SDCC 2016 ‘Colt the Outlander’ and the Aradio Brothers: Never just a Bounty Hunter

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror)

Welcome to an alternative post-apocalyptic future, the struggle of daily living on the mining wastelands of Neb-6, where the only thing you can be certain of is that there is absolutely nothing certain in these brave new worlds.

Colt the Outlander, the fast-paced adventure series of rogue bounty hunter Colt and his deadly lady companions Jenna and Brem, as seen in the pages of the world’s premiere illustrated sci-fi-fantasy magazine Heavy Metal, comes to us in written-story format from a leading sci-fi author, Kevin J. Anderson!

Colt the Outlander has been around in some form or fashion, both story and art, since around 1995, first featured in Heavy Metal in the 2001 fall issue and many times since then, crossing over with other well-known properties like Rifts, Colt has an ever-growing and very loyal fan-base.

I was fortunate enough to catch up with the creators of Colt at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, the Aradio brothers, Dominic and RC, and Dante Pacella at their booth. Excerpts from the new Colt story series by Kevin J. Anderson were being touted at the booth, and even as I stood there and watched, fans of Colt from Heavy Metal came and went, eagerly anticipating their favorite gritty Colt in a brand new series.

Dominic was kind enough to explain the series to me more in depth, talking about planetary fallout and ancient technologies brought back for new and unique uses, with far-spanning deserts and wastelands, bounty hunters and assassins, Colt and his badass female companions have their daily struggle to just survive cut out for them. Dominic laughingly confided that his sources of inspiration come from everywhere, from the long-running writings of horror laureate Stephen King, to the binge-watching of the show Supernatural with his kids. The boisterous Aradio brother delightedly explained that Kevin J. Anderson himself had expressed interest in writing the novella adaptations of the Colt series, and that Aradio himself was a huge fan of Anderson’s Saga of Seven Suns series and, of course, his Dune adaptations. “There are very few similarities between Dune and Colt, so it was kind of a challenge, but Kevin Anderson can write the hell out of nearly anything sci-fi.”

The comfort that understanding, in any medium, can bring, is often astounding in its effectiveness. More than once, I saw fans who were military members approach the booth and thank the Aradio Brothers and Pacella for their realistic, accurate, and totally empathetic portrayal of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in those who serve in the military, or have served previously, inside the ongoing Colt the Outlander  storyline. Dominic proudly informed me that, “A whole bunch of our Colt fans are servicemen and women,” and the women especially love their strong portrayal of lady bounty hunters Jenna and Brem, who accompany Colt on his scavenging and hunting rounds.

Now, the story of Colt and his pals and their heartaches and adventures, are brought to printed life by the same author who dared to take on a partnership to make more Dune stories, Kevin J. Anderson. Aradio Brothers Studios has ambitions to make Colt a multimedia platform featuring visual entertainment, video games (I see shades of Borderlands, that would be cool), comics and of course, books. To keep up with Colt the Outlander updates and maybe even find a copy of the new novella to purchase, go to the Colt Facebook page here.

 

‘Childhood’s End’: The Kids Really Did Do It

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror)

Due to time constraints and far too many new and hopefully great Syfy shows being previewed before their actual beginning run in January 2016, Pandora is reviewing the Childhood’s End middle and finale episode together. Embrace the madness!

‘Childhood’s End, The Deceivers’: Do what, now?

It’s completely possible to tell that this is the middle episode, and indeed, it feels very much like the show-makers were flummoxed here in the center. I’m guessing the Arthur C. Clarke story the show is based on (I haven’t read it) has a middle act that is ill-defined or hard to explain in visual terms without giving the final act completely away.

We know this middle episode is supposed to be the setup for whatever happens to the children in the final act, but the setup seems to almost entirely hinge on the Greggson family and the wife’s current pregnancy. We came all the way to South Africa on the flimsiest of pretenses, no-one seemed to have any concern over the idea that a pregnant woman will be flying in a Guilty Spark-like alien pod to get there, and it wasn’t odd at all that the whole family, including small boy, were invited. There’s that crazy room with the alien version of a pearled Ouija board, and while it’s fine to see (Christian) in that familiar power-impotence role of his, most of the scene seems … contrived? The possibly-pregnant-with-alien-baby woman is made to use the alien Ouija board to send a glowy message to … someone, while Karellen himself powerlessly pleads with … someone, to accept their destiny. We almost feel sorry for him.

Then, there’s the fact that it’s been almost two decades since the Overlords arrived, and Ricky hasn’t heard from Karellen in quite a while, until an out-of-the-blue midnight visit in Ricky’s barn. What’s Karellen doing here after all these years? Well, Ricky is sick. Karellen wants to apologize for that, he thinks it’s entirely possible all those previous visits to the Overlord spaceships did Ricky long-lasting harm. But more than that, Karellen drops the devastating bomb that Ricky can’t have children. Notice how it all spirals back to the children?

It takes a lot of heffle and feffle to get there, but eventually we all learn that the exposure to the spaceship isn’t what caused Ricky’s infertility, Karellen chose to do that himself. Why on earth would he sterilize one of the few humans he can actually call friend? Because the inevitable BigBad is coming, it involves the children, and like the tidal wave, cannot be reasoned with or stopped. It seems this lush amazement we now call our planet and the peaceful (if not completely cow-eyed) existence humanity now leads comes at the heftiest price imaginable: our children. And Karellen wanted to spare his friend Ricky from that kind of pain, which is an interesting, if a bit twisted, compliment.

These two main plot points are the only real meat of this middle episode, with mini, flitting stories wandering near these two major events like lost fireflies. It would have been entirely possible to pare down the middle episode to an hour, to make room for more commercials for new Syfy shows.

 

‘Childhood’s End, The Children’: Damned kids, get off my lawn!

ChildhoodsEnd_hero_Karellen

And so, here we are at the finale and Milo is once again narrating in his admiring and yet totally paranoid fashion, how the earth has changed since the arrival of the Overlords nearly twenty-five years ago. The Greggsons had their alien-touched daughter, Jennifer, approximately four years ago, and she has a noticeable effect on, well, all the children. Ricky’s officially dying by much more than increments now, and Karellen wants nothing more than to save his human friend by sticking him in The Hotel Room forever and ever.

Far too much attention is paid to Ricky and his plight. Don’t get me wrong, the prophet of the Overlords was used pretty harshly and Mike Vogel’s latest role after the cancellation of Under the Dome is fairly well done. It’s just that Ricky’s inability to reconcile the death of ‘the love of his life’ and the woman who chose childlessness in real life just to be with him, while heart-wrenching, has no real bearing on what’s happening to the earth or humanitys children. It just happens to be a sad parallel story that minorly showcases Karellen’s reluctance to see Ricky, his one and only true human friend, finally die. Oh, let’s not forget, a poison that Ricky voluntarily took on when he became the ambassador between the Overlords and humans.

Jake Greggson decided he had had enough when the children start acting really strange around Jennifer, so it’s off to the last free city of mankind, called New Athens. Here, the man who passes for mayor welcomes the Greggsons more or less warmly, touting the freedoms of the city and humanity in a place where supposedly the Overlords won’t interfere, a place alive with old human passions like art and music. This seems to impress the already-nervous Greggsons, and they gamely make a go of settling in and just living, despite still being followed by children who seems to view Jennifer like the newest messiah. The manner in which the mayor unapologetically tries to explain his artistic passions, especially after the loss of his daughter, rather reminds me of the interesting and all-reaching storyline of God-Emperor of Dune: without conflict of some kind, without passion, humanity stagnates. But that’s just a philosophical thought that’s nothing in the face of the Overmind’s all-reaching plan.

What about the Overmind, you say? Stay with me here, this gets a little complicated and a good deal of it was glossed over on the small screen. Like, once again, the translation of the thought Arthur C. Clarke tried to express in his story was impossible to translate into understandable visual terms. The children have all flown away, the mayor is crying over a freaking nuclear bomb and a bottle of wine, and Milo has determined he’s going to go with a shipment of zoo animals to the Overlord homeworld and figure out once and for all wth’s going on. Maybe even stop it if he’s stupid-lucky. Bu,t Milo can only guess at how long the trip to the Overlord homeworld and back will take, so he could be gone from his love-lady for 100 days or 80 years, give or take. But determined he is, so he stows away with a squid in stasis and manages to indeed make it to the Overlord homeworld, to witness for himself the awesome presence of the Overmind, the  collective consciousness of this universe, the thing/it/whatever that commanded the Overlords to oversee the changes to the earth.

The scene between Milo and the Overmind is … strange. Trying to visually explain such deep concepts is very hard for a movie with a giant film budget, never mind a miniseries on tv. But, to bring us back full circle to the intro of the first episode, where Milo was talking to a mini-bot about being the last man on earth, Milo insists on being brought back to an Earth he wouldn’t recognize, 85 freaking years after he left it. His love Rachel is quite dead and while turning her into a popsicle might have been Karellen’s idea of a gift, it doesn’t go over well with Milo. He insists on going back to Earth’s surface, dead with nuclear fallout and a severe lack of humanity, as Jennifer-the-chosen-one winds up the last bit of food energy the earth has for her final melding with the Overmind!

Knowing the end really is nigh and there isn’t a thing in heaven or earth that he can do about it, Milo begs Karellen to save one thing, just one thing of human culture, don’t let us go quietly into that good night forever. I thought it was lovely that music, in particular a well-played classical violin, was the Overlords choice, and they promised to leave it playing in the space Earth used to occupy, for whomever came by. And that’s it folks: the earth is gone, the Overmind won, the legacy of humanity lives on forever in our music, and this time, the kids really did do it.

XXX

 

Dark Whispers: For the ‘Friday the 13th’ Mini-Killer in all of us

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror)

Welcome to Dark Whispers, the horror corner of the Super Villain Network – speak intently, break the rules, and may all your nightmares come true.

Happy Friday the thirteenth to all and sundry! It seems to be a day for regressing back to a simpler time, a time when we were all surprised as hell that a little old woman in a baby blue sweater could be a knife-wielding maniac; a time to appreciate the re-imagining of your favorite Dr. Vireuss tales or a story of the littlest Deadite; and a time to remember coin collecting, if by coin collecting you mean making brand new coins with horror icons on them.

“Green Eggzema” and long pork anyone?

I’m a big fan of Dr. Seuss and many of his stories – How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a holiday staple;  the original Cat in the Hat cartoons, Horton Hears a Who, of course; Green Eggs and Ham, and other fun rhyming weirdness. But, how about taking it much darker than boiling Horton in oil?

Devastator Press has come out with three Dr. Seuss parody stories, written by their infamous Dr. Vireuss, all about rampaging illnesses and festering boils! The first story, “Green Eggzema,” is about a very stubborn patient and their refusal to let go of a green growth; one can easily guess what “If I Ran the Quarantine” rhymes; and, finally, “Oh, the Flesh You Will Eat” is the empowering tale of a bacterium on his way to take over the world! The book cashes in at 12 dollars, and can be bought and devoured here!

‘The Littlest Deadite’ will swallow your heart and soul

Who remembers Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and their nightmare-inducing accompanying pictures? Some people like to take the scariest things they can think of and re-design them with children in mind. To that end, we point to the work of artist Sean Hughes and his great fandom for Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead movies. You can check out the artwork and the wonderful little story here. If there were a Kickstarter to turn this into an actual physical book we could purchase, I think we Ash vs. Evil Dead fans would be all over it! That’s a very strong hint, horror fans: Show your love for Sean Hughes and The Littlest Deadite!

Quarter Horror Love

Being a lover of all things horror, I find great joy when artists break into a different medium and still express their love for the darkest genre. There are Japanese artists who carve skulls into pearls; cake and cupcake bakers who’ve delved into Dexter sugar-glass blood slides; and folk who make Nightmare on Elm St.-inspired high heels, to name just a few. Master carver, Narimantas Palsis, took his love of the horror world in a whole new direction, and began carving the darkest villains he could think of into quarters and other coins! Head to his Facebook page to check out the likes of Frankenstein’s monster, Freddy, Jason, Leatherface, Pinhead, killer clowns, and many incarnations of skull-ed Death!

Hey, Mrs. Vorhees!

And finally, no visit to a Friday the thirteenth would be complete without a reminder of the hockey-masked immortal killer and his doting, murdering mother. People have a tendency to forget that in the original Sean Cunningham film Friday the 13th, Mother Vorhees was the one who went all righteously knife-happy.

To celebrate the mother’s-wrath horror of our iconic day, Paper Foldables has released a free printable version “foldable” of Mrs. Vorhees. Click here for the free PDF file of mother murder, then go on over to Paper Foldables for other horrific epics like The Exorcist, Visitors from V, and a TV from Halloween III! You’re welcome!

XXX

Book Review: ‘Lincoln’s Wizard’

by Agent Zara Cruden (a.k.a. Z the Pun-isher)

To most people, gray is just a color. To people who have read Lincoln’s Wizard by Tracy Hickman and Dan Willis, gray is something to be feared. The book brings the color gray to life, by mixing life and death, white and black, until the result is something eerily in between. The book takes place during the American Civil War, and the Confederacy has found a way to reanimate their fallen. The undead soldiers are known as Grays because of the color of their skin, and they seem to be a new twist on an old theme; zombies. The Grays have no feelings, and they are doomed to repeat the maneuvers they used battle that they died in. This makes them predictable, but their ability to take a bullet without wavering is what makes them a true asset. They have no compulsion to eat flesh, but they must be given a special serum every four days or they will fall apart.

The North is hit hard by this new weapon. They aren’t able to replicate this process, or even understand how it works. They are at a major disadvantage, and there is only one way to level the playing field. The North has to find a way to understand these monsters, and they have a spy in the South who knows where the Grays are being made. Just one small problem: The spy is in the most secure prison that the Rebels have to offer. Lincoln may have a mind for military tactics, but Alan Pinkerton is the brains behind the covert operations.

Braxton Wright is an engineer in the Northern army, and a very good one, at that. He was one of the brains behind the Monitor, a gun similar to a tank, but instead of wheels, the Monitor has legs of metal that it uses to lift itself above the enemy. The catch? The South has been given a few dragons by the French. The dragons are able to expel great gouts of fire, and they are a menace in the sky.

Lincoln’s Wizard is able to subtly integrate Steampunk, and it’s a great book for someone who favors wading into a genre over jumping in headfirst. The machinery is fully explained, and the Steampunk elements are not overbearing. The story is not centered around steam, nor does it strive to use it as proof that the story is unique. The fact that Hickman and Willis have found a way to put a new spin on the undead is proof enough that the book is unique. The airships are steam colossuses, and they plow through the sky with the grace of a hot air balloon. They are major forces to be reckoned with, and they are able to provide the aerial support that an infantry needs when they’re attacked by dragons. The only danger that the Northern airships face is the Hellfire that the dragons spew. When Hellfire and helium mix, the result is explosive, to say the least.

Wright is sent on a born-to-lose mission into the South. He has to deal with many obstacles, but his analytical mind and knack for machines serve him well as he moves from one danger to another. He has to deal with a trainload of Grays, a lost dragon rider, and a broken mechanical soldier whose construction is more sophisticated than anything he has ever seen before.

Lincoln’s Wizard deals with a question that few books do; what if the South had something that would swing the tide of the war in their favor? The North had the supplies, the manpower, and the upper hand. The South had strategists, and the home field advantage. In Lincoln’s Wizard, the South may have the Greys, but the North has superior engineers.

The standard set-up of the Civil War is North versus South, and Good versus Evil. This story shows us a glimpse into the life of Marcus Burnsides, a dragon rider who attacks the Northern air fleet. Our initial reaction is that Burnsides is a monster, someone who is against freedom and equality. As the story continues, we see that he is not a monster, but simply a human being. He lost his woman to another man, and dealt with the pain as people have for centuries. It’s a thought-provoking example of how most people were just the same as the people they are fighting, but simply on the opposite side of the Mason-Dixon line.

Lincoln’s Wizard is an amazing book that perfectly encapsulates the struggle of the North and the South. Some are fiercely loyal to their respective sides, and others have seen too many things to care. Those are the people who just want the war to end. They have seen the carnage and brutality that real war brings, and they are the ones who have been on the front lines. This is demonstrated by attitudes of the prisoners in the Rebel prison, as well as some of the soldiers who have been in battle. If you love alternative history, steampunk, and dragons, this one’s for you!

XXX

Dark Whispers: The Darkling Strains

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror)

Welcome to Dark Whispers, the horror corner of the Super Villain Network – speak intently, break the rules, and may all your nightmares come true.

This week it’s all about brand new ways to experience horror: listen to a whole new take on Koji Suzuki’s Ringu put on by BBC, rock out to new synth strains of Mortal Kombat-inspired music, and walk the beat on the small screen with a new zombie P.I.!

Hear “seven days” a whole new way

Who doesn’t know that once you see the Ring, you die in seven days? Fans of Koji Suzuki’s original Ringu story rejoice, for the Ring is coming back to you in a whole brand new experience!

BBC brings us Ring fans an epic new ghost romp to jump at! Binaural audio is a relatively new medium, meant to allow you the fans to simulate a real 3-D experience with sound (hopefully with great headphones or stereo system), as though the listener is in the room where the events are taking place.

The premise in a nutshell: British journalist, Mitchell Hooper, lives in Tokyo with his wife Toni, and when he begins investigating the related deaths of four teenagers, he discovers a nightmarish secret – they all died after watching the same video tape.

This grand service the BBC did us is said to only last the month of November 2015, but it’s free, so experience the Ring like you’ve never heard it before here!

Return to the ‘Kombat’ zone

The good folk at 30th Floor Records have finally gone back to teenager-hood with a retro-synth album of Mortal Kombat-inspired songs! Titled Synthality, each track on the album comes from a different artist and is attributed to the Mortal Kombat trilogy movies of the early 1990s. Featuring tracks like “Goro’s Lair,” “Dead Pool,” “Living Forest,” “Soul Chamber,” and “Choose Your Destiny,” the sounds are hard-hitting and way more than we ever imagined back in the days of 8-bit or 16-bit gaming music. Designed to take us deep into a world of foreboding doom, where we prepare to do battle with some of the toughest fighters in this world and several others, these soundtrack-inspired synths strike me as something perfect to work out to!

You can listen to the album here and download your free copy via Bandcamp there, too, but hey, if you could also sling the merry black synth artists a few bucks for their music, that would win your daily Kombat, too!

Dead P.I. walking the beat

Stefan Petrucha’s novel series, Dead Man Walking, is being made into a CBS TV show, about a zombie private investigator just trying to make a living, of sorts. Co-written by Continuum creator, Simon Barry, the show is rumored to be made in a neo-noir-gumshoe style, reminiscent of the older Mickey Spillane novels, brought to sort-of life on the small screen!

The book synopsis tells us of Hessius Mann, wrongly convicted of his wife’s murder, only to have suppressed evidence come to light a little too late – he’s already been executed. The miracles of modern science bring Mann back to sort-of life, and so he joins the ranks of Fort Hammer’s pulse-challenged population as a private investigator!

No word as yet as to when Hessius Mann will join the already-overflowing zombie horde on the small gem screen, but we’ll keep you posted!

XXX

Book Review: Bryan Thomas Schmidt’s ‘The Worker Prince’

by Agent Zara Cruden (a.k.a. Z the Pun-isher)

Bryan Thomas Schmidt’s novel, The Worker Prince, has recently been re-released by WordFire Press. It’s a fantastic example of what can be done when the muses of creation and imagination converge. The story is gripping and descriptive, taking the reader on a virtual tour of a flawed society and its unstable hierarchy. The characters are relatable, and the setting is able to tread the fine line between futuristic and unrealistic.

One of the biggest pitfalls of science fiction that many writers fall into is making their cities too far-fetched, but Schmidt is able to side step this as it presents itself. He keeps a human’s base instincts and tendencies the same, such as greed and the will to flight, and only upgrades the scenery. The upgrades are not to far-fetched, and everything seems to move in a natural progression. The scientific advancements are not completely off-the-wall crazy. The characters are ones that you can easily conjure, and their conflicts endear themselves to you (or the opposite) and you have to make sure that you are not sitting precariously, because this book will make you fall out of your chair with anticipation if you aren’t careful.

The book may carry you through its story line with ease, but one of the many of the things that will stick in your mind long after you’ve put it down is the rationalization of slavery. Schmidt shows us exactly how terrible things can happen, and people can be conditioned to ignore them. We have made terrible mistakes in the past, and this book shows us how history can repeat itself. It also shows what people are capable of when they are pushed past the point of no return, and how we as a race will always try to make everything right. This will compel readers to pick the book back up, even if they just set it down.

The inner workings of the inhabitants’ vehicles, such as starcraft and skitters, are all thoroughly explained, and as you read, you feel like you should duck, because the machines are about to roar off the page. The skitters are laid bare and explained in such a way that you are able to understand how they operate, even though you’ve never seen them.

The flora and fauna are understandable, and your mouth will start to water with the tantalizing descriptions of exotic fruits such as gixi and jax. The descriptions of the foods made with these fruits may even tempt some people into their kitchen in an attempt to recreate the other-worldly delicacies that are mentioned.

No city is complete without a place for the vendors to gather though, and the marketplace in Vertullis is always stuffed with sellers hawking their wares, and you can practically feel the soft fur of the amassed qiwi. They are from the icy planet Plutonis, and will bring to mind images of cute animals with long horns and hard hooves that are meant for pawing through crusts of ice to reach the frozen food below.

The story is about the internal conflict of a young man, Prince Davi, whose inner voice of right and wrong will affect the outcome of an entire civilization. The people that he has been groomed to become the prince of, the Borallians, discover that he is the long-missed son of a worker family. The workers, as they are so aptly named, are little more than slaves, and they are forced to cater to every whim of the Borallians. The workers are responsible for the growing and reaping of crops, and they are the backbone of the Borallian army. The workers are not the ones who are fighting, but they are responsible for keeping all the mechanics running smoothly nonetheless.

The discovery about the true heritage of Prince Davi brings about civil unrest, and all of the pieces start to fall into place. The Vertullians, the people who are forced to work for the Borallians, are tired of being trodden upon and enslaved. The discovery of the prince’s ancestry is the catalyst, and each side tries its best to swing the pendulum of fate in their favor. The struggle of the Vertullians and the Borallians is not unlike America’s shameful history of enslaving African people. Both peoples subjugated another race, and encouraged the ill treatment and degradation of the the enslaved race. Both the Americans and the Borellians also tried to eliminate their slaves’ religion and imprint their own, but faith is a strong bond that has the power to tie people together and forge a knot stronger than steel.

Davi has many challenges, but he takes them all in stride. His mother gave him an all-encompassing education, and he puts it to full use. Davi does not take what is set before him, but instead chooses to question it. He could have been an artist, because he is always drawing his own conclusions. His constant questions lead him to the realization that the Vertullians are being treated unfairly, and not according to the standards that were set out eons ago.

He is a direct contradiction to his uncle, Xaliver, who currently holds the position of High Lord Council of the Borali Alliance. He is a traditionalist, and firmly believes that the Vertullians are a weak and inferior race who deserve the fate that the Borallians have set out for them. Xaliver is a man whose power comes from his ability to manipulate those around him into doing what he wants. He does not shrink from unpleasant duties, but does what he feels is best for his people. His people do not include the Vertullians, unfortunately, and they are dealt with harshly and mercilessly.

The action in The Worker Prince is not so fast paced that you are swept off your feet, but neither is it so sluggish that it pools around you in a tepid puddle. It is dispensed in doses that you can wade into and be pleasantly immersed in. The characters are relatable, and each of them has their own set of difficulties to overcome. There is something unique that each reader can take away from The Worker Prince, and it is the type of book that will leave people thinking.

XXX

Dark Whispers: The Best Halloween Cross-Overs

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror)

Welcome to Dark Whispers, the horror corner of the Super Villain Network – speak intently, break the rules, and may all your nightmares come true.

This week we glory in a series of the best cross-overs Halloween 2015 has to offer! Ren & Stimpy invade The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror couch gag, George R. R. Martin finally becomes a real zombie in Z Nation, the cast of Penny Dreadful invades the board game Clue, and the FOX shows Bones swap remains with Sleepy Hollow!

Ren & Stimp-ified

John Kricfalusi, the manic mastermind behind the infamous Ren & Stimpy cartoons of bygone Nickelodeon days, is back! He returns to draw the opening couch gag for this years Simpsons Treehouse of Horror XXVI. The gag reel, which can be viewed below, is a mixture of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and airs on FOX Sunday October 25, 2015, at 9:00 p.m./8:00 p.m., Central!

The Father of Wights comes to ‘Z Nation’

Is there anything more delicious than irony? The world-renowned George R. R. Martin, author of the famous Game of Thrones books, will play himself, but as a zombie, in an upcoming episode of the wacky post-apocalyptic Syfy series Z Nation!

In the episode, zombie-Jesus-like figurehead, Murphy, gets kidnapped by a zombie collector named, of course, The Collector (Tom Beyer). Proudly taking Murphy on a tour of his zombie museum, the Collector introduces Murphy to Martin, who now spends his days chomping on his books in the ‘celebrity zombie room’. Apparently, the Collector explains, Martin succumbed to the zombie virus after a hectic escape from Comic-Con, which makes absolute total sense to me. Check it out in the mini-clip below!


Find your ‘Clue’ inside ‘Penny Dreadful’

For the longest time, people understood when you said something like, “I believe Colonel Mustard did it in the Study with the Candlestick,” that you were talking about the mystery board game from Hasbro, aptly called Clue. Now, the good people of the Showtime channel have paired with the board game makers to re-envision the world of a murder mystery set in Victorian London!

So Miss Mina Murray has been killed, and the murderer remains at large – what to do? Gather the six suspects: Dorian Gray, Vanessa Ives, Sir Malcolm Murray, Brona Croft, Ethan Chandler, and Victor Frankenstein, follow to the clues as to the location of the murder, and determine with what weapons they did it: pistol, syringe, tarot cards, arsenic, handkerchief, or sword cane! The lovingly illustrated game board represents locations from the show, set in 1891 Victorian London, plus Movers, Personality, and Intrigue Cards, a Clue sheet and envelope instructions! Priced at $39.95, plus tax and shipping, the Penny Dreadful Clue game can be purchased on the Showtime website here!

Find your ‘Bones’ in ‘Sleepy Hollow’

The hotly anticipated pair of cross-over shows for FOX’s Sleepy Hollow and Bones is almost here! Beginning with the Bones episode first, the discovery of skeletal human remains leads Brennan and Booth on a hunt for clues, during which they inevitably encounter Ichabod Crane and Abbie Mills, who are on a clue-hunt of their own. Realizing they’re all after the same evidence, the four protagonists team up to solve their mystery.

Immediately after Bones, the second hour cross-over episode of Sleepy Hollow brings back Crane’s ancient and most prevalent nemesis, leading him and Abbie to inquire with the Bones crew about advanced forensic techniques. Having worked with them before, Crane and pals call back in Booth and Brennan to unlock ancient supernatural secrets using futuristic science! The two-part event airs Thursday October 29, 2015, at 8:00 p.m./7:00 p.m., Central!

The ABCs of Horror: H is for ‘Hannibal’

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror)

Based on the writings of Thomas Harris, NBC brings us the dichotomy between tormented FBI agent Will Graham and the psychologist he turns to for aid with cases, master chef and hiding monster, Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

It’s hard to accurately describe just how unique and rare the show actually is. I’m a huge fan of the Harris novels, and own every single Hannibal film, including the mistake they made replacing the actress who played Clarice Starling in the last Hannibal movie. Sir Anthony Hopkins gave a performance in Silence of the Lambs the likes of which hasn’t been seen since, and always made that character all his own whenever he played Dr. Lecter. Then they came out with the prequel film, Hannibal Rising, where Gaspard Ulliel played the teenaged vengeful Hannibal Lecter. And it turns out, having a young Hannibal played by someone most American audiences didn’t recognize, was a very smart move – Ulliel is incredibly fine in the role and worthy of the character Hannibal himself, which is difficult.

With all these things borne in mind, when I heard Hannibal was being adapted to a television show, I was quite skeptical. Who would play Hannibal? What about Will Graham? How accurate will they be to the stories? Would their performances be worthy of the enduring monsterhood of Dr. Lecter that Harris created? Oh honey, the answer is delicious!

Based mostly around the characters and timeline of Harris’ book Red Dragon, we begin, of course, with FBI Agent Will Graham, played by Hugh Dancy. The actor himself so often looks like a puppy anticipating his beating, and yet, through a combination of very fine performance acting, amazing storytelling and awe-inspiring camera-work, Will’s dark side is shown to the most glorious and gripping, often crippling effect. See, because FBI Agent Will Graham is cursed (or gifted, depending on whom you ask) with insight, with the ability to see inside the criminals mind, walk his steps and actions as though they were his own, and feel what the killer felt and what he, or she, was trying to impart with these actions. This has never been a comfortable gift and it torments Will, sometimes far too obviously, so it would be nice if he had someone with plenty of dark secrets of his own, to talk to about such things.

FBI Director Jack Crawford, acted by the always-astounding Laurence Fishburne, both wanting to take care of Will Graham and use his cursed gift to catch criminals at the same time, suggests after a successful collaboration with a certain Dr. Lecter, that Will continue to see Lecter as a psychiatric patient. Setting off a chain of actions with entirely unexpected reactions, Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter embark on a game of cat and mouse where no one is quite sure who is the predator and who is the prey!

Dr. Hannibal Lecter is a character with a stupendous and thorough backstory, but when he meets up with Will Graham, he is already far into his career as a brain doctor by public profession, but in private, a cannibal chef auteur and slayer of the free-range rude. I had never heard of Mads Mikkelsen before the show (sorry, Mads), so I was unsure about someone brand new playing my beloved Hannibal. It says repeatedly in the books that they haven’t come up with a term for whats wrong with Hannibal Lecter but for convenience sake they term him monster, and not many actors can pull off the many layers that comprise him.

I’m gratified to report that Mikkelsen brings his Danish ancestry to the forefront of some acting skills the likes of which we haven’t seen in decades. Of course, the show dressed Hannibal in the sharpest, finest suits you will find anywhere, most often in the old-world fashion and, occasionally, with a cravat, too, further lending to the mystery of Mikkelsen. His accent was a little strong for me at the beginning of the show, but he usually speaks slowly and deliberately so it became better over time. He maintains the calm of Hannibal Lecter supremely well, even when he’s delivering some of the most hurtful lines straight from the novels, or beating the snot out of Jack Crawford for figuring out some of his secrets. The stoic villain who can speak calmly and philosophy while he removes one of your legs and cooks it, and then sits down at a finely appointed dinner table to eat it with you is something very few actors could pull off.

And what about the food? Hannibal Lecter is a known cannibal, yes, but also a gourmand of the highest order, so particular care had to be taken with the presentation of the food on the show. It’s not as though they’re actually going to take one of Eddie Izzard’s own legs and cook it up, but the chefs making the dishes for Hannibal have to take extra special care to make it at least look like it is, indeed, Izzard’s leg. The visuals of the show can be described as nothing short of arresting, and because such attention to detail is shown to cuisine in the books too, the show had a picklement of a time making food that looks absolutely gorgeous, as well as you know, edible. All the “long pig” meat parts of the show are made from things like gelatin with food coloring or other such Hollywood tricks, but that’s only interesting if you want to know what Fishburne is actually tasting.

The ever-deft and pleasing movements of Hannibal Lecter as he prepares yet another meal for one of his parties are a compliment to whatever he’s making. Like a dance, like practically everything he does, Hannibal prepares well in advance, shows respect to the art and grace in the action of cooking, and serves his guests what he’s made with well-deserved pride. The whole thing is utterly ironic, another gleeful poke on the part of everyone that has a hand in Hannibal, because to cook for others is to produce life, and here we are appreciating that in a very different, roundabout fashion.

There are so many other arresting visuals of the show. There are many “Hannibal is the only show that got away with this” moments, but at the forefront is the patient, often painstaking manner of visual storytelling and the finding of true beauty in the depths of utter horror. No one would think that a pile of dead bodies, meticulously arranged, almost with a feeling of love, would turn out to be an attempt at a beautiful homage to the murderer’s color palette, but there it is. Most of the dead bodies, regardless of whether they drop at Hannibal’s own hands or someone else’s, are utterly breath-taking (see what I did there?) in their own way. The flower-man, stuffed in a tree with flowers growing from his body is very much akin to an actual Dryad in nature; the mushroom grove was kind of pretty, yes, but still freaky because not all of them were dead yet; oh the Human Cello, that was a right engrossing moment; and don’t forget Bloody Eagle, the Viking tradition that makes the dead look like praying angels. All these things are created by the many makers on the show Hannibal and given more detail, care, and love on practical, real-looking effects, than some people lavish on their own children.

Did you think I forgot the Stag? Never! Sometimes referred to as the Hannibal Wendigo, the Stag is the vision that ties these two title characters together, Graham and Lecter, through all that they endure. The Wendigo is a Native American half-man half-beast demon, said to be associated with psychosis and cannibalism, so for Will to be plagued with visions of a giant Stag that later turns into a Wendigo of sorts, makes perfect sense. The Stag often brings closer together a reluctant Graham and a fascinated Lecter, into a relationship that truly transcends the physical, skipping the spiritual entirely, and heading straight into the philosophical and the primal. I want to study you; I want to help you; I want to consume you; I want to be you: These thoughts swirl at the base of their relationship like an oubliette just waiting to yawn its nasty secrets. The back-and-forth between two grown men, far beyond the romantic and skirting the edges of the psychotic, is an absolute treat to watch and gives accurate read to their relationship in the novels.

Which brings us full circle to the books themselves – did Hannibal the tv show live up to the world created by Harris’ novels? Oh, you bet. Many of the lines on the show are culled directly from book dialogue, as are the thought processes, especially of Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham, and the skill sets of the supporting characters. Oh yeah, supporting characters! Laurence Fishburne as Will’s boss Jack Crawford, always a treat; Katherine Isabelle (her again!) as Margot Verger, that was a new and fine experience; Eddie Izzard as fellow murderer Abel Gideon; a blonde Gillian Anderson as Hannibal’s own psychiatrist Dr. Bedelia Du Marier; and holy crap, Richard Armitage as the Great Red Dragon, Francis Dolarhyde, too!

I simply cannot say enough kind and compelling things about this show, and will go on about it for hours if you let me. It’s not often I am so very wrong about a new show coming out, but Hannibal not only exceeded my hopes, the show was so phenomenal, I actually had to come up with a whole new set of very, very high expectations for finding visual beauty in the art of horror. It will forever be a complete tragedy that the show was cancelled before its fourth season, but I tell you now, black-hearted fiends and horror fans out there, that Hannibal is worth owning in the entire collection, with the soundtrack and score too, on the highest quality Blu-ray you can find!

The ABCs of Horror: G is for Neil Gaiman

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror)

Neil Gaiman is a man of many talents, but he’s arguably most well-known for his writings, which have been made into many different forms of entertainment media – comic books, graphic novels, films, television shows, and even video games!

My personal favorites will always be Gaiman’s novels, so that is where will we start. In 1990, Gaiman partnered with the legendary and now-lost Terry Pratchett, to create the end of the world comedy story called Good Omens. I read the story and while it is quite good, for me that simply cannot compare to what came next from Gaiman, an amazing look at the hidden underground life of London, Neverwhere.

The story follows Richard Mayhew, a completely normal Londoner who finds himself embroiled in the underground world of faeries, vampires, monsters, and angels, after he saves a bleeding girl on the street. Neverwhere was incredibly popular and was even made into a BBC television miniseries, starring the astounding Peter Capaldi as the Angel Islington. One of my favorite things to do in October is still binge-watching the whole Neverwhere series, which is laid out nearly exactly like the book, down to the dialogue in some cases.

Next was Stardust, yet another novel that was later made into a large-budget film, again about the hidden world of the faeries, kingdoms of ghosts, witches and fallen stars, and plans to take over the world! The movie does star he would go on to become Daredevil in what is arguably Marvel’s best show to date, Charlie Cox as main character Tristan, plus Henry Cavill, Michelle Pfieffer, Claire Danes and even a cameo from Robert De Niro, but that’s for the films section.

Then, in 2001, Gaiman came out with what I still consider to be his magnum opus (as far as novels go), a far-reaching and thought-provoking story of an impending war between the Old Gods and the New, called American Gods. I absolutely loved American Gods, and have quoted, “You want to see Lucy’s tits?” to fellow readers and made instant fan-friends. In general, I’ve devoured that particular book like it was tree-and-ink crack. Nearly everyone who read American Gods agreed that while it would be an absolutely freaking amazing visual treat, but to get the casting right and getting across some of the more subtle events in the book would be near-impossible. Think this no more, American God-lings, for the Starz channel is shooting the television adaptation of the novel right now.

Soon after that followed Gaiman’s personal take on a children’s book, Coraline, which made any costume with black-button eyes instantly recognizable; Anansi Boys, the unofficial sequel of sorts to American Gods, starring Mr. Nancy’s (the incarnation of the African trickster god Anansi, who often takes the form of a spider) two sons, and what they do with their legacy; and The Graveyard Book, harkening back to Gaiman’s darker world of graveyards and spirits, when Nobody Owens is adopted by ghosts in the nearby graveyard after his parents are brutally murdered. Whew! Gaiman’s also written over a dozen made-for-children books, some with illustrations from his longtime working partner Dave McKean.

From here, we progress, naturally, to comic books and graphic novels, and oh, what a treat for the eyes that has been. Known in particular for the Sandman, and the Death mini-series comic books, Gaiman combines his affinity for mesmerizing and long-reaching storylines with the art of Dave McKean to create a unique style that is incredibly hard to copy, much less describe. Full of the darkling world across the whole expanse of the stars, things that transcend the concept of time and space and life and death, Gaiman gives us in comic book format entire universes we love. I still own and treasure my copies of the The Kindly Ones, that featured the death of Sandman; and The Wake series, where all of the Endless came to attend Morpheus’ funeral; Death: The High Cost of Living, where Death lived a mortal life for one day as Didi, the pretty goth chick in happy love with the life all around her; Death: The Time of Your Life, wherein Death comes to make a deal to stave off impending death and beautifully approaches the idea that Death herself cares about you; even Death: At Death’s Door, a freaking manga-style comic featuring many of the Sandman world, all having a party hosted by Delirium at, you guessed it, Death’s door. These characters and their long-reaching storylines are almost biblical in their scope and yet done in a dreamlike state that is so uniquely Gaiman.

Also for the DC Vertigo brand, Gaiman has done Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader, Black Orchid, Midnight Days, and The Books of Magic. Other titles include Miracleman, Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, Spawn, some Marvel titles, some Dark Horse too, work for Alan Moore and Frank Frazetta too; he’s just been practically everywhere.

It is worth mentioning that two of Gaiman’s novels, Neverwhere, and his collaboration with Terry Pratchett, Good Omens, have been made into radio plays, which were broadcast on BBC Radio Four. No small achievement, the 2013 adaptation of Neverwhere had the likes of Natalie Dormer, Benedict Cumberbatch, Christopher Lee, and James McAvoy for voice talent.

Onward we march right into Gaiman’s movies and television episodes he directed. First is the amazing films: MirrorMask, which is, effectively, one of his and McKean’s comic book collaborations brought to very vivid surreal life; and we’ve already touched on the film adaptation of Stardust, which is always a fun romp. Gaiman wrote the original screenplay for the most recent attempt at Beowulf, you know, the one that starred Angelina Jolie as a naga-queen; he adapted the script for the English version of Princess Mononoke, and let us not forget the Claymation treatment of Coraline, which is a lot like watching a cautionary tale starring the characters of Nightmare Before Christmas.

I’ve seen all of these films, and some I enjoyed more than others, but Gaiman’s underlying excellence at script-writing, at writing in any form, is ever-present. Gaiman’s writings and style is so unique, as a matter of fact, he holds the distinction of being the only guest writer of — count them — three modern Doctor Who episodes. He also wrote the screenplay for Neverwhere, was a guest writer for an episode of Babylon 5, and even guest-starred as himself on an episode of The Simpsons.

Neil Gaiman has numerous well-deserved accolades for his writings: Hugo, Nebula, and Bram Stoker awards, as well as the Newbery and Carnegie medals, both for the same work, The Graveyard Book. Gaiman has three children with his previous wife Mary McGrath, and married the singer and performer Amanda Palmer in 2011, who gave birth to his son in September 2015.

Neil Gaiman’s writings reached me at a rather young age, and have layered their dark fantastical worlds upon life in the most enchanting manner possible. Dive with me into the darkling life of Neil Gaiman and his enduring fantastical writings that earn him a place among the titans of dark fantasy and horror!

XXX

SLCC 2015: Author and Actor R. J. Terrell

by Agent Sheralyn Pratt (a.k.a. The Sin-sei)

Most authors don’t look familiar the first time you see them, but if you think you recognize R.J. Terrell at a glance, it might not be your imagination. Terrell is an author who also works as an actor. In addition to writing novels, such as Echoes of a Shattered Age, you may have seen Terrell as one of Robin Hood’s merry men on ABC’s Once Upon a Time, or on CW shows that also film up in Vancouver, like iZombie and The 100. We caught up with this multi-tasking dynamo at Salt Lake Comic Con. 

Terrell’s path to writing was not direct; he always wanted to be an actor. Like many creatives, Terrell was confronted by well-meaning parents who thought it was in his best interest to embark on a more traditional career. He tripped into becoming a writer first, while taking the path his more “practically minded parents” encouraged him to live. “My dad was in the military,” Terrell explains. “And then he became a police detective, so he encouraged me to go to school, graduate, get a job, work hard, and then retire. And I tried. I tried! But it was against my nature.”

What came naturally to Terrell was writing.

“I was going to school for medical billing and encoding,” Terrell says, remembering how things got started for him. “I was ahead in my work, so my teacher says, ‘Go on down to the typing program and do some work on that [story], then bring it back.’ So I had this idea for a story in my head. I typed it out, brought it back. The next day she said, ‘You wrote this?’ and I said, ‘Yes.’ She said, ‘Okay, well as long as you’re ahead in your work, go down there and type. As long as I get to read it, I’ll give you points on that.’ By the time I finished that course — I think it was a nine- or ten-month course — I had half of the book, Echoes of a Shattered Age, written. That was kind of how things got started.” So started the winding path that led to a fruitful writing career. Although he may not have had doors opened to his creativity, his teacher definitely opened a window of opportunity. Terrell jumped through that window with gusto.

Terrell’s acting career took a more straightforward path; his wife suggested it after he moved up to Vancouver, or, as some people refer to it, Hollywood North. The film community is very strong there, so as soon as Terrell was eligible to work in Canada, he got an agent and started auditioning. Not surprisingly, the skills that Terrell cultivated and developed as a writer also helped in his acting career.

“One thing that writing and acting have in common is that nothing should be there that doesn’t have a purpose,” he says. “As an actor, you might go out for a small part where your main focus is that you move the story forward. As we say in the industry, ‘You’ve been given three lines, don’t make a meal out of it.’ Your job is to move things forward. You have a purpose, but don’t go beyond that purpose.” But, this statement also highlights that small parts do matter, even if they’re not the focus of the entire scene or story. However, if they get blown out of proportion they can become a distraction, pulling focus where it shouldn’t be.

“In writing, it’s the same way,” Terrell continues. “You have a small character that plays a small role, but if you make it too big then the readers are going to be like, ‘Hey, that character did something really significant. What are they going to do next? Wait … I never saw them again.’ If someone is doing something significant, then there needs to be a follow-up at some point.”

In a well-balanced set of characters in a story, no part is insignificant, but each should only be as developed as it needs to be. That balance makes both storytelling and acting compelling, though, obviously, writers and actors differ dramatically in how they contribute to the development of those characters.

“The greatest challenge with acting, on a craft level, is learning how to step in and live a character,” Terrell explains. “I find that the emotional arcs of a character can be difficult, because you genuinely have to bring those emotions. As you grow into adulthood, you’re taught to hide your feelings. For example, you don’t want people to know you hate their guts. You smile and say everything is fine. But when you’re acting, you need to bring that out. You need to have that emotion stored up there and ready to come out, when you get to the part where it’s supposed to be there. It’s a lot harder than just saying lines. A lot of people don’t understand. Some people do. But it’s a lot deeper than [saying lines]. You need to feel all those things, because if you don’t, people will know it. If you’re not feeling it, the audience is not going to feel it, and sometimes they might not even know why. They just know it didn’t work.”

Writers need to develop the complementary skill: developing characters that come to life for the reader — and, if the writer is true to his or her craft,  it’s the reader’s job to feel the part.

On the flip side, Terrell thinks one of the biggest challenges of writing is developing patience. “What I mean by that,” he says, “is that I’m one of those people who likes to jump in and get the story rolling. Having the patience to do my research, but knowing when to pull back without going too far. Yes, I’ve done my research, but I don’t want to info-dump on my reader. Balancing how much is enough, and how much is too much is probably one of the hardest parts of writing for me.”

And yet, as challenging as writing is, Terrell continues to churn out books with no intention of writing for the TV industry he’s involved with. What is it about full-length novels he prefers to movies or TV shows?

“Relationships,” Terrell says without hesitation. “There is no way any three movies — any four or even six movies — can give you the relationships that develop in books. Film is a visual medium, so there are things that film does better, but with books, your mind is playing an active role in producing the story. I like to joke that you’re looking at these words on a page and you’re hallucinating the whole thing, because you get so sucked into it that you see it! And in my opinion, that’s the best kind of 3-D, because you are right there with those characters. You’re walking right beside them, and there is absolutely nothing that can replace that.”

With a few exceptions, an unbreakable bond develops between the world a writer creates and the reader: a relationship that is stronger and far more meaningful than most movies can offer. It is that relationship that changes the reader; it may make him or her think, it may give them a world where they find solace, but regardless, a novel transforms its audience in a more intimate way than a film can. It is a deep and reciprocal connection that most cherish for life.

That’s not to say that TV and film don’t have their place, or that they’re not enriching, mind-blowing, and worthy of a full-tilt geek-out. We all have that special show or movie that moves us in ways like no other can. Luckily for all of us, we live in a world where we can enjoy all three, and R.J. Terrell will continue to bring us all three in the form of his novels, and TV and movies. And he will continue to bring us each with unique care, skill, and passion. So, keep your eyes open when you’re watching TV, movie previews, and maybe on a local bookshelf: You may just spot him!

XXX