A. Quinton — Jun. 29th 2016
Issue 1 of Rich Tommaso’s new Image title She Wolf is the loneliest thing I’ve read in a long time.
Since Gabby Catella watched her boyfriend Brian die in their high school parking lot, she’s been having problems. Nightmares plague her, bleeding into daylight in episodes that might be waking dreams, hallucinations or, worst of all, reality. She’s taunted by creatures who look like Brian did the night he was gunned down – lithe, smirking monster wolves who peer back at her from mirrors and invite her to consummate her growing appetites. Gabby resists, but there’s a reluctance there, underscored by an apology and acceptance of responsibility – for what? – she makes to wolf-Brian moments before his death. She’s isolating herself from the sun-bleached 1980s summer around her, and to the rest of the world, Gabby may look like a traumatized teen goth in mourning, but to readers, it’s clear she’s dealing with the unintended consequences of some darker problem. I can’t wait to find out more.
She Wolf #1 is available now, digitally on Kindle & comiXology, and in fine comic shops everywhere. The next three issues come out monthly between July and September. If you’d like to pre-order like I did – and increase the chances of there being issues beyond these four – here are the details:
Craig J. Clark — Jun. 19th 2016
Tonally, the horror-comedy is one of the trickiest hybrid genres to successfully pull off. Lean too heavily on the comedy — as last month’s Full Moon Feature Crying Wolf did — and the horror won’t register. Go too far in the other direction and the comedy will feel awkwardly shoehorned in. The third option arises when neither half of the equation works all that well, leading the whole to be a wash, which is the unfortunate situation with the new werewolf film Uncaged by writer/director Daniel Robbins and co-writer Mark Rapaport. What’s especially sad is they started with a not-terrible concept and proceeded to spoil it with sloppy execution, illogical plotting, and the most egregious comic-relief character this side of Franklin in the woeful Curse of the Wolf. (Stay tuned for that direct-to-video gem.)
See, there’s this boy named Jack (Ben Getz) who, upon turning 18, inexplicably starts waking up outdoors, completely naked and with no memory of how he got that way. Since he’s spending winter break at his uncle’s cabin with his college buds Turner (Kyle Kirkpatrick) and Brandon (Zachary Weiner) — the latter his geeky horndog cousin — after it happens a second time he borrows the former’s GoPro camera and straps it to his forehead to see what he gets up to when he gets up in the middle of the night. This sets up the moment the next morning when he uploads the video to his laptop and watches himself (or, rather, his hairy, flailing arms) kill a man and chase down a woman who manages to get away. That’s when he realizes what he is and retroactively figures out what happened when he was six and his mother slaughtered his father one night while he cowered in his bedroom. (They really should have been more strict about who tucked him in when it was mommy’s time of the month.)
So far, not so bad, even if Brandon’s obsession with sex is more off-putting than endearing. (After Jack comes home one morning clad only in a plastic garbage bag, Brandon confides, “You know, if it’s something weird, like some fetish thing, I get it, all right? Let’s just say I get it.” Enough said, young man.) Then Robbins and Rapaport start introducing extraneous characters like Rose (Paulina Singer), whose suspicious-minded drug dealer husband Gonzo (Garrett Lee Hendricks) is anxious to know what she was doing on a train platform with Jack’s victim. (When she’s interviewed about it on TV, it’s called a “bear attack,” but when she tells Jack the creature looked like “a big gorilla,” that’s a bit closer to the mark.) And the less said about Turner’s online hookup Crystal (Michelle Cameron) the better since her only function is to be his victim when he’s bitten by Jack and subsequently turns into a werewolf himself. Which, incidentally, is where Robbins and Rapaport directly contradict themselves since every discussion between Jack’s mother (Angela Atwood), who’s kept her distance from him for the past twelve years, and his uncle Mike (Alex Emanuel) makes plain that their shared condition is genetic, so it shouldn’t be able to be transmitted via bites or scratches.
Speaking of Jack’s mother, she jumps through a lot of unnecessary hoops to get a heavy-duty metal cage to him, dropping it off at a second-hand store and having its owner leave a cryptic message on Jack’s voicemail. If she had truly wanted him to be prepared for his first (and his second and his third and his fourth) change, she would have been up front with him instead of sneaking into the cabin at night to secretly tranquilize him. And having Uncle Mike send a letter inviting Jack to his empty cabin while he’s out on the road for some damned reason is just plain illogical. Then again, a dearth of logic is endemic to most of these characters. As suspicious as Turner is about what’s going on, why would he go out of his way to prevent Jack from locking himself in his cage? And when Brandon turns up with his throat torn out the next morning, why doesn’t Turner blame himself since it’s totally his fault? And why does he keep inviting Crystal out to the cabin if he truly believes this will put her in harm’s way? When you get right down to it, the only halfway reasonable character in the whole bunch is Wade (Gene Jones, also the only halfway recognizable actor in the cast), the second-hand store owner, and he has next to nothing to do with the plot. That says something, and what it says is not good at all. Woof.
Craig J. Clark — May. 20th 2016
A British horror-comedy that succeeds at being neither horrific nor funny, Crying Wolf fails on the former front because it’s too incompetently made for any of its intended shocks to register. And it fails on the latter front because its humor is far too broad and its cast of characters stocked with insufferable caricatures given naught but inane dialogue to recite. The only thing remotely “funny” about it is the fact that its top-billed “star” — horror vet Caroline Munro — appears in one scene only at the very beginning of the film, never to return. I hope she made a point of cashing her check as soon as it arrived in the post.
Set in the quaint country village of Deddington (are we laughing yet?), Crying Wolf comes burdened with a cumbersome framing story about a private detective (second-billed Gary Martin, whose character is never given a name) who buys a book of that title from an antiques dealer (Munro) which he proceeds to peruse at the local pub. Instead of being an ancient tome, though, it rather improbably tells the tale of a modern-day pack of werewolves which fell prey to a pair of paranormal pest controllers in the none-too-distant past. These events are so recent, in fact, that the reason the detective is nosing around town is because he’s looking into the death of a newspaper reporter who was looking into the mysterious death of a local girl, both of which are recounted in flashbacks that are not to be confused with the stories told by the pack to pass the time while they’re out on a camping holiday-cum-hunting expedition together or when they were bullshitting the soon-to-be-dead reporter. Yep, totally straightforward, movie. Not unnecessarily convoluted at all.
At the center of the drama, such as it is, are alpha Milly (Gabriela Hersham) and her recently turned lover Andy (Kristofer Dayne). In fact, everyone else in the pack has been recently turned as well since Andy put the bite on them within minutes of being infected by Milly at the same time she eliminated the aforementioned local girl. (Seems she’s not fond of competition.) The others are a varied lot, each with a single defining trait — one’s a toothless old codger, another smokes a pipe, etc. — but they all turn into the same exact black-furred, rubber-faced creature when they transform, and the only way to tell which one is which is when they’re killed and revert back to human form. They’re also subject to the same cheap-ass digital effects when they let their wolfish side out, which doesn’t happen en masse until the end of the film, when director Tony Jopia lingers on the worst CGI transformations I’ve ever had the misfortune to see.
Not content merely to half-ass their way through a werewolf film, Jopia and his co-writers, screenwriter Andy Davie and story collaborator Michael Dale, periodically digress into other genres, including gangster films (pointlessly referencing the Coen Brothers’ Miller’s Crossing and Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction), slasher movies (in the scene where one topless sunbather tells her impressionable friend about all the bad things that could happen to them out in the woods, including being stalked by a hooded killer), and action films. The latter come into play during the climactic showdown between the pack and the well-armed hunters that have led them down the garden path, and frankly, by the time they started getting shot to pieces and otherwise dismembered, I was more than ready to see their ranks thinned out. There’s even a dollop of torture porn courtesy of the scene where one of the hunters chains up one of the werewolves and pulls out a chainsaw, prompting the wolf to say, “Oh, great. A fucking chainsaw. What are you going to do with that?” “Funny you might ask that,” the hunter replies. No, it is not, Crying Wolf. It’s lousy screenwriting and you should be ashamed of it.
Craig J. Clark — Apr. 21st 2016
When we first meet Joe Griffin (Ed Speleers), the protagonist of the British werewolf film Howl, things aren’t going so hot for him. Not only has he been passed over for a promotion at Alpha Trax, the rail company he works for, but the guy who got the job in his stead is a real jerk who makes him take a double shift and he’s shot down by a co-worker (Holly Weston) when he asks her out. Then, to top things off, the dreaded Eastborough red eye (which they’re both on) suffers a breakdown in the middle of a forest infested with werewolves. Talk about your hairy situations.
Writers Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler were on the ball when they named the company Alpha since much of the drama arises out of who takes the lead when things go pear-shaped and the train’s driver (played ever so briefly by Dog Soldiers vet Sean Pertwee) goes missing. Try as he might to maintain his authority, Joe is swiftly undermined by a entitled first-class passenger (Elliot Cowan) who’s accustomed to taking charge and an uptight businesswoman (Shauna Macdonald). Just about everybody takes a turn putting him in his place, though, including a narcissistic teenager (Rosie Day) and the elderly couple (Duncan Preston and Ania Marson) who share her compartment and have to put up with her inconsiderate behavior.
A funny thing happens, though, as the situation grows more dire and everyone comes around to the realization that the threat they’re facing is supernatural in origin: Joe becomes more confident and decisive, and he even gains some allies (starting with the similarly marginalized Sam Gittins and Amit Shah). That this coincides with director Paul Hyett’s decision to show off his creatures more is surely coincidental. After teasing the viewer with fleeting shots of digitigrade legs and twisted claws, once Hyett does the full reveal he keeps his monsters out in the open, while being mindful that the worst villains in these films are often the ones still standing on human feet.
Craig J. Clark — Mar. 22nd 2016
Forty years ago this month, a film called La lupa mannara was released in Italy. When it made it to the English-speaking world, it went out under such titles as Werewolf Woman, The Legend of the Wolf Woman, and Naked Werewolf Woman, but whichever one distributors picked, it was bound to be somewhat misleading. True, the film does open with a naked woman (played by Annik Borel) performing a ritual dance and sprouting fur over every inch of her body (except for her face, which has a bit on the bridge of the nose but that’s it) and then tearing the throat out of a guy who looks kinda like Cameron Mitchell, but the film is not about her exploits. Rather, when the werewolf woman is captured by a mob of torch-wielding villagers and tied up, presumably so she can be burned alive, that’s the cue for her modern-day descendant, Daniela Neseri (also Borel), to wake up out of a nightmare. (This is also the point where booing writer/director Rino Di Silvestro would be entirely appropriate.)
Thanks to the undisguised exposition that follows, we find out all we need to know about the unfortunate Daniela. Seems she was raped at the tender age of 13 and has been repelled by men ever since. Furthermore, she lives in the country with her father, a count (Tino Carraro), and has a sister (Dagmar Lassander) who went to America for some reason or another, got married, and has returned to Italy with her husband, who’s supposed to be the spitting image of the Cameron Mitchell-looking guy from the prologue but now he’s got some Harvey Keitel going on. Under the influence of the full moon, Daniela lures her brother-in-law outside, quickly seduces him and then tears his throat out. Next time we see her, she’s been committed to a mental institution, where she’s given shock treatments and confined to her bed as a matter of course, but she escapes when she’s untied by a nympho (who is stabbed with a pair of scissors for her troubles) and hitches a ride with a doctor (who gets her face bashed into a steering wheel, but she survives). Meanwhile, there’s an ineffectual police inspector (Frederick Stafford) wandering about being ineffective and listening to coroners say things like “The lacerations and deep wounds around her throat are almost of an animalistic origin, but it’s uncertain.” Say, does that mean it might be a lycanthrope, doc?
Anyway, Daniela’s killing spree continues when she spies on a couple making love in a barn and then, after the man has gone, kills the woman who is apparently cheating on her husband. (So now she’s making moral judgments?) Then she hitches a ride with an old lecher who tries to charm his way into her pants and when that doesn’t work announces that he’s going to rape her. Frankly, I was not sad when she tore his throat out and then bashed his head in. Then she’s picked up by movie stuntman Luca Mondini (Howard Ross, whose “special participation” credit is an eyebrow-raiser), who announces that he doesn’t plan on forcing his way into her pants and they have a whirlwind romance complete with a montage. She even calls her father the count and announces she’s completely cured, but then three rapists show up at her door and, after they’ve had their way with her and killed Luca, she goes all I Spit on Your Grave on them. When the police finally catch up with her (the inspector has been nothing if not dogged in his pursuit), she’s been living in the woods fending for herself for about a month — but she’s still no werewolf woman. I tell you, I haven’t been so dismayed by a false werewolf movie since She-Wolf of London.
Craig J. Clark — Feb. 21st 2016
Five years ago, I partook of the one werewolf movie that was in theaters, Catherine Hardwicke’s Red Riding Hood. Written by David Leslie Johnson, who also gave the world Orphan and the Clash of the Titans sequel Wrath of the Titans, it takes place in an isolated village surrounded by a foggy, sun-dappled forest sheltering a hungry beast that’s only placated by an animal sacrifice every full moon. Then comes the dreaded “blood moon,” which lasts a whole week and is the only time a werewolf bite can turn somebody into one. Sounds intriguing enough, right? Too bad Johnson chooses to yoke that story to a tedious love triangle centered around vapid, virginal Valerie (Amanda Seyfried), who spends her week of wonders torn between the husky woodcutter’s son she’s loved since they were children (Shiloh Fernandez) and the soulful blacksmith’s son she’s engaged to (Max Irons, son of Jeremy). Any resemblance to the adolescent romance in the Twilight series (the first entry of which Hardwicke directed) is entirely intentional.
Stranded on the sidelines is a host of slumming actors, including Virginia Madsen as Seyfried’s mother, who’s pushing her to marry for money instead of love; Billy Burke as her frequently drunk father; Julie Christie as her grandmother, she of the house whereto the one in the titular riding outfit goes; and Lukas Haas as the petrified local priest who sends for help when the werewolf breaks its pact with the village and kills Seyfried’s older sister. (How this pact was made in the first place never comes up.) Help arrives in the form of fundamentalist werewolf hunter Gary Oldman, who comes complete with a full entourage and an odd little voice that mostly goes away when he gets all shouty (which is often). He even has silver fingernails, which doesn’t seem too practical (for one thing, how do they stay in?), but that’s pretty much par for the course with this film.
In the end, the plot boils down to a medieval Murder, She Wrote with Seyfried trying to suss out who the werewolf is between largely bloodless attacks (the number of times Christie is dangled in front of us as a potential culprit borders on the ludicrous). This wouldn’t be so egregious if everybody weren’t so bloody solemn the whole way through — the notable exception being the furry-themed party they throw when they think they’ve killed the monster. Probably not the best idea with Reverend Killjoy hanging about, but whatever. After the creature has thinned out the cast and had a couple telepathic conversations with Seyfried, the whole shebang leads up to a classic Bond-style “talking villain” scene that couldn’t help but remind me of the one at the end of Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow. Note to screenwriters: If your bad guy has to sit the main character down and explain the whole plot to them, then what you’re writing is a piece of trash, so at least have some fun with it. If you don’t, Red Riding Hood is what you’ll wind up with.
A. Quinton — Feb. 16th 2016
The first issue of Simon Spurrier & Ryan Kelly’s Image title “Cry Havoc“ opens with a foreboding quote from Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” and a lecture on gendered power dynamics in hyena packs. It concludes with protagonist Louise “Lou” Canton at gunpoint in a cage (not a spoiler, relax), her jailor waxing philosophical while an astonishingly bearded man and a woman in a niqab look on like video game mini-bosses. There are three time periods in the story, each with its own distinct locations and colourists. There are CH47-F Chinook helicopters, exploding goats, musically-accompanied hallucinations, men with glowing eyes and a band called The Squids of Forbearance.
In the hands of most people, this array of ingredients would amount to a dog’s (or hyena’s) breakfast, but Simon Spurrier’s script cuts between London (coloured by Nick Filardi), Afghanistan (Matt Wilson), and “The Red Place” (Lee Loughridge) with the kinetic grace of an early Guy Ritchie film. The issue brims with meticulously-researched details that enhance rather than distract (check Spurrier’s page-by-page annotations at the back), and every page has something pointed to say about isolation, madness and power. No matter how crazy things get, I’m happy to go along for the ride as a reader – from busking in London to a chopper full of misfits over Afghanistan – because through it all, Lou seems just as incredulous as I am. “I think I got mugged by a werewolf,” she says at one point, and then she shrugs and goes on to play a gig at a hipster bar in Dalston, because what else are you going to do?
Even the most carefully-crafted story falls apart if the artist can’t keep up, but Ryan Kelly renders military hardware and transcendent psychedelia with crisp lines and excellent composition (compare panel layouts between London and Afghanistan scenes). Character designs are distinct without being exaggerated – even those who seem to be deliberate caricatures – and the werewolf designs are suitably monstrous, straining the edges of their containing panels with overwhelming menace.
There are a few mushy bits in Cry Havoc. In a story where men posture and women act, Lou’s unflappability sometimes reads as inertness, and her unnamed zookeeper girlfriend is rather sour for someone we might be expected to feel sorry for (or mourn?) in future issues. I really had to dig to find those gripes, though, and in the face of the many things this issue accomplishes successfully, nitpicking is pedantry. Alan Moore called Cry Havoc “weaponised folklore that is unlike anything you’ve ever seen”, and I agree.
The second issue comes out February 24th and is available for digital pre-order now.
Update: I previously stated that Cry Havoc would be a 4-issue series. As evidenced by Ryan Kelly posting inks from issue 5 on Twitter, that assertion was incorrect.
A. Quinton — Feb. 11th 2016
I’m a fan of artist/writer/animator KC Green. After ending his brilliant Gunshow comic (samples of which you have almost certainly seen whether you know it or not), KC launched three new comics. Back is a surreal fairy tale done in collaboration with Anthony Clark, Pinocchio is a faithful retelling of Carlo Collodi’s original story, and He is a Good Boy… well, HIAGB is hard to describe.
Imagine if your late 20’s / early-30’s millennial worries about your bad job, worse prospects, miserable apartment and constant anxiety were compressed into a surly, selfish, painfully self-aware alcoholic avatar… who is also an acorn. That’s Crange, protagonist of HIAGB and “the last acorn to leave his tree”.
Crange faces many challenges in the comic’s episodic vignettes – the violent death of his home, abduction by a serial killer spider who turns his victims into pretentious works of art, and forced participation in an armed robbery by a gang of sentient rocks, to name a few – and he steadfastly refuses to learn from any of it. He’s terrible, but he’s good enough to feel bad about being terrible, and therein lies the opportunity for weird, gross, strangely profound lessons.
In the current episode, which began last week, Crange is on a collision course with a werewolf. Five pages in, there’s already been one gory death, an introduction to the werewolf character, and plenty of increasingly ludicrous speculations by Crange on the fringe benefits of lycanthropy. Even ignoring the werewolf thing, stories like this are why I adore KC’s work and HIAGB in particular. If you can’t find parallels between situations in your own life and Crange’s unfounded rationalizations in the face of terror, you’re probably a dead tree, or a sentient rock.
Craig J. Clark — Jan. 22nd 2016
Looking over this year’s crop of presidential hopefuls, I can’t help but think our nation would be much better off with a werewolf in the Oval Office than any of the candidates currently on the campaign trail. Sure, the White House would have to go on lock-down every 28 days or so, but electing a lycanthrope would send a clear message to other nations and extremist organizations across the globe: Don’t mess with us. Our president is literally a lunatic.
Until the day that comes to pass, the next best thing is 2012’s President Wolfman, which came to my attention via Noel Murray’s “After Midnight” column at The Dissolve (R.I.P.). It’s the brainchild of writer/director Mike Davis, whose day job as a stock footage coordinator served him in good stead since President Wolfman is almost entirely cobbled together from public domain material, the lion’s share of which hails from the 1973 feature The Werewolf of Washington, which I covered in its own right some years back. As it’s been re-dubbed by Davis and his voice cast (à la Woody Allen’s What’s Up, Tiger Lily? or the serial spoof J-Men Forever), Dean Stockwell’s junior White House press secretary has now become embattled President John Wolfman, who’s up for reelection and faces some stiff challenges — including being a single father to his son Bobby (a subplot drawn from an entirely different film) and the threatened takeover of the country by the Chinese — even before he’s bitten by a supernatural coyote and cursed with lycanthropy.
Over the course of the 80-minute film, Davis casts his net wide, having a go at the Miss America Junior Miss pageant, hippies, stoners, and Smokey the Bear, and periodically indulging in “ironic” racism directed at Native Americans, African Americans, and Chinese Chinese. At least President Wolfman’s struggle to prevent the United States from falling into the hands of the latter (and being renamed “Chimerica”) gives Davis the ability to incorporate all of his source film’s werewolf attacks, recasting the victims as the duplicitous Speaker of the House, powerful lobbyist Maude Atkins, who sold Congress on the deal, and the aptly named Vice President Mangle, who intends to sign the bill that the President doggedly refuses to once Wolfman is out of the picture. None of them are a match for a Commander in Chief whose bite is worse than his bark, though.
Andrew Niemann — Dec. 30th 2015
Having been transformed by the wicked Dr. Malus into a flying lycanthrope last month, Sam Wilson is slowly adapting to his new form with only a few rage issues, some howling at the moon, and the occasional rummage through trash cans. Meanwhile, the jobber squad known as the Serpent Society have re-invented themselves as an evil corporate think-tank called Serpent Solutions and have hit Wall Street with a plan to control America where it matters: the executive boardroom. Sam consults with former member of the team (and former Steve Rogers flame) Diamondback to find out exactly what the serpentine gang is planning. Unfortunately, it turns into a setup, and Sam is captured and taken to a boardroom which contains… every single past member of the Serpent Squad!
The humor continues in this issue, coming particularly from Sam in his wolf form– for example, in a throwaway panel in which he’s licking from a plate at a restaurant. A few panels of Viper in a full set of golf knickers and vest laughing with executives on a course is also absurdly perfect. It was also pleasing to see the appearance of Claire Temple, a fan favorite character you might recognize from the Marvel Netflix shows, as a new member of Cap’s team. There’s also a tease of who the next Falcon will be in a Hispanic bird-man named Joaquin Torres who was introduced last issue. If there’s a fault with the story this week it’s that there really doesn’t seem to be much for Misty Knight to do (D-Man doesn’t appear at all!). It would be great if she could accompany Cap on some missions as well. Maybe we could even have Misty Wolf-Knight!
The art by Renaud is also sometimes inconsistent panel-to-panel, but the appearance of Cap’s wolf head is especially realistic, showing lots of teeth and animalistic qualities. The design of Diamondback is very much in line with her original neon purple 80s design but also doesn’t sexualize her as much as past appearances. She even has a great line about how women can finally breathe in their costumes again. All things considered, it’s a really fun book and uses its premise to the full extent, instead of just having it run for one issue. In turn, the book is the right blend of humor and relevancy in its portrayal of corporate America being literally run by a group of racist snake people. The Serpent Society have been forever known as a bunch of goons in the Cap mythology so it is awesome to see them here as a viable threat. Still, it’s nothing our Sam-Wolf can’t overcome!