REVIEWS: MIDNIGHT SPECIAL and AURORA GRAPHIC NOVEL NOMINEES!

Figure 1 - Midnight Special poster (excerpt)

Figure 1 – Midnight Special poster (excerpt)

Michael Shannon, who stars in Midnight Special, is a compelling performer in his own way. While not a scene-stealer, one has to admit it’s hard to take your eyes off him when he’s onscreen. I first became aware of him—though I had seen him before—in the movie Take Shelter, back in 2011, where he played a father obsessed with something bad that was going to happen. I don’t really remember a whole lot about the movie except that his character was burying a steel container, the kind that are moved on freight trains and semi-trailers, in his backyard for a “fallout shelter.” Then, a couple of years ago he played General Zod in Zach Snyder’s reimagining of the Superman story, Man of Steel; apparently—I haven’t yet seen Batman v Superman—Zod has been revived for that particular movie? (Actually, David Goyer wrote Man of Steel, so whatever you think about that one, blame Goyer first.) I understand Shannon was also in Boardwalk Empire, but I haven’t seen that yet. But this film is an oddity; it’s probably SF, but you’re never quite sure what it is until it’s mostly over. Shannon plays Roy, the father of Alton Meyer (played by Jaeden Lieberher), and when we meet them, they’re on the run—an Amber Alert has been issued for the boy and his father, who has apparently abducted him. But here’s the thing: Roy has the boy with his mother’s permission, and they’re on the run from a church—led by Sam Shepherd’s character, Calvin Meyer, a cultist preacher who’s fond of quoting the boy in his sermons and, whether they know it or not, government agents from the NSA, who have discovered classified information hidden in those same sermons, which are broadcast over local Texas stations. Sounds confusing, I know.

You eventually get to where you can make sense out of all this, including—see Figure 1—the fact that Alton can, at odd intervals, shoot bright white light out of his eyeballs, and he can also be injured by daylight, so any motel that Roy, Alton (and Roy’s ex-service friend Lucas [Joel Edgerton], who is aiding in the flight) stay in has to have all the windows and openings to the outside covered in cardboard and tinfoil, as if he were a vampire of sorts. Although the ending is in many ways inconclusive, the movie ends with an overall hopeful feel, and may well be one of the sleepers of the year. There is one scene which I’m sure any SF fan will love; I will say no more. I liked it, though I’m not sure my wife (the Beautiful and Talented Lynne Taylor Fahnestalk) liked it as much as I did. The kid is very good, too. I recommend it.

Figure 2 – Toronto Comics (cover)

Figure 2 – Toronto Comics (cover)

Now I’m going to review a certain segment of this year’s Aurora Award candidates—the Graphic Novel nominees. What’s an Aurora Award, I hear you cry? Well, the Aurora Award is the Canadian equivalent of the Hugo Award, voted on by the members of the Canadian SF/Fantasy Association (CSFFA), and given out annually at Canvention—which this year is at When Words Collide in Calgary, Alberta. If you are a Canadian SF/F reader, this is the bargoon of the year, too—because if you pay the $10 membership fee, you get to read ALL the nominees for the 2015 award! That’s probably more than $100 worth of fiction plus graphics novels and art, by the way! (If you’re not Canadian, you can still read the stuff, but you don’t get the bargain price. I’ll provide links, where I can find, them so you can check this stuff out.) (And Canadians—you’re urged to buy the “real thing” anyway, to  support the nominees!)  Why am I reviewing the Graphic Novels? Because I like graphic novels that are well done; one assumes that a nominated work will have a certain je ne sais quoi (“Tish! That’s French!*) because it takes a minimum of three nominations to get on the final ballot.

Figure 3 - Bloodsuckers by J.M. Frey title page

Figure 3 – Bloodsuckers by J.M. Frey title page

So I’ll review them in the order my computer has stored them in (alphabetical)—yes, I paid the $10 so I could read, review and vote when the time comes; the voting doesn’t start until June 15, so that every member has time to read and think about every nominee before voting. (Well thought out, eh?) The first one, Bloodsuckers, by J.M. Frey, is a black-and-white from Toronto Comics Vol. 2, but you can read it online (anyone can!) from the author’s blog. I thought it was well done from an artistic standpoint, but it was very short. (The art owes more than a little to Disney—and that’s not a bad thing; lots of artists got their starts copying Disney characters. And manga, too. You can see the manga influence.) This one’s more a joke than a story, however, and suffers for that reason; a whole story might have served this person better.

Figure 4 - Crash and Burn Prologue cover

Figure 4 – Crash and Burn Prologue cover

The next piece is also not a whole story; I’m guessing the creators (Finn Lucullan—artist, Kate Larking, and Hannah Bradshaw  Lozier) don’t want to essentially give away their whole work for $10. It’s called Crash and Burn. That’s okay; it does give us a feel for the whole work, which you can purchase here. The writing is snappy; there’s more than a hint of “throne-room intrigue” here. That sort of thing can lend a lot of dimension to a work. It’s the kind of writing that would make me want to read more.

Figure 5 - Illo from Crash and Burn

Figure 5 – Illo from Crash and Burn by Finn Lucullan

The art, however, is not to my personal taste. It’s very “loose”—and has the feel of being done by woodcut or some other means that requires hand-making of various separations—which, if true, would mean this took a heck of a long time to do. The storyline (as much as we get) is intriguing. The protagonists are not human, and the speech balloons indicate that they’re speaking in a non-human language… however, unless English appears later in the novel, I don’t think that it’s necessary to put carets around every character’s speech. I notice that the artist found it necessary to note that “they” is/are “agender,” and uses the pronouns “they” and “them” in the preface; I do wonder why not use “xe” and “xem” as in the work? It would feel fitting—unless Finn is more than one person. I also note that this work includes a soundtrack, also available from here.

Figure 6 - Infinitum by G.M.B. Chomichuk

Figure 6 – Infinitum by G.M.B. Chomichuk

The third one is Infinitum, writing and graphics by G.M.B. Chomichuk, and is published by Chigraphic, an imprint of Chizine Publications, and available from them as well as (probably) your local comics store, bookstore and the usual monolithic giants (Amazon.com and .ca). (However, you do get the whole novel in your Aurora packet, Canadians.) It’s a nice little black-and-white time-travel noir story; there’s a whole society of future people and aliens who have been displaced to our past (in the book, specifically 1940s)… and our protagonist, Agent 9, has to solve a murder without corrupting his own past. I’m a big fan of filmic noir and written noir has to be done well; this one’s not bad, either writing or graphics. The whole thing is illustrated in a sort of “electronic collage” style, which is reminiscent of collages (we’ve all seen ‘em) made with old advertisements. I kind of liked this, short as it is. (By the way, I recommend buying from bookstores/comic stores/Chizine themselves on this one; Amazon’s asking $21.77 for the paperback, while ChiGraphic has it on sale for $13.99 right now.)

Figure 7 - The Lady Paranorma by Vincent Marcone

Figure 7 – The Lady Paranorma by Vincent Marcone

The next offering is The Lady Paranorma by Vincent Marcone, whose art (at least in this book) reminds me very much of Ralph Steadman, whom I like a lot. This book is also an offering from ChiGraphic (see above). The story is trivial (and could, for my money, have been much better), but the graphics are very nice indeed—and can probably stand on their own even without the Steadman comparison. It’s very much in the modern tradition; there’s no real horror here, even when talking of (or to, in the case of the protagonist) dead people or ghosts. There are surprises hidden in the book, which I won’t tell you about (surprise!). There are a few odd word choices—“rumours of disparage” and “the darkened sky grew fickle”—and the rhyme/meter breaks down in a few places, but overall I approve of this offering. However, I wonder why “Paranorma”—when there’s already a well-known movie called Paranorman. Is Marcone trying to ride the coattails of the movie? Well, maybe it’s not a big deal. I do like this one.F

igure 8 - West of Bathurst (cover) by Kari Maaren

igure 8 – West of Bathurst (cover) by Kari Maaren

And finally, we come to the last contender, called West of Bathurst: The Complete Collection by Kari Maaren. I believe the best way (whether you’re Canadian or not) to read this is on the web; Maaren ran a Kickstarter campaign to get these columns into print as a book, but I’ve no idea whether there are any still available. These columns, did I say? Yep, as she says, “this is, in fact, the complete collection of West of Bathurst, a webcomic about the Junior Fellows (read: graduate and professional students) of Davies College, a graduate residence at the University of Toronto in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Davies does not exist per se, but it is based on the entirely real Massey College, which, like Davies, is awash in bricks and smart people. I… spent three years living at Massey (1999-2002), two years as a non-resident member, and, so far, ten years as a member of the Alumni Association.” It’s a typical webcomic, and how funny you find it may depend on whether you are a grad student or can identify with them. It’s drawn about as well as most webcomics, neither extremely well nor very badly—but hey, if XKCD can do stick figures, Ms. Maaren can certainly draw these! I found the humour to be a bit up and down, but I have nothing bad to say about it. Click on the title above for a link to her website. (By the way, Bathurst is a street in Toronto.)

Figure 9 - Hayden Trenholm's 2013 Aurora

Figure 9 – Hayden Trenholm’s 2013 Aurora

Final Words: Now it’s time for me to toot my own horn (a bit, just a bit). As you may know, if you read this column regularly, I have been nominated (again) for the Aurora Award (figure 9) for these columns, or at least the ones (48 or so) that were published in 2015. If you are a Canadian, you can help me win—if you feel I’m worthy of one—by joining CSFFA and voting for me when voting opens on June 15. If you’re not Canadian, any and all good wishes are welcome. As someone used to say when begging for money on TV, “It costs so little and means so much!” I don’t want your money (CSFFA does!), but I could really use your votes. So pay up, vote early and often! (Okay, you can only vote once, but you get my point.)

*In case you didn’t get my quote, it’s from the 1960s TV series The Addams Family, starring John Astin as Gomez Addams and Carolyn Jones as Morticia (“Tish”) Addams, based on the Chas. Addams cartoons in The New Yorker and elsewhere.

If you have anything to say about this week’s column, please comment. You have to register—it’s free, and just takes a moment—before you can comment here, or you can comment on my Facebook page, or in the several Facebook groups where I publish a link to this column. Your comments are all welcome, whether positive or negative. Don’t feel you have to agree with me to post a comment; my opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owners, editors, publishers or other bloggers. See you next week!

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