A few years back I discovered a pretty cool crime novel called “The Wheelman.” It was a gritty caper novel full of interesting characters and blasts of dark humor. I missed “Secret Dead Man” the debut novel by book’s writer, Duane Swierczynski, so I had no idea he was interested and capable of crafting a more fantastic but just as entertaining tale. I soon discovered that was the case though. Hints of science fiction showed up in “The Blonde” the author’s excellent follow-up to the “Wheelman” and then Swierczynski’s affinity and flair for the fantastic really started to show when he started writing books like “Cable” and “The Immortal Iron Fist” for Marvel Comics. Swierczynski’s last novel “Severance Package” was more of a crime/espionage type thriller story, but in his latest novel, “Expiration Date”, the author embraces both the strange and fantastic and the gritty and the grounded. The result is his best novel to date.
In “Expiration Date”, Mickey Wade, a recently unemployed journalist, is forced to move into his grandfather’s former apartment where he can live rent free. On his first night in the apartment Mickey heads to the medicine cabinet searching for aspirin to cure a headache. He finds some mysterious pills, takes one and is mysteriously transported back to the 1970s. How and why this happening is one of the big mysteries of the book, so I won’t spoil it, but I will say it involves the mysterious death of Mickey’s father in the 1970s.
In Mickey, Swierczynski gives readers an enjoyable every man protagonist. The first person narrative of the novel means you feel for his plight at the beginning of the novel, and you really sympathize with Mickey when he gets caught up in the strangeness of travelling to the past. You also feel Mickey’s sense of anger and moral outrage when he uses the unique conditions of his time travel to foil some shocking crimes that took place in the past.
Another intriguing character in the novel is Mickey’s grandfather. Like Kurtz in “Heart of Darkness” you don’t spend much time with the grandfather but his presence looms large throughout the entire story. When you have a character like that he has to be incredibly compelling, and thanks to Swierczynski’s prose Mickey’s grandfather is.
For me though, The most enjoyable thing about “Expiration Date” was the tone and feel of the novel. At one point in the narrative Mickey uses the unique abilities he gains from time travelling to rescue a kidnapped girl. It’s a powerful and creepy scene that seems like it should come from one of the superhero comics that Swierczynski writes. Instead the author plays up the scene in a haunting and surreal sort of way. It reminded me of the scene in M Night Shyamalan’s best (and in my opinion only good) movie “Unbreakable” where the main character tries to save a family from a vicious killer.
And speaking of mood, “Expiration Date” features a number of spot illustrations from comic book artist Lawrence Campbell, which enhance the book’s creepy and strange feel. They also add to some of the sweetness of the book too; because ultimately “Expiration Date” is about family and how the choices you make affect your family’s future.
So “Expiration Date” is an immensely satisfying mystery and science fiction novel about one of the most mundane and important things in the world, family. I highly recommend it.
I love scripted TV. I have a ton of favorite shows. Some are currently airing and some won’t be back till later in the year Each of these shows have an intriguing cast of characters. Here is a list and some thoughts about the six most interesting characters on my favorite shows that are currently airing new episodes
Show: Breaking Bad
Played by: Bob Odenkirk
In the second season of AMC’s “Breaking Bad” budding drug kingpins Jesse Pinkman and Walter White needed a lawyer to defend one of their dealers who had gotten busted. Jesse pointed out that the type of lawyer they needed didn’t just practice criminal law, he thought like one. So they sought out Saul Goodman. At first Glance Saul, seemed like a schmuck and shyster, but as you got to know him it turns out that’s one of his strengths, because that’s what Saul wants you to think. Underneath that exterior is a cunning and enterprising mind. Bob Odenkirk is great at playing both sides. So Saul is a funny and compelling character who steals every scene he’s in
Played by: Timothy Olyphant
In the opening episode of FX’s Justified US Marshal Raylan Givens is a cool and confidant man, especially when it comes to violence. In the pilot he calmly warns two criminals that if they don’t get out of town he’ll be forced to gun them down. When they don’t Raylan shows that like the Marshal’s of the Old West he also has a lightning fast draw. It seems like these two elements really shouldn’t go well together in a realistic character, but they do. That’s because there’s another element to Raylan’s character that his ex-wife identifies at the end of the pilot when she calls him one of the angriest men alive. Timothy Olyphant expertly juggles all these elements to make Raylan a believable and incredibly charismatic character. I was a fan of his work on Deadwood, where he played a similar type of character and here he shows he can play that same type of character in a modern day setting
Played by Jorge Garcia
Picking one of the coolest characters on Lost is tough. It’s a show with so many great and interesting characters. Michael Emerson’s Benjamin Linus was almost my pick, but as of late Hurley has become incredibly interesting. That’s because he seems to be changing and really coming into his own. Hurley was never one of the dashing action hero types , but he was always an important part of the story. He was sort of the soul of the group. He cared a lot about everybody and tried to make people happy. Over the course of the show he’s stayed that but he’s become so much more. He started seeing ghostly visions who would talk to only him. At first he felt like he was crazy and then he felt burdened by the knowledge that the ghosts would share with him. Now as the show is coming to an end Hurley is accepting his role as speaker for the dead. He’s still the same good natured soul, but he’s suddenly become very important to the show’s mythology and I’m glad he did. Jorge Garcia does a great job conveying Hurley’s every man qualities and both his reluctance and budding confidence in his new role
Played by Jensen Ackles
When I first started watching Supernatural the only thing I liked about Dean Winchester was his music collection. Over the course of five seasons (the fifth is currently airing) he’s really grown on me and I’ve discovered there’s a lot to like about the character. He’s got a great sense of humor, a resolve and strength that allows him to push through and get past horrors that would drive most poeple insane, and a doofy suaveness. He’s also got a closetful of personal demons. He’s haunted by his childhood which he spent learning to kill demons and monsters. He also desperately craved the approval of his emotionally distant father, and then his father died and he came to realize how crappy of a father his dad actually was. Now he’s haunted by the fact that the biblical apocalypse is unfolding and he has a significant role to play in it. He’s like a combination of Spider-Man and Han Solo. Jensen Ackles has a natural charisma about him that makes Dean seem even more likable.
Show: Ashes to Ashes
Played by Philip Glenister
Gene Hunt isn’t just one of the coolest characters in the crop of TV shows currently airing. He’s easily one of the greatest police characters in the history of television. Hunt made his debut in Life in Mars a UK Cop drama about a modern day police detective mysteriously transported back to the 1970s where he met his new boss DCI Gene Hunt. Hunt was an arrogant, obnoxious, brutal, loud mouth, chavaunist, and a bit of a jack-ass. And Thanks to Glenister’s portrayal you loved him. Part of that portrayal showed that even though Hunt was all those negative things he was still a dedicated and caring cop. Life on Mars only lasted two seasons but thankfully it was followed up by a spin off series called Ashes to Ashes, which is currently in it’s third and final season. Recent developments on the show seem to indicate that Gene is perhaps harboring a terrible secret and I can’t wait to find out what it is
Show: Doctor Who
Played by: Matt Smith
As I write this I’ve only seen two episodes of the current season of Doctor Who (Three have aired in the UK and one in the US). So some of you are probably wondering, why the hell I chose this character? That’s because the two episodes I’ve seen have been really, really good. I loved David Tennant’s Doctor so I thought I would really be missing him when Matt Smith took over the role, but to Smith’s credit I haven’t and like I said it’s only been two episodes. That’s a pretty big feat. I’m by no means a Doctor Who expert, I’ve only really seen the newer series, but to me it seems like the Doctor has two major character traits: his sense of wonder and his sense of anger and moral outrage. In the pilot episode, Smith showed he was great at the former and in the second episode we got a hint at how he would handle the later and he appeared to knock that out of the park as well. So I’m definitely eager to see what’s next for the 11th incarnation of the UK’s premier sci-fi hero.
I first encountered Victor Gischler’s prose work with his post-apocalyptic novel “Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse.” It was a book with a really fun sounding title. So it had a lot to live up to, and it more than exceeded my expectations. So I was happy to pick up the writer’s follow up novel “Vampire A Go-Go.”
In “Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse” Gischler did a fun, action packed comedic riff on the post-apocalyptic genre. With “Vampire A Go-Go, the author attempts to do the same things with the supernatural horror and dark fantasy genres. The result is pretty much another home run with one exception.
The plot of the novel finds college student and reluctant hero Allan Cabbot being sent to Prague to help a professor with an obscure research assignment. As it turns out though Allan’s professor isn’t after anything academic though. He wants to find the fabled Philosopher’s Stone, an artifact renowned for its ability to bring the dead back to life. This makes Allan in unwitting pawn against several supernatural power players who want to keep the stone hidden or use it for their own nefarious purposes. Soon Allan finds himself on the run from and caught in the crossfire between a vampire, Jesuit commandoes, a secret society of witches and warlocks, and a malevolent sorcerer.
One of the strengths of “Vampire A Go-Go” is the characters. Allan is a great every man character. He makes poor choices and is by no means an action hero, but you root for him, and by the time the novel is over he grows into the role in a believable way. Also entertaining is Allan’s friend Penny, who has the hots for him and one other terrible secret. The Jesuit Commando characters are also a believable and likeable bunch.
Narrating the story in “Vampire A Go-Go” is the ghost Edward Kelly, a 16th century alchemist. Since he’s been dead for hundreds of years, Kelly has become quite bitter and some of his observations lead to some hilarious moments in an already funny book.
My only real problem with Vampire, and it’s a small one, are the scenes where Kelly is not narrating. In those scenes the action flashes back to the role Kelly played in the story while he’s still alive. For some reason these scenes seem to slow down the story a lot. Whenever I spent time with Allan the story would zip along, but with Edward things seem to drag. It’s probably the case of Allan being a much more likeable character. Still the scenes with Kelly did offer some interesting and funny moments.
So if you’re looking for a fun and funny read that both celebrates and mocks the conventions of the dark fantasy and supernatural horror genre, I definitely recommend “Vampire A Go-Go.
Note: Neither of the images I used for this entry are the actual covers for the books involved. They just give you an idea of how cool and creative these books are
Writer: Jonathan Ross
Artist: Tommy Lee Edwards
When I first heard Jonathan Ross’s name it was via the Ricky Gervais comedy “Extras”. He seemed like a funny guy but I had no idea just how cool he would be. I later discovered that the UK television host [For those of you who don't know Ross, Mark Millar described him as a combination of David Letterman, Howard Stern, and Siskel & Ebert] was a huge fan of many of the things I love: punk rock, genre films, and especially comic books. Ross is a huge comic book fan so I wasn’t surprised to learn last year from artist Tommy Lee Edwards that he was working on a comic series with Ross.
The premise of “Turf” is a wildly creative one. It takes place during prohibition in New York City. The gangs are in the middle of a violent turf war. Then suddenly a clan of Eastern European vampires moves in and starts taking out the gangs one by one. A tide of supernatural darkness is about to descend on the Big Apple, when suddenly an alien spacecraft filled with bizarre weaponry crash lands on Earth . ..
In issue #1 of “Turf” it was clear that Ross wasn’t just reading comics for enjoyment all these years. He was studying the storytelling techniques of many of the best creators. He expertly introduces readers to a strange but familiar 1920s New York with a great mix of dialogue and well set up visuals. The cast of characters is also very compelling. In the issue you meet a society reporter who dreams of becoming a crime reporter, a scheming vampire who dreams of wiping out humanity and awakening “The Old One”, and Eddie Falco a mobster who dreams of a life that doesn’t involve killing or crime.
Tommy Leed Edwards’s visuals for Turf are amazing. The artist has done beautiful work on crime, horror, and science fiction stories. Here he weaves all of those pulpy elements together expertly. The expressions of the characters and the action scenes all have a genuine and dynamic feel to them. Edwards also colors his work with a vibrant and tonally appropriate pallet
Probably the best thing about Turf though, besides it’s wild and intriguing premise is it’s length. Turf is not one of those comics you’ll put down in a few minutes. Ross and Edwards visuals and dialogue work together to give you something substantial; something that will take you a little longer to read, but every moment is an enjoyable one. In today’s comic market that’s a rare feat
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Dustin Weaver
I don’t know why I’m always caught off guard by how awesome Jonathan Hickman’s writing can be. I was introduced to his work when I read his mini-series “The Nightly news”, which turned out to be one of the best comic series I’ve ever read (and I’ve been reading them since 1984). His work on “Fantastic Four” and “Secret Warriors” from Marvel have been great too. With “Shield” though it looks like Hickman has another grand slam home run.
Shield #1 one opens in the 1950s. There a young boy named Leonid is picked up by two agents of a mysterious organization. He’s taken to ancient but high tech, bustling metropolis secretly located beneath the streets of Rome. There he meets the head of a secret society that has existed for thousands of years. The head then tells the boy the society’s history and the secret history of the Marvel Universe.
It turns out that the two men who brought the boy to Rome? They’re Howard Stark and Nathanial Richards the fathers of Iron Man and Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four. The organization they work for was born in Ancient Egypt when a group of soliders had to come together to repulse an alien invasion. Later we see that the organization continued to save the world from strange and otherworldy threats. It’s members included people like Galileo and Leonardo Da Vinci. In the final bit of the issue we are transported back to the 1950s when the young boy’s father, a mysterious costume clad man named the Night machine, comes to take him away from the organization and burn it to the ground.
This is all in the course of the first issue too! Hickman weaves in enough mystery and cool creative elements to make you want to keep coming back to the series again and again. The characters are also incredibly compelling. You only get a few pages with Leonid and his father, the Night Machine, but they are rendered with such emotion and intrigue that you want to know more about these characters.
Dustin Weaver’s art on Shield is incredible. In one issue he has to render about five different and distinct eras in history and he does so expertly. He also does a great job conveying the emotions his characters are feeling. Complimenting Weaver’s already stellar art is the work of colorist Christina Strain. Her colors add a powerful enhancement to the mood and tone of the book.