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Saturday, April 27, 2019

The Finger (William Burroughs)

by William S. Burroughs 

Publisher: Penguin Books (2018).

Softcover, 54 pages

“Morton had literally no self-respect, so that his self-esteem went up or down in accordance with how others felt about him. At first he often made a good impression. He appeared naive, boyish, friendly. Imperceptibly the naiveté degenerated into silly, mechanical chatter, his friendliness into compulsive, clinging hunger, and his boyishness faded before your eyes across the cafe table. You looked up and saw the deep lines around the mouth, a hard, stupid mouth like an old whore’s, you saw the deep creases in the back of the neck when he craned around to look at somebody- he was always looking around restlessly, as if he were waiting for someone more important than whomever he was sitting with.
“There were, to be sure, people who engaged his whole attention. He twisted in hideous convulsions of ingratiation, desperate as he saw every pitiful attempt fail flatly, often shitting in his pants with fear and excitement. Lee wondered if he went home and sobbed with despair.”
William S. Burroughs
All of this book’s stories were collected in a previously published book, Interzone, which was mostly made up of rejected vignettes from Naked Lunch. Had I been aware of this at the time, I wouldn’t have purchased the book as I already own Interzone. Granted it has been a decade and a half since I read the book, so it was nice to get a refresher and I might reread the original, but reproducing this with a different name, even at a relatively low cost, is still deceptive.
These are a collection of six of Burrough’s more coherent short stories, written well before he developed his cut-up technique. They are to-the-point without much narrative or action, many of them, such as the excerpt above from “In the Cafe Central”, are simply biting character assassination of presumably people that Burroughs knew or observed.
The most comprehensive story and one of his most well-known is “The Junky’s Christmas”. This is a rare story which follows the traditional literary arc of exposition all the way to denouement. This was made into an animated short film by Francis Ford Coppola, which I have included below.
Enjoy and Caveat Emptor.

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Fortune's Friends: Hell Week (Crime) (Graphic Novel)

by Kay & Mike Reynolds (Writers) & Collen Doran (Illustrator)

Publisher: Starblaze Graphics (1987)

Softcover, 64 pages


 Continuing with my obscure 80s throwback series here we have Fortune’s Friends: Hell Week, the first in a planned three graphic novel series, of which only the first has seen the light of day. This is the origin story of a spunky young lady, who could have gone into a much more lucrative line of work but wanted to make it on her own terms, joins a low rent P.I. firm and spends much of the time at the beginning forcing her male co-workers to take her seriously.
Sound familiar? It’s basically the structure of every drama centered around a female protagonist in the 1980s, 90s, and so on. If it wasn’t for the somewhat interesting mystery, the intelligent way it’s resolved, and the other gay P.I. (I guess that makes her the hag) then there would be nothing to recommend this book. This wasn’t a bad comic, it just wasn’t really a breakthrough one. The art by a young Colleen Doran doesn’t help much. It’s okay, maybe a shade amateurish, but she definitely has come a long way. This isn’t Troll Bridge art, it’s the first issues of A Distant Soil.
The publisher, StarBlaze Graphics, went out of business about a year after this book’s publication. They were celebrated in some circles with printing the collected color versions of Elfquest, Myth Adventures (if you were into RPGs in the 80s then you must’ve stumbled across this at some point), and illustrated Thieves World stories from the shared world books of the same name. They went out of business after various artists sued for the company claiming to have greater rights over their (what was believed to be) creator owned content. The whole shebang went down in flames in 1989.
 For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Star Raiders (Science Fiction) (Graphic Novel)

by Elliot S! Maggin (writer) & Jose Luis Garcia Lopez (illustrator)

Publisher: DC Comics (1983)

Softcover, 64 pages


This is an odd little item, put out by D.C. Comics back in the 1980s when the most impressive arcade games were Defender, Joust, Donkey Kong, and Dragon’s Lair (Okay Dragon’s Lair is still pretty impressive looking). Comics, despite an obviously growing older audience, were still primarily aimed at prepubescent and adolescent kids. In 1983, the hottest consul company around, Atari, teamed up with D.C. to create Atari Force. This began with a series of mini-comics put into the game boxes of Defender, Berzerk, Star Raiders, Phoenix, and Galaxian. Atari Force then expanded into a regular series in 1983, lasting about 20 issues. Which, for those who know about the average lifespan of tie-in comics series (to a toy or game line), is somewhat respectable. Most tie-ins last six issues at most, while the two outstanding ones are G. I. Joe and Transformers, both lasting over 150.

The game Star Raiders came out in 1979, with various iterations on different consoles, and was perhaps the first space combat simulation game, using a first person perspective to maneuver and fire, as if you were in the cockpit. It was the grandfather of Wing Commander, Elite, Star Fox, and so on, and so on.

Strange as this may sound, Star Raiders the graphic novel (#1 in a series of D. C. graphic novels, back when the format was still wet behind the ears) is a spinoff of Atari Force, taking place some several hundred years after the events of the comic. Here the galaxy is dominated by an insectoid race, called the Zylons, and a group of well-worn heroes attempts to take the battle back to their home base. Essentially, this is the plot of game as well.

It is an action packed violence-filled story with one-dimensional characters shooting at things. Don’t expect any character growth or anything. I’m sure my 8 year old self in 1983 would’ve loved it. What stands out is the amazing art, painted with incredible detail and skill. The art is in fact way better than the material it supports. I found it for $3.00. It was well worth the price.

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Frost (Horror) (Graphic Novel)

by Kevin VanHook

Publisher: Caliber Press (1990)

Softcover, 150 pages

Here’s another little blast from the past that many people living in the 80s might not have been exposed to. Kevin VanHook may not be one of the superstar names associated with the comic book world, but he’s been involved in it, one way or another for decades. Jack Frost (later called simply Frost when Caliber picked it up) lasted two issues with Amazing Comics- a short lived publisher that put out titles like Ex-Mutants and so forth. Caliber Comics- known for putting out my favorite zombie comic, DeadWorld- released a Frost one shot and several short stories featuring the character popped up in several other comics. All of these are collected here.
The main story revolves around the person of Frost, a grizzled veteran and mercenary (shades of Jon Sable), who becomes wrapped up in a supernatural event when a good friend becomes a vampire. I’m sure you can fill in the blanks from here. Now the interesting thing is that after this first outing, all supernatural elements drop from future stories. Apart from his bizarre colleague Micah, an elderly man who seems to know more than he should, the stories become your standard action fare. Bang, bang. Not a good move, considering how many of these types ended up in the ashbin, especially in 1986 when the book was first published. The Punisher being only one still around.

This was not the end for the character, however. Two years after this book, Frost appeared again in what was supposed to be a four issue mini-series called Frost: A Dying Breed. Like the short stories and one-shot this had no supernatural elements and dealt solely with Frost’s bad memories of Vietnam and how his trauma has affected his current life. But this was the mid-nineties and the indy market crashed, leaving Frost out in the woods.
He wouldn’t show up again until, the VanHook resurrected him during his time on the Valiant comic uber-violent hero, Bloodshot. This marks his last appearance in comics, but not in fiction. In 2004, VanHook wrote and directed a film, Frost: Portrait of a Vampire. The screenplay is obviously based on the first two issues in this comic, and like you, I never heard of this film at all. But through the magic of YouTube I have placed the trailer below.
Enjoy and Caveat Emptor!

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Monday, April 15, 2019

Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier (Twin Peaks)

by Mark Frost

Publisher: Flatiron Books (October 31, 2017)

Hardcover, 160 pages   

“It’s right there on the front page: Laura Palmer did not die. So, fairly certain I’ve not misplaced my own mind, I go back and check the corresponding police records. They tell me this: Laura Palmer disappeared from Twin Peaks without a trace - on the very same night when, in the world we thought we knew, it used to be said she died-  but the police never found the girl or, if she had been killed elsewhere, her body or made a single arrest. In every subsequent mention in an edition of the Post, the case is still listed as an open and pending investigation.”

Thus ends the last chapter of the Twin Peaks file. I did say spoilers in the description right? If not, I meant to. Yes, this baffling end where the whole of Twin Peaks seems to become wrapped in a time\space fractal and rewrites history is the true conclusion of the story. This directly relates to Cooper and Diane entering the alternate world constructed (or dreamed) by Judy (or Joudy as the book names her- a rouge demon called “the mother of evils”). This also plays into a scene in the last episode of the original series, where in the Waiting Room the doppelganger of Leland Palmer appears before Cooper and states that he didn’t kill anyone.

We know that events in the Waiting Room, the Black Lodge, and presumably the White Lodge can re-write time. This is one of the speculations as to what is happening in Fire Walk With Me, that time has been rewritten to allow BOB to steal the garmanbozia (pain and sorrow) from Laura. This is due apparently to her putting on the jade owl glyph ring.

As to the exact nature of Laura Palmer, that is up in the air. We know her mother was in the area around the time of the Trinity atom bomb testing, which opened the door for the entities to invade the world, now known as the Roswell incident.  It is indicated that Laura Palmer’s life was intended as a trap to suck back in all those rouge spirits affiliated with Joudy, which is why so many spirits (or whatever) were attracted to her. This ultimate plan of the Fireman was subverted by BOB killing her, caused by her putting on the jade ring. She was supposed to disappear into the other dimensions around the Waiting Room and the Black Lodge. When Laura Palmer fulfilled her purpose, the world changed.

This plays into an underscored theme of the series, the nature of enlightenment. Throughout the series there have been several characters on the verge of grasping enlightenment, only to be prevented at the last minute by (what the book calls) “the Watcher on the Threshold”, a thing manifesting as the last threat for the person to overcome and it often results in failure. Three characters, Major Briggs, Phillip Jeffries, and Dale Cooper all come to the point of greater understanding - only to fail.

Apart from clarifying the ends of several characters who don’t appear in the series, or have very limited roles, the book itself adds little to the series. It mostly categorizes the action of The Return as would be discerned from the point of view of the FBI. No mention of Dougie or the gangsters from Vegas. As much of the material is garbled in and spread out, it puts things in linear order for easier digestion.

The most interesting speculation that I’ve seen here on the nature of the characters is that BOB didn’t possess Cooper, but the Cooper Doppelganger (which makes sense, considering the last scene of the original series) and is revived by the Woodsmen, after the Doppelganger is shot. I think had not the original actor of BOB, Frank Silva, died in 1995, the story would have gone much differently. In fact that was the biggest problem I had with the series, so many people who played characters from the Black Lodge had died off that the place felt empty.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Secret History of Twin Peaks: A Novel (Twin Peaks)

by Mark Frost

Publisher: Flatiron Books (October 1, 2016)

Hardcover, 368 pages

“I don’t know what happened to either Major Briggs or Agent Cooper at this point. There are files on Briggs, at both the FBI and the Air force, and on Cooper at the FBI, that are designated many levels above Top Secret. Out of my reach. I’ve taken my analysis as far as I can. My instructions are clear: I’m to turn over the dossier with any findings to the Director’s office and wait for their response. Deadlines are pressing.”
While this book claims to be a novel, it is not, in typical Twin Peaks fashion, presented in your standard book format. Thus don't expect a story with a thematic arc where the hero goes on a journey with exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and a resolution. That would be too conventional for Twin Peaks.
The book is presented as a dossier of Twin Peaks collected and written by someone who self identifies as “The Archivist” - assumed to be Major Garland Briggs. The dossier has fallen into the hands of the FBI and has commentary throughout by a Special Agent Tamara Preston - who is the assistant to Gordon Cole in Twin Peaks: The Return series.
This book came out some years prior to The Return series (and in anticipation of it) and thus does not go far beyond the series end where Cooper, possessed by Killer BOB, smashes his head into a mirror.

I was afraid that this book would be a rehash of the events of the first Twin Peaks series, and while there is a certain amount of that, it mostly focused on events prior to the series and just after it. In it we learn Audrey Horne survived the blast in the bank, that Lawrence Jacoby lost his medical certification following the events of the Laura Palmer case, and about a mysterious meeting between Agent Cooper and Major Briggs just after Cooper is possessed.
The book delves into the deep history of the place, beginning with secret excerpts from the Lewis and Clark expedition letters to Thomas Jefferson about a special assignment in the area that would become Twin Peaks. There Lewis comes back handling the jade ring with the owl glyph. This first appeared in Fire Walk With Me and appears liberally throughout the novel. The specific purpose is unclear. It’s linked to the Black Lodge and those who wear it seem to be doomed to a violent end, or at least an unfortunate one.

What I find very interesting is that a lot of the material is centered around UFO research conducted by Colonel Douglas Milford. This character appeared in the original series for only three episodes where he marries a much younger woman and dies in their honeymoon bed. According to the novel he was involved in Projects Sign, Grudge, and Blue Book- all Air Force projects designed to examine and/or disprove the UFO phenomenon. This has always been in the background of Twin Peaks, but it is spelled out in more detail in the book. Of the traditional alien types- the greys appear connected to the Black Lodge, while the nordic types seem attached to the White Lodge.
During Douglas Milford’s investigations many historic figures come into the picture. Richard Nixon, Dwight Eisenhower, Jackie Gleason, Aliester Crowley, Jack Parsons, L. Ron Hubbard. I was gratified that the author made the obvious connections between the ideas Hubbard stole from Crowley’s Thelema philosophies for his self-help book Dianetics (and later on Scientology), while Crowley swiped the basic principles from the writings of François Rabelais, specifically Gargantua and Pantagruel. “Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law” was coined by Rabelais. Only his ideas were sarcastic and meant to be satire, while Crowley ostensibly took it all in another direction.
What also pops up is the fact that there are rival hidden factions in the government that are investigating this phenomenon, but not sharing the information with each other. There are hints that at least two different organizations have aligned themselves in some way with extra-human entities.

Despite my enjoyment of the book, I've a couple of bones to pick with it. Primarily that it does offer any insights into the nature of the Black Lodge or its denizens. It simply describes more incidents of their appearances over the past hundred years. Secondly, there are some inaccuracies in the retelling of events and characters in the first Twin Peaks stories, specifically in the saga of Big Ed and Norma. What is presented is completely different than what is told in the series. There are several inconsistencies with the character of Hank Jennings and his dealings with Jean Renault. Plus one character is described as playing “checkers, not chess” whereas in the series he is distinctly shown to be a chess whiz. Mark Frost, author of the book and co-creator of the series, says that these mistakes are intentional and coming from an unreliable narrator, but I don't buy that explanation. It seems more like he made a few mistakes and tried to cover it up with some BS.
In the end, there aren’t many answers given to the mysterious events in Twin Peaks. The white and black lodges, the man from another place, the giant (now known as the Fireman), Killer BOB, and all the rest are not mentioned. Perhaps there will be more in the next book Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier, which I will be reviewing next.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Monday, April 8, 2019

Nocturnal Conspiracies: Nineteen Dreams From December 1979 to September 1994 (Graphic Novel)

by David B.

Publisher: NBM Publishing (December 1, 2008)

Softcover, 124 pages



This compilation is by the illustrious David B. who rose to fame with his semi-autobiographical graphic novel Epileptic. The book is exactly what it claims to be, a collection of dreams in illustrated form from the author’s 20s to his mid-30s. There is no attempt to interpret the dreams or make sense of them (if such a thing is even possible) but they are presented as the author remembers them. Odd shifts in location, characters appear then disappear, the motives of the narrator shift without reason.

For most people, myself included, listening to someone’s dreams is about as enjoyable as getting the getting the car washed or cleaning out earwax. William Burroughs’ book on the subject of his own dreams My Education was the worst thing he ever churned out. However if one has to do so, then the graphic novel format makes it at least interesting to look at, as the narrative is an ever-shifting mishmash.

Of course it isn’t the story that makes one want to read this book. It is the distinctive style of David B. that allowed me to happily dance from page to page. The art and its seamless interaction with the text create a unique "space" for us to enter and explore. It is dark and cool and blue. In short, if you can find this book for a reasonable price, it might be worth an hour of your time.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst.