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Batman: The Doom That Came to Gotham

Batman: The Doom That Came To GothamBatman: The Doom That Came To Gotham by Mike Mignola
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found this mashup of DC’s iconic superhero Batman with the equally iconic Lovecraft mythos to be absolutely charming, and in many ways everything Alan Moore’s failed NEONOMICON should have been. Mignola and co-author Richard Pace do a great job of fitting Batman and his various supporting characters — mostly villains — into a narrative of horror and cosmic dread. For me, half the fun of these types of books is in spotting the analogs, and so my heart went pitter-pat at the inclusion of so many recognizable characters in new forms: Oswald Cobblepot (brilliantly linked to the giant penguins of “At the Mountains of Madness”), Mr. Freeze, Man-Bat (yes!), Poison Ivy, Two-Face (in a fantastic and very apropos re-interpretation), the Green Arrow, a wide variety of Robins, and many more.

Unfortunately, I found the story detrimentally rushed in places. I wonder if four issues instead of three would have given Mignola and Pace a chance to better pace the story and explore its themes. Troy Nixey’s art is good and surprisingly Mignola-like, but not always clear. There were a few panels where I couldn’t quite tell what was going on, which left me frustrated. But overall, I enjoyed this graphic novel very much. Frankly, I’d love to read more mashups like this. At this point, I find them more interesting than the straightforward “canon” stories.

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The Scariest Part: Jonathan Winn Talks About EIDOLON AVENUE: THE FIRST FEAST

Eidolon Avenue front cover-WARNING

This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is Jonathan Winn, whose new collection is Eidolon Avenue: The First Feast. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Eidolon Avenue: where the secretly guilty go to die.

One building. Five floors. Five doors per floor. Twenty-five nightmares feeding the hunger lurking between the bricks and waiting beneath the boards.

The First Feast. A retired Chinese assassin in apartment 1A fleeing from a lifetime of bloodshed. A tattooed man in 1B haunted by his most dangerous regret. A frat boy serial killer in 1C facing his past and an elderly married couple stumbling and wounded from fifty years of failed murder/suicide pacts in 1D. And, finally, a young girl in 1E whose quiet thoughts unleash unspeakable horror.

All thrown into their own private hell as every cruel choice, every deadly mistake, every drop of spilled blood is remembered, resurrected and relived to feed the ancient evil that lives on Eidolon Avenue.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Jonathan Winn:

Truth be told, I’ve had several “scariest parts” throughout my brief writing career. Chapter Forty-nine of my first book Martuk…the Holy was an experience that so unsettled me I needed to take a very long walk just to shake it off. And I still feel guilty over what fate did to sweet Tiber from Martuk…the Holy: Proseuche. Also, did I mention I darn near lost friends over the opening chapters of both “The Wounded King” and “The Elder”? Yep. Had to convince them to keep reading. Promise them the worst was over and the rest of the read was tame by comparison.

But Eidolon Avenue: The First Feast? My latest? Especially the third story, Apartment 1C, in this collection of five novellas and short stories? That was scary on a whole other level.

Let me explain.

Now, to be clear, Apartment 1C (aka “Click”) wasn’t scary because of what, exactly, was happening, although the events and their consequences are certainly horrific. “Click” was scary because…how can I put this? It was scary because why it was happening was coming from a mindset that could never be mine. The reasoning behind the cruelty, the quiet joy taken in it, the victim’s confusion shifting into realization and then terror, the whole thing turned my stomach. Put a lump in my throat. An insistent thump, thump, thumping in my head. Sent me to bed at night drowning in violent tsunamis of bitter guilt. I actually more than once — more than twice, to be honest — stopped midsentence, stood up and stepped outside just to get away from Apartment 1C. I just could not understand someone like Colton Carryage. And I could not comprehend how I, this nice boring guy — no, really, I am — was creating someone like Colton Carryage. But I was. And I had to. I needed to go there, go deep, put aside my inate kindness and somehow wrap my sane, level-headed logic and reason around this dangerous, vicious insanity because that’s what the narrative demanded.

Thankfully I had a publisher who was supportive — I think brave is the better word — no matter how dark things were. Of course, it also became clear that Eidolon was going to have the dubious distinction of being the first book they’d launch with a Warning Label. But, more importantly, I was fortunate to have my small handful of friends around to remind me that it was just a story and I just needed to get through it — the phrase “survive it” may have been used — so I could move on and leave it behind.

Yeah, that’s how freaked out I got.

So, if you want to know my Scariest Part, it was watching the horror of “Click” and Eidolon unfold, word by word, paragraph by paragraph, page by page. Watching my fingers clickety-clack a brutality which was and still is completely alien to me. It was knowing that readers may cringe and gasp and sob and throw the book across the room because of what Eidolon insisted on being. And then hate me, too!

Actually, now that I think about it, the Scariest Part when it comes to Eidolon is the fear that this is a story — and a collection — I’ll never live down.

Jonathan Winn: Website / Facebook / Twitter

Eidolon Avenue: The First Feast: Amazon / Barnes & NobleIndieBound

In addition to Eidolon Avenue: The First Feast, Jonathan Winn (Member, HWA) is a screenwriter and author of the full-length novels Martuk…the Holy (A Highlight of the Year, 2012 Papyrus Independent Fiction Awards), Martuk…the Holy: Proseuche (Top Twenty Horror Novels of 2014, Preditors & Editors Readers Poll), Martuk…the Holy: Shayateen (2016) and The Martuk Series (“The Wounded King,” “The Elder,” “Red and Gold”), an ongoing collection of short fiction inspired by Martuk. His work can also be found in Horror 201: The Silver Scream, Writers on Writing, Vol. 2, and Crystal Lake’s Tales from the Lake, Vol. 2, with his award-winning short story “Forever Dark.”

Boroughs of the Dead

Boroughs of the Dead: New York City Ghost StoriesBoroughs of the Dead: New York City Ghost Stories by Andrea Janes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This slim, charming volume is a given to delight fans of spooky stories, but its New York City connection is, for me at least, the special ingredient that makes this collection stand out. Janes, who also runs a ghost tour company in NYC, keeps the tone light even when things get dark in these ten tales, many of which make satisfying use of New York City history and locales. My favorites include “A Fitting Tribute,” in which the spoiled daughter of a wealthy family finds herself unwilling to share the spotlight with her newly arrived aunt; “The General Slocum,” a favorite for obvious reasons, in which Janes pins the historical tragedy on a familiar Germanic legend; “The End,” which unearths a chilling connection between classic mystery authors Ann Radcliffe, Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Agatha Christie; and possibly my favorite of the bunch, “The Northern Dispensary,” which deftly combines the real-life medical landmark where Edgar Allan Poe was once treated, and which used to provide dental services, with Poe’s own teeth-obsessed short story “Berenice.”

The stories are short and sparsely told, and could probably use some fleshing out in parts, but in truth there’s also something charmingly reminiscent of the classic ghost stories of M.R. James and Ambrose Bierce in their brevity. I hope to see more fiction from Janes in the future, where I expect she will have a fuller feast for us. But for now, BOROUGHS OF THE DEAD makes an excellent appetizer.

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The Scariest Part: Pete Mesling Talks About NONE SO DEAF

NoneSoDeaf - Cover 1

This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is Pete Mesling, whose debut collection is None So Deaf. Here’s the publisher’s description:

There are none so deaf as those who will not hear, but there are stories that scream to fill the void. The seventeen tales before you are such stories. From unplanned homicide and unexplained phenomena to undead vengeance, they all scream in an effort to get through. These are not quiet stories; Pete Mesling is not a quiet writer. So prick up your ears, turn down the lights…and listen. Ignorance may be bliss, but it also comes at a cost.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Pete Mesling:

From an early age, I was afraid of (and fascinated by) creatures from beyond (vampires, werewolves, malevolent aliens…), as well as monsters of the human variety (kidnappers, serial killers, roving lunatics…) — not to mention all the other dangers there are to be frightened by in the real world. I’ve always been more or less preoccupied with fear, and if the stories in my collection are any indication, this hasn’t changed much over the years. But I’ve also added some nuanced fears to the roster as an adult, and they color what you’ll find in None So Deaf, too.

It’s those nuanced fears, in fact, that give me the deepest chills when I read or write terrifying stories. Good fiction generally has at least two layers of meaning. There’s layer A: What’s this story about? And then there’s layer B: What’s this story really about? Layer B is where the theme of a story dwells. Take my story “Holy Is as Holy Does.” It’s the tale of a religious fanatic who incites his adherents to commit a horrible series of atrocities. It has a retributive component, and it involves the supernatural. But what really gets under my skin is that all of the brutality in it is exacted in the name of God, and that rings true to a much greater extent than we might be comfortable admitting. As a result, a ghost story about a deranged and misguided holy man who must face the repercussions of what he sets in motion becomes a story about the dark side of religion.

“Slipknot” is another good example of this sort of thing. It’s a zombie tale set in the Old West, but it also has something to say about the horrors of racism. In “Ridley Bickett’s Traveling Panoply,” a homeless man is given the opportunity to relive his childhood fondness for carnival freak shows. It turns out he’s also handed an opportunity to go back into the world and make a positive difference. It’s a story, in other words, about our insatiable need for guidance in an often dark and perplexing world, even if that guidance comes from dubious sources. That’s frightening to me. I’d rather be in absolute control of my destiny. (For a similarly themed, though very different kind of, story, see also “Day of Rage.”)

Of course, not every story has to be a thinker. There’s always room on my bookshelf for a little good clean fun, as long as it’s done with the right amount of heart. In None So Deaf you’ll find a story or two that fall into this category. But even in something like “A Pound of Flesh,” in which a cast of two commands your attention for the duration of the suspenseful plot, I like to think there’s an element of depth. Isn’t the blackness of war lurking in the corners throughout the story? I think it is. Our main character is certainly a by-product of that uniquely human phenomenon. It gives him no excuse for the things he’s done, but it does provide a context.

And of course there is “The Tree Mumblers,” which made its first appearance in the Mort Castle-edited anthology, All American Horror of the 21st Century, the First Decade: 2000 – 2010. The twist at the end is the take-away of this story, really. The magician’s reveal, if you will. Anything too thematic would have bogged it down. It’s the kind of story that needs to make its exit as quickly as it makes its entrance. Still, I want it to remind readers of the sublime wonders of childhood, and that they’re the ones who have moved on, not the wonders. Not the dreams. Not even the nightmares. Those are still watching and waiting from the fringe of every shadow and blind spot — maybe even from within the very trees whose timeless beauty we admire every day.

My hope is that None So Deaf makes for an unsettling batch of misery and bewilderment that can be enjoyed by a wide variety of horror enthusiasts. Subject matter ranges from the poignant to the extreme, from the fantastic to the gritty. So, if every story contains something that wakes you up and leaves you feeling a little more cautious, a little more filled with wonder, a little warier of the way things are — and a lot more grateful to be in your shoes instead of those of one of my fictitious victims… Well, then I’ve done my job.

And if the scariest part is what lurks beneath the surface, all the better.

Pete Mesling: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Goodreads / Podcast

None So Deaf: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Smashwords

Pete Mesling’s silhouette can, on rare occasions, be glimpsed prowling the watery byways of Seattle, Washington. In addition to being over the moon to have secured a deal with Books of the Dead Press for his debut collection, None So Deaf, he has sold fiction to such publications as All American Horror of the 21st Century, the First Decade: 2001 – 2010; Black Ink Horror; Best New Zombie Tales, Vol. 2; Spawn of the Ripper from April Moon Books; Champagne Shivers; Doorways; two of the Potter’s Field anthologies; Side Show 2: Tales of the Big Top and the Bizarre; Night Terrors; and a handful of Library of the Living Dead anthologies. When not writing or podcasting, Mesling enjoys dreaming up new ways to scare the bejesus out of his fiancée and revels in bike rides with his daughter, whose nickname is taken from a character in a Boris Karloff film.