13 Horsemen – Biker Gang vs Demons

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In the world of horror we’ve seen a lot of demon slayers: strong-willed priests, determined brothers, unassuming youngsters, and so on. But in terms of general concept, 13 Horsemen may be the first “biker gang versus demons” pitch I’ve ever come across. Take John Constantine, Sam and Dean Winchester, Ash Williams, and all your other favorite demon hunters and bedeck them in tattoos and leather. Then throw in a horde of blood-thirsty demons and a narrative jam-packed with action and suspense, and out comes this gloriously gory story of war between humans and the forces of Hell.

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13 Horsemen Horror Comic Book Cover
13 Horsemen Horror Comic Book Cover

Readers are immediately thrown into the action with the biker gang (The 13 Horsemen) riding into a trailer park in pursuit of a demon leader named Corbin. It’s clear the bikers have done this before, as they begin systemically blowing demons apart with guns and searching the trailers. The violence is relentless, brutal, and bloody. This opening scene also gives fair warning to the reader that though the Horsemen are a tough group, they aren’t impervious to injury and death. It’s a wonderfully chaotic start and really helps set the tone for the series as a whole.

As the story progresses it begins to fall into a rotating wheel of plot points: traps are sprung, our heroes are taken prisoner, a miraculous escape happens, and the cycle continues again. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with a predictable set of events, and many TV shows and comics in this genre follow similar paths, but there aren’t many major twists or surprises. Still, the stakes continue to rise and there is a forward momentum that keeps things tense and entertaining. Each rotation of the plot wheel brings James (leader of the gang) one step closer to finding the demon that killed his wife and child so many years ago. There’s also plenty of great cliffhangers, both at the end of each issue and during the stories from one page to the next.

biker gang art from 13 Horsemen horror comic
The 13 Horsemen prepare for danger

With thirteen-plus characters to focus on, it’s no surprise that we don’t get a lot of depth and background for our demon slayers. However, there are moments sprinkled throughout that help define their personalities and several hints at larger backstories. So even though you don’t know their life histories, you still have a good sense of their relationships and motivations. The scarred and mysterious character they refer to as Father is particularly intriguing, and I’m very interested to see what his connection is to the demon army and story at large.

The demons themselves are quite the terrifying bunch: glowing red eyes, ghostly pale skin, and viciously sharp fangs. Most of the ones harassing our heroes are foot soldiers, though there are a few climactic moments where larger beasts are unleashed upon the group for epic battles. My only small complaint is that the demons are extremely similar in appearance and mannerisms to vampires. If I were shown images from this and 30 Days of Night I would have a hard time telling the difference. There’s even a moment where a frightened police officer refers to them as vampires, so maybe it’s intentional? Not a deal breaker by any means, just an element that was a little distracting. 

demon army art from 13 Horsemen horror comic
The 13 Horsemen facing a demon army

Not only has author Nat Jones written a riveting and action packed story, but he’s filled it with perfectly detailed illustrations and compelling colors. The art style is heavy on the sketching and light on the shading, enabling the coloring to play a major role. The extensive presence and multi varied shades of reds, oranges, and yellows do a good job of complimenting the action and drawing you into the fiery hell that has been unleashed upon the earth. Also the lettering by Janice Chiang functions as an exemplary model of how to weave onomatopoeia into tense fight scenes for dramatic effect. 

13 Horsemen strikes just the right balance between dramatic tension and over-the-top bombastic violence. It’s exactly the right tone needed for a story about warring bikers and demons, and it matches well with the frenetic pacing and gripping visuals. Despite a few shortcomings in plot repetition and conveniences, the reading experience was one of unbridled enthusiasm. There’s plenty to relish here, and, as the ending would suggest, there may be plenty more demon fighting fun on its way. So grab your holy gun, hop on your Harley, and let’s ride!

13 Horsemen is available now from Storm King Comics.

Call of Cthulhu Manifest: Illustrating an Outer-God

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The time is once again upon us to take a plunge into the morbid and cosmic horror world of H. P. Lovecraft, once more staggeringly illustrated by the visionary François Baranger. I’m now two books into this series which is beginning to feel akin to a sort of cinematic universe, only retained on paper where it can truly pay tribute to Lovecraft’s original work. Whereas the first part of At The Mountains of Madness left me hanging on the edge of a sheer plummet into darkness, Call of Cthulhu, a much shorter tale, manages to contain it’s entire self within the confines of this gargantuan hardback. But only just. 

With this being a story I’m familiar with and one I managed to enjoy in a single sitting along with all of the gorgeous artwork it swims in, how did Baranger and Free League Publishing do? In short: terrifyingly well. 

Call of Cthulhu is a rather more nautical outing than it’s snowy predecessor in this series and, for those with sensibilities such as my own, holds far more capacity for cosmic horror and its suffocating vastness. This story deals primarily with scale: the ocean, the dreaded city of R’lyeh, and the tentacled megalith himself; almighty Cthulhu. Of course the narrative wades in accounts and letters and newspaper articles in classic Lovecraft fashion, but towards the final act things heat up to boiling point and we’re treated to several devastating views of the alien geometry of R’lyeh and the towering, tentacled form of the lumbering god himself. 

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I’ve mentioned in the past that Baranger’s art makes Lovecraft’s writing even more dramatic and far more accessible. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t heard of Cthulhu these days, or at least seen one of the countless artistic depictions of the squid-dragon goliath. He was an obvious choice for this next huge illustrated issue, and the payoff involves some truly chilling images.

In an age of plush toys and parodies it’s good to see my personal favorite oceanic behemoth in a style more befitting his true nature, and in a book big enough to support him. These hand-painted renditions depict the colossal elder god rising from unfathomable depths, looming over a fiery, decimated New York and roaring into the heavens beneath stomach-dropping storms. It truly is the best tribute to the visual horror of Cthulhu that i’ve witnessed, and serves as the perfect accompaniment to Lovecraft’s unsettling tale.

Call of Cthulhu book art featuring a giant monster in the ocean

Thematically, the narrative centers around madness and obsession, as is common in Lovecraft’s work, though perhaps not to the extent of detail and thoughtfulness as displayed in this masterpiece of a short story. Implications of extensive lore are found throughout logs, notes, newspaper articles, alien statues and accounts of outlandish dreams. Much of it is a story within a story as our narrator, Francis Weyland Thurston pores over his late uncle’s notes and a strange bas-relief depicting Cthulhu reigning over R’lyeh. Insanity is displayed through obsessive artistry, mass hysteria and primordial cultism. The pervading racism is unfortunately as apparent as we’ve come to expect from this particular author. While the ignorance much of Lovecraft’s work is rooted in should not be glossed over, the style of story helps separate art from artist and merely take this as the views and wording of Thurston and his uncle. 

Baranger’s art remains moody yet grounded and rooted in realism so that when our titular overlord finally awakens, first time readers can breathe a sigh of relief that such an intense story ends on more than just implication. Lovecraft himself would be delighted and terrified at these powerful renditions of his brain spawn. I for one can’t wait to see what comes next in the series; with such an extensive backlog to choose from we’re left with infinite potential for stomach-dropping cosmic horror imagery. 

Hope…for the Future, Vol 1 – A Neo-Noir, Pulp Crime Horror

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Imagine the black and white pulp crime world of Dick Tracy mixed with the neo-noir of Frank Miller’s Sin City. Now, add in a dash of occult magic and envision the love child of James Ellroy and Alan Moore, a genre-bending mashup of L.A. Confidential and Hellblazer. Starting to get the picture? If you love any of those genres as much as I do, then you will be head-over-heels for 2000AD’s gritty detective graphic novel Hope…for the Future. 

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Hope for the Future comic book cover
Hope for the Future comic book cover

In an alternate post-war 1940s Los Angeles, where occult forces are a fact of life, Mallory Hope is a private detective haunted by his past… and by the demon he works with. When a new case involving a missing boy reminds him of his own lost child, Hope is determined to find him. But he soon discovers all is not what it seems, with dark powers lurking behind the lights of Hollywood

Our protagonist, John Mallory, is very much a John Constantine type: a hard boiled private investigator who’s tuned into the magical world existing beneath everyday reality. He’s a man on a mission, navigating the dark underbelly of 1940s Los Angeles with a dry wit and a grim disposition that makes him immediately likeable. He’s rough and tough, and when given the option to run or double down he always chooses the latter (at one point shrugging and saying “It’s been hours since my last beating”). But he’s also compassionate – demonstrated when he risks his life to save a misfortunate child threatened by a gang of violent goons. I was invested in him from the very first page, his narration really helps to carry the story and give it the necessary exposition and snark.

john mallory art from Hope for the Future comic
John Mallory takes a beating

In this story Hope is tasked with finding a young movie prodigy, a child star who has suddenly gone missing. His investigation will take him to various Hollywood locales, from glitzy film production studios to seedy underground clubs. Along the way we learn about his use of magical powers and how these supernatural interactions are slowly draining his life force. We learn about the enigmatic spirit he accidentally conjured, who wears a nun’s habit and gas mask and feeds off his misery. And we learn, to my great excitement, that there is an overarching storyline about him tracking down the dark being who stole away his wife and son.

demon kidnapping art from Hope for the Future comic
A demonic kidnapper

The writing of Guy Adams is on point here. Literally every single wistful, droll, and pessimistic line from Hope is gold. The story includes a good mix of drama, horror, and humor, and the core mystery of the missing boy would be compelling enough, but the added occult elements really elevate it. Inserting scenes of snake-tongued demons into a detective thriller plot is jarring, but in the best way possible. I definitely appreciate that magic is simply part of the story, and that it’s the dynamic characters who drive the momentum. We get just enough backstory on Mallory to make him engaging, but there’s suggestions of more intriguing reveals in the future. 

And that art from Jimmy Broxton…wow. Normally, I’m a fan of vibrant colors in comics, but the black and white illustrations here just fit so superbly. They’re grungy, gritty, and the art certainly feels like an homage to earlier horror/crime comics. I love the shading and stark contrasts, and how the style bends towards realism in the way the characters and settings are drawn. I also love how Broxton overlays swirling runes and symbols across the panels to let us know when magic is (literally) in the air.

Occult magic art from Hope for the Future comic
Seeing the world through dark magic

This first volume, in my opinion, is a near perfect story. It’s a horror crime thriller with a solid plot  and great pacing, populated with wonderful character archetypes plucked from the supernatural noir genre that bred it. It has a self-contained storyline, but it expertly weaves in a larger plot and perfectly sets up the next book. At 66 pages it’s a very quick read and it leaves you hungry for more. I absolutely cannot wait to join Mallory Hope’s further adventures in the next volume!

Hope…for the Future is available now from 2000AD Comics

Killadelphia – A Horror Comic Fable

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Before I start a new book, I’m always interested to see who else is talking about it. I like to think if creators I respect are praising the book then I too will enjoy it. So it’s safe to say my expectations were pretty high when I came across the much lauded graphic novel Killadelphia, which Jordan Peele claims is the “stunning and fresh horror fable” he’s been craving and Tananarive Due says is a “genuinely frightening horror graphic”. But therein lies the double edge of the sword, where cover blurbs and comparisons can sometimes over inflate an otherwise decent story and put it in a realm of expectation that is impossible to meet.

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Killadelphia horror comic cover
Killadelphia horror comic book cover

So, the question is does the Killadelphia comic live up to the hype?

I’m happy to report that for the most part it does. It’s bloody, gritty, and completely engaging.

Killadelphia Horror Comic Synopsis

Jimmy Sangster Jr is a cop who has returned to his hometown in Philadelphia to bury his recently deceased father, detective Jimmy Sangster Sr. Their father-son relationship was never very strong, and the death comes as a relief to Jimmy. However, back in his childhood home he finds his father’s journal and reads a startling story about Sangster Sr and chief medical examiner Jose. Recently they had been investigating a string of bizarre murders and, as the bodies in the morgue come back to life, they realize the culprits they’re hunting are…vampires!

vampire art from killadelphia horror comic
Killadelphia is full of unexpected surprises

Turns out John Adams, a founding father and former president, is a vampire and has been slowly amassing a horde of followers over the centuries in a bid to take back the America he helped begin so long ago. His crooked revolution is 300 hundred years in the making and apparently now it’s time to put it into action. With the doomsday clock ticking down, Jimmy Jr realizes he’s going to need the help of someone he had finally let go of. With shovel in hand he digs up his undead father and together, with the help of Jose and a few others, they face the vampire army dead on in a final effort to save their city.

For a story about an undead former president trying to take over the city (and yes, I kept thinking about a certain Deadpool storyline from Brain Posehn), Killadelphia is firmly grounded in realistic characters and a gripping plot. Jimmy Jr has conflicting feelings about his father, who was at turns abusive and absent during his childhood. His mother was the glue holding their family together, and when she passed their fragile relationship seemed to have crumbled. But now father and son are going to have to learn how to work through their differences in order to save the city they both care for. As readers we care about their characters, but I am thankful their back and forth quibbling was kept to a minimum.

There are also many relevant social issues and ideas woven into the storyline, including class disparity, poverty, racism, gentrification, addiction, and political corruption. The city itself, with its historical implications and complex history of social unrest, plays a significant role in the plot and is the perfect setting for such a story. I also appreciate that this isn’t just a story of good vs evil, as arguably none of the characters are purely good or bad. Even Adams, with his disturbing plan to rebuild the country, truly believes what he is doing is right.

vampire attack art from Killadelphia horror comic
Resistance is futile in Killadelphia

Of course, in a story about vampires there is also going to be a fair amount of supernatural horror elements. Apart from the whole blood-sucking monster thing, there’s also an interesting twist involving a (relatively) young vampire named Tevin and a magical book that he is entrusted to carry by John Adams. Tevin is actually one of my favorite characters in the graphic novel, and I really like the arc his storyline takes. I can’t say much more because of spoilers, but I’ll just say the second half goes in some neat directions I did not expect.

Killadelphia Vampires

Though the characters are strong and the plot is interesting, the vampires are definitely what elevate the story. Their design follows classic tradition for the most part: humanoid, yellow eyes, fangs, elongated fingers, and a healthy fear of sunlight. They can fly, they cohabitate in “nests,” and sleep hanging from the ceiling. Interestingly, they also are typically naked and cry tears of blood. They are also incredibly brutal, vicious, and efficient at killing. This is certainly a horror graphic novel, and there are several frightening and suspenseful moments along the way. It’s not Scott Snyder’s Wytches kind of scary, but it still works. I do love how much of the story is focused on the vampires’ perspective (be they “bad” or “good” they do make up most of the characters). And we get to see a lot of different perspectives on vampirism, from those who see it as a spiritual awakening or means to power to those who see it as a curse or form of slavery.

good vampire from Killadelphia horror comic
Not all vampires are bad

Killadelphia Comic Art

And the art! Oh my goodness the illustrations and colors are gorgeous here. The artwork of Jason Shawn Alexander excels in creating the dark, gritty noir atmosphere necessary for the story. I love the style, and it reminds me somewhat of comic artist John Bolton (whose style I also adore). Facial expressions and body movements are drawn in realistic detail, and it was interesting to learn at the end of the book how Alexander does photoshoots with live models to prepare for his pieces. Colors by Luis NCT perfectly compliment, bathing scenes in dark shadows and buckets of blood.

Here Rodney Barnes has given us a pretty solid story. There are some themes that didn’t quite pan out, and the romance angle between Jimmy Jr and Jose felt unearned and tacked on. But overall, I really enjoyed reading it. And though the primary storyline is wrapped up here, the ending easily sets us up for a sequel. I for one am very much looking forward to sinking my teeth into another volume of Killadelphia in the future!

Killadelphia is available now from Image Comics

Prisoners of The Ghostland – The Enigma

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Nicholas Cage, for better or worse, is an enigma. The closer he comes to pure genius, the more obscure and confusing the slew of throwaway schlock he frequently indulges in appears. For every Mandy (2018) we are permitted to gleefully enjoy, so are we forced to endure a Willy’s Wonderland (2021) or Kill Chain (2019). He is an actor who seems eager to show off his chops and bask in his own talent, while also perfectly happy to fund his more artistic endeavors by screaming maniacally through one cheap, talentless production after another. In 2021 he starred in Prisoners of The Ghostland.

Prisoners of The Ghostland (2021), the latest film by Japanese director Sion Sono, oddly lies directly in the middle of these two known Cage archetypes. With a distinct gonzo vibe, and a sense of humor that ranges from the campy to the downright absurdist, this latest experiment in Cage-rage feels like a hyper-vivid mashup of Mad Max (1979) and surrealist neo-western, all through a filter of feverish b-movie grit. Insane choices abound in production, the actors being forced to take a script seriously that sounds as though it was written by a film-obsessed, adhd-riddled pre-teen. If that sounds like fun to you, you’ll probably love this one. I am personally on the fence.

Prisoners of The Ghostland has a rather grandiose feel, as though we are viewing a classic epic from an alternate, altogether weirder, timeline. Taken for what it is, it can be a fun ride, though a lot of time is given to slow, sombre scenes that cut tiresomely into the film’s energy. We are forced to watch, on repeat, the tragic incident that led Cage’s character into his explosive predicament, without being offered much more information each time we are shown it. These particular scenes detract heavily from the campy, tongue-in-cheek edge that films of its ilk thrive on, leaving doubtful its ascension to cult classic status.

Prisoners of The Ghostland scene featuring a man with a spear arm fighting a man with a sword

Sion Sono has a penchant for the weird and seemingly random, and his teaming up with Cage should have been a match written in the stars. Sadly it more serves as proof that more than visual flair and an abundance of oddities are needed to make even a b-movie great. All the ingredients are there, though something in the execution is simply lacking in any kind of real engagement. Through awkward and drawn-out conversation we never learn enough about any one character to allow any kind of development, and most interactions seem to be intended to confuse rather than enlighten. It is the kind of picture one could watch at least five or six times before realizing the deeper meaning they were looking for is actually not there at all.

For those who can bask in strange without feeling the need to look much further, the vibrant and colorful visuals of Prisoners of The Ghostland coupled with its eccentric cast and true attention to madness should provide ample entertainment for a late-night viewing.

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