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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Batavia's Graveyard: The True Story of the Mad Heretic Who Led History's Bloodiest Mutiny (History)

By Mike Dash

Publisher: Crown, 1st edition (February 12,2002)

Hardcover, 382 pages 


          “From that day on, the captain-general killed to kill. A handful of Jermonimus’s later murders were intended to settle scores or punish dissent, but increasingly they were ordered out of boredom or to diffuse tension among the mutineers. There was no real need for further bloodshed the number of survivors on the island had been satisfactorily reduced… But life had become so worthless on Batavia’s Graveyard that a dispensation to kill became simply another way for [the head mutineer] to reward his followers. In the end he and his men were slaughtering for mere entertainment.”
This is the story of one of the violent mutinies in naval history. Set in the 16th Century, the most powerful company in the world was the Dutch East India Company and dominated the spice trade between east and west. This book is a great in-depth look at the rise of the Dutch trade empire and many of the problems affecting it. All of the dangers one had to go through; scurvy, bad weather, rotten food, stagnant weather, brutal discipline, native attacks; in order to bring nutmeg to the new world.
Where the action of the story takes place off the coast of Australia 

This is given in the microcosm of the merchant vessel, The Batavia, which was home to perhaps one of the most infamous of old-time mutinies after Fletcher Christenson and The Bounty. A power hungry man from an educated background, found himself in financial straits and onboard a convoy of trade ships, so he convinced others to seize control of the vessel. While veering away from the other ships, they accidentally run into some coral reefs and sink the ship. From there he, and his gang, attempt to seize power among the survivors.
He is referred to as a heretic because he was an adherent of the Libertine doctrine, which is basically says that as long as the perfection of God allows it to happen, it cannot be a sin. This is the Libertine philosophy as espoused in the writings of the Marquis De Sade, only a real life example, as opposed to an old lusty man’s fantasies. The term was coined to refer to anyone who disagreed with the strict Calvinist doctrines which dominated The Netherlands at the time.
The Dutch company is in a very real sense a blueprint for a modern corporation, where the exploitation of profits trumped everything else, including the well-being of their own employees. Each ship was not run by a captain, though each had one, but by an Upper-Merchant (or supercargo) and Under-Merchant. All decisions by the captain had to be run through them first. Each action was then weighed against its potential effect on profitability, which can explain certain grumblings from below decks. An example of this with the sinking of the Batavia, the Upper-Merchant tried to save most of the cargo first, before the men.
Dutch illustration accompanying reports of the Batavia mutiny

This is not to say that the mutineers were a group of otherwise decent men pushed too far by a corrupt and greedy corporation. The mutineers were among the worst scum on the planet, as were many who joined the Dutch East India company. It was the last chance employment for bottomed out losers. They were so poorly thought of that other naval vessels and the Dutch Navy itself refused hire a person if they had served with the Dutch East India Company. They revolted because they had decided to turn pirate, had they not accidently hit the reefs around the island now known as Batavia’s Graveyard, they would have killed the same people regardless.
The head mutineer certainly had no compunction about ordering people murdered and allowing women to be used “for common service” i.e. raped at the whim of any of the mutineers. By the end of his reign, his band had butchered or drowned over one hundred survivors from the shipwreck. He was a sociopathic murderer with an inflated ego and an inability to plan ahead.
Batavia's Graveyard today

           For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Devil's Due: Essays of the Elite (Psychology)

by E.R. Vernor

Publisher: Church of Satan Publishing (August 19, 2016)

Softcover, 274 pages

          This is a collection of essays from various members of the Church of Satan. For those who don’t know, The Church of Satan is an official religion, enjoying tax-exempt status in the United States. It was founded by Anton LaVey in 1966 with various religious texts such as The Satanic Bible and The Satanic Witch freely available for purchase. They became famous on the televised freak show circuit with various appearances over the years on The Joe Pyne Show, Geraldo Rivera’s joke show, and The Morton Downey Jr. Show, among others. 

Stripping away the ritualistic elements and the blatant shock appeal of being a “Satanist”, the foundational tenet of the religion is that of individualism. While originally the religion manifested itself, as did many things in the 1960s, as an acceptance of sexual differences or liberality and drug use. But as these are now mainstream values (at least in the case of homosexuality and marijuana) why is Satanism still so controversial? Part of it is misinformation, part of it is public ignorance, part of it is lazy assumptions. But part of it is the religion’s adherence to individualism, while most of the liberal establishment is pulling to a collectivist political nature, where one is ostracized for not regurgitating the proper political mantras. 
          The current Church of Satan is barely a religion. LaVey abandoned religious rituals in the early 80s and focused on the functional aspects of the ideology, i.e. how it applies to a person’s life and how it can better it. Thus it should really be referred to as a philosophy and not a devotion. Satanism embraces those moral aspects which are condemned by other Judaic driven religions. These do not include pedophilia or murder, but encompass ideas such as greed, envy, lust, sloth, and so on. The Satanic perspective of these are natural conditions of humanity and to deny them is to deny a fundamental aspect of yourself. To belong to a religion or organization that attempts to shame you for your basic instincts is to deliberately put your mind in a prison. Satanism is the key to break out.

There are over thirty essays here from various members, low to high, which discuss the philosophical elements of the religion and how they effectively use it in their daily lives. The more esoteric ones are okay, but I felt the essays from ordinary members (tattoo artists, hairdressers, business managers, etc.) carried much more weight. They showed that, unlike certain unnamed religions, much of the Satanic principles had real world application to make the individual's life better. The only flaw I have with the book is that it is very poorly formatted. There are inconsistent gaps between paragraphs, and blank pages between some essays but not others, and whoever laid it out kept the script in double space, rather than reduce it to single. It gives the book an amateurish feel.  
I first came across The Satanic Bible back in the early 80s when Satanism was the new fad running around the teens and heavy metal music. I was in Walden Books (who remembers that chain?) and spotted the ominous black cover lurking in the religion section. Anything taboo always drew me in and seeing something as supposedly forbidden as this lying out in the open was irresistible. Of course I didn’t have enough money, so I stuck it under my shirt and walked out whistling. No one stopped me, no one even looked at me. The end result of paying minimum wage.

I took it to my friends. We oohed and aahed for a while and it wasn’t long until a few others had gotten copies, some purloined as well. As I said, it was a fad. They spent their time getting drunk and doing rituals to impress and scare girls, while I read the whole thing, including the “boring” parts about their philosophy. It must have stuck, because decades later, I find myself rereading these passages and realizing that I had already been living to their ideas. I guess what La Vey writes is correct, “Satanists are born, not made.” That is, they cannot help but adhere to the philosophy of the religion.

           For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Alvar Mayor: Death and Silver (Graphic Novel)

By Carlos Trillo & Enrique Breccia

Publisher: Four Winds Publishing (March 1989)

Softcover 56 pages 

          This is a classic strip, originally appearing in the comic magazine Skorpio in 53 episodes from 1977 - 1983. Despite being written and drawn by the two masters Trillo and Breccia, this series has only once ever been translated and published in English. Why? I can’t say. It’s a pity, because I would certainly like to read more of Alvar Mayor.
          The titular character is a former conquistador that has turned his back on his heritage and embraced the ways of various Indian tribes. That part I read in the forward by Chuck Dixon, and good thing he wrote it, otherwise I wouldn’t have known. It certainly doesn’t appear in any of the stories presented. In fact, Alvar Mayor is more of a cypher or framing device than a character. He has no development, no real personality other than he doesn’t speak much and stares gloomily a lot.
          That’s not to say these aren’t good stories. It’s simply that most of them didn’t really need the titular character in them to be interesting. There are four stories here, all taking place somewhere in the wilds of South America. The specific location isn’t specified, but it really isn’t needed. Here Alvar Mayor encounters a curse and cure, a death by dreams, a gamblers last stand, and the defense of a town from bandits. All done in a beautiful and brooding black drenched design that is distinct and appealing.

          I could find very little on the publisher 4Winds Publishing (that’s not a typo, their company put no space between the 4 and Winds). They came and went in two years. Apparently the company's aim was to translate and publish European and South American comics in the United States. Not an original idea, Epic and a few others had been doing it more or less successfully for years, but there was still a lot of room for scope in the proposition. They produced a total of eight graphic novels, thin volumes like this one, before folding. Their finances must have been shaky as hell to fold so fast. Still if this volume is anything to go by their taste in art was excellent.

           For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Survivors!: The Eyes That Burned (Graphic Novel)

By Hermann

Publisher: Fantagraphics Books (January 1, 1983)

Softcover, 48 pages

          This is the first American print version of the popular Belgium comic Jeremiah- changed to The Survivors by the editors of Fantagraphics. It has since been reintroduced in its original name by Malibu Comics, Catalan Communications (both defunct) and, most recently, Dark Horse. All of these attempts have been with middling results, which is a pity as the art is superb, even if the stories vary in quality.  Again it's an example of European sensibilities (where the book is popular) veering off massively from the American audiences. This was the second and last volume produced by Fantagraphics.
          Perhaps that’s unfair (I love it), maybe it was simply lacking in the advertisement. Maybe it's that the comic is billed as Science Fiction, but in reality it is a Western in a post-apocalyptic society.  And Western comics just don’t sell like they used to.

Set in a world torn apart by racial wars, Jeremiah and his pal, Kurdy, wander the world, drifting from town to town solving problems- just like Knight Rider. There is no real overarching plot, but some stories will drift from volume to volume, but in a very meandering way. Essentially each volume is a separate story. In The Eyes That Burn the pair help a group of prisoners (white and black) escape from a Native American controlled area, where they were forced to work on a slave labor gang. Lots of violence, lots of amazing line art. Color is a bit washed out, but that adds to the mood.

          Thirty four volumes of Jeremiah (or albums as the European markets call it) have been published, beginning in 1979 and continuing up until 2015. A TV series, Jeremiah, was based on the comic was produced in 2002, starring Luke Perry and Malcolm Jamal-Warner. Well, let’s put the term based in the largest possible quotation marks, as the main character’s names seem to be the only similarities between the two.

           For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Hexbreaker (Superhero)

By Mike Baron & Bill Reinhold

Publisher: First Comics (January 1, 1988)

Softcover, 59 pages

          This is a graphic novel from the second golden age of comics, the 1980s. The protagonist here is Badger, a psychotic superhero, who could kick ass and speak to animals, and a Vietnam war veteran suffering from multiple personality disorder. Most of the Badger adventures were a bizarre, almost surreal, collection of events, not meant to be taken seriously, especially as the main character had difficulty making much sense to those around him.
This story isn’t much different. Badger is summoned to communist China to compete in a mystical fighting tournament, held once every hundred years. The winner of which will be granted whatever he wishes. Blah, blah, blah. Punch, punch, punch. Badger wins and brings his newly-found lover back to life. The End
It's not the greatest story ever told, but I didn’t expect much else. Badger comics always left me feeling flat. They tried too hard to be weird and funny, without actually being funny. What I mean is, I always felt that I should find the material amusing without actually doing so. C’est la vie.

The character was created by Mike Baron who is also noted for creating one of my favorite characters, Nexus, and helming the first forty issues of Marvel’s 1st Punisher series, along with Punisher War Journal.

Hexbreaker was published by First Comics, probably one of the best of the independent comic publishers that sprung up after the direct marketing boom. Unlike a lot of the indies First put out some of the best material in the market (if not the most lucrative). Their line-up consists of such stellar titles, as Jon Sable, Grimjack, Nexus, Dreadstar, and American Flagg. If anyone of those titles are a mystery to you, I recommend giving them a look. Anyone is better than Badger.

           For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Monday, January 8, 2018

Paranoia (6 Issue series Graphic Novel)

By Paul O'Connor(writer) & Hector (Artist)

Published by Adventure Comics (1992)

Six individual issues, 120 pages total

Finished 1/7/2018

My Comic Listing

          “The computer exists only to make you happy. Yet you are unhappy. Hence you must be unhappy because it makes you unhappy to be unhappy. If you are unhappy, then the computer is unhappy. No one who loved the computer would want to make it unhappy. Thus, you must hate the computer.”
This is a little different from what I usually review as this is not a book but a limited series comic, but I felt it was so outstanding that I decided to review it. The comic has never been reprinted to collected into a trade paperback, but the link for individual issues is above for those who are interested.
          This comic is based on the tabletop RPG of the same name, published (at the time) by West End Games. These issues were produced in the early 90s when pen-and-paper RPGs were at the top of their game and people flocked to them. When you said you were a gamer, this is what you meant. This was well before video games became so good. Doom had only recently emerged to change the scape of games.

          Paranoia the game was (and is) a campy take on the entire RPG series. The game had humorous tendencies, but also contained a bizarre viciousness underneath. A player had six clones of his character and had to navigate a world gone mad, wherein the person running the game was encouraged to ignore the rules and destroy the players as quickly as he could. In a sense it was a science fiction survival comedy game- first of its kind.
          The setting is in Alpha Complex, a giant self-contained dome city (here located over San Francisco) some undetermined time after a nuclear war. Alpha Complex is run by a malfunctioning computer who had certain guidelines installed that conflicted with other guidelines, leading to the mess that is the current society. The city’s citizens are grown in vats, cloned in groups of six, and only one clone is allowed out at a time. Citizens are ranked on the rainbow spectrum of ROY G. BIV (red, orange, yellow, etc.). The computer is their god.
Happiness is mandatory. Anyone who is unhappy must be a communist and is committing treason. Treason is punishable by death. Being a mutant is treason, but everyone is a mutant. Being a member of a secret society is treason, but everyone’s a member of a society. Anyone can turn a person in if they suspect them of treason. In fact, not turning them in is treason. As you can see, the title, Paranoia, is well chosen.

          The writer and artist played this setting exactly right. There is no tongue-in-cheek ha-ha humor here. The setting and the characters in it are taken as deadly serious. While there is humor, it is dark and sinister. The artist and writer take their job seriously and create the best story the setting could allow. In fact, I would say that the material is much better than their source (certainly the art). Each issue deals with one of the six clones of King-R-THR (The middle digit refers to their rank- as in red. And the last three is the section where they dwell). It is insane, brutal, and ultimately has a heartbreaking ending. Bravo. I wish I could more from these two.
          This was published by a small imprint called Adventure Comics. Originally named Adventure Publication, the company was bought out as an imprint for Malibu Comics. It was then relegated to publishing only licensed properties, such as the one above. 

Once upon a time Malibu and its superhero Ultraverse once gave the big boys a run for their money. It had several imprints Aircel and Eternity, along with Adventure. Eventually all of the imprints were bought up by Marvel and then disbanded a few years later during the mid-90s comics crash, when we all got sick of being pumped with substandard material.

           For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Astro City Vol. 15: Ordinary Heroes (Superhero)

By Kurt Busiek, Alex Ross, & Brent Anderson

Publisher: Vertigo (December 19, 2017)

Hardcover 176 pages

Being somewhat older I’ve lost some of that joy and wonder of exploring the world that one had while they’re young. Yet I always get a giddy sensation whenever I crack open a new volume of Astro City. Without fail the authors and artists are able to recapture that joy and hope sensations of when I first started reading comics. Maybe it's because they don’t explain everything and keep a mind hungry for more. Maybe it's because there is an entire universe wrapped up in one title, allowing the authors to keep the material fresh with new ideas. Maybe its because the authors always manage to bring out the human element in every situation. Whatever it is, I cannot stop myself from being right there, waving a fistful of cash, whenever the new book is out. 
One of the great things about the Astro City universe is that it is not static. Things change, people age, people retire, people die. Some give up being heroes, some give up being villains. This volume continues that trend. We revisit the comical Jack-in-the-Box now in his third incarnation, where the son of the first man to don the hero’s mantle begins digging into the past and the island where his father died violently. Drama unfolds as new evidence comes to light (this is actually the weakest of the stories). 

The action then shifts to Shadow Hill and a character we haven't seen since issue 4 of the original series, Marta the accountant. She is now older and established with her own business and accidently becomes the accountant to the supernatural. This one I love in particular, because we get an origin (sort of) for the enigmatic floating figure known as The Hanged Man (who has also been around forever). The third story deals with a villain, Mister Manta, who has been shipwrecked on an island for three decades. When he finally gets a chance to leave, he has a difficult decision to make. Finally we have a tribute to a superhero tradition of the past which has died off in recent decades; the superpet. In the tradition of Krypto the Superdog and Streaky the Supercat, we have a story of Rocket Dog (whom I believe has been mentioned before) and Kittyhawk- the night prowling feline. 
Another aspect that sets Astro City apart is that one can almost literally jump in anywhere and be content. The entire backstory of each character is told so piecemeal, each story potentially set in a different time, so that one will always have that sense of ‘what am I missing here’. I’ve read it all and I still feel that way. 

           For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Friday, January 5, 2018

The 3 H's Trilogy (Horror)

By Brian Barr

Publisher: Brian Barr Books; 1st edition (June 13, 2017)

Softcover 186 pages

          This is a collection of three interconnected short stories by emerging writer Brian Barr. The action begins when a young lady discovers a severed head on her front lawn, which she quickly falls in love with. Compelled by overwhelming forces, the head leads her to a mysterious house and the evil denizens lurking within.
Some claim that this is a ghost story, but I have to disagree. While it might initially appear to be so, the supernatural elements presented here have more to do with interdimensional mysticism than the nature of spirits. While this can be considered part of the overall plot arc, it is a minor part of the story. This reminds me somewhat of Phantasm, in that the villains are sort of involved in an alien invasion (granted an invasion of previously living subjects) to reclaim their lives by using still-living hosts.
          Playing on the haunted house motif, the structure itself is the lynchpin for multiple worlds and the secret of immortality. And like the 2009 French film Martyrs what they find lurking beyond the here-and-now
This is a different type of story which plays on classic horror motifs without resorting to clich├ęs. It is worth a try if you are looking for something different in the horror category.

           For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst.