Book Reviews, Graphic Novels, Novels

Neil Gaiman’s the Sandman: The Dream Hunters (1999)

Three years after the Sandman called it quits, and just over 10 years after issue #1 hit the stands, the Dream Hunters was the best return the King of All Night’s Dreaming could’ve asked for.

I was nervous about this story: It’s structure is a departure for the Dreaming, being a novella with accompanying illustrations instead of a ‘comic book.’ I didn’t expect it could capture Dream’s trademark twinkle nearly so well — and I was wrong. This is the Sandman, and it’s one of Dream’s most powerful stories. Gaiman spent years evoking the style of myths of all colors to tell stories about — well — stories, and this is him exercising that experience to pay homage to Japanese and Chinese folklore.*

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Book Reviews, Graphic Novels

Neil Gaiman and Matt Wagner’s Sandman Midnight Theatre (1995)

Teddy Kristiansen’s artwork is incredible.

That’s about the only positive, and it’s a really big positive. Most of this crossover between Wagner’s Sandman and Gaiman’s more modern Sandman is hurt by being so incredibly boring. Nothing is gained, nothing’s learned by the characters. They meet, and then go back to their respective worlds.

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Book Reviews, Graphic Novels

Bryan Talbot’s Grandville Bête Noire (2012)

Grandville Bête Noire is the strongest Grandville story yet. Unlike the first two, Talbot isn’t just playing with pulp tropes, but is taking much more from his personal interests to enhance the world-building and lore. His personal interest in art history (and art history conspiracies!) means it feels like Talbot’s pouring a lot more heart into this story. There’s also a big helping of warm humor to fill in the LeBrock & Co.’s sometimes-boring archetypal boots with real character. (See LeBrock’s overwhelming and adorable discomfort at a formal dinner. The fact that I can attribute a word like ‘adorable’ to this heaping mass of muscle and testosterone is a good sign.)

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Book Reviews, Novels

Jonathan Carroll’s Voice of Our Shadow (1983), as recommended by Neil Gaiman

Voice of Our Shadow is a weird novel. It’s compelling, creepy, lame, uncomfortable; it leaves you wondering if it’s going anywhere or just dilly-dallying inside an unlikable Joseph Lennox’s head.

Joe is a horrible, selfish and self-obsessed brat of a narrator — but his voice is also utterly uncomfortable precisely because, in being horrible, he’s toeing a line that most of us have difficulty with. E.g., he uses friends for personal gain, all the while convincing himself and his audience that he’s playing the Nice Guy, that maybe he’s being unjustly victimized.

A lot of this novel’s horror comes from that: He’s just a disgusting personality. Too human and too me-and-you.

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Book Reviews, Short Stories

Clive Barker’s Books of Blood, vol. I (1984) — a silly collection of angry misogyny, cool ideas, and purple prose

It’s easy to see the quality horror fans attribute to Barker’s early work. He’s an excellent writer, and his ideas are jaw-droppingly creative and original, at times.

Personally, however, I don’t connect much with it. After a couple of his books, it’s hard to put my finger on why. Part of it, I think, is I find his prose too clinical and passive, his use of uncommon words and phrases too hand-me-that-Thesaurus. Some of his stories are affected by personal pathos, too. There’re no interesting or realistic female characters in any of his early stories that I’ve read, for example: They all amount to being described as worthless whores not just by characters, but by the omniscient narration itself. Their only personality traits are being dumb and craving sex with everything. (Granted, in a lot of Barker stories, you’ll find all anyone craves is sexual depravity, but at least one gender is granted a will.)

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Book Reviews, Novels

Stephen King’s Misery (1987)

King draws a love-hate relationship from me, and he tends to evoke both a numbing rage and blissful joy at every plot juncture. Misery‘s fantastic. It doesn’t get drowned out with the ‘King-isms’ that tend to crowd his plots with cockadoodie savant children, classic rock-quoting writers, nonsensical endings full of deus ex machinas and left-field twists, and hallucinated comedic relief — with jokes so unfunny and drawn-out their inclusion is the scariest part.

Misery dips into this, but it’s contained enough and focused enough to keep cool. It’s a story of a man and a woman, set mostly in one room. The lady holds complete power over this man, and the extent of her strength is well-developed and frightening. Really frightening.

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Book Reviews, Graphic Novels

Bryan Talbot’s Grandville Mon Amour (2010)

Bryan Talbot’s a gifted-as-hell writer, and, like Gaiman or McCloud, an historian on storytelling and comics. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read from Talbot so far, including this, but this is the first book where the flaws really took away from the experience.

Grandville Mon Amour is the first sequel to 2009’s Grandville: A pulpy steampunk tale that thrives (intentionally, I presume) on cliches to tell gripping, silly yarns. It’s a huge departure from Talbot’s earlier, often abstruse trademark in that it’s all sex and thrilling shots of testosterone set in a steampunk Europe populated by anthropomorphic animals.

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