Monday, October 31, 2011

31 Days of Halloween: The New Annotated Dracula

One year ago: Dracula (1931)

It really doesn't need to be restated that Bram Stoker's Dracula is one of the towering classics of the horror genre. It has been alternately derided and lauded, and analyzed nearly to death. But for all of that, a hell of a lot of people still haven't read it. It's easy to understand why. Its format and the style of prose can be off-putting even to those who read regularly. Stoker presents his story via a collection of journal entries, letters, and  newspaper articles. conveyed in the florid prose typical of the era. The story is full of plot holes and inconsistencies. Even so, Stoker's novel remains a fascinating work, and it continues to resonate more than a century after its publication. Buried within those letters and journal entries is a ripping good yarn, well-worth the time it takes for modern readers to immerse themselves in those pages. I've read the novel a few times over the years, and this time around, I decided to read Leslie Klinger's The New Annotated Dracula. With access to Stoker's notes, as well as the manuscript for the novel, it promised an unprecedented inside look at the workings of the novel. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend this edition.
Klinger approaches this annotated edition as if Stoker was merely relating actual events; this gets very annoying by the second page of the novel. After page one, there are literally six pages of annotations, some of them conveying information that is completely inconsequential. This persists throughout, although the annotations do not overtake the actual novel to that extent again. The "gentle fiction," as Klinger puts it, of pretending the novel relays actual events, means that many of the annotations are worthless speculations about where or when such-and-such event actually occurred, and how Stoker changed the facts to protect identities. Often, the reader is not sure whether an annotation is real, or merely invention to support Klinger's "gentle fiction." This is perpetuated even in the supplemental chapters. As Klinger had access to Stoker's manuscript and notes in preparing this edition, it seems a gigantic missed opportunity. What should have been a truly magnificent volume is instead a frustrating reading experience. .

For anyone who wishes to read Stoker's novel with some quality supplemental material, I recommend sticking with the Norton Critical Edition. Dracula itself remains as interesting as ever, and I can think of few things more appropriate for this day than spending a little time with this novel.

That wraps up this year's orgy of Halloween horror! I hope all of you have a great Halloween night!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

31 Days of Halloween: Our spiritual reading for tonight...

... the Necronomicon Ex Mortis! Also note the bloody organs, conveniently shrink-wrapped: essential items for any ghoulish gab session!

31 Days of Halloween: Blood-curdling Bottles!

One year ago: The Masque of the Red Death

An ongoing Halloween project of mine is using these labels I got in an 8-pack at Dollar Tree a few years ago. It's tough getting enough of the right kind of bottles (at least, when you don't drink wine or sparkling grape juice), so I still haven't used quite all of them. Here are the ones I do have, along with a couple of other cool Halloween-friendly bottles.

Dr. Rotgut's Embalming Juice certainly sounds crisp and refreshing, as the label promises.

This bottle of red blood is aged for 10 years, but was bottled in 1994; clearly, I'm saving it for a special occasion.

This liquid-form zombie virus is essential for any Halloween- themed dinner party. (We were out of food coloring, so I just watered down some paint; that can't possibly backfire on me at some point, right?)

Liquid Phantom contains "one angry, carbonated ghoul."

This bottle of Ye Olde Spider Venom dates to 1897; surely it's worth something, eh?

Speaking of spider juice, this bottle came from the craft store Michael's just a little over a month ago. There was a nice selection of cool bottles, but this was clearly the best one.

Last, we have this remnant of Target's post-Halloween clearance from a few years ago. It's a blueberry cocktail mixer, but I got it just because the bottle with its wax seal is so cool & creepy.

That does it for today, but skitter back tomorrow for this year's Halloween finale!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

31 Days of Halloween: Monster busts

One year ago: Young Frankenstein

Today, we're gonna take a look at more Halloween decorations, specifically, some monster busts! First, we have the Wallace Shawn vampire. If that name doesn't ring a bell, you probably have seen/heard him in The Princess Bride and as the voice of Rex in the Toy Story movies. Just take a look at this and try to tell me this vampire is not him.

This is Countess von Razorcheeks. Seriously, look at that face; you could slice a ham with those cheekbones! Still, all things considered, Count Shawn married a little out of his league. Way to go dude!

The last one for today is Mandusa, so called because, while clearly intended to be Medusa, take a look at that mug: it's clearly a man, man. He also appears to have some pretty horrific cataracts. This one came from Dollar Tree, which means it weighs about 30 pounds, as the statues and busts they sell are made of solid concrete.

That's it for today, everyone enjoy your Halloween weekend!

Friday, October 28, 2011

31 Days of Halloween bonus: Macabre Monster Nails!

Just a quick bonus post today to show off Cindy's nails that I painted for her. The Frankenstein Monster is on the thumb, Dracula is on the forefinger, Mummy is on the middle finger, Witch on the ring finger, and a zombie on the pinky. They're far from perfect, but I reckon they came out okay, given the teeny tiny canvas on which I had to work! I did both hands, but it's the same arrangement on both. Maybe I should open my own seasonal nail salon, eh? :P

31 Days of Halloween: Frankenstein

One year ago: Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror

Nearly two centuries after its publication, Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein remains relevant. The ongoing controversies regarding such matters as cloning and stem cell research were all anticipated by Shelley's remarkably prescient novel. As great as some film adaptations have been, none of them come close to covering the same amount of ground as the novel. The story had its genesis in a summer retreat that included Mary, her husband-to-be Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, and Byron's Smithers, John Polidori. (Polidori's The Vampyre, which featured the Byron-esque Ruthven as the titular bloodsucker, was the other notable work to emerge from that retreat.) A challenge was issued that each of them would write a scary story, and Mary based hers on a terrifying dream she had. This eventually developed into the novel Frankenstein as we know it.

Percy went over the novel before it was published, adding the florid prose that he was famous for, to help make the book more marketable. Ironically, it is this aspect of the novel that serves as the largest stumbling block for modern readers. (I have been wanting to read this edition of the novel, which jettisons Percy's contributions. I wasn't able to get my hands on it in time for this Halloween season; maybe next year!) It can get very tedious at times, particularly for a reader who is unaccustomed to writings from that era. However, I truly believe that the tale of Victor Frankenstein and his doomed creation is worth the effort. The Monster is one of the most tragic figures in all of literature, and he is the heart of this novel, not his callous creator. The novel is a bit of a slog at times, but it's worth it in the end. You'll be hooked by the time the Monster has met with his creator and brought him up to speed regarding his trials and tribulations. From there, the pace quickens, and events hurtle headlong toward their tragic conclusion. The novel is essential reading for fans of classic horror, and it is sure to amaze with the parallels between the issues raised in its pages, and those present in our society today.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

31 Days of Halloween: The Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror

One year ago: Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

The annual Treehouse of Horror episodes of The Simpsons have become a Halloween tradition, even if Fox does inexplicably wait until after Halloween to air them, more often than not. I have fond memories of watching the very first one, and many subsequent ones in the years since then. Watching the older episodes has become an essential part of my run-up to Halloween, so it's only natural to present to you my ten favorite Treehouse of Horror segments!

Hungry Are the Damned
No list of the greatest TOH segments would be complete without this tale of alien abduction and hidden motives. This was our introduction to the venerable duo of tentacled aliens Kang & Kodos, who have appeared in ever single Halloween episode of the series. It all began here, in one of the show's finest moments.

Dial "Z" for Zombies
When Bat and Lisa accidentally raise the dead, the family has to fight back as Springfield is overrun with zombies! Includes the classic exchange: "Dad, you killed the zombie Flanders!" "He was a zombie?"

The Devil and Homer Simpson
Homer learns firsthand that the Devil is bad news when he sells his soul for a donut. Turns out the Devil is none other than Ned Flanders("It's always the one you least suspect!"), and he selects the jury of the damned when Homer is granted a trial to fight to keep his soul. Unfortunately, they've hired Lionel Hutz to defend him, so it'll be an uphill battle at best. Plus, Homer has to spend the day in Hell in the meantime!

The Shinning
Mayhem ensues when Homer is hired as caretaker to Mr. Burns's mountaintop hotel for the winter. Cut off from civilization, and left with no beer and no TV, Homer is filled with insane murderous rage. The family's only hope is that Bart can summon help with his "Shinning." A dead-on parody of Kubrick's classic The Shining, and damned hilarious.

Citizen Kang
Kang & Kodos encounter a stumbling block in their plans to take over the Earth when they learn an election is occurring next week. Abducting presidential candidates Bob Dole and Bill Clinton, the aliens take their place so that whoever wins will rule the country, and from there, proceed to take over the rest of the world. This is probably the finest hour for Kang & Kodos.

The Homega Man
When France launches a nuclear bomb at Springfield, Homer is the only survivor. The only normal survivor, that is, as many of the town's residents have been horribly mutated by the radiation. After interrupting his nude dancing at the church-- don't ask-- the mutants hunt Homer relentlessly.

Desperately Xeeking Xena
Bart and Lisa acquire superpowers, and they swing into action when Lucy Lawless is kidnapped by the Comic Book Guy-turned-supervillain the Collector. This one remains one of the biggest fan-favorites, and supplied several classic lines and moments.

Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace
Groundskeeper Willie mysteriously vanishes, and begins turning up in the dreams of Springfield's children to torment them. With all the town's adults trying to cover up what happened, it's left to Bart, Lisa, and Maggie to deal with Willie on his own turf.

Terror at 51/2 Feet
This parody of the old Twilight Zone episode where Shatner is the only one who sees a creature on the wing of a plane finds Bart in a similar situation: on the way to school, Bart keeps seeing a Gremlin trying to sabotage the bus so it will crash. No one else can see the creature, so Bart is believed to be insane. The pace in this one is relentless, even for one of the Halloween episodes, and includes one of the better twist endings.

Time and Punishment
Homer tries to fix the toaster, and accidentally turns it into a time machine. traveling to a number of different timelines, he struggles to get back home. Along the way, we get glimpses of some truly hilarious alternate timelines, including one in which Ned Flanders is the undisputed master of the world!

Fox is actually airing this year's Treehouse of Horror episode before Halloween; it's coming on this Sunday, the 30th. Don't miss it!

Rant Review: Batman: The Dark Knight #2, Superman #2, Blackhawks #2, Teen Titans #2, The Savage Hawkman #2, The Fury of Firestorm #2

If you missed yesterday's reviews, you can find them here. I was unable to get a copy of Voodoo #2, so that gets left out this time around.

Batman: The Dark Knight #2
Written by Paul Jenkins, Plot & pencils by David Finch, Inked by Richard Friend
This issue is better than the first one, but that bar is not set very high. Batman and Alfred try to discern the source of the drug that removes fear from the mind. Nearly the entire Bat-family cameos, though Robin is portrayed in a thoroughly generic way that doesn't sound the slightest bit like Damian. I can hardly believe that this is the same Paul Jenkins who is doing such excellent work on DCU Presents. Finch's art is his typical stiff and inconsistent work; he does a much better job drawing buildings and machines than he does with people. If you dislike his art, nothing here will change your mind. This series has been only mediocre at its very best, and it  has one more issue to improve drastically, or I'm done with it.
My score: 

Superman #2
Written by George Perez, Art by Jesus Merino
After the rather lackluster debut issue, my hopes for this second issue weren't very high. Thankfully, it is a bit better, but still seems to be marking time for the most part. Much of the issue is spent watching Superman being hit by a creature that everyone can see except him, and then watching him punch it into submission once he figures out how to work around it. With Perez leaving in a couple of issues, I would expect this story to wrap up soon, but who knows what to expect at this point? So far it seems to be just build-up to something, with lots of arbitrary action thrown in to take up page space. This isn't a bad comic, just a thoroughly mediocre one.
My score:

Blackhawks #2
Written by Mike Cost, Art by Graham Nolan & Trevor McCarthy
After a shaky start last month, this series picks up some serious steam here as the plot moves forward, and we get to see more of the team in action. Things are suddenly getting very interesting in this book, and I'm glad to see it. It's not one of the best of the New 52, but it went from being on the bubble to remaining on my pull list for at least one more month, and on much more solid footing this time. With this issue, it's much closer to the military-flavored, high-stakes action series everyone was hoping for.
My score: 

Teen Titans #2
Written by Scott Lobdell, Pencilled by Brett Booth, Inked by Norm Rapmund
Just like the debut issue, this mostly reminds me of so many comics from the early to mid-'90s, for all the worst reasons. There is at least some semblance of a plot, as NOWHERE are trying to round up all the superpowered teenagers, but it's accompanied by inane dialogue and bad art to the point that it's hard to care. The bubble just burst for this book; I'm done with it.  I'm sure some readers will derive some enjoyment from this series, but it's not for me.
My score: 

The Savage Hawkman #2
Written by Tony Daniel, Art by Philip Tan
Yeah... the word balloon in the pic above pretty much sums up my thoughts as I read this issue. After a halfway decent debut issue, this one is a muddled mess. There's a big dumb fight at the beginning, a bunch of cryptic things happen, and there are hints of something nasty to come. Tan's art is pretty good, but that's really all this issue has going for it. I had to force myself to finish reading this comic for the purposes of this review, or I would have just stopped about halfway through. I'm only marginally interested in Hawkman at the best of times, and I think this issue ended my time reading this series.
My score: 

The Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men #2
Written by Ethan Van Sciver & Gail Simone, Art by Yildray Cinar
Things stay nice and crazy as assassins continue to hunt Ronnie and Jason, and the origin of Firestorm is partially revealed. Tonya gets a very disturbing vision of what the future might hold, as well. This isn't one of the New 52's shining stars, but it's a nice, solid superhero adventure book, and there's not a damn thing wrong with that.
My score: 

That's it for this week's comic reviews! Pop back by later for today's 31 Days of Halloween post, and enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Rant Review: All-Star Western #2, Flash #2, Green Lantern: New Guardians #2, Justice League Dark #2, I, Vampire #2

It's the last week of New 52 #2 issues, so let's dive right in!

All-Star Western #2
Written by Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti, Art by Moritat, Jordi Bernet (El Diablo backup)
The action comes fast and furious as assassins are dispatched to take care of Hex & Arkham, and Hex deals with them in bloody fashion. This issue is no less interesting than the debut, and the odd couple pairing of Hex & Arkham continues to entertain.
In the backup story, Lazarus Lane blows into a town that has been overrun by what appear to be zombies. Credited to an Indian curse, it is revealed that only a demon can dispatch the creatures, so Lazurus must unleash El Diablo. P & G did an excellent job giving some of DC's lesser-known western characters a chance to shine in the Jonah Hex series that preceded this one, and it's nice to see that some of them will be getting their own backup stories in this book.
This is one of the best comics you're likely to find, and is deserving of a lot more attention than it's been getting. Take a chance and give this series a try, it's not likely to disappoint.
My score:

The Flash #2
Writing & Art by Francis Manapul, Co-written by Brian Buccellato
This improves on the disappointing debut issue, as Barry begins trying to use the Speed Force to increase the speed of his thinking, as well as his physical abilities. We only see the first taste of this in this issue, but it opens up a whole new world of intriguing possibilities. Manapul's dynamic layouts and frenetic style continue to energize the book, creating visuals that are absolutely appropriate for a Flash series. Manapul and Buccellato seem to be finding their footing after a somewhat shaky start.
My score:

Green Lantern: New Guardians #2
Written by Tony Bedard, Pencilled by Tyler Kirkham & Harvey Tolibao, Inked by Batt
The inevitable battle promised by last issue's cliffhanger ensues here, and takes up about half of this issue. Kyle and Saint Walker are able to slip away, traveling to Oa for answers. The intriguing mystery of exactly why all these rings have chosen Kyle takes a backseat to action, and the issue suffers for it. The art is adequate at best, with quality often varying wildly from page to page. This series has an interesting premise, but it needs to improve quite a bit to do it justice.
My score:

Aquaman #2
Written by Geoff Johns, Pencilled by Ivan Reis, Inked by Joe Prado
The monstrous Trench creatures continue their bloody quest for more food, and Aquaman & Mera get some quality time together before being thrown into battle against the beasts. This is a solid issue, and the art is just as nice as we've come to expect from Reis. I'm very interested to see the place these creatures call home next issue.
My score:

Justice League Dark #2
Written by Peter Milligan, Art by Michael Janin
This issue guest-stars Dawn Granger, the superheroine Dove. The relationship between Dawn and Boston Brand, a.k.a. Deadman, is the focus of this issue. The difficulties of maintaining a relationship in which one of the partners is incorporeal is explored, and the insane Enchantress begins to threaten several of the characters more directly. Janin's art is fantastic; this easily one of the most gorgeous books out there. This series is clearly taking us to some very interesting places, and I can't wait to tag along.
My score: 

I, Vampire #2
Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov, Art by Andrea Sorrentino
This issue gives us a peek into the mind of Mary, Queen of Blood, as she and her vampire army begin their assault on humankind. Sorrentino's dark, moody art suits the story perfectly. It's very nice to have a quality horror book that is actually set in the DC Universe, a it'll be very interesting to see how the vampires fare once they come up against some of the DCU's superpowered inhabitants.
My score: 

That's it for today, but swing back by tomorrow, when we'll be looking at Batman: The Dark Knight #2, Superman #2, Fury of Firestorm #2, Blackhawks #2, Teen Titans #2, Voodoo #2, and The Savage Hawkman #2!

31 Days of Halloween: Skeleton Decorations

One year ago: Dracula (1979)

Skulls and skeletons have long been associated with the macabre in general, and Halloween in particular. Things are no different at my house, and I've got more skulls and skeleton-related stuff than you can shake a shinbone at! I'll share some of that stuff with you today!

We'll start off with this life-sized bronze skull. The detail on this thing is very realistic, with obvious exceptions such as not being hollow. I picked it up at Walgreen's a few years ago, but I haven't seen any there since then. It's a shame, as I wouldn't pass up the opportunity to pick up another one, this time in white, for $6.
On a smaller scale, we have this slightly more natural-looking skull, which is actually a candle. When burned, the inner red wax runs out of several strategically-placed holes. I don't burn candles often, so it's never been used. The detail on it is good enough that I'm content to use it as a prop until such an occasion arises where its burning seems justified.
Representing blingers everywhere, this swanky silver skull is designed to hold your candle as it burns away. It was used for that purpose once; mostly it just hangs around looking awesome.

I really like this cheap little paper skull because its weathered look and odd proportions lead to think of it as the skull of one of our ancient ancestors from further down on the evolutionary ladder.

This cool set of candle holders was rather pricey, but I came across it around Christmastime a few years back, and got it for just a few dollars. The detail is quite nice, and one of the skulls even has a spider in its web on its temple, as you can see. I also love the fact that they're wearing skull rings on their left hands!

Here is a rather awkward shot of the pirate skull lights I have, and a bit of the skeleton garland I have strung all over the place. I really like the tiny skeletons for all their wonky anatomy.

Here we have a skull-faced ghost who, oddly enough, disappeared for several years before mysteriously reappearing in a cabinet here just two years ago.

And this is his bride, pining away at home while her hubby is off haunting people all night. It's quite a burden to place on a new marriage, but they make it work.

These skeleton hands are scattered all over the place, as I stick 'em here and there wherever there is a spot. I was planning to pick up a couple more packs this year, but I have yet to see any.

Last but certainly not least, we have my favorite: the Gentleman Skeleton! Remember him? I stumbled across this fine fellow at a dollar store several years ago, where he was mine for only two measly dollars. The base is very helpfully labelled "skeleton," so you won;t get him confused with the Wolf Man or Dracula or Steve Perry. His skull-topped pimp stick is removable, and the light-up feature still works very well. Getting a decent photo of it in action is beyond my photography skills, but here;s the best one I managed to get:

As a bonus, here is a badass hand towel I found at another store on the same day that also features the Gentleman Skeleton! You may have glimpsed it in the background of a few photos earlier this month, but here's a nice big close-up for your viewing pleasure.

That's all for today, and don't you feel enriched by this experience? C'mon back tomorrow for more Halloween lovin'!