Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Review of "Ghost Story" (by Peter Straub)

"In a Sufi fable, the elephant fell in love with a firefly, and imagined that it shone for no other creature than he; and when it flew long distances away, he was confident that at the center of its light was the image of an elephant." -- Ghost Story, p. 198



At the heart of Ghost Story is the simple (yet, ultimately, horrifying) idea that the world around us may be a very different one from the world we think we live in.  We may not know what we think we know; we may not be who we think we are; we may not love what we think we love; we may not fear what we think we fear.

Monday, June 25, 2012

News from the Kingdom: June 26, 2012

Let's have a look at what's been going on in the wide world of Stephen King-dom, shall we?


The Rock Bottom Remainders, June 22, 2012

Well, The Rock Bottom Remainders have played their final gig.  This is something I haven't been able to muster up much interest in, to be honest.  To me, the band has always been something I file in the same mental category as Red Sox baseball: it's something I'm interested in if King is writing about it, but otherwise, it gets a big shrug from me.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Bryant Has Issues #9

It's going to be a short one this week, folks; only three new titles for me to yak about.  Let's waste no time!


The Dark Tower -- The Gunslinger: The Man In Black #1


Here begins the final arc ("The Man In Black") in Marvel Comics' adaptation of The Gunslinger.  To the best of my knowledge, there has been no announcement as to whether the series will continue with an adaptation of The Drawing of the Three; I certainly hope that will happen, but if not, then we may be down to only four more issues of The Dark Tower after this one.

As has been the case with each new arc in the Gunslinger series, a new artist comes onboard with this first issue: Alex Maleev, who is probably best known for his work with Brian Michael Bendis on Daredevil.  I've heard of Maleev, but I have never read any of the comics he's worked on before, meaning that this is my introduction to him.

Verdict...?

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Dark Tower Comics, The Wind Through the Keyhole, and the Canon Question

The Dark Tower -- The Gunslinger: The Man In Black #1


On the stands at your local comics shop this week: the first issue of the new Dark Tower arc from Marvel Comics, The Gunslinger: The Man In Black. This five-issue series will be wrapping up The Gunslinger, which has been a fairly satisfactory take on the King novel.

In this newest issue, series plotter and consultant Robin Furth has an essay titled "Wind Through the Keyhole, Continuity and the Dark Tower Comics."  It's an interesting read, and I wanted to share some of the conclusions Furth comes to with some of you who might be interested in the comics, but not actually familiar with them.  (Incidentally, there is a certain element of Book VII -- the ending of it -- that I will be discussing, so if you haven't read the books, I'd recommend that you GTFO of here for the time being.  I'm doing you a favor; trust me.)

Monday, June 18, 2012

Bryant Has Issues #8 (Including a Special Bonus Review of "Prometheus")

You know what I love?  Junior Mints.  I bought some at the store earlier, and right before I sat down to start pounding out me newest comics column, I cracked them suckers open and funneled 'em down my maw.

You know who else loves Junior Mints?  This asshole right here:



That's Don King, and he loves Junior Mints, which explains why he is currently hopping up onto my desk and trying to get in my mouth to find all those minty round things.  He knows where they've gone ... he just doesn't quite know how to get to them.

So if my blogging seems even more disjointed than usual, know that I'm having to fend off feline mint cravings every sixty seconds or so.  It doesn't make for sustained blogging.  On the plus side, it's cute as hell.

Monday, June 11, 2012

News from the Kingdom: June 11, 2012

Time for another of these news round-up thingies, which if I'm being honest I must admit is only an excuse for me to post something.  And an excuse for me to present my incredibly well-reasoned and unassailable opinions, which you should all bow before and not question in any way lest ye be smited.

I think that's what you're supposed to do on the Internet, at least.

So, what's been happening in the world of Stephen King lately?

Well, let's start with the news that this fellow has been hired to write and direct a two-movie adaptation of It:


That's Cary Fukunaga, an up-and-coming filmmaker whose star has been on the ascent lately.

He's best-known as the writer/director of Sin Nombre, a 2009 Spanish-language movie that has something to do with drug gangs.  I never saw it, but it got terrific reviews, and also landed Fukunaga the directing reins on last year's remake of Jane Eyre.  I didn't see that one, either, but it got good reviews, and co-starred Michael Fassbender, so I assume it is worth checking out.

The Hollywood Reporter broke the news last week, which also included the revelation that Warner Bros. is setting the film up as a two-picture deal.  And here's where I suddenly become skeptical.  Warner Bros., as you may recall, also allegedly has plans for a multi-film version of The Stand, which may or may not be directed by Ben Affleck.  And Imagine Entertainmet has plans for a multi-film version of The Dark Tower, which may or may not star Javier Bardem.  And Showtime has plans for a multi-part miniseries based on Under the Dome, which is supposedly being developed by Brian K. Vaughan.  Jonathan Demme, so they say, is directing a movie version of 11/22/63.  Remakes of Pet Sematary and Firestarter have been said to be in the works.  SyFy claims to be producing The Eyes of the Dragon.

My point is, there are a LOT of King movies in the works, but other than Kimberley Peirce's Carrie, none of them seem to have any forward momentum at the moment. That doesn't mean they won't eventually be made, but if you know Hollywood at all, you know to never believe it's happening until filming begins.

In other words, don't get too excited about this idea.  Or, conversely, don't get too down on it.  In both cases, the emotion may end up being wasted.

That said, I'd love to see this happen.  It deserves better treatment than the mostly-awful television version we're currently stuck with.  Yes, Tim Curry is great in that movie.  He's the only thing that is.  And he's not SO great that he can't be improved upon.  My mind immediately came up with Andy Serkis as one suggestion for who could pull the role off, but I'm sure there are many others.

Just ... please, let's not have the Ritual of Chud.  Ick.

*****

In more important King news, and news that this blog has been strangely silent about due to its author's many failing as both a blogger and a human being, it was announced a couple of weeks ago that Joyland -- the amusement-park-killer novel King mentioned in his interview with Neil Gaiman back in the spring -- will be released in June of 2013.

The catch: it's another paperback original from Hard Case Crime, the same imprint that released The Colorado Kid in 205.  That means there will be no hardback, and according to the New York Times, there will also be no e-book.  In both cases, you'll probably want to append an asterisk indicating "at least not for now."  I'm sure Cemetery Dance or someone else will eventually produce a limited-edition hardback (for which I need to go ahead and start saving NOW), and sooner or later the book will almost certainly be available for Kindle and Nook and all the other e-readers out there.

The news of Joyland being a Hard Case Crime release seemed to put a bit of a damper on the enthusiasm a lot of the King fan community was showing for the book.  Not mine, though.  I love the idea of King producing a short, nasty serial killer tale set in a theme park.  I just hope it's a bit more substantial than The Colorado Kid was; I enjoy that novel, but it is quite slight, and was certainly a bit of a marketing misnomer, as there was virtually no crime; odd for a book carrying the "Hard Case Crime" imprint.

One question that has yet to be answered definitively is whether Joyland will be King's next release, or if Doctor Sleep will hit shelves first.  And the rumored three-disc-plus-a-book companion to Ghost Brothers of Darkland County is still a possibility, too, although there has been no news on that in quite some time.

Time will tell.

*****

Finally, it's worth mentioning that Amazon.com currently has the Marvel Comics omnibus of every issue of The Stand available for pre-sale.  Don't believe me?  Check it out.  Also, why are you so skeptical?  Sheesh...

At first blush, $150 -- $120 currently -- for a comic book seems like a lot of money.  And it is.  However, the omnibus of Marvel's first series of The Dark Tower was gorgeous, and this one will likely be no different.  I'm undecided as to whether I want to buy it or not.  Scratch that; I definitely want to buy it.  Whether I will buy it is another matter.  I bought every issue, and while I'd love to have an edition that collects them all, I wonder if that money shouldn't be put to better use.  Example: I have no Blu-ray player.  Example the second: my cats insist on eating. Like, EVERY day.  Example the third: I could cross a dozen or so things off of my wish list with $120-$150, or I could scratch one thing off the list.

It's a tough decision.  Plus, I wasn't overly thrilled by the comics.  I'd give 'em a B- or so.

But I may go ahead and buy this omnibus anyways.  Lord knows it'll look nice on my shelf.

*****

That's all I've got for you today, folks.  I've been slowly -- VERY slowly -- working on a lengthy post in which I rank all of the Stephen King movies from worst to best.  Another week or so, I might be ready to put that one up.

Until then, just remember: ants in your pants will make you dance, even in France while in a trance.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Bryant Has Issues #7

Whoah.

So apparently it's been over a month since my last comics column.

*sigh*

Better just get started...



"Clockworks," the penultimate arc in Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez's Locke & Key, has now reached its conclusion.  And boy, there is some great stuff in this issue.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

A Review of "Baal" [by Robert McCammon]

When I discovered Stephen King in the summer of 1990, I quickly became obsessed by the man's work.  I eagerly bought and read all of his books I could get my hands on.  When I'd done so, I then re-read them all, and next began looking around for something similar.  I have very fond memories of spending a lot of time in a used bookstore called The Book Rack, which is where I got most of my King books.  So when it came time to try to find similar books, The Book Rack was my first stop.  Looking around those shelves, I found Peter Straub (whose work already interested me, thanks to The Talisman), and Dean Koontz, and Clive Barker, amongst others.

However, of all the other writers to whom I turned as methadone in the lack of new heroin from Stephen King himself, I enjoyed Robert R. McCammon the most.


 
 
Some of this had to do with the fact that (as I learned) he was an Alabama native who had gone to school at the University of Alabama, in my hometown of Tuscaloosa.  That was only part of it, though; I also felt that McCammon was the most imaginative of the authors I adopted while looking to supplement my King fixation.

I bought and read all of McCammon's books, from the epic Swan Song to the only slightly less epic The Wolf's Hour to the sublime Boy's Life.  McCammon published a dozen novels (plus Blue World, a collection of short stories) between 1978 and 1992; after 1992's Gone South he stopped publishing for a full decade.  1992 is also the year I graduated from high school and began college, and the onrushing new experiences and time constraints put my horror-fiction fandom on hold, at least in the larger sense.

My devotion to King never wavered in all that time, but I stopped reading Straub and Barker and Koontz because other interests crowded them out; eventually, to save on space, I got rid of almost all of those books.
 
I kept my entire McCammon collection, though.  In and of itself, that is meaningful; I have gone many phases of book collecting, and have often found it necessary to undertake great purges, divesting myself of all of my Star Trek novels, or all of my Star Wars novels, or all of my (mostly never-read) classics.  A serious Heinlein phase came and went, and so forth.
 
But I never got rid of a single one of my Robert McCammon books.  Not one of 'em.  They got packed away in boxes, and never made it onto shelves, and never got re-read . . . but they survived each move, even when other collections did not; I never gave even the slightest thought to dumping my McCammon.  It was almost as if I knew I'd be returning to them someday.

And here someday is.

Since I'm already revisiting the works of Peter Straub, I thought it might be acceptable to revisit some of those other authors whose work I was led to by King.  Foremost among them will be McCammon.  Simply put, I feel like rereading his books, and since my discovery of his work is inextricably linked -- in my mind, if nowhere else -- with my discovery of Stephen King, it seems like fair game for this blog.

Let's get started with a look at McCammon's debut novel, 1978's Baal.





Baal is a mixed bag of a novel, and it's one of several  -- his first four (Baal, Bethany's Sin, The Night Boat, and They Thirst) -- that McCammon feels to be a poor representation of his works; they strike him now as being the work of a writer who was still learning to write and in the case of Baal, at least, that's hard to argue with.    
  
Baal is a sloppy novel, one that -- arguably -- doesn't introduce its main character until nearly a third of the way into the narrative.  (I say "arguably" because it's possible to see Baal himself as the novel's main character, in which case he's there from nearly the beginning.)  The prose is very weak in places, and the novel suffers from a seeming reluctance on McCammon's part for one particular character (who has a lot of knowledge about Baal) to explain to certain other characters what is going on.  On the one hand, this is okay; we're in possession of most of that knowledge ourselves, making it unnecessary for it to be repeated.  But when a knowledgeable character tells an unknowledgeable character things that we already know, it keeps everyone -- reader and protagonists alike -- on equal footing.  This is valuable from a narrative standpoint.  Also in the demerits column: a plotline set in the Middle East becomes extremely interesting at a certain point, and then the narrative shifts to a completely different locale and to a completely different set of concerns; transition from one thing to the next is somewhat unsatisfying.

Despite all of those flaws, though, this is an imaginative and involving novel.  One of its sins is that it simply isn't long enough; this feels like it wants to be a true epic of the type McCammon later crafted in Swan Song, but is instead merely the standard 350 or so pages.  That's a demerit, too, but one that is wrapped inside a plus: if a novel feels short, that means the story is involving, because why else would I want to read more of it?

The setup: a young woman in the sixties is raped by a stranger in an alley, and unlike the vast majority of rapists, this one's flesh burns hand prints into his victim's skin.  Nine months or so later, out pops a baby, which is, of course, a demon.  Both parents die, and the baby ends up in a series of orphanages; when he's old enough to talk he begins calling himself Baal, and creeps everyone out.  If this reminds you at all of The Omen, it's probably no accident; but McCammon delivers a few scenes that are as good as anything in that semi-classic Richard Donner movie, and the stories diverge radically after the basic demon-baby plotline.

As soon as possible, Baal escapes from the orphanage into the world, taking similarly orphaned disciples with him, and when we next encounter him, a number of years have passed; he's all grown up, camped out in Kuwait, and spawning a truly frightening cult.  Coming out as it did during the Carter administration, the Middle East sections must have been effective at the time, and they are still rather effective over thirty years later.

Eventually, an elderly theology professor -- ostensibly the novel's protagonist -- finds out something of the nature of this "man," and becomes allied with Michael, a mysterious man who is hunting Baal.  The rest of the novel plays out as the forces lined against Baal try to end the threat he poses.  If I told you this all ends up, in quasi-Frankensteinian fashion, near the North Pole, would you believe me?

All in all, this is a novel that I probably ought to be harsher toward.  And yet, I like it.  The scenes in Kuwait are very effective, as are the scenes in Greenland and further north; these things ought not to mix at all, and arguably don't; but their individual powers are significant enough that I give this novel kudos where kudos are perhaps not entirely deserved.  Obviously, McCammon himself has no great love for the novel.  I think it still works, though; I'd forgotten almost everything about it in the two decades since I first read it, but as I reread the book, I'd get to certain sections and remember them in advance.  "Oh," I'd think, "this the part where _____," or "here's when _____ bites the dust."

It's an amateurish novel in some respects, but a powerful one, and one that was obviously written with great passion, and glimmers of genuine talent.

If you've never read McCammon's work, this is perhaps not the best place to start, but it's well worth circling back to once you've digested some of his more mature works.