Books from weeks ago, and books from YEARS ago:

But first up, here's LAST WEEK'S REVIEWS:

Metal Hurlant #12

DC Comics Presents: Superman #1, Joe R. Lansdale’s By Bizarre Hands #3 (of 6), and Singularity 7 #1 (of 4)

You Can't Get There From Here by Jason (you really ought to give this book a shot...)

Yuggoth Creatures #1 (of 3), Nightjar #1 (of 4), and Nightjar: Hollow Bones

Be sure to check out any that you missed!

*Determined not to let my precious $12 go to waste, I’ve actually seen the first film out of the three included in my cheapo Troma package: “Curse of the Cannibal Confederates“. Or, as it was originally titled, “Curse of the Screaming Dead”, since the end credits were nice enough to include the original title, saving me a trip across the room to the Psychotronic Video Guide. It seems that the film was finished in 1982, then Troma got their mitts on it in 1987 or so, after which they re-titled it in a more Tromatic fashion (and cobbled together a new opening scene from footage found later in the film). Re-titling existing films and putting them out again is a time-honored exploitation tradition, dating back to the earliest roadshow days. My personal favorite instance of this was when somebody (without authorization, I believe) picked up a print of Dave Friedman’s carny-noir thingie “She Freak”, inserted a reel of obviously homemade 3D test footage of children running around in masks and some guy playing with a yo-yo, plopped some narration on top, and released it as a totally new film, “Asylum of the Insane”. Awesome! After a bit more poking around online, I discovered that “Curse of the [whatever]” was actually a remake of an earlier film by director Tony Malanowski, the fancifully titled “Night of Horror”. These two epics are Mr. Malanowski’s only directorial outings, and they even share some of the same cast and crew. The print used for the dvd is quite bad on contrast; not ‘God Visits Keystone’ bad, but bad enough that the (BLOOOOOOOD REEEEEEEED) end credits are mostly illegible and the night sequences are difficult to follow.

The beautiful and touching saga involves six of the worst actors ever to grace my television piling into a camper to do some hunting. The three girls of the pack are very warm and change into their bikinis for exactly two scenes, then put their regular clothes back on. There is no actual nudity, however. It’s that kind of movie. All of the performers are annoying, like one actress who delivers every line in a tone not unlike that of a Midwestern soccer mom admonishing a particularly stupid child for licking the toaster coils. The very worst of them all is a mugging, bug-eyed fellow who plays a lifelong thief. After wandering around a Civil War burial ground for nine thousand minutes, he steals a hidden Confederate Journal, prompting the local dearly departed infantry (who had struck some deal with a Voodoo slave) to rise for revenge. Only the group’s blind girl can sense the evil, presumably because the blind are magical.

Soon all sorts of zombies are rising up to kill. Some of them have make-up on. Some of them are wearing obvious monster masks. And their General is remarkably well-preserved: his skin and beard are a blinding white, as if he had been laid to rest in a tomb of delicious vanilla frosting, befitting a gentleman of his rank. Some of them are also wearing blue (not gray) uniforms for some reason. A lot of them aren’t wearing any uniforms, actually. There is also exactly one gore scene, which lasts for about six or seven minutes straight, with plenty of slurps and chewings and even an “Mmmmmm!” or two on the soundtrack as the soldiers dine on their prey. Finally, our mentally challenged heroes realize that the missing Journal is the key to it all, so the survivors hand it back over, but not before the evil thief is strangled by a zombie who’s waving the Confederate flag with his free arm. One of the zombies is so moved by the presence of his memoirs that he actually wipes a tear from his eye before leaving. I think the ante has just been raised for “Shaun of the Dead”; I’d better see at least one weeping zombie, or I’ll be fucking pissed. The only extra was Troma’s trailer for the film, which features happy banjo music and the usual silly narration. Was it worth $4? Sure!

Ex Machina #1-2

Writing a review for “Ex Machina” at this point is a little like walking into the party at 6:35AM, tripping over the people snoring upon the floor, and loudly demanding to be led to the beer just as the first rays of sun shimmer behind your head and ignite the fuses on everybody else’s hangover. I just got around to the book now though, and I might as well try to sort it all out.

Mitchell Hundred sits in a darkened room and relates the non-chronological story of his ill-fated four years as Mayor of New York City. It’s an old technique, but a good one: introducing the protagonist as in trouble at some future date, thus instantly creating suspense as to what will happen for the rest of the story. While investigating a problem at the Brooklyn Bridge as a civil engineer, Mitchell’s face is infected with some bizarre mechanism, which grants him the ability to communicate with machines. He’s driven to build complex flight equipment while half-asleep, and soon takes up the mantle of superhero, but most of his rescues have unintended consequences.

Actually, this was one of the problems I had with the book: you’d think that a reasonably smart person would realize that forcing a roaring train to come to a ’full stop’ in a split second would cause some injury inside the vehicle (aside from stopping the train up for hours), but Mitchell seems genuinely surprised when the Police Commissioner explains to him that innocent people tend to get hurt during his exploits. And this is well over a year (according to the book’s timeline) after he’s begun his battle for justice! The guy frankly comes off as an idiot rather than simply naive. Luckily, writer Brian K. Vaughan is sharp enough to at least try and establish Mitchell’s lack of tact in the professional world, if not a lack of common sense. For example, he uses terms like ’retarded’ to reporters. Unfortunately, that bit comes at the end of a particularly contrived sequence where the Mayor of New York (less than four months after the September 11th attacks) gets in the wrong car following an assassination attempt. Now I don’t care how untested the administration is, I’d think security would be just a little more heavy (and a bit more experienced) given recent events.

Oh, right. Mitchell’s administration. You see, Mitchell was convinced by his meeting with the Commish to pursue public office, seeing it as a more beneficial alternative to superheroics. But he’d have one final act as a proper superhero ahead of him, after announcing his Independent candidacy: he prevented the second plane from hitting on that September morning. You can imagine the landslide that swept him into office regardless of experience, and Vaughan admirably lets that particular plot point fester in the subtext.

That’s the set-up. The plot thus far involves some typical political adventures: dealing with a controversial painting that the City has purchased, holding press conferences, etc. There’s also a run-in with a blob-like Established Politician who chides him for not using his powers to aid the War on Terror, then tries to blackmail him, and presumably snatches flies out of the air with his tongue while off-panel. And there’s some sort of killer on the loose, which is where issue #2 ends.

Complaints about plot contrivances and character aside, the book does function well as suspense. I do want to know what happens to undo Mayor Hundred’s brave new administration. Vaughan is good with dialogue and quick with the wit. The circumstances leading to our Superhero Mayor are imminently believable, even if individual scenes are harder to swallow. Tony Harris does the pencils and Tom Feister provides the ink. The look is detailed, with some fair fluidity during the (few) action scenes, but the facial expressions are sometimes stiff or ’overacted’. The level of detail matches the script’s grounded approach to superpower fantasy pretty well. I’ll be there for the next issue, and I hope some of the kinks are ironed out soon.

Steed and Mrs. Peel, Book 1 (of 3) by Grant Morrison and Ian Gibson

Now here’s a book I’d never heard of until I found it stuck between other assorted trades at my local shop: a Prestige Format book based on the classic TV show “The Avengers”, with Grant Morrison writing! And Ian Gibson is well known for his work on “The Ballad of Halo Jones” with Alan Moore back in “2000 AD“. This book is from 1990, and published by Eclipse Books (lots of great stuff from them back in their heyday) and Acme Press (an English publisher). The book is 46 pages long, and is even divided into two chapters. A bit of research reveals that Morrison and Gibson’s story only takes up half of Books 2 and 3; Gibson illustrates a story by Anne Caulfield, whom I am not familiar with, in the remaining spaces. I have no idea if any of these stories are ever completed, or if the series simply died with Book 3, and it doesn‘t look like I‘ll be finding either of these volumes for the cover price I managed to get on Book 1.

If you go in looking for mad ideas and wild reinventions of the title characters you’ll be pretty let down, as Grant simply concocts a fun little mystery, involving a mole in national security who may or may not have access to England’s launch codes, and how he or she ties into an excusive club for game-makers. Someone is also feeding Steed clues, and there may even be mind control involved. Chapter two closes with a suspect narrowly escaping capture while suggesting a desire to play a thermonuclear game of hangman. It’s all good fun, and Gibson is just right for the material, his cartoon style pliable enough to cover humorously caricatured supporting players and beautiful big-eyed women. I liked the book a lot, and maybe someday I’ll find out how it all ends up.