind the greatest artists of the 20th (and now the 21st) century, a few names bubble into our collective consciousness as being true geniuses, irrespective of their medium, nationality, or personality. Nearly to a person, these individuals have achieved such fame and renown that they are universally referenced by a single name: Picasso, Monet, Matisse, Dalí. I would add to this list the late master H. R. Giger, known throughout the world simply as “Giger” (pronounced [/ˈɡiːɡər/ ghee-gur]). To be completely truthful, I would now estimate that Giger is possibly more famous than several of these creators are, and his work is, in many ways, more instantly recognizable (and imitated) by a broader swath of people than likely any artist now living, a trend that began in his lifetime.
In the past, visual artists were reliant on patrons to create. This system later evolved away from just the wealthiest in society commissioning a portrait in the pre-photography world, or relenting to the demands of the Catholic Church, and toward the modern conception of artistic patronage by way of corporations. Especially after the Second World War, this would come to include the employment of well-known and readily identifiable artists for promotion and cinema, the latter destined to become the dominant mode of artistic expression in the world (later displaced by television in modern Western culture). As has been the case with several of his contemporaries—Roger Dean, Robert Venosa, Ernst Fuchs, Robert Williams—Giger started his career with a profound interest in design and architecture, and was deeply influenced by the emergent popular cultural movements after WWII ended (especially the Sexual Revolution and the rise of Feminism, new musical expressions, and the revolt against authoritarian governance). Travel was an important (and easier to realize) part of this new aesthetic, which served to enrich an artist’s view of the world and their place in it. Additionally, as most of this new breed of visual explorers did, Giger dabbled in personal musical expression (playing instruments and working with obscure and prominent acts alike). It is, therefore, not surprising that his muse (and immense talent) would at some point lead to Hollywood, and his interest in film (which he had nurtured even as a young man) would springboard his greatest commercial success (screenwriter Dan O’Bannon’s creation of Alien , and Giger’s Academy Award-winning creature designs), as well as bring him incredible recognition and acclaim worldwide for his visceral, singular vision.
In the documentary Dark Star: H. R. Giger’s World (the title of which also serves as an effective homage to Dan O’Bannon and John Carpenter’s film of the same name), filmmaker Belinda Sallin brings much of these insights to bear with respect to the brilliant artist’s output. Completed just before Giger’s untimely death due to injuries suffered in a fall at his home in 2014, the film is a thoughtful rumination on the day-to-day existence of this most existential and influential of all modern artists. Sallin presents Giger in a sympathetic and approachable light—surrounding him with friends, family, pets—and does a nice job of contrasting his apparent tranquility with the darkness of his output creatively, especially his earliest conceptions.
At times, the movie seems a bit slow, and the narrative too subtle, but this is a minor quibble: The subject more than makes up for any deficiencies in this aspect. The most fascinating parts of the film, aside from hearing Giger discuss his philosophies and his imagery itself—the beautiful grotesqueries of his biomechanoid, psychosexual nightmares—are the sections detailing his childhood and the relationships with his parents, especially his mother. Women always played a prominent role in his life, and seeing him with his mother—as well as the complex interactions with his former lovers and wives—was extremely informative and compelling, even wistful. These moments serve to humanize a man that many have deified—which is understandable in one sense, but unfair in so many others. Giger was not, after all, monolithic and easy to grasp; he was introspective, sensitive, and deserved to be understood and appreciated as an individual with dreams, hopes, and insecurities just like anyone else. The interviews with his widow Carmen Scheifele-Giger, and his longtime companions and friends such as Tom Gabriel Fischer (of Celtic Frost and Triptykon fame), Leslie Barany, and others, are also enjoyable and revealing. They each, in differing ways, provide deeper understanding of a virtuoso creator, one who has come not only to represent and encapsulate much of the post-modern angst and ethos of our troubled times, but who also captured a sublime wonder and magnificence in the decay of humanity. It is a tragedy that he was taken away so early, but a joy he lived at all.
(Dark Star: H. R. Giger’s World is in limited theatrical release beginning in May of 2015, and is available on DVD.)
A major cinematic event is happening at New York City’s Museum of Arts and Design (MAD): The Unseen Cinema of HR Giger, a film festival in three parts on FRIDAY, MAY 22nd and SATURDAY, MAY 23rd, 2015. This is a ticketed event open to the public. Dark Star: The World of H. R. Giger will not be shown at the festival, as this is a series curated by friends, collaborators, and family of Giger. The entire program can be viewed on THIS NAMELESS DIGEST POST.
**From the MAD page about the series**
“Few artists have made a larger impact on the fantastical visions of cinema as the Swiss surrealist HR Giger. Most famous for his Oscar-winning design of the titular monster and scenery of the Alien film series, HR Giger’s vast output included paintings, prints, and sculpture, as well as industrial and interior design. Over a forty-five year career, Giger collaborated with an array of directors and artists to produce a body of work that continues to influence generations.
Marking the one-year anniversary of his passing, the Museum of Arts and Design in NEW YORK CITY presents The Unseen Cinema of HR Giger. Partnering with the HR Giger Museum and the HR Giger Documentary Film Festival, this weekend-long event presents rare and never before seen films made by and about HR Giger.
Opening up Giger’s personal archive for the first time, these films reveal the behind-the-scenes practice of this singular artist. The Unseen Cinema of HR Giger gives a rare glimpse into the personality, process, and vision of his indelible impact.”
**More information about the series and the event, including the venue and tickets**
The first evening of screenings will be introduced by Blondie’s DEBBIE HARRY and CHRIS STEIN.
Facebook EVENTS PAGE
TRAILER about the film festival
FIRST PROGRAM & TICKETS
SECOND PROGRAM & TICKETS
THIRD PROGRAM & TICKETS
**Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) address**
The Unseen Cinema of HR Giger is an event curated by Leslie Barany & Zev Deans
Special Thanks to Jake Yuzna at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) and Carmen Giger, Debbie Harry, Chris Stein, Jacqueline Castel and Madeline Quinn
edited by John Joseph Adams
a Titan Books title SF-Fantasy-Horror / May 13, 2014
464 pages trade paperback
978-0765326454 / $16.95 titanbooks.com
This is a first-rate anthology from beginning to end, with very few “filler” stories, an impressive line-up of talented writers , a well-defined preface, and useful contributor profiles.
In the introduction, editor John Joseph Adams does a good job of defining the weird western genre and gives much credit to the classic 1986 novel Dead In The West by Joe R. Lansdale, a book that Adams offers as the best example of weird western writing. Appropriately enough, the anthology opens with “The Red-Headed Dead” by Joe R. Lansdale, an eerie tale of a cemetery battle between the Reverend Jebediah Mercer (the main protagonist in Dead In the West) and a vicious vampire. It’s a chilling yarn that serves as a good introduction to the character of Mercer, a Western version of Robert E. Howard’s supernatural pilgrim crusader Solomon Kane.
The anthology closes with “Dead Man’s Hand” by Christie Yant, also very appropriate since the anthology is dedicated to the poker hand held by gunfighter Wild Bill Hickok when he was shot and killed – – – the “dead man’s hand”. Yant’s story offers several different versions of how Hickok’s death transpired depending on the cards that were dealt (other than the reputed aces and eights). It’s a short and fun tale, but not at the same level as most of the writing in the book.
In between these two stories are 21 more works by Ben H. Winters, David Farland, Mike Resnick, Seanan McGuire, Charles Yu, Alan Dean Foster, Beth Revis, Alastair Reynolds, Hugh Howey, Rajan Khanna, Orson Scott Card, Elizabeth Bear, Tad Williams, Jonathan Maberry, Kelly Armstrong, Tobias S. Bucknell, Jeffrey Ford, Ken Liu, Laura Anne Gilman, Walter Jon Williams, and Fred Van Lente.
- Of great amusement is “The Old Slow Man And his Gold Gun from Space” by Ben H. Winters, a tale of two California gold prospectors down on their luck who meet a mysterious stranger with an unusual type of divining rod.
It’s very difficult to single out one individual story as the best or favorite of the bunch. The quality is high. The stories are very engaging and entertaining. Among the standouts are:
- “Stingers And Strangers” by Seanan McGuire about a pair of paranormal investigators trying to rid a town of some pesky insects. It’s told with style and substance, and may remind some of the crime-fighter pair from the BBC’s The Avengers television show of the 1960’s.
- There’s a very well written first person narrative in “Bookkeeper, Narrator, Gunslinger” by Charles Yu, revealing how extra-sensory abilities can make anyone a winning gunfighter.
- Alan Dean Foster includes a new tale of his character Mad Amos Malone in a dangerous bordello in “Holy Jingle” that mixes some laughs along with the terror and threat.
- The first tale of Alvin Maker in more than a decade disappoints in “Alvin And The Apple Tree”. Orson Scott Card’s frontier hero meets up with Johnny Appleseed for a philosophical parable that is too long, too wordy, and too preachy.
- A better alternate history story is “Strong Medicine” by Tad Williams. This is strong on character, in a story of a settlement that gets displaced in time every 30 years.
- “La Madre Del Oro” by Jeffrey Ford is a nerve-wracking tale of a posse tracking a cannibalistic killer through a desert storm.
- “What I Assume You Shall Assume” by Ken Liu includes some magic realism, where the printed word has special powers – – especially when swallowed down and combined with knowledge of Chinese calligraphy and cryptography.
- The most steam punk and outlandish story in the collection is “Neversleeps” by Fred Van Lente. It’s a mash-up of alternative history, magic, and clockwork/steam punk creations. This story is packed full with so much invention that you’ll need a second reading to take it all in. In places it may remind you of classic Connery-era James Bond and James West of the classic Wild Wild West television series (also 1960’s).
Dead Man’s Hand is a winning hand for any fan of the weird western, as well as those who would like to get acquainted with the genre.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)
Twentieth Century Fox
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the highly anticipated sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011). I saw the movie before reading Todd McCarthy’s review in The Hollywood Reporter, where he sums it up with: “Dawn is to Rise of the Planet of the Apes what Empire Strikes Back is to Star Wars.” In fact, I was thinking this the whole time I was watching the movie (when I wasn’t so engrossed in the story and the action that I forgot that I was supposed to be thinking about a review).
So what makes this such a damn good movie? Characterization. And story. Since this is part of a prequel series to the original Planet of the Apes (1968), it is intriguing to see how the apes start to organize, form a civilization, and speak. The first encounter between apes and humans is jaw-dropping. The plot is pretty straightforward and a bit contrived in places – is this particular dam really the only way to restore electricity to San Francisco? Sociologically, it seems plausible: a series of unfortunate misunderstandings and a bit of deceitful mayhem by an angry few blow up into a major feud with no forgiveness possible.
Overall the special effects and action scenes are excellent and the 3D animation is subtle but effective. You feel the intensity and the pain and anguish of the characters, something that many latter day movies lack in the overly CGI world.
Andy Serkis as Ceasar is incredibly convincing. He’s not playing a human in an electronic apesuit – he’s playing an ape that is becoming more and more aware of what it means to be an ape. The result is by turns wonderful and chilling. The entire cast deserves credit for bringing the full range of primate emotions to life with nothing spared.
There is a lot to ingest in the subtext and in the nods to previous films and great works of science fiction. Every scene has at least a hint at some sociopolitical commentary — whether about guns, racism, animal welfare, religion, or the atrocities of war — and many embedded references to past masters to keep geeks happy. Even the music invokes parallels by incorporating themes from the original Jerry Goldsmith score and elements from classics like 2001: A Space Odyssey (who could forget those choruses when the apes encounter the monolith… and Strauss swelling during the hog kill scene?)
The movie succeeds in pulling heartstrings. You want to love the apes, but you feel for the humans, and in the end, we realize that we are all the same, but it is no a happy realization. Like the first Star Wars trilogy, this is setting things up for an epic showdown. Let’s just hope the third installment doesn’t have any ape-woks.
Hysteria: A Collection of Madness
Stephanie M. Wytovich
2013, Raw Dog Screaming Press
ISBN: 978-1-935738-49-7, 160 pages; $13.95
Horror and poetry don’t often come together in a collection as entertaining and disturbing as Stephanie M. Wytovich’s Hysteria. By turns, this is a wild romp through a cast of unhinged minds: serial killers, violated corpses, mental patients, betrayed lovers, and suicidal lunatics play out their darkest fantasies in Wytovich’s demented verse.
Although most of the entries are quite brief, there are just over 100 poems–each piece delightfully dark and many sexy, perverse, horrible moments to be savored. So many of them in fact, that a singular complaint may be that it seems the editor gave up on any semblance of organization of the book, opting to simply deliver all of the content as one contiguous section in alphabetic order by title. Regardless, the presentation does offer an arbitrary randomness which likens it to the proverbial “box of chocolates,” allowing the reader freedom to choose how best to tackle to consumption by either dipping in and out, or selecting a predetermined order.
To illustrate, one could pick a number, for example, 73, turn to the page and sample, in this case, the title poem, “Hysteria”:
. . .You’re diseased, he said
But I can cure you
If you let me
He turned the lights off
A vibrator up my cunt
And told me to
Told me to relax and
Let go. . .
I have one word for you…webseries. OK, don’t groan; hear me out.
Yes, I know that the rapid advancement in Internet streaming technologies and the advent of home video editing suites have created a perfect storm of sorts. On one hand, just about everyone and their mothers have become auteurs overnight, latter day Francis Ford Coppolas who just know how brilliant their work is; how people will understand their “vision” if they could only see the work. Of course, most of these folks should have remained interested amateurs, content to consume rather than produce, as most of the product ends up being shit. On the other hand, these technological advancements have been a boon to those who have practiced and honed their craft for decades, those with the ability and skill to craft television series, albeit television series in handy little seven to ten minute chunks.
Almost overnight, venues like Hulu, Vudu, Koldcast and Blip TV became ravenous for content. At first, venues of this type were obsessed with massive amounts of content and, needless to say, the result was mixed. Quality filmmakers suddenly had a viable distribution venue with massive potential, but so did the auteurs, and the Hunger Games of content, content, content won out—at first, anyway. The marketplace became flooded with unbelievable amounts of drek, and the quality content was quickly drowned in the shifting seas. But almost as quickly, these venues started to realize that quality did matter and the ratio of crap to quality is shifting rapidly. No longer does one have to kiss a hundred frogs to find a prince. Maybe just 25, these days. But that’s the beauty of bite-sized television. You can usually tell in the first minute whether you gotten something good or something dreadful. You can move on quickly or immerse yourself in the work of some truly talented writers, producer and directors.
Case in point: Malice: The Webseries, a creepy and impressive series created, written, produced and edited by Philip J. Cook, a filmmaker based in the Washington D.C. area. No neophyte, Cook has a long history in the entertainment industry. In the 80s—when micro-budget filmmakers could still produce and get theatrical distribution—Cook was producing ambitious sci-fi films. When the 90s rolled around and cable became de rigueur, Cook bypassed theatrical distribution and went straight to the cable networks. But then Hollywood swooped in, monopolizing the cable market; so in the aughts, Cook set his sites of the massive number of brick-and-mortar video stores, selling his films directly to that market. Hollywood, again, finally caught on and shortly thereafter saw the potential Cook and others like him had already recognized. Soon, studios were flooding video stores with direct-to-video productions, again squeezing out the independents.
In short, Cook has been on the leading edge of micro-budget filmmakers for decades. So, when Internet killed the Video Store, Cook set his sites on the emerging media of streaming distribution and created Malice, which has racked up an impressive number of good reviews, and rightly so.
Take one creepy house, two rebellious teenage girls, a possibly unstable ex-Navy Seal father and a recovering alcoholic mother and mix them together with ghosts and zombies and monsters and you have a highly entertaining series that has been called Juno meets The Shining. And it’s a label that is particularly apt.
In a twisted play on Alice in Wonderland, Malice focuses on Alice (Brittany Martz), a disaffected–almost jaded–youth who isn’t exactly thrilled when her mother, Jesse (Leanna Chamish), inherits her childhood home. But Alice doesn’t have much say in the matter and, in the opening episode, Jesse, Alice, her sister Abbey (Rebekkah Johnson) and father Nate (Mark Hyde), find themselves facing a seriously creepy old house in rural Virginia. Almost immediately upon arriving, strange things are afoot and it might just have something to do with the massive graveyard in the back yard.
Jesse chucks her one-year sobriety out the window almost immediately. Nate, who had recently finished his stint in Afghanistan, seems a little more lost, a bit more off-balance and, although never particularly close, Alice and Abbey begin fighting even more regularly than usual. There are also strange happenings in the house as well. Alice constantly feels as if she is being watched. Mysterious figures pass by the rooms. Someone watches from the heating grates.
When one night, Jesse wanders off into the woods in only a nightie and Nate starts receiving bloody messages on the walls, Alice and Abbey slowly watch their family disintegrate and are thrust into a bizarre wonderland. Does Alice simply have an overactive imagination? Or are there secrets about her family she’s never even known?
From the very first moment of the premiere episode, you know you’re in for something different with Malice. Martz, as Alice, sits atop her family’s new home, a bunny hat on her head, an AK-47 in her hands. “Being a teenager sucks. There’s a shocking revelation, huh? But right now, that’s the least of my problems.” She ruminates on how it all came to this, how her not-so normal family seemed so normal in hindsight, what her life has become. It’s a great hook, because for the entire first season, we’re working our way back to that moment, wondering what the hell led her to that rooftop. And it’s a ride worth taking.
Cook keeps the storytelling concise, an absolute necessity when dealing with webseries episodes, and wrought with tension, each episode ending with a truly compelling cliffhanger. The mood he sets is genuinely creepy, alternately dark and extremely stark, and the dynamic between cast members is highly affective. In short, he set the tone expertly but gives us realistic and interesting character dynamics. In fact, one of the most chilling moments early in the season is when the until-then sober Jesse brings in dinner the first night they are in the house and she has a glass of wine with her. When she sets the glass on the table, that one moment resounds link a gunshot.
Now, don’t get me wrong…this isn’t some dreary family melodrama. Script and character are, indeed, everything, but there are other big bonuses as well. Malice boasts some incredibly ambitious—and highly effective—special effects. With a budget that couldn’t have been more than one day’s worth of craft services on a Hollywood series, Cook pulls off some spectacular moments that add to the creepiness. I first watched Malice on my little laptop and was impressed with the SFX. When I discovered I could transfer to my 50 inch TV, I re-watched them and they are just as impressive—if not more so—at HD size. Cook is wise, however. Never does he allow the effects to overtake the story. They are there to serve it and they serve it well.
As with any regional production, there are some hits and misses with the actors, some being far more accomplished than others, but luckily, Cook has cast his series leads extremely well. Martz is greatly appealing as Alice as is Johnson who grows into her role as the series continues. Los Angeles-based actor Mark Hyde as Nate, the patriarch, brings a wonderful sense of stability while, at the same time, being just off-kilter enough to make us wonder what he is capable of. And Chamish, as Jesse, has some wonderfully chilling moments.
The first season of Malice has 6 episodes, varying in length from 3-10 minutes and ends with an appropriately creepy cliffhanger. Season two (also 6 episodes) starts off with a massive bang — an impressive episode that rivals many Hollywood mainstream series — and ends with what was thought to be the series finale, again huge in scope and execution. In between the two seasons, Cook and company produced a special episode as an homage to the cult-classic series Space: 1999 which is worth a look if, for nothing more, the genuinely stunning special effects.
Last year, Cook mapped out a new season for Malice, entitled Malice: Metamorphosis, and then turned to crowd funding to see if he could make it a reality. It’s clear that the entire Malice series has been a labor of love (Cook, his family and friends all kick in to make the series effective) and that is even more evident in his crowd funding effort: he was looking to raise a meager $13,000, with most of that budget going to food for the cast and crew, set materials, prop materials and the like. How refreshing to see a realistic (and humble) crowd funding appeal. Luckily, the effort was successful.*
Webseries have very much been the first frontier with respect to short-run series, offering an unprecedented opportunity for micro-budget independent production companies like Cook’s Eagle Films. But that is quickly changing and, as the mainstream takes notice, the market is shifting again. Already, South Korean film and television studios have started producing webseries such as the popular Infinite Power, and Hollywood is surely not going to be far behind. Jump in now and discover the amazing creativity out there before it gets diluted with the same-old, same-old.
If you looking for a creepy, disturbing series with some serious ambition and highly professional storytelling, I highly recommend Malice: The Webseries. All of Season 1 & 2 are available on various content services and Malice: Metamorphosis will premiere on Blip TV on February 19, 2014. It is highly worth your time.
* Though I seldom participate in crowd funding efforts, in the interest of full disclosure, I must state that I did contribute to the funding of Malice: Metamorphosis because I strongly believe in the quality of what Cook has produced. I am not, however, in any way involved in the series and have no financial or creative interest in the series.
THE OTHER DEAD #5 of 6 (IDW, January 2014)
Writer/Co-Creator: Joshua Ortega. Co-Creator: Digger T Mesch.
Art: Quing Ping Mui. Colors: Blond.
Letters: Tom B. Long. Creative Consultant: Kevin Eastman.
Based on a film treatment by Digger T Mesch.
Before you can even open to the first page, the great art assaults you. There are three covers for Issue #5. All three are great and serve as good hints/teasers for the inside contents. Art lovers will want to have all three. (Reviewer’s Note: A bad time for me to get practical instead of impulsive.)
Issue #4 ended with our unlikely band of survivors holed up inside redneck Chet’s house. Issue #5 is an all-out zombie animal assault on the house with enough action and killing to last another two issues. The setting might even be a homage to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD , the original black & white zombie scare fest that is the granddaddy of all current zombie movies, television, fiction, and comics. Never stop the insanity when it’s this good!
Chip, the President’s advisor, does his job and advises everyone to sit tight and wait it out until the evacuation team that President Obama contacted arrives for a rescue extraction. Little Tommy, scoring points for figuring out that Chet is a former Army Ranger (learned it from “video games” ) asks an intelligent rhetorical question: “But didn’t Chet say the animals start coming around at night?” (Flashback to page one where the animal forces are gathering.) Mr. Advisor responds with a classic answer of “Yes, thought I think if we stay put inside we should be just fine.” (Also recalling the infamous line from THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD – – – “The cellar’s the safest place!” We know what happened there.)
Chet’s just a little bit paranoid about having an animal-bitten rocker in his home, not to mention a black man (even if he is the President). His suspicions lead him to questioning Obama about the entrance requirements into The Illuminati, as he’s sure that how he landed in office. And then the mayhem begins as the house is broken into by the animals. First it’s a pack of vicious dogs, followed by deer and big ass bears. They all attack with manic fury and don’t go down easy, requiring multiple head shots and smashes.
The art and color throughout the battle scenes is extremely expressive and explicit this issue. Artist Mui is having a field day as he depicts undead animals in various stages of decay, exposed bones and sinews, with skin stretched back across the muzzle to display rotting fangs, etc. The inks and colors are bolder than seen before, with reds and greens illuminating the pages. There are some very effective pages and panels that are shaded one color.
President Obama should definitely take some time out to investigate this book, as it depicts him in a very favorable light (even if it is bathed in crimson). He takes up arms, blows heads apart with both barrels, kicks, chops and hacks away at the animals when he’s balls to the walls and cornered.
It all comes to a head rather quickly, as we’ll have to wait for the conclusion in Issue #6 to see how this turns out. It’s not going to be good for one side or the other. If I told you which side (animals or humans) got the upper hand this issue it would spoil too much of this very engaging story. Recommended.
(Reviewer’s Notes: It’s already been announced that a sequel is in the works, slated for late 2014. So that would indicate that somebody or something survived to carry this forward.)
THE OTHER DEAD #3 of 6 (IDW Publishing, release date November 13, 2013) Writer / Co-Creator: Joshua Ortega. Co-Creator: Digger T Mesch. Art: Quing Ping Mui. Colors: Blond. Letters: Tom B. Long. Edits: Tom Waltz. Creative Consultant: Kevin Eastman. Based on a film treatment by Digger T Mesch. Covers by Sam Shearon, Shane White, Kevin Eastman & David Millgate. www.theotherdead.com www.idwpublishing.com
After three issues of THE OTHER DEAD the half-way point in this grisly but gripping saga of a zombie plague has been reached. Events have been heating up to a boiling point. The furious and savage attacks by various species of the animal kingdom against humanity are now widespread, especially in the state of Louisiana which seems to be the epicenter. With a hurricane threatening to accelerate the devastation and isolation even further, Issue #4 should be on absolute fire and ready to explode. That leaves two remaining issues to bring everything to a resolution or conclusion, and this reviewer wonders when and how (and why) it will all end.
Let’s consider together some very popular zombie fiction (and film) for a moment. Fans of the comic book series dislike the television series, and vice versa. But would they both agree on the following? = Is it accurate to state that THE WALKING DEAD is first and foremost a human interest drama, with the gruesome tale of zombie infestation being a secondary concern? Please make a decision, pick one or the other, and hold that thought. Now, will the growing readership of THE OTHER DEAD consider this statement? Is it accurate to state that THE OTHER DEAD is first and foremost a gory tale of the rise of the animal kingdom and their revenge against their persecutors (human race), with the human interest drama being a secondary concern? Please make a decision, pick one or the other, and hold that thought.
Perhaps it’s a commentary by Lynda E. Rucker that appeared in U.K. horror publication BLACK STATIC #36 (September-October 2013) that stimulated this thought and led me to ponder the creators’ intentions. (Sure, I could always contact them and beg the question. But I would rather wait for the end, and be either surprised or have my suspicions confirmed. It’s more fun this way.) In her column, Rucker considers horror storytelling and genre storytelling in general and debates whether they should entertain first and foremost, or contain meaning and purpose. Also, she asks “can the two approaches exist side by side?”
It came down to this comment by her, which really struck home and stimulated the thoughts that influenced the way I began this review:
“Fiction and film that demands a bit more of its audience, however, is a little more endangered, because it doesn’t always go down as easily and (most significantly) it doesn’t usually make as much money. But one of the things I love most is a challenge. I like dense prose, difficult characters, uncomfortable truths, have-to-read-it-twice–or-more-to-get-it stories. Tell me a tale that will make me look at the world differently once you’re done, not because you’ve taken me out of the world, but because you have located me more firmly within it even as you’ve infused it with the supernatural, the numinous, the impossible.”
Does that mean that PETA will embrace THE OTHER DEAD and utilize it as a call to assemble for their cause? (I doubt that, but it’s an interesting thought.) Will some meat-eating readers of THE OTHER DEAD begin to feel guilty about their food choices and convert to vegetarianism as a result? (That’s another interesting thought.) Could a reviewer by searching for meaning or just sharing some deeper thoughts generated by THE OTHER DEAD suddenly revive a sleepy readership and provoke some comments on the website? (That’s a third interesting thought.)
The only things that appear fairly certain at this point are that 1) not every character introduced will still be around by Issue #6; 2) the odds seem to be stacked against the human race; and 3) artist Quing Ping Mui is a major talent who deserves more recognition. So far, our intrepid group comprised of a death metal band, some hooker girlfriends, and a younger brother has suffered the loss of two of their members. Birds, gators, dogs and now squirrels (which can infiltrate a home rather easily) are all out for blood. If the critters don’t get them, the hurricane-fed tropical storm surely will. From gory images of animal savagery to a range of vivid facial expressions (which makes crystal clear the emotional trauma being experienced) to background scenery, detail, and a fantastic final page of the storm at its worst – – Mui can do it all.
What also occurs in Issue #3 is the President and chief advisor meeting up with rocker Azrael and friends after surviving an assault on their vehicle by a vicious pack of rapid, drooling dogs. (Finally, the President gets his kicks in.) And, for the first time he is identified by name as “Obama”. Make no mistake about the vaguely familiar man as drawn by Mui. Yeah, the Prez is here. There are also disturbing images and consequences associated with an escape from a gator assault on an SUV. Some redneck hunters may have found a sure-fire solution to curbing the spread of the virus, but at what cost?
It doesn’t bode well for the final outcome here. And, if humanity survives at the cost of the animal kingdom, what does that do for the balance of nature? How might it change the future? Perhaps the creators have some surprises in store along the way. I’ll be watching this closely the rest of the way and will continue to post some updates here (doing my best to avoid completely spoiling it.) I highly recommend this mini-series. Go check it out.
THE OTHER DEAD #1 (IDW, release date September 25, 2013) Writer / Co-Creator: Joshua Ortega, Digger T Mesch. Art: Quing Ping Mui. Colors: Blond. Letters: Tom B. Long. Edits: Tom Waltz. Creative Consultant: Kevin Eastman. Based on a film treatment by Digger T Mesch. Covers: Logo cover by Reynir Hauksson; Obama cover by Dave Dorman; Zombie turtles cover by Kevin Eastman & David Millgate.
THE OTHER DEAD received some unexpected advance publicity from an unlikely source a few weeks ago when all copies were held up in U.S. Customs on their way to the United States via an Asian printer. The book did not debut on September 11 as scheduled and rumors circulated that it was due to the controversial variant cover featuring an armed and angry President Obama. The Customs’ office explanation (that they were spraying for moths) was doubted, and the conspiracy theories helped peak curiosity for the book, probably ensuring that it will sell out on the release date, now scheduled for September 25, 2013.
There is new interest in the book as a result, and speculation on whether the contents will justify all the attention. I’m happy to report that THE OTHER DEAD is a gritty, gruesome but fresh take on the well-worn zombie genre that contains a sufficient element of satire to induce some chuckles along with the shivers. Far from predictable, it moves along at a rapid pace as it mixes a little fun in with the suspense and terror. Its worth your checking out, and by all means try to obtain a copy of the awesome Obama cover by renowned artist Dave Dorman.
Things begin in shotgun fashion as a Texas trio of deer hunters (one with a familiar face) bring down their prey in one explosive kill shot to the head. There’s a quick political in-joke to ease the tension, occurring just moments before the now angry prey gets back up. The captioned narration talks about the beginnings of the infection, and concludes that it may have been airborne, “like an air of death had been carrying on the wind, just waiting for the right gust to push it all the way.”
There’s a huge handful of creative talent working on this book – – Joshua Ortega (Gears Of War, Star Wars Tales); Digger T Mesch (Agent 88, founder of Art Asylum); and Kevin Eastman (co-creator of TMNT and current publisher of Heavy Metal magazine) – – and they vigorously inject new life into familiar and somewhat dormant subject matter. But what really propels THE OTHER DEAD into a higher gear is the amazing art of Qing Ping Mui. It’s an original style, but comparing it to some other artists will help those unfamiliar with Mui (as I was) get an idea of how visually stunning his work is: take the photo-realistic style of Leonardo Manco and Steve Epting and put an edge on it similar to Frank Quitely and Carlos Magno. The attention to detail is impressive, and Mui enhances the hysterical mood through incredibly expressive facial reactions. He transfers that same expressive look to the faces of the animals as well, helping to heighten the sense of impending doom that disturbs the human characters. And, if someone wants to script a comic about a strip club pole dancer they really need Mui to visualize it for them.
Following the bloody opening scenes, THE OTHER DEAD puts the pedal to the metal and doesn’t let off the gas until the final panel. Issue #1 is a whirlwind-paced prelude to what comes next. The rest of the activity takes place in Louisiana, which is about to be devastated by another ferocious hurricane just as the infected animal activity begins to fester. The major characters include the members of a struggling death metal band who decide to break into a breeding pen of ducks and see if a blood bath can revive their music, the leader’s dancer girlfriend and her roommate, the President of the United States (depicted as Barack Obama, but not identified by name) and young Tommy. Tommy is the most sympathetic of all these characters and also the narrator voice in the captions.
There’s an early moment of dread when Tommy hurls his bacon and eggs breakfast (nice spatter detail) and we wonder if he has ingested breakfast made from infected animals. But Tommy seems to be suffering from his own illness (possibly terminal). As illustrated by Mui, he appears a little pasty-faced and weary, as if feeling the effects of radiation treatment or chemo-therapy.
During the U.S. Customs delay and my news article about it ( see http://bcrefugees.blogspot.com/2013/09/september-11-release-of-other-dead.html ) I also challenged the creators’ claims to being the first to feature animal infestation in a zombie tale, referring to THE FINAL PLAGUE (begins and spreads through rats) among others. I now realize that their claim is valid. The zombie plague in THE OTHER DEAD will be confined to the animal kingdom, and this six-issue series will be primarily about humans trying to survive as more and more animal species turn into flesh craving zombies. This is what differentiates THE OTHER DEAD from other zombie books that feature animals – – the protagonist is the animal kingdom, and not infected humans.
I also would not be surprised to see PETA file a complaint regarding the inhumane and cruel abuse of animals in Issue #1. They should realize that it’s
only a comic book, and no actual animals were harmed in the production of THE OTHER DEAD. In fact, with the exception of the zombie gator that chomps down on an infected duck, its cruelty to animals that seems to trigger the disease in the deer and ducks in Issue #1. There’s a message/warning to humans here . The animal kingdom is long overdue their come-uppance. PETA would be pleased.
It also seems that THE OTHER DEAD was held up in U.S. Customs not because of the Obama variant cover but because they really did need to spray the shipment for moths. It’s ironic and amusing that a book about zombie animals is delayed because of concerns about what disease or infection the moths might spread. Grounded in reality, perhaps?