Reader Beware Month: The Goon, Vol. 0

Earlier in the month, I talked about a detective story with a supernatural twist, R. I. P. D.  Today’s comic is on the total opposite side of the law.  It’s a story about a mob war between your run-of-the mill, every day thugs… and zombies.  It’s got vampires, werewolves, giant fish men, and a never-ending horde of those familiar undead.  Allow me to introduce you to The Goon.

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The Goon is the right hand man and personal strong arm of the meanest mobster in town, Labrazio.  The Goon and his pal, Franky, are stuck in a territory battle with another mob leader, the Zombie Priest.  Ever since the Zombie Priest came into town, the dead just don’t stay dead.  It’s up to the Goon and Franky to keep the streets clean of those walking corpses and also keep Labrazio’s territory going strong.

I first heard of the Goon when I came across the trailer for the (still being made to my knowledge) movie sometime last year.  The trailer got me hooked immediately and I hunted down a copy of this collection.  The collection I’m talking about today is considered “Volume 0” also titled “Rough Stuff.”  It collects the 3 issues that were the Goon’s roots and also a few random strips that seem like Sunday Comic parodies.

In a forward for the collection, Eric Powell (creator, writer, and artist of the story), says that he thinks these three issues suck.  Personally, I don’t fully agree with him.  It more seems very rough around the edges.  The artwork, while decent, is a bit scratchy and muddy.  Some of the characters look a bit distorted compared to how they looked in later issues.  The writing was also a bit weird in the bad sense.  A section with a talking chainsaw was particularly head scratching.  Still, the foundation was pretty good.  The Goon’s origin story in this is very original.  The characters are all solid and funny.

The best thing about Volume 0 is the world it creates.  This is a world of mobsters and monsters, so everything feels appropriately gritty.  For me, it almost has a noir feel, especially as Goon tells his origin story.  The dynamic and comradery between Goon and Franky is done extremely well.  They always have each other’s backs, even if those backs are covered in demon rats.

This is a good introduction for the Goon.  Is it the best in terms of artwork and story?  No.  I think the hardest judge of this is Eric Powell himself.  But it’s still a solid foundation for what has become one of my favorite comics.  The artwork and storytelling does get cleaned up quite a bit by the next volume (Volume 1: Nothin’ But Misery, to be talked about at a later date).  Still, if you’re interested in knowing the story’s humble beginning, try this one for size.  Unless you wanna be sleepin’ with the fishes…

Reader Beware Month: The Ghost Next Door

Peer pressure is a terrible thing.  There, I just gave you the moral for this book in six words.  If this book would stop trying to take the moral high ground and stick to it’s ghostly premise, it would almost be creepy.  Instead, we have a book that seems like a heavy handed after-school special that happens to involve ghosts.  This is The Ghost Next Door.

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Hannah has a new neighbor who seems to have moved in without her noticing.  He also seems to disappear right in front of her eyes.  Hannah is convinced he is a ghost.  Could this be why she’s never heard of him or his friends even though they go to the same school?  And what is the strange shadow that seems to be following Hannah everywhere?

The main story and main premise of the book are actually pretty good.  Needless to say, this is a much better ghost story than Welcome to Dead House was.  There’s a genuine creepiness to the mystery of who Danny is and Hannah’s growing fear of the mystery is a driving point of the story.  However, the book at times seems far more interested in furthering a subplot rather than the main plot.

The subplot, as I mentioned earlier, involves peer pressure.  Danny is seen multiple times hanging out with two boys who force him to steal things and basically trash other people’s property.  Danny seems reluctant to do any of this stuff, but he does because peer pressure.  I understand the importance of teaching these kinda things but did this really need to be in a Goosebumps book?  The kid never really learns that peer pressure is bad.  The other boys never truly learn their lessons either.  So, I find myself asking what the point of the subplot was.  I regretted that it got the most development in the book.

The twist of the story is really easy to figure out.  I knew what the twist would be about two pages into the book.  While it is a very easy thing to see coming, its predictability didn’t detract from its creativity.  The story builds up the twist pretty well, too, almost to the point that you suspect your guess might be wrong.  The main story was fairly good despite it not getting as much “screen time” as the subplot.  The main ending of the book was also very satisfying and left me with a warm feeling.  I’ll just say that I’m left with the same feeling I get at the ending of some Ghost Whisperer episodes and leave it at that.

I don’t want to talk about the characters for fear of accidentally giving something away.  They were well done, to say the least I can about them.  This book is by no means perfect, but it’s a decent enough ghost story.  The moral, despite being distracting, is actually pretty good.  The ending is probably the most heartwarming one I’ve come across in the series so far.  I suggest picking this book up and giving it a read.  And I suggest doing that before you become a ghost yourself…

Reader Beware Month: How I Learned to Fly

This book pissed me off.  I had planned to start this post explaining how flight is another one of those powers people always seem to want.  However, as I said, this book really pissed me off.  So, no cutesy introduction, no clever pun for the ending.  This book doesn’t deserve it.  It just deserves my rage.  This is How I Learned to Fly.

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Jack and Wilson are two idiots who are always competing.  They race, they compare their drawings, they show off their toys.  All this in an attempt to impress Mia, the “cutest girl in school.”  And Jack always loses.  One day after throwing a ridiculous temper tantrum, Jack stumbles across a book called Flying Lessons.  Thus, Jack learns to fly and he thinks he’s finally beaten Wilson.  Unfortunately, Wilson is a breaking and entering thief who always has to be the best and learns to fly as well.

Do I sound angry in my description of this book?  I certainly hope so, because I found this story ridiculous and despicable.  I got so angry with this book that I couldn’t finish it.  I got to around page 73 and I forced myself to skim through the rest.  My issue isn’t really with the story itself.  The story seems creative and very fantastical.  No, my problem rests solely on the idiot, selfish, jerk of a kid that calls himself the main character, Jack.

Jack is a terrible character, plain and simple.  He and Wilson are just too competitive.  It’s trying to sell this competitiveness as “boys being boys” but it all seems far too mean spirited.  Both of the characters come off more as bullies than anything else, constantly trying to one-up each other.  Not to mention, when Jack doesn’t get his way, he just throws a fit.  It was really annoying to see the person who was supposed to be the “role model” of the story acting so completely childish.  (Yes, I know he’s a child.  But none of the other Goosebumps books so far this month have the main characters acting so completely immature.)

Despite the horrible main character, the story itself actually seemed like a good premise to me.  Flying is fascinating, especially the Superman sort of flying with no wings required.  This story was more focused on a fantasy element than a horror one, and it shows.  In fact, it’s fantasy done pretty well.  The few flying scenes I read were fantastic, describing the feeling of flying pretty well.  It reminded me of those dreams where you can suddenly fly for no reason.  Reading those scenes felt freeing in a way, which I believe was the point.

Even with an interesting premise, this book still is one big pile of crap.  The main character is terrible, the ending seems horribly mean-spirited (suffice to say the main character resorts to trickery, and what the hell kind of lesson is THAT for kids?), and I got so annoyed with it that I had to stop reading.  It boggles my mind why people would like this book.  If you like good main characters, this is most definitely not the story for you.  It may be the one Goosebumps book I end up throwing in the trash.

Reader Beware Month: The Haunted Mask

Halloween is one of the only times of the year when people don’t have to be themselves for a while.  Instead, you can buy a costume and pretend to be someone more dashing, more adventurous.  Maybe even someone scarier.  It’s with this in mind that I read today’s classic Goosebumps tale, the Haunted Mask.  And like Monster Blood earlier this month, I’m ashamed of myself for having never read this before.

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We follow Carly Beth, a girl who tends to be a little jumpy.  Her friends constantly mock her, calling her a scaredy cat and pulling pranks on her to make her scream.  This Halloween, Carly Beth wants to get her revenge on her friends.  She buys the scariest mask she can find at a party store that recently opened.  However, Carly Beth finds that the mask is changing her, making her more ferocious and hateful.  And she can’t take it off…

This is one of the most original, most compelling, and best stories I’ve seen from the Goosebumps series.  It’s suspenseful, it’s creepy, and it’s dripping with character.  It was able to seem dark without anything dark really happening.  The pacing was perfect (even if one or two scenes didn’t really add all that much to the story).  This was genuinely the most enjoyable and best of the Goosebumps books I’ve read so far.  The ending, admittedly, is a bit hoaky.  However, the awesomeness of the rest of the book cancels out any sickeningly sweet feelings you feel after the defeat of the monster.  I can’t find one thing about it that I truly dislike…. Well, if I had to nitpick…

The character of Carly Beth was well done.  I sympathized with her jumpiness and her wish for revenge.  She was characterized very well and developed naturally through the story.  When she starts turning evil, it does feel wrong for her, which is the whole point.  When she starts noticing that the mask is changing her, the fear is very well done.  However, her friends are a bunch of jerks.  They constantly prank her, scare her, and laugh at her.  I kept wondering why she was friends with these people at all.  It made me yearn for their comeuppance all the more, though.  So, when they finally come across Carly Beth in her mask form, I was very satisfied.

The mask itself felt like a character, though it never said anything for itself.  It was very well characterized and described.  It FELT like an actual monster.  its presence was menacing and threatening.  THIS is how you make a monster.  It didn’t need to do anything on its own and yet it felt like a threat to the main character.

You owe it to yourself to read this book if you haven’t already.  You cannot call yourself a fan of Goosebumps if you have not read this book.  It’s classic, creepy, and satisfies every need for a good story.  It is probably the best book that I’m going to read from this series this month.  Perhaps I should have saved it for last.  Oh well.  I can’t dwell on that now.  I need to get my hands on a costume.  Halloween is almost here…

Reader Beware Month: The Haunted Car

There are a number of Stephen King stories that I’ve never read or seen.  Not the least of these is Christine, a classic story about a haunted, killer car.  I’ve been warned away from Christine a number of times.  The main reason for this is that the movie is apparentlly very boring.  If that’s true, then Christine and The Haunted Car have more than just the premise in common.ImagesCAZ8S05KMitchell Moinian is absolutely obsessed with cars.  The car his family recently bought fascinates him.  At night, he sneaks out of his room to sit in it, admiring the leather seats and roomy interior.  However, Mitchell starts having weird experiences in the car.  A voice starts talking to him and the doors lock him in by themselves.  Could the car actually be haunted?  Yes.  Yes it could.

My problem with this book has nothing to do with the premise.  I found the premise kind of clever, actually.  To my knowledge, not many have attempted to make stories about haunted cars.  The ultimate explanation for why the car was haunted was tragic and, in my opinion, well put together.  The premise of the book is absolutely fine.  No, my problem with this book comes from the terrible characters.

I couldn’t relate to the main character, Mitchell, at all.  His obsession with cars seems almost unhealthy.  He has dozens of models in his room, posters on his wall, and is just fascinated with the new car of the story.  I probably would have related if he was more obsessed with comics or something.  But cars just don’t interest me.  From the start, Mitchell felt like a boring character.  By the end of the story, the only thing he’s learned is not to be obsessed with cars.  So, his development is a bit on the shallow side.

The parents of the book are absolute jerks.  The dad is always unsuccessfully trying to fix things and treats his kid as more of a burden than a child.  The mother is always nagging.  Granted, I understand that parents can be this way sometimes.  But they came off as extremely generic and mean.  The little brother was an annoyance and I disliked him immensely.  If I was half as annoying to my sister when I was younger, I feel terrible.

The ultimate disappointment of this book was the main bad guy of the piece, the haunted car itself.  It doesn’t do anything menacing in my eyes.  It never runs anything over, it never really hurts anyone.  All it does is vaguely threaten the main character and drive itself really fast only to stop before hitting anything.  Even if it became menacing or creepy for a moment, there was one thing this book kept doing that pissed me off and broke the tension immediately.

Let me give you some advice if you’re a writer.  When you’re writing a story, especially a story that’s supposed to be scary, don’t constantly have your bad guy saying “I’m evil. I’m so very evil.”  It’s not threatening, it’s not interesting, it’s not scary.  It is downright silly.  The haunted car kept saying it throughout the book.  Instead of proving itself as being evil, it just kept saying that it is.  Ironically, that had the opposite effect.  It made me see the car as being not threatening in the least.

Ladies and gentlemen, this book is my new bottom bar for Goosebumps.  It successfully beat out the old contender, Welcome to Dead House, on the This-Sucks-o-meter.  It’s no wonder that this is the only Series 2000 book I own if they all suck this bad.  The story is interesting, but the characters and especially the bad guy were ultimately weak.  I’m sure there are plenty of other ghost stories that will rev your horror engine from Goosebumps, but this is most definitely not one of them.

Reader Beware Month: R. I. P. D.

Today’s comic isn’t entirely related to horror.  It’s more of a (pretty much) straight forward cop story with a twist.  What’s the twist?  The cop is dead.  As you know, my fellow fans of horror, death is not always the end of the story.  Sometimes, it’s just the beginning.  This is the Rest In Piece Department.

Nick Cruz is the dead detective in question.  He was murdered while on a routine drug bust with his partner.  But he doesn’t know who did it and would give anything to solve the mystery.  Enter the RIPD, self-described police force of God.  They put demons that escaped from Hell back where they belong.  Cruz trades a 100 years of his afterlife for a chance at solving the mystery of his death.  Good timing, too, as there’s a demon out there who threatens the very fabric of reality…

I first heard of this comic when I saw the trailer for the movie staring Ryan Reynolds.  When I learned that said movie was based on a comic, I just had to read this thing for myself.  Having read it now, and only having seen the trailer for a movie, I’ll tell you this.  The comic and the movie are about as different as you can get in regards to adaptation.  The stories and basic elements seem to be almost completely different.  Not really sure if that’s a good or bad thing, but there you go.

Focusing on the comic, I do like the story quite a bit.  I’ve always been a fan of detective stories.  Making the detective a ghost is icing on the cake for me.  (It’s one of the reasons I like Ghost Trick.)  The story is very well paced, taking time to build itself up a little before really letting loose with the action.  It also keeps the story as light-hearted as possible, almost seeming a bit goofy at times.  The world that the comics creates is also fascinating to watch unfold.

Even though this seems to have been only a short series collected in one trade copy, a good amount of room was given for the characters to develop.  Cruz becomes a very sympathetic character.  His partner, gun-totin’ cowboy Powell, is a badass from the moment he walks into frame.  Even the main bad guy(s) of the piece get pretty good development.  Granted, they’re still evil pricks, but they’re awesome evil pricks.

The artwork for the book is fantastic.  It almost feels like it’s a book fully ready to become an animated series at any time.  It is very well detailed and all the characters have very cool designs.  My personal favorites are the demons, who are especially creative.

This is one detective comic you should not miss.  I highly recommend it to anyone curious about supernatural cop stories.  It’s well written, well drawn, and well paced.  You’ll be begging for them to make a series out of it.  As to the movie version, I’m probably gonna watch it with the mindset that the two have nothing to do with each other.  If I compare it to the book too much, I might want to throw everyone who worked on it in jail.

Reader Beware Month: Beware, The Snowman

I have never been able to make a snowman in my life.  The reason for this mostly hinges on the fact that I live in Miami, snow’s worst enemy.  I do consider myself a little deprived of that experience growing up.  Anyway, having never really been around actual snowmen, maybe there’s something I’m missing.  Whatever else Beware, The Snowman is, I can tell you this:  It’s not the least bit creepy or scary, even from a kid’s book standpoint.

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Jaclyn and her Aunt Greta have recently moved to the town of Sherpia, a small town at the edge of the Arctic Circle.  Jaclyn is confused as Aunt Greta basically chose to move here without real reason.  Then, Jaclyn notices something bizarre:  The same, creepy snowman is in every front lawn.  It has an angry frown and a scar on its face, it’s arms up as if trying to scare people away.  What is the reason behind this bizarre tradition?  The explanation is even sillier than you can imagine.

Let’s just be blunt here.  The story of this book is just outright silly and stupid.  There is just no way you can make a snowman scary.  Many have tried, all have failed.   I think the problem might be that I usually associate snowmen with joy and good cheer.  You know, Christmasy stuff.  So any attempt to make them scary just seems silly.  However, that doesn’t make this a bad story.  On the contrary, I had a lot of fun with it.  It was refreshing to see such an absurd story after a stream of ones that took themselves seriously.  While this one did have a “straight face” the whole way through, I couldn’t help but find it very campy.

As to the characters, I felt like the story wasn’t focused on developing them at all.  Jaclyn doesn’t seem any different than she was at the end of the story.  She didn’t learn any lesson or anything.  The story was more focused on building up the snowman as this big, terrible thing.  As such, we never really got to know the characters outside some shallow, generic aspects.

The twists in this book are absolutely amazing and over the top.  You will never see them coming and I urge you, if you haven’t read this book, not to look up the twists.  Read the book.  It’s fantastic how completely nonsensical they are in every possible way.  The climax of the book is absolutely dripping with goofiness in my opinion.

Ultimately, this book was like a bad, goofy horror flick.  One that you can’t take seriously at all.  So, you shouldn’t.  If you go to read this book, go with the intention of finding it hilariously cheesy.  It’s completely enjoyable that way.  If you try to take it too seriously, I’m afraid you’ll be left out in the cold.