Tag Archives: book reviews

THE BLACK REAPER (1899) – GOTHIC HORROR

Black ReaperTHE BLACK REAPER (1899) – By Bernard Capes. Balladeer’s Blog’s month-long celebration of Halloween continues with this neglected horror tale. The story takes place in 1665 in a secluded British farming town called Anathoth.

The Black Reaper of the title is an interesting humanoid monster. Religious superstition and human evil mingle in this tale, just like in so many other great horror stories. And it seems Stephen King must have been, uh … “inspired” by The Black Reaper.

masc graveyard smallerThe citizens of Anathoth are described in the narrative as the kind of religious people who merely pay lip service to their beliefs but don’t live by them. They even treated their previous Vicar like a joke.

Now the plague is once more at large in the land and a new fire-and- brimstone preacher has replaced the disrespected man in Anathoth. The new “holy” man  frequently rails at the citizens, telling them that they are all horrible sinners and that God will one day mow them down like ripe corn.

All of them, that is, except the children. Continue reading

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SPIDER-MAN: 1970s CLASSICS 8 – TARANTULA AND THE PUNISHER

Here’s Part Eight of Spider-Man 1970s Classics. For Part One click HERE.

spider man 135SPIDER-MAN Vol 1 #134 (July 1974)

Title: Danger is a Man Called Tarantula

Villain: Tarantula (first appearance)  

Synopsis: As Spider-Man, Peter Parker swings along, hurrying to catch a Hudson River cruise ship that he, Mary Jane Watson, Flash Thompson and the newly returned Liz Allen are taking for a few hours of fun. As he switches back into Peter Parker he notes that he’s down to his last current cartridge of web fluid in his web shooters and makes a mental note to pick up more the next time he’s at the apartment he shares with Harry Osborn.

tarantulaAs the ship sails along it is hijacked and held for $1,000,000.00 ransom (equivalent to $5,581,387.00 today). The hijackers are the brand new Hispanic villain Tarantula and his two costumed sidekicks. While the villain and his aides rob the passengers of all their valuables, Peter grabs the first chance he gets to become Spider-Man and saves a sailor knocked overboard in a scuffle with one of Tarantula’s men. Continue reading

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YEGOR’S PORTRAIT (1897) AND GEORGE DOBSON’S EXPEDITION TO HELL (1828)

Halloween Month continues here at Balladeer’s Blog with two more overlooked tales.

george hepworthYEGOR’S PORTRAIT (1897) – Written by George Hepworth.  A well to do Russian named Yegor was killed in a horse riding accident. A portrait of the man haunts those who remember him. By night the Yegor of the portrait emerges from the work of art.

Stephan, Yegor’s cousin and closest friend in life befriends the apparition from the painting. As the pair spend a night drinking and gambling together, Yegor admits to Stephan that the reason his essence is bound to the material world is because he left behind him an illegitimate child with no financial support. Continue reading

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THE COFFIN (2000) – HALLOWEEN SUPERHERO

Balladeer’s Blog’s 31 Days of Halloween continues with this neglected horror hero.

CoffinTHE COFFIN (2000) – Written by Phil Hester and drawn by Mike Huddleston, The Coffin was originally a four-part serial before being collected into graphic novel format. I’ll provide details below but right up front let me point out that the horrific but intriguing premise is that the Coffin is a dead scientist whose soul is trapped within a polymer techno-suit of his own creation.

Dr Ashar Ahmad, the brilliant scientist in question, is employed by Heller Technologies, whose eponymous owner is a vile and amoral tycoon. Heller himself is a figure straight out of a horror film.

He’s incredibly old and his withered, wrinkled body is still functioning only because of all of the legal and illegal organ transplants he has had. His body is a battleground of scars from all that surgery. Obviously immortality is what our power-mad plutocrat longs for.

Coffin bAnd so Heller Technologies recruited Dr Ahmad to devise strong, lightweight polymers for medical purposes. To that end Ashar has developed polymers that can be used to form an artificial membrane that is perfectly impermeable and incredibly durable.

Extensions of that technology result in masses of polymers – literally thousands of layers – some of them only a few molecules thick. Dr Ahmad has managed to make it so that these polymers react to electronic pulses like the kind from a human brain to its body’s muscles, making the polymer “skin” or membrane expand or contract in response to those electronic pulses. Continue reading

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TWO OVERLOOKED HORROR STORIES FROM JULIAN HAWTHORNE

As Halloween Month rolls along, Balladeer’s Blog takes a look at two horror stories written by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s son, Julian.

mummiesTHE UNSEEN MAN’S STORY (1893) – A needlessly neglected mummy tale. At age twenty-eight, a Frenchman named Carigliano arrives in Egypt on assignment from the French government. He has studied Egyptology and is thrilled with his placement.

Gradually, dreams and waking visions propel him to investigate around Thebes. Once there, he discovers the previously unviolated tomb of Queen Amunuhet. Throughout the tomb’s halls and chambers he encounters reanimated mummies which stalk him, intent on killing him. Continue reading

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SPIDER-MAN: 1970s CLASSICS 7 – MORBIUS, MAN-WOLF AND DR STRANGE

Here’s Part Seven of Spider-Man 1970s Classics. For Part One click HERE. By sheer coincidence this weekend’s installment fits the Halloween Month theme.

giant size superheroes 1GIANT-SIZE SUPERHEROES Vol 1 #1 (June 1974)

Title: Man-Wolf at Midnight

Villains: Morbius the Living Vampire and the Man-Wolf

NOTE: The Giant-Size comic books were quarterly publications that Marvel Comics briefly experimented with in the 1970s. They came out in addition to the monthly installments of their other titles.

Synopsis: Spider-Man is swinging his way around New York City, reflecting on Liz Allen’s recent return to the lives of Peter Parker and his friends. He also contemplates the Jackal, who is still at large after trying to kill Spider-Man twice – once through an alliance with the Punisher and a second time by maneuvering our hero into the middle of another clash between Dr Octopus and Hammerhead.

On the streets below is former astronaut John Jameson, the son of J Jonah Jameson, owner and publisher of the Daily Bugle newspaper. John has been out at a restaurant with his fiancee Kristine Saunders and the sight of Spider-Man swinging along high above calls to mind John’s previous nocturnal transformations into a scientifically based werewolf called the Man-Wolf.

Those transformations were caused by the moon rock which John had been wearing around his neck as a souvenir and which was a dangerous object that rooted itself into John’s neck and throat to prevent him from removing it. Continue reading

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FAUST (1987): THE PRE-SPAWN VERSION OF SPAWN

faustFAUST: LOVE OF THE DAMNED (1987) – Written by David Quinn with artwork by Tim Vigil. Halloween Month continues here at Balladeer’s Blog with this review of the 1987-2012 “adult” comic book series Faust. This series included very graphic and very unusual sex and violence while offering a twisted update on the story of Faust selling his soul to Mephistopheles. The year 2000 Brian Yuzna (’nuff said) movie version of Faust: Love of the Damned is pretty bad but does capture the blood-soaked, anarchic WTF air of the series.  

Before I get into plot details I’ll point out that, despite the criticism that Quinn and Vigil get for providing stories featuring extreme sex and gore in a purely sensational manner they never sold out their indy comic vision by watering down either the sex or the violence just for wider distribution and more money. Continue reading

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THE OLD GODS WAKEN (1979): HALLOWEEN MONTH BEGINS

Silver John

Silver John

THE OLD GODS WAKEN (1979) – Another Halloween Month begins here at Balladeer’s Blog with this look at the first novel featuring Manly Wade Wellman’s iconic Pulp Hero Silver John. In 2011 I reviewed all of Wellman’s short stories and vignettes about this figure. The Old Gods Waken was the first of five Silver John novels.

For newcomers to these tales I’ll point out that Silver John aka John the Balladeer was a wandering guitar player in the Appalachian Mountain communities of yore. He would do battle with assorted supernatural menaces from mountain folklore like a combination of Kolchak and Orpheus. John’s silver guitar strings and silver coins were powerful repellants against much of the evils he faced down.

For more details on this neglected fictional hero click HERE or HERE or HERE. If you want an easy comparison the Silver John stories were based on the same type of mountain/ country folklore about music and the supernatural that the song The Devil Went Down To Georgia was based on.

silver john another coverThe Old Gods Waken deals with Silver John performing with other musicians at a music festival, then getting drawn into a property line dispute between the Forshay family and two sinister British men calling themselves Brummitt and Hooper Voth. As usual in our hero’s travels there are dark supernatural forces at work behind this boundary dispute – forces ultimately dealing with Pre-Columbian entities and transplanted Druidism.

I enjoy the Silver John short works far more than the novels and this book reflects plenty of reasons why. If The Old Gods Waken is a reader’s first exposure to the wandering balladeer then they might like it much better than I do based on the strength of the character and Manly Wade Wellman’s ear for old mountain dialects. As for me, I’ll explore the reasons why I think this novel embodies all the shortcomings of the (still very good) long form Silver John adventures.    Continue reading

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SPIDER-MAN: 1970s CLASSICS PART FIVE

Here’s Part Five of Spider-Man 1970s Classics, in which readers finally learn what lies behind the whole Dr Octopus/ Aunt May/ Canada storyline. For Part One click HERE.

spider man number 129SPIDER-MAN Vol 1 #129 (February 1974)

Title: The Punisher Strikes Twice

Villains: The Punisher and the Jackal

NOTE: I skipped over the less than classic Spider-Man #s 127 and 128, which featured a rushed, poorly written story about our hero fighting a scientist who accidentally mutated himself into a copy of Spidey’s frequent foe the Vulture.

              In issue 127 some subplots moved along, so here’s a recap – Spider-Man and his friend the Human Torch (Johnny Storm) of the Fantastic Four continued working on the Spider-Mobile that our hero will get paid for since Corona Motors’ new pollution free engine will be running it.

              Meanwhile, Peter Parker and his roommate Harry Osborn had an ugly argument about their strained relationship since Harry’s father died. Peter does not yet know that Harry is the one who removed Norman Osborn’s Green Goblin costume from his dead body before the police arrived. Thanks to the documents that Norman had on his person, Harry now knows that Peter is really Spider-Man and – in his drug-addicted mind – thinks Peter intentionally killed his father.

              Lastly, Professor Miles Warren, Peter Parker’s bio-chemistry instructor and academic advisor at Empire State University, had a terse talk with Peter about how he has let his grief over Gwen Stacy’s death seriously jeopardize his grades. Now, on with issue 129.

jackal and punisher splash pageSynopsis: In a laboratory hideout are two costumed men, the Jackal and the Punisher, BOTH making their first ever appearances. The Punisher, the now-legendary vigilante who got multiple movies long before the Marvel Cinematic Universe was launched, is blowing apart statues of Spider-Man with high-tech, specially designed rifles and machine-guns paid for by the Jackal.

Though the Punisher usually works alone, the Jackal has talked him into an alliance against Spider-Man, whom the Jackal wants dead for as yet unknown reasons. The Punisher wants Spider-Man dead because this was when our hero was wanted in regard to two murders – Captain John Stacy and Norman Osborn.

Elsewhere that night, Spider-Man defeats four armed robbers hijacking a truck, while having Peter Parker’s camera set to automatically snap photos of the action. The next morning, as Peter, he shows up at the Daily Bugle with the pics. Continue reading

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ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION: DOCTOR HACKENSAW’S SECRETS, CONCLUSION

Balladeer’s Blog takes a look at the remaining short stories featuring Doctor Hackensaw and his supporting cast of reporter Silas Rockett, teen girl Pep Perkins and precocious boy Tintangeles Smith. FOR PART ONE CLICK HERE.

secret of the invisible girlTHE SECRET OF THE SUPER-TELESCOPE (August 1923) – Doctor Hackensaw’s new invention, a super-telescope, provides the most detailed looks at Earth’s moon ever seen. A secret civilization is detected and photographed. NOTE: This is the start of the first serialized Hackensaw storyline. 

A CAR FOR THE MOON (September 1923) – Dr H and his perky teen sidekick Pep Perkins head for the moon on an interplanetary “car” invented by the wild genius. The space vehicle reaches escape velocity by first being whirled around and around on a Ferris Wheel type of device, then released.

DR HACKENSAW’S TRIP TO THE MOON (October 1923) – On their way to the moon, the doctor and his Girl Friday Pep Perkins deal with the traumas of weightlessness. Pep worries about a false murder charge awaiting her back on Earth if they ever get back. Continue reading

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