Nut Ink. Mini reviews of texts old and new. No fuss. No plot spoilers. No adverts. Occasional competency.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Hellbound Heart (1986)

Author: Clive Barker  |  Page Count: 128

'Everywhere, in the wreckage around him, he found evidence to support the same bitter thesis: that he had encountered nothing in his life—no person, no state of mind or body—he wanted sufficiently to suffer even passing discomfort for.'

The novella that became more famous for being filmed as Hellraiser (1987) by Barker himself is a fine example of how good an author he used to be. His prose effectively blends the fantastical with an exploration of the common from an uncommon perspective. In Frank Cotton Barker created a character for whom hedonistic desire has exceeded earthly pleasures, forcing him to cross an unseen border into the realms of the unknown: a meeting with the Order of the Gash.

The Cenobites, as they're more often referred to, are creatures for whom dealings in pleasure are a currency and a privilege, but their definitions of what pleasures of the flesh entail long ago exceeded the human sadomasochistic scale.

There are only four main characters. Unlike Frank the other three aren't as seasoned or as inherently obsessive in their pursuits. Their world is smaller. They're regular people with regular needs. Part of what makes them interesting is that, while each person's desire is different, they're tangled up together: two are in a loveless marriage, while the third is dealing with feelings of unrequited love. Everyone, including the antagonist Frank, craves something that only exists outside of themselves, and some of them dare to reach for it.

As first chapters go it's one of his more repulsive ones. The calculated grossness continues in the same vein throughout. You get the feeling that Barker has visualised the scenes so completely that he was able to move around within them, see them from all angles and even, on occasion, smell their vileness.

The Pinhead character that has become the hideous figurehead of the film series isn't in the book, or rather isn't the same as the one film fans will be familiar with. Putting his image on the cover was a cheap lure by Harper Collins. But I do love the unifying border design they used across all their early Barker books.

4 perverse logics out of 5

Monday, September 14, 2015

Terror of Godzilla (1988)

Author and Illustrator: Kazuhisa Iwata  |  Translators:
Mike Richardson / Randy Stradley  |  Page Count: Approx 30 per issue (176 total)

“...conventional weapons only seem to make him angrier!”

A six-issue miniseries set thirty years after the events of the first Godzilla film (1954). Japan has been free of kaijū trouble since then, but a natural volcanic eruption in the Pacific Ocean changes that. It's time to suit up, JSDF.

The first thing you ought to know is that the English language edition published by Darkhorse is the original manga translated but it's been coloured (the original was B+W). I'd have preferred it left as it was intended, but in all fairness it's not a bad job and the upside is we get it on better paper stock than Japan did. I'm going to take the optimistic stance and say that it could've been much worse, truly.

Artwork is Tezuka-inspired. Issue one is occasionally gruesome, but subsequent issues are less interesting. There’s not much emotion conveyed through facial expressions and it bothered me that the plucky hero, reporter Goro Maki, was drawn with his mouth open most of the time, surrounded by dramatic lines that did little to increase the actual drama of the scene. He gets himself stuck between two G's, the Government and Godzilla, but with help from a Professor of bio-physics named Hayashida he's determined to see the story to the end.

The story itself does everything you’d expect it to do and a few more things besides. The creature—referred to as male—puts the fear of G into the people of Japan. He and his man-boobs get at least a half dozen two-page spreads, often dialogue-free, that are impressive, effectively showing the scale of the problem.

America and Russia get involved in a secondary capacity, having commentary on atomics pinned to their inflated chests. During one such scene it succinctly puts into perspective the attitude that men of war have toward nuclear weapons and the bombing of cities into just three small panels. It shows how justification for such action is balanced against proximity to home soil (i.e. how far from home). A human error can be even more terrifying than Mother Nature's.

The quality takes a dive with the addition of a clichéd, hysterical female calmed by male rationality, in turn followed by male heroics and female sensitivity. Oh, dear. And finally, to punctuate the gender inequalities further, it ends with a daring act of male chivalry! You’ll see it coming from a mile away. The same story was handled much more competently in the film version, The Return of Godzilla (1984). The post-explosive ending is definitely memorable, though.

2½ instances of THOOM! out of 5

Note: You can find spoiler-free, mini-reviews of some of the many Godzilla films (and some other other kaijū eiga films) on our sister site, In a Nutshell.

Monday, September 7, 2015

True Grit (1968)

Author: Charles Portis  | Page Count: 227

You go for a man hard enough and fast enough and he don’t have time to think about how many is with him, he thinks about himself and how he may get clear out of the wrath that is about to set down on him.”

Though it won't matter very much to anyone reading this, I've been a fan of the Western film genre for almost thirty years (thanks, mom ♥) but until picking up True Grit for the first time last week I'd never actually read a Western novel.* The reason I mention that at all is to point out that an enjoyment of one isn't dependent on a love of the other. The book and its characters are so well-written that they would stand head and shoulders above thousands of similar types no matter what year or setting they were placed in.

It's the story of a fourteen-year-old girl who sets out to avenge the murder of her father. The murder happened before the book begins, so that's not a spoiler.

The narrative is first person, told by the girl, Mattie Ross, in a conversational style. Mattie's a young woman in a man's world, but she's not the stereotype. She's strong-willed and of the view that her education puts her on equal footing and deserving an equal amount of respect to that of her elders. Her elders, for the most part, are men of low virtue who see the world very differently to her.

And then there's Deputy Marshal Rooster Cogburn who knows first-hand the cruelties and hardships that await anyone who undertakes the kind of endeavour she sets in motion. Cogburn's badge gives him licence to act the way he does, but he'd do the same even without it. He's a man of principals; ones unique to himself.

Mattie occasionally gets lost in the telling, jumping ahead of herself to give an account of things that happened years after the novel's main story. It effectively conveys her feelings about what constitutes justice, often vindicating her strong opinions about things. She likes to say 'I was right,' as much as the next man.

The dialogue is of the era (1880-ish) but never difficult to read. There's some excellent comedy moments that had me howling even though they're sometimes played straight. Portis kept the momentum thundering along from beginning to end. There wasn't a single moment when I wasn't eager to turn the page and keep on reading. His final chapter is simply astonishing.

5 measures of people out of 5

*Unless you count Stephen King's Dark Tower series, but the magical realism aspects of it complicate any kind of straight-up classification.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Dead Boy Detectives: Vol 1: Schoolboy Terrors (2014)

Author: Toby Litt | Illustrators: Mark Buckingham / Gary Erskine | Page Count: 160

'...He always treats us like royalty, it's just... sometimes it's the red carpet... and sometimes it's the guillotine.'

Of all The Sandman secondary characters that could've been revived for an ongoing series the Dead Boy Detectives wasn't high on my list of wants, but Toby Litt has changed that. The previous incarnation (2001) is acknowledged and respected but Litt has taken a different approach to the storytelling. He doesn't reinvent what's already in existence, he rejuvenates it, making everything feel more vital and a lot more entertaining.

The two boys, Charles Rowland and Edwin Paine, were born decades apart but they share a passion for solving mysteries. Where there’s a mystery it follows that there’s almost always danger; doubly so if the occult is involved. When the two friends decide to help a young girl they find themselves in the deep end of personal history, surrounded by terrors unique to them. It's a place where being already dead is no guarantee of safety.

Something I don’t think I've mentioned before is the work of Todd Klein, the finest letterer in the business. If you're new to comics you might think that it’s just text and any fool can do it, but no, not like Todd. His text boxes, bubbles, etc, complement Litt's dialogue by being written in different fonts and presented via different mediums, each one chosen specifically to accentuate the traits and unique personalities of the character from which they originate. Edwin was born in the 1900s, so you'd expect his vernacular to reflect that, but so too does his lettering. Likewise, Charles is a child of the 1990s, his analytical approach to things is more hard-boiled and so his lettering reflects that.

If you pay attention not just to what you read but to how it's written then you'll discover many more examples. Hopefully it'll open the way for you to appreciate the other unsung heroes in comics, such as inkers and colourists, too.

The book collects together Dead Boy Detectives issues 1-6; and stories from Witching Hour issue 1; Ghosts issue 1; and Time Warp issue 1.

3½ French exchanges out of 5