Enemy Ace: War in Heaven, written by Garth Ennis and Robert Kanigher, illustrated by Chris Weston, Russ Heath and Joe Kubert: Hans Von Hammer, the WWI German “Enemy Ace” of 1960’s DC war comics, gets a WWII send-off here, first on the Russian front and then in the Western European theatre as the Allies advance after D-Day. Ennis is fairly restrained here — there is graphic violence, but for the most part this reads like an updated version of the Kanigher/Kubert stories from the 1960’s (one of which is reprinted here). Like some members of the real Prussian military aristocracy, Von Hammer despises Hitler and the Nazi Party, but nonetheless feels obligated to fight for his country again after two decades of seclusion in his ancestral castle. There’s plenty of airplane talk, not to mention a cameo from Sergeant Rock. Recommended.
Shade the Changing Man Volume 3: Scream Time, written by Peter Milligan, illustrated by Chris Bachalo, Bryan Talbot, Mark Pennington and Rick Bryant (1990-91; collected 2010): This third collected volume of early Vertigo hero Shade, revamped from his 1970’s Steve Ditko creation with way more sex and violence, finally explains where the free-floating madness-generating American Scream actually came from, while also more fully explaining Shade’s origins, Kathy’s personal problems, and just what exactly Shade’s solid-illusion-generating M-Vest is made of. Hint: it’s not polyester. Heady, enjoyable stuff if you’ve read the first two volumes, and Jamie Hewlett’s covers are as trippy as previous cover artist Brendan MacCarthy’s. Recommended.
The Life Eaters, written by David Brin, illustrated by Scott Hampton (2003): Brin’s aptly titled 1980’s novella “Thor Versus Captain America” is the basis for this graphic novel; neither the novella nor this book are set in the Marvel Universe. Adapted for the first part of the graphic novel, the novella posits a world where the Nazis are on the brink of conquering the entire world in the early 1960’s. The Holocaust was necromancy on an industrial scale, and it succeeded — the Nazis summoned the Norse Gods on the eve of D-Day. The Normandy Invasion failed, the Allies were defeated again and again, and now the invasion of North America is imminent — all because the Nazis now have Odin, Thor, the other Norse gods and various other Norse mythological creatures to call upon. Only Loki of all the gods stands with the Allies, and while his purposes are mysterious and probably self-serving, he did manage to evacuate the concentration camps and ghettos of Europe before the Final Solution had been entirely carried out.
Are the Norse Gods really Norse Gods? That’s one of the first questions the novel tackles, before moving on to larger philosophical issues set against an escalating series of cataclysms. Humanity’s hope ultimately lies in science and technology, something the mystical and increasingly addled servants of the gods just aren’t good at, along with an alliance of the various world religions that refuse to practice the blood sacrifice which summons the gods and then sustains them: on this world, the Holocaust never ends because the gods live on human death in mass quantities. Other cultures summon their own pantheons in response to the Nazi threat, and things get worse and worse once we shift to the main action of the novel, in the 1980’s.
This later segment could almost be called “Hulk and Iron Man Versus All the Gods in the World”, as human ingenuity and self-sacrifice and, indeed, humility finally start to turn the tide of war even as Loki’s true plan — even more horrifying than those of his man-eating brethren — is finally revealed. There’s certainly action and adventure here, all in service to quite a serious-minded premise — can humanity outgrow its tribal-minded, bloodthirsty nature before it’s too late? Highly recommended.
A Treasury of Modern Fantasy, edited by Terry Carr (1980): It’s actually taken me thirty years to finish off this survey anthology that spans fantasy from the advent of fantasy-specific pulp magazine Weird Tales in the 1920’s to 1979. Most of the major writers are here, though Carr’s selection criteria can be pretty wonky at times (I’m not sure I’d even put “The Rats in the Walls” on a top-20 list of all the stories H.P. Lovecraft wrote, but here it is in all its clunky glory). This volume never caught on as an academic tome, even though its selection, odd as it is sometimes, is nonetheless more wide-ranging and useful than such academy-oriented anthologies as Fantastic Worlds.
The sheer scope of the work that Carr wanted to survey must have driven him bonkers at times — it’s not all that easy to cover 60 years of high fantasy, dark fantasy, light fantasy, sword and sorcery, horror and the cryptozoological in one volume, and I’m not sure why that last (represented by the solid but unspectacular “Longtooth” by Edgar Pangporn) is even included, as it’s more properly science fiction, a genre not folded into this anthology. Recommended.
The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty (1971): William Friedkin’s blockbuster film adaptation of Blatty’s best-selling novel was remarkably faithful to the book, partially because Blatty — a screenwriter before becoming a novelist — wrote the screenplay. Some things were, of course, left out, though a few such scenes made their way into the 1990’s Director’s Cut, while others were recycled by Blatty in the sequel he both wrote and directed, 1990’s underrated Exorcist III: Legion.
Blatty’s novel is long on dialogue at points, befitting a novel by a screenwriter, though there are also lengthy internal monologues which were essentially unfilmable. Coming to the novel after having seen the movie, one finds out more about the significance of the Iraq-set prologue of the movie, and more about the ins and outs of exorcism itself (though the latter needs to be taken with a grain of salt, actual Roman Catholic exorcisms being few and far between in the West).
Tortured, doubting priest Damien Karras comes even more to the fore in the novel, while details of the past of both possessed Regan and her actress mother explain at least some of the murkier details of the possession and its possible origins — though ultimately the possession is less about getting Regan and more about forcing a second exorcism battle with ageing, ailing Father Merrin, played by Max Von Sydow in the movie. Some of the philosophical and theological speculation is awfully wonky at times, and the scientific aspects of the novel when the characters speculate on how the brain works are even wonkier. Still, a gripping read after all these years, though it’s worth noting that the “true case” the novel is “inspired by” bears almost no resemblance to the novel. Caveat lector! Recommended.