Tuesday, 26 May 2009

ZOMBIE


MIKE RAICHT / KYLE HOTZ
2006

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:

An army convoy transporting a mysterious chemical runs into trouble, causing the chemical to leak into the immediate area and turn people into zombies. Driving into this are two bank robbers and their hostages, who literally run into trouble. They then head for a nearby rest stop and hole up with a few other people, including a crazy scientist and a solider who’s slowly turning into a zombie. Ho hum.

This is the collected first run of Marvel’s re-imagining of its Zombie character and is issued under the MAX banner…which is supposed to be a ‘suggested for mature readers’ type of thing, but all that really means, compared to normal Marvel, is a few f-words and extra gore – and even that’s boring.

Obviously, the only way to kill a zombie (which the main characters figure out pretty damn quickly) is to shoot them in the head. All this really means is that almost every single zombie that gets killed in ZOMBIE has their head explode. And believe me, I never thought I would find exploding zombie heads boring but so many scenes are filled with brains and eyeballs flying off at funny angles that it got very, very repetitive very, very quickly.

I’m afraid I’m not familiar with Mike Raicht’s work, but if this is the best he can do when given zombies to play with, it doesn’t really inspire confidence in his storytelling abilities. Oh look, it’s a fat, stupid bad guy who’s bullied by a skinny, smart bad guy. Ah, here come the army to clean up the mess…oh wait they’re just as evil as the undead! Maybe the chubby biker can prove an interesting charac-oh wait no hang on, he’s just been eaten in yet-another ‘Rhodes’ moment. It’s a wonder he didn’t shout ‘choke on ‘em!’ when the zombies ripped his guts out. Hmmmmmm.

Kyle Hotz, as well, is disappointing. I enjoyed his style when he drew The Hood but here, it’s…just…dull. It doesn’t help that this comic has perhaps the worst inking I have ever seen, leaving scenes looking washed-out and characters apparently suffering from yellow fever.

Back to the ‘re-imagining’ comment: Zombie is Simon Garth, who originally appeared in the 70’s as a typical voodoo zombie, albeit with some vestige of his soul still intact. This time around, he’s a bank teller, taken along for the ride by the guys who robbed his bank. During the tedious siege narrative that unfolds within ZOMBIE, Simon gets attacked, and subsequently infected. I’m really not spoiling things by telling you it ends with the army carting him off whilst going on about ‘having found a suitable subject’. The one good thing about this origin story is that I do want to see what sort of antics Brand New Zombie gets up to. But, since Mike Raicht also wrote the second run of comics I don’t want to find out that desperately.

There are a few other problems, including the idea that the rest stop is apparently in or near a small town, but you can’t really tell because there’s no sense of place, or of the outside world being that close. And you’re telling me a small military roadblock managed to hold off an entire army of zombies just long enough to provide the relevant ‘oh no we’re totally screwed’ reveal at the most opportune moment?

ZOMBIE is clich├ęd rubbish. It is about as substantial as a zombie fart; don’t bother wasting your time on this anaemic guff.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

DUMA KEY

STEPHEN KING

Stephen King, you crafty bastard.

You had me reading your latest full-length thinking it was one of the best non-horror stories you’d written – so good, in fact, that it made me want to go back and re-evaluate your earlier non-horror work. But then you started to introduce a supernatural element, closely followed by a decidedly sinister plot twist, and I thought ‘Well this is interesting; I wonder what’s going to happen next?’.

What did happen next, Mr. King? What did happen?

You suddenly reveal that DUMA KEY really is a horror story after all, that’s what. Cheeky monkey!

That this happened is by no means a bad thing, in fact it is quite the opposite. I fell out of love with King a while ago, as I started to find his work disappointing and, dare I say it, boring. I only started getting back into him fairly recently, first with Everything’s Eventual (very enjoyable), then Cell (good fun but a bit light on substance) and most recently, Just After Sunset (above average, but still haunted by the spectre of ‘been there, done that’). The synopsis to DUMA KEY didn’t really grab me, to be honest, but it was mainly for that reason I thought I would try and read it…and I’m glad I did.

After building contractor Edgar Freemantle suffers a worksite accident that costs him his right arm and leaves him with aphasia and memory loss, things are looking a bit grim. And then when his wife leaves him teetering on the edge of a bitter divorce, it seems to be the last straw. However, before he can do anything rash, Edgar’s doctor suggests he head somewhere to recuperate. That somewhere is the small Florida island of Duma Key.

Once there, Edgar rediscovers a talent for art, and is soon experiencing both phantom limb pains and sinister visions of an ancient ship out on the Gulf of Mexico. In short, it transpires that Edgar may not be in complete control of his artwork’s subjects…

King has featured ‘cursed paintings’ in his stories a few times, and the central conceit in DUMA KEY is very Twilight-Zone (art becomes reality) but even so, King crafts a dramatic horror story that, despite being 600 pages long, positively rockets along. Long-term fans of King will probably agree this is a nice change from his usual/old habit of taking ages to get anywhere, although that does creep into the book at the beginning – Edgar is happy to tell you all about his new best friend, Wireman, yet takes unnecessarily long to get there. Oh well, tomato/tomato.

Usually, I like to try and find a paragraph in the book I’m reviewing that perfectly sums it up. I couldn’t find one for The Tooth Fairy but that’s not the case with DUMA KEY – there were simply too many to choose from, and like a film that’s crammed with quotable dialogue, this is a very good thing. From Wireman and Edgar’s verbal sparring to the strange ‘just whose memories are those?’ excerpts that litter the book, there’s a surfeit of memorable lines and set-pieces.

DUMA KEY isn’t entirely perfect (there a few other minor niggles, such as characters using phrases I could never imagine a real person uttering) but it is as close as King’s got in recent years. And it’s not set in bloody Maine.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

THE TOOTH FAIRY

Graham Joyce
1996

Recently, Orion Books began a run of seminal horror/sci-fi/fantasy novels under the imprint of Gollancz. Apart from gathering together a good handful of respected authors and novels (including Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes and Poppy Z. Brite's Exquisite Corpse), these new printings have excellent cover art. That might seem like a fairly redundant comment, but I believe it shows that Orion genuinely care about their products. After all, how often have you sought out a novel by an established/favourite author, only to find it's been saddled with godawful cover art? Some major league publishers are guilty of this; I'm not just picking on the small press, who stick skulls on the cover of every horror title they publish.

Anyway, Graham Joyce writes the kind of horror fiction that manages to fool you into believing that you're reading something completely different. This put me off THE TOOTH FAIRY to start with, because it seemed to be trying far too hard to be a family drama with a 'fantasy' element. That, coupled with Joyce's tendancy to use peculiar synonyms [obsolescently, anyone?] makes it a little tough to get into.

After losing a tooth, seven-year-old Sam Southall sticks it under his pillow and subsequently summons a tooth fairy. This creature initially appears as a vile humanoid with sharp teeth, ragged clothes and a foul mouth, but as the years progress and it continues to visit Sam, it's appearence changes in some quite unexpected ways...The book follows Sam Southall through to his teenage years, as he discovers - yes, you guessed it - how the world really works.

THE TOOTH FAIRY is a coming-of-age tale, although unlike books with similar themes (such as Something Wicked This Way Comes or A Fine Dark Line) it's one imbued with a crude vulgarity that blossoms into a perverse eroticism as Sam and his friends discover masturbation and the allure of the female form. I don't think I've ever read a horror novel with quite so many references to young boys playing with themselves, or how being around women gives them a 'fierce erection'.

To be honest, it's a little off-putting; I have no qualms in reading about the main character's awkward ascent into and through puberty, but I don't really want it ramming down my throat as much as Joyce does. See, I can't even write a review about the book without slipping in a smutty innuendo.

THE TOOTH FAIRY is also marred by a few implausible characters and situations. Sam's psychiatrist, whom he visits often throughout the story, never feels or sounds like one right until the end, when he starts to act more like a friend than a therapist. Sam and his friends also find themselves embroiled in a truly hideous Scout troupe, which never quite feels right - and in fact only really seems like a convulted way of generating one of the book's (admittedly effective) horrific moments.

However, these are examples of what could be construed as mis-steps rather than a bad novel as a whole. Sam, his friends, their families, and the Tooth Fairy itself, are all handled extremely well. Of particular note is the introduction of Alice, a girl who initially annoys and perplexes Sam, but gradually becomes one of his closest friends. The way the Tooth Fairy insinuates itself into the lives of those around Sam is both creepy and baffling - does it genuinely want to protect Sam, or does it enjoy messing with the minds of those close to him purely for it's own insidious amusement?

THE TOOTH FAIRY is neither a flawed masterpiece nor a below-average cult novel. It has some very good ideas, but ruins them with a preponderancy towards uncomfortable (not in a good way) vulgarity of both language and tone. What elements of horror there are in this are actually quite powerful, as is the handling of the passage of time (the book starts, I would say, in the early 60's). Not excellent, but not that terrible, either.