content by

Alex Brown

Fear the Walking Dead: Checking in with Season 2

Fear The Walking Dead: a show where exciting stuff happens to people I hardly care about. The writers give me an interracial gay romance—yay!—and a gaggle of angsty, obnoxious, selfish teenagers with few redeeming qualities—boo! Nick levels up by mimicking the walkers but apparently uses up the jar of smarts because everyone else makes the world’s worst choices without pausing to consider the consequences. At least the water zombies are cool.

[“We’re just going to each other alive.”]

Pull List: Black Panther

April was a gangbusters month for comic book fans. The Wicked and the Divine returned with a huge reveal, Grant Morrison continued DC’s trend of disappointing Wonder Woman reboots, Xena returned to comic books, and even Poe Dameron’s tousled locks got to play comic book hero. But the main event was, of course, Black Panther. This month’s Pull List is all catsuits, Afrofuturism, and intersectional feminism, so strap in, kiddos.

[“And we must now reckon with what we have done to our own blood.”]

“What’s Past is Prologue”: Jane Yolen’s Briar Rose

Once upon a time in a far away land, a redheaded princess was woken by a kiss from a prince. Rebecca Berlin loved hearing her grandmother, Gemma, tell her version of Sleeping Beauty over and over again. The tale never altered and Gemma swore she was the princess—księżniczka—of the story, and after her death Becca begins to suspect the tale may not be fantasy after all. Gemma left behind a small box of a few clues to her life before: a name, a monogrammed ring, some photographs, a war refugee immigration card, and other scattered memories. Each item reveals more of Gemma’s secret past, and yanks Rebecca further out of her quiet, boring life.

In Briar Rose Jane Yolen weaves the history of the Holocaust around the threads of a fairy tale about love conquering hate. Gemma’s story takes Becca from a small mill town in Massachusetts to Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter in New York then to the Chełmno extermination camp in Poland, with each step bringing her closer to a tragic truth her grandmother was unable to face. As she uncovers Gemma’s story, her own fairy tale romance emerges with an unexpected prince and a kiss to kick-start her life.

Originally published in 1992 as part of Terri Windling’s Fairy Tale Series, Jane Yolen’s classic young adult novel is being re-released with an updated preface.

[“Gemma, tell your story again.”]

Funpocalypse: The Everything Box by Richard Kadrey

One day, a long time ago, God decided to destroy the world. Not everyone thought that was an especially good idea, but when God sends a Flood there isn’t much time for disagreement. Fortunately for us and unfortunately for Him, us pesky humans survived and went on to irritate another day. The second time God tried to destroy the world He sent an angel to do His murderous bidding, and yet again the plan fizzled out. The angel lost the box with the key to destroying the world and humanity scraped by.

Cut to thousands of years later in glitzy, grimy Los Angeles. Coop, a petty criminal with an immunity to magic, is back-stabbed by his ghostly robbery partner and he ends up in a black site jail for magical criminals. His former BFF Morty Ramsey pulls some strings and gets Coop out early, but only in exchange for doing a job for mercurial gangster Mr. Babylon. All Coop wants to do is forget his jail time, eat pizza, and rekindle his relationship with his ex-girlfriend Giselle, but fate has other ideas. When the heist predictably goes bad, Coop is forcibly recruited by Giselle’s bosses at the Department of Peculiar Science to steal the stolen box back. And, of course, that heist goes badly as well so Giselle pulls some strings to get him hired by DOPS so he can set up yet another heist… well, you get the picture.

Meanwhile two cults compete with each other to steal the box and undermine bake sales, a Stranger wanders the countryside killing people and mooching sandwiches, and the perpetually unlucky Angel of Office Supplies tries not to mind the fact that he sleeps in an abandoned zoo. Coop is the only one who wants absolutely nothing to do with the blasted box, which makes him the epicenter of the chaos. Through kidnappings, heists gone awry, and schemes to out-scheme other schemes, Coop and his motley crew of low-level filchers have to do something about that damn box whether they want to or not.

[“It’s a funny world, don’t you think?”]

Apocalypse Drought: Thirst by Benjamin Warner

Benjamin Warner’s new novel Thirst tells the story of Eddie and Laura Chapman, a young middle-class couple who find themselves trapped in a world suddenly deprived of fresh water. The streams and rivers burst into flame and all systems of communication collapsed. Suburban citizens are left to their own survival, forgotten by the cities and emergency workers.

As he makes his way home on foot, a sinister man approaches Eddie for water then stalks him, but the stranger isn’t the worst thing Eddie will soon come to fear. The punishing summer heat ratchets up tensions in his neighborhood as friends bicker with each other over whether to leave or stay. Suspicions rise as friendly gestures are misinterpreted and violence quickly erupts. The Chapmans are at the center of the storm as Eddie’s stress-induced temper curdles Laura’s maternal nature into a maelstrom of hallucinations and childhood fears. Society depends on humanity, but for Eddie and Laura, the brutality they must confront in order to survive will challenge their moral code.

[Read more]

Water Zombies and Pirates: Fear The Walking Dead, “Monster”

It’s been a week and I’m still pissed off at The Walking Dead. And boy howdy was it a mistake to rewatch the first season finale of Fear The Walking Dead in prep for the season 2 premiere. I went into the FTWD premiere feeling both profoundly annoyed and overdosing on zombies, and by the end of the episode my mood hadn’t improved by much. The new premise—Water zombies! Pirates! San Diego!—has too much of the old premise—Secrets! Boring family melodrama! Everyone being total dumbasses!—dragging it down.

[“It’s my goddamn boat.”]

All the Demons Are Here: The Demonists by Thomas E. Sniegoski

Exorcist John Fogg and medium Theodora Knight are happily married and running a successful if not well-respected television show about paranormal investigations. On a recent Halloween night, a publicity stunt in a haunted house turns disastrous and John and Theo’s lives are forever altered. That same night an ancient demon god wakes. He selects his depraved apostle and sends him off to collect children to sacrifice. FBI agent Brenna Isabel is tasked with recovering the children, but her own terrible past may drown her first.

In their desperate attempts to rescue Theo from the host of demons that now infest her body, John makes a deal with a metaphorical devil while Theo makes a deal with a literal one. Neither really understand the full ramifications of their actions, and the consequences will be severe. The demons want to kill John and Theo, the god wants to rule the world, and two orders of very powerful men battle over humanity’s soul.

[“They want to hurt you, John—in any way they can.”]

The Walking Dead Season 6 Finale: “Last Day on Earth”

Do the writers of The Walking Dead ever beta read their scripts before sending them off to production? Or do they, like Zack Snyder and David Goyer with comic book superheroes, actually hate the characters they were hired to write? The last season alternated between making no sense whatsoever and being so trope-heavy the whole plot threatened to collapse, while the finale was so mired in grotesque manipulation that the cliffhanger ceased to have any meaning.

[“‘Cause as long as it’s all of us, we can do anything.”]

Pull List: Wonder Woman, Bombshells, and Black Widow

With every passing day DC continues to double-down on its weird insistence on grimdark storytelling and tokenized diversity. Last month’s announcement of the unpleasant new “Rebirth” reboot has only grown less appealing with the reveal at WonderCon this past weekend of its creative teams. Only four women are on the creative side of the multiverse event, two of the female-led series are being run by dudes, and no women are running any male-led series (of which there are way more than necessary). And don’t even get me started on the melodramatic, erratic, illogical, OOC-ness of Batman v Superman.

Wait! Don’t leave yet! Not everything DC does is painful, I swear! Besides the joy that is their TV offerings (well, maybe not Gotham…), they publish two wonderful digital comics: DC Comics Bombshells and The Legend of Wonder Woman. These two non-canon series are delightful examples of what happens when DC stops grafting grimacing white men on everything and lets the creators tell their own excellent stories.

We’ll also have a quick chat about one of the best debut issues of the year so far: Black Widow by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee. It’ll blow your socks off, for reals.

[“What…a woman? Who is she?”]

World Building and Wheel Spinning: Checking in with The Walking Dead Season 6

So, how’s the back half of season six going? Not bad, actually. This season is definitely one of the strongest in the show’s history. Most episodes have had at least one redeeming quality, and even the worst haven’t plumbed the depths of the second season. I just wish we weren’t stuck in an endless cycle of place setting.

[“You’re not the good guys.”]

Pull List: Archie and Jughead

This time last year, if you had said to me I’d be going gaga over Archie and Jughead I would’ve laughed you out of town. Yet here we are and I’m obsessed.

When Jon Goldwater (son of the co-founder of Archie Comics John L. Goldwater) took over in 2009 he oversaw the overhaul of Archie and the rest of the Riverdale gang. The publisher has launched the oddball Archie Horror line—Afterlife with Archie is a gory delight—and the introduction of the series’ first openly gay character Kevin Keller—who married Clay Walker and became a senator in Life with Archie. They cranked it up to 11 with the summer of 2015 relaunch of Archie and lived up to that success with Jughead in October. If you’re already reading these 2 awesome series, come bask in our mutual adoration. If you’re not, have I got some recommendations for you.

[“Welcome to Riverdale.”]

DC: Reboot, No, Relaunch, I Mean Rebirth

DC recently announced its don’t-call-it-a-reboot-even-though-it-totally-is multi-universe event, “Rebirth.” Everyone I’ve talked to had reactions ranging from “again?” to “no, please don’t” to “*sigh*.” On the face of it the very notion of a relaunch sounds like something full of thrilling potential, but in reality we’re probably looking at a redux of the mess spawned from the New 52 a few years back. So far the only real positive I can glean from the whole thing is that the Finches won’t keep ruining Wonder Woman anymore…

[Diversity in “Rebirth” will likely be as dire as usual.]

Cthulhu Gon’ Slay: Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff

Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country is anthology-esque, a book of intertwining short stories about the spirited Letitia, brainy Hippolyta, restless Ruby, geeky Horace, determined Atticus, dedicated George, and frustrated Montrose. The through-line—but, importantly, not the star or even the thesis—is the manipulative and haughty Caleb Braithwhite. How they deal with his schemes sets the stage for grander adventures that will change them all in ways they never expect.

Atticus Turner, a 22-year-old Black Korean War vet, has just returned to his hometown of Chicago only to find his father, Montrose, has gone missing under mysterious circumstances. Montrose and Atticus never got along very well, mostly due to the friction caused by how each man navigated the racial tightrope of living in Jim Crow. Guided by his Uncle George’s self-published The Safe Negro Travel Guide, Atticus, George, and Letitia, his friend from childhood, set off for the east coast to track down Montrose. Their trip takes them to a rustic white enclave in the backwoods of Massachusetts run by the wealthy Braithwhite family. Samuel Braithwhite and his son Caleb are keeping Montrose chained up in a basement, but Atticus is the real prize. He is a direct descendent of a powerful mage, via an illicit relationship forced upon a runaway slave girl.

[“‘You require me,’ Atticus said. ‘To be your magic Negro?’”]

Don’t Touch That Dial: Midseason TV 2016 – Adaptations

And we’re back with the second installment of the Midseason Premieres 2016 edition of “Don’t Touch That Dial”! Up this time are book adaptations, including a show about magical young adults battling powerful forces who want them dead (The Magicians), a different show about magical young adults battling powerful forces who want them dead (Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments), and a third show about magical young adults battling powerful forces who want them dead (The Shannara Chronicles). I’m sensing a pattern here…

[“Magic doesn’t come from talent. It comes from pain.”]