The War of the Worlds Murder

Dude. How cool is a story by Max Allan (Road to Perdition) Collins about The Shadow’s creator Walter Gibson investigating a murder during the taping on Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds radio broadcast? A murder in which Welles himself is the primary suspect? Very cool indeed.

And — I’m just now learning — this is just one of a series of historical mysteries that Collins has written in which a famous writer plays detective during a historical disaster. He also has Agatha Christie solving crime in The London Blitz Murder, Edgar Rice Burroughs in The Pearl Harbor Murders, and Leslie Charteris in The Hindenberg Murders. There are also a couple of writers with whom I’m unfamiliar, Jacques Futrelle and S.S. Van Dine, who solve murders involving — respectively — the Titanic and Lusitania.

Why didn’t anyone tell me about these?!

10 Most Favoritist Comics of 2005

I’d decided not to do a list like this for CWN, but Steve Niles asked about it on his message board and it was easier to come up with ten than I thought it would be.

I’m gonna count ’em down Letterman-style:

10. Easy Way by Christopher E. Long and Andy Kuhn (IDW): The series I almost didn’t read. Early promotion for it focused almost exclusively on the fact that writer Long came up with the idea while in rehab. Which is mildly interesting, I guess, since the story is about a bunch of guys in rehab, but it doesn’t really tell you anything about the story. Fortunately, some people I trust recommended it and I gave it a look. It’s a crime story — a good genre, but not one of my favorites — but Long does a great job of making you care about his main character before throwing the poor guy into a situation with a threat level that’ll make the muscles in your neck and back squeeze together.

9. Elk’s Run by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Noel Tuazon (Hoarse and Buggy/Speakeasy): I don’t know why writer/publisher Josh Fialkov is having such a hard time selling this one. Everyone who reads it loves it. It’s got to be Josh’s marketing, but I’m no publisher and damned if I know what he’s doing wrong. In a recent newsletter, Warren Ellis mentioned helping Josh with that though, so hopefully the book will get bigger sales in 2006. For the record, it’s a terrifying story about a community that locks itself away from the horrors of the outside world only to unintentionally create horrors of their own. Sort of a more believable — and much more intense — The Village.

8. Strange Girl by Rick Remender and Eric Nguyen (Image): It was hard to pick one Rick Remender book, but I knew he had to make the list. He came out of nowhere (for me) this year with Sea of Red and has hit with every book he’s written since. Strange Girl is my favorite though. It has a charming, courageous, young lady for a heroine, a wise-cracking demon for a sidekick, explores some important spiritual themes, and features multiple types of horror from the big, supernatural kind to the more mundane, chilling kind associated with truly evil human beings.

7. Fell by Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith (Image): The first three issues of this series have all been very strong horror/mystery pieces, but the real reason it makes this list is that Ellis saw a need for affordable Direct Market comics and figured out how to make them. Sixteen, panel-packed pages that tell a complete story for two bucks.

6. Villains United by Gail Simone and Dale Eaglesham (DC): I don’t talk a lot about superhero comics on this blog because they’re not an inspiration for my work, but they were a big part of my childhood and young adulthood and I do enjoy them. Especially team comics with cool heroes (or, in this case, villains), great character interaction, exciting art, and thrilling action and drama. Of all the pre-Infinite Crisis mini-series, this is the only one that I really really wanted to see an ongoing out of. Fortunately, I got my wish and am looking forward to Secret Six next year.

5. Seven Soldiers of Victory by Grant Morrison and various artists (DC): I have a lot of respect for Grant Morrison and appreciate his approach to writing, but I’m not a big fan. More often than not, I just don’t connect with what he’s doing. Not so here. The modular nature of this… what? Series of mini-series? Event? Mega-crossover? Whatever it is, it’s working for me. Every mini-series is interesting on its own, but the real fun comes in finding pieces of one storyline in another and trying to figure out the significance of the connections. It’s a lot like watching Lost, but without all the rewinding and pausing.

4. Ferro City by Jason Armstrong (Image): “Robot pulp noir science fiction.” “The Maltese Falcon with robots.” I don’t generally like high concept descriptions, but these are ones that immediately told me I’d want to check this series out. He wasn’t kidding about the “noir” part, either. It’s not just a mystery with a hardboiled detective, it’s a story in which the lines between hero and villain are blurred beyond use. Everyone in this story (human and robot alike) has motivations so complicated that they’re impossible to categorize.

3. Rocketo by Frank Espinosa (Speakeasy): The world’s best Saturday matinee science fiction serial. In comic book form. You’re missing out. (It’s moved to Image, but I’m listing it as a Speakeasy book since every issue up to the time that I’m writing this has been released by Speakeasy.)

2. Solo #7 by Mike Allred (DC): The power of childhood memories, huh? Even though I don’t write superhero stories, my two favorite comics this year are superhero books. More significantly, they’re superhero books that praise the kind of stories that I grew up with. Or wish I did. Mike Allred’s love letter to DC comics has stories that I never could have gotten as a kid, like the Teen Titans having a loud party in the penthouse right above where the Doom Patrol are trying to relax, or the Adam West Batman having a horrifying vision of life after Frank Miller. It’s a celebration that’s actually better than the stories it celebrates.

1. Marvel Monsters: Monsters on the Prowl by Steve Niles and Duncan Fegrado (Marvel): This, on the other hand, is a celebration that completely drew me into it so that I forgot that I was reading an homage. At some point I ceased to be a nearly-forty guy reading a comic that his buddy had been lucky (and talented) enough to get to write, and I became a pre-teen again reading a great Hulk-Thing team-up. Maybe it’s the “buddy” part that makes me put this at Number One, but I like to think that it’s more awe that a modern writer can so completely capture in a middle-aged man the wonder that comes from reading comics at the age of ten.

New Comics Day

New genre comics coming out tomorrow (due to Christmas) that I’ll be checking out:

Revelations #5

BPRD: The Black Flame #5
30 Days of Night Annual 2005
The Keep #3
Night Mary #5
Night Club #2

Science Fiction
Silent Dragon #6
Revolution on the Planet of the Apes #1
Rocketo #4

All are pretty much tried and true comics for me except for Night Club and Revolution on the Planet of the Apes. The first issue of Night Club seemed like a standard monster-hunter comic, but had characters who were intriguing enough to deserve a second look. I was uncertain about Planet of the Apes until I interviewed the artist and learned that they’re sticking closely to the mythos of the original movies (muddled though it is). The creators love those films and I’m hoping that comes through in the comic.

Of the tried and true ones, I’m most excited about the 30 Days of Night Annual. If memory serves, this is the Nat Jones story that was originally slated to be in Bloodsucker Tales and features two of my favorite 30 Days characters, John Ikos from Return to Barrow and Dane from Dark Days. I’m especially fond of Dane because he’s one of Niles’s most complex characters.

That’s Some Bad Hat, Harry

Hope everyone had a wonderful, merry Christmas. Ours was nice: alternately chaotic and still in appropriate places.

I’m long overdue for a post about House. Darla Ecklund has been trying to convert me since, oh, last Spring, I think. She finally made me an offer I couldn’t refuse by loaning me the first season DVD last October. Diane and I have been nibbling away at it ever since.

We liked it from the first episode, but it was shaky going there for a minute about four or five episodes in. What we liked was the medical mystery each episode presented and the unique character of Dr. House. Most medical dramas are about super-caring doctors who grow emotionally attached to their patients. If there’s an uncaring doctor, he or she is probably a hospital adminstrator and acts as the show’s villain against whom our hero must endlessly struggle. Making the uncaring doctor the hero of the show was a stroke of genius.

Of course, that can’t last forever, because at some point if you’re going to care about the hero, you need something to latch onto. But even from the first couple of episodes, it was obvious that House does care, he’s just very very good at hiding it. He’s been hurt so badly at some point in his life that he doesn’t feel he can afford to become emotionally involved with, well… anyone.

I mentioned that there was a point at which we almost packed it in. Well, really it was Diane who had a problem, but her checking out on the show would’ve limited the times when I could’ve watched it. She noticed that there was a formula to the first few episodes. A strange case comes in, House and his team come up with an initial diagnosis that proves to be false, they come up with a second possible diagnosis that also proves incorrect, then they discover the life-saving third diagnosis and the credits roll. The show is a mystery show disguised as a medical drama; that’s what I love about it. But if the mysteries are formulaic, predicting their outcome will cause you to disconnect from them. Still, I’ve stuck with and enjoyed some formulaic mystery series (both on TV and in print) because the detective was fascinating enough to keep my interest. Once Diane pointed out the pattern to me, it bothered me as well, but I was more willing to stick with it because I like Dr. House. Fortunately, just as she was about to give up on the show, the writers abandoned the formula. If they’ve gone back to it from time to time, they’ve been clever in disguising it. Or maybe we’re just both so hooked on the characters now that we’re not paying attention.

I read something in a recent TV Guide that not only confirmed that House is a detective show, but also threw a gazillion-candle spotlight on why I love Dr. House so much. He’s Sherlock Holmes. One of the elements I’ve loved most about the show is House’s ability to walk into an examing room and immediately diagnose an illness without asking the patient any questions. Something in me registered that deductive reasoning as Holmesian, but I compeletely missed that his emotional detachment and drug addiction are also borrowed from Holmes. I guess that makes his entire medical team Watson, and Dr. Cutty is Lestrade. The billionaire who takes over as the hospital’s chairman of the board could be Moriarty and — though I haven’t gotten to those episodes yet — I’m guessing that Sela Ward must be Irene Adler. Or maybe I’m overthinking it.

So, I’m hooked. Grey’s Anatomy being an exception (and it’s really more of a relationship show), I’m not a big fan of medical dramas. But mysteries… man, I love those.

Door to Heaven

Finished watching the first season of Stargate SG-1 tonight. I usually only buy DVDs of shows that I’ve seen before, but this one’s been on the air so long and has such a loyal fan following that I thought my chances good that I’d enjoy it. I was right.

It’s remarkably faithful to the movie, often referencing events that happened there. Michael Shanks does an uncanny impersonation of James Spader, making it easy to buy that he’s the same character from the film. Richard Dean Anderson does not do an impersonation of Kurt Russell, but he’s a strong enough presence that he owns the character of O’Neill and makes you forget about Russell’s interpretation.

The addition of Amanda Tapping as new character Sam Carter to the cast took me most of the season to accept. She’s not annoying, but neither was she especially memorable at first. She always seemed to be trying to catch up to the charisma of the other cast members, even Christopher Judge, who — as Teal’c — is simply playing Worf, but is doing a good job at it. His facial expressions are hilarious as he responds to new situations and tries to fit in with the Earth folk.

The stories were all strong too. Whether it was real or not, there was always the sense that they were willing to mess up the status quo. Obviously the main characters were always going to make it out alive, but there were times when I genuinely wondered how they were going to do that, and other times when I was convinced that they wouldn’t make it out unchanged. After getting oh so tired with the predictability of the later Star Trek shows, it was great to see a sci-fi show that was fresh and surprising.

My only problem is that the season ended on a cliffhanger and now I’m tempted to immediately buy Season Two, when what I really want to do is go back and watch Season One of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I bought that DVD set ages ago and haven’t yet watched in its entirety. So the fate of Earth as the Gua’uld ships approach will have to remain a mystery for now, but I’m hooked and will certainly be back for more later.

It’s Not an Adventure Story, Is It, Mr. Hayes?

Sometimes I mirror my posts here over on LiveJournal and someone made a comment there about King Kong that I thought was worth addressing here as well.

Her concern is with the portrayal of the Skull Island natives as stereotypical savages. I’m not sensitive enough to have taken offense at the depiction, but her bringing it up did make me stop to think about it, which is never a bad thing. Having thought about it though, I believe that focusing on the political correctness of the tribespeople is missing the point.

I’m reposting my reply to her here, because in addition to addressing the major theme of the movie (which I neglected to do on Thursday) it also brings up something I meant to say about Peter Jackson’ s version of Carl Denham as portrayed by Jack Black:

“I don’t know how reassuring this’ll be, but the tribal people in the remake aren’t African. According to the prequel novel, Skull Island is located in the middle of the Indian ocean. The movie supports that by hinting at its location as being on the way to Singapore and depicting the tribal folk as Middle Eastern or South Asian. So it’s certainly not making a statement about white/black encounters.

“It’s still an indigenous tribe though, and it is certainly savage. And there is a biting incident that could be interpreted as cannibalistic (although, to be fair, it could also be interpreted as a defensive move). Either way, you can’t get around the fact that — even if the tribespeople don’t eat humans — they certainly do sacrifice them to Kong.

“Focusing on that though, is missing the point, I think. The film is far more explicitly condemning of the civilized characters (it’s not fair to think of them as “white,” because it’s a diverse crew) than of the tribal folk whose island they invade. Carl Denham is a villain. He’s a three-dimensional and probably unintentional one, but he’s a selfish bastard and Jackson makes no attempt to redeem him. The fact that no one puts him in his place is a judgment on the rest. Some of them may want to, but they don’t.

“The hero of the movie is undeniably Kong. The major theme of the film is how humans — both civilized and uncivlized — exploit him. Denham and his crew do it for financial reasons while the tribespeople do it for religious ones, but they’re all guilty. I don’t think Jackson’s presenting an allegory for racial relations as much as he’s telling a story about mankind’s (ALL of mankind’s) responsibility to live peaceably with his environment. “

In the ’30s version of the story, Carl Denham is an opportunist, but he’s still portrayed as a hero. He rescues Ann Darrow from poverty and single-handedly designs a plan to find and capture Kong. If he decides he wants to profit from those labors, we’re not asked to judge. Kong, after all, is portrayed in that version as a mindless, rampaging beast who “naturally” becomes enamored with a woman who epitomizes the Western ideal of beauty. If we’re ever asked to sympathize with Kong in that version, we’re not asked very convincingly.

In Jackson’s version, we can’t help but sympathize with Kong. Instead of a lustful brute, he’s a wild, but intelligent animal who strikes up a genuine friendship with Ann Darrow. Her beauty (in spite of Denham’s famous closing line) is a secondary factor at best. She survives her first encounter with him because of her intelligence, charm, and skill as a performer — not just because she’s white and blonde.

In that light, Denham is a much darker character. Rather than capturing a monster, he brings home an animal that we’ve been made to feel something for and his treatment of Kong makes us angry and sad. We’re not supposed to admire this Carl Denham. The film’s heroes don’t and Jackson makes sure that we see early on in the film just how selfish Denham is and how willing he is to step on the backs of whomever he needs to in order to realize his dreams.

It’s too bad, ’cause I really liked Denham before, but Jackson’s made a much better movie this way.


I finished reading King Kong: The Island of the Skull by Matthew Costello today, just in time to go see the movie. The book is a prequel to the film, so I thought it would be fun to read it first. And it was. It was flawed fun, but it was fun.

I should’ve expected trouble from the cover, which I believe was taken from a production painting from the movie. It depicts a jungle scene with a flying lizard of some kind hanging out in a tree, and it’s very very dull. There are no people on the cover; no giant gorillas. It’s very generic.

The biggest disappointment though is that the book doesn’t stand on its own at all. It depicts events in the lives of three characters: Ann Darrow, Carl Denham, and a deep sea diver named Sam Kelly. The first two names are recognizable to anyone familiar with either version of the film (I don’t count the horrible ’70s version); Kelly is responsible for creating the map that sends Denham looking for Skull Island. The novel ends with Denham’s purchasing Kelly’s map, so at least their stories intersect in the novel, but unless you already know what happens in the movie, Ann Darrow is a completely superfluous character. We see her struggling with a couple of jobs (one of which foreshadows an affinity she has with animals) and that’s all. She’s given a full third of the novel, but nothing to do.

I guess Costello can be forgiven (if you’re feeling very generous) for needing to include Ann in the book, but it would have been good if he’d figured out a clever way of connecting her to the rest of the book, even if just in a brief encounter with a secondary character or something. What I can’t forgive is Costello’s introduction of plots and characters that aren’t made necessary by the film, but that he mysteriously discards with no follow-up. For example, Sam Kelly is pointed towards Skull Island by something he finds on a ghost ship, the crew of which has been killed by an unknown disease. The source or nature of the disease are never explained, it’s just a convenient way to wipe out the crew so that they don’t complicate the plot once Kelly’s done with them.

There’s also a Jewish paleontologist who flees Germany and comes to the U.S. with some dinosaur bones he’s discovered… bones that are only a few years old. He has a couple of scenes — none of which are with any of the main characters — that reveal what he’s discovered and he’s done. No explanation of where he found the bones (or any indication that he’d found them on Skull Island or any other place that would justify his appearance in the book). I figured that maybe he’d be a character in the new film, but no… I have no idea what he was doing there.

Costello does do some things well. He builds tension like no one I’ve read. Almost frustratingly so, but that’s a compliment. Because of that, his action sequences are very strong, but it’s tension and action without a story. We never care about Sam Kelly. He’s a nice guy, but he doesn’t have any real relationships that would make us feel anything for him. Denham and Ann are more fleshed out, especially Ann, but like I said before, Ann is just there to be there. She should have her own novel; it doesn’t make sense to put her in this one.

Having seen the film now, The Island of the Skull is an entertaining, but unsatisfying read. It adds nothing to the movie, instead being satisfied with simply generating some thrills featuring the same characters. (It should be noted that these characters are the Peter Jackson versions, by the way. Ann is in showbiz, not a random out-of-work girl; Jack Driscoll is a playwrite rather than a sailor.)

The movie, on the other hand…

The only negative buzz I’ve heard about the film is in regards to its length. Some early critics claimed that it drags in places. Nonsense. I suppose if you’re only looking for action, you might grow anxious in between action sequences, but personally, I like some story with my action and that’s what Jackson delivers. He takes his time and develops characters and relationships and builds mood and emotion so that we care about what happens to these people as the movie goes along. There are bits that could have been edited out, but nothing that I ever felt should have been. The experience was like watching a pre-emptive Extended Edition.

I don’t wanna give too much away, so I’ll just mention two things I especially appreciated about it. First, there were some nice homages to the original version: at one point, Denham wonders if he can get “Fay” to star in his movie, but he’s told that she’s already shooting a picture for RKO. Jackson also manages to incorporate some of the goofier scenes and elements from the original into Denham’s productions, and there are other spots where he outright copies shots or dialogue from the original.

The other thing I appreciated is that it made me cry. Yes, I know I’m a little girl, but King Kong made me cry. Not the death scene, but the anticipation of the death scene. I won’t say more than that except to acknowledge how much of a genius Jackson is to use the audience’s familiarity with the source material to make his own version more powerful than the original.