Lady Death: Chaos Rules / Lady Death: Damnnation Game (2015)

One of my guilty pleasures in the world of comics are “cheesecake comics” an outdated term for a comic with sexy women in it (beefcake is more used today for the opposite). One thing I will never do is get on a soapbox and try to pretend that the only reason I read comics like this are for some metatextual ironic reason, or that I believe books like this are in some way feminist in nature. Honestly, some books like this are pretty trashy, although I try to avoid the stuff that veers into total smut as the storytelling is usually the caliber of a late night Cinemax movie.

What I will say is that I enjoy the art and I like the carefree attitude most of them have, and that’s why I read them. Most of these comics are not really erotic in any way nor do they depict lurid acts for the most part, but everyone in it usually dresses like they live in a Frank Miller movie, so there’s that. If you recall I have posted reviews in the past for Vampirella comics, which despite the silly costuming and gratuitous poses, is actually a good read and a fairly compelling comic for somebody that loves gothic horror. I also enjoy things like Conan and Red Sonja which are both barbarian adventure comics, and cheesecake depending on the story. So why am I rambling about this? Today we’re talking about what I consider to be the “best of both worlds” in terms of gratuitous imagery and a barbarian tone – Brian Pulido’s Lady Death.

Much like Dawn and Vampirella, I remember being introduced to comics like this when I was a teenager in the 90’s and an avid reader of Wizard Magazine. They would usually have posters or articles about these comics, and they looked really cool, but the comics were usually kept in the forbidden “behind the counter” zone that young impressionable teens had no access to at the local comic shop. Had I seen a stray side-boob at that age, you never know what sort of miscreant I would be today!

Coffin Comics, the new company helmed by Lady Death creator Brian Pulido, has an interesting way of making comics in this modern climate of digital distribution and Amazon running everything out of business. Instead of a model where comics are sent out to stores, he funds each issue with a Kickstarter campaign resulting in a landslide victory each time in funding and a ton of swag to the contributors. I have been able to participate in the last few campaigns and have been rewarded with all manner of posters, bumper stickers, cards, guitar picks, and even challenge coins. While some creators use the funding to pad their wallets or to fund other things than what the fans are contributing to, Coffin Comics leaves me happy each time even though I will never be able to use all of the silly swag I get. But where did this business model come from?

Coffin Comics was started in 2007 by Pulido, who is the previously mentioned creator of pretty much all of the properties formerly under the roof of a company called Chaos! Comics. These titles included Lady Death, Evil Ernie, Purgatori, Chastity, Jade, Bad Kitty, and Lady Demon. At one point, Lady Death was big enough to have her own trading card sets and other merch that usually was only reserved for big Marvel and DC properties. When Chaos ceased publishing, the license to Lady Death moved to another company called CrossGen publishing that went out of business about a decade ago.

After a few false starts, everyone’s favorite anti-hero is back home with Pulido in this new company since 2015. When asked about this new strategy utilizing Kickstarter, Pulido has remarked that he’s not really interested in the mass market that much (although he does sell through Diamond like most comics) but has a comic collector in mind with every decision. That’s why all of the comics are marked #1 and there are TONS of alternate covers for each issue – some with print-runs as low as 12 copies! While that seems silly, the fans of his don’t seem to mind, it’s just a quirk of getting comics from them.

To date: the following titles have been released:

  • Lady Death: Chaos Rules
  • Lady Death: Damnation Game
  • Lady Death: Extinction Express
  • Lady Death: Oblivion Kiss
  • Lady Death: Merciless Onslaught
  • Lady Death: Unholy Ruin
  • Lady Death: Apocalyptic Abyss

So getting into the first of our double feature – Chaos Rules #1, the comic assumes you know who Lady Death is right from the get-go and wastes no time in making sure you know anything. Granted, there’s nothing keeping a new reader from understanding the plot, but a vague knowledge of the basic plot could be a plus. I would recommend perhaps watching the 2004 film created by the Now defunct anime studio AD Vision and written by Carl Macek. It’s not completely true to the source material, but it helps sum up the backstory. Here it is conveniently found on YouTube:

If you don’t want to watch that, the gist of her origin is that she was once  a young girl in medieval Sweden named Hope. Her father was a local nobleman named Matthias (Marius in one of the reboots) who was forcibly conscripting peasants into military service as feudal levies. Unknown to his innocent daughter, Matthias had a dark secret.

Although congratulated by the Church for his work against the pagans, he was despised by the common folk as a cruel tyrant. Matthias was outwardly pious, but secretly dabbled in black magic and demonology. He was actually a descendant of the fallen angels who had led the rebellion against God. A couple of the series change what happens next a bit, but Hope’s father summons a demon and Hope is captured in his place to be tried as a witch – she uses the same incantation her father was using and summons another demon that gives her a choice: Die or live as a soldier in Hell. She takes the latter and becomes a bad-ass warlord to face her father or to take over Hell depending on the version.

“In Chaos Rules #1, Lady Death is awakened from a 20-year, spell-induced slumber, she finds herself in the fiery pits of Hell. Two decades of her life, gone –– nothing more than nightmares. Who among her depraved enemies is responsible? How long until she exacts bloody vengeance? Not long!!! This is the first new Lady Death comic I’ve personally published in 12 years. This story –– chock full of sex, violence, and very bad behavior –– is Lady Death, fully realized.”

The above is a quote from Brian Pulido from the Kickstarter page and it sets the tone of the comic. This is definitely a re-introduction the the character that I assume many have not kept up with for a number of years, if not decades. While no Citizen Kane in terms of writing, the story is well conveyed and well-written for this type of comic. Perhaps the only thing holding this back from being “great” was the fact that some of the art is a bit cold or static, making it hard to tell what exactly is going on.

This is a minor gripe though, as fans of the original book and fans of this genre will enjoy it immensely. It was good to see the story scaled back after the almost Dragonball Z styled power boost given to the characters in later incarnations – a trend that seems to ruin most comics like this. It happened in Spawn, Punisher, and even Dragonball Z! It’s nice to see the Lady return to her roots.

Damnation Game #1

“Lady Death rescues an innocent boy dragged to Hell, inciting an ultra-violent quest into the depths of Damnation, a depraved city hosting ‘The Hades Engine,” a contraption that can return the boy to earth. But Lady Death’s actions bring her into direct conflict with the nefarious Hellwitch. Who will live? Who will die? With her return to Hell, Lady Death is public enemy number one, and you know what? She wouldn’t have it any other way. Let the mayhem begin!”

Coffin’s second outing is another solid read, but is held back by the exact opposite issue I had with the first issue. While the art in this is better than in the first, my opinion at least, the writing isn’t as well-done. some bits of dialog are very stilted, perhaps cliché and seem forced. On the flip-side, there are moments of great foreshadowing that Dheeraj Verma and Sabine Rich employed that conveyed a plot twist coming up better with their use of panels than the dialog could do. I loved the artwork.

This book is also the introduction of a new nemesis for Lady Death in a character named Hell Witch. You see Lady Death may have offed her Daddy in the last issue, so Hell Witch is out for vengeance. Since I’m assuming old Chaos! characters like Purgatori are off the table, Hell Witch seems like a fine replacement without being a direct clone or simple stand-in of the other. Although, to be honest, part of me would love to see these older characters eventually make their ways back home as well.

All-in all you really can’t go wrong with either book – stay tuned for more as I have all of the issues so far and will try to do more reviews! I will also do a kickstarter un-boxing whenever my La Muerta: Retribution stuff arrives.

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Digital Manga Bargain Bin Dive

One thing that I always enjoy is a good sale – and when it comes to manga you really can’t beat books for around 2-3 bucks a pop. I’ve obtained great reads from a company called Digital Manga Publishing over the past few years – usually Vampire Hunter D or Osamu Tezuka books that they seem to be the chief publisher of. A while back I grabbed a few books on the cheap that didn’t really warrant a full-sized review, so figured I’d do the same thing I did with my bargain Heavy metal haul from last year.

Check em out right here if you’re interested!!


IWGP vols 1-4 (2001-4)

I already did a full review of IWGP Vol 1 a while back, here’s a recap:

The story follows a guy named Makoto that seems to have all sorts of connections to street gangs and other illicit activities despite seemingly not being a part of said activity. He runs a shop with his mother and has some sort of oddly close Batman/Commisioner Gordon relationship with the local police that has yet to be fully explained. He and a few friends meet a couple of girls at a New Year’s Eve party (the over-hyped 1999-2000 millennium celebration in particular) and hits it off with a girl named Rika. Ikebukuro is plagued with reports of a serial “strangler” that seems to be attacking girls that go on dates with older guys for money, and this has everyone scared. Some bad stuff happens and it’s all up to Makoto to stop it (to not go into spoiler-land too much).

 


Knights Vol 1 (2008)

This is a 2.5 story with a very interesting protagonist, so I rated it a bit higher. Based loosely on the European witch hunting craze in the 13th century, it seems that all clergymen have become insane zealots that practice witch persecution this side of the Malleus Maleficarum. The only people standing up to a genocide of falsely accused witches are a squire named Mist commonly referred to as “The Black Knight” and his assistant, some sort of real witch that is naked about 99% of the book. I thought Mist was interesting because he is dark-skinned in a world where nobody seems to have seen either a Moor or African person (it’s a fantasy world I suppose) and thinks that they are demons. So basically this is a literal black knight fighting racist clergymen…weird…


Worst vol 1 (2002)

Worst vol 1 is a promising beginning to a comic in a genre I have never really delved much into. Of course I’ve seen parody stuff like Cromartie High Schoool and read things like GTO, but that’s not really the same. This is the typical “youth delinquent” genre story where rival high school gangs are vying for turf and duking it out, but instead of a tough-as-nails protagonist, Hana is a fun loving guy with a big heart that can also kick pretty much anyone’s ass when it comes to fighting. Can’t wait to read more…

 

Leiji Matsumoto ‘s World Illustrations Album Animage (TV Land Extra Edition) 1977

I recently snagged an art-book for fairly cheap that I’ve been trying to get for a while. According to google translate, it’s called  Leiji Matsumoto ‘s World: Illustrations Album Animage (TV Land Extra Edition) 1977 and appears to be some sort of a magazine in the vein of those special edition Time Magazine checkout line books. It contains a handful of artwork from Leiji Matsumoto from various properties like Lightning Ozma, Submarine Super 99, Captain Harlock, The Cockpit and more.

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The above is the English version of the image in the book, I didn’t want to break the spine to get the scan.

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Vampire Hunter D (1983)

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When I was a kid, perhaps too young to watch these sorts of films, I fell in love with the movie Vampire Hunter D when it used to air on The Science Fiction Channel (now called Syfy for some reason). This, along with Nosferatu and hammer horror, has made it basically impossible to take many “modern” vampire books or films seriously – especially ones featuring adolescent sparkly vampires. For the longest time, I knew that the film was based on a book series, but had no idea that there were dozens of volumes out there and that most of them were translated into English. The wait was well worth it, and this book was awesome.

For those that have seen the animated feature, the story of this book may seem familiar as it is the basis for that film. There are a few differences, but the plot is largely similar – the studio that did the anime adaptation did a pretty solid job for the most part. For those that may not have seen it, here is a quick run-down. The year is 12,090 AD. Ten thousand years prior to this book, there was a war between humans and supernatural monsters of all sorts, and the monsters won. Humans are now a subjugated race and are seen as livestock  by vampires. These noblemen and women keep mechanical security systems as well as armies of werewolves and mutants to protect them from any human stupid enough to try to face them.

While out hunting one night, a young girl named Doris trespasses into the vampire domain of Count Magnus Lee. As payment for her crime, Lee “kisses” her and discovers that her blood is the sweetest he’s tasted in ages. Lee decides to marry Doris much to her own displeasure. Lee’s daughter Ramica cannot tolerate the idea that her father, a descendant of the Ancient One (likely Count Dracula), intends to pollute the House of Lee with human blood, and she vows to stop the marriage.

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Doris runs into a young man calling himself “D” that claims to be a vampire hunter, Doris makes a living as a werewolf hunter herself, and sees D as a stupid young kid that likely has a death wish. That is, until she sees him in action. D is insanely fast, strong, and agile – all things that would definitely help if vampires were to start walking around – Doris decides to try to enlist his aid. What follows is a story of D, who is himself at least half-vampire, fighting all manner of evil monster to slay Count Lee.

Hideyuki Kikuchi is a master of setting moods and describing events in this book. Considering the style in which he writes, I would not be too amazed if he was a fan of the works of H.P. Lovecraft, as he is somewhat similar to he and other old-school pulp writers. Granted, this was an English translation, so maybe the translator is instead – who knows!  Honestly his only flaw is that he tends to make some characters a tad one dimensional – people like Greco Rohman, the seedy man-child and son of the mayor that has his eyes on Doris, is a cartoonishly evil buffoon that comes across quite trope-y. Sadly D himself also comes across as of he has little personality in this novel existing to be surly and stoic 24/7. Thankfully “lefty”, D’s sentient left hand, is there as comic relief and adds a bit to D’s character. Doris, however, is actually fleshed out really well – a fact that is somewhat surprising considering how she seems like a perpetual victim in the anime. She gets time to look badass, and take names, herself.

I love the pulp style that Hideyuki Kikuchi writes in, I see that some reviewers find it silly, but I read a lot of older science fiction, so this is right up my alley. If you love Vampire Hunter D, gothic horror, post-apocalyptic fiction, or weird sci-fi, I’d check this out. Can’t wait to read more!


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R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots)(1921)

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I have wanted to read R.U.R ever since I did some research on classic science fiction and discovered that Capek is the first to popularize the word “robot” – something that has become a staple – perhaps a cliche of science fiction itself. The Robots in Rossum’s Universal Robots are not machines in the way we think of machines ie mechanical, clockwork, computer driven automatons, but a literal synthetic human. They are “machines in that they are created to work as factory equipment.

Here is an excerpt:

DOMAIN: (Solemnly) And then, Miss Glory, old Rossum wrote the
following day in his book: “Nature has found only one method of
organizing living matter. There is, however, another method more
simple, flexible, and rapid, which has not yet occurred to nature
at all. This second process by which life can be developed was
discovered by me today.” Imagine him, Miss Glory, writing those
wonderful words. Imagine him sitting over a test tube and thinking
how the whole tree of life would grow from it, how animals would
proceed from it, beginning with some sort of beetle and ending with man
himself. A man of different substance from ours. Miss Glory, that
was a tremendous moment.

HELENA: Go on, please.

DOMAIN: Now the thing was, how to get the life out of the test
tube and hasten development: to form organs, bones and nerves,
and so on: to find such substances as catalytics, enzymes, hormones,
and so forth, in short — you understand?

HELENA: I don’t know. Not much, I’m afraid.

DOMAIN: Never mind. You see, with the help of his tinctures he
could make whatever he wanted. He could have produced a Medusa with
the brain of a Socrates or a worm fifty yards long. But being without a
grain of humor, he took it into his head to make a normal vertebrate.
This artificial living matter of his had a raging thirst for life.
It didn’t mind being sewn up or mixed together. THAT, you’ll admit,
couldn’t be done with natural albumen. And that’s how he set about it

It seems that the unseen Older Rossum of the book’s title discovered a way to weave human tissue and create false humans, his family member (younger brother, son? it actually just says younger) takes this information and removes everything that makes a person human to create a perfect working class, you know without those pesky emotions. This obviously backfires and spells doom for humanity. It’s funny that that robot science fiction is so ingrained with the idea that “robots” would be our downfall, considering this was what happened in the literal first robot story.

Rossum’s Universal Robots is actually a three act stage play and is somewhat short, but it’s a fun read. The dialog is somewhat surreal and almost comedic, but I enjoyed it.


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Omon Ra (1998)

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I’m fascinated by the concept, albeit pretty much firmly in the realm of fantasy, of lost cosmonauts. The idea that the USSR was so obsessed with besting America in the space race that they would stop at absolutely nothing to do so is interesting and horrifying at the same time. In a way, this is a sarcastic book about that very subject as well as a criticism of blind nationalism and the concept of “national heroes”.

One of the more outlandish things in the book takes place when the main character, Omon, enlists in a flight school only to discover that they do not create any pilots, but push their students through a series of grueling ordeals (like forced foot amputations) in order to turn them into national heroes. He thankfully escapes this fate and goes to cosmonaut training which is even more disturbing. I did a bit of research and (according to Wikipedia) this whole thing is a reference to a famous Soviet ace-pilot Alexey Maresyev, “who despite being badly injured in a plane crash after a dogfight, managed to return to the Soviet-controlled territory on his own. During his 18-day-long journey, his injuries deteriorated so badly that both of his legs had to be amputated below the knee.” In the World of Omon Ra, this is seen as the quickest way to create national heroes.

This book reminds me of Doctor Strangelove in many ways – it’s very surrealist, a dark comedy, and very acerbic towards the failings of the USSR. This book is not for everyone, but if you have an interest in history, dark comedy, or the space race this might be a fun read, and at only 150 pages or so, it’s a quick one. Perhaps my only big quibble with the book, and with many translated books, is that the writing is very simplistic, meaning that much of the nuance of the original book was probably lost in translation. I will definitely have to find more books by Victor Pelevin in the future.


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Digital Devil Story: Goddess Reincarnation & Digital Devil Story 2: Warrior of the Demon City (1986-8)

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It’s no mystery that one of my favorite videogame franchises is the venerable “MegaTen” series, which is shorthand for Shin Megami Tensei and encompasses a “main series” and its spinoffs. The first entry in the series, Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei, was released in 1987 on the Famicom (NES) and its success spawned the entire franchise that still has new games coming out yearly. Few people realize, however, that this entire franchise was originally a book by Aya Nishitani.

I’ve wanted to read the original novella that started the whole thing for quite a while, but the lack of an actual translated book and my desire not to read thousands of words on a computer screen kept me away until now. Apparently a fan translation has been circulating for a while, and Goodreads thankfully had a link directly to it. After a few clicks and a bit of formatting, I was all set. Side-note: I did see an old anime OVA based on this book years ago (check youtube for Megami Tensei OVA) but it’s pretty bad despite being largely true to the book.

Akemi Nakajima attends a prestigious school called Jusho High (the gifted class no less) and despite being a genius, is having trouble in his classes. He is distant, ignores his schoolwork, and has few friends. This all seems to stem from the bullying he deals with from day to day. The book opens with Nakajima fighting with a male and female classmate because he ignored her romantic advances and is some kind of lunatic and gets her boyfriend to beat Nakajima up. He is plagued by nightmares of ancient gods Izanagi and Izanami, the gods from the Japanese creation myth, roughly the equivalent to Adam and Eve in Christian culture.

Instead of being a mature adult, Nakajima uses his vast intelligence with computers and new found fascination with the occult to create a demon summoning program for his computer. He plans, with some success eventually, to get a demon to take revenge on his bullies and make him more prominent at school. What he doesn’t know is that he should never trust a demon and has his life thrown into utter chaos. It’s hard to pin Nakajima down as the “hero” of this story as he is basically a giant sociopath for about half the book. It isn’t until the presence of his love interest, a transfer student named Yumiko, that he stops being a total D-bag. I don’t mean benign either – his is directly responsible for rapes, murders, and brainwashing until he flips a total 180 to being a heroic lover this side of Shakespeare’s Romeo.

This weird characterization is one of my big issues with this book – yeah, I see all of the building blocks here that eventually became one of my favorite videogames of all time, but the characters seem one-dimensional and switch personalities half-way through the book. Perhaps this is the fault of the translation I have, or characterization was not the purpose of this story. To me, Mr. Nishitani excels at describing horrific gore and body horror, and the majority of his descriptive prose is there to make the reader’s stomach turn.


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Not much to say about book two that wasn’t posted up there.

When I read Digital Devil Story: Goddess Reincarnation I characterized it as a mediocre book with bland characters (or awful ones) that had amazing descriptions of body horror but not much else. Granted, it did sow the seeds of one of my favorite video game franchises of all time, but it was a shell of what I expected.

While this book is still slightly hokey, the main character, Nakajima, is written slightly less unlikable, so at least you can relate to him this time around. The secondary cast is decent and the villain is cool. Most notably, this chapter brings in tropes like a somewhat post-apocalyptic setting and a demon-fighting mechanic that proved so popular that even Pokemon ripped it off years later.

This was very much better than the first book. If I was still rating stuff on here (I don’t because that’s dumb) I wouldn’t be able to bring myself to give it more than an average score, but this might just be worth reading. I wish I could read part three, but as of 2017 there is yet to be any sort of English translation. It seems the guy thaat was doing it got a real job translating stuff and never went back. Maybe one day we’ll see it surface


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Heavy Metal Magazine Bargain Bin Dive

To change up what I was reading a bit (lots of superhero books), I decided to get a handful of European comics from a sale that was hosted by Heavy Metal Magazine. Heavy Metal is known to be an “adult” comic company, and while this is not for children it isn’t crass or filthy – it just has a bit on skin. You may remember a film based on the Heavy Metal license back in the 1980’s – same books. Almost all of these were around $3.00 which is almost cheaper than most modern comic books. If you want to check some of these out, here is a link to the bargain bin on the Heavy Metal website:

Sale

For this round, I chose four books that caught my eye from the cover alone. Since this turned out to be a success. I will probably get more. All four of these books turned out to be beautiful hardback editions, about the same size as most children’s storybooks. I’m not sure of this format is particularly great as I’m more used to omnibus editions, but they are quick easy reads.


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Ulysses (1974)

I believe this comic was originally written in 1974, and I really enjoyed the artwork a LOT – very much Jack Kirby meets 70’s drug chic. The plot is a “modernized” (1974) version of the classic Story by Homer. The Olympians and associated monsters are aliens, which are mistaken for gods by humans that cannot comprehend their technology. They enjoy putting humans in peril and watching their follies as some sort of twisted reality show. Ant that was long before that particular strain of television mind-rot became a thing.

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The only downside is that this volume leaves the story incomplete, as Heavy Metal (as far as I can tell) did not release the second volume with this 2006 reprint.


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The Bible 

I would have loved something like this when I was a kid even though this isn’t a kids book. Since this ran in the french version of Heavy Metal I know this is meant for an adult audience so it’s cool to see that they did something like this.

jean-chrisophe-camus-the-bible

This book contains an illustrated version of The book of Genesis, and while it’s pretty short, all of the important information is there without getting bogged down in minutiae. Unlike other illustrated bibles, this one isn’t watered down for kids – Yahweh is a jerk, and people try to swindle or kill each-other all the time – an honest representation of what the Bible is actually like. This isn’t a bad thing – I prefer not hiding things no matter how rough they may be. I wish there was more re-published by Heavy Metal, but it seems that this was the only book re-released, or at least the only one available in English.


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Attila (Hombre #5) 1991

I love Post-apocalyptic stories, and I especially like ones that aren’t the run-of-the-mill post-nuclear cold war stories – something different. The world of Hombre, the main anti-hero of this book, has been devastated for some reason (this is book five so it isn’t explained, sounds like social collapse they way it is discussed) and he travels around as a lone survivor much in the same way Max Rockatansky does in the Mad Max series. This world is basically like the American old west – full of lawlessness and hardship as well as horses. This particular volume opens with Hombre trying to live a normal life, when a group of evil men rip that from his arms. He meets up with a young Barbarian girl named Attila that shares his common goal of revenge against said man – but she makes him realize how dark he has truly become.

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Hombre was a Spanish comics series written by Antonio Segura and drawn by José Ortiz, first published in 1981 in the magazine Cimoc. This translation was run in Heavy Metal magazine at some point in the 1980’s and contains many of the trappings of many adult comics including gratuitous naked women. This isn’t a bad thing, but I wanted to point this out in case somebody rolls in assuming this is a wholesome book or something.


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The Odyssey

Wait didn’t you already read this? Nope, it was a different comic based on the same story. I ended up with two very different versions of the same story – Ulysses which is a psychedelic French comic and this one from Spain. Francisco Navarro and Jose Martin Sauri manage to cram the entirety of he story of Odysseus into a fairly small book, and while it’s missing stuff all of the major plot points are there. The art is an amazing heavy ink style in high contrast black and white, if anything this is the highlight of many European comics.

francisco-navarro-oddyssey

 

That’s it for now – stay tuned and I may just be getting a few more of these…


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Queen Emeraldas Volume 1

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I am so glad to finally read this! I’m a big fan of Leiji Matsumoto, so I was pretty disappointed with a now defunct anime company called ADV only releasing half of the OVA animated series that was loosely based on this original 1978 manga. That was like a decade ago, and there wasn’t really a good way to get the rest of the story legally. Flash forward to 2016 and not only can you buy things like a legit copy of Captain Harlock on DVD, but one can also buy this original manga in a beautiful hardcover edition!

If you like space operas, I’d definitely recommend checking out some of Leiji Matsumoto’s works if you are unfamiliar. He is, perhaps, most well-known (by a casual audience) for inspiring the fabulous animated music videos for the French House music duo Daft Punk during their Discovery era. These videos were later collected into a film called Interstella 5555. Older fans may, no doubt, recognize his other works such as Star Blazers (Yamato) or Captain Harlock – it’s all the same guy.

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Matsumoto has woven a fine tapestry of interconnected stories with stoic characters that anyone can love; unfortunately, most younger anime fans ignore classics and he has somewhat fallen out of the mainstream as of late. I was assuming that some of his older comics would never come out here, until I read a recent news article from Publisher’s Weekly, touting VERY strong sales of older comic titles at Anime Expo such as pre-orders for this very book!

“At the Kodansha Comics panel on Saturday, Ben Applegate, director of publishing for Kodansha Comics, cheered the ongoing rebound in manga print sales. “You’re probably seeing all the industry people here smiling, so you know that the manga industry is doing really well,” he said. “This resurgence of manga is allowing us to take chances on different series we wouldn’t usually in the past.” […] An example of a title that, in the past, Kodansha might have thought was too risky to publish in English is Leiji Matsumoto’s Queen Emeraldas, which the publisher is releasing in August. An older, classic SF adventure, the advance hardcovers of the book were sold out by weekend’s end.”

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As for the book itself, the story surrounds a boy named Hiroshi Umino, who strives to be a powerful star captain so that he can live by his own rules and sail the “sea of stars” like his heroes. His run in with Emeraldas changes his life forever, as she slowly becomes his mentor (of sorts). Emeraldas is basically like Xena in this book, a total badass that kicks booty and takes names. You often see supposedly feminist comic characters that end up being some sort of fetishistic dominatrix-style sexual wish-fulfilment trope, but that’s not how Emeraldas rolls. I wouldn’t name my very own cat after a character with skeevy undertones like that! We see Hiroshi and Emeraldas sharing eerily parallel origin stories until they meet again later on.

If you are also a huge fan of Matsumoto’s works, or are familiar with stories like the aforementioned Captain Harlock, Galaxy Express 999, Galaxy Railways, Arcadia of my youth or Maetel legend, you will absolutely love this. This story adds more substance to a somewhat overlooked character that constantly shows up in various shows as a background character. Otherwise, this book stands on it’s own well, and acts as an introduction to a character that thankfully appears in a ton of material. If you become a fan you will want to branch out and see more. And hopefully, if this book ends up selling well Kodansha will release more Matsumoto manga!


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Captain Midnight, Volume 1: On the Run

Captain Midnight, Volume 1: On the Run

This is a book I’ve had for a while lost in my “to-read” shelf from a period of time when I was subscribed to a service called Comic Bento. I was somewhat familiar with the concept of Captain Midnight since I’ve read of various radio serials of the 1940’s, but was not actually familiar with the character itself. Captain Midnight was a U.S. adventure franchise first broadcast as a radio serial from 1938 to 1949 then later turned into all sorts of other media such as comics. This current book is from Dark Horse and is part of a line of books called “Project Black Sky” that feature superheroes. To me, this is an area Dark Horse hasn’t really dabbled in too much, but it’s cool to see the market not just dominated by “the big 2”.

As for the book itself, Captain Midnight: On the Run, is basically a copy of Captain Americas’s origin, albeit slightly tweaked, applied to another old character. The Captain was busy fighting Nazis in World War II and is suddenly lost in the Bermuda Triangle. flash forward to the present day and he shows up to continue his fight against some very familiar villains. Honestly the plot is very generic and the characterization of the Captain is sort of silly at times.

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I hate to make this comparison again, but one of the main good things about Captain America is how he comes to terms with his time displacement and how America has changed in his absence. Captain Midnight, however shows up in 2014 and is basically like “cool, I can fly modern planes because I’m a genius”. This unfortunately makes the character REALLY one-dimensional since he can seemingly do anything and is never fazed. His assistant Charlotte is the voice of the audience, and we see her react to the reappearance of a man that shaped her grandmothers life, and one that she grew up hearing endless stories about.

Honestly, this book isn’t great, but the art is nice and it’s good to see Darkhorse at least try to enter the Superhero market so I’m giving it three stars since I can’t do 2 1/2. Had this been presented in a “pulp” manner or pure camp nostalgia I think it would have worked better, but what we have is what we have.


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Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground (2003)

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Soon to have a major motion picture coming out, figured I ought to read it!

I’ve been a fan of the largely underground strain of heavy metal known as “black metal” for around 17 years or so, but I fell in love with it for how it sounded rather than how it was created. In the late 90’s / early 2000’s black metal had, well there’s no better term, “sold out” and started to become mainstream, so it was largely distanced from the events that happened nearly a decade previous. The wall of sound, misanthropic minimalist themes, and the theatricality were all awesome to me, so I decided to do some research on some of the original black metal bands – whoops. The sort of music I enjoyed turned out to be comprised largely of extreme right-wing murderers and arsonists that had basically formed a nihilist cult and ran around committing crimes in a naïve quest to end Norwegian Christianity.

This book focuses on the culture surrounding the black metal scene in Norway between 1990 and 1993. This is a cautionary tale on how a group of impressionable kids fell into, what can only be described as, a cult and nearly brought Norway to its knees. The first few chapters give an outline of the progression of heavy metal from bands such as Black Sabbath, Coven and Black Widow to proto-black metal bands such as Bathory, Mercyful Fate and Venom, and finally to the early Norwegian black metal band Mayhem. Then about half of the book follows the exploits of Black Metal’s most famous record label Deathlike Silence Records, and the events leading up to the death of its owner, Øystein Aarseth, and the imprisonment of his murderer Varg Vikernes. Finally, the book chronicles the aftermath of the murders and church burnings and the media circus that ensued.

I have known about this book, Lords of Chaos, for years now, but have not read it until now. Luckily (for the most part) the book has been out long enough that a second edition was put together a number of years ago to delve into some newer information about its “protagonists” like Vikernes. Unfortunately, this allows the book to go in weird directions such as Vikernes’s descent into conspiracy theory, as he discusses, at length, about UFOs and how they influenced heathen religion. Some additions are great, but others like Varg’s tales of Atlantean Wars break the flow of the chapters up a bit too much and make me feel as if I’ve accidentally started reading a Zecharia Sitchin book. The authors try to stand back and let the subjects say whatever they please, they do make an effort to not let this book be a soap box for their political belief and are not scared to step in and contradict any falsehoods that may have been spoken in the interview process.

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One of my favorite parts of this book is a series of interviews that try to culturally place “satanism” into Norwegian society, and a conclusion seems to come up that paints this Norwegian strain of anti-Christianity as some kind of naive copy of the fictitious Satanic underground that was the boogeyman of America during its “Satanic Panic” of the 1980’s and 90’s. For those unaware, America and parts of Europe, were made into constant media zoos when people started coming out of the woodwork describing things like grave desecration, satanic ritual abuse, and ritualized murder by hooded members of a worldwide cult. This hysteria has been totally debunked at this point, and zero cases of any of this have every turned out to be true, but if you watched TV or read papers during that time – our world was a battlezone between Jesus and Satan 24/7. These kids, wanting to be Anti-Christian, may have taken this cartoonish “religion” and given it life.

I had read a few reviews of this book (on Amazon) prior to purchase and was worried because the general tone of the reviews was that this was some sort of Neo-Nazi book and that the author was somehow promoting the stuff said within. On the contrary, Moynihan’s neutrality towards the ideologies portrayed in the book means that they are not censored, but they are often directly criticized or it is often implied that they have the ideology of angsty children in editorial sections. In fact, this is written a lot like a newspaper article, most comments are left to stand on their own, and the author jumps in to tie everything together. I wonder of these reviewers have largely not read the book to be honest.

As a true crime book, I will admit that this book is not perfect. It meanders a bit, means little to those that are not in some way “into” metal music, and is written in a manner that is by no means top journalism. What this book does have is a treasure-trove of information, newspaper clippings, media reports, and images from a ten year period that has been infamous for many metal fans, and until a better book comes along this is the definitive history of this genre of music and all the baggage that comes with it. This is with Varg’s UFO tales and all.


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Roadside Picnic (1972)

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I have recently been on a big Russian science fiction kick these past few months (We, Omon Ra, Night Watch etc), and discovered that this book inspired a video game I like, so I figured that I should pick it up. The game in question, “S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl“, is not really a remake of this book, but after reading the story – it borrows many plot points. It’s weird to know how old this book is (1972) and to see how it predicted the way people would treat an exclusion zone that folks try to sneak into. Granted, Chernobyl was a huge nuclear disaster, and the incident that creates tension in this book is a low-key alien encounter.

It seems that, years prior, an alien invasion of some sort occurred. These aliens, thinking that we were basically ants to them, ignored us completely, left a bunch of trash everywhere, then simply left. A comparison is made that it was like a situation where humans have a Roadside Picnic and leave garbage everywhere – animals would be scared and confused, and have no idea what we left behind. Their trash, however, isn’t just regular trash, it’s so bad that the areas affected end up called “zones”. These areas exhibit strange and dangerous phenomena not understood by humans, and contain artifacts with inexplicable, seemingly supernatural properties. Of course, a huge black market pops up to take advantage and folks start making a career out of sneaking in and stealing this stuff.

I really enjoyed Roadside Picnic, but it wasn’t perfect. It seems so short and has a somewhat unsatisfying open-ended finale. One can surmise what happens at the end, but you never really know. If you want to read something a bit different, this is a decent quick read that keeps you on the edge of your seat.


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The Multiversity

The Multiversity

I’m torn between thinking this was good, and thinking this was somewhat pretentious. I like Grant Morrison, but he has a tendency to let his ideas get away from himself and we end up with something like Multiversity. This is a fine collection of one-shots that show obscure versions of DC characters in a lot of different circumstances all vaguely related to a possible apocalyptic event in all 52 universes of the DC “Multiverse”. The problem lies in that the “cement” that holds this book together, the story of a cursed comic book created by an evil organization to destroy reality, is easily the weakest part of the series.

This book comes across as far too ambitious for Morrison, who perhaps was trying to create a Watchmen-esque satire of DC’s obsession with these large cross-over events, and ended up making something that barely makes any sense. There is also an attempt to make the reader part of the story – ala The Neverending Story, that feels forced and unneeded.

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Some of the one shots were good – really good. I’m a sucker for Captain Marvel, so anything starring that character is always right up my alley, as was S.O.S, and The Uncle Sam vs Nazi Superman story. A few others were sort of bland. There was one in particular about a world of entitled DC teen superhero reality TV stars that overstayed it’s welcome to me pretty quick.

Perhaps the Most ambitious story here was Pax Americana, Morrison’s send-off of Alan Moore’s The Watchmen. The Watchmen was based on old Charlton Comics characters that ultimately were modernized to better work with the material. Here Morrison goes back to the original characters and weaves a story that is more of an art piece than an actual comic. The story is told backwards, that is each page turn reveals more about what happened before, and the reader is made to read in a bizarre figure-8 pattern that is a meme in the story. I kind of wish it would be it’s own book, but it was a bit over-the-top and considering Morrison’s hatred of Moore (and vice versa), could have been a jab at his nemesis in some way.

All in all, this is worth reading, but as a whole “Graphic novel”, it fails to seem like anything other than a stack of one-shots. It’s a shame because something like this could have been huge.


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The White Mountains (The Tripods #1)

The White Mountains (The Tripods #1)

The Tripods first came to my attention a few years ago when I stumbled upon a picture of one of the titular crafts in some sort of memorabilia magazine; one that was full of garage model kits. As I recall, I had no idea that there was some sort of “sequel” to H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, and wondered why I had never heard of it. I was, of course, mistaken as the concept of these three-legged walking crafts is merely inspired by those similar Martian crafts, and have no relation otherwise.

The Tripods was actually a series of “young adult” novels (way before they were a cultural phenomenon) penned by John Christopher in the late 1960’s to the early 1980’s. The series was a success and was eventually adapted into an awesome television show that I’ve seen the first season of. If this sounds fun, be sure to look for my reviews of that show on here. The production was a joint venture between the BBC and the Australian Seven network, and lasted two seasons. Sadly, a third season died before it went into production.

The White Mountains is immediately unsettling based solely on the realization that something is wrong. The book employs a great juxtaposition of little hints of lost technology and a primitive, medieval-ish, somewhat pastoral, setting. This sets up what I will be calling “The Reverse Shyamalan”- we have already seen the twist, something bad happened and this is a dystopian future – now let’s work backwards and find out why. Maybe it’s more like Memento? I’m sure I can figure out a better early 2000’s film reference to put here, but that’s beside the point.

Anyway…we know that something isn’t right: either these people are some sort of Anabaptist off-shoot that hates technology, or something bad has happened in the past. This is answered almost immediately as we meet the main characters on their way to a village celebration. It seems that Jack, a neighborhood boy, has reached the age at which everyone is considered an adult, and is to have his “capping ceremony”.

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Will (and later his cousin Henry) are disturbed by this practice as everyone that gets “capped” comes back different. Capped individuals seem to lose any sort of creativity, drive, and imagination that made them who they were. “Adults” become bland worker drones that want no other past time than work and sing the praise of their “masters”. These masters are of course gigantic three legged monstrosities called “Tripods” and the Capping Ceremony can be surmised as a way of them controlling humans. At this point we have no idea what these creatures are or what they want with the human race, but one can see that it isn’t good.

Will strikes up a conversation with an eccentric “vagrant” named Ozymandias that talks of a land of free men in the White Mountains, a land outside of the influence of the Tripods. Vagrants are those that are seen as harmless by the Tripods and regular capped townspeople, but are not allowed to mingle with everyone else. Usually it is accepted that these people were “driven mad” by the capping process and are better to be not spoken about. Will is amazed by what Ozymandias has to say, and plans to escape to the European mainland to find this utopia of freedom.

Then a whole lot of shenanigans ensue – a third character named Beanpole joins up, and grenades get hurled at stuff. I will let you read to find out the rest.

I was struck with how different this book is to the television series. First and foremost – Will and Henry almost hate each other. Even coming to blows a few times. The show also has a LOT of “fluff” padding the main part of the story. Honestly, the book flows better and is very tightly paced. This is ostensibly a young adult book or some equivalent thereof and can be read very quickly, if you enjoy science fiction I would greatly recommend it.


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Vampirella Volume 1: Our Lady of Shadows

Vampirella Volume 1: Our Lady of Shadows

I’ve stated in a few other reviews on here that I *usually* don’t like modern vampire fiction. This is largely because writers try too hard to make it hip and trendy to cater to the teenage audience. So, while everyone was obsessed with sparkly shirtless vampires, I basically stopped reading anything in the genre. I have, however, found that I actually do like this stuff, I’m just an old “stick in the mud” traditionalist when it comes to it. Even some of the more of-the-wall vampire stuff I enjoy (like Vampire Hunter D) is firmly based on stuff like Christopher Lee films from Hammer Horror.

When reading Vampirella Volume 1: Our Lady of Shadows, I was having a lot of fun. Despite the covers, the story doesn’t really get too outlandish and exploitative, and everything is fairly well written. This is basically my introduction to the character since I always assumed this book was nothing more than softcore porn – now I know it’s more of a “pulp” series, and I feel bad for ignoring it so long.

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The story follows Vampirella as she is sent by The Vatican to stop a long dead nemesis, a cult leader and warlock, that may have resurfaced. She ends up on a quest (aided by a Nosferatu no less) to consume energy from various “vampires” from other cultures to make herself able to stop him and his plan to start the apocalypse.

Honestly, my only real quibble here is that it ended in such a way that it really should have had at least one more issue. Everything seems rushed at the end, thus making the whole story-arc unbalanced. There was even a point where the “monster of the issue” feel is thrown out in order to speed things up (what previously took a full issue was resolved in two pages), making Vampi’s quest seem pointless. It was good that a “prequel” issue was included, but I wanted a better ending. I will have to look at more Vampirella titles from Dynamite and possibly read more as I am starting to really enjoy these retro “pulpy” titles they are doing.


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IWGP: Ikebukuro West Gate Park: volume 1

IWGP: Ikebukuro West Gate Park: volume 1

Cast your time machines to about a decade ago, during the US anime/manga explosion (sadly followed by an implosion a bit later). It was during this time that I was in an anime club at college and started buying tons of manga since I got a huge discount at the retail chain I worked at. I got hooked on the anime Great Teacher Onizuka and started buying the books and other merch from the now defunct company Tokyopop. After a while Tokyopop tried to release like 40 releases a month, so I had to stop my crazy buying habits quite a bit.

I haven’t really bought or followed that much manga since this time due to space limitations and the general taste in this product shifting away from what I actually enjoy (not a fan of the Moe genre), but every once in a while I get a wild hair to try a new series, and here we are. I got this book from a sale that Akadot Retail was having, and figured that a book for $2.00 was too good to pass up. I may get more if this experiment goes well, and truthfully I never purchased much from Digital Manga Publishing.

Apparently Ikebukuro West Gate Park is based on a popular 2000 TV series in Japan, I have not seen this series so I cannot comment, but I see that according to Wikipedia the book and show are somewhat different to eachother. It’s funny that I mentioned GTO up there, because this book reminds me a lot of the general tone of GTO. Yeah Fujisawa’s Onizuka stuff is generally written much better, but this book has a balance between gags and drama that I enjoy quite a bit, although the balance is a bit off at the beginning. I would say the first quarter of the book is a bit too light-hearted considering that this is a mystery novel about a potential serial killer and a street gang trying to stop him.

IWGP: Ikebukuro West Gate Park: volume 1

The story follows a guy named Makoto that seems to have all sorts of connections to street gangs and other illicit activities despite seemingly not being a part of said activity. He runs a shop with his mother and has some sort of oddly close Batman/Commisioner Gordon relationship with the local police that has yet to be fully explained. He and a few friends meet a couple of girls at a New Year’s Eve party (the over-hyped 1999-2000 millennium celebration in particular) and hits it off with a girl named Rika. Ikebukuro is plagued with reports of a serial “strangler” that seems to be attacking girls that go on dates with older guys for money, and this has everyone scared. Some bad stuff happens and it’s all up to Makoto to stop it (to not go into spoiler-land too much).

Not much else to say about volume one, other than I will be seeking out the second book and that this is definitely a mature book so make sure you are okay with that if you give this a shot.


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Star Trek: Harlan Ellison’s The City on the Edge of Forever: The Original Teleplay

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I have seen the Star Trek episode The City on the Edge of Forever many times, and it’s definitely a great episode, but I had no idea what I was in for when I picked this up. I knew that Gene Roddenberry was notorious for altering many scripts that came across his desk – sometimes for the better sometimes for the worse (There is even a film called Chaos on the Bridge about this). What I had no idea about was the bad blood between Harlan Ellison and Roddenberry over the script for this story. It was deemed un-filmable, large portions were changed and entire characters were removed – all to make it more “Star Trek”. Granted, the episode went on to win a Hugo award, but I wonder what it could have been in its original form? Luckily thanks to IDW we have a graphic novel which adapts the second draft by Ellison, and in his own words “moved him to tears”.

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One of the main differences between the two versions of the story is the inclusion of an antagonist that is somewhat replaced by a drug addled Doctor McCoy (accidental of course) in the actual aired episode. Enter: Lieutenant Richard Beckwith, a drug dealer selling the illegal “Jewels of Sound”, kills Lieutenant LeBeque after he threatens to expose Beckwith’s activities to Kirk (selling drugs to people on away-missions). He storms the transporter array and goes to the planet where he later alters time. This one change already drastically changes the tone of the episode to a much darker story-line. I’m pretty sure censors would not have let that fly in 1966, but one never knows.

Another few shocking moments are racist overtones Spock has to deal with (everyone thinks he is Chinese) and a moment when Spock almost commits murder in desperation to “make things right”. Honestly this book contains enough new material for a full second part of this episode including a disturbing fate for our villain.

All in all, this is the superior version of this story and an amazing book for sci-fi fans and Star Trek fans alike.

The Code of the Woosters

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I’ve been a fan of the television show Jeeves and Wooster for quite some time, but I have never got around to actually reading any of the novels or short stories that the series was pulled from until now. I had heard they were hilarious, but for some reason, never had a chance or reason to snag one. I recognized the plot of this story as one of my favorite episodes from the aforementioned show and figured that I’d give it a try – my verdict: Wodehouse is a genius!

The story is as follows: “When Aunt Dahlia demands that Bertie Wooster help her dupe an antique dealer into selling her an 18th-century cow-creamer. Dahlia trumps Bertie’s objections by threatening to sever his standing invitation to her house for lunch, an unthinkable prospect given Bertie’s devotion to the cooking of her chef, Anatole. A web of complications grows as Bertie’s pal Gussie Fink-Nottle asks for counseling in the matter of his impending marriage to Madeline Bassett. It seems Madeline isn’t his only interest; Gussie also wants to study the effects of a full moon on the love life of newts. Added to the cast of eccentrics are Roderick Spode, leader of a fascist organization called the Saviors of Britain, who also wants that cow-creamer, and an unusual man of the cloth known as Rev. H. P. “Stinker” Pinker. As usual, butler Jeeves becomes a focal point for all the plots and ploys of these characters, and in the end only his cleverness can rescue Bertie from being arrested, lynched, and engaged by mistake!”

In pretty much any other book, Bertie Wooster would be seen as a ridiculous imbecile, but here he is somehow almost a “straight man” (well not so much compared to his Valet Jeeves) to all of the other colorful lunatics in British high society in the 1920’s-30’s. All Bertie wants to do is basically nothing – his dream is to be lazy and live off of his money. Even the prospect of traveling around the world on a cruise ship is too much effort for Bertie. This lifestyle is so ingrained in his very being that he even frequents a club for this very thing called the “Drones club”. By drone, I don’t mean our new robot overlords, I mean a male bee that does no work, living off the labor of others. His dream of a life of sloth and vice keeps getting interrupted by everyone else trying to use him as a pawn in various schemes, none of which make much sense and complicate things.

Wodehouse is amazing at coming up with Bertie’s internal monologues. You see, Bertie seems to think he’s somewhat of an intellectual himself, and some of the most hilarious moments involve him mis-quoting something that he heard Jeeves say, usually regarding a philosophical or literary term that Bertie obviously does not actually understand. One such occurrence involved Bertie trying to quote the parable of the sword of Damocles and fumbling it up something fierce.

all in all, I loved this book, and will get more Wodehouse classics.

Uncovering Soviet Disasters: Exploring the Limits of Glasnost (1988)

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“A disturbing aspect about the Soviets’ reaction to revelations of their secrets was the insistence that any Western attempt to explore these secret mishaps had to have been inspired by malice, not by an understandable interest in the truth. Even during the period of glasnost the ancient and strident Russian paranoia toward foreign curiosity about their failures is very evident.”

– James Oberg, Uncovering Soviet Disasters

One of my favorite “mysteries” is the conspiracy of the lost cosmonauts. Basically, it’s a theory that claims that “The Space Race” may have been built upon the corpses of many forgotten heroes lost to both time and Soviet censorship. These so-called “lost cosmonauts” have been proven to be usually more fantasy than fact, and I don’t actually believe in many of the stories that have been circulating for upwards of sixty years. But all one has to do is listen to the chilling Judica-Cordiglia brothers audio recordings from 1962 that claim to be the last words of a handful of such cases, and think “what if…” I was looking for a book on this subject and was shocked to see that there really aren’t many that aren’t conspiracy nut garbage, so I broadened my net and found a series of books written by James Oberg during the Cold War. There is a chapter in here about lost cosmonauts, both factual and mythical, and information on the narrative that makes a conspiracy like this so hard to shake – if the USSR lied and covered up so much stuff, what don’t we know about?

The Purpose of Uncovering Soviet Disasters by James E. Oberg is to explore the USSR’s new (at the time) government policy of open discussion, or Glasnost (openness in Russian). The USSR had routinely covered up almost any bad news pertaining to not only government affairs but personal tragedies for so long that many were living in a dream-world of sorts for many years. This book is an attempt to “level the playing field” and expose a lot of these blatant misuses of censorship. Oberg does this by organizing everything into a series of articles each covering a different Soviet Era disaster that had been in some way wiped from public records or covered up.

Oberg usually presents many sides to each story, and since most of his “experts” were going off of eye-witness testimony or professional gut-feelings, many of the theories were vastly different from one another. For example, chapter one talks about a suspected anthrax epidemic in the early 80’s that caused dozens of deaths, but was almost unheard of until the fall of the USSR within the country itself. Some experts chalked it up to being a case of tainted meat, others blamed it on a misplaced vaccine that somehow got out of a medical facility. Since this book is so old (it was published in 1988), it was fun to look up many of the incidents listed to get an update of what really happened (since all of this info has largely been unclassified since). After the fall of the USSR it was revealed that, according to Wikipedia, that the USSR did in fact violate a biological weapons ban and produce Anthrax like many suspected, and the whole ordeal was caused by a miscommunication between workers in said weapons facility rendering a vent system offline for a few days allowing anthrax to escape unfiltered into the town. Now the whole ordeal is called “Biological Chernobyl” and is pretty infamous.

Some of the stories are a bit “tainted”, I suppose, with American Cold War era propaganda – many Soviet “characters” are described in a less than flattering manner. In many instances, the reader is presented with the narrative that The USSR was always up to no good as if populated entirely by mustache twirling Bond Villains, or reactionary morons that were only trying to protect themselves in the face of disaster. while this wasn’t too over-the-top, it colored an otherwise well-done book. He does go to great length to talk-up the heroism and toughness of many everyday Russians in an almost “noble savage” sort of way, leaving you to admire their resolve. If anything, I REALLY wish there was a later edition of this where Oberg went back and updated everything, but alas the entire book would have to be basically re-written, and he is now in his 70’s.

All-in-all this is a good read despite the age and political motivation. I will need to look into reading more of Mr. Oberg’s work.

We (1921)

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“You are afraid of it because it is stronger than you; you hate it because you are afraid of it; you love it because you cannot subdue it to your will. Only the unsubduable can be loved.”

I recall reading an interview with George Orwell some years ago where a lot of the discussion seemed to veer towards the origin of perhaps his most notable work, Nineteen-Eighty Four. In this interview, Orwell discussed a story that had captivated his imagination in such a way that he became obsessed with the ideas it shared. I had never heard of this old story, a novel called We, but wanted to read it. He cited that We was his basis for his story, and assumed that Brave New World by Aldous Huxley shared a similar origin. This got me thinking – why had I never heard of this? Well, thats easy; The Iron Curtain and age kept this story somewhat buried under other stories that borrowed heavily from it. Being a fan of dystopian stories, and especially ones like Nineteen-Eighty Four and Brazil – I knew I would love We.

We was Written in the early 1920’s by Russian novelist Yevgeny Zamyatin as a satirical jab at the CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union) and was confusingly only released in his motherland of Russia in the late 1980’s. In fact, it was released in America first! This was, of course, because his work was banned by the very Communist party that is was making fun of (imagine that!). Yevgeny Zamyatin was an old school Bolshevik, and found his views largely less and less popular amongst people that were once of a similar mindset after Tsar Nicholas II was removed from power.

We is a story of the horrors that would be caused if humanity eventually adopted a purely scientific and atheistic society based on the writings of Frederick Winslow Taylor. Humans are reduced to mere labor machines with numbered names and absolutely zero sense of individuality. Everything is precisely planned and scheduled, and everyone somehow persists on food derived from petroleum production. Everyone lives in clean glass and plastic tower blocks and the world seems to be devoid of vegetation. There are many similarities with Nineteen-Eighty Four, but We is less dreary in many ways. Granted, Zamyatin’s masterpiece is by no means a happy story, but it’s distance from many of the actual horrors that Nineteen-Eighty Four were based on keeps it somehow more fantastical.

The protagonist, a man simply known as D-503, is very unlikable for the most part; a fact that could be jarring to readers that like to read from the viewpoint of a square-jawed He-Man that rights all wrongs. D-503 is not heroic, he is actually cowardly to a fault. The book is basically a chronicle of D-503’s decent into madness after discovering his long suppressed imagination or “soul” and his inability to deal with emotions and fear that comes with it. I felt that the story ends somewhat abruptly, but it follows the structure of a series of diary entries so it’s not completely out of place. I was happy that the post-modern writing style feels somewhat contemporary despite being nearly 100 years old, this is very easy to read as long as you can get over the style, especially the free flowing dialog that makes other books like Ulysses really hard to read.

Truly a classic everyone should read.