Monday, June 28, 2010

Guest Reviews: The Wicked West Vol. 1 & Dead Man's Hand

Guest columnist and frequent Emporium reader Ashe Armstrong reviews a couple of pistol packin' Weird Westerns (That Ive been too lazy to get to myself) so listen up ya' all!

Long days and pleasant nights. The infernal Mr. Adams has been kind enough to allow me to bring to you some weird west reviews. Specifically, The Wicked West vol.1 by Todd Livingston and Robert Tinnell and Dead Man's Hand: Five Tales of the Weird West by Nancy A. Collins. The former is a collection of pretty pages narrating a tale, and the latter, if you couldn't figure it out, is an anthology of five stories. I'll try to leave out spoilers as best I can, so no worries there, folks. Now, without further ado, let's get this shindig started.

The Wicked West vol 1. is an interesting take on vampires in the west. The story is told in a sort of dual narrative, flashback/flashforward setup. The main character's exploits are remembered by a child that witnessed them, while watching a movie in a theater with his grandson that reminds him of the events. These parts serve two purposes well. The first is to give a comparison of how bad the events actually were. The movie they watch is a typical, good guys in white, bad guys in black fair that ends happily ever after. The truth is horrible and unpleasant. The second is to contrast the vampires. In the film, the vampire is Lugosi-esque. In the story, well...teeth, teeth and teeth. The story is a solid one. Mysterious stranger, small town, big trouble. Tried and true. Outside of the delivery and the main character knowing how to handle things, there's not much here that hasn't been seen before. You can definitely see the influence of Robert E. Howard's short, “The Horror from the Mound”. And that is a good thing.

Now for the art. It's good. The lines are excellent, great detail, realistic but with that nice hint of cartoon/comicness. The colors though...well, sometimes they're a bit heavy. Like maybe Neil Vokes , the artist for the book, had to color in photoshop and still wasn't use to doing so. That's not to say it looks amateurish, just heavy. It works though and I admit that I'm probably being a little harder on it than I should but I'm kind of a picky bastard, so you'll have to forgive me.

And added bonus to the book is the short story in the back. Along with some sketches, there's a short story about a different character in a similar situation that was actually pretty damn good. And clever to boot. It involves the character and a young boy hunting a pack of vamps, with an interesting little twist. I don't want to spoil it too much but it was a lovely little pulp story and if you only like the comic, this story caps things off and makes the price of the book worth it. I'd give the whole thing a 7 out of 10.

And now we get to the big dog, Dead Man's Hand. The first thing you folks, my fellow lovers of the weird west, will notice is the forward. It's by the man himself, Mr. Joe Lansdale. He essentially tells us to have the utmost faith in Nancy A. Collins and he ain't wrong. He actually says at one point that it's like all the positive traits of pulp stories got taken and blended together. After finishing all five stories, I'd say that's pretty damn accurate. I'll give a quick run through of each story, three of which are actually novellas.

The first story is a fun, pulpy tale of vampires and the Texas Ranger chasing them. “Hell Come Sundown” has some very interesting things going for it, including one area that I sincerely wish had been brought out more but admittedly, wouldn't have fit for the narrative at large. The story starts off one way, telling the tale of a young boy whose bedroom is haunted by something, and then swerves into the real story, the Ranger and the vamps. And it's quite the fun ride.

The second tale in this hand is “Lynch”. The best way to describe “Lynch” is that's a Frankenstein-revenge story set in the west. It speaks on the afterlife, revenge, racism, dying, loss, all the things good out in the weird frontier. I sorely loved this story. Especially the horse. I think you'll love the horse too.

The biggest offering in the hand is “Walking Wolf”. And it's a doozy. It's the story of a skinwalker. A werewolf, but not at all in the mainstream sense. Walking Wolf (the character) recounts his life for us, the reader. He was found by Comanches and raised as one. Being a skinwalker made things both easier and more difficult for him. His Comanche brethren (and the other tribes), viewed him as a good luck sign, or good medicine but he was not met without some fear at his “true face”. He makes some serious mistakes and exiles himself to learn more about what a skinwalker is and what he should do with his life. Along the way, he meets a crazy preacher that adopts him, snake oil salesman that takes him under his wing, a vampire gunslinger from Russia calling himself The Sundown Kid, and others. The story makes excellent use of history. Featured prominently is Sitting Bull and the forcing of the tribes into reservations. The plight is spoken of in an interesting way and doesn't get preachy. At least, I didn't feel it to get preachy. It's pulp and it's history and it's a lot of fun.

Now we get to the short stories. Second to last is "The Tortuga Hill Gang's Last Ride," which if you pay attention, is hinted at in the first story of the book. This story, well this one's an interesting little spin as it's based around the sidhe. The sidhe are Celtic creatures, for those who don't know. Nancy gives them a little spin as well. Center stage is greed and punishment, tied together with reputation. The Tortuga Hill gang has an unexpected visitor one day who proves himself extremely capable. But as is often the case in the weird west, his presence brings a less than favorable outcome.

The last story, “Calaverada,” is...well, it's the weak link here. It's an interesting story, no doubt but for what it tells, it's too short and too quick. It deals with the Mexican Day of the Dead. I honestly think that with more work, this story could've hit a Lovecraftian level (only without the inherent racism and occasional dryness). The ending is pretty Lovecraftian but alas, it falls short. I think this story should've opened or went second. It's a bad endcap.

Now, overall, I adore this collection and it gets a 10 from me. That last story should've gone in a different spot though. Ah well, I'm not the publisher. I highly recommend checking out both books, especially Dead Man's Hand. I had been craving weird westerns so badly and these two just filled me up right. I devoured Dead Man's Hand over the course of several days and probably would've done so quicker had I not been in the middle of moving. Check 'em out and keep 'em close.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

First Set Photo from Cowboys and Aliens!

I just found this exciting bit of photography over at Paul Green's excellent Encyclopedia of Weird Westerns site. Jon Favreau has posted the first photo from the set of Cowboys and Aliens on his Twitter account! Filming commenced on June 10 in Santa Fe, New Mexico and the film is set for release in July 29, 2011...Almost exactly a year from now!

After the Daniel Craig picture, and now this, I'm not exactly sure why I haven't kept an eye on Favreau's Twitter account, but I think that should change very soon, especially if he's going to keep up with this behavior!

Also, in related news, Walton Goggins has just joined the cast that also includes Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig, Olivia Wilde, Noah Ringer, Sam Rockwell, Clancy Brown, Keith Carradine, Adam Beach, and Paul Dano.

Man! I just got really excited for this....What a cast! As I hear more news I'll pass it on....til then, Adios Pards!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Buntline Special: A Weird West Tale

So, I was perusing the Aethernet today, looking for this or that, when I came across a very interesting book that's going to be published at the end of the year. Its called The Buntline Special: A Weird West Tale, and its being written by Mike Resnick. I didn't know who Mike Resnick was but he has a long and very impressive resume. He's won 5 Hugo awards and has been nominated for 28 more, sheesh! So its safe to say that Im not too worried that his new book will be awesome (or at least it should be awesome and theres no excuse for it not to be!)

The official press release for the title is this:

The year is 1881. The United States of America ends at the Mississippi River. Beyond lies the Indian nations, where the magic of powerful Medicine Men have halted the advance of the Americans east of the river.

An American government desperate to expand its territory sends Thomas Alva Edison out West to the town of Tombstone, Arizona on a mission to discover a scientific means of counteracting magic. Hired to protect this great genius, Wyatt Earp and his brothers.

But there are plenty who would like to see the Earps and Edison dead. Riding to their aid--old friends Doc Holliday and Bat Masterson. Against them stand the Apache wizard Geronimo and the Clanton gang. Battle lines are drawn, and the Clanton gang, which has their own reasons for wanting Edison dead, sends for Johnny Ringo, the one man who might be Doc Holliday's equal in a gunfight. But what shows up instead is The Thing That Was Once Johnny Ringo, returned from the dead and come to Tombstone looking for a fight.

Welcome to a West like you’ve never seen before, where “Bat Masterson” hails from the ranks of the undead, where electric lights shine down on the streets of Tombstone, while horseless stagecoaches carry passengers to and fro, and where death is no obstacle to The Thing That Was Once Johnny Ringo. Think you know the story of the O.K. Corral? Think again, as five time Hugo winner Mike Resnick takes on his first steampunk western tale, and the West will never be the same.

I think I'm on board, that sounds really cool! Plus with the very Dr. Grordbort-esque ray gun on the cover, how can you go wrong? Or could that be one of those cases of judging a book by it's cover?...hmmmm. Regardless, I love the cover art, and the Synopsis, and I am definitely going to check this out.

The Buntline Special: A Weird West Tale will be released this December from Pyr

Friday, June 18, 2010

Movie Review: Jonah Hex

Jonah Hex has been getting spectacular reviews.......spectacularly BAD ones. On Rotten Tomatoes, it is currently at a 14% Rotten rating. So I went into this expecting the worst piece of poo of the season, and.....I didn't get it; not exactly. I will say this, I had fun in Jonah Hex, if you check your brain at the door and go in with no expectations, you might actually have fun watching this movie. Is it great? DEFINITELY not, is it good? sorta it fun? yes, but like I said, its a big, dumb, fun B picture.

However, it isn't without its problems. The first point of irritation was that this isn't "Jonah Hex" the comic book character, it truly was Wild Wild West in tone. While Jonah is fighting off Turnbull in Virginia and Washington DC, Jim West and Artemus Gordon could have been fighting Arliss Loveless and his 80 foot spider in Utah and blowing up the town of Silverado.

...but something I wasn't prepared for is how grim the film was...Most of the clips Id seen (and the trailer) seem to have a rather comedic edge to them, Jonah was portrayed as a lovable curmudgeon who is always getting one upped by Megan Fox, that wasn't the film at all. While being VERY "comic booky" and "action movie" it was still fairly grim and serious in its style and tone, with only a few moments of humor spread throughout. Also, there was a lot about the trailer I didn't like, certain line readings seemed forced like the "I cut myself shaving what happened to yours?" line that Josh Brolin says in the trailer - Too loud, too fast...In the film all that stuff was fixed.

Story-wise the film was a bit muddled, but there was never a point (that I noticed) where I was lost, or didn't' know what was going on, the story is pretty simple and they stick too it (Turnbull Bad - Jonah Good, Jonah stop Turnbull)...which makes it a short film. Jeopardy is never really perilous, Jonah and Lilah get captured and then get free, Jonah gets shot and is close to death, but you know he isn't going to die....its more of a question of how he's going to survive.

The actors were good. Brolin is great, if they ever reboot this franchise I hope they keep him, Megan Fox was good too...I like her as a gun totting gunslinger girl, too bad there isnt much of that here. John Malkovich is was the weak link....not because he did a bad job but because he seemed too not know what the character was all about and just decided to do bored psychopath instead of intriguing villain.

As for the Weird Westness of this, They firmly planted it into the genre. The filmmakers didn't stop with Jonah talking to the dead or the glowy bomb balls, they even have a scene in a fight tent with a snake monster man who can extend his jaw and spouts sizzling venom. This film won't convince anyone that the Weird West is a viable interesting genre worth exploring (We'll have to wait for Cowboys and Aliens for that) but it isn't a hack job either....but then neither was Wild Wild West so take that as you will.

What irks me most about this film is it could have been great, instead of making it mediocre and then creating a stellar marketing campaign, the film itself should have been the draw, but instead they made a film that has nothing to do Jonah, really, they just slapped his name on it and will blame the films failure on the character not being very well known. This is a fun film, take Hex out of the equation and its a fun supernatural Western, but it isn't Jonah Hex like I said before and the failure this film is sure to be what will convince the studio heads that Jonah doesn't have the fan base for another try. If they could have gotten Lansdale in to do an adaptation of Two Gun Mojo (just to keep the tone of the first film intact - Sequel-wise) it could have been a hit. But I doubt we will see much more from Hex on the big screen for a long, long time.

I give it 3 out of 5 Bloody Spurs

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Buzzard and Billy the Kid's Old-Timey Oddities!

I wish I could I could say that I was a reader of Eric Powell's The Goon, but I'm not....I AM, however, a fan of his artwork and especially his mini series Billy the Kid's Old-Timey Oddities, a BIG fan. So imagine my surprise when I heard that not only is there a new Weird West comic coming (actually it came out last week June 9th) called The Buzzard, but also a back-up story featuring the new adventures of Billy the Kid and the Traveling Freakshow he got caught up with.

Very excited is a good way to explain it!

I wish I knew more about The Buzzard, but here's the official word on the series:

The mysterious man known as Buzzard is lost, wondering what manner of creature he is, following his brutal showdown with the loathsome Zombie Priest in Eric Powell's celebrated Goon Year.

Buzzard leaves home, wandering into the shadowy spirit realm of the forest. A dark path leads to a village living in fear of a bestial race of savages. More animal than man, these creatures hunt the villagers and drag them from their slumber in the depth of night

As for Billy The Kid, which Powell did with Co-Creator Kyle Hotz, Comic Book Resource explains the original series like this:

The original "Billy the Kid" series ran for four issues in 2005, with the outlaw having faked his death and joined a traveling carnival. Though none would count him a friend, Billy embarks with this unusual crew on a quest to steal a mystical artifact from the castle of Victor Frankenstein. Things go poorly, on the whole

The new series pics up where the original left off, with Billy and his crew in some obscure part of Europe - "It's actually a nice little creepy story about what happens to them along their way on an errand to help a friend of the Oddities in England" says Powell.

If you get a chance to pick the original you should, its great...The artwork, while deceptively simple and "sloppy" is actually very sophisticated and tight. And the story is fantastic. When I was reading it, I couldn't put it down...and then it was over. Very fun read.

I can't imagine this new one will be any less enjoyable. I'll let you know my thoughts after Ive picked it up.