Just in time for Halloween, a new issue of this amusing horror title arrives in my mailbox. The main story is “The Tell-Tale Black Cask of Usher” written, pencilled and lettered by Dean Motter, inks by Alex Ogle, colors by Julie Barclay. Motter manages to combine at least a dozen Poe stories in this humorous adventure of the author himself. “What will turn up next?” I kept wondering, and each page brought a new smile even while the story itself is full of horror for the protagonist. Nicely done.
Hunt Emerson returns with more of “Poe and the Black Cat,” a funny two-pager along the lines of “Spy Vs. Spy,” and the issue is filled out by some illustrated poems and a text story. Oh, and a great cover that has nothing to do with the contents, continuing that Ahoy tradition.
Idris Limpet lives in coastal Westgate, a town in the sinking island of Lyonesse. In times past, walls were built around the island to keep the sea out, but in places it is now crumbling. There are also deep wells in the town of Wellvale where poisonous water erupts periodically, gradually killing parts of the island. From those wells, monsters are fished out that have surprising properties: if they dry out they become highly flammable fuel. The monsters are intelligent, and have unusual mental and physical powers.
Idris knows little of this until he is branded a Cross — a mix of monster and human — and slated for death. A stranger rescues him and brings him to his castle in Wellvale. The rescuer is Ambrose, a magician, who at first Idris takes for an enemy, but soon comes to see as his rescuer and friend. On the way to Wellvale they are joined by a girl Idris’ age, Morgan. The youngsters are to be trained as Monster handlers, something Idris proves good at, but his true destiny is far more important and dangerous.
This is the strangest version of the Arthurian legends I’ve ever read, based on versions told in the Isles of Scilly off the southern coast of England, the home of the author. It seems like a mix of those old stories with elements from Harry Potter and movies like “Monsters, Inc.,” an uneasy mix that works sometimes, but pulled me out of the story at others. Still, the writing is good, and I enjoyed the characters and setting. I will probably look for the sequel, thus far there’s only been one.
This is another fill-in issue of sorts, a departure from the main story and characters, though written by regular Simon Spurrier. The artist is named only Dani. I quite like the art this time. Very different from Evely, loose but with strong skill beneath it.
We are brought to a meeting of a support group in Brighton, England for mythological entities who are nearly forgotten. They are fading away, and not happy about it. Parallels are clear to many other kinds of fading traditions in British society. For instance, The Green Man, once a fertility symbol and pagan nature god, has been reduced to a beer-swilling Charlie because he’s mainly remembered on signs for pubs. The viewpoint character is Nikki, a sea goddess whose idea of fun is pulling swimmers to their deaths, but when she tries that now…it doesn’t work at all. One of the group declares they need to be seen to be remembered, and suggests an LGBTQ parade as the place to do it. Will that help them stay around?
The writing on this issue reminds me more of Neil Gaiman in tone than anything in the title so far, a neat blend of melancholy for lost things, humor, human insight, and obscure myth. It worked perfectly for me.
Published in 2017, this first novel is fantasy with an unusual historical background, taking place in Russia in the fourteenth century, a time and place I knew very little about. Russia as a nation did not exist then, it was a collection of city-states and land owners under the general rule of The Golden Horde, the Asian invaders that swept into eastern Europe led by Genghis Kahn two hundred years previously. In the book they are off-scene and referred to as the Tatars. There is also the influence of the Eastern Orthodox church, which has a large presence in the area, holding positions of power in the cities, and with priests and monks in the countryside presiding over small churches.
The family of Pyotr Vladimirovich lives on the outskirts of the northern forests, where the old pagan gods and elemental creatures are still worshipped alongside the new Christian god in an uneasy partnership. Pyotr is the lord of his village and surrounding lands, but his family is not lordly. They work the fields, hunt and celebrate the seasons alongside their friends and fellow villagers. In addition to worshipping in their small church, they leave offerings to the local spirits of the house, the yard, the stable, and so on. Pyotr’s three sons and a daughter are surprised to learn that their mother is pregnant again. She is old and frail, and Pyotr thinks she will not live through her pregnancy, but Marina is determined to do so because her own unspoken powers sense her new daughter will have strong powers too. Marina gives birth to Vasilisa, called Vasya, but does not long survive her.
As Vasya grows, she comes to understand that the unusual creatures and powers inhabiting their home and land that she can see and talk to are not visible to others. In the forest she meets more dangerous beings, but manages to avoid their clutches. When Pyotr takes a new wife, Anna, it turns out she also can see the spirits, but to her they are demons, and she is frightened of what she sees, and spends as much time as she can in the church. When she realizes Vasya can see and talk to these spirits, Anna is sure she is a dangerous witch.
A new priest, Konstantin Nikonovich, comes to the village church, and he and Anna conspire against Vasya. After a while, Konstantin is seduced by a dark power that wants to destroy the village, while Vasya is befriended by another old god who tries to protect her and help her save the village and her family. As these warring elements clash in an escalating battle for the hearts and minds of the people, Vasya begins to discover her own magical abilities, but will they be enough to save her?
I enjoyed this book, and will buy and read the rest of the trilogy. I had some problems at first with the names because each person has two or more versions, and it makes keeping track of who is who confusing, but I found both the characters and the plot engaging and exciting. While this is largely a familiar battle between good and evil, there are many twists and turns that kept me guessing, and the magic and fantasy elements are fresh and unusual.
Recommended. Thanks to Andrea Bergner for the suggestion.
In some cases I’ve found it’s possible to enjoy the hell out of a series without really following the big picture. The overall plot of this comic is quite complicated, involving multiple universes, new-to-us Green Lanterns from some of them, also alternate versions of heroes like Superman, likewise an alternate Star Sapphire, a golden giant guarding a lonely outpost, Sinestro, and a hideous villain. The art, coloring and lettering are excellent, the characters’ dialogue is entertaining, the relationships and personalities are appealing. So what if I’ve lost track of the structure? This is the penultimate issue of this version of GREEN LANTERN. I look forward to what comes next.