Movie Review – Thor: Ragnarok

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IMDB Summary

Thor is imprisoned on the other side of the universe and finds himself in a race against time to get back to Asgard to stop Ragnarok, the destruction of his homeworld and the end of Asgardian civilization, at the hands of an all-powerful new threat, the ruthless Hela.

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Thor: Ragnarok is the 17th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and the third Thor film. Released November 3, 2017 and directed by Taika Waititi, the film stars Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Tom Hiddleston as Loki, and Cate Blanchett as Hela. I’m fairly certain an MCU film has never failed to capture my interest so far, but there was something particular about the direction Ragnarok seemed to going in that held me a little more. Though typically a more fantastical Avenger, with funny moments thanks to him often being a fish out of water, Thor had usually been a rather self-serious character before now. With this sequel they were definitely going for a more swashbuckling tone, which had me optimistic, but with the baggage of two prior films I wondered how things would work out.

While nearly all MCU films have a comedic edge to them, this was the first Thor film that felt like an outright comedy in terms of genre. There’s plenty of superhero action as well, but humour was particularly embedded in the fabric of this movie. For the most part it really worked, though at times I could see gags coming. Hemsworth seems to have a knack for making Thor funny, which felt natural for the character. I really got the sense that Thor’s time on Earth, and away from Asgard in general, allowed the airs of nobility to slough off of him. This was not just evident in his more playful, sometimes oafish behaviour, but also in his attitude toward other characters, particularly Loki. He’d noticeably grown in a lot of ways too, coming across as more mature in a carefree sort of way, still confident and competitive in terms of his abilities, yet less prideful. While there wasn’t a seamless progression considering all of the films, it still managed to feel organic to me.

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The greater story was concerned with defeating Hela, who was trying to take over Asgard and command its armies to begin conquering more worlds. When trying to stop her from initially reaching Asgard, Thor and Loki crash landed and became trapped on a far away garbage planet called Sakaar, ruled by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). The Grandmaster hosted a gladiatorial Contest of Champions, which Thor was forced to compete in. There he befriended the rock-like Korg (Taika Waititi), met a wayward Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), and reunited with the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). It was while they were on Sakaar, with its bizarre characters and trashy cityscape, that the story was at its best. Everything and everybody there had so much character and weirdness to them that made the film feel distinct. I’m not unsatisfied with the story as it plays out on Sakaar — there was a great fight between Thor and Hulk, the latter got some moments to be an actual character, and Valkyrie had a good arc in her own right from being more antagonistic to heroic — yet I wish it had been a little more substantial, especially since the Grandmaster became more of an afterthought.

Hela was a good villain thanks to Blanchett’s wonderful scene-chewing performance, as well as her formidability as an adversary; they did a good job of making her more powerful than any of Thor’s previous villains. Despite all this, however, she was rather bland as far as plot was concerned. All she really wanted was to rule Asgard and conquer more worlds with her undead army, a villainous goal to be sure, but hardly unique in a cinematic universe with now 17 films. This made our heroes’ inevitable return to Asgard for the third act a little disappointing after all the otherworldly strangeness of Sakaar. Something that did redeem this for me was the lengths our heroes had to go to in order to thwart her, which helped to end things on a much more interesting note. We also got to watch the Hulk fight a giant wolf, which from a visual standpoint was simply a lot of fun. Nevertheless, my previously mentioned problems still stand.

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Thor: Ragnarok is not without its issues, but regarding Thor as a character I think it is his best film. He has never had as much personality as he did here, and it was great to see the people behind one of his movies joyously embrace the weirdness of it all in a bigger way. I make the specification about Thor’s character because I know Loki has a big following, and while I do not feel he was underused here, he is noticeably less important to the story that unfolds. If you go to see it for him, you may be more disappointed than I was. Regardless, it is definitely worth checking out.

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WWW Wednesday – 2017/11/15

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WWW Wednesday is a book meme run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently Reading

StarWarsFromACertainPointofViewI’ve started to make a lot of headway reading Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View. I had actually jumped the gun last week; I wasn’t quite out of Mos Eisley yet. The stories have moved much farther along from that space port now, though more frequently now to halls of the Death Star. The destruction of Alderaan is given some noteworthy attention, unsurprisingly, with a rather tragic tale told from the perspective of people on the planet in the story “Eclipse” by Madeleine Roux, as well as a surprise appearance from Dr. Aphra in “The Trigger” By Kieron Gillen, which explores the ramifications of that planet’s destruction in a more societal way. I’ve picked up a lot of momentum reading this book, and I’ll hopefully have it finished by next week.

Recently Finished

ItDevours!Before the weekend I finished reading It Devours! by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor. I posted my full review of the novel yesterday, which you can read here. It was not without its imperfections — one unfortunately glaring for me — but as a lover of good storytelling, as well as the world of Night Vale, I enjoyed it all the same. The humour was on point, the story was full of all sorts of creepy and vague yet menacing life, and the writing style drew me in throughout. It’s just a shame things didn’t quite come together in the climax as I’d hoped.

Reading Next

AhsokaI have still yet to start Eric by Terry Pratchett, but I intend to go through it this weekend. Once all other reading is out of the way I will start Ahsoka by E. K. Johnston. Yes, I know, another Star Wars book. Well, they won’t be going away any time soon. It turns out I’m not quite out of the Clone Wars related stuff just yet either, which is why I’m adamant about reading this book before the year is out so I can move on from that era.

Book Review – It Devours! by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor

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Summary

Welcome to Night Vale . . . a friendly desert community somewhere in the American Southwest, where ghosts, angels, aliens, and government conspiracies are parts of everyday life.

Nilanjana Sikdar is an outsider to the town of Night Vale. Working for Carlos, the town’s top scientist, she relies on fact and logic as her guiding principles. But all of that is put into question when Carlos gives her a special assignment investigating a mysterious rumbling in the desert wasteland outside of town. This investigation leads her to the Joyous Congregation of the Smiling God, and to Darryl, one of its most committed members. Caught between her beliefs in the ultimate power of science and her growing attraction to Darryl, she begins to suspect the Congregation is planning a ritual that could threaten the lives of everyone in town. Nilanjana and Darryl must search for common ground between their very different world views as they are faced with the Congregation’s darkest and most terrible secret.

ItDevours!

It Devours!? Oh yeah, I’ve read that book. It’s the second novel by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor based on their popular serial fiction podcast Welcome to Night Vale. The book was released on October 17, 2017, and as a big fan of the podcast I had been eagerly awaiting it for a while. When the first novel came out — simply titled Welcome to Night Vale — I was cautiously excited. While I loved the audio show, its translation to the novel format was untested. The first book had a few hiccups, but I think it turned out quite well. With the debut book out of the way, proving their narrative world had legs in the medium, my expectations of a second book to do a little more with the setting grew.

For the first novel, a lot of the focus was on the town itself, seen through the perspective of two of its residents. The mystery took us to various points of interest throughout Night Vale, giving us a sort of narrative tour that allowed an on-the-ground look at the oddities of the setting, as well as what it’s really like for the more everyday person living there. While a great approach, it’s not something I think they could have done a second time. Fortunately, It Devours! succeeded in giving us something more by giving centre stage to more specific groups: the scientists, the Joyous Congregation of the Smiling God, and to a lesser extent Night Vale city government. The central otherworldly threat that looms over the town is the concern of all these parties, for different reasons, bringing about a unique and appropriately surreal clash of ideologies. I really liked this change of approach. As much as I do like the first novel, as a fan of the series I’ve heard countless episodes about Night Vale and its people — it is a “community radio” show after all — so while the perspective was still novel, a lot of it felt familiar.

I really liked this novel’s protagonist Nilanjana, who gave a unique perspective on various levels. For one, she’s a scientist, a profession in Night Vale that is nebulous and quirky, in the way that scientists are in cheesy 1950s sci-fi movies. I liked the more peeled-back look at what these scientists actually do, especially giving us the internal thoughts of one, better fleshing out how they see the world. Nilanjana was very practical, confronting problems with logic and reason befitting her vocation, while also at times betraying her true feelings between the lines. She’s someone I quickly felt I understood and sympathized with as a human being. She’s also an outsider. Though she’d been living in Night Vale for years at the start of the novel, she had never felt like she was truly accepted or belonged. The ways of the town were just as strange to her as any reader might find them, and this was something she often had to confront or come to terms with.

The more tangential references to the surreal or esoteric aspects of life in Night Vale were more limited in this novel, a problem I brought up in my review of the first book. Like I said before, these moments work wonderfully on the podcast, but do not so much in a novel. They’re still present in all their weird majesty in this book, but this time around they felt more in service to the story taking place, rather than an amusing idea one of the author’s had that just had to be included. There was still the odd passage that I found over-indulgent, however, which happened enough to make me feel they still haven’t quite struck a perfect balance.

As a story that pitted science and religion against one another it did an admirably fair job. While it was hard for me not to side with Nilanjana’s more reasoned approach to their crazy world, her love interest Darryl was not simply a misguided fool enthralled by a belief system. He highlighted many of the positives that come from religious communities and the way they can bring people together constructively and harbour good feelings in oneself and good will toward others. The negatives of each side were exemplified as well, which demonstrated the different but equally disastrous consequences of each taken too far. It did well to present the issue without a clear answer, not trying to shake anyone from their side, but present it as a complex issue related to human nature.

The writing style was compelling and the characterization strong. Sitting down a reading through larger chunks at a time was a joy for me to take part in. For these reasons it was particularly regrettable that I had one major problem with the plot of this book. It relates directly to mystery of the story, so I won’t go into specifics, but I guessed the twist before I even knew it was a twist. The storyline did enough to occasionally have me second-guess myself, but ultimately events came to what I had already figured out and I was not in the least bit surprised. It was such a notable thing to me that it actually felt dissonant that the thought, from what I recall, did not seriously occurred to any of the characters early on. Plenty of legwork was done by the authors to steer the reader in different directions concerning the issue with in-universe reasoning that did work in its own way. Those directions did have their own mysteries and problems to solve too, the story has plenty else to stand on, but this one core detail was simply too obvious to me.

The only thing that makes me hesitate about this criticism is I’m not sure if it was something more unique to my experience with the book, or something others would catch too. Regardless, the journey these characters undertake is one I still thoroughly enjoyed. The world of Night Vale is disturbing, hilarious, and bloody weird in a way I am drawn to, and this book was no exception to that. Despite all its surreal horror it still managed to be insightful, reflective, and poignant too, which made its down-to-earth human moments some of the ones that stood out the most. It had its imperfections, but whether fan or newcomer, It Devours! is definitely worth checking out.

Series Review – Stranger Things 2

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IMDB Summary

In a small town where everyone knows everyone, a peculiar incident starts a chain of events that leads to the disappearance of a child – which begins to tear at the fabric of an otherwise peaceful community. Dark government agencies and seemingly malevolent supernatural forces converge on the town while a few locals begin to understand that there’s more going on than meets the eye.

Set in Hawkins in the fall of 1984, the story continues as supernatural forces once again begin to affect the town.

StrangerThings2Poster

Stranger Things season two — or “Stranger Things 2” — is the second season of the supernatural drama series produced by Netflix, released on October 27, 2017. It came as a surprise to me that I didn’t actually review season one last year. I actually had to double check. Nevertheless, like many others, I was swept away by season one’s amazing cast, intriguing story, and nostalgic style. I was born in the 90s, so I’m not as emotionally attached to the 80s the way other people are, but a lot of it still resonated with me. Even if I wasn’t as into Stephen King books or Spielberg movies when I was a kid, the themes, concepts, and even just window dressing populated the media of my childhood.

Returning with season two, a lot of the elements in the show remained strong. The cast of kids — Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Will (Noah Schnapp), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) — are some of the best young actors I’ve seen. As characters they’re written believably as kids, and the actors really brought the script to life with their performances. Max (Sadie Sink), the newcomer to their group this season, was a welcome addition to the cast, playing a new kid in town reluctant to come out of her shell to these prospective friends. A particular amount of attention was paid to her this season along with Lucas and Dustin, who both showed boyish romantic interest in her.

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The events of this season were split into a number of different directions. At their core, they dealt with the fallout of the previous season, which I liked for the most part. A more imposing, insidious entity eventually dubbed “the Mind Flayer” haunts Will in all-too-real flashbacks he’s been having to the Upside Down, much to the worry of his mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) and Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour). Meanwhile, Dustin discovers a strange “pollywog” in his trash bin, which behaves like no other animal seen on Earth before. The latter I enjoyed as a subversion of an E.T. type of story, which didn’t take long for things to go off the rails. Lastly, Nancy (Natalia Dyer), still torn up about the death of her friend Barb (Shannon Purser), wants justice against Hawkins lab, causing friction between her and Steve (Joe Keery), who wants to relent and move on. Each storyline was compelling in its own way and consistently had me hooked.

A problem I had with this season was the way everything came together. The first six episodes of the season were greatly done, pretty much on par with the best stuff we’ve seen in season one, but the final three became noticeably weaker. Episode seven was especially predictable (I actively foresaw its conclusion several beats ahead of time), and drifted wildly in terms of setting and tone. The final two episodes, while possessing some standout moments and sequences, had story beats that were just too neat for me. Ultimately, these episodes were just fine, when up until that point the season had been great.

StrangerThings2MindFlayer

Whether subplots were directly related or not, all roads led back to the Mind Flayer too, and while it was a threat that demanded a lot of attention, this also resulted in a lot of characters congregating together. A good job was done of giving everybody something important to do, but for most of the characters this served as a utility to their situation rather than giving them a chance to grow or change any further. After episode six it became apparent, other than some nods here and there, that most of the characters had received all the development they were going to get.

I was particularly disappointed with the new relationship between Hopper — who is still among my favourite characters in the series — and Eleven. It was revealed in the first episode she has been in hiding under his care for nearly a year. While they did have some good scenes together and I love the idea of the two of them having a surrogate father/daughter relationship, it’s something that quickly got sidelined as they both became wrapped up in separate plotlines. This made the development they eventually end up going through feel unearned. While necessary in its own clunky way, Eleven’s journey (which she undertook separately from the rest of the cast) felt a little out of place during its last legs too. They’re both great characters and I especially think their dynamic could work really well, but these elements simply did not coalesce that well with the rest of the story this season.

StrangerThings2Hopper

My criticisms notwithstanding, I think Stranger Things 2 is worthy successor to the first season, with the characters remaining the series’ core strength. They were consistently a joy to watch on screen, particularly Dustin, Lucas, and Max this season, personally. The storyline was still intriguing to watch unfold too, with many nail-biting moments. Definitely check this season out if you enjoyed the first one.

WWW Wednesday – 2017/11/08

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WWW Wednesday is a book meme run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently Reading

StarWarsFromACertainPointofViewI have started up reading Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View once again, though it is still more of a back-burner read. It’s been a bit ridiculous with how committed this collection got to portraying different perspectives from the film. I have been in Mos Eisley for much longer than I expected. Numerous aliens from that dang cantina, most of whom did not do anything other than appear in a few shots for a couple seconds, have been given stories. There are only so many different contexts and points of view I can see that scene from before I get sick of it. They weren’t all bad on their own, but it all became a bit much.

ItDevours!I’ve also been reading It Devours! by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor quite devoutly over the last week. I’ve got just under 100 pages left to go, so I should have it wrapped up very soon. I’m enjoying the novel a lot so far. I’m happy to see that the duo are able to write about another mystery set in Night Vale without it being too similar to their first novel. The writing has been really drawing me in; I’ve been devouring it at a rate I’m quite happy with.

Recently Finished

Sadly nothing finished this week. I guess I needed to cool off a little from the four I finished last week. Here’s hoping I’ll have more than one to talk about next week!

Reading Next

EricI have had Eric by Terry Pratchett, the ninth Discworld novel, for a while now and I’m eager to get to it once I complete It Devours! It’s comparatively shorter than these novels usually are — illustrated as well — so I’m confident I will be able to power through it in no time. I will savour the experience as much as I can, but I’m also eager to read Reaper Man, the 11th novel in the series and the second one about Death, so I welcome a shorter book along the way.

Book Review – Uzumaki by Junji Ito

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Summary

Kurôzu-cho, a small fogbound town on the coast of Japan, is cursed. According to Shuichi Saito, the withdrawn boyfriend of teenager Kirie Goshima, their town is haunted not by a person or being but by a pattern: uzumaki, the spiral, the hypnotic secret shape of the world. It manifests itself in everything from seashells and whirlpools in water to the spiral marks on people’s bodies, the insane obsessions of Shuichi’s father and the voice from the cochlea in our inner ear. As the madness spreads, the inhabitants of Kurôzu-cho are pulled ever deeper into a whirlpool from which there is no return!

Uzumaki

Uzumaki is a horror manga (Japanese comic book) written and illustrated by Junji Ito. It was originally published serially in the weekly manga magazine Big Comic Spirits from 1998 to 1999. The book I am reviewing is a hardcover omnibus edition that was published in 2013. While I read comic books pretty regularly, lately I tend to avoid reviewing them. After completing Uzumaki, however, I knew I was going to make an exception. Most other comic books I read are beholden or connected to storylines that come before them, as well as others happening simultaneously. This book, however, is self-contained, telling a complete story.

Due to the story being originally published serially, the book is divided into chapters that tell individual occurrences within this small town. As a result, a lot of them feel more like short stories with a recurring setting and characters. These characters are Kirie, her family, and her boyfriend Shuichi. While it is Shuichi who first points out their town’s “spiral infestation”, his experiences soon make him reclusive. It is Kirie, also serving as out narrator, that we follow as she witnesses or finds herself the target of each strange incident. While these characters are not especially deep, I admire Kirie for her resilience and commitment to family and friends. Situations get demented in ways that I have never quite seen in art before, but she bears along regardless, refusing to buckle under the horror of it all the way Shuichi does. In a way they both represent opposing kinds of reactions (unlike panic) to impending crisis: depressed resignation and stoic resolve.

UzumakiKirie&Shuichi

The book’s structure did a great job of capturing a sense of escalation and dread. In the beginning, the spiral curse manifests as little more than nature adhering to the pattern more than it ought to, evidenced in the grass, wind, and water. Patient zero for the curse, for lack of a better term, is Shuichi’s father, who at some point prior to the beginning of the story became obsessed with spirals. This incident reaches a crescendo with its own consequences to Shuichi’s family, but the state of the town only gets worse from there as the story continues. Spirals begin to manifest in more elaborate and bizarre ways, mesmerizing and terrorizing the populace. It is only really our main characters who seem clued in to the shape at the centre of each occurrences. Not that knowing what it is will help. Though each incident gets more intense and more permanent, what does knowing a shape is at the centre of it do in helping you stop it?

The drawback to the serial — or episodic — structure of the story, particularly among early chapters, was how formulaic they started to get. A predictable trend was set of introducing a new part of town and characters, learning about the way the spiral was infecting their lives, and the situation reaching a sort of resolution through escape, reprieve, or other means. On their own most of these chapters were actually quite good as individual stories, but reading through continuously made it feel a little too repetitive. Picking things up at a new incident with each chapter also felt a little odd when a certain incident concluded rather open-endedly. There was no evidence of the problem going away on its own, yet it doesn’t appear or get mentioned again. People just returned to their lives despite the danger seemingly not going anywhere. My issues are again particular to the earlier chapters, as there does reach a point in the escalation of events where returning to normal life is no longer possible.

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These small gripes aside, I want to get into this book’s real strong suit, which is the art. Ito’s art style is generally more realistic than other manga you may have seen, which is something I appreciated. The setting is rather mundane for the most part, but he has a particular talent for making everyday people and settings look unsettling or foreboding when he wants them to. With the curse itself, you may be thinking that a town cursed by spirals is a silly concept, and I’m inclined to agree if you consider the idea on paper. However, silly things twisted in the right way can be particularly creepy. The amount of disturbed imagination that goes into this book is astounding. The shape factors into many everyday things, some obvious and others not so much, and the ways he distorts them into something horrific are masterful. Many illustrations are harrowing, showing bodies, nature, and structures figuratively and/or literally warped in ways I’d have never imagined myself. His ability to arrange his panels to build suspense is especially strong as well, often exploiting the act of a page-turn to great effect.

Uzumaki is a book a friend has urged me to read for a while, and I’m thrilled that I finally did. It’s a wonderfully eldritch tale of mysterious forces influencing the world in bizarre and horrific ways, the origins of which defy explanation. You do get a peak into the centre of the spiral, as it were, but even that is only a glimpse at the what, not the how or the why. Whether manga/comic books are your thing or not, if you’ve got a taste for grotesque, mind-bending horror, definitely check this book out.

 

WWW Wednesday – 2017/11/01

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WWW Wednesday is a book meme run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently Reading

I’m still “currently reading” Star Wars: From A Certain Point of View, though like I said last week I’ve put the book on hold. After a slew of finished titles I’m actually not in the middle of reading anything at the moment.

Recently Finished

HellboyAnAssortmentOfHorrorsTrue to my word last week there are a lot of entries under this heading this week. First up is Hellboy: An Assortment of Horrors, which I finished up shortly after my post last week. You can find my full review here. I liked the book a lot, though ultimately it lacked the wow factor that I had with the first anthology I read a few months ago. After everything the character has gone through, however, I’m happy to see authors writing him so effectively.

UzumakiOver the last few days leading up to Halloween I read through Uzumaki by Junji Ito, a short horror manga (comic book) series collected into a deluxe hardcover. At times it could drag a little, as some chapters felt more episodic and inconsequential to the overall story, but these moments were outweighed by how messed up this story could get. So many horrifically imaginative moments of body horror and distortion of reality populate this book. The art is especially to die for, bringing the story together in a way that other artists could not.

ThroughTheLookingGlassLastly, I finally finished up the run of Guardians of the Galaxy by Brian Michael Bendis et al that I’ve been going through, having finished the event The Black Vortex and the final volume Through the Looking Glass. I think I’m going to do a little write up on my experience trying to read through these. There’s a lot of good about the characters and some of the stories, but thanks to the way Marvel manages its books it was very frustrating to keep track of what was going on sometimes. I’ve been a frustrated regular reader before, and it wasn’t a feeling I welcomed back heartily.

Reading Next

ItDevours!I’ve still got to get started on It Devours! by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, so I’m definitely going to be starting that novel either today or tomorrow. I’ve got a spike in available reading time coming up over the next week, so I’m hopefully going to power through it over that time so I can move on to other books. I’m a little disappointed I didn’t manage to read this book within October.

Book Review – Hellboy: An Assortment of Horrors, edited by Christopher Golden

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Summary

Sixteen of the biggest names in weird literature come together to pay tribute to Hellboy and the characters of Mike Mignola’s award-winning line of books! Assembled by Joe Golem and Baltimore co-writer Christopher Golden and featuring illustrations by Mike Mignola and Chris Priestley, the anthology boasts sixteen original stories by the best in horror, fantasy, and science fiction, including Seanan McGuire (October Daye series), Chelsea Cain (Heartsick), Jonathan Maberry (Joe Ledger series), and more! The new writer of Hellboy and the B.P.R.D., iZombie co-creator Chris Roberson, pitches in as well, and Chris Priestley (Tales of Terror) provides a story and an illustration!

HellboyAnAssortmentOfHorrors

Hellboy: An Assortment of Horrors, released on August 29, 2017, is the latest anthology of Hellboy short stories, once again edited by Christopher Golden. It’s funny the way things have turned out, with me having jumped to reading the newest one after having just gone through the first one back in August. When I read Odd Jobs the experience came as a great surprise. I picked it up as a novelty, wanting to see how a change in medium would feel for the character and the world, not expecting how much I’d love it. This precise experience is not something that could happen a second time. I’d been curious of how well a new collection would fare, considering it is now the fourth one produced and long after the first.

It was nice to see upon finishing this book that nearly 20 years after the first anthology there is seemingly no shortage of talented authors willing and able to write Hellboy stories. Once again I came away from this collection satisfied with what each tale brought to the table. Some appealed to me more than others, but there are none I would say are poor or lacking. The only thing I’d say hurt this book a little, comparatively, is it felt a less unified by a core idea. Odd Jobs — though its title was still a flexible umbrella — was mostly comprised of stories that were at their heart very, well, odd. Whether they were on the funny side of odd or the more disturbing, upsetting side, it was a small thing that connected all the stories together for me. This new book was itself more noticeably varied, and “an assortment of horrors” doesn’t really say anything specific enough about the stories collectively. This is a nit-pick of mine, no bones about it, but something I feel is worth noting nonetheless.

Many stories from this collection are not told from Hellboy’s point of view. In a few cases it was instead Liz Sherman, the pyrokinetic BPRD agent. She seems to be a popular choice for authors if the two books I’ve read are any indicator. I especially liked “Burning Girls” by Seanan McGuire, which deals with the incident in the comics when Liz deposited her powers into a dormant homunculus, which nearly killed her. In the comic book she was pretty much catatonic, so it was really neat to see what was going on internally for her. Kate Corrigan is another recurring series character, a folklore and occult expert for the BPRD, who got a few of her own tales as well. As a more scholarly character I liked seeing how differently she had to deal with the supernatural forces threatening her. Many more perspective characters are new and specific to their story, adding a uniqueness to each case as we don’t see events filtered through Hellboy’s expertise. Sometimes he’s only really a plot devise, resolving what could otherwise be a strange little horror story. These all really helped to keep things varied and engaging.

There are plenty of more typical Hellboy cases too, where he travels to a strange old place and fights some monsters, but even these have delightful twists to them that are particularly creepy or demented. Some such twists include a witch taking a young woman’s mouth and attaching it to her own face, a giant god-like hag imprisoned within a mountain, and a giant made out of people. The final example, from “Tales of the Worm Lord” by Nathan Ballingrud, is exactly as horrific as it sounds and also serves up one of the better compromising positions Hellboy finds himself in, where he cannot simply punch his way out.

I really appreciate how much these short stories continue to cover ground the comics never really did. Sometimes Hellboy is accompanied by soldiers in a war-torn area of Afghanistan to rescue a friend’s captured nephew, or he’s storming a Neo-Nazi compound that has been meddling with an occult pylon on a hill, or investigating strange deaths in an American urban centre. These places may not be as strange as the old world Gothic locales that we’re used to, but I welcome them as out of the ordinary for him. Many stories interestingly deal with themes of abuse and traumatic childhoods as well, all of which are handled with appropriate tact and care.

Though it lacked the surprise in quality of the first anthology, I liked An Assortment of Horrors a lot and I’m pleased that Hellboy as a character still inspires so much in these authors. I do feel the need to note the same caveat as I did with Odd Jobs, however, that I think this is something written more for fans than newcomers. I’m sure readers with a basic understanding of the characters and the world could enjoy it without issue, but it doesn’t really contextualize some of the greater mythos that still plays a part. It would almost certainly leave you a little lost if you hadn’t read any other Hellboy before.

WWW Wednesday – 2017/10/25

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www_wednesdays

WWW Wednesday is a book meme run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently Reading

HellboyAnAssortmentOfHorrorsI am a single short story away from finishing Hellboy: An Assortment of Horrors. Though I tried, I did not manage to finish it off before today. Needless to say I will be finishing it off before today concludes, and a review will follow soon after. I’m enjoying it as I did Odd Jobs, though the stories feel less unified by a central concept. Nevertheless, they demonstrate that writers still have plenty of mileage with the character. The final story is called “Tales of the Worm Lord” and I’ve got a good feeling about a title like that.

StarWarsFromACertainPointofViewI read another several stories from From a Certain Point of View, which has moved us along far enough to reach Mos Eisley. Some of the stories are getting rather creative, such as the story “Not For Nothing” by Mur Lafferty, which is written as a chapter out of the biography of the band that was playing at the cantina where Luke and Obi-Wan met Han and Chewbacca. I’ve put this book on hold now, however, to focus on getting others completed.

TheBlackVortexLastly, I’m a few issues into The Black Vortex by various, the Guardians of the Galaxy and X-Men crossover I discovered I needed to pick up so I wouldn’t lose whole swathes of storyline. It’s been fine so far, though I haven’t gotten further than chapter two, which I read in Through the Looking Glass. At this point I sadly feel like I’m only finishing up this run on general principle.

Recently Finished

Nothing finished for this week, but I’m hopeful there will be more than one entry under this heading come next week.

Reading Next

UzumakiAs a surprise acquisition I managed to get a copy of Uzumaki by Junji Ito, a notorious horror writer and artist from Japan. It is specifically a deluxe hardcover, containing all three volumes of his limited horror series about a small coastal town afflicted not by a monster, spirit, or malevolent entity, but by spirals. I haven’t read much of his work, but I’ve seen plenty of his art and it is wonderfully chilling. A friend has been recommending this book for ages, so I expect a lot from it. Hopefully it shall be the perfect skin-crawling read in the final days before Halloween.

Movie Review – Blade Runner 2049

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IMDB Summary

Thirty years after the events of the first film, a new blade runner, LAPD Officer K, unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what’s left of society into chaos. K’s discovery leads him on a quest to find Rick Deckard, a former LAPD blade runner who has been missing for 30 years.

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Blade Runner 2049 is a newly released neo-noir science fiction film, directed by Denis Villeneuve and starring Ryan Gosling as Officer K and Harrison Ford reprising his role as Rick Deckard from the original 1982 film. I’ve grown to enjoy and appreciate the original Blade Runner in my adult life more and more, so the idea of a sequel coming out left me instantly curious, yet cautious. On the one hand, the idea of a new sequel to a popular or well-known film long after the original frequently doesn’t bode well. I could not help but think that the decision was motivated by “brand recognition.” On the other hand, I do have a hard time imagining the general movie-going public clamouring at the mere notion of a sequel to this particular film — reactions not being something I usually go out of my way to look for lately, so I hadn’t seen this either.

Unlike the first film, which had a more straightforward plot with Deckard’s objective, there is a lot more at play in 2049. I find it a little hard to talk about in more detail than the synopsis provides, as I find there to be value in experiencing this story with as little knowledge as possible. What I feel I can say is, K’s seemingly routine mission at the onset to apprehend or “retire” a replicant in hiding propels him down a path of much greater mystery and intrigue. While it does the film is quite good about taking its time, having K conduct actual detective work as he unravels the secrets behind his discovery. There is a clear thread to follow that made me feel I was solving this case alongside him. There are plenty of good action-packed moments to keep the energy up, but the story almost always feels considered first.

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As things unfold we’re given a great opportunity to immerse ourselves in the world. The original film had a very striking visual style of a dystopian, cyberpunk Los Angeles, and this film builds upon that quite well. From the gritty streets and monolithic skyscrapers to expansive junk-lands and hazy, blasted cityscapes, everything has a very lived-in quality to it and tells a history that enriches the story’s world. Characters divulge relevant historical details as well, but typically in a natural way that rarely feels obviously expository.

K’s place in the world is of important note too. As is revealed quite near the beginning, he is a replicant as well as a blade runner, tasked with hunting down his own kind. Many human beings don’t take kindly to his existence however, and we see this whether he is at LAPD headquarters or off duty. The ways the world views K, as well as the way he progressively sees himself, are fascinating to behold. I especially love how appropriately robotic Gosling portrays him, which contrasts wonderfully with the moments where his composure falters; in a few cases quite dramatically.

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The film continues the exploration of what it means to be human and sapient, though in arguably more subtle ways, through K and other replicant characters, as well as Joi (Ana de Armas), K’s artificially intelligent holographic girlfriend. She is really sweet and well-meaning, lending a lot of heart that balances the more intense characters. Despite what I want to be the case, the fact she appears to be more of a product than even replicants makes me think the true nature of her relationship with K is something to be debated.

While I was especially interested in K as the main character, the supporting cast was strong throughout as well. It was great to see Ford on screen again as a world-weary Deckard, living a life of solitude but still ready to throw down if the need arises. He came across as much wiser than before, which suits the story. Robin Wright plays Lt. Joshi, K’s no-nonsense and pragmatic boss. I really liked how steadfastly committed she was to maintaining order and making sure the job gets done, yet she still managed to have a soft-spot for K. Whether she values him as another person or as a valuable tool, however, is unclear. Lastly I want to mention Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), the deadly and relentless replicant agent of Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), who keeps a watchful eye on K’s investigation. I liked her a lot as a villainous presence, and there seemed to be more going on internally for her than we’re privy to, which I wish the film found a way to dedicate a some more time to. She was still well written and portrayed, there are interesting parallels between her and K, I just wish we got to understand her better.

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Key moments of subtly are what make this film so strong for me. It’s hardly an enigma, and certain details do get more spelled out through audible flashbacks to keep the audience on track, but some of the most meaningful points in the story you have to give a little more thought to. When I initially left the theatre, I actually felt a little let down, and I think that’s because the climax and conclusion of the story did not hit the more familiar story beats one might expect from a big budget genre film. After taking a little time to process things, however, I almost adore the ways it all turned out. There is a clear arc to be found in the way characters behave throughout that comes together beautifully and poignantly by the end.

Something people may have trouble with when watching this film is the pacing, which I actually enjoyed myself. A lot of it is a slow burn, taking its time with plot developments and forward-movement in the story. At nearly three hours long this may bore other viewers, who likely come to expect a faster pace from films of this genre, which is the norm these days. I only experienced minor moments of drag, however, and otherwise loved it for being a more thoughtful, well-crafted science fiction film that took its time. It explores well-travelled territory — the validity of artificial life and what it means to be human — but executes it uniquely, telling a story that is ultimately much more personal for the characters involved than the brewing societal conflict in the background. It’s an excellent film, and if you’ve got even a passing interest I highly recommend it.