Monday, November 25, 2013

The Compleat Crow, returning

Just stumbled on this!

Subterranean Press are reprinting The Compleat Crow - the collection of the Titus Crow shorts and novellas.

It's a little steep, but Subterranean usually are.  Crow isn't what I expected for Mythos tales, but the shorts might be different from the novels.  The novels are fun, in their way - just more about adventure than horror.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Words from Tannhauser's creator

I did my usual rounds on the REH/Conan forums this morning.

I was pleasantly surprised to find this note awaiting myself and other enthusiasts on our discussion thread concerning The Twelve Children of Paris by Tim Willocks.

(I believe you can read the post without being a member.  But, for convenience, I am assuming the author won't mind my repost here.)
Dear Fierro, Deuce, PaulMc, et al,

I am Tim Willocks. I registered on this site to thank you guys for your support, which I greatly appreciate. I am honoured that you should give Tannhauser a place in Valhalla with Conan himself.

REH's Conan was one of my great inspirations when I was but a lad. Along with Sergio Leone's 'Man With No Name', the western novel character 'Edge' by George G. Gilman (the first ten were amazing; I don't know if they are still available but worth looking for), and the novels of Sven Hassel (again, the earlier ones are best - Wheels of Terror in particular).

T's body count, by the way, is over 150 in Twelve Children, all individual deaths. The only wound he receives is from a boy with a sling. I based his fighting attitudes and style on the great karate masters I have trained with over the last thirty years. I achieved a respectable level, 2nd Dan, and won a minor competition here and there, but whenever I came across the real virtuosos I was completely stunned, dazzled, overwhelmed, by their speed, insight, foresight and above all decisiveness. A different dimension, almost supernatural. I felt like a two-year old. And no matter how hard a modern martial artist trains, he sleeps in a bed and his life is not at stake. So how much more extraordinary must the fighters of the past have been? When not just their lives were at stake but also notions of honour that are now incomprehensible.

Unlike in The Religion, where he had the janissaries to contend with, in Twelve Children he is facing, essentially, volunteer policemen and street thugs.I couldn't bring myself to let them lay a glove on him - or rather, I just didn't believe that he would let them. Personally, it often annoys me in movies when the hero gets wounded just for the sake of making his life a bit more difficult, a fake tension. If you are that good, you don't lose a single point. Why wouldn't you kill them all? Why would even cross your mind to show mercy? My main frustration in writing the action was that it takes sixty-seconds' worth of words to describe a move that would take only two seconds (or less) to execute.

I think some readers will doubt the realism of all that, but to me it is true realism. I have absolutely no doubt that such men existed. Shakespeare is full of them. I once saw a former New York state tennis champion play a former Polish national champion and Grand Slam contender. There are a lot of really good tennis players in New York State; but the Polish guy crushed him - he didn't concede a single point, let alone a game. The local crowd fell into a kind of horrified silence. The Polish champion just lived, breathed, perceived in a different dimension. Tannhauser is essentially a kind of five-times Grand Slam champion of combat. It's not that there are not others in his league, it's just that I couldn't imagine any of them being in Paris at that time - or certainly not among the packs of rabid murderers.

Anyway, thanks again for your generous and thoughtful comments.

I will sign off with this REH quotation, to which I often return for reassurance when I worry that Tannhauser is going too far (which is often):

“Let me live deep while I live. Let me know the rich juices of red meat and stinging wine on my palate, the hot embrace of white arms, the mad exultation of battle when the blue blades flame and crimson, and I am content. Let teachers and priests and philosophers brood over questions of reality and illusion. I know this: if life is illusion, then I am no less an illusion, and being thus, the illusion is real to me. I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content.” Conan in 'Queen of the Black Coast'.

All the best
Tim Willocks


The extra insight into the believability of Tannhauser and his actions is very spot-on.

Anyway, this was a great post to read first thing in the morning.  The Internet/Web can still be a very neat place where cool things happen.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

When Comics Were...Crazy

My interest in comics is a relatively new era of my life.  I did not grow up with them.  Aside from the Robert E. Howard related sword-&-sorcery comics, my current interest in superhero comics started once I was pulled into the animated series Justice League/Justice League Unlimited.

Suffice to say I am somewhat spoiled by that--and by "recent" graphic novels--that can take the best elements of things past, blend them up, and present them in a well-formed narrative of character development, plot and action.  I've been playing a lot of catch-up, along with touching base here & there with recent stuff.

Occasionally, I try to educate myself by delving back even further into titles.  The Marvel Essentials or DC Showcase Presents collections are an inexpensive way to do that, if you don't mind the black-&-white interiors.

Comics - you've come a long way, baby!  Getting through these collections can be arduous for me.  I know to leave my hyper-critical story-reader mind at the door, but still.  It's obvious from these collections how far comics have come from being children's media, to attempted "adult" seriousness, to the much smoother presentations we find these days.

My latest foray is All Star Comics, the 1970s revival of the 1940s title that showcased the Justice Society of America.  I thought maybe going with the 1970s would be a bit more readable than 1940s stuff.  Who knows, maybe the 1940s stuff is easier to swallow (though we know the war-related racism that was in the comics during WWII.)

The things that irritate me;

1.) Constant narration, thought bubbles, dialog, expository dialog even though the action illustrates what is happening.  It gets tedious.  Now, I would guess there are at least two reasons for this; 1.) to spell out exactly what is happening for the children to understand 2.) paid to 'write.'  If there weren't words on the page, editors would try to dodge out of paying a writer.  (Marvel tried to do this to Steranko when he started a Nick Fury story with 3 pages of visuals, no words.)

2.) Lip service characterization via attempts at social consciousness and seriousness.  Rather than work it in organically, there are moments oddly dropped in here and there.  Abruptly Alan Scott (Green Lantern) drops out of a mission because his business is failing due to his continued absence.  (Never was a problem for Bruce Wayne.)  The "feminist" dialog and narrative notes around Power Girl are absolutely cringe-worthy.

3.) Insane and semi-random plotting.  Things just keep coming out of left field.  Either to tease the next issue, or just to conveniently add to the story.  I remember reading the Essentials Captain America where the issue's story would end, and then there would be a final, unrelated frame to hook into the next issue.  DC was doing the same thing here, though sometimes they'd drop the hook in the middle of the issue - where it feels even more random.

Oh, don't get me wrong, it's all fun in its own way.  But if you go in with a modern mindset, these are some crazy looks back at the worlds of superheroes.


On the other hand, we have the modern facet of comics going too far to the dark, serious and gritty.  Obviously, they were trying to get away from the kids' stuff, and certainly comics are a wide enough pallette for all kinds of stories.

I have nothing against comics that are aimed at older crowds.  But sometimes I believe there is too much focus on that lately from the main publishers and their main titles.  Would you rather have an animated Justice League style storyline and presentation or a New 52 presentation as your main flagship?  I know my preference.

Again, I must pay tribute to Atomic Robo.  To me, this is how wonderful a modern comic can be.  Character, fun, plots that work and nothing overly grim, violent or sexual.  Not to say it is written for kids - but you could share it with your kids easily.

I guess I'm just a centrist in nearly every aspect of my life - superhero comics included.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Night of the Doctor

Last Thursday, the Whoniverse exploded over a 6+ minute "mini-sode" that was released online as a precursor to the upcoming 50th anniversary special, The Day of the Doctor.

It is titled, aptly enough, The Night of the Doctor.

I was very fortunate to click through to the mini-sode first thing in the morning, and avoided all spoilers.

It was a big shocker, because somehow, someway in this age of the Internet, the secret was not leaked.  But now we can discuss it.

"I'm a Doctor.  But probably not the one you were expecting."
Paul McGann was back, on-screen, as the Doctor's eighth incarnation!

The last time he was seen in the role was 1996.  That was for the t.v. movie - his one and only (until now) visual appearance as the Doctor.

No surprise, I can't stop pondering The Night of the Doctor. Sure, McGann's surprise appearance was an undeniable wow! factor, but there's more than that.

It's no throwaway extended scene - it's a story, loaded with backstory presented with tight writing.

This rundown sums it up well.

I would add a few other points.  First off, this is not a role McGann dusted off after 17 years.  Yes, he has not been on-screen as the Doctor in all that time, but he has been playing the Doctor in audio-plays for a number of years now.  He knows exactly how his Doctor acts and sounds, and he was able to bring it all to those 6+ minutes of the mini-sode.

Also, the themes present throughout the current run of the series are in here, too.  One aspect of the new show has been exploring how the Doctor saves his companions and how they, in turn, save him - from himself.  It is very telling that here at the end, when the Doctor chooses to no longer be "the Doctor," there is no companion to talk him out of his decision.

For those non-Whovians reading, think of it as an incredible piece of Doctor Who flash fiction.  It might even be interesting to watch it and see how much backstory you can work out.  I have an advantage there, but I still think a helluva lot was conveyed on-screen.

The Night of the Doctor

Between Moffat's laser-focused dialog and McGann's pitch-perfect performance, this might be the best 6+ minutes of Doctor Who ever.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Halloween leftovers

I managed to squeeze in quite a bit of media consumption over the weekend.

I watched Boris Karloff ham it up in The Mask of Fu Manchu, and rewatched it with commentary.  I listened to the commentary on The Mark of the Vampire - the movie itself I had watched last week.

I (re)watched Things That Go Bump in the Night,  a documentary on haunted New England tales & folklore.  (It was produced by the PBS station from western Massachusetts.)  I learned a few new stories, but mostly I'd read about everything they covered.  I do have a large collection of local press New England occult folklore books, so that's not surprising.

Things That Go Bump in the Night
You can watch the entire thing online if you have an hour and are interested.

I finished reading the story, "Children of the Kingdom", by T. E. D. Klein (in his Dark Gods collection.)  Another tale of the lost subterranean race(s), but this time they are moving through the underbelly of NYC.

I also read the Dynamite trade paperback collection of Army of Darkness: Ash vs. the (Classic) Monsters.  I hadn't tried any of the AoD comics and I was disappointed.  They overplayed "Ash is a horndog" and "Ash gets people's names wrong" until it was tedious.  And the Monsters - aside from a thinking Frankenstein monster - didn't feel special or Universal whatsoever.

Finally, I started reading the second Titus Crow novel, The Transition of Titus Crow.  I wasn't expecting to return to Crow so soon, but seeing as how the novel is the second-half of the omnibus, I decided to finish it off.  So far, it's another occult adventure as opposed to atmospheric Mythos horror, but it's a fun romp.
The Transition of Titus Crow