Personal blog - and temporary home page until new website is finished - of writer, editor and graphic artist Christopher Mills

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Femme Noir #4 Review

Comixtreme's "Done-In-One Reviews" wraps up the miniseries…
Port Nocturne seems to attract every sort of villainy, from the garden-variety skells and grifters to robots with human minds and with this issue people raised in the jungle primeval. And that person wants revenge on some of the Dark City’s most affluent citizens. I’ve always enjoyed how that even though the 1930’s weren’t that long ago you have the feeling that the world was still young and things like "lost islands" and "unexplored regions" were still possible. This story builds on that feeling and then some; in fact I kinda wish we had a full issue of what transpired on the Lost Island instead of simply flashbacks. Still, the story is fun and seeing the Blonde packing heat is exciting in of itself. This is the final issue of the mini-series, but I hope we get to see more adventures of Femme Noir sometime very soon.
Rating: 3.5/5 --Terry Verticchio

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Have a Hardboiled Holiday!

Rick Burchett, "Digger" McCrae (a/k/a "Gravedigger") and I would like to wish you a very Merry Christmas. And if things get a little too warm and fuzzy today, why not enjoy a bit of cinematic holiday mayhem like Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang or (for the more genteel among you) The Thin Man, while the Christmas dinner digests?

Be safe, everyone!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Femme Noir for Christmas!

According to the Diamond Comics Distribution shipping list, the fourth and final issue of the first Femme Noir miniseries, The Dark City Diaries, will be in comic shops this Wednesday, December 24th... just in time for Christmas!

Written and pencilled – as usual – by myself and the incredible Joe Staton, this issue is inked by the talented Mark Stegbauer (who previously inked Issue #2) and introduces our new colorist, Michael Watkins. Michael's done such a good job that we've asked him to keep working with us, and he'll be applying his computerized hues to several upcoming Noir projects (see below).

As I recently posted in this very blog, while this is the final issue of the miniseries, it's not the last you'll be seeing of Femme Noir. In 2009, she'll be appearing in Ape Entertainment's Free Comic Book Day special, and a 48-page one-shot called Femme Noir: Supernatural Crime. We also have two paperback collections in the works, one of which will contain newly re-colored and re-mastered versions of the original FN webcomic strips.

The other, of course, is the trade paperback edition of the Dark City Diaries series for those who were unable to persuade their local shopkeepers to stock the comic books, or those who "waited for the trade" and a heftier volume for their bookshelves. I'm putting that weighty tome together now, and it's coming together great. Aside from the four installments of the Diaries mini, the book will include at least two more short FN bonus stories, a foreword by Shamus-Award winning crime writer Max Allan Collins, and an afterword by Kevin Burton Smith, of the Thrilling Detective website.

So... thanks to everyone who's been buying the series, and I hope you'll pick up #4 this week. And for those who are only just now discovering the series, hang around – there's a lot more Femme Noir on the way!

Into The Blu

Friday night, my wife and I picked up a Sony Blu-Ray player and a bunch of discs from our local Circuit City. The player and discs were a Christmas gift from my generous in-laws.

As the Circuit City chain is in financial straits, they had some pretty good deals on players and discs, so we were able to pick up three of the first six James Bond Blu-Ray editions (I had won a fourth in an online contest a few weeks ago), Predator (a guilty pleasure), The Fifth Element (an even guiltier pleasure) and The Dark Knight. I already had those Bond movies on DVD, of course, but let's face it – I'll be upgrading those movies with every technological advance that comes along, right up to the point they're converted into some sort of fully-immersive Virtual Reality.

Oh yeah, Circuit City also threw in a free Hancock Blu-Ray disc with the purchase of the player, but I haven't watched it yet, and I'm in no hurry.

Now, we still only have a standard-definition television, so we're not getting the full benefit of the Blu-Ray technology, but I have to say I can see some improvement in picture quality and an even more pronounced upgrade in audio quality, even with our archaic set-up. Hopefully, sometime in the next year or so, we'll be able to purchase a hi-def TV, and really see what this machine is capable of.

I'm grateful, of course, that it also plays standard DVDs, since I still have a couple thousand in my library, and I'm not convinced that Blu-Ray's going to totally usurp that format soon, especially in this economy. If it hadn't been a gift, we wouldn't have been buying a Blu player for a long time, and the discs are, generally, way more expensive than regular DVDs. I can't see people rushing out to upgrade to Blu en masse, not with money so tight, and with DVDs looking and sounding pretty damned good already. Maybe in a couple years, when the hardware and software prices come down... but by then, the manufacturers will be trying to foist another new format on us, and I suspect that it may not even be a physical one.

It'll probably be exclusively digital downloads, and personally, that doesn't appeal much to me and my collector's instincts.

I'm glad I have the Blu-Ray player, though. We all know I love me my movies, and the better the quality of the viewing experience, the better I like it. That's why I had a laserdisc player back during the VHS era, and why I have Dr. No in at least four video formats... and counting.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Weekend Theater: Bravo Scooby Doo

Back in the day, Cartoon Network programmers had some genuine respect for classic animation, and so did the creators of their original World Premiere Toons, also known as What A Cartoon Show and Cartoon Cartoons.

This episode of the Johnny Bravo series (which I was a huge fan of, along with its companion series, Dexter's Laboratory, Cow & Chicken, and I Am Weasel) is a fun and funny parody of the original Hanna-Barbera Scooby Doo: Where Are You? TV series, but it also has a bunch of clever references to other classic cartoons, including a couple of vintage Looney Tunes shorts. Sadly, in the short ten years since this was made, Cartoon Network has devolved beyond being capable of producing anything this clever. (Bigfoot?!)

Makes me glad I no longer have cable.

Friday, December 19, 2008

R.I.P. 2008

Turner Classic Movies remembers those film industry personalities who have passed away in this past year. Obviously, this was created before the death of Van Johnson last week, at age 92.

And, sadly, we must also add Majel Barrett Roddenberry, wife of Star Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry, to this list. The actress who portrayed several roles in the Trek franchise, beginning with "Number One" in the original pilot, "Nurse Christine Chapel" in TOS and the movies, and "Luxwanna Troi" on TNG and DS9. She also provided the computer voice for most of the spin-off series and was announced as doing the same for J.J. Abram's new Trek film.

She died yesterday at age 76.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Wednesday Cover: Back to Mongo

I've been reading Arthur Byron Cover's novelization of the 1980 Flash Gordon movie, and finding myself entertained (and occasionally appalled – according to the author, Dale Arden had a penchant for 70's New York swingers clubs before being shanghaied to Mongo) by Cover's embellishments to the Lorenzo Semple screenplay.

That paperback has a boring movie still on its cover, though, so here's another Gold Key Flash Gordon comic from that era, cover artist unknown. Great Ming, and I love those rocketships...

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Kolchak Kontest Winner

The names went into my Indiana Jones™ fedora, and my wife picked out a winner...

Charles Gramlich!

The signed variant cover editions of the Kolchak Tales: Night Stalker of the Living Dead miniseries will be going in the mail on Monday. Congratulations, Charles, and a big thanks to everyone who entered!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Bettie Page, RIP

I discovered 50's pin-up queen Bettie Page through the pages of the late Dave Stevens' Rocketeer comics, and Greg Theakston's marvelous fanzine, The Betty Pages. Like virtually every red-blooded man (and many women) who laid eyes upon her sublime beauty – a tantalizing blend of sultry sensuality, good-natured naughtiness and playful innocence – I became fascinated by her.

That was the mid-Eighties, and back then, nobody knew what had become of the sleek, raven-haired model. Many believed that she had already passed away, never knowing that she had achieved a new fame and rabid fan following, comprised, in large part, of young men who hadn't even been born when she had last posed for a professional photographer.

Eventually, though, she was "found," and thanks mostly to Stevens, was able to financially benefit somewhat from her renewed popularity. She was made aware of the incomparable impact that her unique image had made on several generations of artists, musicians, filmmakers and admirers of female pulchritude.... and discovered, I hope, that she was greatly loved.

Bettie Page has passed away at age 85.

Kolchak Kontest Reminder

Here's a quick head's up – the Kolchak giveaway ends at midnight Friday, so if you want a chance to pick up the variant cover editions of the Kolchak Tales: Night Stalker of the Living Dead miniseries from Moonstone Books, you need to get your entry in before then.

Details and rules in THIS post.

Winner will be announced on Saturday.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wednesday Cover: Planet Stories

Don't know who painted this flame-haired, axe-wielding interplanetary amazon – but that's my kinda woman!

ADDENDUM: Apparently the artist is Allen Anderson. Cool.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

I Want to be Punished!

Boy, that subject line is going to attract a lot of kinky new readers. Anyway, the latest comic book-based movie, Punisher: War Zone, starring Ray Stevenson, has crashed and burned at the box office. Even though it was the sole wide opening release last weekend, it came in #8 and grossed a mere $4 mil in 2,508 theaters, far less than the $13.8 mil that the Punisher (starring Thomas Jane) took in four years ago.

The majority of reviews have been decidedly negative, although there are a few dissidents out there who thought it was fun. Personally, I'm looking forward to seeing it – on DVD – because: I like the character, the 2004 film, and will even will admit to enjoying the Dolph Lundgren Punisher version from 1989. No, seriously.

Frankly (ha! The Punisher's real name is "Frank Castle"), I don't need much from a Punisher film – just lots of mob guys getting mowed down with a wide variety of deadly weapons. A plot or wit would be nice bonuses, but aren't vital.

I guess it's just more proof that my taste in movies is – shall we say – masochistic.

ADDENDUM: Scott Mendelson compares all three Punisher movies here – and it doesn't sound like he hates the Dolph Lundgren version either.

Monday, December 08, 2008

DVD PReview: 42nd Street Forever V.4

Movie trailer compilations aren’t for everyone, but I enjoy the hell out of them. It can be a kick seeing how distributors and exhibitors have tried over the years to sell their wares, and when the wares in question are sleazy exploitation films, the trailers can often be more entertaining than the movies they promote.

Synapse Films continues their awesome 42nd Street Forever DVD series in January with Volume 4: Cooled By Refrigeration, containing 105 minutes worth of sleazy exploitation film "coming attraction" previews and TV spots, running the genre gamut from crime thrillers to horror to slob comedies and blaxploitation.

The Syndicate: Death In the Family, Combat Cops, It Came Without Warning, No Blade of Grass, Yor: The Hunter From the Future, Simon - King of the Witches, The Psychic, Schizoid, Tender Flesh, Die Sister Die, Silent Scream, New Year's Evil, Mortuary, Humongous, Embryo, The Boogeyman, The Legend of Boggy Creek, The Town That Dreaded Sundown, Gray Eagle, Shadow of the Hawk, Rituals, Americathon, Can I Do It...'Til I Need Glasses, Die Laughing, In God We Trust, Undercover Hero, The Jezebels, Fighting Mad, Moving Violation, Bonnie's Kids, Walking Tall Part 2, The Klansman, Monkey Hustle, The Soldier, Blackout, Shout At the Devil, March or Die, Hog Wild, The Hard heads, The Chicken Chronicles, Best Friends, Our Winning Season, Coach, Goldengirl...

As usual, I've only ever seen a handful of these titles, and after watching this compilation, I'm reminded again of just how many B-movies and drive-in classics I have yet to see.... and how many still haven't appeared on DVD. Some of these trailers are mini-masterpieces of hyperbole and ballyhoo, making the most abysmal dreck look tantalizingly appealing. Many familiar faces appear in these trailers, which just goes to show that almost every actor of note has a few of these kinds of skeletons in their cinematic closet – among those aforementioned faces are Martin Landau, Lee Marvin, Roger Moore, Robby Benson, Steve Gutenberg, John Ritter, Gene Hackman, Michael Biehn, Cathy Lee Crosby... and O. Jailbird Simpson.

Since these are old, much-run theatrical trailers which were never intended to have a life beyond the films they advertise, never mind be preserved for posterity, picture and sound quality varies widely from preview to preview, with a lot of wear and tear evident on most clips. Still, the overall presentation is quite watchable – all of the trailers are intact – and the scratches and soundtrack hiss just add to the overall grindhouse experience. The disc also includes a commentary track by Fangoria magazine editor Michael Gingold, film historian Chris Poggiali and Edwin Samuelson, editor of the AVMAniacs website. Oh, and the package art is fantastic – a great tribute in style and execution to 70's exploitation film posters.

For anyone with an interest in such things, the entire 42nd Street Forever series is a treasure trove, and worth checking out. (Be warned, though – in addition to the four-volume regular series, there's also a "XXX-treme Special Edition" installment that features hardcore porn trailers from the 70's.)

Personally, I really want to know why The Soldier isn't on DVD....

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Kolchak Kontest

When Moonstone Books published the Kolchak Tales: Night Stalker of the Living Dead miniseries, they also released very limited variant cover editions of each issue (seen above), drawn by Moonstone Art Director/Kolchak editor Dave Ulanski, with colors by Ken Wolak. These variants were so limited in number that even I only have one extra set.

Because you folks have been so supportive of my work on the book, I'm going to give away that extra set to one of you. All you have to do is send an e-mail containing your name and mailing address to with the words "Kolchak Kontest" in the subject line. I'll pick one entry at random, and send the complete set – signed, of course – to the lucky winner.

Entries must be received by midnight Friday, December 12th. The winner will be announced sometime on Saturday. Good luck, and thanks for your support!

One entry per person, please. Double entries will be disqualified. One winner will be drawn at random and announced on Saturday, December 13, 2008. The winner’s name will be posted here and will be notified via email. All entries will be deleted immediately after the contest’s close, and no personal information will be retained or transmitted to any third parties. The contest is open to anyone, in any country. Unfortunately, I cannot assume responsibility for items lost or damaged in transit.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Forrest J Ackerman, RIP

The legendary Ackermonster, Forrest J Ackerman, has passed away at age 92.

The pun-loving literary agent, author and professional fan of "imagi-movies," was the founding editor of the influential Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine in the 60's and 70's, coined the term "sci-fi," and discovered Ray Bradbury. His love for the science fiction, fantasy and horror genres was contagious, and through the pages of his magazine, he inspired countless young people to make their own careers in those fields, from Stephen King to Steven Spielberg.

I'm a little too young for Famous Monsters to have been a big part of my genre education – by the time I discovered it, it was no longer under his guiding hand; Starlog and Fangoria were my poisons – but I was well aware of "Uncle Forry" and his life-long passion for fantasy.

Here's an excerpt from his AP obituary:

Ackerman died Thursday of heart failure at his Los Angeles home, said Kevin Burns, head of Prometheus Entertainment and a trustee of Ackerman's estate.

Although only marginally known to readers of mainstream literature, Ackerman was legendary in science-fiction circles as the founding editor of the pulp magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland. He was also the owner of a huge private collection of science-fiction movie and literary memorabilia that for years filled every nook and cranny of a hillside mansion overlooking Los Angeles.

"He became the Pied Piper, the spiritual leader, of everything science fiction, fantasy and horror," Burns said Friday.

Every Saturday morning that he was home, Ackerman would open up the house to anyone who wanted to view his treasures. He sold some pieces and gave others away when he moved to a smaller house in 2002, but he continued to let people visit him every Saturday for as long as his health permitted.

"My wife used to say, 'How can you let strangers into our home?' But what's the point of having a collection like this if you can't let people enjoy it?" an exuberant Ackerman told The Associated Press as he conducted a spirited tour of the mansion on his 85th birthday.

His collection once included more than 50,000 books, thousands of science-fiction magazines and such items as Bela Lugosi's cape from the 1931 film "Dracula."

Ackerman himself appeared in numerous films over the years, usually in bit parts. His credits include "Queen of Blood," "Dracula vs. Frankenstein," "Amazon Women on the Moon," "Vampirella," "Transylvania Twist," "The Howling" and the Michael Jackson "Thriller" video. More recently, he appeared in 2007's "The Dead Undead" and 2006's "The Boneyard Collection."

Ackerman returned briefly to Famous Monsters of Filmland in the 1990s, but he quickly fell out with the publisher over creative differences. He sued and was awarded a judgment of more than $375,000.

Forrest James Ackerman was born in Los Angeles on Nov. 24, 1916. He fell in love with science-fiction, he once said, when he was 9 years old and saw a magazine called Amazing Stories. He would hold onto that publication for the rest of his life.

Ackerman, who had no children, was preceded in death by his wife, Wendayne.

Rest In Peace, Forry.

December's Femme Noir Update

I'm told that Femme Noir: The Dark City Diaries #4 should be on sale in the next few weeks, just in time for the holidays. The issue features the usual dual covers – a lovely, pulp magazine-ish illustration by Joe Staton & Alfredo Lopez and a magnificent alternate cover penciled by the late Mike Wieringo, inked by Joe, and colored by Garry Henderson. There's also a short text feature in this issue by yours truly, revealing a bit of the history of the character and project. I'll let you know when to look for it as soon as I get the shipping info.

This week, I wrote a short – very short – Femme Noir story for 2009's Free Comic Book Day Cartoon-a-palooza special from Ape Entertainment. As usual, Joe Staton is laying down the graphite, and inker Mark Stegbauer will be slapping on the India ink. Michael Watkins – who colored Issue #4 of the miniseries – will be providing the hues. It's called "Demon Bat," and will be the first of several Femme Noir projects planned to appear next year.

I'm currently scripting a 48-page "annual," subtitled "Supernatural Crime," co-starring the skull-visaged vigilante known as Brother Grim (last seen in Issue #1 of the mini) – and featuring an all-new origin story for the character. Why a new origin? Don't ask. It's too sordid a saga, and it just pisses me off. But the plan is to have the one-shot special out in the second half of the year.

We're also planning to release a trade paperback collection of the original Femme Noir webcomics, re-colored and "remastered." I'm hoping Joe will have enough time to draw a fourth story for the collection – the script is pretty much written and it'll round out the volume nicely. In any case, it'll definitely include the three online classics: "Cold, Dead Fingers," "An Eye For A Spy," and "Chambers of Horror." More info on this as it comes together.

And, of course, there will be a trade paperback collection of the Femme Noir: The Dark City Diaries miniseries, which will include all four stories from the comic books, as well as the 2008 FCBD Cartoon-a-palooza story, "A Night In The Life," and the 8-page bonus tale, "The Dingus." There will also be character design sketches by Joe, a special foreword and afterword by a couple of renowned crime fiction personalities, and a surprise or two. You'll also get to see all the original cover art, this time unobscured by logos and text.

With #4 still to hit the shelves, I suppose I could play it cagey, and say "oh, there's no plans as yet for a trade, so you better go out and buy the individual issues," but does anyone believe that anymore? Besides, Ape published only enough copies of the miniseries to meet the initial retailer orders – and there will not be any additional printings. I know a lot of people couldn't find copies of the first three issues at their local stores, and #4's orders were – as is typical with a miniseries – lower than the others, so it may be hard to find, too. I also know that in today's market, a lot of readers habitually "wait for the trade." Hell, I'm one of them.

So, a trade paperback collection was/is inevitable. Aside from making the material available in a more durable format, it can also (hopefully) get into regular bookstores and maybe reach a wider audience. I don't want anyone to feel cheated or that they now "have" to buy the material twice, but the graphic novel/trade paperback format is becoming the format of choice among consumers, and we have to play along. Now, I wanted the stories to come out as "floppies" (I detest that term, but it's slightly better than "pamphlets") first because, dammit, after all that work, I wanted a Femme Noir comic book to hold in my hands and see displayed on the comic shop shelves! But I also want the property to have a life beyond those 4 issues, and having a trade paperback available and in print is a necessity.

Beyond those projects, I have tentative plans for a second miniseries, probably for the Summer of 2010 – if I can keep all the balls in the air – and make it worthwhile for my valued collaborators, Joe foremost among them. A lot will depend on how well-received the projects mentioned above are. I hope things work out, because I still have a lot of Femme Noir tales to tell...

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Wednesday Cover: Batman R.I.P

So... I hear that Batman's dead again. Obviously, this isn't the first time he's kicked the bucket and I doubt it'll last. The first time I saw him die was within the pages of Batman #291, back in the mid-70's. Unfortunately the story wasn't quite as satisfying as this great Jim Aparo (him again!) cover – just look at how cool the Batman statue on the tombstone is posed! – it had the villians pictured above "on trial" by Ras Al Ghul to determine which would get the credit for capping the Caped Crusader.

I never did understand what the hell Luthor was doing there...

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

DVD Review: Burke's Law, Vol. 2

I reviewed VCI Entertainment's first Burke's Law DVD back in May (Season 1, Volume 1). Now Volume 2 is on sale, with the second half of this 1964 detective series' first season.

As I wrote at the time, I find this light-hearted mystery series to be highly entertaining, with clever, twisty murder plots, eccentric suspects and a charming leading man. Homicide Captain Amos Burke (Gene Barry) lives a very Playboy/Rat Pack lifestyle, romancing a different gorgeous babe every night, and possessing a heroic tolerance for dry martinis.

As with the first batch of episodes, the guest stars are a delightful mix of classic Hollywood veterans and fresh, young (in '64) faces: Dan Duryea, Ed Wynn, Carolyn Jones, William Shatner, Howard Duff, Michael Ansara, Dorothy Lamour, Spike Jones, Kevin McCarthy, Jim Backus, Barbara Eden, Tab Hunter, Fess Parker, Nancy Kovack, Jane Greer, Buster Keaton, John Cassavetes, Mako, Agnes Moorehead and Forrest Tucker are just some of the familiar faces who show up in these 16 episodes.

The writing is also superior, with several scripts penned by Harlan Ellison, and Gold Medal paperback writer Day Keene.

The full-frame, B&W picture quality is excellent, on a par with the previous set, and like that volume, VCI has included a bunch of vintage television commercials. In fact, my one complaint with the first set – its bulky packaging – has been remedied with this volume, as VCI has placed all 4 discs into a single, standard-sized DVD case.

Overall, it's a great presentation of a highly entertaining – and generally underrated – classic television series. If you collect old shows, like I do, you won't be disappointed in this set.

Highly recommended.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

It Couldn't Happen Here...

Well, it looks like I will be returning to the world of Carl Kolchak, The Night Stalker.

We're still working out the details, but apparently the high muckety-mucks at Moonstone Books were pleased with the way the Night Stalker of the Living Dead miniseries worked out, and have asked me to write a new, relaunched Kolchak ongoing series.

The final title is yet to be determined, as is the schedule, so I can't even guess when the book will premiere. I won't even start writing scripts until January. I can tell you that my plan is to shake up Carl's world a bit, with a new job, a new base of operations, a new supporting cast (although I won't be cutting Vincenzo out entirely), and maybe even a new suit. But Kolchak will still be Kolchak, and if you read my miniseries, you already have an idea of the way I handle the character. The plan is to do mostly one and two-issue stories with some ongoing subplots and character arcs, and to take the intrepid reporter to some places he's never been before.

The book is intended as a jumping-on point for new readers; while I'll do my best not to contradict anything in the Moonstone Kolchak continuity, you won't have to be intimately familiar with the previous comics in order to follow the new series.

Now, the publisher has not made a formal announcement of this, and probably won't for some time. But we have come to an agreement, and I'm hopeful that everything will go smoothly. I'm a big fan of the character and had a great time writing the miniseries (despite it being written during probably the worst period of my life), and I'm looking forward to charting his course in a new regular series.

I'll keep you all posted.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Quantum of Solace

I don't recall being so underwhelmed and disappointed in a James Bond film since sitting through A View to A Kill in 1985. And at least then I liked the theme song.

Quantum of Solace isn't quite a disaster, but it's a remarkably inept piece of filmmaking, and a frustrating film to watch. The script clearly needed a few more passes through the word processor, but being rushed to completion just before last year's writer's strike prevented that. Also, the decision to hand arguably the most action-driven Bond film ever to a director whose sole previous credits are art house indie dramas was a major miscalculation. And that theme song! Inane lyrics can be tolerable if they're accompanied by a memorable melody, but Alicia Keyes and Jack White's "Another Way To Die" (a rejected film title?) has no discernible melody at all.

Much has been written comparing Quantum's action scenes to those in the Jason Bourne films, but they really have nothing in common besides frenetic, rapid fire cutting. In the various Bourne films, the action is fast and brutal, but it can be tracked. The action scenes in Quantum are so badly edited that the viewer is uncertain as to how many players are in the scenes (how many cars were chasing Bond in the teaser?), the geography of the sequence (the rooftop chase), or what's actually happening (can anyone tell me exactly what the grappling hook in the Haiti boat chase was actually hooked to?). Coupled with director Marc Forster's arty cut-aways, the action sequences of Quantum have no sense of place, no rhythm, no rise and fall, no cohesion at all.

The plot has tons of potential, but is riddled with subplots and elements that are introduced and then promptly forgotten, non-sequiter dialogue (what exactly was the hood in Haiti supposed to "pay better attention" to?), unmemorable supporting characters (Mr. Greene's henchman, "Elvis"), and tediously repeated exposition (how many times do we need to be told how our governments have to deal with bad guys or how M just isn't sure she can trust 007?). As in Casino Royale, Bond once again comes across as a thug, indiscriminate in his use of violence, and, now in this film, a klutz who can't seem to hang onto his gun. (Surprisingly, though, he's now invisible – able to tail suspects in plain sight and never be noticed!) The script also fails by not giving Bond and villain Dominic Greene (Mathieu Almaric) any good face-to-face confrontations – they only exchange dialogue twice; the first time Bond has two or three lines, and the second is at the climax.

Oh, and putting the gunbarrel at the end? Yeah, I know what they were going for there, but it was stupid decision. The whole point of that trademark sequence is to kick off the movie on a note of eager anticipation; here it just felt like a rerun of Casino Royale's closing scene. And what was with that horridly tepid title sequence? Daniel Klienman, where did you go?

So, did I like anything? Well, yeah. The cast, almost without exception, rises above the limitations of the script, delivering excellent performances across the board. Forster obviously knows how to work with actors. Daniel Craig, who has to work with probably the least amount of dialogue ever given to Bond, still manages to carry the film on his intense, thoughtful performance. The death of Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini) is powerful stuff, well played and directed. Olga Kurylenko's Camille is one of the best and most interesting Bond girls in the series – a marred beauty with a mission and motive of her own, and her climactic scenes with Bond are magnificent. Jeffrey Wright returns to the role of Felix Lieter, even if this time his part mostly consists of silently scowling; his one scene with Bond in the bar shows great chemistry, though, and is a highlight of the film. Judi Dench, as usual, shines.

David Arnold's score was excellent – he seems to actually get stronger with each film.

And I do like the introduction of the Quantum criminal organization; it's almost like having SPECTRE back again, even if the name's not nearly as cool, and Mister White's (Jesper Christensen) a pretty humdrum substitute for Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

Now, bear in mind that I've only seen the film once so far, and maybe upon subsequent viewings, my opinions will change. But, I've had mixed feelings about this "Bond: Year One" approach all along, and Quantum of Solace seemed to really emphasize the elements I've had the most misgivings about. All this talk about returning the character to his Ian Fleming roots is just a lovely-sounding PR routine – Fleming's Bond wasn't the near-sociopathic killer/imitation Bourne that Craig has been given to play. And, while I've always preferred the more down-to-Earth Bond films – From Russia With love, Thunderball, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, For Your Eyes Only, Licence To Kill – part of the charm of the Bond franchise has been its slightly bigger than life quality; it's what separates Bond from the other spies. Mister Greene's plot to corner the Bolivian water supply just doesn't seem worthy of 007's attentions.

I hope that they've got this tyro-Bond thing out of their system now, and that the next film opens with the gunbarrel, brings back Moneypenny and Q, and gives Daniel Craig's Bond a chance to save the world – or at least England – from a dire threat.

Bond will truly be back.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Wednesday Cover: Happy Thanksgiving!

Here's wishing all my friends here in the States a happy Thanksgiving holiday tomorrow. Even with all the crap I've been through the last few years, I know that I've got a lot to be thankful for – and one of those things is this blog, where I can ramble on about damn near anything that's on my mind... and a few people even read it! So, enjoy this rather disturbing cover, and have a great turkey day, folks!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cereal and Pajamas

The Fox network has just announced that they'll be dropping their Saturday morning block of children's programming in favor of infomercials. With this act, the concept of "Saturday Morning" as I knew it growing up, is officially gone.

Thanks primarily to 24-hour cable channels devoted exclusively to children's shows, there will never be another generation of children to know the sublime pleasure of the classic Saturday morning experience.

When I was a kid, it was a big thing. The networks used to buy ads in the comic books promoting their Saturday AM line-ups, and in the 70's they would usually have a prime time preview of all the new shows the Friday night before the new season began. Monday morning playground discussions would frequently include spirited analysis of the previous weekend's offerings.

Me, I'd get up early and stumble downstairs in my Mr. Spock PJs, turning the television set on en route to the kitchen, where I'd fix myself a bowl of Cocoa Puffs or Count Chocula, before sitting on the floor in front of the set. I had the schedule of my favorite shows memorized, and knew which of the three channels(!) I needed to turn to in order to see them. Personally, I really dug the live-action stuff from Sid & Marty Krofft and Filmation, and the adventure cartoons: The Land of the Lost, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, The Super Friends, The New Adventures of Batman, the animated Star Trek, the animated Godzilla and Tarzan. Shazam! and Isis. The Bugaloos and Electrawoman & Dynagirl. The Kids from C.A.P.E.R. The Lost Saucer. Space Ghost. Lidsville. Blue Falcon & Dynomutt. Space Academy and Jason of Star Command. Thundarr the Barbarian. The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show. The Groovie Goolies. Ark II. Return to the Planet of the Apes...

But now, thanks to those aforementioned cable television networks and home video, the institution has faded away. It's a shame. Saturday mornings were something to be eagerly anticipated when I was a kid, something that belonged to me and not to my parents. For those four hours or so, I controlled the TV... and that was special, back then.

Oh well. Network television itself is a dinosaur lumbering towards inevitable extinction, and home entertainment is rapidly evolving into something radically different. We're no longer slaves to rigid network schedules; TV Guide is no longer our bible. We have hundreds of cable channels at our fingertips; video games, the internet (and it'll all be internet soon)... but I still wanted to take a moment to note the passing of an institution – and be grateful that the same home video revolution that helped killed it off has enabled me to collect and own a fair number of the childhood favorites listed above.

DVD Review: The Starlost

Like many other things in my life, I first discovered the existence of The Starlost through the pages of Starlog magazine in the mid-70's. I learned there that it had been a short-lived 1973 television series created by Harlan Ellison, who, dissatisfied by the final product, had chosen to use his pen name of "Cordwainer Bird" in the credits.

I also knew that Keir Dullea, of 2001: A Space Odyssey, played the lead role of Devon, a young Amish man who discovers that his small world of Cypress Corners is actually an artificial biosphere, one of many that make up the Earthship Ark – a vast multi-generation spacecraft. Venturing beyond his own artificial world, he discovers that a cataclysmic accident several hundred years before killed the command crew of the Ark, and it is now crippled and off-course, heading directly toward a star. With his friends Rachel and Garth, Devon searches the Ark for some way to correct the ship's course, or for someone knowledgeable enough save it and the millions of people isolated in their own biospheres – most of whom are unaware that they are on a spaceship at all.

And that was about it.

In the late 80's I came across a paperback copy of Phoenix Without Ashes, Edward Bryant's novelization of Ellison's original pilot script for the series. The introduction to the book – by Ellison himself – detailed the series' troubled production and the reasons for the acclaimed author's unhappiness with the show. The novel was pretty good, and piqued my interest, but as the series had only run for 16 episodes and was virtually unseen in syndication, I figured I'd never see the show. Which disappointed me, because I love 70's sci-fi television, no matter how bad its reputation.

Well, considering all the obscurities that have been dug up and released on DVD in the last decade, I should have guessed that somebody would put it on digital disc eventually, and sure enough, the folks at VCI Entertainment have done just that. All 16 episodes of the Canadian-produced show are now available on a compact, 4-disc set.

Produced on a very small budget, the show was shot on videotape and featured modular sets that could be disassembled and reassembled in different configurations to suggest new sections of the vast Earthship Ark. There was also extensive use of chromakey (bluescreen), which enabled the production team to drop the actors "into" miniature sets, which saved even more money. Too bad most of the miniatures were pretty unconvincing.

The videotape filming, sets and costumes give the series a look similar to Doctor Who episodes of the same vintage, but The Starlost doesn't have the same charismatic characters or ambitious storylines and unbridled imagination of Who. In fact, it's pretty mundane all around.

The stories started out okay – if overly cliched – but soon devolved into silliness, with the sort of ludicrous faux science that was common in the era's sci-fi TV. And that's a real shame since some decent guest stars appeared on the show, including familiar genre faces John Colicos (the original Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek), Barry Morse (Space: 1999), Simon Oakland (Kolchak: The Night Stalker), and Walter Koenig (Star Trek, Babylon 5).

Still, I found myself growing somewhat fond of Devon, Garth (Robin Ward) and Rachel (Gay Rowan), and I thought that some of the episodes were pretty entertaining.

Nonetheless, I can completely understand why Ellison disowned the show, and why noted science fiction writer Ben Bova was embarrassed to be credited as the series' "science advisor" – he was completely ignored by the producers, but they kept his name in the credits for the publicity value. Same with special effects ace Douglas Trumball (2001, Silent Running, Close Encounters of the Third Kind), who quit the show before the first episode was shot, but remained credited as a producer for the entire run.

VCI's DVD set includes all 16 episodes on 4 discs, packed into one standard-sized case. The transfers are sharp and clean, but as noted above, the show was shot on videotape, so the picture quality is far from perfect, with some minor video "noise" and some bleeding colors. It's probably better than it looked on TV in '73, though. The only extra is a presentation reel used to pitch the syndicated series to independent stations before production, hosted by Dullea and Trumball. In this short film, the series is verbally described by Dullea, accompanied by stock effects shots from Trumball's then-recent feature, Silent Running.

The Starlost is a classic missed opportunity – with Ellison, Bova and Trumball aboard, it should have been something remarkable, and revolutionary. Unfortunately, the realities of independent television production, and the bad judgment of the producers resulted instead in an artistic and commercial misfire, interesting only to die hard fans of 70's genre television like myself.

If you consider yourself such a fan, then VCI's set is worth checking out.

Monday, November 24, 2008

DVD PReview: Merlin & The War of the Dragons

The Asylum is a film production company that specializes in quick, cheap knock-offs of large studio films, designed to catch some of the "buzz" of the blockbusters and catch unwary video renters off guard. Some of their titles include I Am Omega, Transmorphers, Death Racers, Sunday School Musical and The Day The Earth Stopped.... as well as their own "takes" on public domain titles like War of the Worlds and Journey to the Center of the Earth. In the trade, their products are often referred to as "mockbusters."

As you might expect, their movies generally are not very good. Oh, some are watchable and even somewhat entertaining, with SciFi Channel-level CGI special effects and some familiar actors whose careers are on the wane (C. Thomas Howell, Judd Nelson, Greg Evigan, Chris Atkins, etc.), but most are tedious, poorly conceived and full of questionable performances.

But I've now seen the exception. An Asylum film that's actually pretty good.

Their upcoming release, Merlin and The War of the Dragons, tells the tale of young Merlin and his first "adventure," as he must defend the Normans from a Saxon warlord and a rogue wizard who controls a flock of fire-breathing dragons... and ultimately help Uther Pendragon become king.

Filmed entirely on location in Wales by director/cinematographer/editor Mark Atkins, with an almost entirely unknown Welsh cast, the film borrows a bit from 80's fantasy films like Excalibur and Dragonslayer, but manages to work as a solid fantasy story in its own right. Veteran German actor Jurgen Prochnow (Das Boot, The DaVinci Code) anchors the film as Merlin's teacher, while newcomer Simon Lloyd Roberts makes a credible young wizard's apprentice on the verge of becoming a legend. The rest of the cast – mostly stage-trained, I assume – is more than competent as well, which makes Merlin far superior to most Asylum films in the acting catagory.

Costumes, props and art direction are all of surprisingly high quality, and the CGI effects are somewhat better than usual for a direct-to-DVD fantasy film, with some very striking bits of computer animation, well-edited by director Atkins. Nothing looks particularly cheesy. Even the music is remarkably good; a rich, sweeping score well-suited to a fantasy epic.

Don't get me wrong – this is no Lord of the Rings and Atkins is no Peter Jackson... but he might be, someday. The microscopic budget is sorely evident in the battle scenes, where a handful of extras valiantly attempt to pass as a much larger force, and in the filmmaker's reliance on shooting almost exclusively outdoors among (admittedly picturesque) ruins and caves, rather than on costly interior sets. Still... those outdoor locations are beautiful, and do much to enhance the film's overall "production value"...

I liked it.

For fans of fantasy films, I recommend giving Merlin and the War of the Dragons a rental spin in your DVD player when it hits Hollywood Video in the next month or so. It's not a masterpiece of the genre, but it's a lot better than it has any right to be, considering it was shot in less than two weeks for virtually no money. And its definitely better than the low budget sword and sorcery "epics" of my youth, like the Deathstalker series or Hundra!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Black Dynamite!

I'm a huge fan of 70's "blaxploitation" films and their stars. Richard Roundtree, Jim Brown, Fred "The Hammer" Williamson, and especially Isaac Hayes in Truck Turner. Well, this is a new film in the genre, and the trailer is fantastic – it should be, as it's inspired by Rudy Ray Moore's Dolemite trailer. Check this muthafucka out!

Here's the official Black Dynamite website.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Digger and the Dame

Here are four recent pages of pencils by Rick Burchett for our upcoming Gravedigger graphic novel, The Predators. These have been shipped off to artist Fred Harper (who drew my Nightmark feature in the old Shadow House comic I used to publish) for inking.

You may notice something familiar about the hot babe in these pages – yeah, that's right, she's modeled after Angie Dickinson. I figured that since Digger was obviously based on the late, great Lee Marvin, it was time for him to run up against one of his more frequent co-stars (Point Blank, The Killers, Death Hunt).

It's going slow – Rick and Fred are both insanely busy with other work – but we're shooting to have this out next year.

Click on the images for larger views.

To Boldly Go... Again!

I'm sure that pretty much anyone who's interested has already seen this, but here's the new trailer for J.J. Abrams' re-imagining of the Star Trek franchise:

While the old school Trekkie in me is annoyed by the various and sundry changes to the classic Trek mythos – from Kirk knowing how to drive a car (although he didn't in "A Piece Of the Action,"), the shot of the Enterprise being constructed on the surface of the Earth in a desert instead of in orbit over San Francisco, the new iMac-inspired Enterprise interiors, etc. – the slightly more reasonable and marginally more mature side of my Trekkie-dom is starting to get excited.

Sure, it looks different, and it sounds like they're crafting a new continuity and giving the whole franchise a reboot, but maybe, just maybe... if they can keep the heart and soul of the characters and Gene Roddenberry's concept.... maybe it will work.

I guess we'll find out next Summer.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Back @ Home

I'm back from my trip, and back to work, trying to get a couple of scripts written before the end of the month, and starting to ramp up a few new projects.

I'm finally getting around to the Captain Midnight project that's been gestating for several years now. I think Moonstone and I have finally gotten our heads together on a format and a plan, and I'm shooting to get my end of it done by the end of the year. I'm also talking to them about some other interesting projects including possible returns to the worlds of Kolchak and The Spider. Keep your fingers crossed.

Progress continues to be made, albeit slowly, on Perils on Planet X and the new Gravedigger graphic novel, both for Ape Entertainment. I'm hopeful that both projects will finally see the light of day in 2009. I'm also working on further adventures of Femme Noir, beginning with a double-sized Annual, Supernatural Crime, tentatively planned for next Summer.

Speaking of Femme Noir, I'm told that Issue #4 of The Dark City Diaries will be out in about a month.

Another project I'm excited about is "The Name On The Poster," an 8-page Western story that I've written, which will appear in next year's Outlaw Territory anthology from Image Comics. The story is being drawn by my Femme Noir co-creator, Joe Staton, and will be inked by my Gravedigger accomplice, Rick Burchett. I've included the first page of pencils here. It's my first pro work in the Western genre, and it's a real joy having my two favorite collaborators team up on the art.

I finally saw Hellboy II on DVD and thought it was great.. Guillermo Del Toro is just an astounding visual stylist, and I truly hope he returns to the property to finish up a trilogy. Of course, he's got The Hobbit film(s) to do first, and at least a half-dozen other projects on his plate, so we'll have to see how it works out.

I also saw Get Smart, which I didn't hate, but I wish it had hewed closer to the tone of the old television show and that Steve Carrell and the scriptwriters had made Maxwell Smart at least slightly resemble Don Adams' character. The cast was good, for the most part, and Anne Hathaway was gorgeous, but it was ultimately a bit disappointing.

Hoping to see Quantum Of Solace before the end of the week, probably Thursday. So far, I'm hearing very mixed reports, so i'm trying to keep my expectations low. I had very mixed feelings about Casino Royale, and although I liked it overall, there were things about it that I didn't care for... and it sounds like Quantum is made up primarily of those same things.

Oh well, I'll know for sure in a few days.

Hope you guys enjoyed the "Joe Walker" stories. There wasn't much feedback, so I don't think I'll be posting any more fiction pieces here – unless I go out of town again, anyway!

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Walker Files: The Scroll of Solomon, Part 2

And here's the conclusion of "The Scroll of Solomon," a "Joe Walker" adventure:
Four burly tribesmen, wearing robes and turbans, worked in silence to remove the fallen stonework that barred the entrance to the chamber where my friend Doctor Richard Brendon and his young colleague, the lovely Egyptian Talia Khari, believed an ancient artifact, the Scroll of Solomon, was interred.

I had come to Northern Yemen to witness the excavation of the ancient city of Marib, believed by archaeologists to be the long-lost capital of the Queen of Sheba. More than 3,000 years ago, the Queen of Sheba had ruled a vast Empire that encompassed much of what is now Ethiopia and Somalia. For several years now, an international team of scientists had been using radar to map the city buried beneath the constantly shifting, sun-baked sands of the Arabian Desert. Using the radar data, they’d been slowly unearthing Marib’s secrets.

Now we stood literally on the threshold of possibly the greatest archaeological find since the Dead Sea Scrolls. Around 940 BC, the Queen of Sheba had traveled to meet King Solomon of Israel to seek the benefit of his wisdom. Talia, the beautiful young archaeologist from Cairo, had found inscriptions, which led Dick Brendon to believe that the chamber before us, deep in the bowels of the Maharam Biquis – or Temple of the Moon God – contained a scroll, penned by Solomon himself.

The tribesmen cleared the last of the fallen stonework from the heavy sandstone door. Dick inspected the seal carefully as Talia stood nearby, a camera around her neck and thick, leather-bound notebook in hand, ready to record whatever waited beyond the portal. Her eyes gleamed in the light of the bare electric bulbs strung along the ancient corridor.
I desperately wanted a cigarette, and absently scratched at the nicotine patch on my shoulder.

The look on Dick’s face was one of pure joy – this is what the old bonedigger lived for. "All right, men," he said to the robed workers. "Let’s give it a push. Carefully, now."

Two of the tribesmen stepped forward and put their weight against the sandstone.

After a moment, there was a slight rumble as the heavy stone slowly shifted. "Careful," Dick whispered as the burly laborers slowly pushed open the 3,000-year-old door. Once it was open, Dick, flashlight in his hand, ducked and entered the room. Talia and I followed, and the tribesmen were a few steps behind us.

The room was large and oval shaped, the ceiling coming to a dome above us. Six limestone columns ringed the room, and at least a dozen beautiful bronze statues, each a couple of feet tall, were set into alcoves even spaced around the room. In the center of the room was a raised dais, and upon the dais was a large bronze chest.

"It’s incredible," Dick said. "This chamber hasn’t been disturbed in thirty centuries."

Talia stepped forward toward the bronze chest. "Wait!" Dick cried. "We have to document this find. I need pictures, and we have to…"

Talia turned to him, her dark eyes shining. "I don’t think so, Dr. Brendon," she said. "I don’t have time for such foolishness." Suddenly there was a gun in her hand; a small revolver.

I started to step toward her when I felt a heavy hand on my shoulder. It was one of the tribesmen. In his other hand he held a long, curved dagger.

"What is the meaning of this?" Dick demanded, as another of the laborers stepped up to grab him.

Talia laughed. "Ever since I found the inscriptions, I knew that the Scroll, if it existed, would be priceless," she paused. "But rest assured, I intend to put a price on it, Doctor. A very high price."

"But you’re a scientist, Talia!"

"You should have checked my credentials more carefully, Doctor." She turned to the dais, and reached for the shining casket.

I watched helplessly as the beautiful Egyptian girl placed her hands on the lid of the bronze chest, and wished I had my Glock. I tried to think of a way to stop her, but the long knife pressed against my side was making it difficult to come up with a plan.

Talia opened the chest and reached inside. Dick gasped at the careless handling of the ancient treasure. "Careful! You’ll damage it!"

Talia lifted a tightly rolled scroll from the case. Her brilliant smile glowed in the beam from Dick’s flashlight. "Don’t worry, Doctor," she said. "I won’t let anything happen to the Scroll. It is my fortune, after all."

Suddenly, I felt a cool breeze across my neck, and the centuries of dust and sand in the chamber began to stir and lift into the air. The tribesmen began to mutter to themselves as the wind began to pick up. I looked around, but I couldn’t see where it came from.

Dick’s flashlight beam began to flicker. "What’s going on?" Talia demanded.

"I don’t know," Dick said, his voice cracking with fear.

"Put the scroll back, Talia," I said.


Suddenly, Dick’s flashlight beam went out and the room was plunged into darkness. The unexplained wind picked up, and it was cold; arctic cold. My sweat-soaked shirt stiffened against my skin. My stomach tightened in a familiar way, and I knew that old fear.

When the ground began to tremble, the tribesmen started yelling in Arabic. I twisted away from my captor and dived to the stone floor. I rolled a few feet and came to a stop against a limestone column.

And then, without warning, the wind stopped. A warm, golden light filled the room, and I could make out the ghostly image of a woman’s face, beautiful, oval-shaped with large dark eyes and full red lips, in the air above the dais. Dick could see it too, and he stared in mute terror.

Talia looked up at the face and screamed. She fell to the floor, and the scroll rolled from her hand.

And then it was over.

The room was dark again, except for Dick’s flashlight beam, which had miraculously returned to life. The tribesmen fled down the long stone corridor. I rushed to Talia’s side as Dick gingerly scooped up the scroll and placed it back in the bronze casket. I checked for a pulse.

Talia Khari was dead.

"What was that, Walker?" Dick asked.

I thought about it for a moment before answering. Had we seen the shade of the Queen of Sheba, still watching over her treasures after 3,000 years? Or had it been some ancient Arabian deity, some guardian goddess?

I turned to Dick and replied: "What was what?"

"That… apparition –"

"Sorry, Dick," I cut him off.
"I didn't see a goddamn thing."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Wednesday Cover: Doomsday +1

Here's an early piece by the nigh-legendary John Byrne: the cover of the pos-Apocalyptic science fiction series Doomsday +1, published by Charlton Comics in the mid-Seventies. Written by prolific Charlton head writer, Joe Gill, Doomsday +1 was a surprisingly smart adventure series, and one of the best books ever published by the Derby, CT company.

Byrne's art on the title was remarkably accomplished, considering his inexperience at the time, and his work on this title, as well as the latter issues of the company's Space: 1999 comic, still ranks as some of my favorite comic art, ever. In fact, I prefer it to much of his later work for Marvel and other companies.

Another cool thing about this cover – aside from the trademark Byrne robot and the great composition – are the colors, which, when looked at closely, have clearly been rendered in magic marker! Great stuff.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Walker Files: The Scroll of Solomon, Part 1

Here's one last "Joe Walker" adventure from my tabloid days. The second part of this story will post on Friday. Hope you folks have been finding these entertaining, at least.
The shifting sands of northern Yemen’s Rub al-Khali desert and the robed and turbaned local tribesman at my side were my only companions as I made my way to the excavation of the ancient city of Marib. I was perched uncomfortably on the back of a rank-smelling camel I’d named Otis, and I was exhausted from my travels. The incredible heat had sweat pouring down my back in rivers and my bones ached from the camel’s heavy, loping gait.

My guide led me to the base camp of the international archaeological expedition that was currently toiling in this desert hell to uncover the ancient secrets and treasures of Marib, the city of the legendary Queen of Sheba, long-buried here along the ancient trade routes to Oman.

I remembered from my school days that the Queen of Sheba had ruled a vast empire of wealth and power in this part of Arabia, encompassing land on both sides of the Red Sea, including much of what’s now Ethiopia and Somalia. It was an empire built on the spice trade in frankincense and myrrh.

Now that vast empire was buried beneath the ever-changing white sand, and all that showed of it were a few giant limestone columns and crumbling walls poking up from below the ground amid the tent city of the archaeological expedition.

Doctor Richard Brendon, one of the team leaders at the Marib dig, greeted me. He and I went way back – and I owed him a favor or three. About five-foot-eleven, with dirty blond hair and a frame that implied long and physical labor, Dick looked at least fifteen years younger than his true 67. I wish I’d aged as well.

At his side was a beautiful young woman in her late twenties. She wore khaki shorts and an olive-green tank top. Her skin was dark and dusky, and black sunglasses hid her eyes. A brightly-colored scarf was tied up on her head around her dark hair like a turban.

"Walker," Dick said. "You made it!"

"No thanks to this damned camel," I spat as I clumsily dismounted the kneeling beast. "I think he was trying to shake my tired old body apart."

"Worth their weight in gold, Joe," Dick said, a broad smile creasing his rugged face. "Even after thousands of years, there’s no better way to travel the sand."

I shook his hand. "Damn, but it’s good to see you," I said.

"You too, Walker." Dick turned his attention to the young woman at his side. "Allow me to introduce Doctor Talia Khari, an assistant curator from the Cairo Museum. She’s part of the international team, and she’s been a great help in our work."

"Thank you, Doctor," she said softly. Even though I couldn't see them but I was pretty sure she had her eyes fixed on me behind the dark glasses. For some reason, that made me nervous.

We retired to Brendon’s tent, where a makeshift field office greeted me. Wooden tables were covered with tools and old pottery. A few bronze statues shined amid the rubble. A couple of old Army cots and a small, portable refrigerator made the tent seem almost homey. Dick showed me to a battered folding chair and offered me a beer. "It’s cold, Walker. That’s the real reason we haul gas generators out here, you know: to keep our beer cold."

I took a deep pull on the green bottle. The brand was unfamiliar to me; the label unreadable. The cold liquid rushed down my paper-dry throat, washing away a day’s worth of sand and grit. It was the best beer I’d ever tasted.

"I’m glad you could come, Walker," Dick repeated. "I think we have something here that would be of great interest to your readers. You know the story of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba?"

"Only what I saw in the movies. Yul Brynner and Gina Lollobrigida, right?"

He grinned. "Forget Hollywood, old friend. Around 940 BC, the Queen traveled to meet with King Solomon of Israel. The Bible tells us it was to seek the King’s wisdom. But it’s all pretty vague what that wisdom actually was.

"For two years, teams have been using radar to map the ruins under the sand. We use the radar data to help determine where we’ll dig next. Just now, we've been concentrating on excavating the Mahram Biquis – the Temple of the Moon God. It’s a magnificent structure, still mostly intact, and full of new discoveries." He turned to Dr. Khari, who sat nearby; hands folded in her lap. There was an odd tension in her posture, but Dick seemed unaware of it.

"A week ago, Talia found references to a previously unheard-of document. If we can actually uncover it, it will be the greatest archaeological discovery since the Dead Sea Scrolls!"

"What is it?" I asked.

Talia Khari spoke up. She’d removed her sunglasses in the tent and her eyes were black and bottomless. "The Scroll of Solomon. The actual wisdom and word of Solomon, passed to the Queen of Sheba, who he regarded as a righteous woman. If it still exists, it would be priceless."

"And you think it’s buried out there somewhere?"

"We’re sure of it, " said Dick. "We’ve been working for the last five days to uncover the chamber said to be the reliquary of the scroll. It’s a small antechamber deep in the heart of the Temple."

He went to the small refrigerator and pulled out two more beers, untwisting the caps with a massive hand. "Your arrival is particularly well-timed, old friend," he said as he offered me one.

"Tomorrow we open the Chamber of the Scroll of Solomon."
To Be Continued

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Femme Noir #3 Review

I guess issue #3 of Femme Noir: The Dark City Diaries did indeed go on sale last Wednesday, as I stumbled across a nice review of it over at Comixtreme's "Done-In-One Reviews:"
As if Port Nocturne didn’t have enough problems with crime there is a new menace prowling the street. During one of the many gangland shootings, a local hood gets mortally wounded, but manages to stumble into a lab that is owned by the US Government and you wouldn’t believe what they are trying to create inside. And it will take all the skills and tenacity of the mysterious Blonde Justice to stop this rampaging metal monster from taking over the entire city. This is certainly a unique mob-story; it has plenty of action with a Sci-fi twist, but it still retains its seedy style. If you like hard boiled action and ladies packing plenty of heat than this title is for you.Rating: 3.5/5—Terry Verticchio

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Blogging from the Road

Here I am in Little Rock, Arkansas, at my in-laws' place.

I'm told that Femme Noir: The Dark City Diaries #3 went on sale this past Wednesday. I haven't been able to personally confirm that, but I'm hoping that it is true. The issue is probably the best one so far, and it's way overdue. I'm hoping that people will find that it was worth the wait and be forgiving.

Anyway -- I'll be on the road for another few days. When I get home, I'll have a lot to do, and it may take me a while to catch up with all my mail and my various assignments, so if you don't hear from me for a while, that's why. In the meantime, I hope you're enjoying these old "Joe Walker" tabloid pulp adventures, and that you'll drop me a note in the comments and let me know what you think.

Friday, November 07, 2008

The Walker Files: Chupacabra, Part 2

And now, the exciting conclusion...
I was cold and sleepy, and I wished I were somewhere else. Anywhere other than here, downwind from a herd of sheep. A few feet away, his back against a large boulder, Miguel Martinez sat with an old Remington rifle across his knees, a stubby, hand-rolled cigarette dangling from his lips. I craved a Marlboro, but, since I’m trying to quit, I resisted the urge.

The sky was cloudless, black as velvet and casually strewn with stars. There was no moon. My butt was sore from sitting on the hard ground, and I stood to stretch my legs.

"Here, senor," Miguel whispered as he tossed me a thermos. "Have some coffee."

I had to admit my opinion of Miguel had improved a bit. I’d first met him in the local cantina, where he’d polished off a bottle of mescal all by himself. He’d been surly and not just a little scared, thoroughly shaken by his previous encounter with the night beast. But this evening he was sober and steady. He might still be scared, but he was determined to bag himself a goat-sucker, no matter what.

I poured myself a cup of strong, black Mexican brew, and leaned against a boulder to drink it. I checked my watch, and the softly-lit face of my Timex told me it was almost one in the morning.

I was getting too old for this kind of stuff.

I heard the scrape of boots on rock and heard gravel roll downhill. I turned, my hand reaching toward the .38 revolver I’d borrowed from Jim Gunn. I pulled it from my belt as lovely, raven-haired Consuela appeared from the shadows. Miguel’s sister held a basket in one hand.
"Damn it, Consuela," I growled. "I might have shot you."

"Sorry, Senor Walker," she replied. "I thought you and my brother may be hungry."

Miguel rose, a smile on his face. "Si," he agreed. "I am starving."

Suddenly, we heard a commotion amid the herd of goats. "Consuela, stay here." I whispered urgently, and then Miguel and I scrambled across the rocks to get a look at his livestock.

The herd was moving down the narrow valley, away from the spot they’d been grazing. We pushed our way through the panicked animals and there, in the glare of my flashlight beam, we saw something that froze my blood in my veins.

It was about five feet tall, with an oversized skull and giant, glowing eyes. Long spikes, like porcupine quills, lined its back and it had two vicious claws. Its mouth was filled with razor-like teeth, and it crouched on the body of one of Miguel’s goats, blood dripping from its chin.

It was the Chupacabra.

And it was real.

Miguel raised his rifle, but the creature sprang at the scrawny youth, knocking him to the ground with its body. Miguel screamed, and the rifle went off, sending a bullet harmlessly into the sky.

The creature made no sound of its own, but it tore at Miguel with its claws. I pulled the feeble .38 from my belt and fired off a shot that buried itself in the ground a few feet from the struggling forms. The creature stopped its attack then, and turned those giant eyes on me.
It came at me then, covering ground at an incredible rate, and as it leapt, I fired again. This time the bullet caught it in the right shoulder, and the hideous beast twisted in midair and plummeted to the ground.

It let out a blood-curdling hiss and scrambled off into the shadows.

For several moments I stood there, unmoving, arm and gun extended in front of me, breathing hard, my heart pounding in my chest. The entire encounter had taken but seconds.

"Miguel!" I heard Consuela cry and it snapped me out of spell. I found my flashlight and rushed to her brother’s side as she came scrambling down from the rocks. He was a mess. His shirt was torn to shreds, and there were long gashes in his chest and arms. He was breathing, thank God.

Suddenly Consuela was at my side. "Walker, is he…?"

"He’s alive. But we’ve got to get him to a doctor."

It took over an hour to carry Miguel back to his family’s farm, and it was nearly dawn before we were able to get a doctor from the village to come out and treat the kid. But by the time I finally gave in and lit up my first cigarette of the day, it looked like he was going to pull through. Jim Gunn picked me up at the Martinez house around seven.

As we drove through town back to his lakeside villa, I noticed a bearded peasant beside the road, watching intently as Jim’s dusty car drove past. His eyes were hidden beneath the brim of a straw sombrero, and there was a dirty burlap sling on his arm. His right arm.

As I watched the peasant recede into the distance, Jim said: "So, tell me the truth, old pal. Did you see it, Walker?"

"Yeah, Jim," I said. "I saw it."

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Walker Files: Chupacabra, Part 1

Here's another "Joe Walker" adventure. Hope you enjoy it.
James Mason Gunn looked at me across the table, bottle in hand, the cool breeze off the lake blowing his thin white hair. "This should be right up your alley, Walker, old pal. Tequila?"

"No thanks," I said. We were sitting on the porch of Jim’s villa in the beautiful village of Lake Chalapa, Mexico, an hour or so from Guadalajara. A former newspaper reporter from New York, Jim Gunn was an old-school newsman: hard working, hard drinking, and, frankly, hard to take. He and I had known each other for almost thirty years, but I wouldn’t really call us friends. Upon his retirement, Jim had moved to this quiet Mexican town, where there was already a small American community, to relax, drink Tequila, and write a novel. That was five years ago, and he seemed to have two of the three down. "So your letter said. What’s your interest?"

"Miguel is a friend of mine." He poured himself another shot of amber fire. "He does some handyman work around town, but his real livelihood comes from his family farm in the hills north of here. Lately, something’s been killing off his livestock."

"A mountain lion?"

"No," Jim said. "Mountain lions don’t drink goat blood and leave the carcasses to rot in the sun. Miguel – and the local villagers – believe it’s a chupacabra."

"Chupacabra? I thought that was a Puerto Rican folk tale."

"No. The chupacabras are real, old pal. And they’ve been reported all through South and Central America. Even north of the border."

"Anybody actually see one of these beasts?" I asked as I touched the flame from my Bic to the tip of a Marlboro, promising myself it would be the last of the day.

"Yes. Two witnesses. Miguel and his sister."

"I’d like to talk to them," I said.

"That’s no problem," Jim said. "Consuela works at the cantina, and this time of day, we’ll probably find Miguel there, too."

The cantina was a one-story adobe-and-wood structure at one end of a dusty street, away from the nice shops and white villas of the expatriate Americanos. This was a local watering hole, and while Jim seemed at home there, I felt a lot of wary eyes on me as we walked through the beaded curtain over the door. It was dark inside, and it took my eyes a few minutes to adjust, but when they did, I saw Jim heading for a long wooden bar. I followed.

I took the stool beside Jim and was pleasantly surprised by the bartender. She was about eighteen, tall and shapely, with long black hair that fell to the middle of her back. It was tied back, but not braided. Her skin was dark and smooth, her lips full, and her eyes were black obsidian. She was lovely.

"Walker, old pal," Jim said. "This is Consuela Martinez, Miguel’s brother."

"Pleased to meet you, senorita."

"Thank you, senor. Can I get you a drink?"

"I’ll take a cold Corona, if you have one."


"Is your brother here, Consuela?" Jim asked.

She nodded and pointed towards the back of the room. "Si. He’s waiting for you, Senor Gunn."

She placed an ice-cold bottle of beer on the bar in front of me, beads of condensation running down the glass. "Go on back. I’ll get Maria to watch the bar, and I’ll join you in a minute."

I took my bottle and followed Jim to a dark booth in the rear of the cantina. I still felt like the other patrons were staring at me suspiciously. Miguel was about twenty-five, skinny, with dark circles under his eyes. He looked exhausted. He had a nearly-empty bottle of mescal in front of him. He hardly looked up as Jim and I slid into the booth across from him.

"Miguel," said Jim. "This is my friend Walker. Remember, I told you about him?"

Miguel muttered something in slurred Spanish. All I caught was "gringo."

"You must forgive my brother," Consuela said as she appeared suddenly at my elbow. "He hasn’t slept for three days and he’s been drinking far too much." She sat down beside him and put a hand on his arm.

"What happened?" I asked.

"We’ve been losing goats for almost a month. One, two a week. Three nights ago, Miguel took our father’s rifle and decided to watch the herd and see if anything attacked them. About midnight, I decided to take him some food and coffee. When I arrived, he was asleep."

"I was not asleep," Miguel muttered.

"Suddenly, there was a disturbance among the goats, and most of the herd broke and ran away. I took my flashlight and Miguel and I went to investigate. What we found chilled my blood, senor."

"What did you see?"

"It was a monster, senor. It had one of our goats down on the ground and was sucking the blood from it. I swear, senor. It was El Chupacabara."

She was completely serious. "Can you describe it, Consuela?"

"It was about the size of a child, but it had large eyes that glowed white in the dark. It had a row of spikes running down its back and a short tail. When we shined our light on it, it whipped its head around and stared at us with those terrible devil’s eyes. Its mouth was filled with sharp teeth."

"So, what do you say, old pal?" Gunn asked me.

"I don’t follow.’

"You’re a hunter, Walker. You want to help us kill this evil little goat-sucker?"

"I don’t hunt anymore, Gunn. Did anyone call the authorities?"

"The official line is that these little monsters don’t exist," Gunn said with a smile. "Even though I know the local cops believe in it. But there’s nothing they can do."

"So you want me to go out into this hills with a rifle and shoot the thing."

"No," said Miguel suddenly. "I will shoot the chupacabra. Tonight. And I will go alone."

"Miguel," his sister whispered. "Mr. Walker is a famous American reporter. Maybe he could go with you, so he can tell the story to his readers."

Miguel thought about it for a second. "Then I will be famous, too?"

"Sure," I said.

"Then he can come."

It was soon agreed that Jim Gunn would drive me out to the Martinez farm after dinner, and come nightfall, I would go with Miguel in search of the legendary goat-sucker. Before leaving the cantina, Consuela took me aside.

"Please, Senor Walker. Take care of my brother. He hasn’t been well since we saw the monster that night."

I looked into those dark eyes. What a damned fool I am for a pretty girl.

"I will, Consuela.

"And we’ll get the damned Chupacabra, too."

To Be Continued