REVIEW: The Siege of Lexington, Missouri: The Battle of the Hemp Bales (2014)

A book by Larry Wood

To prepare for my trip to Lexington. MO to visit the Battle of Lexington State Historic Site, I wanted to read a book on the battle itself to both refresh my memory and prepare for a possibility of the tour being cancelled or information being one-sided (to read more about my concerns click HERE). Since I was a child, The Battle of Lexington a.k.a. “The Battle of the Hemp Bales” was always one of my favorite Civil War Battles to learn about. It always fascinated me because of the ingenuity of the Missouri State Guard (aligned with the secessionists). Instead of bum-rushing a Federal Fortress repurposed from an old College building owned by the Freemasons (and likely getting massacred), a call was made to create a moving bulwark of wet hemp bales to slowly get closer and closer to the fortress rendering any sort of defensive measure worthless.

“Following victories at Carthage and Wilson’s Creek in the summer of 1861, the Confederate-allied Missouri State Guard achieved its greatest success when it advanced on Lexington in September. Former Missouri governor General Sterling Price and his men laid siege for three days against a Union garrison under the command of Colonel James Mulligan. An ingenious mobile breastwork of hemp bales soaked in water, designed to absorb hot shot, enabled the Confederates to close in on September 20 and force surrender. Civil War historian Larry Wood delivers a thorough account of the battle that briefly consolidated Confederate control in the region.”

Book description

Larry Wood does an amazing job of summarizing the battle, the nature of people on both sides of the conflict during this time, and even how weird some of the first months of the war was. It’s almost like nobody was really taking the war seriously – spectators would arrive at battlefields with picnic lunches in tow, cheering on their “teams” for a swift victory as if they were watching a local sporting event. The armies on both sides were inefficient and disorganized, resulting in accidental friendly-fire incidents and misrouted troops all of the time. It’s no wonder that the war dragged itself out so long considering the circumstances.

The information in this book is VERY well researched and slows very well. I enjoyed reading this so much that I powered through in one sitting, which is rare for historical books. Perhaps one of the only bad things about this book is that it lacks too many maps that one usually would see in a book such as this. This is by no means a deal breaker, but it would have easily taken this book up to the status of being the definitive article regarding this chapter in US History.

While most don’t get too excited about Civil War battles west of the Mississippi, do yourselves a favor and check this out – it’s a great read and I guarantee you haven’t read about the tactics used in this battle in any other one prior or since. I will have to seek some more of these books out by Larry Wood, as he has done a wonderful job! If you are a fan of history, live in Missouri, or love reading about the Civil War, do your self a favor and check this out.

This review is part of my 2021 series History Boy Summer, which you can read more of following this LINK. If you are interested in the series of books this volume comes from, Amazon has the entire series, many of which are on Kindle Unlimited. If you would like your own copy of this book specifically, check this link out.

2021: History Boy Summer (Part 2) Battle of Lexington State Historic Site / Oliver Anderson House

Here we are again, yet another entry into my project “History Boy Summer” which is just an excuse for me to blog about my recent attempt to visit a bunch of museums this year. Last time, we looked at a War of 1812 era military fort and trading post, this week we are shifting forward to a Civil War battlefield.

One thing that has always bothered me about how many discuss the American Civil War is the complete and utter downplaying of anything that happened west of the Mississippi River. Being from Kansas originally, but spending near 30 years in Bushwhacker territory (That’s Missouri), it’s crazy how important this area was to the war in the beginning, an ultimately it’s end as well. One can argue that The Civil War STARTED in Kansas in the mid 1850s. One of my future incursions will hopefully be to the John Brown Museum in Osawatomie, Kansas where I will go into more detail about the period of time called “Bleeding Kansas“, and if you are unaware what that is, please look it up – the story is wild!

Battle of Lexington State Historic Site / Oliver Anderson House: Lexington, MO

Today I will be looking at one of my favorite historic sites, and Civil War battles for that matter – The Battle of Lexington a.k.a. “The Battle of the Hemp Bales“. lasting from September 13-20 1861, this siege always fascinated me because of the ingenuity of the Missouri State Guard (aligned with the secessionists). Instead of bum-rushing a Federal Fortress repurposed from an old College building owned by the Freemasons (and likely getting massacred), a call was made to create a moving bulwark of wet hemp bales to slowly get closer and closer to the fortress rendering any sort of defensive measure worthless. It was a tactic that impressed people so much, that random people often gushed about it. Many years later, in his book The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, Southern president Jefferson Davis opined that “The expedient of the bales of hemp was a brilliant conception, not unlike that which made Tarik, the Saracen warrior, immortal, and gave his name to the northern pillar of Hercules.”

I always loved visiting The Oliver Anderson house as a kid. It’s riddled with bullet holes and cannon shot, when most would have patched any damage up soon after the war. Being able to see things like the physical scarring of a battlefield makes it that much more real for me. When I was a kid, there wasn’t any sort of visitor’s Center like they have today. From what I understand, it was built in 1994 or so, and is a great addition to the grounds with the sole exception being that you can no longer see the house from the road. This was another nostalgic trip for me, I honestly don’t think I’ve been here for upwards of 20+ years or so.

Background:

According to our old buddy Wikipedia:

“The siege of Lexington, also known as the Battle of First Lexington, was a minor conflict of the American Civil War. The siege took place from September 13 to 20, 1861 between the Union Army and the pro-Confederate Missouri State Guard in Lexington, county seat of Lafayette County, Missouri. The victory won by the Missouri Guard bolstered the considerable Southern sentiment in the area, and briefly consolidated Missouri State Guard control of the Missouri River Valley in the western part of the state.

Prior to the American Civil War, Lexington was an agricultural town of over 4,000 residents that served as the county seat of Lafayette County and enjoyed a position of considerable local importance on the Missouri River in west-central Missouri. Hemp (used for rope production), tobacco, coal and cattle all contributed to the town’s wealth, as did the river trade. Though Missouri remained in the Union during the war, many of Lexington’s residents were slaveowners, and several openly sympathized with the Southern cause. Lafayette County had a high ratio of slaves to free persons, with slaves comprising 31.7% of its population.”

Wikipedia

There was a “Second Battle of Lexington, MO in 1864 that kind of flies under the radar a bit due to how minor it is on it’s own. As part of Major-General Sterling Price’s ill-fated Missouri expedition, a brief skirmish happened in Lexington between Price and Federal Major General James Blunt. If anything, Blunt used the exercise more to size-up Price’s forces as he marched towards the state line, allowing time for people to prepare for battle in Jackson County and slow Price down. Price was ultimately forced to leave the state after back-to-back defeats in Westport and Mine Creek, ultimately taking Missouri off of the Confederate table.

Reading:

For this trip, I read a book by Larry Wood entitled: The Siege of Lexington, Missouri: The Battle of the Hemp Bales Which is part of a series of books based on various Civil War Battles released during the 150th anniversary. I had mentioned in my previous article:

” I want to know what’s going on, just in case they are either closed, the guided tours don’t happen, or its slanted in one direction or another for political reasons. I was really worried about the latter in regards to my next topic (Battle of Lexington), but I will get to that next time. ”

Me

I said this because I clearly remember visiting The Oliver Anderson House as a kid, and watching the obligatory video in the visitor’s center, to get a one-sided account of the events as told through the lens of “Lost Cause” mythology. It was very much “Here we were, all chivalrous and Southern, and these evil Yankees took the town over and did bad stuff”. As a kid, it seemed at odds with things I knew about the Civil War in Missouri, but I left it at that. As I got older, I realized what was going on and took it with a grain of salt. I wanted to read this book to get all the facts BEFORE I went in, and I think it helped me a lot. Even before I took one of my tours, I had a long discussion with one of the living history interpreters, and I feel like my knowledge from this book made it that much more special.

While, I will suggest reading my full book review HERE, I will say briefly that this was a very well-done book (as are most in this series), and I want to read more by Mr. Wood. If you would like your own copy, check this link out.

The Trip:

Lexington is a short-ish drive from the majority of Kansas City, traffic isn’t an issue and I had no trouble finding it with my GPS. My only issue was that there is currently some sort of road construction going on that resulted in a detour, so if you plan to follow my lead, be prepared for that. As I stated before, the facility is comprised of three parts 1) The Battle of Lexington Battlefield, The Visitor’s Center, and the Oliver Anderson House. While you pass some of the battlefield markers on the way in, the site offers a tour for five dollars a head that will walk a patron through the Anderson House or the Battlefield itself. One ticket is good for both. On my particular trip, it looked likely for rain, so I decided to forgo the battlefield tour, with a hope that I will be back again at some point. I did however stop off on the road and look at some of it myself.

The visitors center is a large building with a theater for the video presentation, a gift shop area, and a museum filled with battlefield artifacts and exhibits. It’s a smaller museum that would take anywhere from 10-30 minutes to get through depending on how much you stop to read. I mentioned my wariness of the video, and to my surprise, there was a new presentation that was not at all as slanted as the 1990’s version. One of the interpreters even mentioned that they took great care to make it a lot less one-sided. The gift shop actually has a decent selection of items specifically related to the site itself, sometimes you go to these things and you see a bunch of books about Gettysburg or something, while cool it doesn’t really reflect why you are where you are. I of course, went with a stack of facsimile steamboat tickets and fake Civil-War era money as I collect stuff like that from time-to-time.

Since I decided to forgo the main battlefield tour (sadly it never rained so I could have done it) I spent some time chatting with a few interpreters that were handling the gift shop at the time. The information was very interesting and I learned a lot about some planned upcoming events and general history of the area that you wouldn’t really get on either tour.

My time came to finally go into the Oliver Anderson House, which is located behind the visitor’s center. When the Union army came into town and took over the Masonic College, the huge plantation field around the Anderson House ended up becoming the battlefield. The house itself sat smack-dab in the middle of this field, so it was seized by Union troops and converted into a field hospital. Oliver Anderson, and his family, were made to answer questions on their loyalty to the Federal Government, since he had not signed his card and held slaves, he was unwilling to say he denounced the Confederates. As a result, he was evicted.

The house itself became a focal point of the battle with claims that the Union troops were using it to shoot from, which is unfortunate because using a hospital to fire from is an offense on the supposed “rules of warfare” of the day. State Guard troops successfully took the house over, then planted sharpshooters on the rooftops and windows, basically doing the same questionable thing. Finally the Federals were able to re-capture the house, executing many of the soldiers inside. As you can see The house’s history is mired in controversy, and many aspects of the battle had to be deliberated on in court after the fact.

Due to this fighting, the house is riddled with scars of the battle. All of the windows on the second floor have bullet holes around all of the walls. It’s quite jarring to walk around seeing places where soldiers likely died in battle, such as the outsides of almost all of the windows. Surprisingly, this is all preserved because the owners of the house, at the turn of the century, made a deliberate call to not fix any of the war damage in any way. The rest of the house is filled with furnishings, most of which from that second family, of the time. Nothing is temperature controlled and nothing is behind glass – its as if you are going back in time to the exact way the house was being used in the past.

Probably one of my favorite areas to explore is the second floor. One of the main rooms became the “operating room” of the hospital. Doors were pulled from hinges and tossed on sawhorses as men were hacked to pieces in the name of primitive medicine. There was so much blood involved, holes were drilled into the floor and the grisly fluids were allowed to drain into a basin on the first story. I can’t imagine how morbid such a sight would be.

The tour was very informative, and gave lots of information on the day-to-day like of people during the mid 1800s. If you are there, you are truly missing out on not taking it.

Conclusion:

This is yet another great way to spend a summer day here in Missouri. If you are a lover of Civil War History, antebellum architecture, local history, or even macabre things, this is a cool place to visit. Granted, a lot of my love for visiting this comes from the nostalgia I get going back to places I loved as a kid, but this site seems to be a complete package and can fill out a full day with activities if one plans it right. My recommendation – take the tours, especially if you don’t know anything about the battles or the site itself. Its really cheap and well-worth it. Join me again very soon, as I visit a site that I’ve actually never been before, it’s another Civil war battlefield, this time much later in the war.

This review is part of my 2021 series History Boy Summer, which you can read more of following this LINK.

REVIEW: Space Pirate Captain Harlock #1 (2021)

A comic by Leiji Matsumoto and Jerome Alquié

Ablaze Comics has come out of nowhere as one of my new favorites when it comes to comic book companies that I follow. Having read The Cimmerian and The Breaker, and thoroughly loving them both, I was pumped to see one of my favorite franchises, Space Pirate Captain Harlock, under their wing. Written in collaboration between Belgian artist Jerome Alquié and the legendary Leiji Matsumoto himself, with art by Alquié, every page is a trip back in time to the Captain Harlock that everyone grew to love. Melding the sensibilities of both western comics and manga, this is an interesting hybrid project that excels in it’s goal – bringing this beloved franchise to a completely new audience.

Leiji Matsumoto’s original Space Pirate Captain Harlock series ran from 1977-1979 and became a worldwide hit. This was especially true in French speaking countries where “Capitaine Albator” became a immediate classic. Ablaze Comics is a French language comics publisher that thankfully has an English Publishing arm, so they were perfect to bring a project like this into the world.

From the legendary Leiji Matsumoto, along with Jerome Alquie, comes an epic new story! Set within the timeline of the original series, this brand-new Captain Harlock adventure marks the beginning of a new story arc. Planet Earth is threatened by an upcoming invasion by the Sylvidres and despite being banished as a pirate, Captain Harlock won’t give up trying to save the world. This time, the source of danger comes directly from Earth, not outer space. A team of scientists discovers a Sylvidres mausoleum where they find information about terrifying genetic manipulations and a destructive power capable of either providing the Sylvidres with immortality or putting an end to their civilization. The unprecedented cold spell hitting Earth might only be a taste of what this new enemy has in store…Will Captain Harlock and his crew manage to solve this mystery and save the Earth from yet another menace?

Book description

The first thing that you will notice is that Jerome Alquié has mastered the art style and tone of the original manga and TV series, albeit with his own flourish. For many years, there has been an effort by cynical media executives to change what Harlock is, whether it be art style, tone, or characterization. The 2013 film commits a lot of these sins, attempting to alter the story to a much darker affair. Ablaze’s Harlock, however, runs head-first into the source material, existing as a sequel of sorts to the original story. We are greeted with a prologue that brings the reader up to speed with the characters and some big events that took place prior to the events of this book. Harlock is seen brooding over the death of his best friend Tochiro, then BOOM new story-line and the introduction of what I assume is the new villain.

With this being issue #1 of an ongoing series, I can’t speak as if this is a completed story or anything, but what we get here is action-packed, vibrant, and gets you really ready for more. Here’s hoping we get a nice long run out of this, because I think we all need a bit more Harlock in our lives. If you are an old-school anime fan of this franchise, or a fan of science fiction, or space operas in general – do yourself a favor and pick this up. Stay tuned for fore reviews of this series as it progresses. I left this one fairly spoiler free, aside from the book synopsis, and will go more into detail in future reviews.

2021: History Boy Summer (Part 1) Fort Osage State Historic Site

I don’t normally put a lot of emphasis on New Year’s Resolutions, as most are unattainable and end up going by the wayside like 30 days after you start doing them. Honestly, going into 2021 my goal is hopefully “go outside a bit” which stands in stark contrast to last year when I, like many, lived as a cavemen holed up in my Covid-19 safety shelter watching the exploits of a mulleted redneck that dabbles in tigers and attempted murder. My two goals (I like that better) that have stuck for this year have been: “I have a bunch of unread books, I need to read more this year” and “I haven’t been to any local historical sites in a LONG time, maybe I should go to them.” Both are easy to do and both are relatively inexpensive. The latter gets me outside a bit – usually I go to conventions and live music shows throughout the year, without those I need something to clear the cobwebs. So, History Boy Summer begins!

FORT OSAGE: Sibley, MO

I laid out a plan that started in Fort Osage, a small rebuilt fortress built near the Missouri River in what is now Sibley, MO. When I was a child, one of my fondest memories was going there with my Mother and Grandparents. I clearly recall an episode wherein my grandfather was about to head downstairs into the basement of some building (in hindsight this must have been the storehouse under the trading post) he came back upstairs with a worried look on his face, and basically said “hey, we’re not going in there”, as I guess there was a black Cornsnake dangling from the ceiling. It’s one of those memories that really sticks with me for whatever reason. My grandfather died when I was very young, so I don’t recall a lot of his true personality, but one thing I can recall was his Indiana Jones level hatred of snakes. I also recall briefly thinking the living history staff were ghosts, because why else would old-timey soldiers be walking around. My Mother had to ease my worries by saying “those guys are just in costumes!” Four year old me was very relieved.

So, here I am 34 years out wondering why I haven’t returned. I lived in Warrensburg, MO for a long time, and did not have a car until my mid to late twenties. Due to this, arranging a trip to go to a living history museum hours away was going to be hard. I do have some friends into history as well, but not as much as myself. in 2014 I moved to Independence, MO – literally a few miles from Fort Osage and I still never went because time just never seemed to line up and I had it in my head that I absolutely had to go with somebody to things like this. I’ve changed a lot in the last 5 years, for good and bad reasons, but one of my new mantras is: if I want to do something I will do it, no matter if I’m alone or not. Life is too short for me to worry about unwanted shared experiences. If it’s cool, maybe I can take them there later. Tomorrow is never guaranteed, it’s time to live life. So, the plan was laid – I was off to Fort Osage.

Background:

Fort Osage was an early 19th-century trading post run by the United States Government. At that time, it sat on the literal edge of the united states overlooking native lands and untamed wilderness gained through the Louisiana Purchase. The Treaty of Fort Clark, signed with members of the Osage Nation in 1808, called for the United States to establish Fort Osage as a trading post and to protect the Osage from tribal enemies as well as provide money to said Natives. Of course, our very own Congress bumbled a lot of this treaty up as they historically always do, and the general mistreatment of the Indians was in full effect.
While the fort never succumbed to any fighting during the War of 1812, it was relatively close to some battles with British-led Natives on similar US forts, an example being Fort Madison in present day Iowa. had the tide of that battle gone differently, who knows. According to Wikipedia, Archaeologists rediscovered the foundations of Fort Osage in the 1940s. The station was reconstructed to portray Fort Osage as it was in 1812 by using the preserved surveys created by William Clark and others. This made restoration to exact specifications possible.

Reading:

During this project, I have decided to give myself homework of sorts. I plan to read something, a book preferably, on the subject at hand for each excursion. The reason for this being, I want to know what’s going on, just in case they are either closed, the guided tours don’t happen, or its slanted in one direction or another for political reasons. I was really worried about the latter in regards to my next topic (Battle of Lexington), but I will get to that next time.

To prepare for Fort Osage, I actually tracked down an old book from around the time I was born, seemingly one of the only ones on the actual Fort Itself called Fort Osage–opening of the American West by Rhoda Wooldridge. I know there are diaries published from George C. Sibley out there, but I’m sure these will be even harder to get, or be chained to a library. Its lack of Footnotes aside, the information seems to be a narrative of the aforementioned diaries of the various people involved, so it’s got to be pretty accurate, and its a quick read. If you’d like to read my full review of this book, please click HERE.

It’s a shame this book isn’t available in digital format nor left in print at all since 1983, as it seems to be pretty good. The local publisher seems to only print books related to Alcoholics Anonymous and other rehabilitation plans, and whilst being a noble cause, its sad to see local history go by the wayside.

The Trip:

For this trip, the Covid-19 global pandemic was still in full effect and vaccinations were just starting to get rolling on a large scale. As a result, a lot of the living history stuff that is normally going on here was absent, and a mask mandate was in place. That said, everything was very enjoyable nonetheless. Upon arrival at the grounds, one first goes into a large, modern, visitor’s center. As of this writing, it costs eight dollars to enter the fort itself, and four for children. Be sure to check their website for current prices and other promotions. There is the obligatory informational video available to park patrons that tells the history of the time period and the park itself.

After hitting the giftshop, yeah I did it first for some reason, I walked through their large museum collection within the visitors center. These exhibits consisted of artifacts of the time such as items sold at the trading post, military uniforms, native artifacts, a full sized canoe, and even cannons. This museum is decently sized and takes around ten to thirty minutes to get through depending on the speed that one can read, and I’d assume walk. I had a little one with me, and he especially enjoyed seeing the cannons, a theme that would carry-on into the heart of the Fort itself. My personal favorite was probably the uniforms as I will admit I am not the most well-versed on War of 1812 history, as I’m sure are most other Americans likewise. It’s a shame that I hope to rectify soon.

Now that the introduction is out of the way, it was time to move through a doorway and head up to the grounds of the actual fort itself. While the main part of the fort is missing a bit of the original structure, including the entire outer wall, the part that we do have in very impressive. The major locations include guard towers (think castle turrets), Commander’s quarters, barracks, the trading post, an area where people got whipped as punishment, and a huge flag pole. While the majority of the buildings are repetitive (a barrack is a barrack etc.), exploring some of the larger buildings such as the trading post was awesome. stocked with facsimile items for sale, and manned by a living history interpreter, this was probably my favorite part of the trip. Hearing some anecdotes about the fort and some information of the river was cool, and he took time to point out some interesting things I should do (like a path to the river through the woods) that I probably would not have done otherwise.

I was worried that bringing a five year old was a bad call at first, but he really enjoyed exploring the fort. running up stairs to see if there were cannons and looking out the windows to see the river was exiting for him. I’d like to go back the next time a big event is going on, as I think seeing more volunteers and getting the idea of how old this place was would benefit him. He’s still a bit young to understand exactly what was happening, but he had fun.

Conclusion:

All-in-all this was a great quick weekend trip if you live in or around the Kansas City area. It’s inexpensive, fun, and educational. Sitting a few months out from my trip, I kind of wish I would have waited a bit longer now that mask mandates are going away, but I had set aside this time in April, and the last thing I needed was yet another excuse as to why I needed to not go. If I go back for any sort of event, I will be sure to do some kind of an update.

Stay tuned next time, for part 2 of History Boy Summer, where I go to the site of one of the more interesting Civil War battles, local or not. For another museum exhibit I really enjoyed, check out my review of Stonehenge: Spirit and Science of Place from a few years ago. Also, keep up with this series by looking at the tag for History Boy Summer. And yes, the title is making fun of that cringe Chet Hanks song that I will undoubtedly forget about the existence of a few years down the road and wonder why I went with this as the header.

REVIEW: Fort Osage–opening of the American West (1983)

A book by Rhoda Wooldridge

To prepare for a trip to historic Fort Osage in Sibley, Missouri, I actually tracked down an old book from around the time I was born, seemingly one of the only ones on the actual Fort Itself called Fort Osage–opening of the American West. I did this because I wasn’t sure if the tour guides would be present at all during the tail-end of the Covid-19 Global Pandemic, and wanted to ensure that I would enjoy my trip. I’m sure there are other books out there, such as diaries published from George C. Sibley (The fort’s commander), but tracking these down are equally crazy and likely written in a manner that is not as palatable as this paperback.

It’s a quick read at 140 pages, and doesn’t spend all that much time going into gross details about the people involved. You can tell that the contents were constructed from diaries and logs related to the operations of the Fort itself, as the narrative seems to be mostly about Mr. Sibley and his business transactions.

When Lewis and Clark, on their expedition of 1804 marked the promontory at the bend of the Missouri River near the present-day town of Sibley in Jackson county for the first site west of the Mississippi, our national hold on the West was feeble. The boundaries of the Louisiana purchase were undefined. England, with its large fur trading companies, was encroaching from the north; Spain was moving in on the southwest; and the Pacific coast was up for grabs to any country who would take it. Even Congress and men in Washington considered it a matter of not so quiet desperation.

The war of 1812 and the subsequent treaty of Ghent that followed the building of Fort Osage settles the danger of English encroachment on the old Northwest Territory. A treaty with Spain in 1819 defined the boundaries of the Southwest. These boundaries, which the opening of the Santa Fe trade in 1821 more or less obscured, became recognized boundaries. American trappers and traders looked forward to the West – to the Pacific in the north, the west, and the south. All this was opened with the building of Fort Osage in 1808 and there it stood for 16 years as a citadel between the Mississippi and the Rocky mountains.

Back of the book that I painstakingly transcribed since this book is so rare lol

There are some VERY interesting tidbits inside including descriptions of customs performed by the handful of Indian tribes mentioned. For example, at one point Mr. Sibley was confused as to why Kansas Indians had painted their faces black and were wailing in unison with tears streaming down their faces. He had assumed it was some kind of funeral rite, but was alarmed when his Osage advisor Sans Oreilles (lit “No Ears” in French) told him that they do this as a dark ritual as penance for something bad they are about to do. In this case, that was try to rob the trading post by cover of nightfall, a situation that got their tribe banned for a time.

Another interesting aside, was a story of the discovery of an Indian burial mound wherein the grave of an esteemed British officer had been buried by a tribe that Great Britain had ties with. He was mummified sitting upright in a chair in full-uniform and buried with grave goods befitting royalty. This puzzled everyone, and they wondered who this man was that he got such a lavish burial. How I wish they actually kept this as a verifiable record, as it sounds very cool.

The book is full of these little chapters, you can tell the author went through the original documents looking for interesting items, as the pages are peppered with them. Rather than being a dull slog through the everyday bookkeeping of a trading post (as I’m sure she read), we get the “greatest hits”.

It’s a shame this book isn’t available in digital format nor left in print at all since 1983, as it seems to be pretty good. The local publisher seems to only print books related to Alcoholics Anonymous and other rehabilitation plans, and whilst being a noble cause, its sad to see local history go by the wayside. Thankfully, this book doesn’t appear to be impossible to find. This copy was around ten dollars on Ebay, and I’ve seen brand-new and still shrink-wrapped copies up for grabs for around 20 dollars.

If you have an interest in frontier history or The War of 1812, this might be something to track down, but I’m sure people that live locally or around this area would likely enjoy it a bit more. While a bit outdated in vernacular and lacking any sort of footnotes, the book is far from a scholarly text in any way, but its enjoyable and helped me learn a lot more about the area I live, and some of the history of a time that most American schooling seems to entirely bypass.

This review is part of my 2021 series History Boy Summer, which you can read more of following this LINK.

MOOC REVIEW: A Voice of Their Own. Women’s Spirituality in the Middle Ages (Coursera)

While I haven’t posted too much about it on Arcadia Pod, I do occasionally take free MOOC classes, I’ve done a few reviews on my other site Great Odin’s Raven! in the past. To quote that page “For those not “in the know” MOOCs (or Massive Open Online Courses) are a course of study made available over the Internet without charge to a very large number of people. Their value really comes from their ability to deliver high quality higher learning classes for free to places that have no access to such a service. When EDX started, for instance, I was taking classes constantly – ones about epidemics, and space science – just all sorts of random topics.” In the past most of the major MOOC providers were entirely free and came with certificates of completion, now some of them have paywalls to keep everything running. I enjoy Coursera a lot because it still can be enjoyed for free without any features being removed, you basically pay for the credentials now.

A Voice of Their Own. Women’s Spirituality in the Middle Ages is a “sequel” of sorts to another class offered by the University of Barcelona called Magic in the Middle Ages. That class was very well done, and had a lot of information I was unaware of. the only stumbling block for some is that the class is delivered by a group of instructors speaking in thick accents, as Spanish is their native tongue. Some are crystal clear, but others required me to use subtitles on certain things. That said, this is definitely not a deal breaker in any way.

This class is more Christian leaning, as it deals with early Christian mysticism, but it’s interesting because it talks mostly about how women were persecuted and even executed as heretics because of how the church ran things during the times of the Inquisitors. Having a background in Gnosticism, seeing topics covered such as The Cathars, was interesting to me. I know many that read my stuff are Pagan, so if you look at this from the perspective of “look how bad the church was” its an interesting class to take.

Have you ever heard about medieval mysticism or medieval heresies? Have you ever wondered about the particular role women played in medieval spirituality? Do Hildegard of Bingen, Clare of Assisi, Marguerite Porete, the Cathar ladies or Isabel de Villena ring a bell? Have you ever felt like you wanted to know more about them? If your answer to any of these questions was yes, then this MOOC, A voice of their own. Women’s spirituality in the Middle ages is what you were looking for.

A Voice of their own is much more than a course. It is an invitation to follow the paths traced by the spiritual experiences of medieval women. It is a challenge that, should you let it, will take you to places where you will see and hear things that will astonish you. Here you will find medieval women playing a major role in the spiritual transformations of the Middle Ages, founding monastic movements and orders, writing about their experiences, traveling the roads of Europe to spread their ideas, creating spiritual landscapes, as well as both material an intangible architectures. In this MOOC, these women will speak to you from the past, and you’ll see that their voices still hold great validity in the present.

I did have one issue with this course, and that is the assignments. As far as I could tell, two of the quizzes are incorrect, making it basically impossible to score 100%. The oversight is that much more annoying with a limit of 3 retakes per 8 hour period. I eventually had to keep taking the tests and guessing on what they said the correct answer was through trial and error. I eventually did it, but the experience was very frustrating, and the school seems to be fairly hands off on the forums for the class. This is the downside to the classes structured more as a “learn at your own pace” model, as many of these professors obviously can’t sit around and monitor the forums for years down the line. The whole thing becomes somewhat of an archived experience over time.

All-in-all this wasn’t my favorite MOOC I’ve ever taken. While the information was great, having the inability to have a blatant issue resolved was frustrating. Perhaps Coursera needs a “report this” feature that students can utilize. I would recommend taking the first class before this one, and if you enjoyed it, like me, the second is a no-brainer despite the issues. just be prepared for chapter 3, and be sure to use the forums the best you can. If you succeed, $50 will grant you a verified certificate for ultimate bragging rights. If there are any MOOCs out there anyone would recommend, drop me a line.

REVIEW: Famous Last Words – Confessions, Humour and Bravery of the Departing (2021)

A book by Chris Wood

Famous Last Words – Confessions, Humour and Bravery of the Departing was a bit different than what I expected it to be. I was expecting a true crime book looking at what people said as they stared down the gallows – perhaps entirely made of quotes or something. There is a bit of that here, but this book is a LOT more as it covers a large swath of noteworthy people and what they said before their (usually) untimely demise. The book looks at executed murderers, celebrities, esteemed royalty, and even would-be terrorists, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Chris wood takes great care to explain every detail of what leads up to the infamous final breaths, and adds context to what they are saying. In this regard, this is a very interesting history book with a number of surprises.

“Nothing focuses the mind more starkly than impending death. Its inevitable spectre greets us all; from princes to paupers and nobility to the needy. Prepare to mount the scaffold and share in the final utterings of the condemned; join the stricken in their death beds and witness unburdened tongues wag their closing, and often remarkable confessions as deeply entrenched secrets are finally unshackled in the wake of imminent death.”

I think the most interesting one in here, for me at least, was that of Sir Henry Irving, a famous Victorian actor that literally delivered his last words in a play he was acting in wherein the character he was playing was killed. Playing the lead in Becket, he uttered “Into thy hand, O Lord, into thy hands!” as the curtain fell on both the play, and sadly his own life. Irving was taken back to his hotel after folks realized his health was failing, and he died soon after. Imagine being in the audience for something like that, and realizing that was his final minutes on Earth – the sheer morbidity of it all would be crazy.

This is an enjoyable book, and an easy “read a chapter before bed” sort of thing. Pend and Sword did a Similarly structured book a while back called First World War Trials and Executions that I also enjoyed a lot for the exact same reason. It’s full of interesting facts and had some things, being outside of the UK, that I was unaware of. Definitely recommended.

If you are interested in more information on this book, please click HERE

If you’d like to buy it, please look at Kindle or physical editions

REVIEW: The Flutist of Arnhem – A Story of Operation Market Garden (2021)

A graphic novel by Antonio Gil

In honor of Memorial Day, I wanted to read something that honored the many troops that delivered the ultimate sacrifice to ensure our way of life was not trampled over all those years ago. It wasn’t too long ago, that I had the opportunity to read both The Tankies and Teddy by Dead Reckoning. I was VERY pleased to see a comics imprint that does historical comics, seeing that I love comics and am very much into all things historical – it was a publisher that was right up my alley. When given the chance to read The Flutist of Arnhem, I jumped at it.

For me, comics like this are an amazing educational tool – I don’t have trouble reading, but sometimes I don’t want to dive headfirst into a dry history book. having these stories adapted and contextualized by some of the hottest comic writers and artists is nothing short of amazing. I can imagine those that aren’t strong readers can benefit a lot by stuff like this, as well as students. That said, for anyone reading my reviews as of late can attest to, I am somewhat bored of superhero comics, so other genres are things I am definitely digging right now.

Before reading this, I looked up some articles on the actual Operation Market Garden itself, I had heard of it prior to reading this, but was fuzzy on details. While classified as a failed operation in history books, since it didn’t create the desired invasion point through northern Germany, it did succeed in liberating a number of Dutch villages occupied by the Nazi forces. The push also stopped a number of V2 rocket launch pads, which likely saved countless lives. While this book is a fictionized account of this operation, you can tell a great deal of research went into making this as close to the real deal as possible.

“In October 1943, all the Special Operations Executive (SOE) agents in Holland are captured by the Germans . . . except one. John Hewson, a.k.a. “Boekman,” is the most dangerous agent to the German occupiers, with vital information about the German army, Boekman escapes the clutches of the S.S. and stays hidden until the start of the largest airborne operation in World War II: Operation Market Garden. When the SOE learn that Boekman is still alive, and that his estranged son, Harry, is on the ground fighting in Market Garden, Harry is tasked with organizing a small commando unit to rescue Boekman and try to escape through the German siege. The Battle of Arnhem unfolds day by day as father and son search for each other amidst the chaos of war and the dogged pursuits of a cruel Gestapo agent.”

First and foremost, Boekman is an awesome character. You can tell he’s a grizzled master spy that has seen and done all sorts of crazy things against the Nazis in order to become one of their top targets. One scene in particular, towards the beginning of the book shows him sneak attacking a German radio station – he takes guys down with a combat knife, then hides in a Nazi uniform to eventually contact his superiors. He is aided by a mysterious man named Frajle that seems to be everywhere at all times. scenes with them remind me of all sorts of spy movies you’ll see in theaters. Boekman is a bit courageous for his own good and gets wounded at one point, making a rescue mission necessary.

We find out his own son, Harry, who has no idea what or who he is trying to extract at first, ends up being one of the very men trying to get him out of the Netherlands and his secret documents into Allied hands. In a way, this ends up being a reverse finding Nemo of sorts where both Father and Son come to terms with their sadness and demons of the past to forge forward in the name of King and Country. Harry is aided by a great cast of squadmates with my personal favorite being Corporal Kolecki, a polish sabotage expert that goes deep undercover in an SS Uniform (since he speaks German) to mess with the German troops from the inside. The way he goes about his mission with a smirk and an almost suicidal abandon is both humorous and nerve-racking.

One of the many cool things about this book is that there are these little interludes within the story breaks that show background information, such as battle maps, information dumps for contest and even historical references. It reminds me a bit of how popular video games like Call of Duty (The historical ones) and Medal of Honor used to give background info in-between missions. This is a very valuable and interesting addition to the book, as a person unfamiliar with the overall history involved wouldn’t have to do additional research to understand what is happening, nor is this info piped into the characters mouths in an unnatural way like some other comics.

Perhaps my only quibble with this book is that some pages are VERY text heavy, this isn’t a bad thing, but results a bit in dialogue overload at certain points. Truthfully, I’m not sure how they author could have done this any better, so its a minor gripe. Otherwise, the art and lettering are all top notch, Gil lays everything out in a style that I haven’t seen a lot in modern comics, as a result this somewhat is structured like a classic comic. In a way its a cool idea whether the author intended it or not.

I normally end up reviewing eBooks, so it was quite the change to get a physical copy in my hands. As such, I’d like to get that in here. Without getting a tape measure out, I surmise that this is A4 size, full color and filled with thick, glossy pages. You can tell that care was made to produce a book that will stand the test of time.

Dead Reckoning hits it out of the park yet again with The Flutist of Arnhem – A Story of Operation Market Garden. I loved the story between the Hewson family, and the immense amount of information that Gil took care to place within the book. After going into this knowing only the vaguest amount of information on this operation, I feel like I learned a lot. I’d like to read more by this author, here’s hoping they publish more by him or I can figure out what publications he has worked in before. I see listings by a Spanish actor doing some internet searches, but I highly doubt that’s the same person!

Note: I received a paperback copy of this book from Dead Reckoning /Naval Institute Press in order to provide an honest review. That said, the copy I received may have not been a final copy. Thank you to all those involved.

If you would like to purchase your own copy of the book, please check HERE or HERE for Kindle

REVIEW: Omni-Visibilis (2021)

A graphic Novel by Lewis Trondheim – Art by Matthieu Bonhomme

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

Omni-Visibilis is somewhat like a strange mish-mash of Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor and a Twilight Zone episode minus the big moralistic ending that usually accompany those programs. When we are introduced to Hervé, he is a thoroughly unlikable character. He is neurotic, disingenuous and somewhat conniving (he considers cheating on his girlfriend right from the get-go). His friends are only somewhat better, but act like the stoner tag-alongs in a Seth Rogan film most of the time. Rather than get a day-to-day account of man waxing poetic about his OCD symptoms, or the downside of accidentally urinating on one’s shoes, Hervé is soon “blessed” with the power to which every person on earth can see what he sees, hears what he hears, or many other sensations. It’s all Hervé all the time.

“Hervé’s awkward, irritating, and maybe a bit OCD, but in the end, he’s a normal guy. He has a job, his buddies, a girlfriend, and a mother who keeps close tabs on him. One particular day starts out just like any other, but on his way to work, he quickly realizes that things are anything but normal. Every person he crosses paths with not only seems to know him, but sees what he sees, and hears what he hears. And he soon discovers that everyone else on Earth is connected with him too. So begins a day unlike any other, with Hervé cast out of anonymity and into a nightmare of confusion and danger.”

I think one of my issues with this book is that there really isn’t a catalyst for this. Take the film The Parent Trap, wherein a mother and daughter switch bodies because each one feels that the other has it easy, and they come to a mutual understanding that life isn’t always great when it appears to be. Omni-Visibilis doesn’t really do this at all; aside from Hervé having obvious quirks that may impede his social life, there’s no real instance where he says “I wish everyone could see how I live” or something similar. As it is, the switch seems somewhat random, and Hervé doesn’t really come out the other side a better person. Perhaps I am reading too much into this, but usually stories like this have a point – this one just felt random.

That said, the art style in this book is gorgeous. Everything in an old-school monochrome blue/black color scheme with white text boxes. In a world of most comics looking somewhat similar, this one definitely stands out stylistically. The writing, when it comes to dialog, is snappy and full of wit. Everyone’s worldview is very cynical, but the book never really comes off as dark – the whole ordeal has a very humorous tone despite the sheer terror one would be in if a similar situation were to befall literally anyone.

While I feel that the story was a bit lacking, this is all self contained and has a solid ending. The art is awesome, and I can’t really say that I’ve ever seen a premise like this before. I feel that this comic could have been a classic, but did not stick the landing resulting in a merely average story.

If this looks up your alley, please click HERE to get a copy for yourself!

REVIEW: Loonicorns – Book 1 Bleary Eye (2021)

A graphic novel by ced, Gorobei, Waltch

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

At first glance, Loonicorns – Book 1 – Bleary Eye looks like a children’s book, and it is, but its got more of an edge than most children’s books. It’s not vulgar or obscene in any way, but it reminds me of some of the cartoons one might see on Cartoon Network later on in the day – things such as Adventure Time or Regular show. Shows that are kid-friendly but subversive in some way, but also teach a lesson. hidden behind the cutesie characters are a couple of messages that would benefit some children (and some politicians tbh) now: racism, vaccination reluctance, and even strained familial relationships. Loonicorns isn’t preachy, but it does a good job of hiding it’s messages with goofy antics, which is probably the best way to get said messages to children.

“Welcome to the wonderful world of Looniland, filled with loonicorns, cyclopes, dodos, and other fantastical creatures! Life is good in Looniville… if you’re a Pretty. Meanwhile, the Uglies do all the work and get teased and ridiculed. Until, one day, a huge storm blows through, bringing with it a mysterious illness that only seems to affect the Pretties. And in the nearby forest, a strange new creature has landed. Her name is Penelope, and no one has seen anything like her before. Where did she come from? Could she be the cause of this nefarious disease?”

The art in this book is very imaginative, and is a parody of insufferably cute things found in other fantasy stories. by having a class structure of characters that do nothing more than jump around and dance all day, and cynical grumps that do all the work, it’s a post-modern satire on the very fantasy genre itself, but tailored for younger kids. In many ways, the tone is somewhat strange, I was never quite sure if this was meant for an older audience than I figured it was, but then I remembered how much kid’s media, at least in the United States, coddles children and infantilizes them for years and years. Having something like this could benefit a child more than something that talks down to them.

While not necessarily the audience for this book, I feel like it is very well done, and would be a fun read for a kid. the jokes are humorous, full of sight-gags and slapstick, and the tone is full of acerbic with that you don’t see in kids books too often.

If you would like more information, or a way to purchase this title, please look HERE

REVIEW: The Man for the Job (2021)

A graphic novel by Lou Lubie

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

The Man for the Job is hard to review simply because it’s one of those stories that is better served if one has no prior knowledge of the plot. Do yourself a favor and DO NOT read too much about the story before diving in, to hold up my part of this I’ll try to avoid spoiling too much here if I can. What starts out as a heartwarming tale of a man that has fallen on hard times, finding a new purpose in life tutoring kids, takes a few sharp turns as this story moves on. I honestly had no idea where the story was going towards the middle. I was afraid I had gone into some VERY dark territory, and was about to drop the book, but I’m glad I didn’t jump to any conclusions. What unfolds is a very intriguing read, and definitely isn’t what you think it’s going to be.

“Manu always embraced his role as a strong, protective man, until one day his world is turned upside down. In quick succession, his girlfriend walks out on him, and he’s passed over for a position at work in the name of gender parity. In an effort to regain his bearings, he clings to a family of seven troubled children, determined to rescue them from their social misfortunes. Thus begins a long descent into the heart of his fears…”

As I mentioned, there are a few instances where I was worried about where the plot was going. One example, that I will talk about, is that Manu (our protagonist) feels utterly disrespected when he loses out on a job promotion, and blames affirmative action-styled diversity hiring for his misfortune. He goes into a rage, and blames the woman that got the job since everyone sees her as unfit for the job. At this point I was REALLY worried this was going to be a right-wing misogynist story about a man getting trodden on by women, but thankfully that was not the case.

In fact, this insecurity and fear Manu was holding inside him, only briefly appearing as white-hot rage at an inopportune times, is one of the many causes for the drama in the story later on. There are a couple of other blips like racism against Romani, and inappropriate relationships that gave me pause, but they are never pushed, and largely exist as part of overall theme of the second-half.

What ultimately unfolds is a story about what it means to be a man, society forces men to cram their emotions inside of themselves, never to let anything slip out. For some men, this causes issues with accountability. One never looks at themselves when a bad thing happens, perhaps it’s this lady’s fault, or perhaps these people over here. learning to properly deal with emotions is important, and Manu is made that much more strong when he finally realizes this.

I enjoyed this a lot despite my fears of what this book was doing. I feel that, my only major quibble was that the third act flies past at a break-neck speed. Once the entire plot is revealed it’s a race to the finish that I would have loved to see explored more. That said, the book is overall solid, and I definitely recommend it. move past any red flags you get and see the story to the end, its worth it!

REVIEW: Yojimbot – Part 1 (2021)

A graphic Novel by Sylvain Repos

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

I’ve seen a couple of science fiction re-imaginings of various Kurosawa samurai films over the years – most notably an anime called Samurai 7. With most of them, they end up largely being the same story, albeit with a setting shift and slight alterations to characters. Yojimbot was interesting because it takes the idea behind “Yojimbo” (or The Bodyguard) and applies it to a dystopian hellscape where robots have seemingly taken everything over, and whatever humans are left appear to be a militarized force in a secured base.

In a dystopian not-too-distant future in Japan, Hiro lives with his father on an island populated by androids, where they eke out a meager existence while trying to keep out of sight. But when they run afoul of a troop of high-tech military thugs, Hiro’s dad sacrifices himself to save his son, turning Hiro’s already-bleak world upside-down. He is then rescued by a samurai robot called a “yojimbot,” and together they seek to avenge his father’s death and make contact with a mysterious associate known only as the “rights holder,” before the soldiers and their drones close in…

The artwork is nice and fluid, with mecha designs reminiscent of the works of Neil Blomkamp (Chappie for example). While the artwork is reminiscent of many Japanese comics out there, the artist did their own thing rather than try to copy the overall style of said comics. I think this was a good idea, as most western comics that try to be Manga seem to always fall flat for whatever reason, with few exceptions. As a result of this melding of a European comic art design style, mixed with Japanese storytelling techniques, Yojimbot stands out as something I haven’t really seen in a while, and it gives it it’s own character.

This was an entertaining book, and I’m eager to check out volume two. It seems like the story was just about to pick up when it hit “to be continued” so I’m somewhat sad that I’ll have to wait for the other half, that is assuming this is in two parts. This is well worth the read, especially if you are a samurai or manga fan.

If you would like your own copy, please look HERE

REVIEW: Gray (2021)

by Arvind Ethan David

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

Inspired by the classic 1890 novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Gray by Arvind Ethan David takes queues from many revenge thrillers and brings them into the modern age by touching on many social topics such as #metoo and Black Lives Matter. In many ways, the story (at least with book one) is one part Saw, and one part The Count of Monte Christo in many ways. We don’t know much about Ms. Dorian Gray in the first volume, but we can assume she was sexually assaulted by a group of powerful men that ultimately became powerful men in various government and political positions. She has some sort of network that is collecting these men and getting revenge on them one by one. A couple of detectives are assigned to the case, but ultimately appear to have more in common with Gray than the powerful men they work for.

“A contemporary reimaging of the classic Oscar Wilde novel, “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” Gray is a supernatural revenge thriller about an alluring but violent woman, Dorian Gray, who seeks vengeance on a cabal of powerful men who wronged her years ago; and of the straight-laced African American detective with a past of his own, who is tasked with stopping her.”

While the story, so far, is fairly removed from the original novel the book is inspired by, its an interesting story full of thrills and shocking ends to some very despicable men. I have a feeling that we’ll learn more about Ms. Gray in book two, and what exactly happened to her that caused her to apparently dabble in some sort of magic (as with the original, she hasn’t aged for years) and set her plan in motion. With the introduction of an artist from her school towards the end of the book, I’m assuming the infamous painting itself comes into play at some point.

This book is very well done, and held my attention. Despite being a book about social issues, it’s not as “preachy” as one would assume it would be. Rather than trying to prove to the reader that whatever these men have done was wrong, Gray does away with the subtleties and just gets down to business. As you can surmise from my description above, this book could very well have triggers for people that don’t want to read such an intense story, so be warned.

REVIEW: Forever (2021)

A Graphic Novel by Assia Petricelli and Sergio Riccardi

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

Romance stories aren’t usually my thing. The various executives of the world rarely market them to any demographic other than either teenage girls or people that enjoy watching Hallmark Christmas films. It’s hard to find anything that treats it in any sort of mature and/or realistic way. Don’t even get me started one ones where men are the protagonist. With that said, I really enjoyed this new graphic novel, Forever by Assia Petricelli and Sergio Riccardi simply because it doesn’t do any of the stupid tropes that drive me crazy.

In many ways, by portraying the story of a girl largely alienated from her family and most of her friends grounds the book considerable. She not only finds love in a Greek boy obsessed with working on an old broken-down boat, but also a lasting friendship with a couple of lesbians on what could be their last vacation together. The authors tell a very compelling story full of ups and downs, and what ultimately the meaning of love is. It’s the kind of story you see in independent art films, reminiscent of things like Juno or 500 Days of Summer.

“What is this “love” everyone talks about? Viola doesn’t yet know. But it is a question she is asking herself more and more, because at her age there are some kinds of problems you feel even in the air that you breathe: your self-image and the way you think others see you, the relationship between you and your body and the other gender, couple issues, the freedom to follow your aspirations, and the need to fit in socially accepted categories. On vacation with her parents, during the idle hours of the afternoon while everyone is sleeping, Viola’s encounters and experiences will help her grow as a person and get answers to the hard questions that everyone has to face sooner or later, and she will reshape her identity, in a summer she’ll never forget.”

While this isn’t a sad story (for the most part) it captures those moments of one’s youth that really shape our lives moving forward. A lot of the characters aren’t the same after the events told, some for the better, some for the worse, but you can tell this summer in the mid-1990’s will be a landmark time in these characters lives, especially Viola. The story is somewhat simple, so talking about it too much would spoil more than what I like to do in my reviews, but I’d definitely recommend checking this book out if you get a chance. If anything, the art is stylistically out of the ordinary, and it alone is worth a peek.

If you’d like a copy, an ebook can be obtained HERE.

REVIEW: Love – The Mastiff (2021)

A graphic novel by Frederic Brremaud

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

A few weeks ago, I read another graphic novel by Brremaud called Brindille, that I enjoyed quite a bit. It was a simple but effective fantasy book that had great art and interesting characters, in that review I stated that I wanted to get another Brremaud book under my belt, so here we are with Love: The Mastiff. It appears that the author has produced an entire series of these books on various animals, and if this is like the others, they appear to be heroic stories featuring nature as protagonist, antagonist and everything in between. These are marketed to children, but this one does have a small amount of blood in it, so keep that in mind if you plan to purchase this for a younger child. I’m dating myself here, but this reminds me of Benji, Homeward Bound, or Milo & Otis without the spoken dialogue.

A loyal Australian hunting dog finds himself alone in the outback when his master is bitten by a poisonous snake. He must venture across the dangerous outback to find his way home alone. The fifth volume in the lavishly illustrated, award-winning series of wordless wildlife graphic novels, each depicting a day in the life of different wild animals, told through the dramatic lens of Disney-esque storytelling, like a nature documentary in illustration.

“I’m tired of these Motherf%$#% snakes in this Motherf%$#% outback” – The Mastiff, probably. All kidding aside, this book has no text bubbles in any way whatsoever, the book is presented as a silent nature documentary of a hunting dog faced with the plight of making it back home, alone. There are scenes that, despite the subject matter, really stir emotions in the reader. The mastiff has to battle every bad thing we hear about Australia, including all manner of poisonous snakes. Truthfully, if anything, that is my one takeaway about this – Australia seems insanely full of evil snakes, hellbent on killing anything they come across. There’s a side-story involving a platypus taking care of her young, that immediately made me mad at the author in an unfounded way. “You better not…”, I said, to myself, the moment they started being in peril. Thankfully, The Mastiff is basically an animal superhero here and keeps everything safe at his own expense.

In the back of the book, there is a section on the recent Australian wildfires and global warming that was interesting. It’s cool to see a book like this tell what is ostensibly a survival hero story, then come with a PSA at the end GI Joe style, I thought that was a nice touch.

If you have older kids interested in nature, or comics I would definitely recommend this. Even in a classroom, something like this would have been cool when I was younger. I mentioned blood earlier, and largely its all contained to a few instances where the Mastiff has to defend himself from either snakes or Dingos, and takes justice into his own paws. it’s nothing gratuitous, but that does need to be a consideration. I enjoyed this book quite a bit, and hope to read more of these as he produces them!

REVIEW: Brindille (2021)

A Graphic Novel by Frederic Brremaud

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

I felt like reading a fantasy story today, so by Frederic Brremaud definitely fit the bill. The first thing that hits you when digging through the gorgeous pages is just how warm and inviting the artwork is. While this story has a few rough moments, and is not necessarily for children, the artwork is reminiscent of a children’s picture book in many ways. The pages are full of fantastical creatures, perilous situations, and the sort of epic fantasy tone that reminds me of 80s fantasy films such as Legend or perhaps The Dark Crystal.

“A frail young girl flees a roaring forest fire in the middle of the night desperately taking refuge in a cave where she quickly loses consciousness. She wakes up in a strange, tiny village populated by fairy-like creatures. Her hosts seem intrigued by the sparkles of light that seem to surround her. The village chieftain explains that one of their hunters found her passed out in the forest and brought her back here for treatment. He asks who she is, but she remembers nothing except for a wall and flames.”

Truthfully, I wasn’t completely sure I was onboard with the book at first. The story starts with the amnesiac girl being taken in by some forest creatures (elves, goblins, imps? I’m not sure what they are) with the story revolving around the girl trying to go back to where she was found in order to get some clues about her identity. She is met with resistance, and ultimately has to venture out on her own. It is not until she comes across a cunning wolf companion and we learn of the impending peril that is unraveling throughout the forest that I was hooked.

The story takes some turns, and ultimately ends in a way that I didn’t really see coming, so that’s good. At least it wasn’t predictable like other fantasy comics. Even though I read this as an Ebook for evaluation purposes, I’ve seen pictures of the hardcover that this review is ultimately tied to, and it looks awesome. This would be a great book to have around if you are a fantasy fan, or a great gift for a older kid. I just wouldn’t traumatize a toddler with it! There is also a digital version of this on Amazon that is pretty fairly priced, if you aren’t into having physical books around, look into that instead.

The story is self contained, and I don’t see how there could be more unless they do a prequel, so getting this is not a commitment for getting the start of a series or anything. If you’re like me, sometimes you don’t want to wade into a new series very often.

All-in-all, I enjoyed Brindille, and despite my small quibbles with the pacing at the beginning, it was a thoroughly entertaining read. I will be reading another book by Frederic Brremaud pretty soon, so keep an eye out for that – let’s see if he can keep his winning record with me again!

REVIEW: Van Helsing vs. Dracula’s Daughter (2021) and Van Helsing vs The League of Monsters (2021)

Graphic Novels by Raven Gregory and others

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.


Today we have a double dose of monster fighting mayhem as I am reviewing a couple of new collected editions of Van Helsing by Zenescope Comics. Despite it really having nothing much to do with the property, the recent Syfy Channel show Van Helsing was based on this series. They must have gone the I, Zombie route as the vaguest premise and title are the only things similar. If you are a fan of comics like Vampirella, Lady Death, and maybe Witchblade, you will probably like this series as it takes characters from classic monster mythos and reinterprets them as kickass ladies that take no prisoners. The same company makes action-oriented comics based on various fairy tale princesses and other literary characters that I will need to check out at some point.

Despite these books being the eighth and ninth collected volumes in this series, I honestly had no issues understanding what was happening, so it seems like they aren’t bad “jumping on” points in any way. Having a passing knowledge of the classic characters is enough to understand what is happening. The second book has characters that I was unfamiliar with from previous volumes, but with them being a descendant of Robin Hood, A wolfman, and Frankenstein, it wasn’t hard to settle in. I may have to go back and read some past comics to see how we got here exactly.

“Introducing Helsing’s deadliest villain yet! Liesel Van Helsing returns in a brand new series set to turn the inventive huntress’ world on fire. A mysterious being rises from Helsing’s long forgotten past hell bent on revenge. A being whose secrets could very well destroy Helsing…and all she holds dear. Don’t miss this exciting new series written by fan favorite Wonderland writer Raven Gregory and artist extraordinaire Allan Otero!”

We are introduced to Liesel Van Helsing as she is continuing her fight against the many denizens of the night that insist of doing evil and harming mankind. With her steampunk attire, and collection of silver stakes and bullets, she is a formidable foe for many a creature. Somebody steals Dracula’s corpse (who was defeated in a previous volume) and its up to Van Helsing to figure out what’s happening. I enjoyed the simple plot set-up and great action scenes in the book. The author has taken characters that everyone knows (Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde for example) and altered them to a degree that keeps them fresh and different from other books and films like this.

The art is solid and easy to follow, the character designs are interesting and there are some interesting kills for those that like bloody monster demises. The dialogue isn’t spectacular, but I’m keeping in mind that I am jumping in at volume eight of a long-running series, so I’d imagine that the character building from previous volumes is somewhat unnecessary here as we are looking for cool fight scenes, where there are plenty!

“Van Helsing is still reeling from the revelations of recent events after her world came crashing down around her. But she won’t have time to catch her breath as something catastrophic is heading her way. Will she be able to handle some of the deadliest creatures in all existence? Alone any of these would be formidable foes, and Liesel will have the ultimate challenge laid before her, with taking them on all at once. The odds are not in her favor, and it doesn’t look good for the legendary vampire hunter.”

Van Helsing vs The League of Monsters directly follows Dracula’s Daughter and plays out a lot like a big budget blockbuster crossover ala The Avengers or Justice League. All of these monsters are being rounded up into an army with the freshly resurrected Dracula at the helm and his sinister daughter at his side. With Characters like The Wolfman, The Mummy, and even Frankenstein throwing their weight around, it’ll take an equally impressive army to fight back. Good thing Van Helsing has friends of her own.

I think I preferred the previous volume a lot more, but this volume has a lot to offer for fans of classic monsters. When Universal stumbled epically trying to make a shared “Monsterverse” a few years back, I look at something like this done very well and successfully, and wonder what they were smoking? So, if you want to see this concept done right, look no further than these comics from Zenescope.

While these books aren’t literary classics or anything, they are a ton of fun, and at the end of the day, that’s mostly why I read comics. I LOVE these sort of “cheesecake” books with pinup-styled art that harken back to comics from the past, and will support any company that does them.

REVIEW: The Wrestlers’ Wrestlers – The Masters of the Craft of Professional Wrestling (2021)

A book by Dan Murphy and Brian Young

Being a big professional wrestling fan, I knew I had to jump on the opportunity to read this new book by ECW press. ECW Press, coincidentally not named because of the former company, occasionally does Wrestling books that are very good. If you haven’t ever heard of them, The Death of WCW by Bryan Alvarez and R.D. Reynolds is worth a read for sure. This book in question, The Wrestlers’ Wrestlers – The Masters of the Craft of Professional Wrestling has the initial experience of a typical curated top XX list, but what sets it apart from others is the source material for the list. The author went out to other wrestlers and asked “who would you say is a ‘Wrestler’s Wrestler?'”. The responses were varied and deep and not what one typically sees in these sorts of books.

The Wrestlers’ Wrestlers spotlights elite performers and analyzes exactly what made them your favorite wrestler’s favorite wrestlers. Authors Dan Murphy and Brian Young interviewed more than 40 in-ring veterans, historians, referees, and promoters to get a unique insider’s look at the people who have made a lasting impact on the world of professional wrestling. It offers a special peek “behind the curtain” and a rare look into the top stars’ thoughts on their peers, their influences, and their personal favorites.”

Sputnik Monroe, one of the many men who is profiled in the book.

My biggest takeaway from this book are the sections about wrestlers that I am too young to have ever seen anything of. With the book spanning the 1920’s to modern times, information about wrestling in that post WWI era is always scarce despite hearing the occasional move being named after somebody today (Thesz Press comes to mind). Getting to read things about pioneers of the artform such as Karl Gotch, Strangler Lewis, and Lou Thesz was awesome, and with the latter, I have decided to pick up a copy of his book as it was the source for a lot of this material evidentially. One of my favorite recurring tidbits is the fact that in those early days of pure shooter styled wrestling, matches would sometimes last upwards of two hours in length. I can’t imagine sitting through that now, but it must have been a real sight to see back then!

This book occasionally has pictures to accompany the information presented, which is a nice touch. That way you can see some of these legendary men for yourself and see if the descriptions match up. All-in-all this book is a great addition to the bookshelf of any wrestling fan as long as they are willing to venture outside the recency barrier and see what the sport was like in the past. It doesn’t strive to be an encyclopedia or a definitive list in any way, but its interesting to see what qualities the actual wrestlers see as important to being a “Wrestler’s Wrestler”.

REVIEW: Old Norse For Modern Times – The audiobook (2021)

Great Odin's Raven!

I wrote a review a while back about a fun book from Outland Entertainment called Old Norse for Modern Times under their “Vikingverse” umbrella. It’s a hilarious book that reads a lot like a travel phrasebook with modern phrases translated into Old Norse (as the title would suggest). It includes all manner of useful phrases regarding social media, science fiction, and even menacing threats. My only quibble with the book was that I have no idea how to pronounce Old Norse, so I felt like an audio component was missing. Thanks to the fine folks over at The Vikingverse Twitter page, I now have a selection of chapters for the book in audio form!

As assumed, this completes the whole picture with this book entirely, I absolutely loved hearing these hilarious phrases as read by Siobhan Clark who narrates a podcast I really need to look into. If you are…

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REVIEW: The Tiger Awakens: The Return of John Chinaman – Book 1 (2021)

A graphic novel by Serge Le Tendre, Olivier TaDuc

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

I’m not going to lie, a book with a racial epithet in the title is somewhat of a cause for alarm to me, but seeing that this takes place during the goldrush, put my mind somewhat at ease. The term “John Chinaman” was basically a product of its time, where many nineteenth century people referred to just about any Asian person as such. It was interesting to see this book handle racial tensions of the time as well as it did – I actually loved seeing that. Apparently this is a volume in a long running series by these authors, but I was assured in the preface that it was stand-alone and that I needed no prior knowledge of the material to enjoy this.

“You’ve followed his adventures through the Gold Rush, the building of the Continental Railroad, and the taming of the frontier. Now Chen Long the Chinaman, the triumphant creation of Olivier TaDuc and Serge Le Tendre, is back for his greatest adventure of all: finding out he’s a father. Twenty years after his violent past drove away his true love Ada, the Civil War, prison camp, and opium have left Chen Long a broken-down shell of his former proud self. Can the tiger rise to save his son? A fitting conclusion to an epic series that explores forgotten pockets of western history.”

This is the second western-themed book by Europe Comics that I’ve absolutely loved, the first being Wild West. I have spoken before on the fact that I absolutely adore western comics for some reason, this is despite the fact that I’ve never really been a big western guy when it comes to TV or film, but for some reason I became hooked on them after DC’s new 52 initiative re-launched All Star Western many moons ago. I think the reason being that I’m not sued to them, and they seem to largely be resurrections of long dormant comics from the Golden and Silver Eras that I’ve never heard of.

Being informed that this book is after a long running series of other books definitely makes me want to go back and read the previous material. I have no idea if any of its available in English, but the way we are introduced to Chen Long, internally fighting decades worth of PTSD in an opium den, makes me NEED to know what happened. They especially draw on whatever experiences he had in the American Civil War, and how it has affected him the most. Perhaps if this does well, Europe comics can go backwards? Here’s hoping!

The writing, and more importantly, the translation is top notch – you can tell work was taken to make sure dialogue was made to be like other depictions of “The Wild West”. You always run the risk of having a depiction of American history from Europe come up feeling weird. I’ve listened to Doctor Who audio dramas that did an abysmal job of making the setting feel real, but these French comics always seem to hit their mark. Hats off to them! With great art, and no punches pulled when it comes to mindsets of the time, this book is every bit as dark as an HBO show, and would be a GREAT basis for a TV series or movie if they ever had an inkling to do as such. If you are in a western mood, I’d definitely recommend this!

REVIEW: The Breaker Omnibus Vol 1 (2021)

A graphic Novel by Jeon Geuk-jin and Kamaro

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

I wasn’t really familiar with The Breaker going into this, I understand it’s fairly popular outside of the US, and has been a hit in Europe. I’ve read a bit of Manhwa (Korean comics), but I will confess that I haven’t read nearly enough. At first glance, I was really afraid that this was a Korean knock-off of Great Teacher Onizuka (GTO) by Tohru Fujisawa, coincidentally one of my favorite Japanese comics. We have a sloppy teacher joining a school as a total fish out of water, he has a shady past, and knows martial arts. He has a lecherous personality and buts heads with a strict Vice Principal that seems to think he shouldn’t be there. Sound familiar?

The only issue, is that Mr. Han is VERY unlikable at first (unlike Onizuka), it worried me that getting through this book would be a chore, as it seemed he lacked any sort of human compassion in any way. We later get hints as to why this is, and he finally shows a brief glimpse of being an actual protagonist when it really matters. Thankfully, this GTO similarity ends pretty quick as The Breaker becomes it’s own at around 1/3 of the way into the book.

“The story of The Breaker follows Shiwoon “Shioon” Yi, a timid high school student who becomes the disciple to Chunwoo Han, a martial artist who is an enemy to the secret martial arts society known as the Murim. However, Shioon is naive and unaware of his master’s shady past and the unseen underbelly of the society. How will Chun Woo manage to teach Shioon and help him survive in the world of Murim?”

Being a martial arts manhwa seeped in seedy underground mafia-styled intrigue, this is definitely not what I was initially expecting out of this; and once that starts to fall into place the book became pretty awesome. It almost seems like the writer was going for more of a comedy book at first, and switched gears for the better. Volume one ends on a pretty big cliffhanger, so I will definitely want to read more as I feel the story was just getting good when it ended. I’m very interested to see where the characters end up, and am hoping the main character, Shioon, finally destroys the school bully that plagues him for about half of the book.

Solid first volume (although I assume this is a merged version of 2 or 3 tankobans), would buy again if I saw this for sale – definitely recommended.

REVIEW: Hard Melody (2021)

A graphic novel by Lu Ming

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

Nearing forty years old myself, its easy to look back at the last twenty years or so, and look at every bit of missed opportunity I had, every bit of wasted potential, and every misstep. It’s important to move forward with one’s life to avoid falling into a trap of a mid-life crisis at best, crippling depression at worst. For the book Hard Melody, we see three guys in exactly the same predicament – having the potential to have been big Chinese Rockstars in the past, their lives have moved on leaving their dreams behind.

Three thirty-year-old friends reunite in Beijing after nearly 10 years apart. They used to be free-wheeling rock-and-rollers without a care in the world, but now, after tasting their own variation of freedom in new China, they are tormented by how unforgiving and unglamorous life had become. Nothing at all like the fame and fortune they dreamed about as kids.

This book is fairly tough due to its subject matter, and there was a bit of Chinese cultural stuff that I was unsure of, but between the mature storyline and the artwork (which is amazing) I was hooked. As a stand alone, this is a great book, and stands as both a societal look at Chinese culture, as well as a way for the reader to think about how they plan to move on with their lives. Many peak far too young, and their later life suffers due to it, hopefully nobody suffers the same tragedy as seen here.

REVIEW – Elle(s) (2021)

A graphic Novel by Kid Toussain & art by Aveline Stokart

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

When I first started this, I wasn’t too sure what to expect – the art style and setting made me worry I was about getting into a twee book for teenagers, but I was definitely wrong. While the premise may sound somewhat similar to the recent Disney movie Inside Out, only a superficial likeness is there – Elle(s) adds the extra layer of being about mental health issues, and what it means to love somebody with mental health issues into the mix, which makes this so much more. The depiction of “split personalities” is on par when accounts I’ve heard on various TV shows and podcasts – i.e. dominant personality controls everything and person sees everything in third person view – so that was interesting. It would interesting to see somewhen in the clinical psychology field review this.

Elle is just another teenage girl… most of the time. Bubbly and good-natured, she wastes no time making friends on her first day at her new school. But Elle has a secret: she hasn’t come alone. She’s brought with her a colorful mix of personalities, which come out when she least expects it… Who is Elle, really? And will her new friends stand by her when they find out the truth?

While volume one leaves this chapter as an unfinished mystery, and could easily turn into something supernatural and weird, I’m hoping it stays as grounded as volume one – as it was a surprise to me how much I enjoyed it.

Europe Comics continues its trend of quality comics that always seem to surprise me. I will definitely need to seek out the next volume upon publication to see where this story ends up going. Don’t let the cover fool you into thinking this is something other than what it is, and give it a try – It’s good stuff.

REVIEW: Elecboy Book 1 (2021)

A graphic novel by Jaouen Salaün

One part Mad Max, and one part Blame!, Elecboy takes some of the better tropes from dystopian/post-apocalyptic fiction and makes it something of its very own. Europe Comics has done a fine job of introducing me to many comics and creators that I have not been familiar with, and this is yet another entry that has caught my attention.

“In a devastated cityscape, a lone man fights off creatures of fearsome power: white, winged, serenely impassive, and capable of terrifying transformations… Decades later, in a desolate American southwest, a meager colony of human survivors ekes out a precarious existence between dwindling water supplies and magnetic shields that screen them from roving bands of aerial attackers. An ancestral upper class presides, while in the lower city, laborers do the hazardous work of keeping everyone alive. But all that may be about to change when the mysterious Joshua comes of age…”

Jaouen Salaün is a French writer and artist that has apparently been trying to bring the pages of Elecboy into life for over 18 years. Good news is, the story is fairly good, and more importantly the art is absolutely GORGEOUS, I want to see more of this guys creature designs more than anything. They remind me a bit of Tsutomu Nihei a tad, it would be interesting to see if that was one of his influences in any way.

This book is part one in a series, and tells a fairly compelling story until a cliffhanger ending made me sad that I don’t have more to read. I’ll have to keep checking back with the publisher to see when more of this is released. To be honest, I have come to the conclusion that I’m fairly confused as to why Europe comics isn’t bigger than what it is. They consistently have better content than other companies that feature a lot of European comics such as Heavy Metal – here’s hoping they take off at some point in the future.

REVIEW: Michel Vaillant: In the Name of the Son (2021)

A graphic novel by Denis Lapière, Philippe Graton – Art by Marc Bourgne, Benjamin Benéteau

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

Time to jump out of my comfort zone, and read something different than my normal diet of Manga, dark comics, and occasional superhero comics. I can’t say I’ve ever read a comic based on racing in any way, so this is a bit of a new one for me. A new comic from Europe Comics, Michel Vaillant is coming soon to an eBook reader of your choice.

“Michel Vaillant is the star of all the biggest international auto racing circuits, and he’s revving up for a whole lot more than just a spin around the block. The Vaillant team finds itself up against new technological innovations, as well as some disconcerting changes in the world of auto racing. The fate of the Vaillant dynasty is in the hands of three generations of men and women. The first challenge is to fight their way to the top on the race track, with their sights set on Formula 1. The second is to try to keep the family together, despite increasingly differing points of views. And it will be up to Michel to ensure their success on both fronts.”

I was on a bit of a Tintin kick a few months ago and read a whole bunch of Belgian and French comics like Blake and Mortimer and Freddy Lombard, so the style of this comic immediately reminded me of those. I went back and did a bit of research and discovered that this was, in fact, an older comic that did indeed feature in the very same magazine. It’s funny when you can spot the tonal differences between some of these publications and their comics.

Despite not really being too much into racing, though I did watch Top Gear religiously in the past, I actually enjoyed this. Its probably because it wasn’t bogged down with laborious car racing descriptions and relied on the human drama to tell the story, the technical aspects were just there to spice it up.

The linework in this comic’s art is incredible, especially in backgrounds and technical aspects of the cars and other machines. Half of the time I spent reading this, was be looking around the pages taking in the gorgeous old-school art-style. Comics have sometimes veered towards a more cartoonish look as of late, and art styles like this, with highly detailed pen lines, make me feel nostalgic and give me hope that everything borrowing from the same style-sheet is soon coming to an end.

I was sad to see that this ended on a colossal cliffhanger, so I will try to keep an eye out for the next installment if I can. It’s crazy to think that there are so many diverse types of comics in Europe, it often makes me sad that The US market is over-saturated with superhero books in most of the main houses. That isn’t a dig on superheroes, but I’d love the diversity they have – I would have never likely read this otherwise. Great book, can’t wait to continue it!

Forgotten Gems: Ring of Red (PS2) 2001

Ring of Red - Wikipedia

NOTE: This was originally written in 2008, thus the dated references. There is more information below as to why I am re-posting it.

It has been known for a long time that gamers are a fickle bunch. We are sometimes so fickle that we will cuss and moan about something until blue in the face, then gobble up something else for the exact same reason. All of us are prone to this many times; for example, even I can’t stand sandbox games, but love a Wii game called “No More Heroes” and will defend it at the drop of a hat. Flash back to the launch of the PS2 and a little game called Ring of Red by Konami. RoR is one of those games that not only crossed genres well, but to some became a classic, and a diamond in the rough among games that came out early in the PS2 lifecycle.



Ring of Red was one such game that, as the title of this article suggests, fell through the cracks for many gamers. It wasn’t particularly hated, but generally overlooked by many gamers. One reason this happened was the way reviewers handled realistic wartime graphics at the time seems at odds with our tastes today. Now if you look at many war games, the games are praised for the stylistic choice. A choice where it looks like your soldiers are mud wrestling on concrete through a sepia toned camera lense.

I’m not sure what Image I originally had here, but any Zack Snyder film fits the bill with the real=brown trope


I purchased the game because I am a history buff, and anything that tries to present an intelligent alternate history scenario is pretty intriguing to me. I instantly fell in love with the game, and began to seek out the views of others. Upon inspection, I was shocked to see the bad reviews it was getting. Most of the time people were mad that it was not some kind of action game, while others bashed the game based on the graphics. I remember a pretty harsh review in PSM magazine at the time. Said review criticized the game’s mechanics heavily, and gave it a 6 out of 10 based on the fact that it was a fairly realistic drab game with hardly any colors other than brown and gray, and that the mechs moved painfully slow.



This could be a fair assessment, given that many were so used to fast paced mech games like Omega Boost for the PS1, which handled like an episode of Macross with endless missiles and quick Star Fox-like gameplay. In Ring of Red, however, you are placed in diesel powered walking tanks, that are much less Gundam-like, and more of—well a walking talk. In this context Zone of the Enders style mecha would have been out of place and anachronistic. In the 1960’s you would not be piloting graceful ballerina mechs that move that they are covered in butter, and sliding on ice.

Ring of Red • Eurogamer.net

In the game, you are equipped with slow machines with arcane shooting systems that are hard to use and occasionally break down. In order to build tension, the programmers added in a limited operation time before the mecha overheats, making you have to savor the little time you have in each round, to really make that round count. All of these factors provide an almost realistic application for a walking take in the 1960’s. To me, this was a refreshing mech game, that was not so based on anime, as it was real life. These reviews, all slamming the “ugly brown and grey graphics”, were harsh on the game, and kept many from even looking at it.

The story grabs you right from the beginning with the following chilling cinematic that melds stock footage of WWII era warfare with a cgi mecha walking in the background. It is at this point that you feel very concerned at what the world could have been like had one solitary event happened differently than it did in our history.

Ring of Red - Wikiwand

Next we gradually learn of the immense back-story that involves a war set in the 1960s in the aftermath of World War II. According to the alternate timeline, Japan did not surrender in 1945, and the United States of America did not deploy the atomic bomb to end the war in the pacific front. Japan was captured instead by an allied invasion by land. Because of post-war hostilities between Russia and the US and Europe, the north part of Japan was fenced off into communist North Japan and democratic South Japan. During the war Hitler unleashed a series of walking tanks called AFWs into service that have remained a terrifying war machine from then on.

From then on you are graced with a strategy RPG in a similar vane to Front Mission, except the battles are far more interactive. Players begin with their AFW standing in opposition to the enemy AFW in a standoff. The objective of combat is to destroy the enemy AFW. The Battles consist of players moving and operating their AFW and issuing orders to accompanying infantry. These infantrymen have to be commanded to move from the front guard to the rearguard at strategic times in order to do their trained tasks, whether it be minelaying, grenaidiering, or sabotaging. This adds a lot of extra strategy to the game, as you really had top keep up with what you had, and the strengths and weaknesses of your units.


AFWs must wait until their main weapon is loaded before they can attack, either against the enemy AFW itself or its infantry support. When aiming, players are given a first-person view from the AFW along with a hit probability percentage. The more time spent aiming, the better it will turn out. If you wait too long; however, and you will probably get shelled by your enemy.

Ring of Red: Wait, This Mech Was Made By Nazis? | TheGamer



Without actually reviewing the game, I would like to bring attention to it, and hopefully inform a gamer of a game they may never have played. I understand that one reason that many strategy games have failed is because they are a niche genre that only enthusiasts of the genre tend to like, but many of said enthusiasts also seem to have never heard of this game for whatever reason.

BOTTOM LINE: if you are a fan of games like Front Mission, please check this out, you won’t be sad.

Availibility: RoR can be purchased for as little as 10 USD on Amazon or Ebay.

NOTE: Close to a decade ago, I worked for a gaming website called Gamrfeed, sadly the site folded and was absorbed back into it’s parent website VGchartz a long time ago. When I started working at my current job in 2011, I sadly did not have time to continue producing articles on the schedule that was required, so I had to drop it. I was really proud of some of the work I did on there, and do not want it to disappear into the ether as most websites do after a while.

REVIEW: The Black Civil War Soldier (2021)

A book by Deborah Willis

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

The history of The American Civil War is often clouded by heaps and piles of romanticism and revisionism that has made the discussion of the conflict troubling for a number of years. One step onto Facebook, especially at any politically charged moment in modern times, and you’ll see all manner of misinformation and even blatant trolling that kills any sort of educated discourse. I’ve even read books that go into these tangents, and ultimately they lose sight of their purpose pretty fast and turn into a political quagmire.

Luckily, this book is not like that – it’s straightforward and uses the historical documents to tell the story, it avoids editorialization, and conjecture a fact that is refreshing to me in it’s simplicity. It reminds me a lot of Ken Burns’ Civil War series from thirty years ago – it also used documents and quotes to tell the story, and the general public loved it for that. The more-specific topic at hand is – the history of Black Civil War Soldiers on both sides of the conflict – their motivations, their feelings, and their dreams – told in many instances in their own words through letters and interviews given at the time or soon after.

While not shocking, some of the accounts of how both sides treated black people for the duration of the war was jarring at times. Well, jarring in the sense that many treat that war as a “good guys” vs “bad guys” situation, when it largely was more nuanced than that. One account that was particularly sad to me was a point when Union soldiers had arrived in a southern town to be greeted as liberators by all the the slaves left alone by their conscripted slave masters. Military leaders had to basically say “we are not here to free slaves, but to put the Union back together slavery and all” – for many slaves that sunk into their heart like a stone and colored their opinion of the Federal Government from then on. The book is an equal opportunity expectation-flipper, as there are also accounts of Black soldiers on the south being treated fairly by the Confederates.

This book is amazing, and highly recommended. I’m sure there are similar books out there, but this one was a real page-turner especially to see the gorgeous photographs that have been preserved in it.

REVIEW: A History of the Vampire in Popular Culture (2021)

A book by Violet Fenn

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

A History of the Vampire in Popular Culture is a interesting new book that goes in detail of the subject matter at hand trying to inform, but not necessarily, as the author stresses, to be some sort of encyclopedia of vampires or the like. large swaths of vampire history are not present, but that’s fine as the point of the book is to look at common tropes within vampire media, and elaborate on them using examples from various TV Shows, Books, Films and even folklore.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit, as the author used quite a few examples that are usually never referenced in books such as this; for example, referencing something like the popular gothic soap opera Dark Shadows is usually not something you see in books like this, despite its popularity many decades ago. Other topics included everything to Count Von Count of Sesame Street fame, as well as Twilight (shudders). While I’m not a fan at all of that franchise, I begrudgingly respect its place in popular culture.

There’s a fair bit of historical discussion here as well, including forays into various vampire themed moral panics, including a bizarre one where children were led to believe a random cemetery was home to a murdering vampire, which led to hundreds of pint-sized Van Helsings to descend on it – with the entire debacle being used as a catalyst to push comic book censorship.

I think there were a few missed opportunities here; perhaps a sequel might be in order? Most of this opinion comes from the fact that the more Romance-based vampire things (Twilight, True Blood etc) are not my cup of tea, but the author was very passionate about them and their presence in vampire history, so I can’t fault her for that (once again, its not an encyclopedia). None-the-less, this is an enjoyable read, and gave me a few thigs to jot down to read or watch in the future. The book is well-written, packed full of facts and anecdotes, even a couple of interviews. While not a perfect book, there is a lot to sink your teeth into.

REVIEW: The Vain (2021)

A graphic novel by Eliot Rahal

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

Generic Vampire stories are a dime a dozen these days. If you don’t just have a weird version of Bram Stroker’s Dracula, but this time he’s in SPACE or something, you have the other side of the coin that alters them beyond recognition, perhaps into teenage sparkly pretty boys – and it all sucks for the most part. For me to get into a modern Vampire story, it has to be something different (but keeping with the lore), and this volume by Eliot Rahal fits the bill. Spanning more than 40 years, The Vain tells the story of a group of Vampiric survivors – changing with the times to stay alive at any means necessary. If that includes enlisting in the military to kill Nazis, or starting a vampire drug cult in the 70s, if thats what it takes that’s what they do.

Chicago, 1941. A blood bank is held up in a robbery, but no cash is taken—only blood. It’s the latest in a string of similar robberies and as the United States prepares to enter World War II, FBI Agent Felix Franklin is certain it’s part of a wider plot to weaken the United States by depriving it of its blood supply. But the truth is much more sinister.

I wasn’t sure I was going to like this at first. At times, some of the art in the book was somewhat simplistic, but as the story goes on, it improves drastically. The dialogue is also kind of janky in spots, but overall the script is pretty good, and you honestly can’t beat the setting. Vampires living through the Cold-War is something I’m pretty certain I’ve never seen before. As it went on, I was interested to see how The Vain (their WWII Codename) dealt with the zeitgeist of whatever decade they had made it to. The book didn’t overstay its welcome, and had a logical ending that made sense.

I haven’t read much by Oni Press, although I have seen them at Comicon in the past. Once Covid-19 dies down I will have to do a deeper dive on their library if conventions ever come back, I’d love to see if the quality of this book continues on.

REVIEW: First World War Trials and Executions (2021)

A book by Simon Webb

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

I haven’t read too many true crime books as of late, although I do listen to a ton of podcasts on it. And I mean a ton, its probably a red flag on Spotify, and I am likely on some list somewhere. Some of my favorite ones are historical accounts vs modern ones simply because the cases seem to always take wild turns that you aren’t expecting. You hear about these insane investigations and primitive forensics efforts that likely led to tons of false imprisonments, but its exciting none-the-less. This book chronicles 51 such historical cases in the UK between 1914-1918 – The era of World War I. Taking a small, specific era in history is interesting as one really gets into the time period when its all laid out like this.

Webb splits each case into its own small chapters which are then split into sub-headings such as cases all committed by straight razor, or all axe-murders etc. I liked this configuration a lot; it made this easy for me to read bit-by-bit before I went to bed this past week. This is an entertaining read insomuch as a book on murders can be simply because of the way it is written. That isn’t to say Simon Webb makes light of the cases, as they are all very tragic, but he keeps you wanting to read more and more, and the information is well-researched. This book also acts, in a way, as a chronicle as to why Britain eventually did away with Capital Punishment – many of these cases have terrible things happen during the execution, it you can tell it scarred the main executioner quite a bit.

Another Solid historical offering from Pen and Sword, I’ll have to see if they have anymore books by this author, as a continuation of this series (if it becomes one) into later or previous years would be interesting. If you want a quick read to keep your true crime interest satiated, I’d recommend this book. It’s definitely to die for.

REVIEW: The Commandant of Auschwitz – Rudolf Höss (2021)

A book by Volker Koop

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

At some point this year, assuming Covid doesn’t keep ravaging the country, Kansas City will be hosting an exhibit that will showcase artifacts from Poland’s Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Having visited Dachau some twenty years ago in person, this might be the closest I could get to seeing these items for a long time, if ever. And if its anything like Dachau, I’m sure just seeing the artifacts will be a rough, if not VERY sobering experience. I mention this, because today’s topic is the man that made Auschwitz Concentration Camp so notorious, Rudolf Höss, and this new book about him The Commandant of Auschwitz, by Volker Koop and published by Pen and Sword Books. I basically wanted to educate myself more than what I was on the topic, and figured this book would be a solid look at the man responsible for one of the worst episodes in world history.

Koop does a solid job of not just regurgitating things from the memoirs of Rudolf Höss, and quickly points out that Höss appears to be a habitual liar in pretty much everything he does. Much of the information comes from things such as this material, but using historical records, and conflicting accounts by contemporaries, the portrait of a truly terrible man is painted. Even when everything was lost, and the man faced trial, he claimed to be a normal guy that just did his job and had no idea bad things were happening under his command. Reading some of the atrocities he signed off on, such as throwing children directly into a fire pit while still alive, was infuriating to say the least.

This was a tough read, for obvious reasons, but I enjoyed it and learned a lot about, perhaps, one of the biggest monsters in modern history. One would have hoped that he would have stayed in prison much longer than he did when he literally committed a political murder, but alas Hitler needed the most despicable to do his evil deeds. Very good book, if you are curious, or a WWII history buff, I’d check it out.

REVIEW: Shadowman by Andy Diggle Deluxe Edition (2021)

A Graphic Novel by Andy Diggle (Author), Stephen Segovia (Artist), Shawn Martinbrough (Artist), Doug Braithwaite (Artist), Renato Guedes (Artist)

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

I don’t want to beat a dead horse on here regarding my love for Valiant Comics (but you can read me gushing about it here), but this Comic is yet another series that confirms that. Shadowman, is a long running character that has persisted for nearly 30 years in different forms, The character probably hit its peak in the late 1990s when a cult classic videogame hit the shelves, its a shame a rumored film was never produced during this time, as the property was especially hot then. The current iteration of the character is a much less 90s-riffic version of the original Shadowman, Jack Boniface, and his exploits fighting foes from the underworld using voodoo powers.

The rise of the Shadowman! For years, Jack Boniface believed that he knew the true story of the Shadowman loa – the true story of the curse inside him. He was wrong. Now, the man once known as Shadowman is returning home to sharpen the weapon within… and unleash a reckoning on the evils of our world that will soon send shockwaves through heaven and hell alike… Superstar writer Andy Diggle (Green Arrow: Year One, The Losers) joins high-octane artists Stephen Segovia (Action Comics), Shawn Martinbrough (Thief of Thieves), Doug Braithwaite (Justice), and Renato Guedes(Action Comics) to reveal the full scope and power of the Shadowman mythos in an oversized deluxe edition hardcover of the series Nerdist calls “killer”! Collecting SHADOWMAN (2018) #1-11, and SHADOWMAN/RAE SREMMURD #1, along with more than 20 pages of rarely seen art and extras!

FIRST WATCH: Andy Diggle & Stephen Segovia Descend Into the Deadside with  SHADOWMAN #3, Hitting Stores In May! - Comic Watch

When I last left the character, he was bound in eternal servitude in the underworld, and I wasn’t sure where the comic was going to go afterwards. I think I’ve missed a portion of the story past that, but they allude to everything in the narrative pretty well. This actually could be a decent start for somebody new to the series, it doesn’t get bogged down in past lore, and re-introduces everything slowly. At it’s core, Shadowman is Valiant’s main “magic” comic ala Constantine or Doctor Strange, if we think in terms of rival companies. What definitely sets it apart is the emphasis on Voodoo lore, and the setting itself.

While I had an advanced review copy of this in digital format, I have purchased hardcover deluxe editions from Valiant in the past, and they are really good production-wise and great bang for your buck. Instead of buying 3-4 trades at fifteen a pop each, they usually collect an entire series in one volume and price it to where you get a decent discount. I’m sure this will follow suit.

This is another solid edition in my Valiant Comics library, and I really love the character. I should have quickly reviewed this for Black History Month, as Shadowman is a VERY solid overlooked black superhero that more people should know about. Then again, that’s Valiant’s M.O. most of the time, being inclusive, but in a natural way, unlike some other guys that do it in the fake corporate way. Highly recommended if you have not checked these guys out before.

REVIEW: X-O Manowar Book 1 (2021)

by Dennis Hopeless

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

I’ve been a fan of Valiant Comics for a while now, especially since their relaunch about a decade ago. I think what sets them apart from other companies headed by out of touch movie execs or cartoon mice, is that they have their finger on the pulse with what fans actually want to read, and don’t pump tons of “fluff” into the market and over-saturate and shrink their audience through constant relaunches and special events. They have been amazing to interact with at conventions, and I honestly say say enough good things about them. Today’s topic is a graphic novel of the 2020 X-O Manowar book from Dennis Hopeless, I will admit, I’m about two years behind on keeping up with Valiant due to work keeping me VERY busy as of late, but I definitely wanted to read this as everyone’s favorite Visigoth Warrior is always one of my favorite titles.

“Save the day, destroy the world… Torn from the past and bonded with a living alien armor, will X-O Manowar become the hero the world needs now? As a futuristic force arises to destroy the planet, only this ancient warrior king has the courage to stand against impossible odds! Harvey Award winning writer Dennis “Hopeless” Hallum (All-New X-Men) and breakout star Emilio Laisio (Marvel’s Spider-Man: Velocity) unleash Valiant’s most powerful protector! Collecting X-O MANOWAR (2020) #1-4.”

This most recent storyline adds some grounding the the character that I really enjoyed. Prince Aric, in the past, has been somewhat distant from much of humanity considering his personality and origin of being a warrior from over a thousand years ago. This sticks him into a domestic situation, as he attempts to live amongst the people he tries to protect – all to a variable amount of success. One can’t help draw comparisons to either Spawn or Thor, which both had similar grounding to those characters that made them have a bit of humanity. Also, the “fish out of water antics” are perfect for a bit of humor. We are also introduced to a advisor-type character that is not unlike Elon Musk in real world terms, in Troy Whitaker. I’m not convinced he isn’t a villain as of yet, but he does help X-O with his image problem.

This is a solid read, and a perfect starting point if you’ve never read anything from Valiant before. If you are jaded with comics, or are tired of the nonsense “the big two” are always up to – give this a try! It’s honestly bee hard to go back after I started reading comics that are fun again.

REVIEW: Hercules Intergalactic Agent: Book 2 The Intruder (2021)

A graphic novel by Zabus & art by Antonello Dalena

Apparently, Hercules Intergalactic Agent: Book 2 The Intruder is the second book in a series that I was unaware of, I only realized after I started reading and saw the tiny “book 2” that was sighed an audible “oops.” Thankfully it’s honestly pretty easy to grasp what was happening despite missing the “first episode” as it were. It tells the story of a couple of underdogs, bottom of their class, students at an intergalactic agent school.

“Hercules and Marlon are in their second year of intergalactic agent school and they still have a lot to learn! But when their teacher is bitten by a strange alien creature, they’ll need to put down the books and leap into action because the sickness affecting Teach seems to be spreading throughout the school…”

While this isn’t really meant for kids, as it alludes to cursing a few times, the messages in the book would be good for a kid’s book – never judging a book by its cover, and having compassion for all living things. It has a pretty strong allegory to the recent string of migrant and asylum seeker crises that have arisen as of late, which makes it a pretty forward thinking book. The allusions could be a tad heavy-handed, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. The art is fun, and it reminds me of something from the 80’s Heavy Metal movie.

REVIEW: Brontë (2021)

by Manuela Santoni

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

“Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë—faced with an ailing father and an alcoholic brother—pursue independence through art in this graphic vision of the lives of three legendary writers.”

Going into this, I sadly did not know much of the Brontë sisters aside from a passing knowledge of how the initially wrote under pseudonyms, ad their untimely deaths due to tuberculosis at relatively the same time. This book did an amazing job filling in the gaps for the most formative time period of their lives – the moment that they decided to start publishing their writings to help save their family. With an ailing father, and a deadbeat brother addicted to both alcohol and opium, the sisters set aside their fears of judgement and finally publish their works to much critical acclaim. It was not until death met their mighty blow, that much of the world found out the true nature of the three writers that took nineteenth century England by storm, and defined that time period for many people in the modern era.

Manuela Santoni has a simple pen drawn art style that was interesting to see. At a few moments, some actions are hard to understand due to this stylistic limitation, but the script is there to cover for it. all-in-all this was a very well-done book and very informative.

REVIEW: The Two Lives of Penelope (2021)

A Graphic Novel by Judith Vanistendael

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

Before today, Judith Vanistendael was completely off of my radar as a comic creator, which is a complete shame as she has put together easily the best book I’ve read this month. Rendered in gorgeous watercolor paintings and poetic text, The Two Lives of Penelope is not your typical comic book and is a VERY emotional roller coaster ride for the short time that one is reading it. Dealing with a heavy topic such as the mental health issues that arise when one spends too much time in a war zone doing humanitarian work, This book was both not easy to read and not easy to put down at the same time. Nothing particularly heinous happens in the comic, I just feel bad for the entire family, that despite their troubles, are hanging in there.

“Penelope is a Belgian physician who works with Doctors Without Borders in war-torn Syria. She returns to Belgium when she can in order to see her husband and daughter, but the transition is hard. Her latest trip home for the holidays proves even tougher than usual, as the coexistence of the two excruciatingly different worlds she inhabits becomes increasingly fraught.”

Taking place in the middle of the still raging Syrian Civil War, this book tells the tale of a humanitarian surgeon attempting to spend some time with her family before she travels back into the war zone. In many ways, this should be a time to relax, but sadly her life is now that of a war doctor, and her home life is increasingly hard to cope with. Penelope has PTSD (or something similar), and cannot connect to the needs of her family anymore – when one deals with war atrocities on a day-to-day basis things like a style of preferred winter coat, or a daughter worried about her nose size are no longer of great significance. She is haunted, both literally and figuratively, by her job – and can’t seperate from it anymore – it is her now. Everyone deals with this the best they can, and sadly we do not get any resolution – one can assume Penelope is still in Syria to this day.

Every once in a while, you come across a comic that surpasses the medium and is an instant classic – for me The Two Lives of Penelope is up there with comics such as Persepolis and even Maus, as a comic tackling a VERY tough subject matter in such a way that it becomes something that should be required reading. I will definitely check into other works by the author, and keep an eye on this, as I really hope this book gets the attention it deserves.

REVIEW: Babylon (2021)

A book by Laurent Galandon, Frank Giroud & art by Philippe Nicloux

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

Another day, another book by one of my new “companies to look out for”, Europe Comics. Babylon is another French comic, translated into English. I’ve recently come across a handful of their comics, and have really enjoyed them. Comics from western Europe have an entirely different feel to them than either the United States or Japan, focusing more on mature stories vs superheroes and the like, and for that I love them.

“If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find him, Max Ferlane is your man: a good man with skills a bad past has left him. Now he’s trying to leave that bad life behind, put those skills to good use. He’s in the Congo rescuing a young girl from an arranged marriage when an old employer turns up: the Babylon Agency, specializing in high-profile political exfiltrations. Max is forced into a different, far more dangerous mission that will take him deep into warring jungles and his own past mistakes. For Max’s PTSD hallucinations are only getting worse…”

At first glance, and in the initial few pages, I figured this was going to be a bog-standard run-of-the-mill mercenary for hire story, but was surprisingly wrong when things took a weird turn. There are times in the book, where you are led to believe that things have suddenly gone VERY science fiction VERY fast, but its not what you think. Having the book take place somewhere in Eastern Africa, was also interesting, and gave the setting a bit of a political edge that I really enjoy in European Comics. That said, In many ways, Max Ferlane is somewhat of a cliché character in comics, one part Snake Pliskin, another Max Payne (if anyone else remembers that game), but this doesn’t detract from the story in any way.

This is the first part of a multi-part story, and I will eagerly be waiting for the next chapter. With my quibbles aside regarding some clichés, The setting, plot, and characters are cool enough to keep me reading. Yeah, it’s basically “Escape from Congo”, but that’s honestly better than most of the actual sequels to that franchise.

REVIEW: The Cimmerian Vol. 2 (2021)

by Sylvain Runberg, Robin Recht, Robert E. Howard

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

By Crom! Conan The Cimmerian has appeared in comics almost nonstop since the 1970s (even a few appearances beforehand). Whether it be Marvel Comics, Dark Horse Comics, or Dynamite Comics, there is always some company producing their take on the legendary, thief, barbarian and king. In the U.S., I’m pretty sure that Dynamite still has the Conan rights (I could be wrong), but in Italy, Ablaze Publishing had an interesting option: they could freely publish comics related to Conan, without specifically calling them “Conan” or “Conan the Barbarian” comics, even though that’s what they are. Thus “The Cimmerian” was born.

This series is a pretty cool alternative to the other Conan Comics out there. About half of the book is comprised of adaptations of classic Conan stories The People of The Black Circle, and The Frost-Giant’s Daughter. The rest of the book, aside from the typical art section and cover gallery, found in most trade editions, are the entire prose versions of the same stories, originally printed in pulp magazines such as Weird Tales or Fantasy Fan Magazine nearly 100 years ago. Due to the properties interesting status in Europe, they have the freedom to do something like this without dealing with multiple rights holders, and I absolutely LOVED it.

This is as true to a “true” take on Conan can be. All of the heavier stuff such as gore and sex, that other comics might avoid, is here in the open just as Robert E, Howard intended. The dialogue can be a bit verbose in places, especially in The People of the Black Circle, but that can be directly tied to the size of the comics that were published and the amount of dialogue in the original story.

I went into this without reading the first volume, but plan to go back now that I see the quality of this is en pointe. While the typical issues that arise from translating a comic are there a bit, its not bad, nor does it detract from the story. As a HUGE Conan and Red Sonja fan, I’m glad I had the opportunity to read this.

REVIEW: Marsupilami: The Beast (2021)

A book by Zidrou & Frank Pé

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

After reading another book by the aptly-named publishing house, European Comics, and absolutely loving it – I decided to wade into their catalogue to see what else they had to offer. I picked Marsupilami based on the cover, as it looked fairly interesting. I’m glad I did because this was a great comic in each and every way.

“Belgium, 1955. A mysterious animal is caught in the jungles of South America and transported to Europe on a cargo ship, where it ends up starving and half-dead on the outskirts of Brussels. François, a young boy with a fondness for taking in strays, finds it and brings it home to his mother and his menagerie—his best and only friends. As the son of a departed German soldier, François is the favorite target of every bully in school. Nobody can identify the strange creature with the voracious appetite and the stupendously long tail, and François figures his new pet is perfect for show-and-tell… But with a wild beast and a small classroom, things quickly get out of hand. Will this spell the end for François’s new animal friend? The real story of the legendary Marsupilami!”

Marsupilami is an interesting story, not too different than a typical “dog bites somebody and the villainous neighborhood busybody wants it put down” story with a number of interesting twists. First and foremost – the setting. This takes place in Belgium a decade after the end of World War II. With the war over, some wounds take time to heal, and being seen as someone that had ANYTHING to do with the German occupation put that person in a bad place. Thus the plight of our hero Francois, a boy relentlessly bullied at school due to being the lovechild of a Belgian Woman and a German Soldier, he retreats into a world of taking care of exotic animals in his very own home menagerie.

Next up we have the “dog” which is a crazy cryptid of some sort – seemingly a monkey with feline attributes and a 30 foot long tail. I was initially worried this would be a simple horror story with “The Beast” going on a rampage, but truthfully he seems pretty intelligent and acts only in self-preservation. whether it be animal smugglers, or The bullies at Francois’ school – something is always trying to attack the poor creature. Francois and his family, including the animals, are his only allies, it seems.

This was part one of a two part story, it’s hard to read it without the other half, but I quite enjoyed this. The setting was awesome, and the tropes were used well to create something wholly unique. I can’t wait to finish this, but hope that it doesn’t end on a huge downer.

REVIEW: Wild West (2021)

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A graphic novel by Thierry Gloris & Lamontagne Jacques

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

I’m a big fan of European comics (which is coincidentally the name of this books publisher, but I mean the geographical area), usually because they don’t worry about keeping everything for children at all times, and treat the material far more seriously than in either Japan or America. That isn’t to say its all gore-filled pornography either, its just like the difference between an HBO show and a Disney+ show in terms of sensibility, if that makes sense. I’ve been on a big Metal Hurlant and Heavy Metal kick as of late, so I was intrigued to see a French language comic (translated, of course) about Calamity Jane, and how a European publisher would handle the “origin story” of the famous frontierswoman.

“The westward drive of Americans after the Civil War was unstoppable. For some, the vast territory meant new wealth and new opportunities. The ever-progressing railroads made many rich. Whereas others found their fortune selling the flesh of the less fortunate. In a brothel in Omaha, all manner of destinies intersect in a violent collision that many won’t survive. This is the incredible story of Martha Cannary, a young woman who shrugged off what destiny had in store for her and made herself into a legend.”

Wild West comic book sample Calamity Jane

Wild West is a quick read at only 66 pages, but it tells its story well, and doesn’t linger too long. Honestly, I hope they produce more of this, as this is basically the story of her beginnings and her first encounter with Wild Bill Hickock and up to her enlistment into the US Army under the pretense that she’s a boy rather than a woman. The thing about Calamity jane, and whether this book is historical, is that most of her backstory was created as a booklet to market her “character” at a series of tours that she participated in. I assume a lot of this was embellished, and sadly we’ll never know for sure. Not much is said about her time working as a prostitute (which is the focal point of this story), so I imagine there is a lot of artistic liberty here, with something that already had some to begin with.

All-in-all, this was a great comic with exquisite, detailed artwork. for fans of history, western comics, European comics, or just adult comics in general, this would be a great addition to your collection. I’m not certain that the book is available physically in the US, but a digital copy (like the one I have) is very affordable. This is a publisher that is now on my radar, if their quality is this good on everything, I’ll have to do some more research.