Posts Tagged ‘Joe R. Lansdale’

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So, here’s a tip : if you’re browsing through the titles available for streaming on Netflix and looking for something good — and I mean really fucking good — to watch, you aren’t gonna do much better than Jim Mickle’s 2014 indie crime thriller Cold In July, which was just added a couple weeks back. I know that it’s a cardinal sin in the “review game” to give away your final opinion on a film right out of the gate because people then have no reason to read any further, but seriously — you’re better off watching this flick than absorbing my words of “wisdom” about it anyway, so if you cut out right here and now in order to check it out, I promise I won’t take it personally in the least.

Okay, anybody still left? The let’s talk a little bit about why this movie is so damn good, shall we?

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Crime and horror novelist Joe R. Lansdale specializes in tales as thick with tension as their Texas locales are with humidity, and Mickle and his screenwriting partner, Nick Damici, have cooked up a faithful-as-a-revival-tent-on-Sunday-morning adaptation here, taking us through more twists and turns than you’ll find in a coiled rattlesnake. What starts out as a “period piece”  home invasion movie set in 1987 when small-town Lone Star State frame shop owner Richard Dane (played by Michael C. Hall) and his wife, Ann (Vinessa Shaw) have their humble abode broken into by a masked intruder quickly morphs into a revenge flick when Richard shoots the burglar dead, only to have the lad’s just-released-from-prison father, Ben Russell (Sam Shepard) start stalking framer-boy’s family and threatening to kidnap — or worse — his infant son “in exchange” for the life he took. Still, that ain’t shit compared to what’s to come, as a series of events so stomach-churning and horrific you could be forgiven for getting physically ill as they play out actually ends with Richard and Ben becoming uneasy allies once it becomes clear that whoever was shot dead breaking into the house that night was most assuredly not the junior member of the Russell clan at all — in fact, thanks to the legwork done by Ben’s war- buddy-turned-pig-farmer/part-time-private-dick, Jim Bob (Don Johnson), we come to learn that Ben’s boy Freddy is alive and well, but what he’s doing to occupy his time and earn a buck? Well, that’s enough to make the old man wish he’d never popped off the load that got him started in the first place — and since he brought this monster into the world, he’s making it his personal mission to take him out of it.

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If you’re getting the notion that Cold In July is a dark, brooding piece of southern-fried psychodrama, you’re absolutely right — but it’s much more than that, as well. There’s a hell of a heaping helping of “gallows humor” and well-rounded characterization of offer here, as well. Hall’s take on Richard as a fairly simple family man plunged into a mystery he never asked for but is determined to help solve is strong enough in and of itself, but it’s Shepard and Johnson who really steal the show here, with Shepard’s Ben going from cooler-than-cool figure of menace to tortured father with a conscience and Johnson’s Jim Bob walking a fine line that has flamboyant Texan-to-the-bone on the one side and sympathetic old friend on the other. Both roles are well within each of these gentlemen’s respective wheelhouses, to be sure, but seldom do you get to see even one actor knock a “role they were born to play” out of the park in a film, let alone two. It’s a real treat, to say the least, to watch this pair of pros both doing what they do best perhaps better than they’ve ever done it before.

Mickle is to be commended for doing much more than just coaxing terrific performances out of his grade-A cast, though — he imbues everything here with a palpable sense of Dixie-style dread that is absolutely steeped in the uniquely thick stew of its time and place and delivers one gut-punch after another that, somehow, you’re eager to get up from — even though you know you’re only gonna get a harder one when you do. That takes skill, my friends, and this is skilled southern noir in its most relentlessly brutal and undeniable form.

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All of which, I suppose, brings us right back to where we started — this is a flick you need to see ASAP, either via Netflix, as suggested at the outset, or by means of its IFC-released Blu-ray and/or DVD physical-storage iterations. It might be damn Cold In July, but Mickle’s film is hot enough to fry some of Jim Bob’s homemade bacon on until it sizzles.

 

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Okay, so tomorrow’s the big day, and despite being massively “under the gun” time-wise, I thought I’d take a few minutes to talk about The Steam Man #1 from Dark Horse Comics just in case there are a few (or, heck, even one) of you out there looking for a good new horror comic to pick up at your LCS in honor of Halloween.

Although, in all honesty, it may not be fair to label this as purely a horror series since there are so many sci-fi influences added into the mix, particularly and most obviously of the “steampunk” variety. After all, the premise here is that an intrepid crew of five are “piloting” a gigantic steam-powered robot through the (unpaved) highways and byways of the Old West looking for trouble, so it’s more than fair to say that what we’ve got on our hands here is something of a genre mash-up.

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If that sounds appealing to you — as well it should — then name-dropping the creators involved in this five-issue series should only whet your appetite even further. Joe R, Lansdale has made a career out of the “horror western” in both novels and comics (who can forget his classic Jonah Hex stories with Timothy Truman and Sam Glanzman published under the Vertigo imprint?) and he gets credit for coming up with the story here (what we used to call “plotting” back in the day), while scripting and dialogue are handled by consummate pro Mark Alan Miller (whose name you’ve probably seen attached to any number of Boom! Studios’ Clive Barker adaptations and spin-offs), and the pencils and inks are the domain of the singularly talented Piotr Kowalski, who’s best known for his work on Image Comics’ Sex with Joe Casey but has also lent his detailed and unique abilities to last year’s Marvel Knights : Hulk and Dynamite’s Peter Milligan-scripted Terminal Hero, among other noteworthy recent endeavors. This guy gets a lot of work, and as the art samples included with this review ably demonstrate, it’s very easy to see why : he just plain brings it. Colorist-on-the-rise Kelly Fitzpatrick, who’s been popping up in all the right places lately (such as Dark Horse’s awesome reality-warping Neverboy and Dark Circle’s gritty new urbanized take on The Black Hood) rounds out the “A-list” of talent attached to this project, and if all these folks working on the same comic isn’t enough to get your “must buy this now!” juices flowing, well — you must be one tough person to please.

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Classic sci-fi elements make their presence felt in the proceedings here, as well, with the Steam Man itself originally having been created to fend off  H.G. Wells’ invasion from Mars, but when bacteria took care of that problem, it was quickly re-purposed for battle against marauding albino apes — another premise that I’m betting sounds pretty familiar to most readers out there. With those high-profile missions out of the way, though our monster-hunting crew are going about the business of taking their gigantic toy out into the wilds to tussle with a bad-ass uber-vampire who has designs on ushering in the apocalypse. Sounds like fun!

The characterization in this book is incredibly solid, with each member of the cast coming across as utterly unique individuals in the space of a few sentences of dialogue; the plot is meticulously well-constructed and incremental; and the art — well, I’ve gushed plenty about that already, but there’s no harm in doing so again since Kowalski’s renderings really are a feast for the eyes. Just look, dammit!

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So, hey, there you have it — The Steam Man #1 hit comic shop shelves last week, so if you’re looking for something both familiar and different to scratch your horror comics itch this Halloween, pick this up and get in on what promises to be a fun, creepy, wild ride that we’re being guided along by a collection of undeniable masters of the medium.

 

 

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If there’s one thing that really bums me out about the “New 52 ” universe — and truth be told there’s far more than one thing, but that’s another matter for another time — it’s that DC editorial has roped in every single corner of its terrain and isn’t letting anything out. Even “weird” characters like Swamp Thing, John Constantine, etc. are firmly ensconced within the rigid confines of the dully homogenized “DCU,” as it’s called. And while the semi-fabled Vertigo imprint where they once had such a comfortable home has increasingly headed into creator-owned (after a fashion — see if you can get any of the creators of Vertigo-published books to tell you about how “good” the deals that supposedly grant them “ownership” of their work really are sometime) territory for at least 15 years or so now, I admit that I do miss the days when purportedly “marginal” and largely unused established DC characters were allowed to roam about a bit more freely under the Vertigo banner.

Jonah Hex is a perfect example of exactly what I’m talking about. The scarred bounty hunter, originally created back in the early ’70s as a kind of comic book answer to the “revisionist western” trend sweeping Hollywood at the time (think Butch Cassidy And The Sundance KidThe Wild BunchMcCabe And Mrs. Miller, and Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid), Hex ended up being, for the most part, a fairly standard gunslinger/outlaw who just happened to be a lot uglier than most. He managed a good run, and even survived a disastrous early-’80s reboot that saw him taken out of time and dumped into a Road Warrior-style post-apocalyptic future, but by the time writer Joe R. Lansdale and artists Timothy Truman and Sam Glanzman were given the green-light to revive him in a new “mature readers” iteration for Vertigo in 1993, he’d been sitting around gathering dust on the shelf of unused characters for a long time.

Lansdale, an acclaimed horror novelist who was new to comics at that point, wisely decided to blow off writer Michael Fleisher’s decade-plus run with Hex and yoke his take on Jonah a bit more closely to how co-creator John Albano scripted him, but by and large he was content to blaze his own trail with little to no regard for anything that came before,  and the result is a fairly accurate depiction of frontier life as it really was — illiterate, uncivilized, unwashed, unloved yokels leading nasty, brutish, and for the most part quite short lives in a largely-unsettled part of a country that was still a boiling, festering wound after the Civil War — and throws in a generous helping of supernatural “high weirdness” and bodily function and sex jokes to spice things up. His Hex is lewd, crude, rude, and usually in a bad mood. And needless to say, the end result is more fun than half-price day at an Old West whorehouse.

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Tim Truman was a brilliant choice to illustrate these scripts as the samples reproduced here show, and his down-and-dirty style has an appropriately “old school” western feel to it combined with a modernist’s eye for just what a shithole the frontier really was. A better  penciller for this stuff would be hard — nay, impossible — to imagine, and when you add on the rich inks of the legendary (a term we don’t use loosely around these parts) Sam Glanzman, the result is pure gold. This remains, to this day, one of the most lavishly-illustrated of all Vertigo comics.

The gang united three times — for the five part Two-Gun Mojo in 1993, which  sees Hex taking on a zombie horde in his quest to get payback for a friend’s murder; the five-part Riders Of The Worm And Such in 1995, wherein Hex lands work as a hired hand at an Oscar Wilde-inspired ranch (yes, you read that right) infested by giant man-eating earthworms who have — uhhhhmmm — bred with humans to create truly moronic, yet decidedly dangerous,  offspring (the main ones we’re introduced to being two twin brothers who are obvious stand-ins for musicians Edgar and Johnny Winter, who in fact sued DC for unauthorized use of their likenesses); and the the three-part Shadows West in 1999 that pits our scarred “hero” against the freaks and geeks of the Wild Will (yes, you read that right again) travelling sideshow when Hex decides to free a Native American woman and her half-human/half-bear (yes, you read that right a third time) from, shall we say, indentured servitude to the troupe. The Lansdale/Truman/Glanzman triumvirate played each successive series for more and more laughs, but they’re all just unsettling enough to make horror fans happy, as well, and the combination of fun and fright works like a charm in all three adventures. The stories are simple and straightforward, and Lansdale’s scripts are brisk, pacy, and give his artists plenty of action sequences and creepy grotesqueries to really sink their teeth into. No single issue takes more than a handful of minutes to read, but you can spend hours looking at the pretty pictures of ugly things.

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I would have expected all of this material to be reprinted in conjunction with the entertaining disaster that was the Jonah Hex movie a few years back (especially since Two-Gun Mojo was adapted for release as a “motion comic” at the time), but for some reason it wasn’t, and Vertigo is apparently making up for lost time now by finally collecting them all in the just-released Jonah Hex : Shadows West trade paperback, which is easily the most awesome thing you’ll find on the shelves of your LCS this week (or probably for the next several weeks). Even though these stories are all between 15 and 20 years old, they not only “hold up well” against most of the new stuff out there today, frankly they’re a whole hell of a lot better than, as they’d say in the West, ‘purt near all of it.  And while I could go on an on about all that for a thousand or so more words without much trouble, I do have one small gripe, so let’s get to that now, shall we?

The introduction for this volume, written by Lansdale himself and reprinted from the first collected edition of Two-Gun Mojo back in 1994, is one of the most egotistical, self-serving intros I’ve ever read. He doesn’t even drop Truman’s name — whose work really steals the show here — until the last paragraph of his three-page pat on his own back, and Glanzman, who’s never gotten anywhere near the level of recognition in the industry he deserves despite the fact that he, for all intents and purposes, invented the autobiographical comics genre back in the 1960s (and told some of the finest war stories the medium has ever seen, to boot) doesn’t even merit a mention from his author. Bad form, Joe, bad form.

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To his credit, by the time he does lower himself to acknowledge Truman’s contribution, he says that he’s “the perfect artist” to draw Hex, and he’s absolutely right about that. Then he goes on to say that he, himself, is the perfect guy to write Hex — and while that’s mighty brazen of him, he’s also right on that score, as well. At the end of the day, this superb team created a whole new subgenre — the western/horror/comedy. Nobody’s really tried anything like it since, and there’s not really much point, because the bar has been set so high (even if the material is decidedly low-brow, as it should be). Do yourself a favor and grab Jonah Hex : Shadows West now. No fooliin’ pardner, it’s the best durn funnybook yer gonna read in a mighty long spell.