2013 Year In Review: Quickies

Posted in 2013 year in review, comic books with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 4, 2014 by vagabondsaint

Wow, 2013 was a pretty craptastic year, personally. But, I survived, and here I am with my year-in-review stuff. In April, partly because timeliness is for the weak, and partly because I’m still bitter about 2013.

Anyway.

There will be longer, more in-depth pieces coming, but for now, here are the categories that only merited a paragraph or two! Enjoy!

Worst Comic Book News

That J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman were leaving Batwoman, which was one of the best DC New 52 comics at the time. Williams had been with the character from the beginning of her run in Detective Comics (with writer Greg Rucka), and made Kate Kane into a fully fleshed-out, intriguing character, and the only lesbian in mainstream comics today.  Blackman and Williams cited editorial differences and interference as the reasons for their departure, including not being able to show the wedding of Kate and her fiance Maggie Sawyer.

Solid writing by Blackman and absolutely fantastic, haunting, gorgeous art by Williams are exactly why this book was on the top of the New 52 heap, and while I’ve got nothing against Marc Andreyko (his Manhunter run proved he can write female characters well), he’s not Blackman. Thankfully, though, the pair planned to finish their then-current arc of the book, which would have pitted Batwoman against Batman, and end their run with #26.

And then came the. . .

Biggest Dick Move of 2013

DC decided to cut Blackman and Williams’ shortened run on Batwoman even shorter.  #24 ended up being the last Blackman/Williams issue, to make room for a Zero Year (insanely inane origin-mangling crime against comic fans story arc running in Batman) tie-in issue in #25 and the start of new writer Marc Andreyko’s run in #26 (with new artist Trevor McCarthy).  To make up for this astounding lack of love for the fans, DC announced in January that the conclusion of Blackman/Williams’ last storyline would be presented in the 2014 Batwoman Annual. . .written by Marc Andreyko and illustrated by Trevor McCarthy.

Apparently “DC” now stands for “Dick Comics.”

Most Disappointing Comic-Based Video Game

And the nominees are. . .actually, there aren’t any, because this one was easy.

The winner is: Batman: Arkham Origins!

A little backstory, because games this disappointing don’t just come out of nowhere. In 2009, WB published the first of a new line of Batman video games, titled Batman: Arkham Asylum, and developed by Rocksteady Games.  The gameplay was phenomenal, the graphics were beautiful, the Paul Dini-penned story was enjoyable, and everybody was happy.  In 2011, WB and Rocksteady followed it up with Batman: Arkham Citywhich improved upon the first game in every conceivable way with even tighter gameplay, a much larger area to explore, more challenges, better graphics, more villains, more heroes (Catwoman was playable!), and more unlockables than you could shake a batarang at.  B:AC won awards, accolades, and acclaims from virtually all corners. Both games, by the way, sold like bacon-flavored hotcakes.

Then Warner Brothers decided. . .no one seems to actually know what they decided.  It was speculated that WB wanted to put out a new game in the Arkham series every year, and Rocksteady let common sense triumph over greed and said no, they couldn’t make a quality game in that short a timeframe.  Whatever the story was, WB let their in-house studio, WB Montreal, develop Arkham Origins instead.

And they proved Rocksteady completely correct.

Origins is, and let me say now I did play the game all the way through to completion, a major freaking disappointment.  Story-wise, it’s a prequel to Asylum, but it feels that way in terms of gameplay and writing as well.  Despite having access to Rocksteady’s code, engine, and improved technology, WB Montreal made a worse game.  The fighting system is superficially, the same but lacks the timing and polish of the other two games, the badly-written story flat-out contradicts events in the other two games, graphics and game glitches are EVERYWHERE, the challenge system is counter-intuitive and counter-productive, Batman is a jerk, and the villains are either under-utilized or drawn out in gimmicky boss fights.  And as for all the hype in the ad campaign about Batman fighting uber-mercenary Deathstroke in the fallen snow while thinking about his dead parents?  Brace yourself: that scene NEVER HAPPENS IN THE GAME.  The one fight with Deathstroke is early in the game, indoors, gimmicky, over very quickly. . .and you never see Deathstroke again. The ads lied to you, kids.  WB’s marketing department lied to you.

But on the plus side, Origins was still better than Batman’s adventures in the New 52.

Favorite Comic-based Video Game of 2013

Surprisingly, Injustice: Gods Among Us.  So WB got something right in 2013.  The story of “our” familiar DC heroes being transported to a world where Superman has taken over the world was surprisingly good (and surprisingly violent; RIP Captain Marvel).  The fighting mechanics could have been a little better, but overall, it’s a fun fighting game with a great cast of fighters. Batgirl is really cheap, though.  Lots of unlockable stuff, the stages and stage interactions are beautifully-done, and opponent-specific dialog made this game crackle.

Also, with the sole exception of Wonder Woman, this game was better than ANY of its characters’ adventures in the New 52.

Worst Superhero Movie

This one was really close between Iron Man 3 and Man of SteelHowver, I have to give the award to Man of Steel, because it didn’t have two better movies in its franchise to fall back on. What was wrong with Man of Steel? I’m glad you asked!  I’m also honestly surprised you’re still reading this.

Anyway, what went wrong with Man of Steel.

SPOILER ALERT!

First off, if Jor-El is not dead and buried in the first 15 minutes of the movie, you are making a bad Superman movie. If Jonathan Kent is a jerk who tells young Clark not to use his powers to help humanity and then dies in a bad-CGI tornado after telling Clark not to use his powers to save him, you are making a bad Superman movie. If the lost Kryptonians who show up on Earth are as powerful as Superman three days after showing up, when Superman’s been here his entire lifeyou are making a bad superman movie. If those Kryptonians also threaten Metropolis, a city that your Superman has absolutely no connection to, you are making a bad Superman movie. If your Superman has absolutely no connection to Metropolis, you are making a BAD SUPERMAN MOVIE! If your movie contains dozens of buildings being destroyed and countless thousands dying without Superman saving anybody but one little family in a train station, you are making a terrible Superman movie!  If your Superman MURDERS HIS FIRST VILLAIN, you have COMPLETELY F***ED UP YOUR SUPERMAN MOVIE! GODDAMMIT THIS MOVIE WAS TERRIBLE!

Best Character

Still Batman, just like every year, and despite current Batman writer Scott Snyder being the worst thing to happen to Batman since Joel Schumacher.  Second worst, if you include the entire editorial direction of the New 52.

Best Non-Batman Character

Batwoman, before Blackman and Williams left.

Best Non-Bat-Family Character

The Superior Spider-Man. Yep, I said it. So, you ask, what’s the difference between Superior Spidey and regular (or Amazing, or Spectacular) Spidey? I’m glad you asked!

SPOILERS AHEAD!

The Superior Spidey began when an imprisoned Doctor Octopus, dying of the years of punishment inflicted on his body, figured out a way to transfer his mind into Peter Parker’s body, effectively swapping bodies with his most hated foe.  Peter Parker, genius that he is, doesn’t take long to figure out what happened. He escapes from prison with the help of villains he recruits, and goes to reclaim his body before the body he’s in, Doc Ock’s, dies. Peter finds his enemy, fights Ock-in-Spidey’s-body, loses the fight, and dies.

Yeah.

The Superior Spider-Man comic chronicles the adventures of Doc Ock in Peter Parker’s body, after the death of Peter Parker in Doc Ock’s body.  Ock sets out to be not just Spider-Man, but to be a better Spider-Man than Peter Parker ever was - and does it. From destroying the Kingpin’s power base to building spider-bots to patrol the city for him to hiring minions (that he calls “spiderlings”) to also poatrol the city and provide backup when he needs it to finally completing Peter’s doctorate studies, Otto Octavius is genuinely a better Spider-Man than Peter Parker was.  He uses the powers more creatively, manages his time more efficiently, and even makes an uneasy alliance with current NYC major J. Jonah Jameson.

But of course it all goes wrong, and how it goes wrong is hilarious, engaging, and creative. It’s a fresh take on the Spider-Man story that is, well, fun, a word largely lacking from mainstream comics nowadays.  It’s definitely worth checking out.

Well, that’s it for the quick awards.  I’ll post more next week, from Mississippi and/or Arkansas!

VS

Left! My Review of “He Left Her at the Altar, She Left Him to the Zombies” by Katie Cord

Posted in book review, evil girlfriend media with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 24, 2013 by vagabondsaint

(Author’s Note:  Katie Cord, friend of this blog, does not know I am writing this review.  Don’t tell her until the end, would you?  Thanks.)

So there are a couple-or-three things I need to get out of the way before I get to actually reviewing the book He Left Her at the Altar, She Left Him to the Zombies by Katie Cord.

leftcover2

First thing is:  I am not typing that title out over and over again.  We’ll be calling it Altar/Zombies from here on out.

Second: this book is currently out of print.  Katie Cord self-published it a few years back, before starting Evil Girlfriend Media. The copy I bought from her in September 2013 was one of the few remaining in her possession.  If, after reading this review, you wish to join the growing chorus of those begging her to republish Altar/Zombies, please feel free to send a message on her site. You can still get copies on Amazon, but be prepared to pay a bunch.

Third: this book is a little rough.  I was warned before I read it that it was self-edited, and Katie makes no claims at all to being an editor.  Definitely could use a little more polish before the repub. . .hopefully Katie can find an editor that works cheap (hint, hint).

Okay.  All that said, let’s get on to the review!

He Left Her at the Altar, She Left Him to the Zombies is brilliant.

Seriously.

I’m not even a zombie fan, and I loved the hell out of this book. Reading this book, I started to understand that good zombies stories, really good zombie stories, are about the survivors, not the zombies.  Katie clearly already knew that, and painted ten pictures of normal, flawed (some deeply so) human beings struggling with the sudden reality of dead people not staying dead.  It’s about the discovery of a new world through abrupt change (more on that later).  Whereas The Walking Dead is mostly about Rick Grimes trying to do right by his troupe of survivors and bring some order to the new lawless world, these stories are about people who are just people – not exemplars of a higher ideal, not moral compasses for other survivors, not even shining examples of the heroism everyone should aspire to – just real, average people shoved into extraordinary circumstances.  Those are the stories Katie is telling here, and they are simply brilliant.  Brilliantly written, very well characterized, deeply flawed, people – those people always make for more interesting stories than archetypes and pure heroes, and Katie does a fantastic job with them here.

Enough raving – though I could go on for quite some time – let’s get to the stories.  As with WSB, I went through and took notes on each story.

1. Puberty – This is the second time I’ve read a version this story.  An elongated version was written for the writing group that Katie and I used to be part of; that was the first version I read. Gotta say it – sorry, Katie – I like this version much, much better.  Shorter and more to the point, this version, just as it is, could and should be the first chapter of a novel-length story. It’s a great coming-of-age story, the feeling of transformation is very well portrayed, and the story is just so, so good this way! It’s such a sudden, abrupt transition from day-to-day boring life into this strange new world – the suddenness makes it so good and really pulled me along with the heroine into her new, unwanted life.  So much better this way!

2. Daddy’s Girl – Another story that could be part of a larger one, “Daddy’s Girl” is an interesting look at life inside a military family with an overbearing patriarch.  He’s mostly like Bill Cosby, but that he records all the family’s conversations is a disturbing detail – it’s like if Cliff Huxtable worked for the NSA. But it’s not about him, it’s about his daughter, and how she uses the lessons he taught her, from a prom gone awry to the wonderful twist at the end.

3. The Language of Survival – If you ever want to read a story that will dissuade you from being a professional pedicurist, this is it.  Oh my God, other people’s feet. Ick. That part of the story is pretty grody, but enjoyably so! There are a lot of moving parts in this story, from Amy’s relationship with her vapid sister April and domineering Auntie Xian to the pale creepy guy that’s there for a surprise meeting, and then the zombie problems start – all of these elements are expertly juggled in the story, which is why I love it!  And it manages to be funny in the middle of all that, too!  This story continues the theme from the other stories of a new world being discovered, but Amy is the one who uses the opportunity to break free of her old life and be someone new – a very satisfying ending to a very good story.

4. He Left Her at the Altar, She Left Him to the Zombies – Well, the title kinda gave the plot of that one away, didn’t it?  But it’s still well worth reading! Especially for the protagonist Maddie, who is, point-blank, a terrible, terrible person! “Bridezilla” is one of the many words that could be used to describe her, and one of the few I can say on this page.  She’s a selfish, spoiled, self-absorbed, ruthless, unholy terror of a woman – and that, as I began to realize with dawning horror, makes her extremely  well-suited to survive a zombie apocalypse.  In the movies, that type of person never makes it to the end, but in reality, they would not only survive but possibly prosper, because they’d do whatever it takes to insure their own survival.  A funny, but brutal lesson to learn.  Well taught, though!

5. Marriage – This was my least-favourite in the book, actually.  I felt the marriage problems were smoothed over too quickly, and, if the story had continued, would only return in greater strength later.  But at least I cared enough about the characters to think that much about them, as those who know me know that I don’t often do with real people.  It’s still a well-written look at an astereotypical marriage, with a breadwinner wife and lay-about husband, but ugh.  That guy.

6. The House and Kid – While the last story looked at an un-traditional marriage, this story looks at a painfully traditional marriage, and works all the better for being a counterpoint to the previous story.  Looking back, I realized that this is the first story in the collection of a smooth, orderly life, falling suddenly into chaos; a point wonderfully illustrated by the zombie PTA that shows up – and I am not kidding about that.  At its heart, this is a story about all the little things we fuss over every day, and the knowledge, brought by horror, of what it is that really matters.

7. The Pet – In my notes, I called “The Pet” a “quietly, and therefore gloriously, disturbing story”.  Like the title story, the female protagonist in this one is not a good person; Mariah Braxton (I just got that name, haha) is also selfish and self-centered. The difference is that Mariah rationalizes away her guilt over the terrible things she does, unlike Maddie, who just never felt guilt.  So there’s a little more hope for Mariah.  In the end, though, Mariah reveals herself to only have wanted the same things we all want, which makes her a little less horrifying than Maddie was, but still every bit as ruthless.  Something else I liked about this story: it’s told from Mariah’s perspective, and Katie does a great job of making the reader sympathize with a terrible person.  Maybe you won’t want to, but you will, and you’ll like it in the end.

8. Your Cheatin’ Heart – This story takes place in Mississippi, which reminds me: What are you trying to say here about my home state, Katie? I don’t want to give too much of this story away, but it’s my favourite of the collection and it shows that Katie has a completely-correct-yet-completely-depressing grasp of human nature.  This is EXACTLY what would happen in a zombie Apocalypse, if enough of humanity survived. It’s hilarious and it explores an avenue of depressingly-realistic human reaction to the zombies that I’d never seen done before.  The good news here is that this story is reprinted in the recent collection Roms, Bombs, & Zoms, published by Evil Girlfriend Media. This story alone is worth the price of that book!

9. The Plan – “The Plan” is more a traditional ghost story than it is a zombie story, but still a good one that earns its place in this collection.  The failed “raise the dead” ritual was a nice, humorous touch.  This is the most character-driven story; it does read a little dry early on but picks up quickly enough to prevent you from losing interest.   It also maintains the theme of the risen dead making a new world, a new life, possible, and does so in a way that’s perhaps more traditional than the other stories in this book, but isn’t out of place with its motifs.  It’s about where you came from, where you’re going, and what the people that didn’t get there have to say about it.

10. The Cure – Up front: this story is heartbreaking.  It’s so sad.  It’s gonna grab your heartstrings from the beginning and not let go. But it’s so well-crafted and the characters so well-developed that you have to read it.  Olivia Jayce makes a compelling protagonist, and her love Dani is a very tragic figure in the story, and her struggles with her illness gave me a new respect for those who care for the disabled.  Olivia makes a deal with Umbrella Corp a shady pharmaceutical company to save her love, and the results. . .well, just read it.  It’s a very sad, very evocative story. I know that may scare some of you away, but I like it when a writer makes me care enough to feel what they want me to feel.  I like emotionally evocative writing, and this is a shining example of that particular bit of word-crafting.  Also, it wouldn’t be out of place as backstory in a Resident Evil game; in fact, it reminds me of the very sad back-story shown in the credits of Resident Evil 4, about how the poor villagers just wanted medical treatment and were instead infected with. . .okay, I’m digressing.  Just read the damn story (and play Resident Evil 4; it was the last one before Capcom thought co-op or AI players were a good idea).

In fact, read all of the stories.  They’re all wonderful in their ways, all working along the same themes but exploring those themes in very different ways.  The variety is great, the characterization is spot-on, the emotional involvement with these characters is very high, and you may stumble over a spot here or there that needs editing but it’s not enough to distract from the enjoyment of these ten brilliant tales.

Get this book if you can, and if you can’t, ask Katie to re-publish it here!

VS – 12.23.13

Bewitched – My review of Witches, Stitches, & Bitches

Posted in book review, brilliance, evil with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 22, 2013 by vagabondsaint

(AUTHOR’S NOTE: In the interests of disclosure, I’ll tell you now that I am friends with Katie Cord, founder and CEO of Evil Girlfriend Media, and am acquainted with several of the authors featured in WSB. At least, I was when I started writing this review. Given my penchant for brutal honesty in reviews, we’ll see how many are left after it’s posted.)

Witches, Stitches, & Bitches (hereafter WSB) is an anthology of short stories, with each story featuring, in some interpretation, a witch, stitches, and *sigh* a bitch. (I really don’t like that word.) WSB is also the first book published by Evil Girlfriend Media, a new publisher founded by Katie Cord. WSB came out on September 13, 2013, so why am I doing a review two months later? Because I’ve been really busy and am horribly behind on my reading, that’s why.

I’ll start with the cover (which is a great cover, by the way). It feels good, it looks good. It doesn’t feel or look cheap, flimsy, slapdash, or anything other than professional and well-put-together. It’s a little thing, I know, but how a book looks and feels are important qualities to me.

On to the anthology itself!

On my second reading (and yes, I liked I enough to read it twice without another book between), I took notes on each story to base my reviews upon. Here we go, into the world of WSB!

1. “Blood Magic” by Gabrielle Harbowy – I loved “Blood Magic.” It’s an artful, graceful take on a horrible situation. It intrigued me that the standard victim trope is turned on its head, in that the method of the abuse ending is – well, you’ll just have to read it. I’m trying not to give spoilers here. The way in which Harbowy describes Aya’s feelings as she suffers and struggles through the day are a master class in gently describing a terrible circumstance without losing any of the emotional impact. I also liked the lack of padding and unnecessary details – it is a short story that tells the tale, engrosses you in the heroine’s plight, gets its message across and gets out before you have time to get tired of it. Short, elegant, beautiful, and sad, “Blood Magic” is a really strong start for this anthology.

2. “Urgent Care” by Christine Morgan – The opening line really sets the tone for this story: “Once upon a time, there was a little girl whose dumbass big brother got caught up in an occult gang war.” This story is going to be very real, very gritty, and lets you know that from the jump, which I appreciated. It’s unapologetic urban fantasy in a style very reminiscent of Kim Harrison and Jim Butcher, but with its own distinct voice. It is also to Morgan’s credit that she employed one of my least-favourite literary devices, past flashbacks that continue throughout the story, and I hardly noticed it until the second read. The flashbacks are smooth with the flow of the story and don’t disrupt it at all, which is lovely to read. The romantic aspects of the story are a little obvious, but not enough to detract from the grim tone and feel of the setting. The dialogue is well-done, and I ended up really liking Larrah, despite her. . .we’ll be polite and call it “brusque”. . .demeanor. It’s obviously part of a larger story, one I know I’ll be eagerly waiting to read.

3. “The Knitted Man” by Bo Balder – This is a very charming, enjoyable short story with a, I think, a larger meaning about love that I couldn’t entirely grasp, but I think that’s more my fault than Balder’s. Even with that, though, it’s still an interesting story, and the Aunties were amusing.

4. “Spare Parts” by Stephanie Bissette-Roark – From my notes: “Mary Shelley meets Jim Butcher at the Punisher’s house.” Violent, gory, funny, and sad, Stephanie (I do know her) runs an emotional gamut in this story. It’s a bit long, and I learned things about crime scene cleanup that I never needed to know, but it kept me enthralled throughout. The last scenes were a bit more convoluted than the straightforwardness of the rest of the story, with a main character making some odd choices, but that could easily be explained if the story is continued (hint, hint). A quality read that slips just a little bit at the end.

5. “The Secret Life of Dreams” by Tom Howard – In my notes, I wrote that this story is “a brief burst of wonderful strangeness that leaves you confused, curious, and smiling in its wake; tells you exactly everything you need to know to follow the story and exactly nothing more.” I don’t really have another way to describe it – you have to check this story out for yourself. It is absolutely worth it.

6. “Frogsong” by Kate Brandt – The straightforward storytelling of “Frogsong” makes it a great follow-up to the previous story. It’s a nice modern take on a morality tale, and has a closing line I wish I’d written: “The powers of our hearts call to us, and generally we follow the song.” I so wish I’d written that! Alas, Kate Brandt beat me to it, and I begrudge her nothing for it. As for how I liked the story, well, I loved Daphne, didn’t feel sorry at all for Frank, and did feel sorry for Nellie, so I think Brandt hit exactly the emotional evocations she was going for. That is indeed a mark of high-quality writing.

7. “No Substitute” by Caren Gussoff – Whereas the weak point of “Spare Parts” was its convoluted ending, “No Substitute” is weakest in its beginning. On the first page, 8 character names (I’m counting “Delanor sheriff” as a name) are thrown at you with no context and not much about their relationships (Kate is a friend of Poppy’s, Jonquil is Poppy’s mother, Wisteria is Poppy’s aunt). It’s like the story hits the ground running too fast and stumbles. The relationships between those people are explained early on, so the story does get up to its own speed after that stumble. There is a bit of a “whodunit” element to the story, though the suspect list is pretty short, and one character makes a really odd decision that drives the story forward but just doesn’t make much logical sense (read it and you’ll see what I mean). It’s a solid story, but not without its flaws. Also, the name “Ber Breyan” kept reminding me of longtime University of Alabama football coach Bear Bryant, and I couldn’t quite get the mental image of him out of my head when I read the name.  I think that says more about me than it does about the story, though.

8. “Forgetting Tomorrow” by Bob Brown – I will say this now: I think fables are overdone in current pop culture. Between TV shows Once Upon A Time and Grimm, movies like Snow White and The Huntsman, Tangled, Hansel and Gretel, and of course the Disney Princesses, and comic books Fables and Grimm Fairy Tales, and numerous other novels out there, fables are just being done to death right now. All that said, “Forgetting Tomorrow” manages to stand out in that crowded field by following a character that I haven’t seen in any of those other fable interpretations (no, I’m not going to say who). Kudos to Bob Brown for writing a fast-moving, engaging story that stands apart in a saturated market!

9. “The Bitchy Witch Queen And The Undone Stitches” by Garth Upshaw – I guess it’s only fair that the longest story in the book should have the longest title, right? Also, I guess it would make an interesting band name. Anyway, don’t let the light tone of the lengthy title fool you – this is a pretty heavy story. It’s a fully-realized world, with details given aplenty in drips and drabs as opposed to flow-breaking info-dumps, which I liked. It’s also, I think, a fair approximation of what our world would be like if magic really existed – there would still be social inequality and class warfare, just along different lines. That’s the world this story occupies, and Upshaw really makes the world live and breathe. In terms of world-building, I would say this story is the best in the book; the characters are also pretty well-developed, but given the length, they’d damn well better have been. The somewhat preachy ending, along with Lianne’s choice to make it so, detracted a little from my enjoyment of the story, but not much. Upshaw built a good world here – I hope he’ll return to it to tell more stories.

10. “Not Even If I Wanted To” by Kodiak Julian – It’s an interesting modernized take on Hansel & Gretel, from a very different perspective than other tales and, thank God, not starring Jeremy Renner. It’s by no means a bad story, but it really didn’t grab me and pull me in as much as the other stories did. That may be down to Julian’s stark, this-is-what-happened style. The first-person narration here seems to be a little detached, and that carried over to me in reading it – I felt detached from the story, not engrossed in it. Again, by no means a bad story, but not as vibrant and alive and the others in this book.

11. “Yes, I’m A Witch” by Julie McGalliard – The second page of this story contains a line I absolutely fell in love with: “It tasted of chemicals and disappointment.” Brilliant. McGalliard has an attention to small details that speak volumes, such as the mismatched door on the otherwise undescribed car of Sharyn’s sister’s car; it’s such a little thing but it told me so much about Sharyn’s family and home situation. I love writing like that, that gives me meaningful small details instead of walls of miniscule, unimportant ones. Also, the primary setting of this story makes perfect sense: 1981, at the beginning of the Satanic Panic. That societal fear of basically things that were not mainstream, so encouraged by and ensconced in the rise of the religious right, is perfectly reflected in Tabby’s mother. No other time would have had that movement in society, so this is that rare gem of a story in which the setting really matters to the story. Not many stories are that way nowadays, and I loved it here. Granted, it also brought back painful, awkward 80s memories, but I’ll not hold that against McGalliard. It also reads a little like a cautionary tale, but isn’t heavy or preachy in its message. “Yes, I’m A Witch” is one of my favourites of the anthology, no question.

12. “The Far Horizon” by J. H. Fleming – As I think I mentioned before, I’m not a fan of stories that switch back and forth between past and present for their entire length. Fleming employs that technique here, and does okay with it. This is also another example of a story with just the right amount of detail – not too much, not too little, and that’s a technique I am a HUGE fan of. This story zips right along at a great pace, starts off greyish in tone and gets darker as it goes, and wraps up in an open but very satisfying conclusion. It’s a very good story overall.

13. “The Three Gateways” by Eva Langston – This is another story with a “cautionary tale” feel to it, but one that wraps up really well and in an unexpected way. Langston does an excellent job of characterization here as well’ there’s no pure saints and no pure sinners. I like that. In all of it, Langston writes really well and sucks me into the story. I even liked Luci the Teenage Goth Witch, mercenary though she was, and the spells described feel pretty real to me. It’s a great grey story, well worth the read.

14. “For Want of a Unicorn” by Camille Griep – This story is hilarious. I cracked up several times reading about the worst Fairy Godmother ever and things working out for the heroine in spite of the FG more than because of her. I love this story so much! It’s a take on a fable-ish world rather than directly on a fable, which is good, and it’s very smartly written. I love a good humour story, one that doesn’t insult the readers’ intelligence for the sake of a joke, and Griep pulls that off very, very well here. Definitely one of my favourites, if not my outright fave. LOVE IT! More from Camille Griep, please, now, thank you!

15. “Blood of the Mother” by Alaina Ewing – I began this story with a bit of apprehension, becomes it starts closer to the middle of the story than the beginning, and I am automatically wary of stories that start off that way and then flash back to the earlier bits of backstory. THANK GOD this story doesn’t do that. The necessary backstory is filled in through dialogue and the narrator’s thoughts, a much more less obtrusive method that didn’t pull me out of the story. (Hear that, writers? If you can’t start me at the beginning, then catch me up along the way; don’t put the story on pause to go back to what happened before.) It’s a well-written, solid witchy adventure story that moves along at a quick, smooth pace. My only complaint is that, at times, Terra feels like the sidekick in her own story.

16. “Dress of Fur and Fangs” by Rebecca Fung – Last but not least, we have this story, which starts off light in tone but gets very dark around the middle, when the “bitch” shows up. This story had, in my interpretation, a running theme on body images, filtered through a Potter-esque world, with a message on the dangers of envy as well. I can’t say much more than that without spoiling it, and I have no desire to do that, but I can say that, for me, it made me really think about the messages society tells women about their bodies. It’s an intriguing and thought-provoking story that loingers in your head after reading it, and concisely written to get its point across without being heavy-handed about it. (I should probably learn from that.) A very good read, and a great way to bring this anthology to a close.

So, now you have my review of these 16 stories. Now I’ll answer the most pressing question: is WSB worth buying?

The answer is a heartfelt, enthusiastic OH HELL YES WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR. If you like witches, stitches, bitches, and/or well-written, intelligent, engrossing stories, this is the anthology for you! It’s available on Amazon in both ebook and paperback formats (I haven’t jumped onto the ebook bandwagon yet, because I am old and set in my paper-reading ways) so whatever your preference, it’s easy to get your hands on a copy.

Which you should do.

Like now.

Don’t make Katie have to put a curse on you.

UPDATE: Because I don’t think clearly at 3 AM, I made a mistake.  I did not mention the terrific editing job on WSB done by Shannon Page.  Having been an editor myself, I am very vigilant for editorial errors when I read; in the past few years, most books have driven me to conniption fits over how many errors make it to print.  I am pleased to report that, thanks to the diligence of Shannon, there aren’t any.  Seriously, none.  No typos, no continuity slips, no nothing.  Clearly Ms. Page is a superhuman editor, perhaps editor of the Xavier School’s monthly newsletter, and deserves to be recognized as such.  I apologize for the oversight.

Emerald City 2013!

Posted in comic books with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 11, 2013 by vagabondsaint

Yes, I went to Emerald City Comic Convention (ECCC) this year.  Due to time and budget constraints, I could only go for one day, Sunday, but it was still a pretty good day!  These are my pictures from the day:

Magneto and Mystique, from the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants Whose Codenames Start With 'M'

Magneto and Mystique, from the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants Whose Codenames Start With ‘M’

eccc2013b

HawkgirL, who you’d really think would be cosplayed more often but isn’t. . .

eccc2013c

I confess to this now: I totally love Flo from the Progressive commercials. She can sell me insurance anytime!

eccc2013d

Catwoman, stuck on rocks. . .I guess climbing trees got old?

eccc2013e

Gaze upon his works, ye mighty, and despair! Or just admire his Ozymandias costume, whatever.

eccc2013f

This is actually just one guy, wearing the best (and possibly only) Denny O’Neil/Gerry Conway costume EVER.

eccc2013g

In retrospect, pinching Batgirl’s bum as she walked by was a BAD idea. . .

eccc2013h

Lady Comedian and. . .her accountant? I dunno what they guy in the tie was going for there.

eccc2013i

In retrospect, pinching Batgirl’s bum while she walked by and was within radio range of Batman was a TERRIFICALLY BAD idea. . .

eccc2013j

Matt Wagner drew a neat little sketch on my Batman/Grendel cover!

Matt Wagner again, on the inside cover of my Grendel: Devil by the Deed hardcover!  He was AWESOME!

Matt Wagner again, on the inside cover of my Grendel: Devil by the Deed hardcover! He was AWESOME!

Those are my pics!  I also got stuff signed by Darick Robertson, Garth Ennis, Howard Chaykin, and numerous others!

See you soon!

VS  - 3.11.13

 

Something Completely Different

Posted in nature, photos with tags , , , , , , , on January 20, 2013 by vagabondsaint

As those of you who live outside of the Seattle area probably don’t know, Seattle has been under a cloud of fog for the past few days.  (Real fog, not weed smoke.)  Coming out of the house one morning, I saw some spiderwebs in the backyard still covered with fog and dew, and so I decided to get a few pictures.  Enjoy!

foggywebs1

foggywebs2

foggywebs3

foggywebs4

The VS Interview: Katie Cord of Evil Girlfriend Media

Posted in interview, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 17, 2013 by vagabondsaint

Good evening, readers!

It’s been a few years since I’ve done an interview, but I got the fedora and dictaphone (ask your grandparents) and Serious Reporting Tie out of mothballs (ask them again) just so I could do this interview!  I’m just kidding; I did this over Facebook chat so I didn’t have to transcribe anything, and I sure as hell wasn’t wearing  a tie.  I was at home; be happy I was wearing pants.

Katie Cord is the founder/publisher/co-head honcho/Evil-Girlfriend-In-Chief of brand-new publishing company Evil Girlfriend Media.  She is also a friend of mine, a fellow writer, and a fellow displaced Southerner (though a far prettier one than me)!

Katie CordKatie Cord, looking just a little nefarious. . .

Anyway, I suck at introductions, so without further ado, my interview with Katie Cord!

VS: What is Evil Girlfriend Media?

KC: Good question! Evil Girlfriend Media is a company specializing in horror, sci-fi, and fantasy. We are starting with publishing books but have talks with several companies to also produce boutique items for lovers of those genres. My big dream is to provide books, boutique items, art, music, and video games under our name. That’s why we chose “media” instead of “publishers” as our name.

Sounds ambitious! Why call it “Evil Girlfriend”?

“Evil Girlfriend” is a nickname that my husband gave me when we were dating. I was bullied during my nursing clinicals in school and came home crying. He asked me what I was going to do about it. I didn’t know. He’s an artist, so he suggested I draw out my feelings. When I was done, he said, “Oh my god, you’re my evil girlfriend.” It was the first time I started using creativity as well as not being a nice girl.

I’ve been writing out emotions and drawing ever since.

And I’m not always nice.

I’ll consider myself warned! As you know, there are many other small publishers out there competing for new writing talent. What sets EGM apart from all the rest?

Wow, I know it’s amazing how many small publishers there are out there.

For one thing, our e-book royalties are very competitive. We feel this is very important because it’s what’s causing so many writers just to self-publish. Plus, we pay for anthologies. We are passionate about helping writers succeed. I’ve already set in my mind our first YA [Young Adult book] is going to sell x-amount of copies for my author and we are going to make her known even if means we are up all night selling it all over the place. I’m sure other publishers are just as passionate, goal-oriented, and care about writers, but if I had to ask one of my friends or writers, I think they would tell you those things about us.

So, would you say it is your dedication, not only to the success of EGM, but also to the success of each individual author that sets you apart?

Yes, I would think so. I don’t think EGM will be successful if we don’t consider and nurture every author that comes on board.

We need to have it on our mind that we want every author to be a rock star.

Your dedication to the authors is great, but what about the support staff? The editors, illustrators, and such? What does EGM offer them to set it apart from other publishers?

First and foremost, if you are editing an anthology for us, your name is on it. If you edit a book, you are on the inside of the cover. We want to promote great editors as well.

The illustrator is important too. Without that awesome cover, someone may pass over a kick ass story.

We will even promote the model on the cover if they want. It takes a lot of people to get that book into the hands of the reader and they deserve some credit as well!

Our pay rates are not the same people would receive from a big publisher but we will definitely credit the person for their hard work and promote them.

It sounds like a company very dedicated to making sure that everyone is recognized and promoted for their input. What inspired you to take EGM in that direction?

It’s what I think every person wants in the work that they do. Joseph Campbell once said, “One way or another, we all have to find what best fosters the flowering of our humanity in this contemporary life, and dedicate ourselves to that.” Evil Girlfriend is that for me and [her husband] Anthony. It’s our way of helping creatives become who they need to be, while helping the readers they touch on their own journey. We are all on this journey together, man (said in her best “The Dude” from The Big Lebowski voice).

From Joseph Campbell to The Big Lebowski – that’s an impressive range of influences! Are you looking for a similar variance of influences in your authors?

Yes! We want to provide a diverse range of authors. Of course, the type of work we produce will have to be something that Anthony and/or I would like to read. We read a lot of different things. I’m most interested in those people who can relate to a wide audience while sharing their passion for sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. Of course, you don’t have to love The Big Lebowski or Joseph Campbell to submit, but how can you not?

Good question! What would you like to say to prospective authors, editors, and illustrators that are thinking of submitting work to EGM?

Submit or contact us! Will we accept everyone? No, it’s not possible. However, if we can give you insight that will help you, or lead you to work with someone else, we will. If we accept you, we want to start a relationship that will give you the ability to do something you love while working with a company that also wants to do what they are passionate about.

So you’ll be helpful even to rejected authors?

Of course, I do not want to break anyone’s confidentiality but we sent out a helpful letter to someone who is just starting out. We gave advice on how to format and re-submit. Also [help with] some things that brand new writers do as mistakes. We are a brand new company as well. We will make mistakes. Karma is a you-know-what.
We like good karma.

Good karma is good! Before you go, please tell us about the anthologies you mentioned earlier.

Our first project is a series titled Three Little Words; each anthology’s theme is based off those three little words so each story must have the elements provided. Witches, Stitches, and Bitches, Roms, Bombs, and Zoms, and Stamps, Vamps, and Tramps are the first three anthologies in this series. They are fun, flirty, but we are not looking for voices that are typical. We would love to see some LGBT stories or gender role reversal. Definitely shake things up bit. Especially in the zombie selection, we tend to see a lot of Caucasians writing zombie fiction as though they would only be the group that survived or deeply feel the effects. That is definitely not going to be true. So we don’t want 15 stories about straight white people in love for the anthology.

Speaking of gender roles, you know that famed producer/directer/writer Joss Whedon is known for his strong female characters. Would you like to see more of those in submissions for EGM as well?

Yes, I’ve been heavily influenced by Joss Whedon. I’ve watched everything he’s ever made that is available. Wouldn’t it be cool if Joss Whedon wrote a short story for us? You think if I beg him he will? Help an Evil Girlfriend! So, yes, we would love those stories.

Can’t hurt to ask, right? Any parting words for the readers and/or Joss Whedon?

Well, for one, Joss Whedon thank you for writing about kick-ass geek girls when I was an overweight unhappy teenager who only survived puberty because of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror creatives. For writers, keep writing; believe in yourself even when you want to burn every piece of paper you’ve ever touched. Have your tantrum and keep going. Creating is painful, but you are doing it because it has to be done. Also, give Evil Girlfriend Media some love by liking our Facebook page and sharing the word. Love to all and keep being evil!

****************************************

That’s it!  Thanks to Katie Cord for granting me this interview! Go show Evil Girlfriend Media some literary love by visiting their site, reading the EGM blog, and maybe even submitting some work!

Thanks for reading!  See you next time!

VagabondSaint

Life With Archie: The Bravest Comic On The Stands?

Posted in book review, brilliance, comic books, politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 6, 2013 by vagabondsaint

AUTHOR’S NOTE: When I posted my last entry (Unhappy Trails:  A Farewell To “Scalped”, 12/13/12), I also had this entry in mind and had, in fact, planned to write it that night.  However, by the time I finished that entry, it was 4 AM, I was tired, and decided instead to write this article the next day.  That next day, I didn’t wake up until after noon Pacific Time.  As a matter of habit, one of the first things I do after waking up is read online news, and after reading of the events of December 14, 2012, I decided to delay this post. I think it’s been long enough now.

I’m going to go ahead and say this:  Life With Archie is the bravest comic book on the stands today.

Why, you ask?

Because they’re not afraid to take a stand on issues.

Take, for example, marriage equality.  (I don’t call it “gay marriage” because that implies an explicit difference between “straight marriage” and other types of marriage, and since all marriage is two people that love each other making a public, legal commitment to each other, I see no need for the distinction.)

Gay characters are not new to comics.  Underground comics have had homosexual acts and characters depicted since the late ’60s. . .but of course, that’s the underground stuff, and who pays attention to that?  Mainstream comics publishers largely ignored homosexual characters until the 1980s, when DC published their first obviously gay character, Extrano (“strange” in Spanish) for the mercifully short-lived series The New Guardians in 1987.  The biggest reveal, however, was that Marvel’s character Northstar, longtime member of the Canadian super-team Alpha Flight, was gay (because he’s already French-Canadian, so why not make him gay?), though his creator revealed later that he was supposed to have been gay from his first appearance in 1979 but wasn’t due to an anti-gay character policy at Marvel Comics.

After that, gay and bisexual characters fell out of the woodwork.  The Authority’s  Apollo and Midnighter were the world’s finest gay couple; Gotham City detective Renee Montoya, a major supporting Batman character, was outed as a lesbian by Two-Face; John Constantine of Hellblazer was revealed to be bisexual (though he mostly sleeps with women and is married to a woman);  Hulkling and Wiccan of The Young Avengers were a gay couple; the new Batwoman is a lesbian; and in revising their entire universe, DC Comics made Alan Scott, the Green Lantern of Earth-Two  gay (sorry, Jade and Obsidian, the guy who was your dad pre-revision is now gay, so I guess you won’t be coming back for the New 52). . .the list goes on and on.  By 2010, you wouldn’t think a gay character would make news anymore.

But it did, when Archie Comics, long thought of as the most traditional, wholesome, conservative, “safe” comics company out there, introduced an openly gay character named Kevin Keller in Veronica #202.  It made news worldwide that gay had finally come to Riverdale, and at that point, it was a surprising move but not exactly a groundbreaking one.

Until February 2012, when, in the pages of Life With Archie, Kevin Keller married his boyfriend, Dr. Clay Walker.  Gay kissing was still new to comics then; longtime homosexual Northstar had just finally kissed his boyfriend on-panel the year before (after almost 20 years of being out of the closet); although The Midnighter and Apollo had been shown kissing before then, Neil Gaiman had been exploring gay and transgender themes in Sandman, and John Constantine had been in several homosexual sex scenes, they weren’t as mainstream and being written by mostly British writers besides.  At that point, marriage equality was only the law of the land in six states and the District of Columbia, with many many more states having laws on the books specifically preventing same-sex couple from getting married, so it was a pretty bold move for “traditional, wholesome” Archie Comics to make at the time.

Just to add a little more controversy to Kevin and Clay, their story was that they met in the military, when Kevin was injured fighting in Iraq and Dr. Walker had been his medic. . .and this was just after the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  Archie Comics wasted no time jumping on that subject, and the issue containing the wedding (#16, if you want it; it sells for $20-$40 now) of Keller and Walker became one of Archie Comics’ fastest-selling issues of all time (which is no mean feat, considering they’ve been going for over 70 years).

But that’s not why I call Life With Archie the bravest book on the stands.

(SPOILERS FOLLOW.)

In issue #22 of Life With Archie, Clay Walker is shot while attempting to prevent a robbery. (Had to be the black guy, didn’t it, Archie Comics?) Luckily, he survives the shooting and the would-be robber is captured after being clocked with a hammer by the store’s owner.

In issue #24, Kevin discovers that the unnamed shooter was a previously-convicted felon who bought the gun from a licensed dealer through a “loophole” (it’s later stated that he’s talking about the gun show loophole).  Kevin then rattles off a few statistics (“gun-related homicides are more than twenty times higher than in other developed nations”) and announces he is retiring from the Army to do something about it. . .and his “something” is. . .

Wait for it. . .

Kevin Keller decides to run for the US Senate on a gun-control platform!

Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) just proved in November that an openly-gay candidate can win a Senate race; she became our first openly-gay US Senator and was sworn in on Thursday, January 3, 2013.  So you could say the precedent has been broken. . .except that #24 came out in November and was solicited three months earlier (as all comics are), so the story was written before her election, when she was still running a very tight race against Tommy “I’m gonna kill me some Medicare” Thompson.  (It’s worth noting that Tammy Baldwin still can’t legally marry in her home state, though she can have her same-sex marriage from another state recognized in Wisconsin as a “domestic partnership,” so Kevin Keller’s still got one up on her.)

In issue #25, Kevin expounds more upon his gun-control views, states a strong view that the Second Amendment pertains to the right to bear arms for “a well-regulated militia” and asks “why do we need an estimated 200 million guns in the hands of this country’s 300 million citizens?”  (His number is actually quite low; the 2007 estimates are 88.1 guns for every 100 US citizen,which comes out to about 274 million guns in this country, a figure that has no doubt gone up, since there were massive spikes in gun sales every time a black guy got elected President.)

Now, I am sure that some of you are saying that it’s not such a big deal to jump on the gun-control bandwagon now, after what happened in Newtown.  You’d be right; that terrible tragedy has changed a lot of views on gun control for many people, as it and numerous other tragedies before it should have done.

And I’d agree if it wasn’t that Life With Archie #24 came out in November 2012, and #25 hit the stands (and my greedy little palms) on Wednesday, December 12, 2012. . .two days before Newtown.

And that’s why I call Life With Archie the bravest comic book on the stands today:  it took on marriage equality before the 2012 electoral sweep that nearly doubled the number of states with legalized marriage equality with a firm, unmistakable statement of support; it took a strong pro-gun-control stance before the tragedy that catapulted gun control back into the national conversation; and it’s poised to do even more with Betty-and-Veronica rival Cheryl Blossom having been ravaged by breast cancer and now starting up her own foundation to fight breast cancer.

I never thought I’d say this, but here it is:  I wish Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Image Comics, and IDW had half the intestinal fortitude that Archie Comics does when it comes to addressing relevant social issues.

Life With Archie: the best-written and bravest comic book on the stands today.  Go read it, it’s brilliant.

VS – 1.6.13

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.